Choosing This Season's NBA Awards WinnersThe MVP race has obviously dominated discussions of this year's awards but there are also some tough choices to be made regarding other honors, including the three All-NBA Teams. Several prominent commentators have already weighed in with their choices. It should be noted that not every commentator announced a selection for every award:
MVP: Mark Jackson (ESPN/ABC), Chris Mannix (Sports Illustrated), Reggie Miller (TNT) and Kenny Smith (TNT) chose Kobe Bryant. Mike Wilbon (ESPN/ABC) said that he is "leaning toward" Bryant but will not decide for sure until the last game is played. Charles Barkley (TNT), Jon Barry (TNT), Hubie Brown (ESPN/ABC) and Jeff Van Gundy (ESPN/ABC) chose Chris Paul.
I doubt that anyone is surprised to hear that my choice is Kobe Bryant. I have explained my reasoning in several posts and articles: Bryant is the league's best and most complete player, he has led his team successfully through three seasons in one in 2007-08 and the main thing that "disqualified" him in previous years--his team's record--is no longer an issue. The San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins concisely makes the case for Bryant in an article titled No Kidding--Kobe is Obvious MVP Choice. First he quotes Kirk Snyder, who says, "Guarding Kobe Bryant is kind of disturbing sometimes because guys aren't supposed to be perfect." Jenkins concludes:
On the court, Bryant is the best thing we've seen since Michael Jordan--and right now, he's every bit as valuable. You can have your Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett or LeBron James, each a tremendously worthy MVP candidate. I'll take perfection.
This is a man, the first since Jordan, who has a reliable shot anywhere up to 30 feet, can create any shot for himself at any time, has a sweet little mid-range bank shot (the mark of a truly great scorer), competes with an almost vicious resolve, plays hurt without a single complaint, throws down life-changing dunks and can improvise himself past any obstacle, with touch and finesse, when driving to the hoop.
Jenkins dismisses the idea of waiting to see how the Lakers and Hornets finish the season before deciding between Bryant and Chris Paul, declaring, "What, Paul's Hornets finish one game behind the Lakers and suddenly he's not the best candidate? Would such a finish cost Byron Scott his shot at Coach of the Year? Nonsense. The Western Conference will be so competitive as to make an immediate joke out of records and seedings. All of the necessary evidence is in for individual awards, and the MVP is an easy call from here."
My top five NBA candidates, in order, are Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. James is threatening Bryant's status as the game's best all-around player but he still needs to improve his defense, outside shooting and free throw shooting to claim that title. Paul has emerged as the best point guard in the NBA. Garnett has sacrificed his individual statistics this season but his impact on the Celtics has been very significant. Howard is the most dominant back to the basket post player in the league, as demonstrated by his scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and high field goal percentage.
Rookie of the Year: Charles Barkley, Hubie Brown, Mark Jackson and Reggie Miller chose Al Horford. Ernie Johnson (TNT), Chris Mannix and Kenny Smith chose Kevin Durant. Jeff Van Gundy chose Luis Scola.
This race is very interesting. Durant has gaudier scoring numbers than any rookie, mainly because he has the green light to shoot all the time for a bad team. Horford is almost averaging a double double for a playoff team. Scola is a very productive player for a strong Western Conference team. I really respect what Horford and Scola have done but neither of them has been asked to shoulder as big of a burden as Durant has. I have been critical of Durant's field goal percentage and if it had sunk much lower I would have chosen Horford but in the last month of the season Durant has made a lot of progress, so I give him the nod in this category.
I would vote Horford second and Scola third.
Defensive Player of the Year: Hubie Brown, Ernie Johnson, Chris Mannix and Kenny Smith chose Kevin Garnett. Charles Barkley chose Bruce Bowen and Doug Collins (TNT) chose Shane Battier.
I would vote for Garnett, who I expect to win in a landslide. Garnett is not only an outstanding individual defender but he has played a major role in transforming the mindset of the Celtics and making that team the best defensive squad in the league. I would vote Tim Duncan second and Battier third. Duncan is the anchor for a Spurs' defense that has ranked among the league's best for a decade, while Battier is a fantastic wing defender who guards Bryant about as well as anyone in the NBA.
Sixth Man of the Year: Charles Barkley, Hubie Brown and Kenny Smith chose Manu Ginobili.
Ginobili is my selection and I expect there to be a landslide in this category, too. Ginobili is mentioned in some quarters as an MVP contender; I think that's a bit much, but he definitely is the best bench player in the NBA. I would vote Leandro Barbosa second and J.R. Smith third. Barbosa's speed and shooting ability are a deadly combination. Smith is a high flying dunker who can also shoot three pointers and that versatility makes him a potent scorer.
Most Improved Player: Jeff Van Gundy, Ernie Johnson and Chris Mannix chose Hedo Turkoglu. Mark Jackson chose Rajon Rondo. Charles Barkley chose David West. Kenny Smith chose the entire Portland Trailblazers team.
I think that Turkoglu will probably win. Turkoglu has said that he does not really believe that he has improved but rather he has simply been given more responsibilities. When he plays for the Turkish national team he displays a multi-faceted game instead of just being a spot up shooter, so he makes a valid point. The big question in this category always revolves around how much a player improved versus how much a player's statistical increases are simply due to receiving more playing time and/or a bigger overall role on his team.
