As the regular season winds down, I thought I’d give my take on each of the awards. While my selections won’t seem groundbreaking (in fact, I agree with the experts in most cases), I’d be remiss if I didn’t record a few words about our season’s finest individual performances.
MVP — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
It really couldn’t go to anyone else. James obliterated the competition in most statistical manners, just narrowly missing out on the scoring title behind Kevin Durant. What’s more? He has led his Cavaliers to the best record in the league once again, and he has a great shot to come away with an NBA title under his belt in June.
Stan Van Gundy accentuated one quibble people have in his endorsement for Dwight Howard: MVP voters don’t take into account defensive value even remotely as close to as much as they do offensive value. While LeBron is certainly no slouch on the defensive end, Van Gundy has point in suggesting that Howard doesn’t get all the credit he deserves for his stellar combination of offensive and defensive prowess.
Runners Up: Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant
Rookie of the Year — Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
While Brandon Jennings made this race interesting at the beginning of the season, and Stephen Curry late, this award, too, had no significant competition in the eyes of fans. Evans led rookies in scoring, and proved he could be a serviceable point guard amid doubts about his leadership. While he has a long way to go in terms of becoming the distributor his team needs, he played the best ball of all rookies this year, bottom line.
Runners Up: Stephen Curry, Darren Collison
Defensive Player of the Year — Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
I mentioned the insufficient appreciation of Howard’s defensive game above. In truth, he is more dominant on the defensive end than LeBron is on the offensive side of the ball. He lead the league in blocks, first of all, but that stat alone does not even come close to encompassing his effect on opponents’ offenses. His length and athleticism allow him to disrupt big men’s shots with ease and grab nearly every rebound within a 20-foot radius. Moreover, his mere presence on the floor dissuades guards from taking the ball to the hoop who fear the almighty swat.
Runners Up: Gerald Wallace, Thabo Sefolosha
Most Improved Player — Aaron Brooks, Houston Rockets
The quick, crafty point guard went from opportunistic shooter to dynamic show runner quite adeptly this season. In the absence of Yao Ming, he added eight-and-a-half (Yes, you read that right.) points and over two assists to his per-game rates while shooting nearly 40 percent on the long ball. Hopefully he can continue the solid play next year when Yao returns from his foot injury.
Runners Up: Andrew Bogut, Russell Westbrook
Sixth Man — Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks
Manu Ginobili made a strong push for this award with his strong March, but I hesitate to give him this award because he could be starting in San Antonio’s lineup anway. Crawford, on the other hand, takes advantage of his second-fiddle shooting-guard role behind Joe Johnson by providing an incredible spark off the bench for his team. He increased his per-40-minute scoring by nearly three points, his true-shooting percentage by over three, and his PER by over three in significantly fewer minutes than he played last season. In eclipsing 1400 points on the season, Crawford became the first player since Ricky Pierce in 1991 to reach that plateau off the bench.
Runners Up: Manu Ginobili, Carl Landry
Coach of the Year — Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder
Scott Brooks wins for a simple reason: He got a troupe of incredibly young and frighteningly talented players to believe in the prospect of a team. There’s no selfishness in that locker room. They all enjoy being part of a team, and it has resulted in the franchise’s first playoff appearance since moving from Seattle. No other coach has accomplished what Brooks has.
Runners Up: Larry Brown, Scott Skiles