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A closer look at the 2015-16 NBA award nominees

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Now that the Oscars are over we can finally turn our full attention to the NBA awards landscape.

Will Stephen Curry repeat as the NBA's Most Valuable Player?
Will Stephen Curry repeat as the NBA's Most Valuable Player?
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As the film awards season comes to a close, the NBA award talks are just now heating up. The 2016 NBA season is the 60th anniversary of the inaugural Most Valuable Player award, first given to the St. Louis Hawks' Bob Pettit in 1956.

No player in NBA history has even won the MVP award by unanimous decision. Both Shaquille O'Neal in 2000 and LeBron James in 2013 came close to such perfection when each player received 120 of 121 possible votes.

In the same year that Leonardo DiCaprio wins his first Oscar, will basketball fans see Stephen Curry become the league's first unanimous MVP?

In classic awards show fashion (drum roll please), here are the nominee's for the 2015-2016 NBA regular season awards:

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

After an injury plagued 2014-15 campaign, Kevin Durant has returned himself to MVP consideration. The Easy Money Sniper is averaging 27.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in addition to being one of the elite crunch time shot makers in the association. Unfortunately for the Slim Reaper, he might not even be the best MVP candidate on his own team.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbook soared up MVP voting leader boards last season with an impressive run of triple-doubles to close out the year. But with Kevin Durant back, Russ' numbers are just as impressive. The explosive combo guard is averaging 24.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 10.2 assists plus a league leading 2.2 steals per game this season. A better question might be, who is the MVP of the Thunder?

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

The 2015 Defensive Player of the year just keeps getting better. Leonard is one of the best defenders out of the top MVP candidates and operates efficiently on the offensive side of the ball. He is shooting 49% on three-point shots this season, albeit on only four attempts per game. Throw in averages of 20.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and only 1.8 turnovers per game and you have a mighty strong argument for the league's most valuable player.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Ho humm, another year of NBA basketball and another year LeBron is averaging 24.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists. His Cleveland Cavaliers are the number one seed in the East and are looking to make another NBA Finals run. While LBJ is shooting an abysmal 28% from three, his 50% overall field goal percentage is among the NBA elite.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

All signs point to the Baby Faced Assassin taking home his second MVP award in as many seasons. Curry is averaging 30.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He's already broken a slew of in game and single season records, not to mention he is the best player on arguably one of the greatest teams in NBA history. The Chef literally breaks a record every time he drains a three-pointer and can become the first unanimous MVP in league history.

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Yup, you better believe it. Draymond Green is a legitimate MVP candidate. The second round pick is averaging 13.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game on the season. Not to mention 40% shooting from behind the arc and a league leading 318 And One flex's.

Green is not only one of the best defenders in the league but is the heart and sole of a Golden State team that possesses a .914 winning percentage 58 games into the season. And who can forgot his uncanny ability to set hard nosed screens?

Below is a cool MVP tracker compiled by Basketball-Reference.com, in which they state:

"The NBA MVP Award Tracker ranks candidates based on a model built using previous voting results. these are the players that the voters are likely to target (maximum two players per team)."

Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Much like LeBron James' yearly consideration for the MVP award, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich always puts himself in a position to be named the NBA's coach of the year. It is a stretch to say that Pop isn't the best coach in the NBA, but fortunately for other coaches there are more things that go into winning the award than just being the leader of a perennial NBA powerhouse (see below).

The Spurs have one of the best defensive ratings in NBA history and allow just 92.5 points per game with a point differential of +12.6. What do you know, the Spurs are a great basketball team.

Rick Carilsle, Dallas Mavericks

As Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders writes:

"Determining the Coach of the Year in the NBA is about more than just picking the most visible bench boss from the league's few elite teams. Maximization of available talent is the key - how much is a given coach adding to his group, both visibly and behind the scenes, above and beyond his peers? Are his schemes optimizing his personnel? Are his developmental tactics bringing players along at a high rate? And how are these factors contributing to team success?

Through this lens, though it's impossible to discount the incredible work being done by Luke Walton and Gregg Popovich as their respective teams chase NBA history, your Coach of the Year leader through nearly half the season should be Dallas' Rick Carlisle. His counterparts in Golden State and San Antonio have perfectly good cases, but even with Carlisle's Mavs well behind them in the standings, no coach has done more with less on the year."

Read the rest of Dowsett's case for Carilsle as an NBA Coach of the Year candidate at BasketballInsiders.com.