Chris Paul is my choice; prior to this season he was not even definitively considered the best young point guard in the NBA and now many people believe that he is the MVP. I don't think that he is the MVP but I do think that he has improved tremendously. I would vote Rudy Gay second and Danny Granger third. The Grizzlies got more attention for giving away Pau Gasol than for anything else they did this season but Gay's scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage all increased dramatically. Granger emerged as the best player on a Pacers team that narrowly missed the playoffs. Rondo and West are also good choices and Kenny Smith is correct that the Blazers collectively demonstrated a lot of growth. Andrew Bynum would be worthy of consideration had he played in more games.
Coach of the Year: Jon Barry, Charles Barkley, Mark Jackson, Chris Mannix and Kenny Smith chose Byron Scott. Hubie Brown, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Wilbon chose Doc Rivers. Reggie Miller chose Jerry Sloan.
I would vote for Doc Rivers. He has kept his three All-Stars productive and happy, developed a solid bench and got his whole team to buy into a defense first mentality. Rick Adelman would be my second choice. His Rockets established the second longest winning streak in NBA history and they accomplished a substantial portion of it without Yao Ming. Adelman has been stereotyped as an offensive oriented coach but he has tailored his game plan to the talents of his personnel, retaining some of the defensive principles that his predecessor Jeff Van Gundy used and tweaking his offense to accommodate what his players do best. Byron Scott would be my third choice. A lot of the Hornets' improvement can be traced to Paul's development and the fact that the key players on the team are finally healthy but Scott is an underrated coach who has turned New Orleans into a good defensive team.
Executive of the Year: Mannix chose Danny Ainge.
Ainge has to win this award; he put together a team that just executed the best one season turnaround in NBA history. A cynic could say that he also put together the previous team that had to be turned around but that is not a fair statement; if Ainge had not accumulated young talent and draft picks then he would not have had the necessary assets to make the deals to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Ainge has also assembled an excellent bench and he hired the right coach to run things. My second choice would be Mitch Kupchak, who traded for Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza and has put together a team that should be a contender for the next few seasons. I would vote Kevin Pritchard third; Portland made a run at a playoff berth in the tough West and the Blazers are loaded with young talent.
Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley each offered up some "special" awards. Smith gave the "My team is wack but I'm not" award to Rudy Gay, Jason Richardson and Al Thornton. Barkley gave some love to Maurice Cheeks, who he feels is vastly underappreciated; Barkley could not even say the convoluted name of his award, so I won't try, either, but he is right that Cheeks is a good coach and a good guy who deserves to be praised for the job that he has done with a young 76ers team.
None of the commentators offered up their choices for the All-NBA, All-Rookie and All-Defensive Teams, perhaps because these selections would not fit conveniently into a sound bite. Here are my choices in these categories:
All-NBA First Team
G Kobe Bryant
G Chris Paul
C Dwight Howard
F LeBron James
F Kevin Garnett
All-NBA Second Team
G Steve Nash
G Tracy McGrady
C Amare Stoudemire
F Tim Duncan
F Dirk Nowitzki
All-NBA Third Team
G Deron Williams
G Allen Iverson
C Marcus Camby
F Carlos Boozer
F Paul Pierce
There should not be any question or controversy regarding the First Team. Stoudemire has spent most of the season at center and Howard put up more dominant statistics playing that position; Stoudemire's numbers went up when he shifted to power forward but he did not play enough games at that position to make the team as a forward. The voters do funny things with positional designations sometimes, so it would not surprise me to see Stoudemire voted on to the First Team somehow but I would disagree with that; he was the second best center this year and if he plays power forward for most or all of next season then he can make the team at that position. I left out Yao because he missed too many games.
I suppose that the most controversial aspect of my three All-NBA Teams would be the omission of Manu Ginobili. I've got him as the easy winner of the Sixth Man Award but there is no way that he can make the first two All-NBA Teams over Bryant, Paul, Nash or McGrady. I think that the first three names are pretty obvious and I agree with something that Van Gundy said earlier in the season: Houston would not have won 22 games in a row if you replaced McGrady with Ginobili. So it all comes down to the two Third Team slots. Williams is an underrated player who has a bigger role on his team than Ginobili has on his: Williams starts, he plays more minutes and he scores almost as much as Ginobili while dishing out more than twice as many assists. Williams has been more durable and more consistent (Ginobili has had several awful games). Iverson is the only player other than James who ranks in the top ten in scoring and assists; he simply is more productive than Ginobili. I realize that this sentiment may make steam come out of the ears of some stat hounds but Iverson has a much bigger role on a team that does not have a dominant post player like Tim Duncan but is only six games worse in the standings than the Spurs.
All-Defensive First Team
G Kobe Bryant
G Raja Bell
C Marcus Camby
F Kevin Garnett
F Tim Duncan
All-Defensive Second Team
G Jason Kidd
G Chris Paul
C Rasheed Wallace
F Shane Battier
F Bruce Bowen
Unlike the other awards, this one will be voted on by the coaches, so it will be interesting to see how closely my ballot matches theirs (I would guess that Dwight Howard might outpoll Wallace). Writers, fans and stat hounds all have their own perceptions about who the best defensive players are. I just saw some articles that critiqued Paul's defense but from the games I've seen I think that he is one of the best defensive point guards in the league. The Hornets are a good defensive team and good defense usually starts with the point guard position.
All-Rookie First Team (selected without regard to position)
All-Rookie Second Team
Juan Carlos Navarro
The first three choices will probably be the same on most ballots. After that, a lot of these players have had fairly similar overall impacts. I put Thornton on the First Team because of his great athleticism, energy and scoring ability. Moon made the cut because he is a very solid contributor to a playoff team. Landry might have moved up had he played in more games. All of these guys have had their good moments and their bad moments and none of them has put together an all-time great rookie season.
posted by David Friedman @ 10:12 AM