By Chris Le
Usually, by this time of year, most of the playoff seedings have been finalized and the topic of discussion becomes the regular season awards. As you know, however, this hasn’t been the typical NBA season, and the debate over the game’s best rookie, coach, sixth man, etc. has been overshadowed by this marvelous finish to the regular season. So with just over a week left, still amid a fiercely contested race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, I thought it’d be prudent to hand out some hardware—even if it isn’t the most prevalent subject on people’s minds.
Most Valuable Player – Chris Paul
I’ve gone through this with much depth in a previous article. But here’s the gist: the Hornets have the best record in the West, despite have the league’s worst bench—30th in points per game (24.3) and 29th in efficiency (25.8). No one has done more with less this year. And whether it is stats, team success or leadership, Paul has all three in spades.
Ballot: 1. Chris Paul 2. Kobe Bryant 3. Kevin Garnett 4. LeBron James
Coach of the Year – Byron Scott
It’s got to be down to Scott or Doc Rivers, who coach the top teams in their respective conferences, with Phil Jackson not too far behind. Some pundits picked the Celtics, now equipped with three legitimate stars, to win the East. Can’t say the same about the Hornets. And by virtue of the fact that no one saw New Orleans coming, I have to give it to Scott. I still can’t understand how they have the best record in the West. Well, there’s Paul playing out of his mind. But while CP3 deserves a lot of credit, the rest most certainly goes to Scott.
Ballot: 1. Byron Scott 2. Doc Rivers 3. Phil Jackson 4. Stan Van Gundy
Rookie of the Year – Kevin Durant
Another two-man race, this between Seattle’s quick-firing Durant and Al Horford, who has been a near double-double machine on a playoff contender. But as poorly and disappointing (and I use both terms very loosely) as Durant was in the beginning of the season, the growth he has shown in the second half has been substantial. Factoring in everything—the reality that he’s the only threat on a bottom-feeding team, the pressure of the hype and the mid-season maturity, all as a 19-year-old—one begins to realize it’s Durant pretty comfortably.
Ballot: 1. Kevin Durant 2. Al Horford 3. Al Thornton 4. Luis Scola
Defensive Player of the Year – Kevin Garnett
Hard to ignore the stats of Marcus Camby (3.6 blocks, 10.3 defensive rebounds, 1.1 steals) and Dwight Howard (2.2 blocks, 10.9 defensive rebounds). But it’s equally hard to disregard how mediocre to awful their teams are defensively as a whole. Unlike Camby and Howard, whose defensive contributions have been mainly singular, Kevin Garnett has turned a traditionally soft bunch into the stingiest defense in the NBA. Not only has it been Garnett’s individual play but the mindset he instilled in his teammates the moment he set foot in Boston.
Ballot: 1. Kevin Garnett 2. Marcus Camby 3. Dwight Howard 4. Shane Battier
Sixth Man of the Year – Manu Ginobili
Easiest pick of the bunch. Some say he’s really a starter, but with more appearances as a sub than as a starter, he fits the criteria.
And forget the 6th man award, Manu should justifiably garner some (probably just a little) MVP attention. Everything the Spurs do still revolves around Tim Duncan, but this year Ginobili has been their go-to scorer, and the lift he gives them off the bench has been vital to their success—particularly with Father Time catching up to Robert Horry, Michael Finley and, to a lesser extent, Bruce Bowen. Additionally, there was a one month period earlier in the season when Manu was dropping 35-point games like nothing, looking like the best player on the planet (i.e. as good as Kobe and LeBron).
Ballot: 1. Manu Ginobili 2. Leandro Barbosa 3. Luis Scola 4. Ben Gordon
Most Improved Player – Hedo Turkoglu
Over the years, this category has become the most difficult to decide, usually because of a packed field—and this is great for the NBA. There’s isn’t anything like watching so many players blossom, especially into possible superstardom and knowing that the league has a bright future. But I digress.
I’m reluctant, like others out there I think, to give the award to players who have already established themselves as stars. In a way, I view it as a coming-out or a I-didn’t-think-you’d-be-this-good prize. So Dwight Howard, Monta Ellis and Chris Paul are out of the running.
Rudy Gay has seen the greatest statistical jump but plays on a horrible team. Rajon Rondo has been key to the Celtics’ success, but he’s playing behind three All-Stars. Turkoglu, on the other hand, is having career highs in points (19.7), rebounds (5.9), assists (4.9) and field goal percentage (.454), all while being the second-best player on a postseason contender.
Ballot: 1. Hedo Turkoglu 2. Rudy Gay 3. LaMarcus Aldridge 4. Rajon Rondo
All-NBA First Team
G Chris Paul
G Kobe Bryant
F LeBron James
F Kevin Garnett
C Amare Stoudemire
All-NBA Second Team
G Deron Williams
G Steve Nash (Thought about swapping him with Ginobili for a second)
F Paul Pierce
F Tim Duncan
C Dwight Howard
G Kobe Bryant
F Shane Battier
F Kevin Garnett
F Tim Duncan
C Marcus Camby