The Season of Giving: NBA Awards

There are few things in life that can get me more excited than the thought of a new NBA season beginning. One of them is in full swing right now. When the calendar page turns from November to December I morph into a six year old child, staying in the body of a full grown man. For me, the Christmas spirit is far from just a phrase; it is a tangible feeling that nests within me and turns me into a giddy, holly jolly ball of excitement. I’m already in the mood for giving, so I’ll give out some one-month-into-the-season NBA awards.

The Actual Award Winners of the Season

MVP: LeBron James, Miami Heat
The case could be made for Kobe Bryant (leader in scoring, so far a career best shooting percentage and 3 point percentage), Kevin Durant (3rd leading scorer, career bests in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks), or maybe even Carmelo Anthony (2nd leading scorer, lynchpin of the Knicks hot start), but I’ve opted to go with old reliable, LeBron James. Call me biased if you’d like, but 25 points, 9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, all-world defense and a whole bunch of late game takeovers say otherwise.

Defensive Player of the Year: Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks
For you casual fans, go ahead and Google “Larry Sanders NBA” if you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s fine.  All you need to know is that Larry Sanders is 3rd in the league in blocks per game, 1st in the league in blocks per 48 minutes, and even boasts a 10 block game this year against Minnesota.

Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Before the season it was considered a two horse race for Rookie of the Year between Damian Lillard and #1 overall pick Anthony Davis. Davis, who has been very impressive (16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 49% shooting) is momentarily disqualified since he’s only played in only six games. Lillard has been just about as good as expected. He’s stepped right into the starting point guard role and produced offensively. Defensively… well, that’s another story. But for now Lillard gets the edge over Dion Waiters and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Most Improved Player: The Houston Rockets
Yeah, I’m cheating on this award. I’m making the executive decision to let four players divide the Most Improved Player Trophy in whatever four ways they want. It will be like the Immunity Idols on Survivor that break up in a bunch of different ways when there are more than two tribes. James Harden, the obvious choice, has made a significant statistical jump thanks to a largely expanded role. However, Harden isn’t the only player in Clutch City who has shown an obvious improvement this year. Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Patrick Patterson are all completely worthy of the Most Improved Player award. The former Florida Gator, Chandler Parsons, would be my pick if I had to give out the Individual Immunity Idol style Most Improved Player Trophy. I always thought he could be a decent player in the NBA, but he’s made a noticeable jump this year.

Sixth Man: Carl Landry, Golden State Warriors
Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, and JR Smith are the runners-up for the Sixth Man of the Year award one month in, and that tells you what a deep year it is for bench players. I was this close (imagine me holding up my thumb and index fingers about an inch apart) to giving the award to Ray Allen (superb shooting and late-game scoring chops on display), but with Andrew Bogut missing all but four games this year, Landry has been the much needed second frontcourt option behind David Lee, and has been doing it incredibly efficiently (14.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 57% shooting). Before I go any further, let’s transition into our next award.

The Surprise of the Season Award

I give this award to the Golden State Warriors on behalf of everyone who expected yet another lottery bound season for the Warriors, and everyone who told me I was crazy when I picked Golden State to finish 7th in the Western Conference before the season started. Let me just preface everything else I am going to say with this: All of Golden State’s success depends on how healthy the team can stay (i.e. Stephen Curry). Clearly, Golden State is deeper, more talented, and without question more cohesive than any of the Warriors teams in recent history. Despite some early shooting woes, Stephen Curry is playing the best overall basketball of his career. It’s been fun tracking him from his freshman year at Davidson (I was at his first round tournament loss to Maryland) until now. He’s evolved from a score first undersized shooting guard to a game-managing point guard 6 years later, and has done it rather seamlessly with the exception of his chronically bad ankles causing problems. The rest of the team falls in place perfectly. David Lee is validating my putting him in the Top 50 Players list prior to the season. Carl Landry, as mentioned, is playing Sixth Man of the Year worthy basketball. All three rookies (Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Festus Ezeli) are all serviceable role players. Jarrett Jack has been an upgrade as a back-up point guard. And Klay Thompson is shooting a whoooooole bunch. The only possible worries you could have if you are a Golden State Warriors fan is Stephen Curry’s foot falling off when he rolls his ankle, or Klay Thompson evolving into Monta Ellis 2.0. That’s just about it. Put Stephen Curry in the playoffs and he will show up. He shocked the world at Davidson, and he and the Warriors might just be in the process of shocking the world now.

