Living the Fantasy: End of the Season Awards

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By NBA TV's Rick Kamla

April 14, 2007

Dirk or Nash, who is this year's MVP?
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
In a way, I'm happy the regular season is near the end because the injury bug's reign of terror might finally cease.

After talking with all sorts of NBA types, including Hall of Famers Rick Barry and Gail Goodrich, and based on my own experience as a 37-year-old HoopHead, this has been the worst season for injuries in the history of the league.

To wit, my team in League Freak was DOA when Dwyane Wade went down right after the All-Star break and Joe Johnson soon followed. I had a nucleus of D Wade, Joe Cool, Kevin Garnett, and Chris Bosh, with Monta Ellis, Manu Ginobili, and Al Harrington to choose from for my last two starting spots in my eight-cat, head-to-head league. I was staring my first League Freak chip right in the face, but the injury bug buzzkilled my parade plans. (Same exact thing happened to my team in last year's expert's league. I want a piece of the injury bug.)

I don't have a playoff system in League Freak because the shutdowns happen every year at this time. It's never been as bad as this year, but veteran fantasy owners know they gotta be on their toes in April. In my league, we play it straight through, with Week 1 meaning just as much as Week 24 (categories won determines the champion), to at least lessen the sting of missing out on Kevin Garnett for the last week and a half. Yep, it's going to sully your Week 24 results, but if you own KG in a championship game, you probably aren't winning the championship now.

Speaking of chips, I'm going for one right now in my brother's five-cat, head-to-head league.

Sadly, he still uses a playoff format, so in this week's championship game I was forced to start Kendrick Perkins because Shaquille O'Neal had a funeral, Big Z had two games, LaMarcus Aldridge was out for the year, Andrew Bogut was out for the year, and Jamaal Magloire was already picked up. That's right, freaks, after fighting for 23 weeks with studs, I'm going to war in a championship game with a pickup off waivers. Perkins has four games and should hover around a double-double with Al Jefferson on the shelf, but the injury bug is no friend of mine--that's for sure.

The epidemic of anatomical ruin should have commissioners from Utah to Bogotá rethinking their playoff structure.

As documented above, fielding a lineup is a virtual impossibility this time of year, so why determine your champion during a week when you know your teams won't be at their best? To me, the number one priority for any league should be doing everything in its power to ensure the best team wins the league. To me, you must strive for the purest determination of the winner. Starting Perkins in a championship game is pure as the Meadowlands. (Mmmm...pollution. I swear to god I'm shaving years off my life living in New Jersey.)

But enough about me and buzzkill Jersey--where there's a cop for every three residents--because it's time to get down to business in this year-end blockbuster. I have yet to receive an official vote from the league on any of the regular season awards, but that depressing fact can't keep me from handing out some hardware in my unofficial world.

(Speaking of awards, I want to congratulate my dear friend and colleague at NBA TV, Bruce Beck, for winning the Emmy for best sports anchor in New York. Bruce has been killing it on NBC's air for years and no one deserves this honor more than him. He has been an enormous help to my career in terms of learning the ropes of the TV game (especially play-by-play), and I'm a better person for knowing him. He's a pro's pro and a helluva guy and I couldn't be happier for him.)

All-NBA First Team (and MVP)

C - Amare Stoudemire, Suns: Amare's healthy return from two recent knee surgeries, including one microfracture, is the story of the year. It's the best thing to happen to the NBA since he and Yao came in together and battled for rookie of the year honors. Entering Friday's work, Amare ranked 20th across eight categories thanks to 20.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 0.9 steals, and 58/78 on the percentages. I don't think I've ever been happier for a guy, or about a guy's return from significant injury.

F - Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: Dirk is the MVP over Steve Nash by a nanosecond. Literally, freaks, this race is too close to call. Both have been clutch, both have been warriors in terms of playing through pain, both have phenomenal numbers, both are leaders of epic teams. Yes, Dirk chunked three free throws in the fourth quarter of the double-overtime loss to Phoenix, but don't forget his last second 20-footer over Marion to win the second meeting. It's quite obvious that Nash is the most valuable player to his team, based on the Suns' .250ish winning percentage in games without Nash in three years since he's been back. And you also have the simple fact that Nash is the system.

