January 19, 2011
With just about every team rubbing up against the 41-game mark, it seems fair enough to hand out some midseason awards. After a few months of asking to put a few more games under our belt before leading with our award votes, it's clear there is so, so much under our belt. Enough to move forward with.
So click the jump for the first-half's award votes. We're not going to tell you this is the way the ballot will or should look come April, but if David Stern decided to lock out everyone right now, your favorite team's color commentator's ballot should read like this:
Most Valuable Player
You make the call
OK, that's the biggest cop-out since TIME chose "You" as the Person of the Year a few years back, but the onus really is on you to choose the Most Valuable Player this season. Because nobody really stands out.
LeBron James(notes)? Nobody has put up better stats, and he's doing it on a team with the fourth-best record, a group that (even with a four-game losing streak) looks like it could be well on its way to the best record in the NBA when all is said and done. Dwyane Wade(notes) is actually second in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating behind LeBron, which is just ridiculous when you think about it. And a little infuriating when you think about it some more.
Despite early struggles, these two have been the best all-around, pace-adjusted players in basketball this season. And while the people that try the "MVP-means-'most valuable'" logic are usually loons, they might actually be forced into rethinking that argument, as the best players in basketball might be working in a "most valuable-to-their-team" strata usually reserved for a pluckier player on an otherwise-terrible team.
Beyond that, you're not wrong in whomever you pick, to a certain extent. Chris Paul(notes) is MVP-level, though we still can't get why he doesn't try to take over games more often with his improved scoring prowess. This leaves us hesitant to call him the outright MVP. Dirk Nowitzki(notes) can't run away from the pack because his recent knee injury forced him to miss a few weeks. Dwight Howard(notes) would be a fine choice, though his on-off stats leave us scratching our head. Kobe Bryant(notes) has had a great season, but he only plays 33 minutes a night and has shot the Lakers out of a few games. Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) and Steve Nash(notes) can't guard anyone.
And Derrick Rose(notes)? The man is clutch, and as a Bulls fan, I can't tell you how many otherwise-terrible nights he's made happy for me. But while I'd love to embrace the idea of Derrick as an MVP candidate, I can't move forward knowing his True Shooting Percentage (which takes into consideration both free throws and 3-pointers) rivals that of Al Harrington's(notes) -- while also pondering his defense that (as you may have seen against Charlotte) just isn't there at times.
I respect the hell out of the guy, but I'd be letting you down if I included him in this list as a legitimate candidate.
Real candidates? LeBron, Wade, Kobe, Dirk, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Take your pick.
Rookie of the Year
Blake Griffin is averaging 27.6 points on 53 percent shooting with 14.4 rebounds and four assists in January. He is averaging 22.5 points and 12.8 rebounds for the season. He is still getting better and more comfortable with every game. He is still finding ways to contribute, even if Los Angeles' Mickey Mouse offense barely runs anything for him for long stretches. He is scaring the league. He is the reason to stay up late. He's not better than advertised, because you can't put his sort of game in legal advertisements. He's not safe for work.
Defensive Player of the Year
I hesitate with this selection, for a few reasons. Work with me.
I don't like picking a big name, an obvious name, from the NBA's second-best defense, once pace is accounted for. Usually, defensive dominance doesn't come down to someone you've heard of, because at times this season (and this is not a joke), Kurt Thomas(notes) has been this league's best defender for long stretches of games. Chicago is 1.8 points per 100 possessions ahead of Boston in terms of defensive efficiency, and that's a huge gap. The Bulls average just 95.3 points allowed per 100 possessions with Thomas on the court, and those are dominant numbers.
Also, K.G. has missed time. Nine games out of a potential 40.
But in the games he plays? The man is everywhere. Absolutely on it. Defends the screen-and-roll not only as if his life depended on it -- a lot of people can come through with that level of effort -- but actually succeeds in destroying teams' chances at proper options off of a play. Guards guards and limits forwards. Worries centers. Crashes the defensive glass and doesn't foul. He's just the perfect defender, and the shocking part is that it was about 15 years ago this time that an NBA team started leaning on Garnett heavily to round out its rotation. He's 34, and he'll still turn the game on its ear.
