Monday, April 13, 2009

Above the Rim: NBA Postseason Awards

With the NBA regular season winding down, it’s time to recognize the individual accomplishments of the season before the playoffs distract us with a new set of highlights. With the amount of young players improving this season and being among the frontrunners for various post-season awards, I wonder if the NBA is entering a new Golden Era with superstar led teams meeting in the playoffs annually.

Winner- LeBron James, Cavs

The race for MVP, in my opinion, has been a one-man race all season with everyone else vying for second place. The past few seasons, the main knocks against LeBron James winning the MVP award were that the Cavs have not won more than 50 games, were never higher than a 3 seed in the playoffs, and never won the division. Because the Cavs were unable to reach these heights, James’s monster seasons resulted in him finishing 2nd, 5th, and 4th in the last three seasons. This season, James is second in the league in scoring at 28.3 points per game and is the only player in the NBA averaging over 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. James is accomplishing these stats despite routinely sitting out the fourth quarter as the Cavs coast to wins. In addition to his offensive prowess, James has stepped up his defensive efforts as well. Averaging 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game, LeBron is leading the Cavs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, trying to become the only the fourth player in NBA history (Kevin Garnett, Scottie Pippin, and Dave Cowens) to lead his team in all five categories. Finally, the Cavs have the NBA’s best record at 65-15, including 39-1 at home (1 win away from tying the 1985-1986 Celtics NBA-best 40-1 home record), have clinched the Central Division title and the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference (they are currently the #1 seed in the NBA, 2 games ahead of the Lakers), and are winning games by an average of 8.8 points per game showing that the Cavs have achieved the team success that has been LeBron’s main obstacle to winning the MVP.
The Field
The race for second place consists of Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Dwayne Wade, and, my darkhorse, Ron Artest. Paul transforms the New Orleans Hornets from a .500 team to a 50 win team while averaging 22.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and leading the league with 11 assists and 2.8 steals. Paul is easily the best point guard in the NBA, but the team’s marginal level of success will hurt him with the voters, as it has with LeBron in the past.
Wade suffers the same plight, as his league-leading 29.9 points cannot overcome the Heat’s 41-38 record despite Wade contributing 5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. Wade’s all-around game rivals only LeBron, but the Cavs’ accomplishments this season far outweigh Wade’s Heat. Remaining consistent with past voting, the team accomplishments give LeBron the nod over Wade.
Kobe has the team accomplishments as the Lakers are running away with the Western Conference’s #1 seed, leading second place Denver by 10 games on Sunday. The Lakers trail only the Cavs for the best record in the NBA. In addition to the Lakers’ accomplishments, Kobe is averaging 27.1 points per game, third in the NBA behind Wade and James, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. As good as this season is, all three statistics are actually a decline from Kobe’s MVP season last season. Also, as good as the Lakers have been, they are not noticeably better than the Cavs in terms of their record, although they are 2-0 against Cleveland this season and are responsible for the Cavs only loss at Quicken Loans Arena this season. Assuming team accomplishments are equal, LeBron’s individual statistics surpass Kobe across the board. Additionally, Kobe’s supporting cast of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, and Lamar Odom are better than Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Dwight Howard is the best post player in the NBA, leading the NBA in rebounding and blocks at 13.9 and 3.9, respectively while contributing 20.7 points per game as well. However, the Magic are not as accomplished as either the Cavs or the Lakers and Howard’s statistics do not approach the all around achievements of the other players on this list. As a post player, Howard may have to be absolutely dominant for the best team in the NBA to overcome some of the monster seasons that James, Wade, Paul and Kobe are capable of putting up in the next five seasons.
Ron Artest rounds out my list for a few reasons. While his individual statistics have decreased since last season to 17.3 points, 5,3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, Artest has been the catalyst behind the Rockets run to first place in the Southwest division. The Rockets are 32-13 in games Tracy McGrady has not played in this season as opposed to 20-46 in the previous 4 seasons. Artest, along with Shane Battier, have spearheaded the Rockets defensive approach and helped overcome the loss of McGrady and lead the Rockets to a potential 3 seed in the playoffs. This is the kind of performance that is usually classified as “Most Valuable” despite not consisting of the highest statistical achievement (think Kirk Gibson on the 1988 Dodgers). While this is not enough for Artest to win the award, it should be enough to garner a few votes and recognition for his season. Let’s not forget that this is Ron Artest completing a full NBA season without even a minor off-court or attitude issue in Houston. While players shouldn’t be rewarded for behaving, it may be a sign that Artest has turned a corner and makes his season an overlooked pleasant surprise this season.
1. James, Cavs
2. Paul, Hornets
3. Wade, Heat
4. Bryant, Lakers
5. Howard, Magic
6. Artest, Rockets

