A Daily Babble Production
When we handed out our Well-Past-Midseason Midseason Awards back in mid-February, they came with the promise that the Babble would hold itself accountable with a comparison piece for the end-of-season accolades. With the 2008-09 regular season in the books (did that fly by or what?) and playoff previews on tap heading into the weekend, it's time to dish out the honors.
[Aside: Can we please all agree to just not talk about the headline? When you're working on little sleep, you end up talking yourself into the idea that getting to use a phrase like "Awarding Awards" sounds clever.]
The "This guy is really playing a whole lot better than everyone else" MVP award
What we said: LeBron James, Cleveland
What we meant: James, but credit Dwyane Wade for making this race a whole lot closer than expected. Wade carried a meager supporting cast to the midst of the East playoff picture, led the league in scoring and played some fantastic defense this season. His late-game heroics proved enormous in several instances for Miami, and if a couple of the young players on that team develop as expected, his team will only get more dangerous in the coming seasons. But while Wade topped James by a point in scoring, and both players are excellent passers, the bigger James is a much better rebounder (he grabbed seven and a half per game to Wade's five and outdid him in rebound rate by a count of 11.0 to 7.8), just as good a defender (and perhaps better) and even more versatile, showing an ability to guard four positions for the league's third-ranked defensive team.
I realize that, really, neither of these two studs should win since one played on a team that didn't win enough games and the other had too good a supporting cast. But since that's, well, completely absurd, we're going to go ahead and maintain LBJ as the pick. Runners-up: Wade, Miami; Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers; Chris Paul, New Orleans
The "How much are we paying you exactly?" Least Valuable Player award, Marbury bracket
What we said: Stephon Marbury, New York
What we meant: This is a tough spot for us, given that Marbury has not only left New York but has of late been conducting some productive, point guard-esque activities in green. But given just how long and bizarre his entire saga in the Sizable Apple was, combined with the fact that the Knicks refused to disclose the terms of the buyout for his $20.9 million contract, we still have to give this to Steph for his time in New York this season. To clarify, this is being awarded solely to "Stephon Marbury, New York" because his lack of value per dollar over the time he was there still exceeds everyone else in that department, even the lone full-season entry in his half of the bracket. But since the stalemate didn't last all season, we will award a predictable distant second this time around. Runner-up: Jamaal Tinsley, Indiana
The "How much are we paying you exactly?" Least Valuable Player award, non-Marbury bracket
What we said: Elton Brand, Philadelphia
What we meant: We should have meant to make a distinction between "How much are we paying you right now?" and "How locked into misery with you are we going forward?" Since we didn't have the foresight to do that, this one ends in a tie.
The upshot for the Sixers with Elton Brand is that he is a guy with a consistent pre-injury history who might put in the work to return to form over the next four years that he'll be in Philadelphia and averaging more than $16 million per year. But other than that, he made a fine case for this award: losing character points for shenanigans that allowed him to snake out of Los Angeles to Philly for more money, shooting the ball with minimal efficiency (48.4 percent true shooting), scoring and rebounding with low volume (13.8 points, 8.8 rebounds per game), making his new team worse when he was on the floor than off it (13-16 with him in the lineup) and then going down for the season before the midway point. Quite a resume for a guy who made $13.8 million this year.
But as far as the department of single-season complete train wrecks is concerned, it's tough to knock Allen Iverson. The bright side for Joe Dumars is that he will have a chance to use the cap space acquired with Iverson in the coming summers to revive public opinion of that trade. But for 2008-09, the Pistons paid Iverson nearly $22 million to stagnate their offense, not play defense, sit out with injuries, complain that he would rather retire than come off the bench and then call it a season after doing his part to push the Pistons a 24-30 record with him in the lineup. Credit AI also with a less than stellar 50.2 true shooting mark as a Piston in the first season of his career below the 20 points per game mark.
Congratulations on this distinction, fellas. You certainly earned it on and off the floor. Runners-up: Baron Davis, LA Clippers; Monta Ellis, Golden State (as we said in February, he gets blamed for his injury issues because he did something foolish to precipitate those problems)
The "Bunch of solid candidates, but none will be as good a sophomore as Kevin Durant" Rookie of the Year award
What we said: Derrick Rose, Chicago
What we meant: While Rose deserves plenty of credit for taking over the point guard and on-court leadership responsibilities right away in Chicago - and for the most part doing a fine job of it, helping the team to a playoff spot along the way - this honor belongs to Minnesota's Kevin Love.
The former UCLA star is already establishing himself as one of the premier rebounders in the game. No qualifier need apply there. Love ranked first in the league in offensive rebound percentage at 15.1 and second in the league in total rebound percentage at 21.0 (behind only Dwight Howard). He attacks the glass with ferocity at both ends of the floor and managed to pull down 9.1 per game despite starting for less than half the year and averaging 25.4 minutes per game for the season. Love has already shown that he can score around the rim, in the low post and even a bit from midrange. His 27 double-doubles on the season tied him for 20th in the league, and he is the only player of the top 35 on that list who played less than 30 minutes per game.