The Drastic Overreaction of the Season Award

Holy crap, we could have about ten winners for this category since everything the media does is a giant overreaction. The Bobcats 7-5 start, James Harden’s start to the season and immediate MVP hype, the Knicks getting off to a 6-0 start, and the Spurs sitting Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Green… All consisted of drastic overreactions by nearly every party involved. Some quick thoughts on the runners up:

  • Did anyone actually think Charlotte could be a playoff team, or did ESPN just want an interesting angle to run for their Bobcats/Thunder highlights? I’m leaning towards the latter.
  • I bought into the James Harden hubbub a little bit, but never enough to think that Harden would be the league MVP, a multiple time NBA Champion, and the new face/beard of the NBA.
  • The Knicks are the third best team in their division. Just wait and see.
  • We’ll get to the Spurs in a minute.
  • Now we get to the number one overreaction of the month old season. Maybe it’s because they are in Los Angeles. Maybe it’s because they employ one of the best basketball players ever. Maybe it’s because they traded for a franchise center that doubles as the instigator of the most poorly handled contract/trade demand situations in the history of the league. Or maybe it’s because they traded their coach five games into the season. Regardless, the Los Angeles Lakers have taken the title of “Most Covered and Scrutinized Team in the League” from the Miami Heat, and are running away with it without much contention.

Every reaction to the Lakers is an overreaction, so I’m taking it upon myself to look at the situation with a level head and unbiased eyes and try to come up with something that makes a little bit of sense. Even before the season started I didn’t expect the Lakers to be the top seed in the Western Conference. With so many key pieces coming in, it was to be expected that there would be an adjustment period before the Lakers started clicking. Plus, factor in nearly 80,000 regular season minutes combined for Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, and Dwight Howard fresh off of a back surgery, it wasn’t too difficult to believe that there would be time missed by those aforementioned key pieces. Nash has only played two games, Pau Gasol is struggling with knee tendinitis, and Dwight Howard isn’t 100% yet. The Western Conference is loaded with good teams, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Lakers fell somewhere between a 3 and 6 seed. From the get-go I pegged this Lakers team as the doppelganger to the 2003-04 Lakers team that brought in Gary Payton and Karl Malone before the season, finished 3rd in the West, made their run to the NBA Finals and ultimately lost to the Detroit Pistons. Don’t be too surprised if we see a repeat of this.

The Player Who is Single Handedly Effing Up My Top 50 List Award

Congratulations to Anderson Varejao. I’ve always liked Varejao since my heyday as a Cavaliers fan. I didn’t exactly forget Varejao when making my list, just disregarded him since he only played in 25 games in the 2011-12 season.  So far this season Varejao has made a very strong effort to force me to eat my never spoken words about him, posting career highs in points (15.1) and rebounding (15.3- a league best). I regret leaving Andy off of the Top 50 list, but I don’t regret keeping a lot of my Cavaliers attire. They are very young, have some good talent, and have been interesting enough this year that I’ve even been breaking out some of my old Cleveland threads; nothing too serious yet, just a Cleveland hat now and then and one appearance by my bright red Cavaliers shoes. I wouldn’t say I’m in a full blown affair with the Cavs, but there is some mutual flirting going on.

The Most Tragic, Yet Funniest Subplot of the Season Award

Take One on Andrew Bynum: We’re talking about a player who I had ranked as the 15th best player in the NBA a player who was the only logical choice in opposition to Dwight Howard in any “Best Center in the NBA” debate; and a player who despite his moodiness and injury history, the Lakers were so hesitant to give up in deals for both Chris Paul and up until the very end, Dwight Howard. Bynum hasn’t played in one game this season due to troubles from his chronically bad knees. There is no indication of whether he’ll be back this year, be traded by Philadelphia before February, or leave in free agency after the season.Take Two on Andrew Bynum: Andrew Bynum is an immature superstar-caliber player who has never totally seemed totally committed to maximizing his potential. You could make the argument he did a lot of things in Los Angeles last year just to piss off Mike Brown. He was then traded to Philadelphia in a four team deal where he was expected to be the man for the 76ers, something totally realistic until you think about the way he carried himself on the bench when he was taken out in close games, or how he acted on the court while his team was getting blown out. Now, he might not even get the chance to be “the man” since he aggravated his knee injuries bowling. Additionally, his hair style choice makes him look like Frederick Douglass.

