Ball Don't Lie - NBA



OK, I'm sure you've heard me slough off early season award nominations as daft and silly and altogether inappropriate. But one month into the season, it does feel like time enough to settle things down and separate the leaders from the rest of the pack.

It's early, but the leaders who follow have legitimately earned their place amongst the elite, and the season has gone on long enough to dole out a bit of recognition.

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Most Valuable Player

1. LeBron James(notes)

It might not make for the best story, it might not be the most interesting choice, and his team is far from the best in the NBA (though I'll never understand what quality of teammates has to do with an individual award). But James (above, left; boy, I'm droll) has had the best season of any player thus far.

He's averaged about 30 points per game, eight assists (on a team that is sometimes suffocating for offense), nearly two combined blocks/steals and 6.7 rebounds per contest while shooting 52.3 percent.

2. Chris Paul(notes)

This would be Paul's award were it not for his ankle sprain. And while we fully expect him to be battling it out for the trophy until the end of the season if he continues the torrid pace he started his campaign with, ankle injuries usually take a few weeks to recover from even after you've been cleared to play.

Still, the man has been a beast. And he should hardly have to pay in voters' eyes just because his teammates aren't exactly on the up and up. Or talented.

3. Carmelo Anthony(notes)

By a whisker over Chris Bosh(notes) because I have some small misgivings over Bosh's defense.

Anthony's been brilliant and his all-around game has been great to watch. But don't let certain sportswriters and TV guys (you know, actual voters) convince you that he's been the best player in the game just because they have the attention span of a Le Sueur pea.

***

Most Improved Player

1. Josh Smith(notes)

Both in terms of on-court improvement and actual production increase, Smith takes the ring. There will be lesser lights that pop up as the season moves along, end-of-the-bench material that developed into rotation guys or starters that actually rank as the "most improved." But until we have a few more weeks to suss those out, Smith is our guy. And that's a credit to him — Josh has put in the work, and brought the smarts.

2. Marc Gasol(notes)

Marc has brought the whole grains, the lean proteins and the leafy greens. He's lost weight, and his (already formidable) game has blossomed as a result. Now, if only he could get the ball more. He's averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds with three combined blocks/steals and only 2.2 turnovers per contest.

3. Louis Williams(notes)

We won't be seeing Lou on this list for a while, not after that two-month stay on the shelf and not with Allen Iverson's(notes) presence. But let's take the time to point out his 17.4 points per game with more than five assists and nearly a three-to-one turnover ratio in an offense he's still learning.

***

Coach of the Year

1. Stan Van Gundy

In an award that could deservedly go to a dozen coaches at this point, Van Gundy gets our call. The Magic coach has been working with a rotation that looks nothing like what got him to the Finals last season, myriad injuries and suspensions, and a series of rotating starting lineups. No matter. Fifth in defense, tied for first in the East. On pace for 64 wins. And that's after the "rough" month.

2. Phil Jackson

Did you know that the Los Angeles Lakers are second in defense thus far this season? Having Ron Artest(notes) around helps, but after losing his top assistant and second-best player for the first three weeks of the season, Jackson still has this team defending with one of the worst individual defensive point guards in the game (though Derek Fisher(notes) tries, and his on/offs are good), while adjusting his offense to fit a significant part. And his Lakers still own the best record in the NBA.

3. Alvin Gentry

The Suns are also on pace for 64 wins, and I can't recall a single scribe jotting them down for more than 50 victories this season. The defense comes and goes (as low as 28th this year, as high as the team currently sits — 22nd), but the offense (now ranked first in offensive efficiency) has always been top rank, and Gentry deserves credit for simplifying things and getting the rotation down pat. Absolutely perfect, thus far.

***

Rookie of the Year

1. Brandon Jennings(notes)

Can we lose the "Allen Iverson with a jumper" or "left-handed Chris Paul" nonsense? He's Brandon Jennings, he's a stud already at age 20 and two months, and he's got a style all his own. While working for a coach with all the styling of a Ford Edge. Stock.

Jennings has averaged just under 22 points and six assists a game, four rebounds, and the Bucks are 9-7. 

2. Tyreke Evans(notes)

Gag all you want (I have) at Evans' loping 20-footers that don't have a prayer. The guy has a shot selection to work on, but don't let it obscure you from paying attention to what he does right. He's averaged nearly 19 points a game with five assists and five rebounds.

3. Ty Lawson(notes)

Jonny Flynn(notes) has put up better per-game stats, but Lawson has been much more efficient overall, and we're not going to penalize him for playing in back of Chauncey Billups(notes) (and, inexplicably, Anthony Carter(notes) on some nights).

Lawson has averaged nine points and 3.7 assists in just 21 minutes a game while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor (this is a 5-foot-11 rookie, kittens), and making half his 3-point attempts.

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