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Thursday, April 12, 2007

ESPN's Shootaround Crew Selects the 2006-07 Awards Winners

On Wednesday's ESPN NBA Shootaround, Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Steven A. Smith calmly and rationally discussed who should win the major NBA awards this year. Well, actually, they screamed at each other--someday, someone will explain to me why this is supposed to be more entertaining and/or informative than having one person speak at a time so that we actually can tell what is being said--but fortunately their picks were also displayed on the screen. Here are their choices, followed by my comments:

Most Improved Player:

Host Fred Hickman listed six nominees, though he later asked the crew to choose one of the "five worthy candidates"; it is unclear how these six players were selected or which one was magically disqualified between when Hickman read their names and asked the crew to vote (nominees in all categories are listed in the order that Hickman presented them):

Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
Monta Ellis, Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers
David Lee, New York Knicks
Kevin Martin, Sacramento Kings
Deron Williams, Utah Jazz

Anthony chose Ellis, Legler went with Iguodala and Smith picked Lee. All of these players--and the three other nominees--are good choices. In a way, this award is just as tough to vote on as the MVP, because there is not really a set criteria, something that the crew alluded to in their discussion. Should Iguodala receive more credit because he has made a jump from role player to the star of his team? Williams was a high draft pick, so it could be said that his improvement represents the natural, expected progression of his career. My choice would be Kevin Martin, with Deng a close second. Martin has both come out of nowhere (late first round pick) and become a star, averaging over 20 ppg this year after scoring less than 11 ppg last year. Iguodala was a lottery pick, like Williams, and guys like that are expected to become top of the line players. Granted, Deng was a lottery pick as well but he seems to have added more to his game this season (specifically, a jump shot), while Williams and particularly Iguodala are just taking advantage of more touches and more playing time respectively.

I also think that Eddy Curry deserves to be mentioned in this category. After the Bulls recently blew out the Knicks, Chicago Coach Scott Skiles--who coached Curry when Curry was with the Bulls--kind of downplayed Curry's improvement this year, essentially saying that Curry is playing the same way and that his numbers are only up because his minutes are up. Perhaps there is some truth to that, but Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas has made Curry the focal point of the offense, Curry has worked diligently on his post moves with assistant coach Mark Aguirre and teams are now double and triple-teaming Curry. It does not seem like Curry will ever be a great rebounder or defender but legitimate low post scoring threats are hard to find and he has become one.

6th Man of the Year:

Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix Suns
Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
Antonio McDyess, Detroit Pistons
Corey Maggette, Los Angeles Clippers
Jerry Stackhouse, Dallas Mavericks

Anthony and Legler both chose Barbosa, while Smith picked Ginobili. Each player comes off of the bench for an elite team and provides energy, speed and hustle. I would take Barbosa, narrowly, with Ginobili second and Stackhouse third. McDyess started the season slowly but has really come on in the second half of the year.

Coach of the Year:

Avery Johnson, Dallas Mavericks
Sam Mitchell, Toronto Raptors
Don Nelson, Golden State Warriors
Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz
Jeff Van Gundy, Houston Rockets

Anthony and Smith both picked Johnson, while Legler selected Van Gundy. A good case could be made for any of these nominees, but I would take Johnson. His team is going to finish with one of the best regular season records in the history of the NBA and that is largely because he has transformed the Mavericks from a run and gun team to a defensive minded one. Before, they had Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash but could not make it to the Finals. Last year, they made it to the Finals without Nash and they followed up that effort with a tremendous wire to wire performance (not counting a slight blip at the very beginning) this season. My second choice would be Mitchell; it was not long along that fans were clamoring for him to be fired but he has done a great job with a young team. Nelson is the king of exploiting mismatches and he is on the verge of guiding the Warriors into the playoffs for the first time since his previous tenure there a decade ago.

Rookie of the Year:

Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors
Randy Foye, Minnesota Timberwolves
Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies
Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats
Brandon Roy, Portland Trailblazers

Anthony and Smith agreed again (must be a full moon), taking Roy. Legler picked Bargnani. Roy is the obvious choice and will no doubt win the award in a landslide. Bargnani may have more of the proverbial "upside" but he has not had a better season than Roy has. I'd take Gay next and Morrison third.