I don't base the NBA MVP Award solely on indispensability--as some experts (Rick Barry) have done on international radio, rather an amalgum of everything that IS the player, with the compass set on the standings. And when I consider the facts that Dirk and the Mavs are the first team in NBA history with three winning streaks of 12 or more, SIX games up on the Suns with four to go, and still alive for the second most wins all-time (69), it tips me off the fence and onto Dirk's side.

F - Tim Duncan, Spurs: Based on hype and highlights, the second forward on the All-NBA First Team should be LeBron James. You want it to be LeBron James. But here's the main reason why you have to give the nod to Duncan over LeBron--despite the fact LeBron facial'd Duncan earlier in the season. I have been disappointed with Cleveland's mysterious performances against bad teams this season, and at least some of the blame has to fall on LeBron's shoulders. It's pretty inexcusable for this well-constructed roster to not have improved over last season, when the team went 50-32. The Cavs are 47-32 after Thursday's annihilation of the Nets, but with three games to play they can only match what they did last year.

Duncan is moving around the court as well as ever, proven by his averages of 20.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and .545 from the field. More importantly, the Spurs are on pace for another 60-win season and Duncan is the steam engine pulling the load.

G - Steve Nash, Suns: No one will be happier if Dirk wins MVP than his buddy Nash, who's as good a guy as you think he is. The consummate team player and now-legendary playmaker is having another MVP-caliber season, posting career-highs in points (18.8), assists (11.5), field goal percentage (.533), and three-point percentage (.464).

The threepeat was there for the taking after Nash scored 10 points in the final 58 seconds to force overtime in the third meeting. Dirk choked, Nash delivered, and the Suns were within striking distance at 2.5 games back. But the Suns exhaled big-time, going 4-4 over their next eight games, while the Mavs used the heartbreaking loss to fuel their fire, bouncing back with nine straight wins. Ballgame. Homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs to Dirk and Dallas, and with it goes the Maurice Podoloff Trophy--at least in my unofficial world.

G - Kobe Bryant, Lakers: The stat that really blows my mind is nine 50-point games. NINE!!! Only Wilt Chamberlain has had more 50-point games in a season. Freaks, most excellent players would cherish ONE fifty in their career. To wit, KG's career-high is 47. Congrats to Kobe on back-to-back scoring titles, with plenty more to come apparently. Condolences to Kobe on the flawed construction of the Lakers' roster, which forced the league's second-best player (behind D Wade) into scoring 50 ppg just to keep the Lakers in the hunt.

Best Fantasy Value (BFV)

5. Caron Butler, Wizards: Caron's breakout season has been brewing for years, and what a tasty soup it was. On the strength of Washington's gaudy record at the time and numbers that have made him the 16th best fantasy player this year (19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 46/86 on the percentages), Butler made his first All-Star appearance. Injuries have been a major buzzkill for Butler, however, limiting him to 63 games on the season.

4. Andre Iguodala, 76ers: When the Sixers pulled the plug on the Allen Iverson-Chris Webber experiment, Iggy's owners won the fantasy powerball. Thanks to the extra responsibility...and touches...and looks, we got to see Iguodala blossom into a star before our very eyes. With three-cat averages of 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists, Iggy is approaching the same class of LeBron, Wade, and Kobe. Like Caron, Iggy gave you second-round value from the middle rounds.

3. Amare Stoudemire, Suns: In the year of the injury, how ironic that this stud is on pace to play every game this season? Amare was drafted in rounds 4-6 in most leagues due to legitimate injury concerns, but he's been a reliable and durable second-rounder all season.

2. Pau Gasol, Grizzlies: Hopefully, you were smart enough to snatch Gasol in rounds 5-7 at your draft, knowing you would get a second-round player for the last four months of the season. Since missing the first six weeks, Gasol has been the 19th ranked player in 8-cat leagues with averages of 20.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 54/75 on the percentages. Don't hate on Pau because of the broken foot and the early DNPs. As we speak, Pau has played five fewer games than Carmelo Anthony.

