Tuesday, February 13, 2007

NBA Midseason Awards:
Wake Me For the Playoffs...

First of all, I want to congratulate TrueHoop's Henry Abbott on his huge move to ESPN.com. There could be no bigger NBA midseason news. He's the leading NBA blogger, and it's a fantastic move for ESPN to get him. I had the chance to finally meet him in person a few weeks ago, and he was as genuinely nice face-to-face as he is via email. I'll be curious to see the reactions and reverberations throughout the insular sports-blog world. (My question, of course: Which NBA blog out there fills the void as the leading "indie" voice?)

Next, I want to thank all the readers who contributed their own awards analysis in yesterday's preview post. (Click on the link, then scroll down through the comments, many of which are very astute.)

At midseason, here's what I've experienced so far: The NBA season – for all of its flare-ups and mini-dramas – is dragging. When the most intriguing debate is over which player should go No. 1 in the Draft, it's a slow year.

The NBA regular season has become – or perhaps always was – a non-factor. The Playoffs are everything, and it doesn't help that we already seem to know the contenders: Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio. Uncertainty? Excitement? Yes: In the conference semifinals.

(And the East is a joke: Everyone seems to be simply waiting around until the Playoffs start and the Heat turn it on -- it crystallizes this idea that the regular season is irrelevant.)

That's a big reason why these Midseason Awards are so important: They allow for fans to spotlight the handful of players and stories that have made the season slightly more than a mere prelude to the playoffs.

MVP: Gilbert Arenas. Let me ask you this: In the preseason, who had the Wizards in contention for best record in the East and Eddie Jordan coaching the East All-Stars? (Anyone? Anyone? Exactly.)

I'm also layering in off-court impact, and this season, no player has had more of that than Agent Zero. (And, yes, I am absolutely biased by the fact that he's the bloggers' favorite player.)

Rookie: Kevin Durant. Oh, wait. What a weak crop! As good as the draft in June will be, the negative consequence of artificially holding this year's freshmen back from the NBA is that this season's NBA rookies are totally uninspiring. Brandon Roy will get most of the votes. Andre Bargnani probably deserves it, as one Commenter pointed out, for being a contributor on a playoff team.

(Actually, if I could go completely unconventional with my pick, I'd take the group blog over at NBA Fanhouse, which has had the best debut of the NBA season.)

Coach: Isiah Thomas. You read that right. Has he led the Knicks to playoff contention? No, but no coach – not Mike D'Antoni, not Phil Jackson, not anyone – would have done that. Let's stick with the standard he had to beat: Larry Brown. And he has nearly done it... in nearly half the number of games.

Most Improved: David Lee. An afterthought of a draft pick (and on Larry Brown's bench), Lee has turned himself into one of the most high-energy, high-impact players in the league -- he has emerged as one of the NBA's top rebounders, particularly offensively. And, yet, he's still not starting. (PS: I appreciate the votes for Kevin Martin and Deron Williams.)

Biggest Breakthrough: Utah Jazz. The notably fast start could have been a mirage; instead, it has been sustained – and now Utah has a 7-plus-game lead over the Nuggets. (But they hold that brutal 3-seed in the West that goes through Phoenix in the conference semis.)

Biggest Disappointment: The Nets. They should be absolutely dominating that sorry Atlantic Division, but instead they are hobbled by injuries (Kristic, Jefferson), boggled by trade talk (Kidd, Carter) and undoubtedly on the way down, rather than the way up.

Top Storylines:
*Nash: Better than ever?
*Arenas: Bloggers' MVP
*Amaechi: "Man in the Middle"
*Nuggs: Melo's ban, AI trade
*Celtics, Grizz: Race to bottom
*Draft Debate: Oden or Durant?
*LeBron: Plateauing/Unhappy?

Feel free to weigh in. (Don't forget to check out yesterday's Comments.)

-- D.S.


The Poobah said...

Dan, totally disagree with MVP and Coach...

Arenas? Are the Wizards THAT much better than last year? They were 26-23 at this point last year, and are 28-21 now. Is it that surprising? They are near the top of the East because the East sucks. And you can't take into account his off-field stuff. Means absolutely nothing. I really think Nash is the MVP. He makes that team what it is. He's won it twice (and probably shouldn't have), but to me, he deserves it this year.

Coach - Isiah? Really? Isiah? If Larry Brown was SO terrible last year (and he was), why should we celebrate the fact that Isiah has more wins than him? He's doing a little better than 2005-06, and what may have been the worst coaching year in the history of sports. