With the playoffs off and running, here is a last look at the season that was with a presentation of the annual awards.
After watching Derrick Rose literally drag the Bulls from defeat against the Pacers on Saturday, there is no plausible way to explain that anyone else is the MVP. Rose had a 39-point performance and got to the free throw line at will. Rose’s improved defense and jump shot has helped the Bulls gain the best overall record. However, special consideration goes to Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Howard has carried the Magic despite GM Otis Smith making a significant overhaul of the roster. Without any resistance on the perimeter, Orlando has been a one-man defense with Howard at the rim. In a team with a multitude of injuries, Aldridge has been Portland’s go-to player this season. They have remained competitive in possessing the number 6 seed in the West with many predicting an upset in the first round over the Mavs.
Robd’s take: Rose locked this up a month ago when his bandwagon was full, then lots of people jumped off it thanks to some advanced statistical horse shit. Truth is, the media was right. For anyone to say “this season had no true MVP” is absolutely kidding themselves. It couldn’t be more clear in my opinion.
For mine, this needs the playoffs to pan out. The easy selection is Miami Heat GM Pat Riley who was able to team Chris Bosh and LeBron James with Dwayne Wade. However, astute Celtics GM Danny Ainge’s calculated in-season transactions of Jeff Green, Nenad Kristic, Carlos Arroyo and Troy Murphy may payoff. This was a team that was severely injured and Ainge took the gamble to simply fill the roster with healthy bodies until the O’Neals return. With encouraging signs from Jermaine and Shaq’s anticipated return, Ainge may have the last laugh. You also have to give credit to Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri who was able to ascertain half of New York’s starting lineup- Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Danillo Gallinari and Tim Mozgov- along with several draft picks and $3 million for Carmello, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Sheldon Williams and Anthony Carter. Many believe the trade even helped the Nuggets in playing better team basketball, as they were able to finish with the 5th seed in the West.
Robd’s take: Yes, playoff success is really the true indicator here, but I’m going to go with the Nuggets GM. To escape the Melo situation with not only a semblance of a team, but a seemingly better team, for me, was the single biggest surprise of the 2011-2011 season. Credit has to go to Coach Karl too, but the pressure on the front office was enormous all season so Ukiri deserves cred.
Coach of the Year
In stark contrast to the carousel of coaches and disparaging headlines (re: Mike Brown, Vinny Del Negro, Eddie Jordan, Byron Scott, Mike Dunleavy), the coaching scene in general has been celebrated, as several candidates deserve significant consideration. Doug Collins has Philly playing inspired basketball; George Karl has been able to keep Denver in the playoffs despite all the Mello drama; the Hornets made significant improvements in their defense with Monty Williams at the helm; Lionel Hollins has Memphis in the playoffs; the youngest current head coach in the NBA at the age of 37, Frank Vogel, took over as interim coach of the Pacers during the year and obtained the final seed in the East; once again, Nate McMillan has the Blazers in the playoffs despite a multitude of team injuries.
However, rookie coach Tom Thibodeau is the obvious selection as coach of the year. With significant injuries to Boozer and Noah, the Bulls gained the league’s best record of 62 wins, a 21 game improvement on last year. Moreover, they have the league’s top defense.
In conclusion anyone deserves coach of the year. Except for John Kuester.
Robd’s take: Gotta be Thibodeau. Let’s remind ourselves that no one tipped the Bulls to finish 1st or 2nd in the East this season. To get 60+ wins in your first season, with a team with new major pieces (Boozer), and instill a defensive identity that is the league’s best, is phenomenal.
If he’s not going to win the MVP then it has to be LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge played 81 games this season, missing the regular-season finale. He has been Portland’s go-to player since Brandon Roy was injured at the start of the season. He is averaging career-highs of 21.8 points and 8.8 rebounds along with 1.2 blocks per game. Moreover, as the focal point in offense, Aldridge is shooting an efficient .500 and has been clutch in fourth quarters. Despite struggles with injuries, the Blazers were able to attain the 6th seed in the West largely due to Aldridge’s strong play.
Robd’s take: I like Aldridge but the truth is he was already very good, and it’s harder to be recognised for jumping from very good to great. Plus statistically he didn’t make a huge leap. I’m going to go with the popular pick of Kevin Love. He was a model of consistency and just had one of the best rebounding seasons in NBA history (fact). He was merely “good” last season, so to make the All-Star team in 2011 signifies a much bigger jump in the eyes of the voters.
