Handing Out the Hardware
The 2012-13 NBA regular season draws to a close Wednesday night, meaning it's time to take a look back at the campaign from a fantasy perspective. Instead of focusing on the regular risers and fallers from a week-to-week basis, I'll hand my year-end awards.
These awards will primarily focus on the statistical output of each player, but the draft-day cost of players is also factored in.
Most Valuable Player of the Year – Kevin Durant
While LeBron James could end up being the unanimous MVP selection in real life, he gets slightly edged out for the award on the fantasy side of things by Durant. Entering Wednesday night, Durant is the top-ranked player on Yahoo Sports' and ESPN's player raters. He's a great across-the-board contributor who doesn't hurt your fantasy team in any one category, but it's his scoring and extremely proficient percentages that elevate Durant to the top spot. In particular, his free-throw shooting (90.5 percent on 750 attempts) separates him from the field and makes it hard for a Durant owner to lose the category. He also managed to play in five more games than James, who missed most of his time during critical fantasy playoff periods.
I owned Durant in two leagues this year, and it's no coincidence that those are the only two leagues where I'll be taking home the championship.
Honorable Mentions: James, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, James Harden
Rookie of the Year – Damian Lillard
On a per-game basis, Anthony Davis actually ranked better as a fantasy option, but it's tough to ignore Lillard's counting stats, edge in games played and lower price tag on draft day when looking at overall fantasy impact. Lillard finished the season with averages of 19.0 points, 6.5 assists and 2.3 three-pointers while shooting an impressive 84 percent from the charity stripe. He needs to improve his efficiency from the floor and contribute more in defensive categories to become a truly elite option at point guard, but Lillard was easily the most impressive and impactful player from the 2012 draft.
Honorable Mentions: Davis, Bradley Beal, Jonas Valanciunas, Maurice Harkless, Andre Drummond
Defensive Player of the Year – Larry Sanders
Of all the players to finish the season as a top-50 fantasy option, none came cheaper on draft day than Sanders. In all likelihood, Sanders probably wasn't even selected in your draft. Despite the lack of preseason hype, Sanders quickly established himself as one of the better shot blocking options in the league. He finished the year with averages of 9.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 0.7 steals. That production isn't all that far off from Serge Ibaka, who cost owners a second-round pick.
Honorable Mentions: Ibaka, Joakim Noah, Anthony Davis, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul
Sixth Man of the Year – J. R. Smith
After years of teasing fantasy owners with his talents, Smith has finally developed into a top-50 option. He came off the bench in every appearance for the Knicks this season, but still managed to set career-highs in scoring (18.1), rebounding (5.3) field-goal attempts (15.5) and playing time (33:30). He also remained a very good contributor in the three-point (1.9) and steals (1.3) categories.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Anderson, Gordon Hayward, Jamal Crawford, Jarrett Jack
Most Improved Player – Nikola Vucevic
Raise your hand if you thought Vucevic would be the best fantasy option moved in the big three-team trade from last summer that included names like Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bynum. Outside of a couple of decent games in 2011-12, Vucevic didn't land on many fantasy radars as a rookie. After a monster sophomore campaign, he should be a top-40 pick in fantasy drafts next season. He finished second in the NBA in rebounding (11.9) while scoring 13.0 points per game on an efficient 51.6 percent clip from the floor. If he can make improvements at the free-throw line (68.3 percent) and on defense (1.0 blocks, 0.8 steals), Vucevic has the upside to be a top-25 player as soon as next year.
Honorable Mentions: Larry Sanders, Kemba Walker, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Greivis Vasquez, Gerald Henderson
Thanks to my fellow NBA beat writers, who made the production of this article possible with their stellar team coverage.
Remember the NBA season never really ends - playoffs, the draft, summer league and then tip-off is not too far behind. Check out our blog for your offseason fix.