There weren’t any major surprises jumping out with the nominations released for this year’s NBA Awards, at least not in relation to the Indiana Pacers. Since about December, the Pacers, fans, and the NBA writers pretty much had their Most Improved Player etched in stone as Victor Oladipo.
Twenty-eight games in, the Pacers prepared for their lone nationally televised game against Oklahoma City, entering 16-11 and on a four game winning streak. Oladipo was averaging 24.5 points per game on 48.5% shooting, including 44.4% from three point range. By that point, only a crashing slump would have kept him from being the frontrunner for the award.
Oladipo would maintain his level of play through the season, stepping off ever slightly to finish the regular season with 23.1 PPG on 47.7% shooting, all while leading the NBA in steals. Oladipo may have been shortchanged in his MVP chances, but the first step to him becoming the Most Improved Player was announced with the NBA Awards.
Oladipo will be joined by nominees Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets and Spencer Dinwiddie of the Brooklyn Nets. Capela came to prominence this season as a glue guy to a 65-win Rockets team, averaging a 14 & 11 double double on 65% shooting. Dinwiddie stepped up for the Nets as they had injuries mount, building a career year for a building Brooklyn team, highlighted by a good dosage of clutch.
Barring a real surprise, Oladipo will be named the Most Improved Player, becoming the fifth Pacer to win the award, joining Jalen Rose, Jermaine O’Neal, Danny Granger, and Paul George. It will tie Indiana for most all-time Most Improved Player winners with the Orlando Magic, who have five.
Another award the Pacers may have the opportunity to break into was the Coach of the Year Award, though the nomination list show that Nate McMillan was left off of the shortlist.
The Coach of the Year Award, also known as the Exceeding Preseason Expectations Award, had the chance to feature McMillan, who led the Pacers to a 48-34 record after they were believed to be one of the worst teams in the league heading into the year.
Instead the nominations list features Casey, the frontrunner, leading the Toronto Raptors to a franchise best 59-23 record by altering the way the Raptors played. If he wins, it will be an awkward one, given the Raptors fired Casey after Toronto became the first team since 1969 to be a top seed swept out of the playoffs before the Conference Finals.
Stevens’s nomination is no surprise either, he is the best night-to-night coach in the NBA and received heavy praise throughout this season for guiding the Boston Celtics to a #2 seed in the face of injuries and significant roster turnover the previous offseason. Quin Synder of the Utah Jazz started slow at 19-28, but finished the year 29-6 as Utah worked into the playoffs.
It’s not a real surprise McMillan wasn’t included with the final nominees, especially given the wealth of candidates this season in regards to the jobs Mike D’Antoni, Brett Brown, and Terry Stotts did. It is a bit disappointing however, simply because McMillan can be check-marked for the same accomplishments Casey, Stevens, and Synder are being nominated for.
The NBA Awards will take place on June 25 on TNT, and will feature the league’s biggest names in their own nominations.