It’s about to be the second most wonderful time of the year– playoffs time!– the first of course being Christmas. With the arrival of the post season comes the conclusion of the regular season, and with that comes awards: MVP, Sixth Man of the Year, DPOY, all of that jazz. Anyway, might as well jump right in to the picks…
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (MIA)
Runner Up: Chris Paul (LAC)
Others Considered (in order): Kevin Durant (OKC), Tony Parker (SAS), Kobe Bryant (LAL)
We’ve been playing this game all season, and by we I mean you. Everyone’s been looking for reasons not to pick LeBron James as the league MVP, but at this point time has run out. All of his competitors have at one point or another wilted in his presence. Chris Paul was the preseason favorite, Kevin Love the early opposition, Kobe Bryant the fan boy’s push, Durant the late challenger, and Tony Parker the sleeper, but yet none of those players realistically even had close to as dominant a season as James had. Not only did he squash the rest of the league with a PER over 30, he held the Heat together in Wade’s absence, took over several games down the stretch as if specifically to spite Skip Bayless, dominated offensively in other-wordly ways, and was the most flexible defender in the NBA, frequently guarding positions 1-4 and taking on 5 every now and again. He fronts dominant big men better than almost anyone in the league, and no one’s going to try and lob it over LeBron’s 40-inch vertical, he locks down wing players by preventing them from getting into the paint, and wreaks havoc on any opposition’s fast break as he lurks behind, waiting to swat a layup off the glass with such force it caroms to the opposite side of the court. He’s not only the most well-rounded player in the league, but he’s become undisputedly the best player in the league– as if he wasn’t for the past three seasons.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler (NYK)
Runner Up: Andre Iguodala (PHI)
Others Considered (in order): LeBron James (MIA), Kevin Garnett (BOS), Luol Deng (CHI), Dwight Howard (ORL), Elton Brand (PHI)
There are three incredibly dominant wing defenders in the NBA– Iguodala being the best, followed by James and Deng in that order. Of those three, LeBron is the most flexible and versatile while Iguodala is the most dominant at a single task. Yet in this crop of elite wing defenders, none of them are defensive anchors. They don’t anchor the paint, they don’t control everything that happens with their super powers, and they don’t guard the basket like a stray dog defending a raw piece of meat that he’s laid claim to. Tyson Chandler does all of those things, but mainly uses his super powers. He’s been the lone bright spot (aside from Shumpert) on a Knicks team that features so many defensively inept players that even Mike Woodson, defensive mastermind, was scrambling when he first took over for D’Antoni. Give Woodson credit, though, he made a defender out of Carmelo Anthony and put a defensive spark into a team that needed one so desperately. Chandler has been the steadying force for a team that has seen more ups and downs than any team this season, and he almost has a chokehold on this award.
Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden (OKC)
Runner Up: Lou Williams (PHI)
Others Considered (in order): Jason Terry (DAL)
There’s really not much to argue on this one. Out of all the guys coming off the bench, James Harden has been far and away the best. He’s a top 30 player in this league, borderline top 20. You can make a case for an All-NBA selection. He plays starters minutes, is one of the elite playmakers in the league and can kill you in a variety of different ways. Lou Williams has been fantastic this season– brilliant even, but Harden has been on another level than half of the starters in this league.
Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich (SAS)
Runner Up: Ty Corbin (UTA)
Others Considered (in order): Tom Thibodeau (CHI), Doc Rivers (BOS), Frank Vogel (IND), Alvin Gentry (PHX), Monty Williams (NO)
For starters, Ty Corbin has not received near enough credit for the work he’s done in Utah. He has a roster with two solid, established players surrounded by first and second year guys fighting to make a name for themselves in the league. He’s turned a team that I thought was garbage at the beginning of the season into a competitive group that shocked the rest of the league and made the playoffs. Still, for all the work Corbin has done, I think Popovich is the guy here. He’s the best coach in the NBA right now, and has been in the top two practically his entire career. He is a genius. A basketball genius. Basketball’s Einstein–kind of– if you will. Yet again, he milked his oldies for another number one seed out West led by Tony Parker’s brilliant play and the stabilizing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving (CLE)
Runner Up: Ricky Rubio (MIN)
Others Considered (in order): Kenneth Faried (DEN), Isaiah Thomas (SAC), Kawhi Leonard (SAS), and Iman Shumpert (NYK)
This is another runaway, and my preseason pick, Faried, made a solid push towards the end of the year. I was tempted to put him second, and while he’ll probably come in second on most voters’ ballots, I just cannot ignore the brilliance of Ricky Rubio in the first half of the season. It’s a shame he suffered a season ending injury because he really could have taken it from Irving who ran away with it in the latter half of the season. Regardless, the rookie class has turned out to be more solid than we expected. Faried looks like a potential monster down the line, Rubio could be the next Jason Kidd, Isaiah Thomas went from last pick in the draft to one of the best players on the Kings, Shumpert went from “selected too high” to a top-5 rookie, and Irving almost became a superstar in year one. Cleveland has a bright future with Irving at the helm, whose rookie season is what John Wall’s should have been. The last time Cleveland put their trust in a 19 year old, it didn’t end out the way they wished a few years down the line, hopefully Irving can relieve them of their misery.
Most Improved Player: Nikola Pekovic (MIN)
Runner Up: Ersan Ilyasova (MIL)
Others Considered (in order): Goran Dragic (HOU), DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Jeremy Lin (NYK)
Ersan Ilyasova is getting a lot of love for this award and rightfully so, but I can’t shake the beast Pekovic has become from my mind. Maybe I’ve been to one too many Daily Dime Live sessions with Zach Harper, but Pekovic has become a cannibalistic monster who eats players’ souls for shits and giggles. He’s a rebounding machine, a brute defender, and has developed an offensive game that will complement Love very well down the line. The Wolves have shaped up a very solid core with Rubio, Love, and Pek, it’s too bad they won’t be able to improve through the draft this summer. Anyway, to deny Pekovic at least extreme consideration is foolish. I can live with Ilyasova taking home the bacon, but my vote’s with Pek.
First Team All-NBA
PG: Chris Paul
Wings: LeBron James, Kevin Durant
Bigs: Kevin Love, Dwight Howard
Second Team All-NBA
PG: Tony Parker
Wings: Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant
Bigs: Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum
Third Team All-NBA
PG: Russell Westbrook
Wings: James Harden, Andre Iguodala*
Bigs: Josh Smith, Pau Gasol
*As John Hollinger astutely pointed out (link is ESPN insider restricted), Carmelo Anthony is a name you’d usually see on that Third Team All-NBA list, but Hollinger makes an excellent point that had me ripping my hair out for a solid minute debating between Iggy and Carmelo. Carmelo, we have to remember, was absolutely terrible for much of the first half of the season as he quit on D’Antoni and the team before Woodson took over. Granted, since then, he’s been the most dominant scorer in the league and has made a strong push, but this is a full season award, and for that reason, the defensive specialist gets the nod because he’s been consistently playing at an incredibly high level all season long.