Selecting NBA Award Winners: The Battle of Stats Versus Storylines Versus Logical AnalysisThe 2011 NBA Championship will be determined on the court over the next couple months; during the playoffs, the NBA will periodically announce the winners of various individual honors: media members vote for every award except the All-Defensive Team (selected by NBA head coaches) and the Executive of the Year (chosen by NBA executives in polling conducted by the Sporting News).
Some of the winners are pretty obvious (Blake Griffin seemingly clinched Rookie of the Year back in November), while others may spark controversy. The NBA does not provide much formal guidance concerning the qualifications/standards for these awards, which results in annual debates among people who favor "advanced statistics," people who like good stories and (the few) people who actually at least attempt to inject some logical, objective analysis into the process.
The various "advanced statistics" describe which players performed in a manner most closely conforming to the biases of a particular "stat guru" (some "stat gurus" use formulas that favor rebounding, while others favor scoring or some kind of nebulously defined "efficiency"); people who like good stories frame seasons, teams and players in narrative terms (conveniently disregarding any statistics and/or facts that do not fit the chosen narrative). Both approaches are highly subjective, but don't tell that to an advocate of either method unless you want to be derided for being closed-minded--never mind the fact that legitimate scientific inquiry is based on constantly and relentlessly questioning one's theories, methods and conclusions--or ridiculed for failing to conform to the larger narrative being crafted by various national media members.
I prefer to select award winners based on a logical analysis of all relevant factors, including statistics, observation of games (a heretical act according to at least some "stat gurus") and historical context; using logical analysis does not mean that I am always right or that I have successfully removed any traces of unconscious bias but it does mean that I value being right over being popular and that I have done my best to render unbiased judgments.
Here is my take on the 2010-2011 NBA regular season awards:
1) LeBron James
2) Kobe Bryant
3) Dwight Howard
4) Derrick Rose
5) Dirk Nowitzki
This season's MVP race is perhaps the strangest one in recent memory; the league's best regular season performer will likely not receive the award because he has become unpopular, while the league's most complete player--and the NBA's greatest winner of the post-Michael Jordan era--is being treated as an MVP afterthought even though he has put his team in position to reach the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season, something that has not been accomplished since the 1984-87 Celtics.
I refuse to accept the popular notion that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant should be considered mere footnotes in the 2011 MVP discussion--but this is hardly the first time that I have bucked conventional wisdom on this subject; I disagree with many previous MVP selections. Forget the MVPs that voters robbed from Michael Jordan in order to fill the trophy cases of Charles Barkley and Karl Malone and just look at the past decade: the first part of the post-Michael Jordan era featured two dominant low post players--Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan--who combined to lead their respective teams to six out of seven NBA championships between 1999 and 2005 and who should have combined to win all seven MVPs during that time frame (Duncan actually won two MVPs, while O'Neal inexplicably only received one MVP). As O'Neal and Duncan became less physically dominant, Kobe Bryant completed his emergence as the league's best and most complete all-around player--a devastating scorer who could also rebound, pass and defend at an elite level; Bryant should have won the 2006, 2007 and 2008 MVPs but he only won the 2008 award.
Bryant appeared to be on track to earn the 2009 NBA MVP until LeBron James moved past Bryant in the final weeks of that season. This is what I wrote in my analysis of the 2009 MVP race:
Until March, I continued to maintain the opinion that I have had since last season, namely that Bryant's complete skill set slightly trumps James' powerful athleticism and improving--but still incomplete--skill set. However, in March, James led the Cavs to a 16-1 record while averaging 28.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 8.4 apg; he shot .472 from the field, .386 from three point range and .759 from the free throw line. Bryant's Lakers went 10-5 in March as he averaged 25.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 4.6 apg while shooting .432 from the field, .338 from three point range and .840 from the free throw line. Bryant's skill set is still more complete than James' is and James' inability to consistently make midrange jumpers could be a factor in the postseason but in a close MVP race James has to get the nod on the basis of outperforming Bryant down the stretch as the Cavs wrested the best record in the league from the Lakers.
