March 05, 2010
Not sure if you noticed, but that giant bank of snow in the parking lot of your local strip mall -- that nasty, grey mess? -- is getting smaller. Someone's going to ask you to fill out a bracket in a little over a week, and the trade deadline was last month.
So it feels as good a time as any to offer a truncated version of our Award Tour. Just the first three steps, mind you, as we'll bring the rest on Monday. With that in place, click the jump for the biggest patch of le Tour.
Most Valuable Player
He had this undeserved stereotype that followed him for years, and all of the sudden he's become this giant at something people always assumed he could do -- score and contribute efficiently down the stretch of ballgames at a rate that exceeds all other known men. Brilliant. Loving it. Not even giving him bonus points for all the nagging injuries, Kobe's a giant.
He's also defending at a rate unseen since 1999-00, after years of being handed undeserved All-Defense honors. Considering the defense, I'm serious, this is just about a career season. I bow to the man.
Focus on what he doesn't do right all you want, if that's your bag. My bag is to understand that defense is half the game, and that this dominant defender's offensive gifts far outweigh the defensive contributions of some of the players that didn't make my top three.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Dwight Howard
I didn't like the way he showed on the perimeter early in the season, and not in terms relative to his 2008-09 brilliance. I just didn't think he was getting out enough, changing the perimeter outlook in ways he's paid to.
But Howard has slowly become more and more Dwight Howard-like as the season moves along. That is to say, creating a defensive monster in Orlando despite being surrounded by rather iffy defensive teammates.
Don't trip. If you've watched the games, you'll know.
He's not swatting shots away by the dozen, and he's not hoarding boards at a Howard-style rate, but Collison moves his feet and contests like you wouldn't believe. Over a hundred possessions, the Thunder are almost 7 1/2 points better with him on the floor defensively than off, and while he might strike you as an unassuming figure, I beg you to watch him play before deriding his inclusion here.
The man also leads the NBA in charges taken, despite sometimes acting as the second or third guy off OKC's bench. Joke about flopping all you want, but when you block a shot, you might not get the ball as a result. When you draw a charge, the ball is yours. The Thunder are the third-best defensive team in the league, and it ain't because of Durant, and it's certainly not because of Nenad Krstic(notes).
Moves his feet, stays with plays, helps with guards, picks up rebounds. Does everything a big is supposed to do, does it better than most bigs save two. Good god, I just rhymed.
Also considered: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett(notes). Yes, all stars, I know. But these guys have been fantastic. Even in his diminished state, watch what K.G. does on screens, and off the ball.
Rookie of the Year
He's been the best player playing in his first season in the NBA since the beginning of the year? How else should I put it to you?
Stephen Curry(notes) was fantastic last month. I can't wait to tune into Warriors games to see that cat dance, but Evans has been better. Better not because he's been more consistent, but better because he's been better. And for longer. And speaking of things I cannot wait to see -- imagine this kid with a few years' worth of smarts in his breast pocket. Evans is going to break some hearts, 29 teams at a time.
2. Stephen Curry
Is there anyone else you'd rather watch play basketball tonight? Seriously. LeBron, Kobe, Durant -- they're all on camera tonight. Are you looking forward to watching anyone more than this sprightly little thing?
New nickname? He's a Fiat Abarth 500 SS.
You get in front of him. Go ahead. Try.
He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 assists in February. And 4.8 turnovers per game, as well, but who's counting? Save for lots of people.