Luke Walton / Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

This may be the most interesting race for NBA Coach of the Year ever, and I say that with no prior knowledge of any exciting COY races of yesteryear. When it is all said and done, the Golden State Warriors might be the greatest basketball team ever assembled. They won an NBA record 24 straight games to start the season, have not lost a game at home during the regular season in over a year and are currently on pace to win more games than any team ever.

Simple, right? After Steve Kerr got jobbed out of the Coach of the Year award last season, he might just fall short this season as well. Walton stepped into a championship team and confidently lead the Warriors a 39-4 record while Kerr recovered from multiple off-season back surgeries.

Kerr has since returned, and is 14-1 as head coach this season. But actually, he's not. Due to an obscure NBA rule that really hasn't received much attention until this season, Kerr is credited with every win and loss on the season.

With a record of 0-0, Luke Walton won Coach of the Month honors in November by seasons end will of coached more games (43) than Kerr (39) on the year. It is a unique conundrum that might make this the most interesting award of the season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

This is a two horse race just as it was last season and probably just how it will be next season. Dan Devine, Kelly Dwyer, and Eric Freeman of Yahoo Sports' Ball Don't Lie dissect the DPOY debate:

"The individual defensive metrics seem to make this a coin flip. Green holds the edge in Defensive Real Plus-Minus; Leonard leads in Defensive Win Shares. Draymond's individual defensive assignments see their field-goal percentages drop by a larger amount than Kawhi's do, with Draymond facing many more shot attempts per game. That cuts both ways, though, because it helps indicate how opponents view Kawhi like a shutdown corner, often refusing to even look in his direction, which makes life so much more difficult.

Both are elite at stopping isolation plays, with Kawhi allowing fewer points per possession on (again) far fewer attempts, while Green's been nearly as disruptive amid more frequent testing. Leonard has kept opposing ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll and spot-up shooters from scoring more than two-thirds of the time; Draymond has stuffed opposing roll men just as often, while grading out as the game's best post defender despite giving up a size advantage every night.

You're right that the Spurs' league-leading defense has been historically excellent while the Warriors' D has merely been top-five-caliber. But Golden State has clamped down at closer-to-San-Antonio levels with Green on the floor, and turned into a sieve without him.

The Dubs have allowed 12.6 more points per 100 possessions -- the difference between the league's second-best defense and its worst -- when Green sits, while the Spurs have maintained an all-time defensive rating even with Kawhi off the floor. In fact, San Antonio has allowed a microscopic 89.5 points-per-100 in 112 minutes with Leonard sitting and Tim Duncan in the middle..

I think Leonard is probably the game's single best defensive player. But Draymond's capacity to unlock the Warriors' switching schemes and small-ball lineups, and the degree to which his presence and absence seems to dictate Golden State's defensive production, still might make him the NBA's single most important defensive player. Does that make sense?"

Rookie of the Year

Much like the DPOY race, the ROY comes down to two candidates as well.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

The New York City hype machine is skyrocketing Porzingis to the top of the ROY debate, and rightfully so. While his Knicks are slightly better than Towns' T-Wolves, Towns is clearly having the better season.

The Ball Don't Lie crew points out Karl-Anthony Towns historically great rookie season:

"He's already holding opponents to a lower field-goal percentage at the rim than Tim Duncan, already shooting a dynamite 45 percent from midrange and already working as a glass-cleaning rebounder who covers a ton of ground in the defensive half-court; he's on pace to become the first rookie since 2000 (and just the 15th ever) to average 15 points, nine rebounds, an assist and a block per game, a list featuring all-timers like Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo and Chris Webber."

Most Improved Player

For additional insight on the NBA's Most Improved Player award, check out GSoM's own Derek Knight and his piece on why Draymond Green and Steph Curry are among the top candidates.

Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
Zaza Pachulia, Dallas Mavericks
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Sixth Man of the Year

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

Barton is having an extremely solid year off the bench for the Nuggets this season, averaging 15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. What may hurt Barton's chances the most is the fact that the Nuggets are currently 13 games under .500, good for 12th place in the Western Conference.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

Iguodala's impact is hard to quantify in terms of statistics, but if you watch him play you understand why he should be in consideration for the Sixth Man of the Year award. The 2015 NBA Finals MVP is having one of his best season's shooting the basketball, but is most valuable for his defensive versatility and other worldly clutch shot making ability.

(Information from Kevin Pelton's article titled Will Steph Curry become the NBA's first unanimous MVP? was used in this article)