James similarly outperformed Bryant during the 2010 regular season--by a slightly greater margin than in 2009--though it is worth remembering that Bryant led the L.A. Lakers to championships in both seasons, twice earning the Finals MVP.
In the wake of James' infamous "Decision" we are supposed to believe--for statistical and/or storyline reasons--that he should no longer be considered an MVP candidate. While it is true that the pairing of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade alongside All-NBA caliber power forward Chris Bosh has demonstrated the absurdity of the "stat guru"-fueled notions regarding the value of James and Wade--namely that they are supposedly by far the league's two best players and thus would lead Miami to something like 90 wins in an 82 game season--it is ridiculous to assert that James has somehow disqualified himself from the MVP race.
James is a terrifying combination of speed and power, particularly in open court situations. He is an excellent rebounder, passer and defender. His only skill set weaknesses are midrange shooting and, to a lesser extent, free throw and three point shooting. James clearly established himself as the Heat's best player, leading the team in minutes, scoring, steals and assists while placing second in rebounding. James shot a career-high .510 from the field, better than any Heat player except for some members of their center by committee who rarely shoot and generally only take close range shots. The biggest strike against James' MVP candidacy is that he did not perform particularly well in late game situations but such situations invariably comprise a small sample size with a lot of variance; the larger reality is that James was clearly the best player on the team that earned the second seed in the East.
Bryant has demonstrated a greater ability than LeBron James to successfully help his team navigate choppy playoff waters but Bryant's declining minutes and James' youthful energy/athleticism have enabled James to surpass Bryant as a regular season player; we are no longer seeing the Kobe Bryant who could run off a streak of multiple 40 or 50 point games, either because Bryant cannot do that anymore or because the required energy expenditure/physical wear and tear would exact too high of a cost come playoff time. The Kobe Bryant of 2006-08 would have lifted the 2011 Lakers to 65 wins simply by exploding for huge scoring totals on the nights that Pau Gasol and the other Laker bigs trotted (Jeff Van Gundy's term) up and down the court instead of sprinting and the nights that the Lakers' bench squandered leads or turned small deficits into insurmountable margins. James has surpassed Bryant in terms of regular season impact--but even in Bryant's relatively reduced regular season role I'd still take him over any player in the league other than James.
I will not be surprised if some MVP voters leave Kobe Bryant's name off of their five man ballots; Bryant only received one of the three MVPs that he deserved, so now that his numbers are reduced and his contributions are subtler it is easy to ignore his value. The balky right knee that will likely shorten Bryant's career convinced Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to reduce Bryant's playing time to 33.9 mpg, Bryant's lowest average since his second season; that is why Bryant's per game averages have dipped but it should be emphasized that his per minute productivity is still essentially the same: in fact, Bryant posted his highest points per minute average since the 2006-07 season when he won the second of his two scoring titles. The Lakers cost themselves some wins by keeping Bryant off of the court but the 400 or so minutes of wear and tear that this conserved (plus an even more drastic reduction of his time on the practice court) should pay dividends in the postseason. I expect Bryant to average around 38 mpg in the playoffs and five extra minutes of Bryant in each game should keep most games close enough for Bryant to save the day at the end. I still insist that Being a Clutch Player is More Significant than Just Making Clutch Shots but it is worth remembering that Bryant hit six game-winning shots in 2009-10 and that proved to be the difference between capturing the Western Conference's number one seed and dropping to the sixth seed; the extra time that Bryant sat out this season meant that some games were too far gone in the fourth quarter for Bryant to have a realistic chance to bring the Lakers back but despite their inconsistent bench they still managed to grab the second seed in the very tough Western Conference--after Bryant logged 38 minutes in a 116-108 overtime victory against Sacramento in which he poured in a game-high 36 points on 13-24 field goal shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, dished off six assists and had just two turnovers; Bryant nailed the three pointer that sent the game into overtime and he scored or assisted on seven of their first nine points in the extra session. From a skill set standpoint, Bryant could have done that in several other games this season and dragged the Lakers to the number one overall seed, but Coach Jackson correctly decided that he would rather have Bryant save those heroics for late April, May and June; if everything goes according to that plan, Bryant will receive a third Finals MVP as a "consolation prize" for sacrificing a real shot at winning the regular season MVP. In an era in which players routinely sit out for minor injuries, Bryant played in all 82 games for the third time in the past four seasons--and even a sprained ankle that he called the scariest injury of his career did not sideline him.