Garnett doesn't get extra points for that, in my eyes. He's not getting this vote because he's good for his age.
He's just good. Real, real good.
Coach of the Year
Tom Thibodeau, Chicago
Chicago revamped its roster during the offseason. It added Carlos Boozer(notes), a miserable defender, and Kyle Korver(notes) to play big minutes. Ronnie Brewer(notes) was brought in to both pick up steals and watch his man score on him, Derrick Rose was handed even more responsibility with the trading of all-world defender Kirk Hinrich(notes), and the Bulls added C.J. Watson(notes) (who was the main inspiration, so to speak, for Brandon Jennings'(notes) 55-point game last season) for guard depth.
And yet the Bulls are running away with the league's lead in defensive efficiency. And though you can quibble with Thib's substitutions at times, the team has a more fluid offense with growing options, a ridiculous idea when you consider the type of rotation parts (Kurt Thomas, Keith Bogans(notes), Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik(notes)) Thibodeau has to toss out there in order to fill a game for 48 minutes.
Every season the Coach of the Year award could be handed to several candidates without reflex, and this season is no different. But for Chicago to be 28-14 in a year that hasn't even seen its best lineup get to work yet (by the time Carlos Boozer had his sea legs under him, Joakim Noah's(notes) bum right hand couldn't even hold a basketball)? Thibodeau has done a remarkable job.
Here's hoping the message doesn't wear thin anytime soon.
Sixth Man of the Year
He doesn't come off the bench to hit two threes in the first quarter, or pump up his scoring stats with some killer two-for-ones to end the second and third quarters. You won't notice him, mainly because the Bobcats are often pretty dodgy (despite their current near-playoff status) and always terrible to watch. But no player has played better basketball off the bench than Tyrus Thomas this season.
He's averaged 11.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks (in 21.7 minutes per game, which is just a joke) -- which won't look that great to people that like to salivate over Jason Terry's(notes) 15.3 points (in over 10 minutes per game more) or Jamal Crawford's(notes) 16 points (in 10 minutes more), but the game of basketball comes down to more than hitting a good percentage of 3-pointers.
Thomas defends expertly. His 1.7 blocks per game don't show the depth of his work defensively, and the Bobcats are so much more dangerous with him on the floor. He is an all-around player in a way that Terry and Crawford, two of my favorite NBA people, just can't contend with. If they have any advantage, it's that they are nearly as good as Tyrus while doing their work over longer stretches of time. And though it isn't Thomas' fault he's kept on the bench for longer, Jet and Jamal do earn extra credit for that.
But as it stands now, to these eyes, Thomas' impact has been more significant, even if he is playing fewer minutes.
Most Improved Player
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Wait, wasn't he hearing "MVP" chants last season?
Well, yes. And he didn't deserve them. He might not deserve them this season, but he's damn close. And that "close" status, compared to last season, is why (in a close race over the Clippers' Eric Gordon(notes)) Derrick is my Most Improved Player.
I brought up his True Shooting Percentage earlier in this column, and while his 54 percent mark might not be all that hot (Chris Paul and Deron Williams(notes), by comparison, have around a 60 percent mark), it is a good step up from last season and growing by the game. And it will get better. Rose is averaging 8.2 free throws per game in January, which is nearly double what he averaged last season. And this isn't a case of his minutes going up, either -- Rose's slight uptick in minutes is probably offset by a Bulls pace factor that is slightly slower this season.
Defensively, he's become passable overall, which is a massive improvement on the sieve we saw in his first two seasons. And for those who chafe at the idea of this award being handed to an All-Star, understand we're considering everyone. DeShawn Stevenson(notes) is in the mix. Wilson Chandler(notes) and Nick Young(notes) are right there. Wesley Matthews(notes) and D.J. Augustin(notes) are knocking at that door. All are worthy of votes, and Rose isn't getting more points merely because we've all heard of him and many of his games are nationally televised.
No, he's getting this vote because he's been the most improved player thus far, which means he should get the Most Improved Player award if the season ended this afternoon.
Executive of the Year
Pat Riley, Miami Heat