The Bulls will build their franchise around Rose, and he looks likely to be an excellent player in this league for a long-time. But he has struggled to score efficiently at times (51.6 percent true shooting for the year) and has had his share of rocky experiences as the Bulls' primary distributor, It doesn't help his case that the Bulls have actually been an insane 10.1 net points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor than off it. Though Love needs to improve on defense, he has demonstrated himself as one of the most skilled players the league has to offer in one facet of the game and shown that he can put the ball in the hoop as well. Runners-up: Rose, Chicago; O.J. Mayo, Memphis; Eric Gordon, LA Clippers; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City; Brook Lopez, New Jersey; Jason Thompson, Sacramento; Michael Beasley, Miami; Courtney Lee, Orlando; Anthony Morrow, Golden State
The "Job security is fleeting" Coach of the Year award
What we said: Every head coach who began the 2008-09 season employed and still is
What we meant: While that's probably still fair given that more than one-fourth of those who began the season as head men remain there, we'll go for a little more precision here: Nate McMillan, Portland. While dealing with more injury concerns and some inconsistency from Greg Oden, McMillan pushed a young Blazer core to 50 wins and the top offensive efficiency rating in the league playing his brand of slow-down basketball. He's also kept just about everyone (save for the occasionally grumpy Sergio Rodriguez) happy and buying into the team concept as well as sharing the basketball. McMillan's team improved for the third straight year on his watch and jumped 11 wins from a season ago to hop right into the Western Conference playoff picture. Job well done, sir. Runners-up: Mike Brown, Cleveland; Stan Van Gundy, Orlando; Doc Rivers, Boston; Erik Spoelstra, Miami
The "Everyone's cool if we name a second award after Bill Russell, right?" Defensive Player of the Year award
What we said: LeBron James, Cleveland
What we meant: While James has done a fine job this season and has made a major jump at this end of the floor, he still needs to move more towards making the type of lock-down performance he put on Paul Pierce back in January his every-night-out commitment level. Dwight Howard's league-leading 2.9 blocks and 13.9 rebounds per game and top-ranked 21.8 rebound percentage aren't hollow stats. The Orlando center dominated the paint all season long both on an individual level and in his help-side defense. His nightly dedication to the defensive end spearheaded the Magic's jump to first in defensive efficiency this season. Runners-up: James, Cleveland; Dwyane Wade, Miami; and a head-nod for a nice late-season run (though he won't and shouldn't win) to Kendrick Perkins, Boston
The "We mentioned him in the Rookie award's pseudo-witty title" Most Improved Player award
What we said: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
What we meant: What we said. Though his defense still has a ways to go, Durant made progress in every aspect of the game this season with the most significant coming in his jump from 51.9 to 57.6 true shooting that accompanied a scoring increase from 20.3 to 25.3 points per game. It took just two years for KD to become an elite scorer in this league, and his rebounding, passing and ability to take care of the ball all took a step forward this season as well. Runners-up: Paul Millsap, Utah; John Salmons, Chicago; Kelenna Azubuike, Golden State
The "2007-2008 Danny Ainge" Executive of the Year Award
What we said: Mark Warkentien, Denver
What we meant: What we said (rare that this happens so often; let's chalk it up to my doing the first set of awards closer to the end of the season than I should have). Acquiring Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson has been a coup for the Nuggets, who sit in the second spot in the Western Conference and have a real chance to get out of the first round for the first time in the Melo Era. Runner-up: Danny Ferry, Cleveland
The Isiah Thomas Worst Executive award
What we said: Steve Kerr, Phoenix
What we meant: First, to make good on an earlier promise to CB member Brickowski and rename the honor the Joint Isiah Thomas-Scott Layden Worst Executive Award. Beyond that, what we said. As detailed earlier this week, in barely a year's time, Kerr brought in Shaq to slow the Suns down, fired the coach who made them successful running, hired a coach who slowed the offense without improving the defense, fired that coach after half a season, installed a new coach to let the team run again and left at least two of his core players (Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash) disgruntled long before it was all said and done. That list doesn't even include the Jason Richardson panic trade. Kerr and owner Robert Sarver (who deserves an honorable mention here) have a long summer ahead of them to clean up the mess left by a non-playoff team that didn't exactly do much developing for the future during this failed campaign. Runners-up: the entire Clippers operation; Chris Mullin, Golden State
Note: The potential to put the cap space acquired alongside Allen Iverson for good use is the only thing keeping Detroit's Joe Dumars off the runner-up list.
The "SW is a moron" Sixth Man Award
What we said: No one, because I'm an idiot and managed to omit this honor entirely
What we meant: We're not really sure, given the way the sixth man role seems to have evolved for certain players over the last couple of seasons. Should Jason Terry count despite the fact that he plays 34 minutes per game off the bench for Dallas? What about J.R. Smith? Would Manu Ginobili be eligible in a normal healthy season? Should we only allow individuals who play less than 24 minutes per game? Is it then fair to disqualify Kevin Love, who played 25.4 minutes per game but started for less than half the season? We'll play the "moron" card here once more and cop out. You tell us, please: What qualifications should there be for the Sixth Man honor, and who should receive it this season?
The 1960s Boston Celtics award for Team To Beat the Rest of the Way
What we said: Boston Celtics
What we meant: A three-way tie. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers were the best regular-season teams in each conference and feature two of the league's premier individual players as well as solid coaching staffs and supporting casts that play both ends of the floor. The Boston Celtics won 62 games and posted the league's second-best defense despite losing their best defensive player for more than a quarter of the season. They are the defending champs until proven otherwise, they return much of a battle-tested core and, oh yeah, the Babble 'fesses up to being a bit homerific even now and then.
[UPDATE: We conducted the voting for this honor between the end of the regular season last night and today's announcements about the health status of Kevin Garnett. In the interest of some good ol' faith and blind optimism, we're leaving the award as is. But we do understand that the landscape changes with the Intense One's absence.]