NBA Midseason Awards
As the NBA regular season continues on after the All-Star break, its time to hand
out our midseason awards.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard (Orlando)
14.1 boards and 2.9 blocks plus a steal per game is downright filthy, but it only
tells part of Howard’s defensive dominance. Even with Orlando starting two semi-professional
matadors, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic are top five in the league
in points allowed, opposing field goal percentage, and opposing three-point percentage.
Head coach Stan Van Gundy deserves much praise for Orlando’s defensive success
(and he'll get it in a while), but a large portion of the credit should be directed
to Howard. Without Dwight patrolling the paint, Orlando can’t do the things that
make them successful on defense. Orlando can overplay the three-point line, chasing
guys off knowing that their Superman is waiting in the paint to deter penetration
and lay-ups. His stats are off the charts, but his importance to what Orlando
does on defense makes him the choice for DPOY.
Most Improved Player: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City)
He’s receiving a little more recognition now, but Kevin Durant has mainly been
under the radar for most of the season. It’s too bad, because he’s quietly putting
up devastating numbers that get better and better as the season progresses.
Durant is becoming deadly efficient, shooting 48% from the field, 43% from three,
and 86% from the free throw line. He’s recently moved past Danny Granger, becoming
the leagues fifth highest scorer at 25.5 points a game, a full five points more
than he was averaging last year. He’s upped his rebounding from 4.4 to 6.7, and
has also improved his assist and block averages.
It gets better. The most amazing thing about Durant is how he’s been getting better
as the season has rolled on. He’s improved his scoring average every month this
season: 22.9 in November, 25.1 in December, 27.8 in January and 30.8 in February.
He’s slowly becoming one of the best scorers in the league right before our eyes.
Devin Harris and Danny Granger are both worthy choices, and their improvement
from solid starters to borderline superstars has been marvelous. However, Durant
arguably is a superstar at this point. While most guys are starting to decline
in production, Durant continues to improve his game. And thus, he wins the award
for Most Improved Player.
Coach of the Year: Stan Van Gundy (Orlando)
After getting rather rudely brushed aside in Miami, Stan Van Gundy has affirmed
himself as a top NBA head coach. His hard-line approach has turned Orlando into
a defensive beast, and has also turned out three All-Stars, Jameer Nelson, Rashard
Lewis and Dwight Howard. Through his commitment to team effort and defense, he’s
developed Orlando into an Eastern Conference contender. In two years at the helm,
he’s put in a defensive system that has placed Orlando towards the top of the
NBA power rankings.
But, with Jameer Nelson sidelined indefinitely with a torn labrum, Van Gundy will
be tested. At the point-guard position, he has only Anthony Johnson and newly
acquired Tyronn Lue at his disposal. Van Gundy will surely have to improvise,
whether it's using Turkoglu more as a point-guard and/or turning Courtney Lee into
a point-man, Van Gundy is going to have a tough time maintaining Orlando’s pre-All-Star
Exectuive of the Year: Mark Warkentien (Denver)
Warkentein had the courage and the foresight to swap Allen Iverson for Chauncey
Billups, and it couldn’t have worked out better for the Nuggets. Denver is playing
better in all areas and due to Billups’ steady play at the point, have become
much more efficient on both sides of the ball.
Besides the effect on the record, the Billups trade shed payroll and got Denver
under the luxury tax. They have financial flexibility if they want to make more
moves to add to their promising core of Billups and Anthony.
Warkentien understood the team needed more consistency, and smartly acquired one
of the most consistent players in the league in Billups. It was a fantastic trade
all-around, and Warkentien should be lauded. He was also able to re-up J.R. Smith
to a reasonable, cap-friendly deal and stayed patient on Nene.
All of his moves are paying dividends both on the court and on the balance sheet.
Sixth Man: Jason Terry (Dallas)
Savor this moment, Jason, because at the end of the season, this award will be
handed to Manu Ginobili. And no, its not (totally) due to Terry’s broken hand
that he suffered on Febuary 7th against Chicago. Ginobili has hit his 19 point
average five out of his last six games and looks completely recovered from off-season
ankle surgery. It’s safe to say that the best sixth man in the league is back.
But, let’s not take away from Terry’s great first-half accomplishments. While
healthy, Terry served as the Mavs primary offensive option down the stretch. He
stands as the second leading scorer on the team at 19.9 points a game, but his
real contribution has come when his team has needed him the most. In the fourth
quarter, Terry has scored 10 points or more 10 times and he leads the team in
fourth quarter scoring at 6.4 ppg. He’s been their most consistent performer in
Terry is going to start shooting soon, but Dallas has put no timetable on his
return. If Dallas’ fourth-quarter struggles against Boston told us anything, it
indicated that Dallas needs Jason Terry if they’re going to win close games.
Rookie of the Year: Derrick Rose (Chicago)
For all of the things that Derrick Rose is, I keep hearing the things that Rose
isn’t. Rose isn’t vocal enough. Rose isn’t assertive enough. Rose doesn’t rebound
enough. Rose can’t shoot. Rose doesn’t play defense well.
And yet, D-Rose somehow stands triumphantly above all other rookies. The amazing
thing is that Rose is held back by Chicago’s ineptitude both on the bench and
in the front-office, yet still produces despite those weaknesses.
GM Jim Paxson has hamstrung the rookie point guard by surrounding him with five
players with sub-44% career shooting average (Andres Nocioni, Larry Hughes, Ben
Gordon, Thabo Sefolosha and Ben Gordon). Almost everywhere he passes, bricks quickly
follow. And head coach Vinny Del Negro has yet to put in a consistent offensive
system, which limits Roses productivity and freedom.
