To the Worthy

Its awards season again, that magical time where individuals are rewarded for spectacular or surprising seasons just before the sun sets on the regular season and teams are rewarded with what really matters: playoff opportunities.

The first award, the one everyone is concerned with, is the MVP. The obvious and really only choice is LeBron James. I have already discussed this, but the second and third choices are where the race is interesting. If this isn’t a unanimous vote then someone has a screw or two loose.

I know at least one guy has made a fuss over the fact that LeBron has decided to take a brief respite before the playoffs in order to heal trivial bruises that he would normally play through and for overall rest. It isn’t even worth debating, he and the Cavaliers have earned the right to do what they want and the wonderful thing about the NBA and all other professional sports is that there will be a result that can measured by how far the Cavaliers advance in the playoffs.

There is no point to argue this other than it absorbs otherwise empty minutes or space in columns and TV shows. But back to important matters, who is second? I mean, who is the silver medalist to Michael Phelps?  Who is second in the box office to Avatar? I suppose my choices boil down to Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and perhaps my favorite player Steve Nash.

I still struggle with putting Durant 2nd in the MVP race, but it is impossible to ignore what he has done to lift the Thunder to 50 wins and into the heavily contested Western Conference playoffs. He is the leading scorer in the league, the youngest ever in fact. However, we all already knew he was a great scorer and he is really the Thunder’s only option on frequent occasions.

Howard? He only is the most physically dominant defensive presence in the league (see: Defensive Player of the year). His offensive game has improved despite the numbers signifying relative little change. He is leading the league in blocks, rebounds, and FG percentage. I’m sorry, what? That is unheard of, literally. And Nash? Well, he has no realistic chance but what he has done this year is just as impressive as Kobe despite the fact that Mamba is playing with essentially nine fingers. Nash is really old in basketball terms (maybe not Kevin Willis, but he is well beyond the midway point) and is dealing with a fluctuating back problem. Through all of this, the Suns, who were seen at best as a team that may flirt with the playoffs, are a contender in the Western Conference, albeit with inspired play from Amar’e Stoudemire.

I guess Durant is my choice, but barely over Howard, only because Howard isn’t asked to carry the load offensively as Durant is (although the same could be said about Durant defensively only more so). Plus, the Magic are a much better overall team than the Thunder (which a lot of credit belongs to Dwight for that).

While he may not be 2nd in my MVP thoughts, Dwight Howard is definitely defensive player of the year. It’s not even a question, or at least shouldn’t be. The numbers are staggering, but the opposing offense completely changes from when he is and isn’t on the court. He thwarts penetration from guards, blocks enough incoming shots to alter thoughts about shooting, and makes everyone’s job on the court easier because they don’t have to always shut down the drive into the lane.

Okay, he may not be the best 1-on-1 defender in the league, but who else is worthy of the award? Some local Northeastern Ohioans may think Anderson Varejao is worthy of some consideration. No. He isn’t. He may be the second most valuable player in Cleveland and he plays tremendous hustling defense that frustrates opponents. But that isn’t going to win an award because they awards are based on merit and numbers, as flawed as the system may be. Plus, Dwight has earned it.

Who is the 6th Man of the Year? Perhaps Jamal Crawford who has molded his game to come off the bench. Or maybe now Anderson Varejao is worthy, or maybe Lamar Odom is your guy. Jason Terry, who can still be a firecracker off the Dallas bench. I don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter that much.

I would say Jamal Crawford just because the Hawks are a better team this year compared to last and he, along with Josh Smith’s better shot selection, are the main differences. That really isn’t fair to those other players who equally if not more important this year compared to last year but play on consistently good teams. But Crawford puts up the offensive numbers, which is key during award season.

The Most Improved Player is equally murky. It isn’t easy to distinguish between a player that has really improved and one that has simply been given the opportunity to play through more minutes. Andrew Bogut, Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Josh Smith, any number of Thunder players, Corey Brewer, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and the Lopez twins are all viable candidates. Aaron Brooks and Robin (not Brook) Lopez are the two that jump out the most.

Brooks took over the minutes vacated by Rafer Alston last year and hasn’t looked back. Remember how he nearly conquered the Lakers by making Derek Fisher look like a statue on the court? Well, he has not been quite that poetic this year but he is averaging much better stats than last year. Whether that is a product of opportunity or improvement is another question.

Robin has also taken over as the Suns’ center this season after a period of trial-and-error with Channing Frye at the 5. He has shown significant toughness and defensive prowess before going down with an injury just a few days ago. According to Jared Dudley (who has also improved his game), his whole demeanor changed when he confronted Shaquille O’Neal in a huddle last season when Shaq was riding him for not playing good enough defense (download the Simmons podcast featuring Dudley, you can hear all about it). Whatever it takes I guess, because his play has increased significantly.

But who deserves it more? Does it really matter? Fine, if I had to pick I would choose Brooks just because he operates the offense as opposed to Lopez who is focused mainly on defense and rebounding.

The Coach of the Year is Scott Brooks. The only other coach who I feel has a legitimate case for this award (which is primarily given to the coach who did the best compared to expectations or circumstances, not necessarily the best coach) is Nate McMillan. Brooks has coached the Thunder, who were a high lottery pick team the last couple of years, to the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

That was completely unexpected, as were all the injuries Portland had to deal with this year. The Blazers were dealt a huge blow when Greg Oden, the center of the future, went out for the year with an injury. Then, shortly after that devastating injury occurred, backup center Joel Przybilla goes out with an injury for the season as well.

Sure, they traded for Marcus Camby to help fill the void, but that wasn’t immediate. And the Blazers were just dealt another serious blow with word that Roy’s knee is worse than just bruised. That will almost certainly spell doom for the Blazers, but McMillan has done a tremendous job dealing with injuries all season.

The last real award is Rookie of the Year. The three main contenders are Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, and Brandon Jennings. Jennings broke out much earlier than the other two, having the one performance where he dropped 55, but since hasn’t lived up to that insane performance and the unreasonable expectations people had. He has done more than his share to carry the Bucks, who were absent of Michael Redd for a large part of the season, to the playoffs. Salmons was critical to the second half run, as was Stackhouse and the unbelievable improvement of Andrew Bogut who finally resembled a first overall pick this season, but Jennings is the main operator of Milwaukee’s game plan.

Stephen Curry might be in the perfect system for his style of play, in the insane run-and-gun Don Nelson offense. He is able to shoot as much as he wants, within some reason. He is exactly what people thought he could be, and that is an incredible shooter who has managed to sculpt his game around the NBA idea of a point guard, possessing the vision that some doubted he would have at this next level.

But is that good enough for ROY? Not with Tyreke playing. Evans is averaging 20/5/5 this season. You already knew that, just as you knew that LeBron, Oscar, and Jordan are the only other rookies in history to average such numbers. How could that not be worthy of ROY? Well, he deserves it this year.

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