1. Kevin Martin, Kings: Martin is BFV for 06-07 because he was a late-round pick or waiver wire pickup in most leagues, yet he played like a late-third, early-fourth round talent. Like a lot of you, I looked at Martin as a sleeper before the season, but I never would have guessed the dude with the jumper from Mars would play this well. At No. 36 on the 8-cat charts, Martin is averaging 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 threes, 1.3 steals, and 48/84 on the percentages. More on Martin in a moment...

All-Rookie First Team

C - Andrea Bargnani, Raptors: Early in the season when the Italian rookie was struggling, Bryan Colangelo alleviated the burgeoning pressure on his young star when he said the Raptors didn't draft Bargnani to be the rookie of the year. Indeed. Colangelo drafted the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki with his eye toward the future, but Bargnani has played so well so fast that the future is now. Don't know if you've seen it first-hand, but Bargnani's got a multi-million dollar stroke. Seriously, if you stare at it too long, it'll make you cry. Dude is going to be splashing threes for the next 15 years and blocking his share of shots as well.

F - Jorge Garbajosa, Raptors: Garbo makes this list because he was the league's best rookie in terms of the intangibles. This Spanish forward has a knack for knowing exactly what his team needs at all times. If they need a dagger three, kick it out to him. If they need a precise dig down on a drive in a tie game, he's your guy. If you need a big to slide over and take the offensive foul, he'll man up to the task. Garbo's numbers weren't bad, but they weren't that good either...but the Raps wouldn't be where they are today without him.

F - Walter Herrmann, Bobcats: You can take this as an indirect shot at Adam Morrison...or an endorsement for Argentina's answer to Peja Stojakovic. I read a quote earlier this year from Morrison where he had a problem with people talking more about another rookie who was averaging far fewer points per game. I'm guessing here, but I think the player in question was Garbo, who right now today is five times better than Morrison. Sorry, Adam, but it's true...and the truth hurts.

While Morrison is shooting .376, .337, and .710 from the field, three, and line, respectively, Herrmann is shooting .518, .427, and .788. Herrmann has appeared in only 45 games thus far (nine starts), but you can't hold that against him because Bernie Bickerstaff never gave him a chance in the first half.

G - Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers: As predicted by all of us with a clue, or at least all of us who resisted the temptation to dare to be different, Roy wins ROY honors in blowout fashion. He was the most NBA-ready rookie after four seasons at Washington, and he was by far the highest ranking fantasy rookie at 57th across eight cats. When he totally dials it in, which could be as early as next season, Roy is going to be very good in every cat but blocks--and there's hope there too.

G - Rudy Gay, Grizzlies: Since the All-Star break, Gay has averaged a five-cat line of 14-6-2-1-1 with over a three per game. As such, he's been a useful fantasy player, which is saying a lot for this particular draft class. Gay and Tyrus Thomas, who may become the biggest star from the 2006 draft class, are cut from the same cloth as Shawn Marion, Josh Smith, and Gerald Wallace. I already have both high-flyers targeted as sophomore sensations next season.

All-Most Improved Team

C - Tyson Chandler, Hornets: It's funny how Chandler and former Bulls teammate Eddy Curry finally blossomed in the same season, but with different teams. They were yin and yang in Chicago, and nothing has changed despite their respective changes of scenery. Chandler still brings the D (12.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks) and Curry still brings the O (19.4 points, .577 FG%). Both had career years, but Chandler is starting to look like the second coming of Marcus Camby.

F - Al Jefferson, Celtics: Jefferson made himself a lot of money this season, as third-year players who go off typically get paid to stick around a while. No doubt about the fact that Mr. Jefferson has gone off, with averages of 15.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 51 FG% for the season. Are you wondering if he has what it takes to develop into a 20-10 workhorse like Chris Bosh? Wonder no more, as Mr. Jefferson averaged 19.5 and 11.5 in 22 games after the break. I'm sold.

