Thursday, January 20, 2005

And the Envelope, Please...

January 19, 2005

By Paul Benedict

-It's almost to the halfway point of the season, and before everyone else comes out with their mid-season awards, here are mine:

Most Improved Player--Chris Mihm, Los Angeles Lakers
I'm a firm believer that this award should not simply go to a young star who made the inevitable leap when given hefty minutes a la Zach Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, and Jermaine O'Neal recently. Chris Mihm was a throw-in by the Celtics in that Payton trade and he was expected to merely backup Vlade once he was ready to assume the starter's role. Well, Vlade never did get healthy and it wouldn't have mattered if he did--Rudy T was set on keeping Mihm in the starting lineup. Now even though his numbers don't jump out at you (11.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG), nobody anticipated that 4 years after being mentioned as a possible top draft choice, Mihm would shed the bust label.
Runner Up--Larry Hughes, Washington Wizards
Shame on Larry for waiting until a contract year to show his true stardom--there's no way he's getting this award from me for this simple reason.

6th Man of the Year--Ben Gordon, Chicago Bulls
If Gordon were to keep coming off the bench for the remainder of the year, which is a distinct possibility given how much he's excelled in the role, he would become the first rookie to win the award in NBA history. Right now, I'm not sure who's even close to Gordon. Since Scott Skiles has settled on a rotation after this team's miserable start, the Bulls have charged up the East standings and now seem firmly intent on making the playoffs. And though the Bulls have received some terrific team play, Ben Gordon has single-handedly been taking over in the 4th quarter.
Runner Up--Antonio Daniels, Seattle SuperSonics
One of three Sonics who could make a case for the award--Fortson and Radmanovic being the others. And people wonder why the Sonics are so good.

Coach of the Year--Nate McMillan, Seattle SuperSonics
I'm sure at this rate, most people will say Mike D'Antoni is the choice here, but we have to remember that the Suns added Steve Nash and Q Richardson. Not to say that D'Antoni isn't an awesome candidate--nobody has done a better job of utilizing their assets as he has. But, Nate McMillan did not have the luxury of adding an All-Star point guard and a potential All-Star in the near future. And Nate McMillan was not given the comfort of knowing his job was safe when the season started either. AND, Nate McMillan was told time and time again that this team would struggle to win 30 games. Has there been a better Coach of the Year candidate?
Runner Up--Mike D'Antoni, Phoenix Suns

1st Team All-Rookie:

  • Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats
  • Ben Gordon, Chicago Bulls
  • Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
  • Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
  • Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers

    2nd Team All-Rookie:
  • Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
  • Beno Udrih, San Antonio Spurs
  • Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Andres Nocioni, Chicago Bulls
  • Al Jefferson, Boston Celtics

I think the first team is pretty cut and dry and I'm not seeing anyone suddenly vaulting their way up with the possible exception of Josh Smith, who will likely need the summer off to work on his offensive game. I think the second team is exceptional and in the long run could end up having just as strong an impact as the first team. Smith and Jefferson look like stars in the making; Varejao is going to be a face we better get used to seeing once the Cavs are in the finals every year; reports out of San Antone already are suggesting that Popovich likes the long-term potential of Udrih, who's a more under-control, playmaking point guard, more than Tony Parker, and Nocioni seems like he'll be a solid role player throughout his career. Some rooks to keep an eye on in the second half that aren't listed above: Shaun Livingston, Nenad Krstic, JR Smith, and Tony Allen.

Rookie of the Year--Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats
Even though he's tailed off as of late, he's still currently entrenched as the rookie of the year in my eyes. And for anyone that's going to give me that, "Well, I'd give it to Dwight Howard because he's helping his team into the playoffs," I have two responses for you: 1-It's not Emeka Okafor's fault he's doing every thing in his power to win games for an expansion team while Howard is enjoying the luxury of playing for a playoff team, with better players around him mind you. 2-And for all those who would hand the award to Howard, who's maybe been the 3rd or 4th most valuable player on the playoff-bound Magic, why not give it to Ben Gordon, who has single-handedly won a number of games for the playoff-bound Bulls?
Runner Up--Ben Gordon, Chicago Bulls

