With the lockout-shortened NBA season officially at its halfway point, here are my picks for the league’s top NBA performers.
Most Improved Player: Jeremy Lin. Linsanity has been the second best story in sports this year and I only say that because I’m a New York Giants fan. Yes, Lin’s sample size is relatively small, but both he and the Knicks were starting from scratch. As a completely unknown player, with no Melo or Amar’e, Lin put an entire franchise on his back and put up All-Star numbers in their absences. Lin has taken a team that was once 8-15 and has them talking about making the playoffs again.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Bynum.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard. When D-12’s career is over, his defensive capabilities will be compared to Olajuwon and other great defensive big men. Amidst all the trade rumors and distractions, Howard has still put in the dirty work that has distinguished him as the best center in the association. The Magic are in the top 10 in field goal percentage allowed (43.2 %,) his blocks are down but he still swats 2.12 shots a game (5th in the NBA,) while leading the league in rebounding (15.3 – a career high.)
Honorable Mention: Andre Igudoala.
Coach of the Year: Gregg Poppovich. Manu Ginobili goes down with an injury and Poppovich still has the Spurs as the #2 team in the Western Conference. Tim Duncan is a shadow of the player he once was, yet Popps continues to win with players like Danny Green and Gary Neal playing significant minute. The Spurs have seen resurgence due to a new talented, young, core with players like Kawhi Leonard, Thiago Splitter and Dejaun Blair, as well as Tony Parker spearheading the attack and playing like an MVP candidate. Gregg Poppovich is the best coach in the NBA and is proving it once again this year.
Honorable Mention: Doug Collins
Sixth Man Award: James Harden. Fear the beard. With perennial All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant at the helm, Harden is still putting All-Star like numbers while leading an Oklahoma City bench that’s without Eric Maynor. OKC is the best team in the Western Conference and the bench is thriving due to Harden’s ability to distribute, score and to get to the foul line. Harden could and would start for the majority of teams in the NBA, but the bench role seems to fit him perfectly.
Honorable Mention: Lou Williams.
Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving. Proving to be the class of the 2012 draft, Kyrie Irving is playing like a seasoned vet and future all-star. He’s a complete point guard, who can shoot, penetrate/create, pass and defend. His combination of efficient shooting (48.5 %,) scoring (18.3 ppg) and passing has given Cleveland hope in the post-Lebron era. The Cavs are currently 13-19 on the year and are poised to have more wins than they had all of last year (19) in a shortened season – a lot of that can be attributed to Irving. Cleveland has found their floor general and with a few more pieces added, could be poised for another playoff run.
Honorable Mention: Ricky Rubio.
Most Valuable Player: Lebron James. Lebron is the best player on the league’s best team. There is only so much he can do in the regular season to silence his critics, but what he’s done so far is nothing short of amazing. Despite being criticized unlike anyone in sports, he is having a career year. While posting incredibly gaudy numbers – 27.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 6.8 apg, 54.8 % fgp and 39.3% 3pfg, he is the anchor of a defense that reminds me of the Chicago Bulls in the late 90’s. Additionally, he had people questioning whether or not Dwayne Wade was necessary during the Heat’s 8-1 stretch with him out. Anything less than a MVP and a NBA title for Lebron and the Heat will be a huge disappointment.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Durant.