Derrick Rose is going to win the regular season MVP and the voting probably will not be close. Derrick Rose's story--a humble young man leading his hometown team to the best record in the NBA--is more appealing than LeBron James' story, particularly if it is true that during last summer's free agency drama Rose essentially told James that James could either become part of the Bulls' future success or else the Bulls would beat whichever team James decided to join; Rose lacks arrogance but he certainly has an abundance of well-founded confidence. Kevin Durant's story--a humble young man who quietly stayed with a small market team instead of focusing on "building his brand"--is also more appealing than LeBron James' story. I understand why the media tried to hand the MVP to Durant before this season began and I understand why the media is trying to hand the MVP to Rose now; I just do not believe that Rose or Durant are better, more complete or more dominant players than LeBron James.
Rose is a tremendous player and he has definitely taken the mantle of best 6-5 and under player from Dwyane Wade, thus earning a spot on the All-NBA First Team, but the 6-3 Rose simply does not threaten defenses the way that the 6-8 runaway locomotive LeBron James does or the way that Bryant does with his exquisite footwork/ability to make any shot from any distance--and at the other end of the court, James can guard any player in the league from point guard to power forward (and even some centers), while Bryant can lock down most point guards, shooting guards or small forwards; in contrast, Rose has improved defensively but he can only guard two positions at most and cannot yet be considered an elite individual defender.
Frankly, considering the way that James handled his free agency process and the way that he arrogantly pranced around last summer while talking about winning five, six, seven or more championships--an outrageous statement to make in the wake of blatantly quitting in the 2010 playoffs versus the Boston Celtics--I can honestly say that part of me would much rather see Derrick Rose win the MVP than to see James capture his third straight MVP trophy; however, it would be disingenuous to let those personal feelings prevent me from analyzing this year's MVP race by the same standards that I have always analyzed MVP races: I have consistently said that the MVP should go to the best, most consistent all-around player in the league, with the only exception being if there is a dominant big man whose overall impact cancels out certain skill set weaknesses (the way that Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Shaquille O'Neal ruled the league in their primes despite being poor free throw shooters). Rose is currently the fourth best player in the NBA, trailing James, Bryant and Dwight Howard, the league's most dominant big man.
I cannot place Howard above James or Bryant--big wing players who can play multiple positions and who impact the game at both ends of the court--but I still would take him over anyone else in the NBA. Howard is a monster defensively and on the boards and he has made great strides with his offensive footwork/post moves. What he has not shown is the inclination and/or ability to dominate offensively for significant stretches of time--in the regular season or the playoffs--by averaging 28-30 ppg like Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon did in their prime, championship-winning years; Howard needs to demand the ball the way that those guys did, particularly now that he has the ability to do more on the low post than just dunk off of alley-oop passes. I believe that Howard could lead an average supporting cast to 50 wins (one could argue that he did just that this season, because the Magic currently have no true backup center, no good wing defenders and a lack of overall depth) but I think that "small" players like Rose, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul could not do likewise; Rose's Bulls are deep and well balanced (which enabled them to overcome some injury problems), Wade presided over one of the worst collapses ever by a championship team and Paul's supporting casts are routinely underrated by media members and "stat gurus" who annually try to force his name into MVP consideration (Paul is a great player and at one time he was the league's best point guard but he has never been the best player in the league).