1st Team All-Defensive:

  • Bruce Bowen, San Antonio Spurs
  • Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
  • Shaquille O'Neal, Miami Heat
  • Larry Hughes, Washington Wizards
  • Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves

2nd Team All-Defensive:

  • Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  • Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Shawn Marion, Phoenix Suns
  • Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz

Wallace, Bowen, Garnett, and Shaq are all obvious first-team selections. Hughes makes it because he leads the league in steals by a lot, and even though his on-the-ball defense is nothing to speak of, his ability to create turnovers is integral to Washington's success. Garnett is my last choice on the first team largely because Minnesota's team defense has been atrocious, and since he's the catalyst, he has to take some credit for the fall. Still, 15 rebounds per game, and almost 2 steals and blocks a game makes it almost impossible to punish the Big Ticket. Duncan is awfully close to the first team, but I'm giving the nod to Shaq, who is having arguably his best defensive season in a long time. Kirilenko would certainly merit first team consideration had he stayed healthy--regardless, he still deserves to be on the second team at this point. Kobe hasn't had to guard as many star players this season, so it's understandable that he may slip to the second team this season after making the first the past 3 seasons. Iverson still has the quickest hands of any point guard, and Marion's 'jack-of-all-trade' antics certainly earn him this honor.

Defensive Player of the Year--Bruce Bowen, San Antonio Spurs

Take a look at some of the shut-down performances by Bowen this year:

  • On Tracy McGrady: 10-28 FGs, 4 TOs
  • On Carmelo Anthony: 4-15 FGs, 4 TOs
  • On Kobe Bryant: 5-16 FGs, 3 TOs
  • On Corey Maggette: 4-12 FGs, 2 TOs
  • On Quentin Richardson: 0-7 FGs, 0-4 3PTs
  • On Vince Carter: 2-9 FGs, 4 Pts
  • On Peja Stojakovic: 5-14 FGs

Bowen's ability to take out an opposing team's best scorer makes him invaluable to the Spurs--and a prime reason why they are far and away the best defensive basketball team in basketball right now and everyone's favorite to go all the way.

Runner-Up--Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons

You could easily give the nod to Wallace as well who's still the same beast he's always been.

1st Team All-NBA

  • Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  • Shaquille O'Neal, Miami Heat
  • Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
  • LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

2nd Team All-NBA

  • Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
  • Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns
  • Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers
  • Ray Allen, Seattle SuperSonics

3rd Team All-NBA

  • Chris Webber, Sacramento Kings
  • Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana Pacers
  • Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
  • Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
  • Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets

KG, Duncan, and Shaq are no-brainers for the first team pretty much every year they play 70+games--this season is no exception. Nash runs the show for the best offensive team in the league and is the main reason in the team's incredible turnaround--hard not to include him on the 1st team. The final spot is where it gets tricky--LeBron over Dirk? Over Kobe? Over Amare? Dirk misses the cut largely because the All-NBA teams are chosen by possession and he just doesn't quite make the cut over KG, Tim, and Shaq. I like LeBron over Kobe because he's exceeded expectations, put up better numbers (see much better FG% and less TOs), and he does a far better job of making his teammates look better. And Ray Allen--being the best player on one of the best teams just isn't enough to get you merit ahead of LeBron. The 2nd team is just awesome and any one of these guys could make a push for the 1st team before the season's over. The 3rd team isn't too shabby either--Webber's steady play this season earns him a spot; Jermaine's stellar play if only in 20 odd games certainly earns him a slot; Wallace is hands-down the best center-elgible player not on one of the first two teams; Wade certainly belongs here and McGrady, though he hasn't been spectacular all season, has looked more comfortable as of late and any time McGrady is within his own element, he's going to earn All-NBA honors.

