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The return of the Stiffy Awards

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We’re bringing back the annual tradition of handing out awards for best...and the worst.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Feinstein, the founder of Denver Stiffs, started a tradition years back of handing out what he affectionately, if not somewhat unfortunately, dubbed the Stiffy Awards. We’ve let the tradition slip over the past few season but we felt it was necessary to carry it on. The Stiffy’s are a combination of the standard yearly awards handed out by the NBA and their opposite, ie we will hand out a Most Valuable Player award and a Least Valuable player award. So without further adieu let’s see how the staff weighed in on this season’s awards.

Most Valuable Player

Russell Westbrook

The staff was pretty evenly split on who was the MVP of the 2016-2017 season, just as the rest of the nation is. In the end though more of us liked the record breaking triple double year of Westbrook to the Mike D’Antoni system superstar James Harden. Kawhi Leonard also received one vote from Evan. It’s really a shame that these guys had to have as great of seasons as they did at the same time, all three are certainly deserving. It’s also a shame that Westbrook ends up winning the Stiffy, because you know, he ended our season in dramatic fashion and all.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Harden Westbrook Harden Harden Westbrook Westbrook Leonard Westbrook

Least Valuable Player

Derrick Rose

Often times the least valuable player is someone who switched teams in the offseason. Chandler Parsons and Evan Turner are prime examples of players who were paid big new contracts and failed to follow up with the same production. The staff was very split on this one, but Rose was the only player to garner multiple votes. His one season in New York playing for the Knicks will be entirely forgettable as it was marred by poor shot selection, even worse defense and a bizarre disappearance. All of this of course didn’t stop Rose from stating that he’d like a max contract this offseason. He ended up being just one of many disappointing factors to another terrible season in New York, and he’s not the only Knick to get a Stiffy this year either, nor the only Knick to get nominated for this award as Joakim Noah and Carmelo Anthony also received consideration.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Rose Rose Turner Terrence Jones Parsons Jamal Crawford Noah Melo

Rookie of the Year

Joel Embiid, Dario Saric

The staff voted a tie in the rookie of the year race, which again is generally in line with how the rest of the country is feeling on the award. Embiid was running away with it at the start of the year but injuries shortened his season considerably. That left the door open for teammate Dario Saric to seize momentum in what is one of the weaker ROY races in memory. Whereas there are multiple deserving candidates for the MVP award, Rookie of the Year really has none, but the award must be given none the less. If Embiid can be healthy (big if) then the Philadelphia 76ers, who also have Ben Simmons on the mend, have a bright future behind these two rookies.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Saric Malcolm Brogdon Embiid Saric Saric Embiid Brogdon Embiid

Worst Rookie of the Year

Kris Dunn, Brandon Ingram

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The table above pretty much tells the story. Ingram and Dunn both ended up with disappointing rookie campaigns given their draft position. Ingram especially fell short of the hype as he was widely considered to be a sure fire prospect and even garnered some comparisons to Kevin Durant. While those comparisons aren’t very fair to make of any rookie, Ingram was fairly considered to be a top shooting prospect in the draft and what he turned out to be in his first season was awful from everywhere on the floor. 40% from the field, 29% from three, even his free throw shooting was abysmal at 62%. Meanwhile, Dunn’s high point of the year was probably the first game of summer league. At that point everyone was talking about how the Minnesota Timberwolves would have to unload Ricky Rubio ASAP to make way for the Dunn era, what they got was a backup point guard who averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 17 minutes a game.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Dunn Ingram Dragan Bender Georgios Papagiannis Ingram Ingram Dunn Dunn

Defensive Player of the Year

Draymond Green

It looks like Green is going to finally get his first DPOY award. Despite a couple of votes for Rudy Gobert, who in all rights did have an outstanding year, the staff overwhelmingly felt that Draymond was the most deserving of the award. He certainly has the stats to back it up. Inside he was a beast, opponents shot on average 14.7% worse against Green on attempts inside of 10 feet, move that to inside six feet and that number creeps up to 14.9%. Additionally, despite playing a position that traditionally focuses on rim protection at the defensive end, Green found a way to create an enormous amount of turnovers, finishing the season second in the league in steals (he wasn’t too shabby on blocks either, finishing eleventh). Green was also second in defensive box plus minus and defensive win shares.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Green Green Gobert Green Green Gobert Green Green

Worst Defensive Player of the Year

Isaiah Thomas

There was little disagreement on who was the worst defender this year. Thomas for all his magnificence on offense is a flat out liability on defense. First and foremost he is limited greatly by his size. At 5’9” tall (and that’s being generous) he is regularly giving three to eight inches to his opponent, that alone makes it unlikely that the diminutive scoring dynamo ever becomes a plus defender. However it goes further with Thomas who often times looks lost on the defensive end and winds up putting in not nearly the effort required to be a good defender for a regular size guard, let alone an undersized one. Apparently Thomas doesn’t seem to see it as an issue either, by his own admission, he is “fine with being the worst defender in the league.”