Dirk Nowitzki rounds out my top five. Nowitzki posted the highest field goal percentage of his career and has done an excellent job leading the Dallas Mavericks to the third seed in the West. His rebounding average declined for the sixth straight year but that is hardly surprising for a 32 year old who has played nearly 1000 regular season games, not to mention the fact that he plays alongside a point guard who is very active on the glass (Jason Kidd) plus a center who is a defensive and rebounding specialist (Tyson Chandler). Nowitzki's rebounding tends to increase during the playoffs and that will probably be the case this season as well. I give the nod to Nowitzki over Kevin Durant because the number one skill set area for both players is shooting and Nowitzki easily outdistanced Durant in field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage while nearly matching him in free throw percentage; another tiebreaker is that I know that Nowitzki can be a highly productive performer against elite teams but Durant has yet to prove that he can do that consistently (just think back to the first round of the 2010 playoffs, when Ron Artest harassed Durant into some very low percentage shooting).
Rookie of the Year
1) Blake Griffin
2) John Wall
3) DeMarcus Cousins
Griffin is the gold standard among this year's rookies and he should join Ralph Sampson (1984) and David Robinson (1990) as the only unanimous winners of this award since 1984. Griffin made the All-Star team and will likely receive consideration for the All-NBA Team as well. Griffin's playing style reminds me a bit of a younger LeBron James: Griffin is breathtakingly explosive but he also has a high basketball IQ and an on-court maturity that belies his age. Like a younger James, Griffin still does not fully understand how to be an effective defensive player in the NBA, nor has he completely figured out how to use his individual skills to greatly increase his team's win total: despite all of the justified hysteria about Griffin's highlights and individual productivity, the L.A. Clippers barely won more games this season than they did in 2009-10.
Similarly, John Wall made some flashy moves and posted good individual numbers but his team showed no tangible improvement collectively (the Washington Wizards actually have a worse record this season than they did last season). Wall scores, passes, rebounds and amasses steals but he still does not really understand how to run a team or how to play efficiently. Wall was the second best rookie and yet both the NBA and the NCAA would be better off if players like Wall spent more time in college instead of jumping so quickly into the professional ranks; early entry at least partially explains why a team shoots less than .200 from the field in the NCAA Championship Game and why two NBA rookies who would have been consensus All-Americans cannot even come close to leading their respective NBA teams to .500 records.
DeMarcus Cousins' talent is matched--and limited--only by his immaturity. He could turn into a great NBA player or he could become someone who 10 years from now is discussed only in terms of wasted potential. When I watch Cousins I think of Derrick Coleman; Charles Barkley once said that the first time he saw Derrick Coleman play he thought that the game was over and that Coleman would be the next dominant player in the NBA. Coleman had a solid NBA career but never truly became a great player. Greatness is there for the taking if only Cousins develops the wisdom and maturity to maximize his talents.
Defensive Player of the Year
1) Dwight Howard
2) LeBron James
3) Kevin Garnett
Dwight Howard has been a landslide winner two years in a row and he should be a unanimous selection this season; he is surrounded by defensive sieves and yet collectively the Orlando Magic are a good defensive team.
LeBron James gets too much credit for "chase down" blocked shots (he totaled just 50 blocks this season, tied for 69th in the league) but not enough credit for his ability to guard multiple positions and for the way he uses his size, length and speed to disrupt the opposing team's offense.
Kevin Garnett seems healthier than he did last season and he thus had a more significant impact defensively, once again anchoring the Boston Celtics' attack at that end of the court.
Sixth Man of the Year
1) Jason Terry
2) Lamar Odom
3) Jamal Crawford
Lamar Odom is almost certainly going to win this award, even though he started nearly half of his team's games and even though he was not the league's most effective reserve (for some reason, people insist on looking at his total statistics without considering that he padded his numbers by starting so many games); Odom's numbers as a reserve (13.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, .494 FG%) are much worse than his numbers as a starter (16.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg, .573 FG%).
Jason Terry only started 10 games this season and he has been a major fourth quarter scoring threat for the Dallas Mavericks. Terry should win the Sixth Man Award, with Odom placing second in a thin field; Odom did not start enough games to be disqualified in this category and there is not exactly a plethora of candidates from whom to choose: Manu Ginobili--an annual contender for this honor--became a full-time starter this season, while 2010 winner Jamal Crawford (who gets my third place nod) scored less and shot worse this season than he did last year.