Most Valuable Player:

Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Anthony and Smith agreed yet again (perhaps a sign of impending apocalypse), picking Nowitzki. Legler took Nash. These five candidates would easily fill the top five positions on my ballot, with Bryant first followed by Nowitzki, Duncan, Nash and James. I would choose Bryant because he is the best player in the game today, as I have explained in numerous posts throughout the season, including here and here. In the latter post, I summarized my reasoning:

Bryant is the game's best and most skillful player because he has no weaknesses. He can score in the post, in the mid-post, from three point range and on the drive. He can finish with either hand. He rebounds, defends, passes well and can handle the ball with either hand. No other player is as complete. Tim Duncan and LeBron James have free throw weaknesses. Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are not as good defensively as Bryant, nor can they guard multiple positions as well as he can. Dwyane Wade has no three point shot and is not as good of a ballhandler.

Bryant's well documented scoring feats last season and this season (35.4 ppg, 81 point game, 62 points in three quarters versus Dallas, 30 point quarter against Utah without missing a field goal or free throw, four straight 50 point games, etc.) rival the accomplishments of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Michael Jordan--and he has done all of this while being a member of the All-Defensive First Team last season (voted on by the league's head coaches) and ranking among the best players at the shooting guard position in rebounding and assists.

Nowitzki is certainly a deserving candidate if one subscribes to the theory that the award should go to the best player on the best team. I expect that he will in fact win the MVP this year. Duncan kind of slips beneath the radar because he is not flashy but he is already arguably the greatest power forward ever (which is not the same thing as saying that he has been better than Nowitzki in this particular season). Last year his numbers dropped a bit because of injuries but now he is back to being a 20-10 player who controls the paint defensively. For most of the year I have written that I would take Nash third but looking at this entire season I cannot justify putting him ahead of Duncan. The Spurs and Suns have virtually identical records and the Spurs have the advantage in the head to head matchups. Duncan affects the game offensively and defensively, while Nash's impact is mainly felt on the offensive end. Duncan has proven that his style of play can lead to winning championships. Yes, the MVP is supposed to be based on this year's performance (although there are not any actual written criteria) but the case for Nash is largely a subjective one; as I mentioned in my previous post, if you go strictly "by the numbers" then Nash's name is not even in the discussion for MVP. I think that there is a significant value to what he does but he is not "better" than Bryant, Nowitzki or Duncan, nor has he shown that his style of play can result in a championship. Bryant was an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team performer on three championship teams, Duncan was a three-time Finals MVP and Nowitzki carried a team to the Finals just last year. Before this season, I wrote a cover story for Lindy's Pro Basketball titled "Who's the Boss?" The article looked at who the best players in the league are and I concluded, "The theory behind the International Race of Champions (IROC) is to take the best drivers from various series, put them in identically outfitted cars and see who wins. The NBA doesn't work that way, but because of his drive and willpower, I suspect that Kobe Bryant would emerge as 'the boss' if he and the other contenders were placed in an IROC-style competition that provided each player with equally talented rosters." Look at last year's playoffs: Nash's Suns were clearly a more talented team than Bryant's Lakers from top to bottom but the series lasted seven games.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:31 AM



At Thursday, April 12, 2007 5:21:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

how much i love kobe he is nowhere near the mvp you have to win at least 55 games to do it that at least how it has been the last 25 years only jordan and moses malone won the award in the 40+ win category come on the lakers won 45 last year and on aint going to win that much this year. also i notice if you win the mvp you have to be at least in the second round to recive the award jordan and malone made the second round kobe not going to win a game in the first vs the suns. man dirk is mvp his team won 65 so far probably going to win 68 or 69 that would be disrespectful if he didnt win it because he's been a top 3 player in the league on the best team. the best player argument is weak you have have to win games david to win the heisman mvp in nfl or baseball it's part of it.

At Thursday, April 12, 2007 5:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dirk is certainly a worthy candidate.

You can't really base the MVP on whether or not a team makes it to the second round because the voting is done before the playoffs start. Seattle had the best record in the league in 1994 and lost to eighth seeded Denver. The Lakers were the seventh seed last year and came within one defensive rebound in game six of eliminating Phoenix. If the Lakers had gotten that rebound would you rescind Nash's MVP award? There is no way to know for sure what will happen in the postseason; the MVP is a regular season honor. If anything, the only postseason results that can be considered, in a close race, are previous ones: which player has shown that he can perform at the highest level in championship situations. Bryant and Duncan have already done this, Nowitzki did it to a point (leading his team to the Finals). Nash and LeBron have not yet done this.

I understand that many people feel that the MVP should come from one of the league's premier teams but I have never agreed with that idea. The NBA does not stipulate criteria for this award. To me, the MVP is the best player, period. There is a Finals MVP award that recognizes outstanding postseason performance. Dirk, Nash and the other great players on elite teams can properly battle for that honor.


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