So how can a slightly flawed player on a severely flawed team win Rookie of the
Year? Because Derrick Rose is really, really good. Guys are playing way off of
him, daring Rose to shoot from the perimeter. But, due to his blinding quickness
and superb finishing ability, Rose doesn’t need to. He’s averaging 17-6 with a
shaky jump-shot on a team that has no plan on offense and no consistent shooters.
He’s been the Bulls’ most valuable player and has somehow kept them in the playoff
discussion in the East. O.J. Mayo is close behind, but as long as Rose keeps up
the good play and keeps the Bulls somewhat relevant, the award will be his.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (Cleveland)
To me, I take the MVP award’s meaning literally. It should be awarded to the most
valuble – the most indispensable – player to his team.
In years past, voters have made a commitment to awarding the best players on the
best teams with the award. Kobe Bryant won the award last year despite posting
his worst statistical season in ten years, and Dirk Nowitzki won it the year before
despite posting the worst statistical season for an MVP of all-time. Before that,
Steve Nash won the award two years in a row, putting up great if not spectacular
stats on great Suns teams.
As a result, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, despite putting up historic numbers,
were left out to dry by the voters’ preference towards winners.
Now that LeBron, the best player of all-time never to win an MVP, is on a great
Cleveland team, voters have no excuses to deny him. Cleveland has the third best
record in the league, and LeBron is putting up his usual eye-popping averages.
28.5-7.5-7 aren’t as spectacular as his 31.4-7-6.6 from 05-06 or even last year’s
30-7.9-7.2. That's minor, however. The numbers are still gaudy and his impact
on his team is still enormous.
The bottom line is this: Nobody is more essential to their team than LeBron James.
LeBron is the master chief of his squad. He is not only expected to handle the
scoring load every night, but he is also expected to be the primary offensive
facilitator as well as their top one-on-one defender. If you take away LeBron,
Cleveland is a lottery team. With LeBron, they’re a Finals contender.
If that’s not valuable, I don’t know what is.
All-NBA First Team:
G: Chris Paul (New Orleans)
G: Dwyane Wade (Miami)
F: LeBron James
F: Tim Duncan (San Antonio)
C: Dwight Howard
“What, no Kobe?!” Laker fans yell in unsion. Nope, no Kobe.
It’s a tough omission, but his absence from the All-NBA first team is
Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade are simply on another level. Kobe
is having another great year, but Paul and Wade are having spectacular
all-around seasons. Wade is single-handedly carrying a team that is coached by a
first-year head coach, starts a rookie point-guard and features Udonis Haslem at
center to the fifth best record in the East. Paul continues to do his thing in
New Orleans, and has kept the Hornets afloat in the face of mounting injuries to
There's bound to be an issue with the choice of Wade over Kobe. Bryant was last season's MVP and is in the running to repeat this year. He's leading the best team in the league, Wade plays for a team that's sitting four games over .500.
There's more to it than that, though. A lot more, actually. Wade averages more points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals than Kobe, and shoots better from the field. In other words, Wade is better in every major traditional statistical category. And if you want to go the stat geek route, Wade is better than Kobe, too -- he's better than Kobe in John Hollinger's Player Efficency Rating, and posts a better Roland rating. Statistically, there's really no argument.
For the throng of Kobe supporters, there is another argument, and that is that Kobe plays the biggest role for a championship contender. Fundamentally, the Lakers are better than the Heat and thus, Kobe shouldn't be penalized for putting up slighly worse stats.
To introduce my point that I'm about to make, let's turn back the clock to the 2006-2007 season. Stuck on a terrible Laker team that featured Smush Parker and Kwame Brown as starters, Kobe Bryant scored an incredible 35.4 points per game to lead his team to 45 wins and a postseason berth. Kobe did everything in his power and more to ensure the Lakers made the playoffs. In the minds of many, he was the best player in the league and should have won his first MVP award.
But, he didn't. Why? Because, unlike Steve Nash, his team didn't have great supporting players and did not post 50+ wins. Even though Bryant did everything in his power to carry a poor Lakers team to an above-.500 record, he was overlooked by voters because his team wasn't as good the Suns.
The job of a player is to play basketball with the
personnel that is given to him by the front office. Kobe Bryant, Dwyane
Wade, and every other player in the league have no control over what
decisions are made upstairs in the front office. In 05-06, Kobe Bryant by himself willed the Lakers to the playoffsand was penalized because he wasn't on a good enough team. How is that fair? Kobe didn't choose his teammates. He took what was given to him by Mitch Kupchak, and pushed the Lakers to their absolute limit. And he gets penalized for that? His contributions to his team weren't as big as Steve Nash's to his own?
Like Kobe in 06-07, Wade's stuck with an inferior supporting cast in 08-09. And like Kobe, it's not Wade's fault. He had absolutely no influence on Miami's decision to trade the formely decrepit Shaquile O'Neal, field a D-League team and completely rebuild its team. Like Kobe in 05-06, Wade can only take his inferior team as far as his extremely high ability will allow him, which happens to be a five seed in the East.
People will question why I'm penalizing Kobe for being on a winning team. But, I question why people penalize Dwyane Wade for being on a playoff team. We heap praise and award hardware to the great players on championship teams, but why can't we do the same for the great players on playoff teams? Are their roles on their teams no less, their individual talent no greater than their counterparts? Individual awards should be based on the play of individual players, not solely on the success of players relative to their teams.
I’m not diminishing Kobe’s game. He’s one of the best players in the league and the most dangerous player in the clutch. But, Wade is statistically better and his impact on his team is greater than Kobe's. That's why Wade is a First Team All-NBA player, and Kobe is not.
Top Play of the Year: Dwyane Wade Dunk on Emeka Okafor and Brandon Roy 0.8
second buzzer-beater against Houston
Two great plays, I couldn’t pick which one I liked the best. So I picked them