Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lone Opinion's NBA Awardees

The NBA regular season is not yet over, but in a few days, it will be. Just when we thought we've seen it all, from injuries and recoveries, trades and tirades, staying home and going away, struggles and triumphs, and wins and losses, we've yet to see outstanding players get rewarded for their achievements.

Last year, I made a list of NBA awardees at Siopao Heaven. This year, with a blog of my own, I'm awarding the best ballers here in Lone Opinion.

So if ever someone would ask me who deserves some love this season, they would be:

Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin

Timofey Mosgov: Mmmphf...

If that picture doesn't say enough, I don't know what would. 

There's a reason you've been seeing more of Griffin on ESPN and NBA TV. He's been terrorizing opposing post players with rim rattling dunks, and mind you, he's finishing at a high percentage (50%). And it's this kind of finish, and this, and this, that you'll pay for or tune in to see. And though I still think he got outdunked in the previous Dunk Contest, Griffin is responsible for renewing the people's interest in the NBA, all thanks to his high-flying act. And he crashes the boards to boot. If only his team would get him some help, and if he can work on a mid-range game and on his post defense, the LA Clippers would be contenders in no time.

Notable mentions:

Why not either of them?
The two former University of Kentucky teammates combine for roughly seven turnovers a game and their numbers pale in comparison to Griffin's. 

Sixth Man of the Year: Lamar Odom

Maybe its the Worlds, Khloe Kardashian or the desire to go after that third title, but whatever the case may be, Odom isn't the same man he used to be. He's better. Unlike last season where he would show up in a game then disappear in the next, Odom is now playing more consistently for the defending champs. Aside from rebounding and hitting open teammates, LO has increased his scoring output to give the LA Lakers an all-around spark off the bench. Oh, and he's shooting a career high 39% from beyond the arc.

Honorable Mentions:

Why not either of them?
Yes, they can score too, and in Terry's case, a lot, but Odom has a lot more to offer. Not only does he rebound and dish dimes, he also has a better defensive and player efficiency rating than the competition. That, and the Lakers have a better record than the Mavericks. But the thought of having two Sixth Man candidates on the same team says a lot about the Mavs' bench.

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

This one's tough because there's a lot intangibles that go down when choosing the best defensive player of the season. Numbers, if not enough, don't even tell the story. But I'd say the DPoY goes to Howard because he's still in the same situation he was in two years ago when he won his first DPoY. You take out D12 from the Orlando Magic equation and they're the worst rebounding team in the league. Outside of Howard, you can't expect any of their bigs to grab enough rebounds to secure a win. Not Hedo Turkoglu. Not Brandon Bass. Not Ryan Anderson. And definitely not Earl Clark. And if it weren't for Superman's intimidating presence, opposing players would have a field day in the shaded lane. Take the numbers into consideration, 14.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg, and a league best 94.6 defensive rating, and it makes him legit.

Honorable Mentions:

Why not either of them?
First off, Wade. A lot of people often overlook his defense because they pay more attention to his offensive prowess. But if you take a closer look, you'll realize that D-Wade is one of the best perimeter defenders right now. He has speed that allows him to keep in step with his man, and has athleticism to chase down players on the break. He loves to poke the ball away from the offensive player and has a knack for protecting the rim. His 1.5 spg and 1.1 bpg are a testament to this. Of course, Lebron James makes his job a bit easier.

Garnett, on the other hand, may not have the numbers to show for his defensive prowess...well actually, he does. His 94.7 defensive rating is second only to Howard's. But enough about that. While KG isn't getting any younger, he uses his length, strength and wit to stand his ground against opposing players. Even after a foul is called against No. 5, he still goes up to swat the ball to prevent and-one situations. And in case you haven't heard of it, Garnett is a pretty good trash talker. And just like the Celtics of the 80s, he knows his cheap shots. So he's got you covered, mind and body. He doesn't get the DPoY because Doc Rivers' defensive sets and his teammates' respective Ds take a little something away from him. 

Most Improved Player of the Year: Kevin Love

There's a lot of deserving candidates for this award. And unfortunately, I will only include three of them here. Two (LaMarcus Aldridge and Russel Westbrook) being honorable mentions, and the other brings home the bacon. Of all these candidates, none deserves it more than Kevin Love. The most obvious sign of improvement is numbers, and Love's are phenomenal. Last season's 14 ppg skyrocketed to 20.2 ppg, and his rebounding moved up from 11 to 15.2 per game. And need I remind you about the 31-31 performance and the record he has broken? Of course, he plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that people don't expect a lot from, so that kinda comes into play. Nevertheless, of all candidates, he improved his production the most, and that deems him the best candidate for the MIP.

Honorable Mentions:
LaMarcus Aldridge and Russel Westbrook

Why not either of them?
When Brandon Roy and Greg Oden went down, everybody thought the Portland Trailblazers were done for. Aldridge then stepped up his game and transformed from role-player to go-to-guy to give the Blazers a return trip to the playoffs. Getting an All-Star snub is not exactly the kind of reward you'd expect after increasing your scoring output and taking on a bigger role, but if there's any consolation, it's that Aldridge knows his the Blazers' MVP from this point on, especially now that Roy's chance to return to form is a long shot.

Westbrook, on the other hand, is one half of the Oklahoma City Thunder's 1-2 punch. The other half is the NBA's leading scorer, Kevin Durant. Basically, these two guys are in charge of at least 50% of the team's total scoring output. So whenever Durant sits, Westbrook's got some big shoes to fill in. His scoring and field goal percentage have improved this year, and he struts near identical stats to MVP candidate Derrick Rose. Still, the numbers game favors Love.

Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan

High time the man gets it. He should've gotten it last year when his team managed to make it to the playoffs with a limping Roy, but it's pretty hard to ignore what Scott Brooks did to the Thunder. This year, you can easily say that Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich (for reasons that will follow) are as deserving as McMillan. But McMillan is in Brooks' shoes now, wherein, you can't ignore what McMillan managed to pull off with a team plagued by injuries. The Blazers have managed to make do without some of their key players for some time now, but minus B-Roy is a different story. And while Aldridge stepping up his game is a major factor in overcoming the odds, you have to give credit to the guy who believed in him and is calling plays for him. Not to mention winning more games than all of the Eastern Conference's lower seeded playoff teams who are with their star players healthy, or at the very least, on the court. Besides, losing Roy midway through the season, did you ever think that a starting unit which featured Andre Miller, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Aldridge and Marcus Camby would be above .500? Didn't think so.

Honorable Mentions:
Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich

Why not either of them?
Thibs transformed the Bulls from perennial first round afterthought to contender. He has a hand in Rose's MVP candidacy and injected championship caliber offense and defense to a young team. However, prior to his arrival, the Bulls have reached the playoffs two years in a row. Meaning, he inherited a good team from Vinny del Negro. Making the playoffs isn't exactly an achievement. Being the number one seed in the Eastern Conference is. And Thibs can thank GM Gar Forman for that. Forman acquired a slew of reliable swingmen and an All-Star power forward that fit Thibs' system. Thibs has a hand in making these Bulls the contenders they are, but most of the credit is split between Rose and Forman.

To have a bunch of old geezers leading the NBA standings is quite a feat, but let's not forget, the core of the San Antonio Spurs have been together for a long time so there wasn't any need for major adjustments whatsoever. Besides, the Spurs have a winning tradition. Though we didn't expect to see them win this much, it didn't come as a surprise either. Winning isn't anything new to Pop, and with that, he can say goodbye to the CoY.

Executive of the Year: Gar Forman

Can't really think of any other GM that deserves this award because the competition doesn't even come close. Pat Riley's blockbuster trade isn't meeting expectations, while Donnie Walsh could've given Forman a run for his money, had the New York Knicks kept winning and had James Dolan left him alone to do his job. Instead, we see the Knicks in a win-now situation with two ball dominators and an aging point guard in their roster, while the Denver Nuggets' got some fine youngsters as they look forward to a bright future. Mitch Kupchak won't get the nod in the same way I snubbed Pop. There's nothing new with the Lakers winning, even though Matt Barnes and Steve Blake are nifty acquisitions.

Most Valuable Player: Dwight Howard

If ever people who have a say in the MVP voting listen to me, Howard will be the first player since Michael Jordan to win an MVP and DoYP award in the same year. Here's the thing. Numbers play a huge role in the MVP race. If we take that into consideration, D12 should win this award hands down, because his closest competition, D-Rose, just doesn't have enough juice in him to outdo the big man's production. And as I've said, Rose has identical stats to Westbrook, and with the latter not even in the MVP discussion, there's something wrong if the Bulls' guard gets the Maurice Podoloff.

Now let's talk about value. I'm pretty sure nobody else means more to his team than Howard. Rose may have lifted the Bulls to greater heights even with only one of their starting big men at his side, Joakim Noah during the early part of the regular season and Carlos Boozer midway, but at the end of the day, he's surrounded by solid role players. It's safe to assume that if all the Bulls were healthy, they could still make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference even without D-Rose. Howard, on the other hand, had to compete with a Magic team that seems to be losing talent with each passing year. It's because of his game that people are still not ready to count out the Magic and still see them as a dark horse in the East. Plus, D12 is such a force on the defensive and offensive end. The first part has already been explained in the DoPY part of this post. As for his offense, he leads the league in free throw attempts, meaning to say, he attracts a lot of double teams and fishes a lot of fouls. This benefits his team in so many ways even if he doesn't make most of his free throws. For one, with defenses collapsing on him, a teammate's bound to get open. Two, he gets the other team to penalty early, so a ticky-tack foul on any of his teammates, be it in the act of shooting or not, will result into free throws. In connection, he gets a lot of players in foul trouble. And lastly, if the defense doesn't collapse on him, there's a good chance he'll score on a possession, especially with that 59% field goal percentage and an array of new moves that include hook shots and Tim Duncan-esque bank shots. And I'd like to remind you that he scores some 23 ppg while he gets approx six less touches compared to Rose.

By the way, did you take the time to look at Howard's teammates? Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu are shells of their former selves, while Jameer Nelson can't return to his 2008-form. The only seemingly dependable teammate D12 has is Jason Richardson, and he seems to be having problems scoring in Stan Van Gundy's system. A system where Howard thrives despite not getting enough plays called for him. Take away Howard from the Magic and I see a team slightly better than the Charlotte Bobcats. Now that's what you'd call super, man.

My All-NBA First Team:
G - Derrick Rose
G - Kobe Bryant
C - Dwight Howard
F - Kevin Durant
F - Lebron James

My NBA All-Defensive First Team:
G - Rajon Rondo
G - Dwayne Wade
C - Dwight Howard
F - Kevin Garnett
F - Thabo Sefolosha

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