The 2012 NBA Development League's regular season came to a close last weekend, meaning the annual awards ballot has been sent out to all of the D-League's coaches. It wasn't sent out to the media, but your's truly figured that people would like to know what the impartial observers thought about this record-setting year.
Some of these picks may seem weird, by the way, but the D-League has a rule that requires players to play at least 25 games during the D-League regular season to be eligible for postseason awards (Sorry, Jeremy Lin, Gerald Green and Lester Hudson!). Without further adieu, here goes nothing.
Most Valuable Player - Justin Dentmon, Austin Toros
I'm a big believer that this award should go to the best player on the best team -- or at least a very good team -- when it comes to handing out the MVP in the NBA. The D-League is a bit different, though, considering all of the outside factors effecting teams and players.
That said, the most valuable D-League players this season did consequently play for very good teams. I chose Dentmon over Elijah Millsap of the Los Angeles D-Fenders, though both players held their teams together all season while putting up solid statistics. My third candidate probably would have been Marcus Lewis of the Tulsa 66ers.
Defensive Player of the Year - Stefhon Hannah, Dakota Wizards
Hannah isn't a name anyone that doesn't follow D-League basketball is going to be familiar with and, considering his lack of ideal size as an NBA guard, the 6-foot-1 guard probably isn't at the top of the list for the majority of NBA decision makers.
That said, Hannah's a pretty great on-ball defender in the D-League -- a league where quite a few people seem to believe that defense is an afterthought, mind you. Rounding out the rest on my ballot in this category would have been Seth Tarver of the Idaho Stampede, Sean Williams of the Texas Legends and Courtney Fortson of the Los Angeles D-Fenders (and now a member of the Houston Rockets).
Rookie of the Year - Greg Smith, Rio Grande Valley Vipers
One would think there were quite a few young players worthy of this honor considering it's the NBA Development League, but that just wasn't the case this season. Smith stood head and shoulders above the competition (almost literally) in the opinion of your's truly, however.
Smith wasn't a dominating force down low for the Vipers, but considering the Fresno State product entered the league at just 20 years of age and ended up averaging 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds ... well, the kid was alright. Other options here included Malcolm Thomas of the D-Fenders, Edwin Ubiles of the Wizards and Dwight Buycks of the Tulsa 66ers.
Most Improved Player - Marcus Lewis, Tulsa 66ers
This was, without a doubt, the easiest award to hand out. Lewis, playing his third season in Tulsa after entering the league as a local tryout player, was remarkable this season for the team owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 6-foot-8 power forward averaged 15.1 points and 12.7 rebounds in 46 games for the 66ers this season after averaging 7.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. Considering he's only 25, there's still a good chance Lewis could continue to develop, too, ultimately becoming the best success story in the D-League.
Jason Collier Sportsmanship Award - Renaldo Major, Bakersfield Jam
Not a lot needs to be said here, but Major is a really solid dude and deserves some sort of recognition for that.
Impact Player of the Year Award - Marqus Blakely, Sioux Falls Skyforce
This award goes to players added mid-season, but is still only eligible to be handed to someone that played at least 25 games in the D-League ... so it gets a little tricky. That said, my vote would have went to Blakely just because he seemed to have the most positive effect on his new team of the players eligible.
Blakely was traded from the Iowa Energy to the Sioux Falls Skyforce in exchange for Patrick Ewing Jr., a trade that looks like a disaster in hindsight. Blakely went on to average 16.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists for the Skyforce while shooting better than 53 percent from the field and seemingly changing the culture in South Dakota.
Other players considered would have been Andre Emmett of the Reno Bighorns, Stef Hannah and Tommy Smith for the Dakota Wizards, Morris Almond for the Maine Red Claws, Eric Dawson of the Austin Toros and the Iowa Energy's Mike Efevberha.
Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year Award - Bob MacKinnon, Springfield Armor
I thought about abstaining from voting for this one considering I have developed solid relationships on the coaching staffs of quite a few D-League teams, but Coach Mac's ability to turn around the Armor was too good not to give him credit for it.
MacKinnon had a roster similar to that of his predecessor, Dee Brown, but did so much more with it as he led the Armor to the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The other coach I would imagine was in line for this award is Eric Musselman of the top-seeded LA D-Fenders, an uber-talented team he led to a 38-12 regular season record despite quite a few call-ups.
Plus all the D-League coaches are really good at what they do anyway so who needs an award!
All D-League First/Second/Third Teams
SG - Andre Emmett, Reno Bighorns / JamesOn Curry, Springfield Armor / D.J. Kennedy, Erie BayHawks
PF - Marcus Lewis, Tulsa 66ers / Eric Dawson, Austin Toros / Zach Andrews, LA D-Fenders
C - Jeff Foote, Springfield Armor / Sean Williams, Texas Legends / Greg Smith, Rio Grande Valley Vipers
All D-League Rookie Team
PG - Dwight Buycks, Tulsa 66ers
SG - D.J. Kennedy, Erie BayHawks
SF - Edwin Ubiles, Dakota Wizards
PF - Malcolm Thomas, LA D-Fenders
C - Greg Smith, RGV Vipers
All D-League Defensive Team
PG - Stef Hannah, Dakota Wizards
SG - Jerry Smith, Springfield Armor
SF - Seth Tarver, Idaho Stampede
PF - Marcus Dove, Dakota Wizards
C - Sean Williams, Texas Legends