6th Man of the Year
Winner- Jason Terry, Mavericks

Terry is the Mavericks’ second leading scorer this season behind Dirk Nowitzki at 19.6 points per game. Surprisingly, in 60 games coming off the bench, Terry is averaging 19.6 points per game compared to 19.3 points per game in 11 starts. Terry is also shooting a higher percentage coming off the bench although his assist numbers are lower as a sub. Nonetheless, no other backup in the league produces like Terry does or is such a focus in their team’s offense.
Runner-up- Lamar Odom, Lakers
While Odom has started 32 games for the Lakers this season due to Bynum’s injury, he still qualifies for the 6th Man Award with 44 games as a sub. Although his numbers are much better as a starter, Odom still averages 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds as a sub (as opposed to 14 and 11.2, respectively, as a starter). Additionally, on a team that features 7-footers Gasol and Bynum, Odom is the team leader in blocks with 1.3 per game. Odom’s ability to mesh with the different players on the Lakers and his willingness to come off the bench in a contract year, coupled with the rebounding and defense he contributes in addition to his high scoring average off the bench make him a worthy 6th Man Award winner. However, Terry’s higher statistical output overcomes Odom’s intangibles.

Coach of the Year
Winner- Rick Adelman, Rockets

Adelman has led the Rockets to a 52-28 record despite being without Tracy McGrady for much of the season (with McGrady’s decline this season, the Rockets were virtually without McGrady all season). Also, Adelman was able to mesh previously surly Ron Artest with a hardworking defensive team featuring Yao Ming and Shane Battier. Adelman was able to seamlessly inject Artest into this team without the Rockets showing signs of transition. While the real test of how far the Rockets have come this season will be if they can finally get past the first round of the playoffs, it appears that Adelman’s guiding hand may have helped them turn the corner.
The Field
Stan Van Gundy of the Magic and Mike Brown of the Cavs are in a virtual tie for second place for Coach of the Year. Van Gundy has led the Magic to the Southeast division title while Brown has led the Cavs to the NBA’s best record (and the best record in team history) and only the second division title in team history. Both coaches have also had to overcome injuries this season. Van Gundy lost all-star point guard Jameer Nelson for the season while Brown has lost starters Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Delonte West, and Ben Wallace for significant time this season and valuable role players Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic for weeks as well. However, Van Gundy has Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu to fall back on and Brown has LeBron James and fellow all-star Mo Williams. While Adelman did have Yao Ming and Ron Artest to help overcome the loss of McGrady, Van Gundy and Brown did not have the potential personality conflicts that the Rockets had. Also, Van Gundy was given Rafer Alston to make up for losing Nelson, Brown has one of the deepest benches in the league and was able to add Joe Smith after the trade deadline. Adelman’s Rockets were not given an infusion of talent in midseason. Adelman’s team has relied heavily on previously unproven Aaron Brooks, Von Wafer, and Carl Landry. Adelman has won his division, just like Brown and Van Gundy, but has done so without the depth and resources to overcome injuries that Brown and Van Gundy have.
1. Adelman, Rockets
2a. Brown, Cavs
2b. Van Gundy, Magic