Luckily the Boston Celtics have a number of great defenders to put around him which helps to hide Thomas’ deficiencies, but according to NBA Math he had the worst DPS (defensive points saved) in the entire league. Not surprisingly, the Celtics gave up, on average, 9 more points per 100 possessions during the regular season when Thomas was on the floor versus when he was not.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Thomas Thomas Nikola Jokic Jose Calderon Harden Thomas Thomas Jameer Nelson

Most Improved Player

Giannis Antetokounmpo

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Once again the staff looks like a fairly representative sample of the nation as a whole as the award came down to the Greek freak and Denver’s own Nikola Jokic with Giannis winning out. Like many of the other awards, there’s more than one candidate who is deserving. Jokic had a phenomenal season and made the leap from promising young player to possible franchise cornerstone. There’s an argument to be made against Jokic though because he’s a second year player and the general unwritten rule is second year players shouldn’t win MIP because improving on a rookie year when everything is brand new is perceived as the easiest. Whether you feel that’s fair or not, the undeniable fact is that Giannis seized this award with his incredible leap from borderline star to top 10 player in the league. He increased his production in every statistical category, he shot better percentages in every statistical category, he was his most efficient ever on offense. He raised his scoring average by six points, as well as his player efficiency rating and he did all of this while averaging just 0.3 more minutes per game. As good as Jokic was, we legitimately watched Giannis change a franchise from rebuilding to dark horse conference finals contender. Didn’t work out that way obviously but with what Antetokounmpo has shown he’s capable of, the Milwaukee Bucks suddenly look like an incredibly dangerous team going into the future.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Jokic Giannis Giannis Giannis Giannis Jokic Giannis Jokic

Least Improved Player

Emmanuel Mudiay

Our first and only Nugget to get a Stiffy. Unfortunately it’s one of the one’s you don’t want, and yet the pick is warranted. Mudiay was able to get past a fairly awful rookie campaign (at least from a statistical standpoint) on the understanding that he was only 19 years old and played just a handful of games in China in between high school and going pro. However, the expectation was that he would improve his game, significantly, in his sophomore season and start to justify being the 7th overall pick in the 2015 draft. What happened was far from the case. Mudiay’s production dipped across the board, chiefly due to a drop in minutes that was a result from being benched in the second half of the season. When you consider his per 36 minute averages though the story is illuminating.

Despite a minor uptick in shooting from the field and a slight reduction of turnovers (which is offset by a reduction of assists) the only area Emmanuel made any significant improvement was from the free throw line. His shooting percentages actually got worse from every distance other than at the rim, where he was only able to improve to slightly above 50%. The silver lining was Mudiay did look better in the final week of the season when he replaced an ailing Jameer Nelson so all hope is not lost but another year like the last one and it will be fair to question whether Mudiay will ever make it in the NBA.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Mario Hezonja Matthew Dellavedova Mudiay Mudiay Mudiay Jordan Clarkson Dante Exum Mudiay

Sixth Man of the Year

Eric Gordon

It’s amazing how good Eric Gordon can be when he’s actually healthy. A career starter, Gordon transitioned to a bench role and played 75 games for the first time since his rookie season. He also gained a massive benefit from being put into Mike D’Antoni’s system and getting to play off ball of James Harden which guaranteed Gordon was going to get a plethora of open shots. To his credit, Gordon made the most of those shots, he put up his best effective field goal percentage since his rookie season and trailed only teammate Lou Williams (who surprisingly got no 6th man love from the Stiffs) in scoring among all players who played more than half the season off the bench. Ultimately though, while the system and playing next to an MVP candidate helped, Gordon has always been capable of putting up these types of numbers. The fact that he remained healthy and came off the bench for the first time in his career is what carried him over the top for this award.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Gordon Gordon Gordon Mole Gordon Moley Gordon Moley moley mole

Worst Sixth Man of the Year

Evan Turner

In what is probably the hardest Stiffy to pick, given that we’re not likely to pay attention to other teams’ 6th man unless he’s pretty darn good, the Stiffs had no problem coming to a consensus on this one. It’s not that Turner was terrible...well ok he’s pretty terrible, but more so that he was paid an ungodly amount of money to put up a measly nine points a game off the bench. To Portland’s credit, Turner had been experiencing a resurgence in his career during his time with the Celtics when the Blazers decided to open up their wallet. Unfortunately his defense, which was the only thing carrying him above a replacement level player while in Boston, regressed while Turner simultaneously decided to roughly double the percentage of his shots that he took from beyond the arc...despite being a career sub 30% three point shooter. Add on the $70 million over 4 years and it’s easy to see why Turner gets the Stiffy for worst sixth man. Really, Portland probably should have seen this coming when they witnessed Turner first hand getting crossed up by a 67 year old Steve Blake.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Turner Jeff Green Turner Turner Green Turner Al Jefferson Turner

Coach of the Year

Mike D’Antoni

The Houston Rockets had a pretty good year and its represented well by their nominations and awards here at the Stiffys. D’Antoni is the benefactor of having an amazing talent who fits amazingly into the type of system he wants to run. This isn’t a slight on him but it’s important to note that it’s not like D’Antoni taught Harden any revolutionary new way to play basketball, or that he changed his game in any meaningful way. No, where his genius lied was understanding that Harden’s skill set could be maximized by playing a fast pace offensive style where the ball would be in his hands the majority of the time and he was given the freedom to create, and make no mistake, it was genius. The most revealing stat to show how Harden’s skills were maximized in D’Antoni’s system? Assist percentage. Harden’s consistently assisted teammates field goals 25-35% of the time he’s been on the court while wearing a Rockets jersey but this season that number jumped up to 50% which trails only Westbrook for best in the league. If you’d like some historical context on how impressive that is, more often than not John Stockton’s assist percentage was below 50%, Chris Paul has managed to top it just three times in his career...Magic Johnson and LeBron James have never eclipsed that mark. Throw in the fact that Harden is a traditional 2 guard and the recognition of his ability to be a distributor in the D’Antoni system looks all that much more impressive by the coach.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
D'Antoni D'Antoni D'Antoni D'Antoni D'Antoni Quin Snyder Brad Stevens Scott Brooks

Worst Coach of the Year

Earl Watson, Alvin Gentry

Worst coach of the year was a fairly split vote, with Gentry and Watson the only candidates to earn one more than a single vote (they each got two). On Gentry’s side the reasoning is fairly obvious, gifted with one of the best players in the entire league, and then later gifted with another, Gentry was unable to get his team to muster much of a fight for the playoffs. Bringing on DeMarcus Cousins for the stretch run was a bust and ultimately that falls on Gentry. Granted the team may re-sign him and create a nasty duo long term but in the short term the pairing was awkward and the coach never really figured out how to effectively use both Anthony Davis and Cousins on the court at the same time. The saving grace is Gentry can, once again, claim injuries as a reason for his team’s failures (though Davis and Cousins were healthy). Coach Watson in Phoenix can make no claim however. Take a look at the tweet below, Phoenix lost only 80 man games to injury last season, third fewest in the entire Association.

Despite the health, despite the continued growth of Phoenix’s youth, particularly Devin Booker, despite having two lottery picks, the Suns managed to improve upon last year’s record by a single win. Marquese Chriss had an up and down year and number four overall pick Dragan Bender’s rookie season was an abject failure given the coaching staff’s inability to figure out how to work him into the offense, they even tried playing him at small forward despite his skill set clearly being that of a four. Look, no one is saying the Suns roster is that of world beaters, but the inability to improve across the board reflects very poorly on Watson.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Watson Gentry Fred Hoiberg Gentry Watson Frank Vogel Jeff Hornacek Doc Rivers

Executive of the Year

Daryl Morey

Oh hey look, it’s the Rockets again. Morey had a dynamite offseason in the summer of 2016 that set up his team for what may be a run to the conference finals or even beyond. Morey did everything right in that period. First he went out and got D’Antoni, understanding that with a few moves Morey could give coach the perfect personnel for his system. Next he gambled on the oft injured Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson and paid them big bucks. They responded by playing 70+ games each. Gordon is likely to win sixth man of the year and while Anderson took a back seat in terms of scoring he still had one of his most efficient scoring years in his career. Next Morey picked up Nene off of the garbage heap and plugged him in as a very viable back up center. Lastly he made the biggest move of all, re-upping Harden to ensure the Rockets superstar would be in the fold for a long time. At the deadline he continued to bolster the team’s bench by bringing in the other top sixth man of the year candidate in Lou Williams. Despite a little dissension in the Stiffs ranks, it’s hard to argue against Morey on this one.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
David Griffin Morey Bob Myers Morey Morey Morey Denis Lindsey Danny Ainge

Worst Executive of the Year

Phil Jackson

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

We were so close to reaching a unanimous decision on this one! Jackson’s year as an executive was absolutely abysmal. It started with bizarre moves that reeked of desperation to please Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks handed out a ridiculous payday to the oft injured, clearly declining Joakim Noah and then doubled down on the aging ex-Chicago Bulls plan by swinging a deal for our Least Valuable Player Derrick Rose. When the season predictably started to go bad things really got sideways between Jackson and Melo. Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding wrote a piece on how Melo wasn’t motivated by winning and how Jackson thought he could change that but was unsuccessful, did Jackson jump to defend his star player and by extension himself? No, instead he tweeted this out.

At the deadline things only got worse. With Jackson clearly feuding with his star and also reportedly being willing to give Rose away, the Knicks did precisely squat, resigning themselves to the idea that the team was once again going to be a cellar dweller with a bloated payroll. To put the cherry on top of an abysmal year, New York’s real star Kristaps Porzingis was so fed up with the dysfunction that he skipped exit interviews and as of the end of April still has not spoken with Jackson or the Knicks executives. He did however put out a random tweet that said LA Clippers followed by a few smile emojis and then later deleted it and claimed he was hacked. Oh Knicks, never stop being you.

Adam Zach Gordon Dan Kayla Ryan Evan Ashley
Jackson Jackson Jackson Rob Hennigan Jackson Jackson Jackson Jackson