6th man of the Year
Up until February, Glen Davis received serious consideration as a 6th man of the year candidate. He improved his conditioning and jump shot during the offseason. In 29 minutes per game, Davis had career years with averages of 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1 steal per game. However, since Davis sprained his ankle in March, missing four games, he has struggled with his jump shot.
Lamar Odom should start and it’s a cop out that he doesn’t. However, the fact that he has been so accepting of the role is enough to award him as 6th man of the year. In 32 minutes per game off the bench, Odom has a stat line including 14.4 points per game on 53% shooting and 38.2% on three-point shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Odom provides significant length at small forward and can play as power forward too depending on what the game situation calls for. He is mobile and skillful for a big man that can handle the ball. Odom also finishes games with the starters.
Robd’s take: This was awarded this morning after Joel had written this piece – Lamar taking home the trophy. Can’t argue with this. It got me thinking about Lamar’s place in NBA history. How will he be remembered? He plays with a versatility that very few players have ever possessed, has been the 3rd or 4th best player on two championships, and has plugged so many holes for the Lakers when their starters get injured. Plus, he just had the best season of his 12-year career so he clearly ain’t slowing down. Then there’s the downside – he plays passively too often and doesn’t assert himself enough for a player of his skill. Odom can simply disappear for stretches of games, for stretches of entire playoff series. We always wanted him to be the great sidekick, the Scottie Pippen of his generation, but he was never comfortable in that role. He doesn’t want to be a star player or even the second banana. And there’s a reason we don’t call Kobe, Gasol and Odom “the Big Three” like we do with the Celtics and Heat trios. Odom wouldn’t want that pressure. He doesn’t want to be on your radar. He doesn’t want the individual accolades. But 6th Man of the Year? He’ll take that. That is something Lamar Odom is comfortable with.
Defensive Player of the Year
Even though this was already awarded, Dwight Howard was the most obvious selection of all the awards this season. My lord; who knows where the Magic would be without Dwight protecting the rim. This season has proven to be most testing for Dwight. After switching half the starting line-up, Howard was still a beast in defense. Despite as much defensive resistance along the perimeter as the French army, the Magic ranked fourth in opposing field goal percentage with 43.6%. Dwight ranked 2nd in the league for categories of rebounds with 14.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game along with 1.4 steals. Special consideration must go to Tyson Chandler who has brought an edge to the Mavs defense. Last season the Mavs ranked 15th in the league for opposing field goal percentage with 45.7%. After acquiring Chandler this pre-season, the Mavs now rank 8th with 45% on opposing field goal percentage.
Robd’s take: Scary thing is, Dwight could probably win 8-10 of these in his career. How do you rationalise that? Is he really that good or does he just stand out in an era of weak dominant defenders? I’m still trying to figure this out.
Rookie of the Year
There’s no question that it will be awarded to Blake “Get In My Poster” Griffin. He has been nothing short of freakish this season with a continuous highlights reel every night. He finished with a line of 22.5 points on 50.6% shooting, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 38 minutes per game (fifth in the league). Griffin had over 60 double-doubles this season. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Griffin that left Clippers fans ecstatic and optimistic about the future despite missing the playoffs. However, count me in the school-of-Chuck that the Rookie of the Year should be given to a true rookie. It is not as if last season was a lost cause for Blake Griffin. Blake still played in the preseason and was still able to learn with the team during the season.
Landry Fields has been a solid player in his Rookie season for the Knicks. His line included 9.7 points on 49.7% shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 1 steal and 1.9 assists per game. He played 31 minutes per game as a solid contributor and is one of the league’s best rebounding guards. In showing promising signs for the future, the Knicks refused to include him in a trade to the Nuggets. In comparison with John Wall and Blake Griffin, Landry Fields is the one whose team is in the playoffs.
Robd’s take: Blake without question, and bizarrely, I think most people still underrated his rookie season. There was so much focus on his dunking, his athleticism, the excitement he generated in LA, the All-Star Game, etc… that I think we missed how fundamentally brilliant Blake really was. I want him on my team for so many more reasons than just his ability to humiliate people 12 feet in the air. I couldn’t say the same about Amare after his rookie season.