Posted Apr 14 2010 12:38PM
Well played, Butler. Valiant effort. And, with that, the college basketball season is over.
One thing I dug about Butler is that they played man-to-man defense. Man-to-man defense is a grown man's defense. It's one dude versus the other dude and then, if necessary, all the other dudes switching and rotating to begin the "one dude versus the other dude" standoff again. It's one of the many reasons that, for all its tournament drama, the college game is profoundly more inferior to the pro game. Many nights, the college game is a big zone-fest. And big zone-fests mean teams spend each possession reversing the ball around the perimeter before they chuck up some clanger.
I'll take what pundits claim to be the NBA's dribble-pound isolation game -- viewing it with eyes that lack sophistication -- above the amateur version any day.
I'm digressing, right? Of course I am. At any rate, now that the college season is over, pro basketball takes center stage. We have about one week of the regular season left to play and, although the East and West seedings aren't etched in stone, my picks for the regular season awards are already finalized. Prior to All Star break I took stock of the league and handed out the Vinny Awards (right around Grammy time). A couple of the winners -- even some of the nominees -- have changed. With the season pretty much a done deal, I give you my official awardees...
Nominees: LeBron James, Cleveland; Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Carmelo Anthony, Denver; Josh Smith, Atlanta
And The Vinny goes to: LeBr...Come on, you already knew.
Just like last year, the real argument is "Who's No. 2?" In 2009, the debate was Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant? This year, it's KD versus Kobe. My pick for MVP runner-up is Durant. It's an easy choice, actually. The Lakers have mostly sleep-walked and bored-balled their way through the last third of the season. Kobe, suffering all kinds of injuries and 13-year fatigue has seen his play dip (albeit still at an incredible level). KD, on the other hand, has led a toddler Thunder squad with no business winning 50 games into the playoffs. All this while playing the best basketball that any 21-year-old has ever played ... well, at least, no 21-year-old has ever played better. Kobe's seven game-winners (a record, right, stat geeks?) were compelling, arresting, even. But no player -- other than LeBron, of course -- was more valuable to his team than Young KD.
Nominees: Mike Woodson, Atlanta; Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City; Mike Brown, Cleveland; Alvin Gentry, Phoenix; Jerry Sloan, Utah
And The Vinny goes to: Scott Brooks
Brown gets shafted because of LeBron's brilliance. It's like people think LeBron runs practices, calls every play and timeout, dictates rotations and a number of other responsibilities that normally falls to a coach. Now, Brown's detractors may say, "Brown is lacking in all those areas and, because of LeBron's virtuosity, they win despite the coach's shortcomings." Think what you want, but no slouch can man the sidelines for back-to-back 60-plus win teams. Brown may not be Greg Popovich, but he ain't Tim Floyd, either. I don't care how great, transcendent and impactful the team's star happens to be. (Larry David voice) Having said that ... I don't recall a team as young and inexperienced as the Thunder -- with a young star that is still somewhat "specialized" -- winning as consistently as the Thunder. Brook's 2010 coaching performance is among the best of the past 10 seasons or so.
Nominees: Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers; Jamal Crawford, Atlanta; Jason Terry, Dallas; JR Smith, Denver; Carl Landry, Sacramento/Houston
And The Vinny goes to: Jamal Crawford
My man Mally hasn't been as theatrical as of late, but his reign as this season's most impactful X-Factor has continued. No sixth man is even close. Now that the playoffs are days away he says he can't wait to perform under that kind of pressure and spotlight. His true test and stage awaits.
Nominees: Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee; Tyreke Evans, Sacramento; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Darren Collison, New Orleans; DeJuan Blair, San Antonio
And The Vinny goes to: Stephen Curry
Right before All-Star break, I wrote that Evans was my pick for ROY, although I said he wasn't the runaway pick. The catch is, Jennings was the dude I had on his heels. Fast forward to mid-March and I had switched up. Curry was my new pick. This is what I wrote: "There's a slew of talent in the NBA, but not all of the talented guys are red-blooded, "to the core" ball players. Steph's a ball player. He plays it well. He plays it with style and drama and panache. He plays it better than any other rookie. That's why he's my Rookie of the Year." I'm sticking with this.
Nominees: Kevin Durant, OKC; Zach Randolph, Memphis; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Rajon Rondo, Boston; Gerald Wallace, Charlotte
And The Vinny goes to: Kevin Durant
This award has always been tricky. Is it a "invisible to noteworthy" player's award or a "really good to exceptional" player's award? Typically, I like to award the latter, which is why I give cats like Rondo and KD greater weight. In the end, my pre-All Star sentiments have not changed. It's still simple. KD has gone from a burgeoning star to one of the two best pure-scorers (along with 'Melo) and six best players (along with Bron, Kobe, Melo, D-Wade and CP3) in the league.
Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. You can e-mail him here or follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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