It's time to look stupid. Plain and simple.
If there is one thing you should know about those of us at the CelticsBlog NBA section, it is that we relish any possible opportunity to make ourselves (read: me; Jeff seems to actually know what he is doing) look like fools. If there isn't a column up here every few weeks where you, the faithful reader, can wait about four months and then say, "Wow, Steve looks really dumb for that," we (okay, you're right, I) haven't done our job here.
So with another crazy season of NBA basketball reaching its halfway point and plenty of change to come between now and April, the time is ripe to dole out some doomed-from-the-start mid-season awards. Rest assured, we're more than looking forward to the barrage of mockery sure to come our way come springtime, but if you can't stand to wait out the suspense, feel free to tell us (me) why we're full of it already! Away we go...
Most Valuable Player: Chris Paul, New Orleans. This is by no means an easy selection. I can't remember the last time we had a season with so many legitimately worthy candidates. The Cavs have suddenly won 9 of 10, and LeBron James is having another lights-out season, averaging 29.7 points, 7.6 boards and 7.4 assists per game. Kobe Bryant is doing his thing for a Lakers team playing excellent basketball. Dwight Howard has begun what could be more than a decade of a reign of terror in the paint. Steve Nash is pushing the Suns' high-octane offense to great heights once more and shooting above 50 percent while dishing out more than 12 assists per game. Fans on this site certainly need not be informed of the doings of one Kevin Garnett up in Beantown. It is safe to say that ESPN's Bill Simmons won't be writing another column like he did last year, in which he anointed the fans the MVPs because he felt no player was worthy. The choices are ample this time around.
But none quite match what CP3 has done this season. Finally fully healthy, Paul has led a young Hornets team full of largely unheralded characters to a 29-12 start, good for the best in the Western Conference at the present moment. The man is averaging 21.1 points, 10.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.68 steals per game to go with 48.9 percent shooting, and he is making everybody around him better. Peja Stojakovic is shooting 44.4 percent from behind the arc, easily a career high. Tyson Chandler's 12.4 points per game is a career high as well, and the man is shooting above 60.7 percent from the field. Those two examples are certainly at least in part consequences of the job Paul has done down in N'Awlins, along with many more Hornet successes that Paul has had a hand in this season. The pundits knew the Hornets would improve this season, but few if any knew just how good they would be. By and large, CP3 is clearly the biggest reason for that, and thus far, he may be the single biggest difference-maker in basketball. Runners-up: All others mentioned above; it's going to be a great MVP race
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Player Who Probably Won't Get Serious MVP Consideration But Still Means a Whole Heck of a Lot to His Team: Stephen Jackson, Golden State. Without him in the lineup, the Warriors started 1-6. Since then, the Dubs are 24-12 and have reestablished themselves as a force to be reckoned with out West. Jax is having the best scoring season of his career (20.3 points per game) grabbing his share of boards (4.6) and dropping some dimes to boot as well (4.2). But beyond that, while Baron Davis is the catalyst, Jax appears to be the heart and soul of this Warriors team. He has put out extra effort defensively and when properly under control, he provides an energy that simply can't be quantified. Whether he can continue to be a model citizen remains to be seen, but thus far, there is not much one can take away his performance. Runner-up*: Caron Butler, Washington
*- Jamaal Tinsley would make the runner-up list if he could manage to keep his behavior just a tad less erratic.
Least Valuable Player: Kirk Hinrich, Chicago. Among other Bulls, when and why did this guy completely lose his mojo?
Runners-up: Zach Randolph, New York; Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana; Ben Wallace, Chicago
Rookie of the Year: Al Horford, Atlanta. No, Kevin Durant hasn't disappointed so far, and this isn't meant to be any sort of disrespect to him. Durant has put up a solid 19.3 points per game, hit a couple of buzzer-beaters and continued to impress with his athleticism. But Durant has been given carte blanche to put the ball up on a terrible team, and he is taking more than 17 shots per game and shooting just 40 percent on the season, particularly after some struggles as of late. On the other hand, Horford has stepped in to make a big difference already for an Atlanta team that is playing competitive basketball on a regular basis for the first team in close to a decade. Horford takes high percentage shots and as such makes a lot of them (47.6 percent from the field) and after not getting a ton of playing time early in the season has upped his season averages to 8.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.14 blocks per game. He plays very heady basketball at two positions and has made a palpable difference for his squad, particularly on the defensive end. By no means is this to say that Horford is the best bet in the long-term or that the Sonics need have any regrets, but he was the more polished player coming out of college and thus far he remains so, and as such Horford gets the slight edge here for now. Runners-up: Kevin Durant, Seattle; Yi Jianlian, Milwaukee
Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan, Portland. The Blazers are the brightest surprise in the league, playing ball at a .595 clip and sitting just a half-game out of first place in the Northwest Division, all without the services of one Greg Oden. McMillan has done a great job nurturing his legion of youngsters, making a mid-season adjustment from rigid taskmaster to laid-back, time-to-let-'em-play supporter, and he has adapted to perfection. Runners-up: Eddie Jordan, Washington; Don Nelson, Golden State; Reggie Theus, Sacramento. Jury still out: Doc Rivers, Boston
Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Camby, Denver. This guy is out-of-his-mind good. The 14.3 rebounds and 3.92 blocks don't even come close to telling the whole story. He remains the single biggest reason why the run-and-gun Nugs sit in the top seven in defensive efficiency. Runners-up: Tyson Chandler, New Orleans; Kevin Garnett, Boston
Most Improved Player: Dwight Howard, Orlando. Seriously, how cool is it that a top-five MVP candidate is also a top-one Most Improved candidate? That steep progression of Howard's that gets mentioned all the time in this space? It has only continued. A year ago, he averaged 17.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. This year, he is at 22.1 points, 15.0 boards and 2.6 blocks per game. For all the hubbub surrounding the Rashard Lewis acquisition, the coaching change and the improvements of certain others on this team, D-Ho jumping another level is by far the biggest reason the Magic appear to be cruising in the Southeast. Runners-up: Andrew Bynum, LA Lakers; Rudy Gay, Memphis; Jamal Crawford, New York; Chris Kaman, LA Clippers
Most Exciting Player to Watch: Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers. He is legitimately that good. He has the most complete skill set of anybody who plays his position (perhaps anybody in the game), and he comes to play hard and compete every single night. With the exception of whatever happened in the second half of Game 7 against the Suns in 2006, Bryant never does anything close to mailing a game in. He puts on a show with regularity, and it doesn't hurt that the man seems very concerned with winning this season. He is the best individual talent in the game. Period. Runners-up: Jason Kidd, New Jersey; LeBron James, Cleveland