Since Odom is likely going to be a landslide winner of this award, it is worthwhile to debunk some myths about him. He is supposedly playing much better this season in the wake of his contributions to Team USA's victory in the FIBA World Championship but the reality is that Odom is producing around his career norms in most categories except for field goal percentage (he shot above .500 for just the second time in his 12 year career, in no small part because he is attempting fewer three pointers while also connecting on a better than usual percentage from behind the arc). Odom may be the most overrated--or at least "over talked about" (to coin a phrase)--player in the NBA: he has never made the All-NBA or All-Star team (for good reason) yet he is often referred to as one of the league's top 25 players and/or someone who supposedly could start for most teams in the NBA (even Jeff Van Gundy, who is usually right on target with his player evaluations, uttered the latter phrase during a recent telecast). Instead of tossing off a throwaway line without thinking about it, let's look at the starting power forwards for this season's playoff teams:
San Antonio: Two-time NBA MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 13-time All-NBA selection, 13-time All-Star Tim Duncan
L.A. Lakers: Two-time All-NBA selection, four-time All-Star Pau Gasol
Dallas: One-time NBA MVP, 10-time All-NBA selection, 10-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki
Oklahoma City: Serge Ibaka
Denver: One-time All-Star Kenyon Martin
Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge
Memphis: One-time All-Star Zach Randolph
New Orleans: Two-time All-Star David West
Chicago: One-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer
Miami: One-time All-NBA selection, six-time All-Star Chris Bosh
Boston: One-time NBA MVP, one-time Defensive Player of the Year, nine-time All-NBA selection, 14-time All-Star Kevin Garnett
Orlando: Brandon Bass
Atlanta: One-time All-Defensive selection Josh Smith
New York: Four-time All-NBA selection, six-time All-Star Amare Stoudemire
Philadelphia: One-time All-NBA selection, two-time All-Star Elton Brand
Indiana: Tyler Hansbrough
The only Western Conference playoff team that Odom would clearly start for is Denver. One could make a case that he'd start for Oklahoma City but I'd take Ibaka's size and shotblocking over Odom's abilities as a lanky rebounder. Odom would start for the Hornets now, but only because West is injured. The only Eastern Conference playoff teams that Odom would clearly start for are Orlando and Indiana. Odom could start for the Knicks if Stoudemire played center but that would make the Knicks undersized.
It's not like Odom would automatically start for any non-playoff team, either: Blake Griffin (L.A. Clippers), Kevin Love (Minnesota) and Luis Scola (Houston) would clearly start ahead of Odom.
Odom is a very solid third option for the Lakers and his primary skill set strength is rebounding; he has carved out a nice niche for himself as a valuable contributor on two championship teams but I will never understand why some people try to elevate Odom's status to All-Star or All-NBA level when it should be blatantly obvious that he is not that good.
Most Improved Player
1) Kevin Love
2) LaMarcus Aldridge
3) Dorell Wright
Kevin Love went from being a guy who barely played for Team USA in the FIBA World Championship to leading the NBA in rebounding while averaging more than 20 ppg and amassing the most consecutive double doubles since Moses Malone patrolled the paint for the Houston Rockets. Love probably still is not as good of a FIBA player as Tyson Chandler, Chris Bosh or Lamar Odom but he seems poised to become a perennial NBA All-Star.
LaMarcus Aldridge became Portland's primary offensive threat after injuries felled Brandon Roy and Aldridge responded by posting career-high numbers in scoring, rebounding and free throw percentage. He added some bulk and became a much more effective low post player.
Love and Aldridge were both lottery picks, while Dorell Wright was a late first round selection who blossomed in his seventh NBA season, emerging as a starter in Golden State after spending most of the early part of his career as a bench player for the Miami Heat.