MVP--Shaquille O'Neal, Miami Heat

Ok, ok. I'm sure this is going to stir some debate, so feel free to chime in with your opinion. A lot of people are going to say Nash--c'mon now. Nash is not the MVP--a great story to what's been a remarkable season thus far for Phoenix, but you could argue that Nash is the 2nd-most, maybe even 3rd-most valuable player on that team this season. A lot of people are going to say, "hey look at how bad they've done since Nash went down", but that probably would have been the case if ANY of the starters went down. That starting five works as a unit, and when you tinker with it, bad things are bound to happen. You're telling me Steven Hunter is going to fill in comfortably for Amare if he goes down? Casey Jacobsen for Marion? Please. Tim Duncan? The best player on the best team argument goes here, but let's be honest, it's now easily apparent that TD has more help than we gave his supporting cast credit for in the past what with Parker, Ginobili, Bowen, etc. KG? Not even close--sure the numbers are there, but when there's whispers from Minnesota saying that KG has not been the locker room leader the team needs him to be this season, then you have to place at least some of the blame on KG for the team's abyssmal start. LeBron? Not quite, not yet. He still plays in the East and he's given easier matchups on defense with Newble guarding the opposing team's first options. Still, it's close. Shaq gets the nod from me and not because I'm one of those guys that thinks, "well if statistics didn't count, Shaq would get it every year." Shaq has single-handedly tilted the East towards Miami, making the Heat far and away the best team this side of the Western Conference. His conditioning in the off-season has also allowed him to be a bigger presence on the defensive end, eliminating any sort of post game opposing teams bring in to his house. And for all you number crunchers, chew on this--28.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 62.9 FG% since January 1st--way up from his modest early-season numbers. Shaq knows how and when to turn it on and I fully expect him to perform at this level for the remainder of the season and be on course to receive his 2nd MVP Award.

Runner-Up--LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers


At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for acknowledging that nash is just the third best player on his team. shaq is a respectable choice, but i wouldn't call him mvp. i attribute the success of the heat just as much to their relatively weak schedule and to dwayne wade. wade, to me, is at worst just a shade below lebron and kobe, and more often than not he seems like the best player on the court, even when shaq is in the game. i'm sure his plus/minus is off the charts, but the few times i've watched the heat they've done awfully well when shaq is taking a breather. and you still can't go to shaq in the fourth quarter, when the pressure's on. if you can tell me where to find them, i'd LOVE to see what shaq's numbers are per quarter. i have a strong feeling that his 4th quarter numbers are much lower, even accounting for any blowouts the team has had. and again, a lot of those blowouts are against really shitty teams.

i don't think the mvp has to come from a winning team. just like doc rivers won coach of the year with a .500 record and jerry sloan almost won the same honor last year with a jazz team that missed the playoffs, i think that kg still stands out as the most valuable and best player in the nba. i think people around the league continue to underestimate how awful the t'wolves are this year. aside from kg, they have 1 -- just 1 -- player who's any good anymore, and he's been injured the last seven games (coinciding with the team's recent fall through the standings). kg still brings it every night, and really he's the only reason that minnesota is not in hornet-land this year. think about it: taking kg out of the equation, the wolves would probably be wise to trade their roster for that of any other team in the league, barring new orleans....maybe. to hold kg accountable for the stupidity and lack of effort of the likes of griffin, cassell, spre, hudson, and wally z is grossly unfair. shaq is the only other guy who should even enter the mvp conversation.

and steve nash doesn't even belong in the top 6 or 7. at best, he's there with ray allen. come on, do you really think that nash deserves more mvp votes than his old teammate dirk? nash has got not one but 2 unquestionable all-stars playing alongside him, plus two incredibly talented big guards who can shoot the 3, rebound, get steals, etc. this nash for mvp thing is a joke. i'll say it again, he's getting a lot of this praise because he deserves it, and a lot of it also because he is white, not really "foreign", and white people like to think that nash's style is what's rescuing the nba from the game played by the "type" of athlete that they don't identify with. luke ridnour has the same thing going on. is he good? yes. he's a good passer. but the fact remains that antonio daniels has a lot more to do with seattle's success than luke does. have you SEEN ridnour play defense? who do you think boykins repeatedly schooled every time down the court to singlehandedly make the nuggets upset seattle in ot?

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Anthony Peretore said...

I'm assuming that was your comment Matt, but you usually sign your pen name at the bottom. If you guys do decide to post comments please leave your name. Thanks.

At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my bad. i forgot. then again, if you know anyone else who writes absurdly long and bitter responses with no capital letters, let me know. keep up the good work guys. gawker


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