A Daily Babble Production
The Celtics have played 55 of the 2008-09 regular season's 82 games already. That's more than two-thirds of the campaign. No NBA team has played less than 50 contests. So referring to anything that goes on at the All-Star break as "midseason" is a bit questionable. But since we haven't gotten around to doing it yet, we're handing out some awards for the season to date because, really, the most amusing part of handing out the more meaningful ones at season's end is realizing how silly our in-season picks sounded. To the on-track-to-be-winners circles we go...
The "This guy is really playing a whole lot better than everyone else" MVP award: LeBron James, Cleveland
Besides knocking down threes, there isn't much that he isn't doing right now. Not only is he leading the league in scoring, not only is he still averaging more than seven rebounds and seven assists per game, but he's having his best year from the foul line (although his 77.7 percent mark still leaves something to be desired), and he has turned himself into a candidate for the league's best defender as well. He guards the other team's best player every night and now spearheads both the league's third-ranked defensive and offensive units.
His combination of brute strength and quickness is unmatched by anyone in the Association. Every night, this guy does two or three things that observers might not have believed possible beforehand. He can take over a game at any time, and this season, he does that at both ends of the floor.
That he gets some help from the officials isn't his fault, and he shouldn't be penalized for that - with the exception of the routine he pulls every now and then when he doesn't get a call he wants: Go down like he has been shot, grab his eye, shoulder or ankle, wait for training staff to arrive and Mike Brown to sprint halfway up the floor to berate an official. Come out of ensuing timeout completely healed. That excepted, I find it hard to blame LeBron for the fact that just like every other star in recent memory, he receives the benefit of the doubt from the officials more often than not.
A season ago, there were four nearly equally viable candidates for this award: James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul. This season, it's LeBron and everybody else.
Runners-up: Bryant, LA Lakers; Paul, New Orleans; Dwight Howard, Orlando, Dwyane Wade; Miami
The "How much are we paying you exactly?" Least Valuable Player award, Marbury bracket: Stephon Marbury, New York
James Dolan is paying this individual $20.8 million to stay away from the team, and he has still managed to be a distraction. He's in his own league here.
No runners-up, even Jamaal Tinsley.
The "How much are we paying you exactly?" Least Valuable Player award, non-Marbury bracket: Elton Brand, Philadelphia
Originally, we were going to have a separate award for "most disastrous offseason transaction," until it became evident that the top nominees for that award are all at the top of this list as well. Really, Tracy McGrady is the only upper-level candidate that comes to mind who didn't change addresses or re-up for big money last summer. But even he hasn't quite made it to Brand's level.
The way I see it, when a supposed good guy misleads his former team into signing a point guard who won't fit that team's system (though the Clippers are assuredly plenty to blame for the Baron Davis signing as well) and then jumps ship for $80 million over five years elsewhere across the country, it's only fair to expect a high standard of play (if not behavior) from him. It's been a disaster year for Brand, as he has posted the lowest field-goal, free throw and true shooting percentages of his career (the latter an awful 48.4). His 13.8 points per game is the lowest figure of his career by nearly four and a half points. Excepting last year's eight-game campaign due to injuries, Brand has never averaged less than the 8.8 rebounds he was grabbing this year before he went down for the season.
He has been hampered by injuries this season, but he has also looked uncomfortable whenever he was healthy enough to make it on the floor. The Sixers went just 13-16 with him in the lineup. After he came back from a dislocated shoulder in January, they reduced his role because he was slowing the team down from the quick tempo for which it is best suited. The offense is nearly eight points better per 100 possessions with Brand off the floor, and the team is 14-8 in his absence. What a fiasco.
Runners-up: Baron Davis, LA Clippers; McGrady, Houston; Monta Ellis, Golden State (it seems fairer to blame a guy for injury issues when he is caught clearly doing something he shouldn't); Jermaine O'Neal, Toronto
The "Bunch of solid candidates, but none will be as good a sophomore as Kevin Durant" Rookie of the Year award: Derrick Rose, Chicago
Try stepping onto a team with a rookie coach, a clueless front office, no legitimate stars and a bunch of overpaid guys, and see what happens. Becoming the on-floor leader and best player immediately isn't an easy burden, and while the young point guard could be more efficient shooting the ball, he is already logging nearly 37 minutes per game and putting up 17.0 points and 6.3 assists per game. He's made several opposing point guards look very silly this year, (hello, Andre Miller!), and he can make the Bulls worth watching all by himself.
His strength and finishing skills at the rim are already impressive for a guy his size. He is only going to get more comfortable on the floor, his control of the offense will only grow, and it's hard to imagine he'll play with too many worse supporting casts over the course of his career.
Honorable mention, because I really like this guy: Brook Lopez, New Jersey
Lopez has stepped in and fluidly made the transition to starting center in New Jersey, averaging close to a double-double at 12.3 points and 8.1 boards per game. He shoots better than 50 percent from the field and hits his foul shoots (81.4 percent), and he already looks very comfortable around the rim. He's dunking with ease off of screen-and-rolls and scoring over smaller players with a jump hook inside when he gets the chance. Lopez is playing well at both ends of the floor and staying out of foul trouble, and he looks set to be the Nets' center for the future.
For the record, picking the rookies required a ton of consideration, because this class has a bunch of players who look at the very least to be solid pros. O.J. Mayo is leading rookies in scoring with more than 19 points per game, but his lack of commitment defensively and laziness with regard to moving without the ball are troubling. Eric Gordon is a blast to watch, though he's a bit of a one-trick pony at this point in that he can fill it up but doesn't do much else. Kevin Love is an insane rebounder. That large man in Portland continues to get better as the season goes. We're going to be talking about a bunch of these guys as cogs on good teams (and some as stars) in the years to come.
