Awards Predictions Links:
Most years, this is one of the tougher and most competitive awards to give out. However, the last two years have been exceptions to that trend. Last season, Kevin Love catapulted himself into the best power forward in the league, thus making the 2011 honor a no-brainer. This year, we’ve had several players make great strides in their game, but one stood out the most. Here are my top five candidates:
5. Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
After a few lackluster seasons, the Pistons have been somewhat of an afterthought in the basketball world. But their biggest bright spot, by far, has been the emergence of their new big man, Greg Monroe. He has quietly blossomed into one of the league’s best centers, and has helped a relatively weak team overachieve; on paper, they should be one of the worst teams in the league. And the play of Monroe is the biggest reason why. They even have a winning record (14-12) at home to boot. As Brandon Knight develops, and Rodney Stuckey continues to improve, Joe Dumars needs to continue to build around Monroe to make the Pistons relevant again.
4. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
When Pau Gasol was traded from Memphis to the Lakers in 2009, the Lakers gave up virtually nothing for him; Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and an imminently-retiring Aaron McKie. But the Lakers also included a couple of draft picks, one of which happened to be the rights to Pau’s brother Marc. As the only (and I mean, ONLY) saving grace from that trade, Marc has morphed into an All-Star Center for the Grizz. His numbers may not wow everyone, but his impact on the floor has made Memphis a winning team. His confidence has peaked to the point where he looked like the best Gasol on the court vs. the Lakers last weekend. Furthermore, when coaches vote you into the All-Star reserves over your perennial championship-contending older brother, you know you’re on the right track.
3. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
As my pick for the Sixth Man of the Year award, Harden has become a huge part of the Thunder team. In the shadow of superstar teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden has become one of OKC’s most underrated strengths that has propelled them atop the NBA standings. Championship teams generally need more than just two creators on offense, and Harden gives them an elite third option.
2. Ryan Anderson
Does anyone remember that Anderson played for the Nets? Didn’t think so. Already in his 4th year, Anderson has shown that you can improve considerably even after your first few years in the league (ala Kris Humphries last season). He has established himself as the clear-cut 2nd best Magic player behind Dwight Howard, and is absolutely deadly from three-point range. He also is one of the better offensive rebounding big men (ranking in the top 20 in offensive rebounding rate), which is very impressive when you consider two main things working against him: 1) as an outside shooter, he often finds himself 30+ feet from the basket, and 2) most of the team’s rebounds being hoarded up by Howard. In fact, there aren’t too many big men in the league that are equally proficient in rebounding and outside shooting – other than he and Kevin Love, that is. If and when Howard leaves the Magic, Anderson may very well be their franchise player for the time being.
1. Jeremy Lin
Saw this coming, didn’t you? Forget improvement in his numbers for a second, even though those alone can make a case for him; Jeremy Lin is the only player in the history of the NBA to make a gargantuan leap into stardom that has captivated the entire world. Linsanity was a once-in-a-lifetime type stuff that NEEDS to be recognized in some form, and this award seems to be the most appropriate. The phenomenon has quieted down for sure, as defenses clamped down on him, and he later suffered a knee injury that will shut him down the rest of the season. But as far as Most Improved, it doesn’t get any better than this: a guy who slept on his brother’s couch to save money in anticipation of unemployment – days before getting CUT – just so happened to get his number called by ex-Coach Mike D’Antoni for a mightily struggling Knicks team. The rest was history.
You can argue that he hasn’t played enough games this season to deserve the award. But whether he wins this or not, most people will remember the 2011-12 season as the year Linsanity happened.
*Coming up next: Defensive Player of the Year