The NBA All-Star break is officially underway. While it is realistically only the ceremonial halfway point of the NBA year, it does give a chance to evaluate where the league is at so far. While the Spurs are the class of the league so far, even with their near 50 wins already, they are far from being a lock to the take home the title at the end of the year. The League is just too spread out this year, and there could be a classic postseason about to kick off in a few months.
As for the now, it’s much easier to separate the best from the best in the individual awards categories. There are a lot of the usual suspects, but a few new folks are blowing up on the scene, and this is no clearer than for the league’s top award, which sees the two-time winner of the honor being in the race, but not from the usual pole position he has become accustomed to….
MVP: Derrick Rose-Bulls: The Chicago point guard simply has taken his game to another level this year, and in his third year as moved into the hear t of the discussion about best point in the league. As far as the Bulls and their fortunes go, there is no debate about that, because Rose makes a bigger difference in the every night fortunes of the Bulls, at a higher level, than any other premier team in either conference. With Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer out of the lineup on and off throughout the season, the Bulls have rarely played at full-strength this year, yet are still third in the East and comfortably atop the Central Division. Rose’s effort is singularly responsible for this. If further proof was needed, his 42 points against the league best Spurs last night, for the win, provided it.
(Runners Up: LeBron James & Amare Stoudemire. LeBron’s numbers have stayed the same and could arguably win this award for league wide impact based on the Cavs struggles alone, let alone the fact the Heat haven’t won a game he didn’t play in all year. As for Amare, he has resurrected the Knicks from the ashes of the Eastern Conference and has effectively exercised the ghost of Patrick Ewing. This alone deserves a vote or two.)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dwight Howard-Magic: This was a close one to pick, because Andrew Bogut is doing work nightly in Milwaukee, and is blocking more shots than Howard this year. Yet on further inspection, that stat alone proves Dwight’s right to this honor, yet again. The simple fact is that despite being at the core of a completely rebuilt team and having no other legit frontcourt threat with him, fewer players look to challenge the rim against him than ever. He is easily the biggest game changing presence in the game, and since that hasn’t changed, and the Magic are still as good as ever, he snags this trophy again. Runners Up: Bogut and Rajon Rondo)
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Blake Griffin-Clippers: This is an easy one, even after throwing all the highlights out. He’s come back from two knee injuries to be the most exciting player in the league and one of the most effective, having brought in 46 double-doubles already. Also, anybody who can resurrect the Clippers anywhere close to .500 deserves mucho respect. (Runners Up: John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins)
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: Jason Terry-Mavericks: He’s filling it up to the tone of 15.3 PPG at a much-needed time for the Mavs, who needed a boost when Caron Butler went down for the year. Jet is doing his thing from all over the floor like he’s done for years, and while he’s started only 10 games all year, he’s on the floor when the important minutes are played. I also like the fact he said he wants this award this year, and is doing everything it takes to snatch it so far. That’s putting your money where your mouth is. (Runners Up: Jamal Crawford & Serge Ibaka)
MOST IMPROVED: Raymond Felton-Bobcats: In a year where a lot of guys have taken it to the next level, his efforts have gone up the charts the most. In one year, Felton has gone from being a nearly written off ex-Lotto pick, splitting time with a new guy (DJ Augustine) in Charlotte, to one of the biggest value signings of the offseason and the man in control of one the league’s most emergent teams in New York. Stoudemire is getting the headlines in NY, but Felton is the glue making it all work. In only five minutes more per game this year, he’s assists are up from 5.6 to 9 per game this year, in addition to five more points. He was on a playoff team last year in Charlotte, and due to a big part because of him this year, he’ll be on another one in New York this year too. (Runners Up: Kevin Love & Eric Gordon)
COACH OF THE YEAR: Gregg Popovich-Spurs: Realistically, Pop could probably win this award every year, but this year he’s putting together one of the great efforts of his career, that already has four championships in it. He’s taken the usual mix of role players and aging, yet steady, stars and has comfortably led the Western Conference in wins all year. He’s done an outstanding job of using Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili enough to lock away wins, and then unleash the role players to get to the finish line. The Spurs are in a grove this year, and while their talent is undeniable, Popovich is the creator of the chemistry which makes it all go. (Runners Up: Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams)
ALL-NBA TEAM: Dwight Howard-Magic, LeBron James-Heat, Kevin Durant-Thunder, Kobe Bryant-Lakers, Derrick Rose-Bulls: Howard has played a better on both ends of the floor this year than any other season, and has proven to be one of the league’s most indispensable players in how he’s continued to guide the Magic through their restricting….Despite an expected drop in points from playing with Wade, LeBron has remained the most balanced contributor in the game, having led the Heat to over 40 wins while still averaging over 25/7/7 per night….Durant is leading the league in points again by a comfortable margin, and has the Thunder posted atop the Northwest by four games…..the Lakers have been up and down by their standards this year, but Kobe is still Kobe and is still averaging over 25 points a night for a team with its best days ahead….see above for Rose.
ALL-DEFENSE TEAM: Dwight Howard-Magic, LeBron James-Heat, Josh Smith-Hawks, Rajon Rondo-Celtics, Chris Paul-Hornets: Dwight needs no intro here, but still respects should be paid to Bogut, who could land this slot easily….LeBron has had to compensate for the lack of post defense in Miami more than he ever had to Cleveland, and is still among the best shot blocking and perimeter defending forwards….Smith is once again the biggest athletic freak in the league, and is having another great year as one of the league’s most versatile defenders….There is no better on the ball defender than Rondo, who is just as great at defending the passing lanes as he is at locking down on the ball….Paul has returned from injury to pick up right where he left off at and is the top thief in the game once again.
ALL-ROOKIE TEAM: DeMarcus Cousins-Kings, Blake Griffin-Clippers, Wesley Johnson-Timberwolves, Landry Fields-Knicks, John Wall-Wizards: Griffin easily heads this team up, but Wall is having a tremendous season as the league’s other top pick making his debut. He’s scoring more often than it was thought he would, but he is still dishing out nine assists a night to suspect supporting cast….Cousins has come along to be a solid presence and double-double threat in his own right, but discipline problems that plagued his stock entering the draft have flare up again….Johnson had 32 starts before being removed from the starting rotation, but he quickly returned to the mix and is showing much promise….Fields has been the surprise of the crop, and has outplayed the second round position he was selected from. He’s been a long distance sniper and has brought down seven boards a night as well. He started every game for the Knicks this year