Every season, a few NBA players transcend the grind of an 82 game regular season and turn in truly exceptional performances. And anytime journalists attempt to recognize those performances with awards, there’s always debate and controversy-remember last season with those Steve Nash haters?
With that disclaimer out the way, here are my awards for the NBA season. Stay tuned for the second part of this article, Handing out the Bling: Part 2, the NBA Guru’s remix.
1) Most Valuable Player.
My nominees:Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki.
My winner: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks.
Forget Kobe averaging 35 points per game and dropping an insane 81 on the Raptors. Forget LeBron posting Oscar Robertson-like numbers all season for the Cavaliers. And forget ‘C-Billups’ putting on a ‘how to play the right way’ clinic-without the nomad coach, Larry Brown.
Bryant, James, and Billups have all been great. But none of these players are your 2005-06 MVP.
Once you get past their Bon Jovi-esque lids, it’s clear that Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki are the NBA’s two most valuable players. Nash has been brilliant, teaming up with Shawn Marion to keep the Stoudemire-less Suns in contention.
But Nowitzki takes the MVP hardware because he’s done the most with the least. The German forward has the Mavericks near the top of the Western Conference despite playing with unheralded, blue collar teammates like DeSagana Diop, Adrian Griffin, Jason Terry, and Josh Howard.
He’s also kept the Mavericks’ stat guy busy, busting out season averages of 26 points and 9 rebounds per game even though he’s the only player opposing defenses focus on. After all, Dallas lacks a star like Marion or even a consistent second option on offense to shoulder some of the scoring load.
As if leading the Mavericks on the court wasn’t enough, Nowitzki’s also had to carry Mark Cuban’s hopes, dreams, and girth on his slender shoulders. And this fact alone makes him worthy of MVP.
2) Rookie of the year.
My nominees: Andrew Bogut, Channing Frye, Chris Paul, Charlie Villanueva.
My winner: Chris Paul, New Orleans/Oklahoma Hornets.
Paul and the Hornets are the NBA’s feel good story. The tiny 1-guard has posted great numbers: 16 points and 8 dimes per game. Most importantly, he plays the game without fear and his leadership skills can’t be measured.
Without a permanent home after Hurricane Katrina, Paul has helped the blue-collar Hornets defy the odds and contend for a playoff spot.
Rookie of the year is just the beginning for Paul. This kid is destined for greatness.
3) Coach of the year.
My nominees: Mike D’Antoni, Mike Dunleavy, Avery Johnson, Gregg Popovich, Byron Scott.
My winner: Byron Scott, New Orleans/Oklahoma Hornets.
Two seasons ago, Scott was run out of New Jersey. It didn’t matter that the Nets were coming off back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals. Jason Kidd thought Scott was incompetent and demanded a change. Rod Thorn and New Jersey’s front office decided to accommodate Kidd, firing Scott in mid-season.
After his tenure in the swamps of Jersey, the former Lakers’ star was supposedly damaged goods, incapable of ever coaching again.
Scott eventually landed another head coaching gig, banished to the NBA’s backwater with the cellar-dwelling Hornets. Last year, he had another tough season, clashing with ‘The West Coast’s version of The Rucker’, Baron Davis. Think Mike Montgomery and the Warriors can relate?
But this year, he’s done a sensational job with the displaced Oklahoma/New Orleans franchise. His squad is in the playoff hunt even though the roster is full of over-the-hill veterans and unproven youngsters.
Imagine if Scott and the Hornets somehow met up with Kidd and the Nets in the post season.
Even better: imagine if Scott and the Hornets qualify for the playoffs, while Davis and the Warriors miss the playoffs, spending May in Secaucus, New Jersey for the NBA lottery.
4) Most Improved Player.
My nominees: Boris Diaw, Mike James, Kevin Martin, Paul Pierce, David West.
My winner: Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics.
Diaw, James, Martin and West have improved as players, establishing themselves as legitimate pros worthy of long-term, guaranteed contracts. But Pierce has made the greatest improvement, maturing from a pouting, shot-first scorer into a legitimate franchise stud for Boston.
Check his numbers: ‘The Truth’ has been ‘Larry-legend-like’ leading the Celtics in points (27.2), rebounds (6.9), and assists (4.6). Pierce has also shaken the selfish label and deserves to be first or second team All NBA.
Danny Ainge, Boston’s GM, must seriously consider scrapping his youth movement and building a core capable of playing with Pierce during his peak years. And, no, that doesn’t mean Ainge should re-acquire Antoine Walker for a third tour with the Celtics.
5) Defensive Player of the year.
My nominees: Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Marcus Camby, Ben Wallace.
My winner: Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons.
Big Ben is a great individual and team defender. The muscular center averages 12 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal per game. He also anchors Detroit’s stingy defense, helping the Pistons hold opponents to just 89 points scoring per game.
Wallace will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and should receive a massive raise from Detroit or another team.
6) Sixth Man of the year.
My nominees: Earl Boykins, Devin Harris, Bobby Jackson/Mike Miller, Fred Jones, Maurice Williams.
My winner: Bobby Jackson/Mike Miller, Memphis Grizzlies.
Three 6 Mafia aren’t the only award winners from Memphis. Jackson and Miller are a deadly duo off the bench, averaging a combined 25 points per game for the Grizzlies. Their shooting stretches opposing defenses, which opens the inside up for Pau Gasol to work his magic.
Jackson and Miller are a major reason for Memphis holding firm in the Western Conference playoff race. Bottom line: they deserve to share the NBA’s Sixth Man award.
By Oly Sandor. Labeled the NBA Guru by his readers, Oly Sandor’s basketball writing has appeared all over the internet and in various magazines. Keep your head up for Oly’s own website and listen for his opinion on radio.