Rookie of the Year
Winner- Derrick Rose, Bulls

Rose and O.J. Mayo are both worthy of this award statistically, but when Rose’s role with the Bulls is included, he is given the edge over Mayo. Rose is averaging 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game, running the Bulls offense as they have clinched a playoff spot. Rose’s high level of achievement while leading a team through the anxiety and pressure of a playoff push gives him the award.
The Field
Mayo has been everything he was expected to be when he was drafted third by the Timberwolves (and then traded to the Grizzlies) averaging 18.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. Mayo should continue to improve and should be the centerpiece of the Grizzlies turnaround and return to the playoffs.
Marc Gasol is the second reason why the Grizzlies should improve and push towards the playoffs within a few seasons. Gasol, whose rights were acquired in a trade last year from the Lakers, has been a pleasant surprise for the Grizzlies this year averaging 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Gasol should form a nice inside-outside combination with Mayo for years to come as the Grizzlies build back towards contention in the Western Conference.
Russell Westbrook is one of the main reasons why I think the Thunder could be the Blazers of next season, a young team that is building talented depth at numerous positions and will have a high draft pick this June. Westbrook averaged 15.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game and looked like he had been playing in the NBA for a few seasons as opposed to a 20 year old rookie. Westbrook’s leaping ability may also make him the most exciting rookie of this season.
Kevin Love has rebounded from a slow start to put up a very productive rookie season in the post for the Timberwolves. The thought of Love and Jefferson playing together in the post for a full season next year has to have GM/Coach Kevin McHale pretty excited for next season. Love averaged 11.1 points and 9 rebounds per game and had teammates raving about his rebounding ability. Love and Jefferson should be able to play off of each other next year and the T-Wolves young towers should begin pushing for the playoffs, along with the Grizzlies.
Brook Lopez was possibly the most productive rookie big man this season as he averaged 13.1 points, 8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game for the Nets. The Nets were so pleased with Lopez’s production as a rookie, they declined to retain Nenad Kristic and allowed him to leave for the Thunder. With Lopez and young point guard Devin Harris in place, the Nets should be able to add a third piece in the draft this year as the push to return to the playoffs next season.
1. Rose, Bulls
2. Mayo, Grizzlies
3. Westbrook, Thunder
4. Lopez, Nets
5. Love, Timberwolves
6. Gasol, Grizzlies

All-NBA Defensive Team
PG- Chris Paul’s 2.8 steals per game make him the leader by far
SG- Dwayne Wade/Kobe Bryant. Wade has had possibly the best defensive season for a player under 6’4” in the history of the league with 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
Bryant is routinely one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and I cannot justify leaving him off of this list despite the seasons that Paul and Wade have had.
SF- LeBron James not only is averaging 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per season, but he also has routinely taken the challenge of guarding the opposition’s best player late in games (a la Kobe Bryant) including point guards like Chris Paul. James has also perfected the “run down block” where he catches up to an opponent’s fast break and smacks it off the backboard (his block of Jason Richardson’s attempted 360 dunk may be my favorite highlight of the season).
PF- Ron Artest/Shane Battier- Considering these two players usually alternate on the opposition’s best forward. I didn’t think it would be fair to include one and not the other. Both are defensive warriors who routinely limit all-stars to scoring below their averages.
C- Dwight Howard is leading the NBA in rebounding by 2.1 over the runner-up and in blocks by .5. Howard’s ability to affect a game within 10 feet of the hoop is unmatched by anyone in the NBA right now. This is the only position where I don’t have to cheat and put 3 players on my team because Howard is so much better than every other center in the league. Howard is the Defensive Player of the Year as well with Wade finishing second.

All- NBA team
I am going to get creative again because the five best players deserve to be on this list. So Kobe is now a small forward and LeBron becomes a power forward, where he does play when Mike Brown goes with a small lineup.
PG- Paul
SG- Wade
SF- Bryant
PF- James
C- Howard

The fact that this is basically my All-NBA defensive team shows how complete these players are and how far ahead of the rest of the league they are.

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Chris Stanley said...

Nice picks Adam. You got basically all the main ones right. Nice call on Adelman, Brown and Van Gundy.

Richie said...

Hah, I love the picture you chose for Lebron in this one. It's him hacking Jason Richardson on what has been called his/the "block of the year" when in reality it's the foul of the year. Everyone knows that he didn't get any ball at all, but it was called a clean block. That's Lebron for you. He gets calls that leave even lifetime Cavs fans scratching their heads. If he dribbles inside the paint, there's automatically a foul called- if it's an and1 so be it, which is the call made onf 95% of his charges. On the other end of the court he's allowed to rape would be scorers regularly and is seldom called fora foul. When he does get a foul called on him, he barks at the officials long and loud enough to give Ron Artest or Rasheed Wallce 5 fouls before he finally shuts up. The sad truth is that this year, Lebron deserves the MVP award LESS than in years past. He's come to relie on the officials more and gotten exponentially cockier while he should have been maturing.