Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My NBA Awards (And my suggestion for fixing the NBA’s Awarding System)

Before we begin…

I hope that in spite of the harsh reality that my Mavericks will likely fall short this offseason (due to another no-show by Dirk the Diggler), I hope everyone’s really watching and taking note: Avery Johnson is on pace to become the greatest coach EVER. I mean sure, you inherit a 50-win team, it doesn’t take much to make them elite. But disregard what was given him—look what he made out of it:

  • Converts a shoot-first ex-star (Stackhouse) into an efficient, powerhouse sixth man
  • Takes a guy who only played for ca$h (Dampier) and turned him into a game-changing defensive player (but of course I use the term “game changer” very loosely)
  • Turns a guy who’d NEVER been to the playoffs (Jet Terry) into one of the clutchest players in the league
  • Managed to take an early-entry project center, a guy who came into the league highly touted but vastly overrated (Diop) and makes him a defensive STUD who probably would start for most other teams
  • Takes time to teach a guy who Nellie had all but given up on (Josh Howard) and turns him into an All-Star sidekick who is strong on both sides of the court
  • And SOMEHOW…he took ol’ “wait in the corner for Nashie to pass it,” Please-don’t-touch-me-I-will-crumble Dirk, and made him into a 25-9-3 monster who can drive and post up almost as well as he can shoot now…

…and I’m saying this without argument: if Avery Johnson can somehow, some way get Dirk over his late-in-the-game issues and teach him how to be the clutch player he should be, and lead the Mavs to the title this year… then I’m gonna go ahead and call him, with only 1 ring, the greatest coach of all time.

But this year? I’m gonna go with Sam Mitchell. He’s got those guys up there playing like they expect to win. For doing that in Toronto, this guy has to be rewarded.

So… on to the awards!!!

Coach of the Year

Sam Mitchell – Toronto Raptors

Don Nelson has waaay more talent, Avery is only doing what we now expect him to do, and Dantoni, Popovich, Flip, Skiles, and Jerry Sloan are being blessed by the continuity and chemistry of their players. Oh, and Jeff Van Gundy sucks…that leaves only one man who’s really stood out above the rest.

Only one man successfully brought together a group of guys, none of which had more playoff expertise than RASHO NESTEROVIC, and made them into a team that is genuinely among the best in the Eastern Conference. Anyone who predicted 47 wins out of Toronto, with a group of guys who were more accomplished in Europe than the US, would’ve been stripped of their media guide. Mitchell, in one season, turned Chris Bosh into a leader, Bargnani into a cold-blooded assassin, TJ Ford into Steve Nash’s mini-me, and ALMOST made Anthony Parker as good as his sister (God bless her…).

Even though Avery has done an amazing job reviving the Mavs from their Finals flop, their 66 wins can’t measure up to the work it took for Sam Mitchell to get 47 in Canada. Eh?

Most Improved Player

Al Jefferson – Boston Celtics

I’ve been watching this big bruiser since the McDonalds All-Star game his senior year…I’d never heard of anyone averaging 43-18-7 in high school before. I ain’t gonna lie… I was scared of him.

And now, the rest of the league is learning as well: Big Al is to be feared.

With averages of 16 & 11, despite the poor coaching job and ilk of his teammates this season, Al is quietly becoming a force out east. This season, he literally doubled his last season averages of 8 & 5. He shot nearly 52% and approached 70% on free throws. And on the defensive end, he posted an average 1.5 blocks per game, but it showed vast improvement for a guy who was only considered an offensive threat.

One other note: once some of the lesser quality coaches and GMs are weeded out, expect the power shift to begin favoring the Eastern Conference in the next 5-10 years. Kobe, Dirk, Nash, Duncan, Garnett, Iverson, and many of the Western Conference stars are in their late 20s, early 30s—but Lebron, Dwight, Wade, Bosh, Arenas, and Big Al haven’t even scratched their mid 20s yet. The West had better watch out.

Sixth Man

Leandro Barbosa – Phoenix Suns

You talk about a two-headed monster… Barbosa coming off the bench this season has been no relief for teams trying to keep pace with Steve Nash this season.

Really, think about it: you’ve got a guy, at 33-years-old, torching your point guard. He’s giving him 19-5-11, shooting 53%, making every free throw when you foul him, and finding every opportunity to be sure your big men are a part of the action by routinely lofting oops and floaters around their noggins. You’d think things would be better when that guy went to the bench, right?

So then he goes to the bench for a breather… and in comes THIS guy… he’s taller, he’s faster, he’s quicker, and he’s gonna hit you with 18-30 points in LESS minutes. None of his numbers compare to Nash’s (.532 FG & .455 3P to .476 & .434 for Barbosa), but they’re still good enough to be better than anyone you have guarding him!

Off the bench, Barbosa has led the team in scoring 14 times this season (Nash has done it 17 times). And at 24-years-old, he looks to be still learning the game of basketball, which is absolutely scary. He seems to be every bit the clutch player that Nash is as well, and if he continues this improvement, this will definitely be the last Sixth Man Award he is eligible for.

Rookie of the Year

Brandon Roy – Portland Trail Blazers

I don’t want to overhype or under hype Brandon for what he did this season, so let’s just leave it to the facts to explain what he accomplished:

1. He helped this team win 32 games. Not too impressive… until you realize that he only played in 57 games this season (team only got 10 wins without him. If he’d played 80, who knows—they might’ve won 40+…and in the West, that says a lot.

2. 16-4-4 may sound a bit pedestrian for a ROtY, but it is definitely a line that predicts future success. The last two players who posted similar rookie numbers? Caron Butler ’03 (15-5-3) and Dwyane Wade ’04 (16-4.5-4).

