Living the Fantasy: Year-End Awards
By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
If you’re craving yet another opinion on important issues such as MVP and DPOY, then take a break from the political mumbo-jumbo and take a walk down memory lane with The Freak, as we sort out the best of the best from the historic 2008-09 season.
The words “let’s try to keep it short” just burst out of my iPod courtesy of Rush—yes, Rush—and that’s what I intend to do as we hand out all sorts of awards for 08-09.
[Editor’s note: All stats are through Monday, April 7.]
Most Valuable Player
Chris Paul, Hornets: First of all, fantasy fans, Paul had the best numbers of any player this season, besting Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in eight-cat setups. And because Paul was taken late in the first round of most leagues, he’s my choice for Fantasy MVP.
Paul is on pace to end Steve Nash’s three-year reign as the NBA’s assist king (11.5 to 11.2), Paul is the steal leader at 2.7 per game, and he’s 17th in scoring at 21.5 ppg. Not unlike Nash the past four seasons in Phoenix, Paul is the system, the franchise, and the city of New Orleans. And like Nash, Paul may be on the verge of winning multiple MVP awards.
The League MVP award is based on far more than individual numbers, obviously. It’s all about wins, baby. And as this went to web, Paul’s Hornets had a 1.5 game lead over Kobe’s Lakers. To me, it’s a coin-flip decision between Paul and Kobe, so I’ll let the most wins determine the MVP. After all, this is the most competitive race the West has ever seen, placing even more importance on winning the conference.
So riddle me this, Kobe lovers. If CP3 has better stats AND more wins than Kobe, doesn’t that automatically make Paul the MVP?
What other criteria do you need to make the right decision? The media needs to resist the urge to take the past decade into consideration with Kobe, and simply focus on this season. For if this season is truly the sample, then the example must be Paul.
By the way, Kevin Garnett is third on my unofficial MVP ballot. More on the Big Ticket in a bit…
Rookie of the Year
Kevin Durant, SuperSonics: I must admit, I was swayed Heisman-style toward Durant during Sunday’s double overtime win against Denver. And I come to you seconds after that epic thriller, in which Durant hit a 25-footer to tie the game at the end of regulation, and then a 30-footer over Marcus Camby to force double overtime. So kindly excuse me if I sound a little biased.
All that said, here’s how I break down the ROY race. You have Durant, by far the best rookie in terms of talent and future, and he’s averaging 7.5 more points per game than the second-best scoring rookie (Al Thornton – 12.5 ppg). You have 27-year-old “rookie” Luis Scola, who has made the most significant contribution to his team among newcomers. And then you have Al Horford, who has been the most consistent rookie, averaging nearly a double-double since game one.
It’s an extremely tough call because all three rookies are worthy, but Durant is so special that I can’t help but side with him.
Coach of the Year
Rick Adelman, Rockets: Simply put, the dude led the Rockets to 22 straight wins, second longest streak in NBA history. Oh yeah, and his Rockets won the last 10 in a row without Yao Ming. You don’t stay in the pocket that long unless your coach is pushing all the right buttons. Byron Scott is a close second for pulling off what looks like the best record in the West. How many of us predicted that? Doc Rivers is a close third for the Celtics’ wire-to-wire domination of both conferences and setting the NBA record for biggest single-season turnaround.
Most Improved Player
Rudy Gay, Grizzlies: Here’s another decision that gave me mega-pause, but I’ve got Gay winning MIP, followed by Hedo Turkoglu and Andrew Bynum. To me, this award is based heavily on statistical increase from the previous season, but also ascending the ladder in terms of status around the league.
Gay skyrocketed from first-round prospect with consistency issues to franchise player who posts big fat lines EVERY night. From his crazy dunks to his insane length to his distant range to his flair for the dramatic, Gay is the second coming of Vince Carter.
Turkoglu blossomed from a solid role player into Orlando’s go-to guy. In his eighth season, Hedo showed marked improvement in six of the primary eight cats, and he ranked among the top five fourth quarters scorers in the NBA.
Bynum morphed from project to prodigy, and all it took was Kobe telling some Lakers fans what he really thought. Seriously, freaks, Kobe calling out his 20-year-old big man—even if it was classless behavior caught on video—helped Bynum to self-analyze, play with more hunger, and focus on getting better. Bynum had a wonderful offseason (Kobe’s soliloquy notwithstanding) and it carried over seamlessly to the regular season. Were it not for his regular season-ending knee injury, Bynum might have carried the vote over Gay in my unofficial world.
Defensive Player of the Year
Kevin Garnett, Celtics: It’s a travesty that KG has never won this award, but this isn’t a make-up call scenario for my favorite player. Nor is it a consolation prize for placing KG third in the MVP race. Garnett gets my vote for DPOY over steal leader Chris Paul and block leader Marcus Camby because his relentless defensive effort has inspired the Celtics to lead the league in fewest points allowed (89.9), opponents field goal percentage (.418), point differential (+10.6), and Ws (61).
Sixth Man of the Year
Manu Ginobili, Spurs: It’s the man they call Manu by 10.5 miles, with Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa way, way back in the race. The Argentinean import has set career highs in points (19.8), rebounds (4.8), assists (4.5), threes (2.2), and minutes (31.3), and he is close to setting new standards in three other cats. On behalf of the fantasy world, thanks to Gregg Popovich for being kind enough to run Manu in the 30s for the first time in his six-year NBA career.
Warrior of the Year
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: It’s not the MVP award…and it’s not a third straight scoring title…but it’ll have to do for now. No one has played through more injury and misery than Kobe, who has long been known for his toughness and resiliency. Dude has been playing with four fingers on his shooting hand for months and he still has the Lakers in contention to win the West.
Executive of the Year
Danny Ainge, Celtics: I penciled in Ainge for Exec of the Year on the night the Celtics announced the Garnett trade last summer. And let’s not forget the move before the move, as netting Ray Allen led directly to Garnett approving the trade to Boston. Ainge also went fishing for free agents such as James Posey, Eddie House, PJ Brown, and Sam Cassell, as well as the shrewd pick up of Glen Davis in the Allen trade.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak deserves a ton of credit for orchestrating the best in-season trade, as Pau Gasol has been triangular since landing in Los Angeles. Plus, Kupchak smartly played the patience card throughout the Kobe controversy, instead of doing something silly like trading arguably the best player in the game for spare parts.
Daryl Morey of the Rockets is third in my unofficial world for prying Scola from the Spurs. Freaks, that’s the GM version of ripping a rebound away from Dwight Howard.