The Michael Myers “They aren’t dead yet!” Award

I covered this concept last February in my Eastern Conference Power Rankings. No matter what kind of start the Celtics get off to, no matter how dead in the water they seem to be, as long as they make the playoffs they are the single most dangerous team in the field of 16. It’s like in every single Halloween movie when Michael Myers has gone through just about every kind of punishment you could imagine, he just tilts his head sideways and keeps on trucking forward. He’s been shot, set on fire, and even had his head cut off, but he never stops. Same goes for Boston. I won’t be fooled and write them off. I’ve learned that lesson one too many times, and thankfully I caught on last year well before Boston nearly beat Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals (you know, up until LeBron did his own Michael Myers impersonation when you coldly dissected the Celtics in front of 18,624 fans in game six). I’m not one bit uneasy about being incorrect when I say that it’s going to be Miami and Boston in the East Finals once again.

The New-Found Favorite Team Award

I’m probably jumping on this bandwagon a decade too late, but it’s better to be late than never I suppose. I find it just about impossible not to enjoy everything about the San Antonio Spurs. For my sake, and everyone else’s, I suggest you start to appreciate them too because they aren’t going to be around much longer. I think this recent revelation has something to do with the Rest-Gate scandal and how it’s really turned into a “Spurs v. NBA” situation. Let me quickly voice my opinion on this matter: As a fan, it pisses me off in general that there are times when teams will rest players and we don’t always get to enjoy the best quality of game. I remember being 9 years old and going to the land up north to see the Toronto Raptors host the Utah Jazz. At the time I was going through a bit of a Vince Carter phase (allow me to thank the good lord that this didn’t last long), and Carter wasn’t playing because of an injury. I was devastated. And Carter had a legitimate reason not to play.

Here is what I have a problem with. This idea of resting players happens every year for the last three weeks of the season when teams are purposely trying to suck in order to improve their draft odds. Only David Stern has never addressed these instances as a “disservice to the league and fans.” None of those teams got fined $250,000. And as Bill Simmons put it on Twitter, “Disservices DJS didn’t mention: 16-game lockout; N.O. getting #1 pick, all “4 road games in 5 nights” trips; 1st CP3 trade; Sonics; Donaghy.” Yeah, that sounds about right. Where this situation takes an interesting turn is how everything the San Antonio Spurs do is a constant Eff-You to the powers that be in the NBA. In reality, this is the only franchise that this could and would happen to. It’s the perfect combination of players and coach. It’s the same franchise that has rested their players many times before, most famously when Gregg Popovich kept Tim Duncan out of a game last year because he is “old.” For those who don’t know, Coach Pop has a tendency to be so cold and miserable during his between quarter interviews that they have become a legitimate point of conversation amongst media members. Pop hit his breaking point in game five of the Western Conference Finals when he shattered his own record by giving two 2-word answers in his interview with Craig Sager at the conclusion of the 3rd quarter. He is all out of effs to give, and that makes him incredibly endearing to someone like me. The cherry on top of the Gregg Popovich sundae? He’s one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history.

Then we get to the roster which outside of the Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili big three is a collection of misfits that seemingly fit perfectly in San Antonio. Popovich has squeezed every bit of potential out of the likes of Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonnar, Danny Green, etc. like he is trying to make the most delicious homemade lemonade of all-time. Not only have the Spurs been the most consistent team of the last decade and a half, but the San Antonio dynasty is arguably the most underrated in NBA and sports history. Equally impressive is that Popovich and the Spurs have only had one true full-fledged superstar for the duration of this decade and a half run, and that superstar happens to also be drastically underrated in the grand scheme of NBA history. This year Duncan is off to a very impressive start (18.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 54% shooting) that leads me to wonder whether this year we should be taking the Spurs more seriously as a title contender in years past. It’s been 5 years since San Antonio has won a title, and really that was the last time we saw Duncan resemble the Tim Duncan we’d been used to for the previous ten years. If Duncan can keep this up all year long and carry it into the postseason then the Spurs are more dangerous than they have been since they won their last title. And if Duncan can anchor the Spurs and carry San Antonio to a title 14 years after their first in 1999, that would make the Spurs the longest running dynasty in modern NBA history, and possibly solidify Duncan as one of the five best players in the history of the game. As a LeBron James fan I’m obviously pulling for not one, not two, not three, not four… Heat titles. But as a basketball fan, it wouldn’t break mine or my cousin Gianni Zambito’s heart to see Duncan win ring number five.