3. On a bad team, as a rookie, the kid still shot .456, .377 from three-point, and was an 84% foul shooter. We haven’t seen many Rookie of the Year recipients have efficiency like that

Still, I wish both he and Bargnani had been able to play more games this season—it could’ve really made for a great end-of-season race for the trophy.

So in absence of both, the ROY … goes to Roy. Look, I made a funny!

Defensive Player of the Year

Bruce Bowen – San Antonio Spurs

My argument is simple—while you have the opportunity to honor great players, you honor them. As much of a hack and a pest as Bowen is, he is also a 35-year-old man who over the last 5 years has been entrusted to guard Kobes, TMacs, LeBrons, and Dirks while in their prime. While the rest of his teammates funnel their man towards Timmy in the paint, Bowen makes it mano-a-mano, and for years has been the best defender on the best defensive team in the game. And this is all without mentioning that he won two rings in those five years.

So before he either retires, suffers some injury, or old age takes him down, I think it’s our duty to place his mark in the record books as one of the best defenders of our time.

Plus, let’s be honest… with Big Ben becoming increasingly geriatric and Ron Artest completely losing his mind…who else really stood out this year on defense?

OFFENSIVE Player of the Year

Seriously… can anyone tell me why there’s no Offensive POY award? The league has made all of these accommodations and re-writings of the rules in order to improve offenses—and then shafts the players who take the most advantage!

Now in case you’re also thinking that the NBA wouldn’t rock the boat and add something like this so late in its history… let me remind you that the great Bill Russell has NO DPOY awards. Why? Because the award wasn’t first given until 1983! Now almost a quarter of a century later, I think it’s time we honor the best of the best on offense, too.

The funny thing is, adding the award to the mix almost always helps to clear up the MVP debate as well. If there was an OPOY last year, for instance, it would’ve gone to Steve Nash, who probably would’ve won it the year before and have been looking for his 3rd consecutive award this year. But since there isn’t an award for offensive players, a lot of times they end up crowding the MVP debate even further. I mean, imagine if there were no Defensive POY award – would Ben Wallace, Ron Artest, and Dikembe Mutombo have been receiving MVP votes all these years too?

That’s why the NBA needs to wake up and put this award in effect. It only adds legacy and achievement to the NBA, and I don’t think the players will mind having an extra award to reach for.

Anyway, here’s the inaugural OPOY pick:

Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers

Since I’ve already been too long on this award, here is briefly why Kobe wins it for this year: any time you reach a record, and the only person above you is named “Wilt,” you’re setting yourself up to win something. Count ‘em – seven 40-point games, eight 50-point games and two 60-point games in one season. Give the man a trophy!


…or rather MVP(s)

Dirk Nowitzki & Steve Nash

Since we’ve already set new boundaries by creating an award for the Offensive Player of the Year, I say we dig into another award’s history in choosing this year’s MVP…s.

Remember the ’94-95 Rookie of the Year race between Grant Hill and Jason Kidd? It was between two great guys, both of whom stood out from among their peers. Grant only improved his teams win total by 8 games, but he put up stellar numbers. Jason Kidd had pretty solid numbers, but he led his team to 36 wins after winning only 13 games the year before.

Two good guys, at the peak of their success, seeming equally deserving…. Sound familiar?

So just like we did in 1995, I say we reward—and award—them both. I mean, what would it harm to forever tie these two guys together in the history books, considering their past and their relationship?

Every season, there seem to be 5 criteria for selecting an MVP. Let’s see if we can one can separate from the other:

Statistics – A player has to have numbers that are AT LEAST top 3 in their position. Also, his stats from the current season should compare favorably or easily surpass his stats from previous seasons. This one goes to NASH, who is having a career year. Dirk has improved…but not that much.

Team Success – This is what separates these two from the other candidates. Their 66 & 61 wins are a cut above the rest of the league. Because they obviously have more wins, we give this one to DIRK.

CHAMPIONSHIP Contender – If you look at the last 20 years of MVP candidates, you will find that, interestingly enough, all of their teams were top 3 record-wise in the league, and almost all of them either played in or won the Finals. I think the NBA prefers to bestow the MVP on the player it feels will more likely be playing in June. Because the Mavs play more defense, and because the Suns have Nash’s “Never say die” attitude, I’m calling this one a DRAW.

Offensive AND Defensive Impact – Both of these guys are innovative, unique offensive players—and liabilities on defense. Another DRAW? You bet!

Overall Dominance Factor – What this comes down to is, simply, how good can this guy be? Ignoring averages, disregarding off nights and unimportant games, this simply looks at the greatest achievements of the player this season and observes where they stack up to what others have done. THIS is why Kobe is always in the MVP debate—there is no questioning his dominance. When you look at Dirk & Nash’s numbers, neither of them really dominated like we know they can in the postseason. But both of them showed consistent numbers that prove that no one all season has learned to limit them offensively. So neither has the edge offensively, and neither bests the other offensively, so … yes, my friend… another DRAW.

So what have we learned? First, it is impossible to rank the accomplishments of these two this season. They have been a cut above the rest, and that precedence is how we have typically identified the MVP each season.

But the last thing we have to consider is how the story will be told. If we give only one of them the MVP, won’t the other’s name automatically come to mind? Will either side have a convincing argument against the other? I think not. AND for all those that don’t want Nash to go into elitest of elite “3-Consecutive MVPs Club,” we know that Russell, Chamberlain, and Bird NEVER shared an MVP award.

See? My picks help everybody win!

Except the Mavs… :(

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