Best Rockie 2016 | Nolan Arenado | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

You'd think being the best Rockie wouldn't be that tough, given how bad the team was last year. But Arenado would have been the top player on plenty of other, much better squads, too. He hits for power, slugging a team-leading 42 home runs in 2015. But he's also a great situational batter, which explains how he managed to average a very solid .287 even as he racked up an impressive 177 hits and drove in 130 runs. Moreover, his fielding is outstanding, as he demonstrated during a flipping, back-twisting grab last April against the San Francisco Giants that was one of the most frequently replayed defensive highlights of the year.

Readers' choice: Nolan Arenado

It was another lost season for the Nuggets, who often looked confused, disinterested or some combination thereof. But Barton was a big exception. When he came to Denver in a 2015 trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, he was a little-known quantity in these parts. But he soon made a name for himself off the bench, bringing much-needed energy, offensive creativity and hops so impressive that he was invited to take part in this year's NBA All-Star slam-dunk competition. And even though he frequently comes off the bench, he's the team's second-leading scorer, behind only the oft-injured Danilo Gallinari. In a unit that has underachieved, Barton's done the opposite.

Readers' choice: Kenneth Faried

Matt Duchene comes in for plenty of criticism, in part because he was foreseen to be a truly transcendent player, and thus far he's been only a very good one for a team that seems ready to take the next step quality-wise but hasn't been consistent enough to do it. Still, Duchene is typically the Avs' biggest goal-scorer and points-generator, as well as the one player that opponents must account for whenever he's on the ice. Moreover, he's still a mere 25, meaning that he's got plenty of time to become the difference-maker so many prognosticators envisioned.

Readers' choice: Matt Duchene

You were expecting us to pick someone else? Commentators continue to refer to the 2015-2016 season as a roller coaster, but it came close to being a trainwreck, with Peyton Manning throwing more interceptions than touchdowns as he aged before our eyes. But the defense helped the team win games it should have lost, with a late-season assist from the now-departed Brock Osweiler, who stepped in when Manning's poor play and assorted injuries made benching him a necessity. Then Manning returned in heroic fashion just in time for a march through a killer playoff schedule, capped by the best sort of victory in Super Bowl 50 — one that was both unexpected in many quarters and richly satisfying. Aren't you glad you were there to see it?

Readers' choice: Denver Broncos

The shift to the Pac-12 hasn't been pretty for the CU Buffs football team, which would have to improve measurably to be considered mediocre. But the school's basketballers have become consistently strong performers, regularly besting ranked opponents and challenging for the opportunity to take part in March Madness. And while the outfit is anchored by senior Josh Scott, a mix of promising sophomores and juniors — including George King, Josh Fortune and Dominique Collier — provides hope that the Buffs will continue to get better and better as time goes on.

Readers' choice: DU Hockey

In the past, this award has always gone to a head coach. But while Broncos boss Gary Kubiak deserves credit for helping his charges navigate a season filled with more than its share of melodrama, the real hero was defensive coach Phillips, who took a group of players that had been good in the past and transformed them into planet-toppers by way of an aggressive philosophy that unleashed their inner beasts. From game one, the D was terrific, which only makes its steady improvement through the regular season and into the playoffs that much more astonishing. Phillips's previous stints with the Broncos, including his two seasons as head coach during the early '90s, hardly prepared us for the majesty he would produce: gridiron brilliance that led directly to a win in Super Bowl 50. And as a bonus, he got to see Lady Gaga!

Readers' choice: Gary Kubiak

Before Boyle's arrival, CU basketball had experienced some great moments (a lot of them related to Chauncey Billups's time on the squad), but hadn't become the kind of program that was strong year in and year out. But after turning around the Northern Colorado Bears, he's done the same at CU, where his teams have won more than twenty games — a major-conference mark of excellence — for five of his six years at the helm. No wonder students at the Boulder campus pack every home game. In Tad they trust — as well they should.

Readers' choice: Tad Boyle

Plenty of local media observers were shocked when KOA pink-slipped Roach last year. But he's more than landed on his feet — and his spectacular vocal cords are the reason. His Twitter bio describes his gigs with becoming modesty; it notes that he is "heard at Denver Broncos, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, DIA trains, Rio Olympics or anywhere with a script and $50." That apparently includes this year's NFL Pro Bowl and the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony — just two of the national events that have been enhanced by his bottomless tones.

Readers' choice: Dave Logan

For years, Lombardi was a mainstay on CBS4, and his departure from the station was a dispiriting sign of the times. Fortunately, though, he hasn't disappeared from the Denver sports landscape. By jumping to Altitude, the network home of the Nuggets and the Avalanche, he's found a more wide-open forum for his quick wit and strong opinions — qualities that make him a must-follow on Twitter, too. And while he lost his radio gig on 104.3/The Fan in December, we have a feeling it won't be long before he returns to that medium, too.

Readers' choice: Drew Soicher

Colorado has its share of costumed mascots — men or women inside animal ensembles that would fit in nicely at the next Furries convention. But the state is also blessed with quite a few real animal mascots: Ralphie the buffalo at CU Boulder, Cam the ram at CSU, and Thunder, the Arabian horse that celebrates scores and more for the Denver Broncos. The team is actually on its third Thunder at this point, and seeing the magnificent creature pound across the gridiron is among the greatest thrills involved with being a Broncos fan. Thunder got nearly as big a reaction at the post-Super Bowl 50 victory parade as did Peyton Manning or Von Miller, and appropriately so.

Readers' choice: Rockie

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