Well, it’s that time to start deciding who’ll be winning this year’s major awards in the Association.
Last year, I was about to accurately predict 50% of our categories (I didn’t include a Most Improved category)…and hopefully, I can at least replicate that percentage this time around.
Rookie of the Year – This award is turning into a runaway, albeit, not with the candidate that most expected it to be. There’s half a season left to be played, but there’s hardly a chance that Damian Lillard can be caught from behind (figuratively, and literally speaking). From opening night, Lillard has been the floor leader for the Blazers, and he has not disappointed in any way. He refuses to hoist bad shots, he spreads the ball amongst all of his teammates, and he values the basketball. But the most impressive part of the rookie’s game has been his play in clutch situations. DameLil has crushed two game-winning shots, and contributed lots of productivity when Rip City has needed it most. Unfortunately for Lillard, given the nature of the Blazers team at this point, it’s a facet of his game that will be tested frequently. However, fortunately for Portland, it appears that he has no intention of letting the pressure of those moments distract him from making both tremendous, and fundamentally-sound, plays that decide the outcome of games.
T Lamont’s ROY Choice = Damian Lillard
Most Improved Player of the Year – This category is not overflowing with candidates this season, but a late preseason trade may have sealed the fate of this award, anyway. How could this honor not go to a player who will average 10 more points and 2 more assists per game than he did last season? James Harden gets my vote. Sure, his skill set was evident in OKC, but to assume that he would produce such a burst in scoring and responsibility for the team’s success would be ludicrous. But that’s exactly what he did. Other candidates? Larry Sanders has upped his contribution – particularly on the defensive end – for the Bucks. And Philadelphia is getting just about all they hoped the could from Jrue Holiday, who is playing his tail off to compensate for the longer-than-anticipated absence from Andrew Bynum.
T Lamont’s Most Improved Choice = James Harden
Defensive Player of the Year – Well, rest assured Dwight Howard won’t be walking away with the trophy this time around. And we’d be sadly mistaken to throw this in Serge Ibaka’s lap. Larry Sanders is blocking an amazing 6 shots per 48 minutes of game time. Josh Smith is cleaning up with swats (2.3 bpg) and rips (1.5 spg), making him extremely valuable in fantasy leagues. But this is about more than stats (although they do tell some of the story), and I’ve been smitten by the re-emergence of AK-47. Andrei Kirilenko may have surrendered a small bit of his unreal explosiveness over the years (he’ll soon be 32), but if you watch him play you still see him smothering some of the game’s best players like only he can. He is a valuable piece who has helped the T’Wolves become relevant this season. And, no, we haven’t forgotten about his wife…
T Lamont’s DPOY Choice = Andrei Kirilenko
Sixth Man of the Year – J-Crossover is absolutely controlling this category. In fact, Jamal Crawford has been so good that he can make a great case to embark on a trip to Houston in February. Surveying the landscape of the Western Conference, there are three sure-fire guards who’ll represent the left coast in the All-Star Game – - Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Crawford’s teammate, CP3. That probably leaves a couple more slots, and it’d be hard to imagine James Harden not getting in. Could Crawford beat out perennial participants like Tony Parker and Steve Nash? I don’t know…but if there was ever a year for it to happen, it would be this year. Otherwise, the slick ball handler and elite scorer will have to settle for being the NBA’s most prolific sixth man on, arguably, the league’s most exciting team. I’m sure he’ll be just fine.
T Lamont’s SMOY Choice = Jamal Crawford
Most Valuable Player – Let’s take a run-down at the top candidates for the award right now.
Carmelo Anthony – A top notch scorer who’s become more efficient (for most of the season), and has done so without a high level of expectations to start this campaign. But don’t look now – the Knicks have dipped in the standings, as they’ve been chased down by the Miami Heat.
Chris Paul – A supreme playmaker on a team filled with players who otherwise would not be able to get their own shot (besides Mr. Crawford). And CP3 has improved in the area of game-closing, as illustrated in their win over the Lakers last week.
LeBron James – Business as usual for King James, who’s resume always tends to look better as the season progresses. But 26.5 points, 8.3 boards and 6.9 assists every night looks pretty good right now, too.
Kevin Durant – What impresses us most about KD? He somehow finds a way to linger among the league leaders in scoring (28.2 ppg, 3rd in the NBA) while depending on the unnatural point guard play of Russell Westbrook. That’s the sign of a player who is flat-out getting it done.
Kobe Bryant – Leading the league in scoring…but it wasn’t supposed to be this way for Bryant. He was supposed to right off into the sunset, alongside Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, maximizing his energy by channeling his effort during key parts of games. However, Kobe is a legitimate MVP candidate because he is keeping the Lakers within shouting distance of the playoffs.
So, the key here is that I am judging this at this specific moment. Not earlier in the season, not later in the season…but right now. And, right now…anyone who plays for the Lakers is out of the discussion. Sorry, Kobe. A record of 15-19 for your squad is not going to cut it.
As for KD…he just doesn’t do enough to impact the entire game. He scores like no one else – and makes it look easy – but he’s not a particularly strong rebounder or defender. So, for now, I’ll take remove him from consideration. The Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony can get lumped in that same category. Durant has more consistent help from Westbrook, and ‘Melo doesn’t have one other consistent scoring threat that he can count on. So, ‘Melo’s MVP hopes may be a little brighter for that specific reason – but New York is slumping a bit…and his hopes are directly tied to their success (sort of Derrick Rose’s a couple of years ago).
That’s brings us to LeBron James and Chris Paul. LeBron always brings his hard hat to work every day, regardless of the result of the game (i.e. plays well in wins and losses). CP3 is like G.E. – he brings good things to life for the Clippers, and is, unquestionably, the best off-the-dribble creator in the league. The Clippers’ high-flying style may lead you to believe that Paul commits his share off turnovers, but, to the contrary, he leads the Association in assist/TO ratio at 4.41. However, CP3′s impact has not been limited to the offensive end of the floor. Paul is tops in the NBA in steals (91 total, 2.6 per game), wreaking havoc and fueling Los Angeles’ dynamic transition game. The Clippers have appeared to make a significant jump from last season, and Paul’s leadership is certainly the biggest reason why.
T Lamont’s MVP Choice – Chris Paul
All-NBA 1st Team
Center – Dwight Howard – Howard looks like he’s lost some explosiveness, but he’s still posting 17 and 12 (just slightly less than his career averages). It’s sad, but he remains the top of the crop at this position.
Forward – LeBron James – Easy choice.
Forward – Kevin Durant – Another easy choice.
Guard – Chris Paul – An even easier choice.
Guard – Kobe Bryant – Nothing has been easy for Bryant this season…but he’s worked hard – too hard – and earned this spot.
All-NBA 2nd Team
Center – Tim Duncan – The resurgent big man is playing great at 36.
Forward – David Lee – Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Lee is shooting 53% from the field and 83% from the line. He averaging 19.9, 10.9 and 3.7 while posting a PER of over 25. So there.
Forward – Carmelo Anthony – As long as he remains disciplined, the Knicks will be interesting to watch.
Guard – Russell Westbrook – If Kyrie Irving stayed healthy and played for a better team, Westbrook’s spot might be in jeopardy. Westbrook’s production across the board simply outshines Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, and Jrue Holiday.
Guard – James Harden – Beats out Dwyane Wade due to his spectacular scoring (13 consecutive games scoring 25+ at the time of this post) in H-Town.