Coach of the Year
1) Doug Collins
2) Tom Thibodeau
3) Nate McMillan
In general, it is easier to improve a team from the 20 win range to the 40 win range than to guide a team from the 40 win range to the 60 win range; all other factors being equal, what Tom Thibodeau accomplished in Chicago would be more impressive than what Doug Collins accomplished in Philadelphia--but all other factors are not equal: Collins' Philadelphia roster is essentially unchanged, while the Bulls made several key acquisitions, including Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Keith Bogans and Kyle Korver. One of the many fallacious "stat guru" credos is that coaching does not matter but Collins' career strongly suggests otherwise: he has led teams to double digit win increases in his first season with Chicago (1987), Detroit (1996), Washington (2002) and now Philadelphia. Michael Jordan's famous quote (in response to criticisms that he did not make his teammates better to the extent that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson did) is true--one cannot make chicken salad out of chicken bleep--but some coaches are able to make good chicken salad with the right ingredients while other coaches cannot make a palatable meal with those same ingredients.
Thibodeau's Bulls have completely bought into his defensive system but a lesser reported story is that the Bulls also run some of the same offensive sets that the Celtics profitably employ; during the playoffs, watch how effectively the Bulls use multiple screening actions and sharp big to big passes to get layups and dunks--and those same actions also can lead to open jumpers for Luol Deng or Kyle Korver (much like Boston creates air space for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen).
The Portland Trailblazers lost Greg Oden to injury (again) and had to remake their team's pecking order on the fly after knee injuries transformed Brandon Roy from an All-Star to a role player but Nate McMillan still guided them to the sixth seed in the West.
NBA coaches are generally underrated collectively but this season there have been an exceptional number of coaches who performed very well. Gregg Popovich incorporated the best aspects of fast paced offense/reliance on three point shooting into the Spurs' repertoire without completely sacrificing their defensive identity. George Karl helped the Nuggets survive months of "Melo drama" and then led his new-look team to the fifth seed. Phil Jackson's Lakers battled injuries and complacency to finish with the fourth best record in the league, just one game behind a Miami team that many people predicted would win 70 or more games. Monty Williams improved the Hornets' defense and lifted them to a playoff berth.
Executive of the Year
1) Pat Riley
2) Gar Forman
3) Sam Presti
Pat Riley pulled off something that no one thought was possible until it happened: he signed three max level players last summer at a time when most teams were straining to figure out how to obtain two such players--and I wish that people would stop saying that the Heat have "two and a half" great players: while it is true that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are a level above Chris Bosh, Bosh's pre-Heat career is much more impressive than Pau Gasol's pre-Laker career and Gregg Popovich literally called for an investigation when Mitch Kupchak brought in Gasol to play with Bryant. If Bosh had not joined the Heat there are many other teams that would have gladly signed him to be their franchise player. No executive had a bigger impact on his team--or the very face of the league (the Heat's triple signing had a ripple effect that inspired other moves and may lead to a lockout-induced restructuring of the Collective Bargaining Agreement)--than Riley.
Many NBA fans probably don't even know who Gar Forman is but he quietly made several masterful moves: he hired Tom Thibodeau and then he bolstered the Bulls' roster with several quality players, only one of whom (Carlos Boozer) even remotely qualifies as a big name. The Heat are trying to overwhelm the league with star power while the Bulls are built around one superstar, a defensive-minded coach and a very well balanced, deep roster.
Sam Presti's Oklahoma City Thunder were considered a team on the rise prior to this season; they obviously did not need a major overhaul but Presti improved the Thunder's size and toughness by acquiring Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed. Riley's moves made the most waves and Forman's moves helped the Bulls post the league's best record but it may yet turn out that Presti's team wins a title before the Heat or Bulls do.
All-NBA First Team
G Kobe Bryant
G Derrick Rose
C Dwight Howard
F LeBron James
F Dirk Nowitzki
All-NBA Second Team
G Dwyane Wade
G Russell Westbrook
C Amare Stoudemire
F Kevin Durant
F LaMarcus Aldridge
All-NBA Third Team
G Tony Parker
G Chris Paul
C Pau Gasol
F Kevin Love
F Blake Griffin
The First Team will probably be pretty close to consensus choices; voters who are overly influenced by "advanced statistics" will foolishly favor Wade (the second best player on the East's second seeded team) over Bryant (clearly the best player on the West's second seeded team) but I think that Bryant will make the First Team (possibly for the last time).
