Monday, April 17, 2006

Wrapping It Up

Easter is past, which means the NBA regular season  is winding to a close.  For me, it’ll be a welcome relief from the most discouraging Rockets season since the Francis & Mobley And-1 tour got out of Rudy T’s control.   It’s best if I don’t start dwelling on that, so quickly moving along to my award handouts for the regular season, which are as biased as I choose them to be:

All-NBA First team:  Billups, Kobe, LeBron, Dirk, Yao
I pick this list on based on real positions (point, SG, SF, 4, center), which is always extremely fuzzy in the real voting.  Billups executed the league’s best offensive and defensive halfcourt sets, period, and I’m sick of people completely discounting him because of Detroit’s starting 5 while turning a blind eye to Nash’s weakness on D and how he becomes hampered in halfcourt situations.  Kobe’s obvious.  LeBron is almost on all cylinders and is a full level above Melo, Marion, and Pierce among SFs at this point.  Duncan was barely 70% all season, Big Ticket is looking like he might be the next Barry Sanders, and Bosh and Brand aren’t quite at a level where they beat teams on their own; therefore, Dirk gets the crown at 4.  
Yao (22 and 10) is the year’s best center almost by default.  If you don’t believe Shaq is tumbling down the hill faster than Jack (career lows in points and minutes, and the first time in his career to have single digit rebounds), you should stick with watching the PGA.  The media’s brief love affair with Chris Kaman was a pretty silly fad, and he got absolutely torched by Ming each and every time they met this year (7 and 6 vs Yao’s 23 and 13).  Would Yao have made this based on his season a few years ago?  No way.  The entire center position is the worst it’s been since the 80s, if not the early 60s.  The complete de-emphasis on post play by the league and younger players alike has killed the 5 spot.  Many media analysts (Kerr, S.A. Smith, etc) have been fairly transparent in their reluctance to accept this obvious fact, but Yao Ming is now the best center on the planet.

All-NBA Second Team:  Nash, Wade, Marion, Brand, Bosh
Honorable Mention (i.e., screwed over): Iverson, Melo, VC, Arenas
I feel terrible bumping Iverson out of the pack.  This a former MVP who is #3 all time in scoring average and just set a new career high in scoring for a season as well as nearly a new high in assists.  Unfortunately, I can’t fathom putting him above Billups, Nash, Kobe, or Wade.  Wade comes closest, but he led his team to over 50 wins, while AI couldn’t get his to 0.500.  Even the Los Angeles Kobes managed a winning season.  Nash makes the 2nd team based on leading the league in tangibles, and Wade gets there for becoming one of the top do-everything players in the league (26-6-7-2 stat line).  Marion didn’t make my first team by a hair.  Brand is a pseudo-MVP candidate, and Bosh is now seeing virtually all of his time at the center position.

Most Unappreciated Player:
Billups and Marion aside, it’s a split between Jason Richardson and Dwight Howard.  Richardson is just plain spooky, upping his average for the 5th straight year despite having to pry the ball from Puffy the point guard, and managed three 40+ games in March (not coincidentally, Puffy tallied a combined 50 minutes in those 3 games).  Howard is morphing into a man-beast even faster now that he’s no longer being blackballed by Steve Francis.  For the season, he’s put up nearly 16 and 13, and it’s not a crazy notion that he might be an All-Star next year as Orlando’s main attraction.  

Coach of the Year: Avery Johnson
Dallas wasn’t supposed to be better without Nash and Finley, but here they are looking more legit than any of the Maverick teams in the past decade.  AJ has expunged Nelly’s defensive excuse-making and injected his more steely personality into the team.  This team still does not have a true point guard or a defensive stopper, but they’re somehow executing sharply and slowing down opposing offenses.  

Everyone’s Favorite Executive of the Year: Isiah Thomas
Let’s take a journey back in time and revisit what he did just this past summer for the team: signed Jerome James (3 and 1 this year) to a 3-yr, $20 million deal, traded warhorse Kurt Thomas for Q Richardson (5-yr, $40 mill uninsurable contract due to his degenerative back, 8 and 3), brought in Larry “Miracle Worker” Brown who just might be sabotaging the entire team in order to purge the roster and Isiah in order to take full control of the franchise, and wasn’t there something else?  Oh yeah!  Traded what will be a top-3 pick (LaMarcus Aldridge?) and will likely have to swap picks next year with the Bulls in order to pick up phony franchise center Eddy “Happy Meal” Curry (14 and 6).  All eyes are on him in anticipation of this summer’s wheeling and dealing.

Most Valuable Player:
Last year, it was a tough pick because there wasn’t a good candidate.  Shaq and Nash fought it out with intangibles alone in their corner; neither one had production remotely close to an MVP level.  This year, there are too many candidates, and almost all have holes in their resumes.  To keep things short, I’ll only talk about those who made my first-team list.  Right off the bat, Yao’s out because he’s simply not on par with the others in terms of carrying his team (Rockets were 27-30 with him this year).  
I’m not very good at disguising my love for Billups and his play this year.  Again, he’s running the most efficient (not prolific) offense in the league and is most responsible for the Pistons’ apparent harmony.  Only Tayshun Prince is capable of scoring without being set up by CB3.  Unlike any of the league’s other upper tier PGs, Chauncey can play solid defense as well.  What hurts his case is that you could replace him with other guys at his position (Kidd, Chris Paul, Andre Miller, Captain Kirk) and the Pistons would still be a serious title contender.
LeBron is chewing teams up and even made the media swallow their clipboards after the mini-LeBron-chokes-late wave crashed.  He’s there with Kobe and Iverson as 30+ PPG scorers this season and is officially unstoppable, but he seems to have slipped a touch in the “makes teammates better” category.  He entered the league looking more like Magic than Jordan, but now seems to feel obligated to score at the expense of creating.  If he fuses both aspects into his game, he’ll kill the league.  For now, both he and the Cavs are just shy of creme de la crème status.
Therapist #8 has got the league buzzing this year with what is easily the most spectacular individual season since 80’s Jordan (averaged 36 a game between 86-88).  When Jordan got his first MVP in ’88, he had led the Bulls to their first 50-win season in his career.  The previous year, he led the league with a walloping 37 per game, but they won only 40 games, so no MVP (went to Magic).  I’m going to apply that historical precedent here: unbelievable production without team success does not get my MVP vote.  I expect him to win it from the media, but I wouldn’t give him more than a 2nd place vote on my ballot.  Legendary scorers/showmen Elgin Baylor and Dominique Wilkins never got an MVP either, and their teams were playoff locks most years.  
This year’s MVP, in my mind, is Dirk Nowitzki.  60-win team, despite a supporting cast whose collective All-Star appearances total at 1 (the now washed up Stackhouse).  Quite simply, no one has done more with less.  Diggler has developed an intense edge in the two seasons apart from Nash and has stopped treating the game like one.  He’s the lone guy that fits my personal MVP criteria: leads a title contender, is one of the league’s top producers, and was consistent all season.  I suppose I should go back and see what my formula says about all this, but I don’t feel a need.  Kobe’s phenomenal scoring is blinding, but Dirk’s season perfectly fits the MVP mold.  Too bad he won’t even come close in the actual voting.


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