F - Andre Iguodala, 76ers: In addition to the crazy stats listed above, Iguodala has been taking over games and leading the Sixers to victory. In fact, the Sixers are 28-27 since the Iverson trade because of Iguodala and Andre Miller. There's a very good chance you'll see Iguodala playing on Sunday at All-Star Weekend 2008 in New Orleans.

G - Deron Williams, Jazz: All the other dudes on this list made quantum leaps, but no one jumped farther than Williams, who is my choice for Most Improved Player. Williams vaulted from up-and-down rookie to borderline All-Star in the blink of an eye, and he is now making the Jazz look smart for taking Deron ahead of Chris Paul in the 2005 draft. Utah is currently the league' sixth-best team and Williams has been the team's MVP (sorry, Booz). Plus, Deron is second in the league with 9.4 assists per game--behind Nash and just ahead of Kidd.

More from Living The Fantasy
March 24: Bursting Kobe's Bubble
March 17: What Rookie Wall?
March 3: 2nd Trimester Awards
Feb. 24: One Sad Week

Head to Kamla's Korner
G - Kevin Martin, Kings: I've heard a lot of chatter about Martin for MIP throughout the season so I won't be surprised or disappointed if he wins the award because he's clearly in the running. If I had a ballot, Williams would be first and Martin would be second. Martin is not only MIP runner-up and BFV, but he qualifies as Fantasy Pickup of the Year, NBA Revelation of the Year, and Strangest Shot Ever.

All-Defensive First Team

5. Jermaine O'Neal, Pacers: I can't say enough about the heart with which JO has played this season. Indy's oxen has dragged his sprained knee and ankle through the last month of the season and he's battled various injuries all season, all the while averaging 2.7 blocks, 0.7 steals, and 9.8 rebounds. This has been a forgettable season for the Pacers, but I'll never forget JO winning Warrior of the Year on the fantasy show.

4. Emeka Okafor, Bobcats: Mek missed significant time due to injury for the third consecutive season, but when he was on the court few played the defensive end any better. Looks like those workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon paid off, as Okafor is averaging 11.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, and 0.9 steals.

3. Shawn Marion, Suns: Matrix said around the All-Star break that he should be named defensive player of the year. I'm not ready to go that far, but I am ready to say he's third in my voting based on 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.5 blocks. But beyond the killer stats, Marion might be the most versatile defender in the league, as he makes like tough for anyone he guards, regardless of position. (Memo to Matrix: delicious D over the weekend would greatly aid my quest for a fantasy chip in my bro's league. Thanks in advance...)

2. Tim Duncan, Spurs: I'm not sleeping on Bruce Bowen. It's just that Timmy D is the anchor of the Spurs' top-rated defense. He is to this Spurs' team what Bill Russell was to the Celtics of the 60s in terms of being a leader and the last line of defense.

1. Marcus Camby, Nuggets: If there was any doubt about whether the NBA's shot blocking leader (3.3) is the Defensive Player of the Year, it went away with his back-to-back seven-block games this past week. In addition to the swattage, Camby is fifth at 11.7 rebounds and second among centers with 1.3 steals. The Nuggets are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, but you can't blame that on Camby, who is on pace to match his career-high for games played with 72.

Coach of the Year

5. Gregg Popovich, Spurs & Mike D'Antoni, Suns: Just because these Brains do an awesome job and hover around 60 wins EVERY year doesn't mean they don't belong on the Coach of the Year list.

4. Jeff Van Gundy, Rockets: JVG is fourth for coach of the year because the Rockets are the NBA's fifth-best team despite 33 DNPs from Yao Ming and 10 more from Tracy McGrady.

3. Avery Johnson, Mavericks: Avery probably isn't getting enough credit for one of the most successful seasons ever, but the Mavs were supposed to be in the 60s and they have remained relatively healthy. To me, coach of the year is more about overcoming adversity and exceeding expectations than simply awarding the coach of the best team. I guess the voters have agreed with that sentiment over the years, as no one has ever repeated as coach of the year in the NBA.