Every year, the question of what to do with the center position on the Second and Third Teams becomes more difficult (barring injury, we can expect to write in Dwight Howard on the First Team for the next several seasons). There just are not that many great true centers and many teams use their centers and power forwards almost interchangeably. Amare Stoudemire and Pau Gasol are natural power forwards but they both frequently started at center this season and they are more deserving of All-NBA honors than any of the league's full-time centers other than Howard.
Kevin Love may be considered a controversial choice but the league's rebounding champion deserves a spot on the All-NBA Team in most instances and Love is not a one dimensional player: he scores both in the paint and from behind the three point arc and he is a good passer. TNT's Kenny Smith says that sometimes it is hard to tell if players on bad teams are just "looters in a riot"--i.e., putting up numbers in a chaotic situation--but I don't think that Love is "looting."
It would be easy to pencil in the high-scoring Carmelo Anthony but the Nuggets are thriving without him while the Knicks have only been mediocre with him, so Blake Griffin earns the final forward slot.
All-Defensive First Team
G Rajon Rondo
G Kobe Bryant
C Dwight Howard
F LeBron James
F Kevin Garnett
All-Defensive Second Team
G Thabo Sefolosha
G Grant Hill
C Tyson Chandler
F Tim Duncan
F Gerald Wallace
This is the only award that is selected by the league's head coaches. In each of the past three years, I chose eight of the 10 All-Defensive players who were ultimately honored by the coaches but it will be difficult to match that feat this season because there are many candidates who are equally worthy.
Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler are the obvious choices at center and I think that Kevin Garnett regained his status as a top notch defender (even if he is not as good as he was back in 2008 when the Celtics won the championship). I know that the "stat gurus" will be outraged to see Kobe Bryant's name mentioned at all but Bryant is the vocal leader for the Lakers' defense and--despite his advancing age and creaky right knee--he often has to check opposing point guards because Derek Fisher has seemingly lost all of his lateral mobility. I suspect that the coaches may put Bryant on the Second Team this year, ending his run of five straight First Team selections.
Rajon Rondo had an up and down season overall but he is an excellent defender who is willing and able to guard much bigger opponents, even including LeBron James.
The positional designations will probably be stretched more this season than ever before; I put Grant Hill at point guard because he almost always defends the point guard even though he is nominally a small forward.
Thabo Sefolosha is a nightmare with his long arms and quick feet; he gives Kobe Bryant fits at times.
Tim Duncan is not as mobile or dominant as he used to be but he is still the anchor of San Antonio's defense and his work at that end of the court is a major reason that the Spurs posted the best record in the West.
Luol Deng may get the nod from the coaches over Gerald Wallace or Hill but Hill is a more versatile defender than Deng while Wallace is more athletic than either of them. Joakim Noah deserves serious consideration and Andrew Bynum will probably get some votes, though I don't think that someone who plays half a season (and really was only dominant for 15-20 games) should be chosen ahead of players who are more durable.
All-Rookie First Team (selected without regard to position)
All-Rookie Second Team
The first four choices are obvious. I gave Gary Neal the First Team nod because he is a key rotation player for a championship contending team.
The Second Team was harder to select. Only eight rookies averaged at least 24 mpg this season--down from 11 in 2010 and 15 in 2009--and that includes Jordan Crawford, who appeared in just 42 games. Crawford put up big numbers in March and April after hardly playing for most of the season; he may be a "looter in a riot" for the sorry Wizards or he may be a star in the making but he at least earned a Second Team selection in a thin rookie class. Greg Monroe, Wesley Johnson, Ed Davis and Derrick Favors likewise may just be "looters" on bad teams, though one hopes that they will eventually prove to be solid contributors on good teams. I am sure that fans of various franchises believe that "their" rookie deserves mention over one or more of my Second Team selections--and those fans may even be right, because after the first five rookies plus Crawford's great two months it is very hard to choose from the next batch of first year players.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:49 AM