Runners-up: Mayo, Memphis; Love, Minnesota; Gordon, LA Clippers; Oden, Portland, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City; Michael Beasley, Miami; Jason Thompson, Sacramento
The "Job security is fleeting" Coach of the Year award: Every head coach who began the 2008-09 season employed and still is
Seriously. With Terry Porter's departure during All-Star weekend in Phoenix, we're down to 22 of them left. That means more than 26 percent of the guys who started the season in these positions no longer have them. And three of the survivors to date are Vinny Del Negro, Michael Curry and Mike Dunleavy, so we could see this list shortening sooner rather than later. Kudos to anyone who has made it through a few shades more than half a season.
Honorable mention: Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City
He hasn't been around all season, so he wins the coveted 23rd-place vote. But he has the Thunder competing a bit more than they were under P.J. Carlesimo, so credit him for that.
Anyone with serious Coach of the Year thoughts is welcome to leave them in the comments. Plenty of worthy candidates: Gregg Popovich's teams never seem to go away. Scott Skiles has helped the Bucks jump from dead last to 13th in defensive efficiency in his first season with the team. George Karl has the Nuggets buying in at both ends of the floor and continuing to win despite injuries. The coaches of the league's four best teams are all doing fine jobs as well (Doc Rivers, Mike Brown, Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy). Kevin McHale had Al Jefferson and the Wolves playing improved basketball before Big Al went down with a season-ending injury. No doubt we're missing a couple, so feel free to shout 'em out.
The "Everyone's cool if we name a second award this week after Bill Russell, right?" Defensive Player of the Year award: LeBron James, Cleveland
The performance he put on against Paul Pierce when the Celtics visited Cleveland back in January was nothing short of terrifying. James was all the way up in his shorts defensively, bumping him off course, contesting every shot and getting after every loose ball. That's what he has been doing to people all season.
While having Anderson Varejao from season's start (which they didn't last year) makes a difference, James' nightly commitment to putting in full energy at that end of the floor has played a crucial role in pushing the Cavs from 11th a season ago to third in defensive efficiency this year.
I know the last thing you want is to do is hear more LeBron gushing in a Celtics haven, so we're stopping it here. But he's been the best player in the league at each end of the floor this season (though I'll continue to believe that he isn't on the best team), and I see no reason to pretend otherwise.
Runners-up: Kevin Garnett, Boston; Tim Duncan, San Antonio
The "We mentioned him in the Rookie award's pseudo-witty title" Most Improved Player award: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Last season, he was a talented young player scoring 20 points per game because he had carte blanche to shoot as much as he wanted on an awful team. This season, he's still on an awful team and still has carte blanche to shoot as much as he wants. But he's also putting the ball in the basket a whole lot more often and is quickly becoming unstoppable. Not only did KD's field-goal percentage jump from 43 percent to 47.9, but a guy who didn't even break 30 percent on threes last season is now shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. He sits fifth in the league in scoring average at 25.5, up more than five points per game from last year, and he is getting those points on a super-impressive 57.8 percent true shooting. Doesn't hurt either that he is logging nearly 40 minutes per game, his rebounds are up and his turnovers are down.
Sadly, the folks in Seattle have to feel increasingly worse every time this guy suits up. Because he is going to be great for a long time.
Runners-up: Jameer Nelson, Orlando (hurt by the fact that he may be done for the season due to injury); Mo Williams, Cleveland; Paul Millsap, Utah; Delonte West, Cleveland (also undercut by injuries); Ray Allen, Boston
The "2007-2008 Danny Ainge" Executive of the Year Award: Mark Warkentien, Denver
In one fell swoop, his Iverson-for-Billups trade turned this team from a group of too many chucking wackos destined for a train wreck ending (and possibly a lack of a playoff spot) to a legitimate threat in the Western Conference. Really. They're sitting at 36-17, tied for second in the conference with San Antonio.
The Marcus Camby salary dump - for which I hammered the Nugs during the off-season - hasn't come back to bite the Nugs either, as Denver sits ninth in defensive efficiency. Camby has already missed 10 games due to injury this season. Looks like the GM wasn't exactly sitting in the dark on that one.
But it still all goes back to the Billups move. The man had the stones to pull the trigger on a big-time move, and it has made all the difference for this team. Hats off to him.
Runners-up: Danny Ferry, Cleveland; RC Buford, San Antonio
The Isiah Thomas Worst Executive award: Steve Kerr, Phoenix
As recently as a year ago, the Suns were still fun. Remember those days? In fact, not only were they fun, but they were at least still a serious contender in the West, albeit one apparently unable to get over the hump. Since then, Steve Kerr has been nothing but completely confused as to what his own plan is. He has pulled the trigger on a couple of confusing trades and hired and fired a coach in less than a season.
That coach that he hired and fired also managed to completely lose Kerr's organization's best young player, Amare Stoudemire, who is now believed to be all but a lock to be headed out of town by Thursday's deadline (possibly by the time you read this on Monday afternoon).
Kerr was a great shooter, and he was a joy to listen to on TNT. But he has really made a mess in the desert.
Runners-up: Bryan Colangelo, Toronto; John Paxson, Chicago; Chris Mullin, Golden State; Ernie Grunfeld, Washington; everybody involved with the LA Clippers
The 1960s Boston Celtics award for Team To Beat the Rest of the Way: Boston Celtics
Because they're not only the defending champs but 44-11 to boot with the fourth-best offense and single best defense in all of basketball - and the league's best starting five. And because try as I can to be objective about everything else, that's not going to be the case on this one.
Here's to a heckuva stretch run this season.