2. Sam Mitchell, Raptors: Speaking of overcoming adversity and overachieving, no coach has done a better job in that regard than Mitchell, who came into the season with the added pressure of being in the last year of his contract. The Raptors are 45-33, 1.5 games behind the Bulls and Cavs for second place in the conference, despite 14 DNPs from Bargnani, 12 from Bosh, 11 and counting from Garbajosa, eight from Anthony Parker, and seven from T.J. Ford.

1. Jerry Sloan, Jazz: Utah sports two All-Stars (Booz and Memo), one could-have-been All-Star (Deron), and one former All-Star (AK47), but did anyone see this team finishing sixth overall and six games up on the Nuggets in the Northwest? Martin Scorcese finally won his Oscar for best director and it's time for Sloan to finally win a COY award.

6th Man of the Year

6. Monta Ellis, Warriors: Monta has started 66 percent of his games this year so he doesn't qualify for the award, but I shoe-horned him into this year-ender as the Sixth Man on the Sixth Man Team to thank Don Nelson for finally freeing his electric second-year player. After starting for most of the season, Monta came off the bench behind Stephen Jackson in 10 of 11 games from Mar. 5-26. Then, Nellie came to his senses and freed Monta, who gets better with each new mind-blowing highlight. I wanted to put him on the All-MIP Team, but Williams and Martin have come a little farther than Ellis, and there was room for only two guards.

5. David Lee, Knicks: I'll never understand why Lee didn't start more games (21 percent), but he came off New York's bench to average 10.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 60 percent from the floor in 29.7 minutes. The sixth man is supposed to come into the game and change the game, and Lee does that as well as any reserve in the league.

4. Antonio McDyess, Pistons: The classy Southern gentlemen has been outstanding down the stretch (13 & 8 with 1 and 1 on the D over the last month), but he's been a steady sixth man all season for the Pistons, averaging 8.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 52 percent from the field in just 21.3 minutes. But the only stat Dice cares about is wins, and only Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio have more than Detroit.

3. Jerry Stackhouse, Mavericks: Speaking of wins, that's exactly why Stack is so high on this list, despite just 12.0 ppg in 23.9 minutes. The way I see it, the sixth man for one of the greatest regular season teams of all-time should get some dap. Stack's clutch shooting cannot be underestimated or slept on, as he averaged 27.0 ppg in three games against Phoenix and 20.5 in two games against Miami.

2. Manu Ginobili, Spurs: Manu is actually the top sixth man in fantasy leagues, ranking 33rd across eight cats thanks to 16.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.7 threes, 1.5 steals, and 46/86 on the percentages. The fact that he does all that in just 27.4 minutes makes Manu the most stat-efficient player in the game. Manu has started 48 percent of his games this season, which is why I have picked someone else for Sixth Man of the Year...

1. Leandro Barbosa, Suns: Manu began the season in the starting lineup and will end up more-or-less half-and-half. Barbosa, on the other hand, has started only 24 percent of his games, making him the truer sixth man. Plus, Barbosa's Suns have two more wins than Manu's Spurs, and Barbosa is only five places beneath Manu on the 8-cat charts (38). The Brazilian Blur is having a breakout season, giving the Suns' Nation and the fantasy world 18.1 points, 4.1 assists, 2.4 threes, 1.2 steals, and 48/84 on the percentages.

Rick Kamla is NBA TV's resident fantasy expert and he'll be here all season to give you insider analysis on the fantasy basketball world. Kamla is the heady host for "NBA TV Fantasy Hoops Presented By Toyota," a six-night-a-week, half-hour studio show that has become the ultimate guide for fantasy basketball players. The show airs live at 1 a.m. ET every night except Thursday. And don't forget to check out Rick Kamla and Rick Barry as they host "In the Paint with Rick & Rick" on NBA Radio, Monday through Wednesday, 3-6 p.m. ET, on Sirius Satelitte Radio Channel 127.


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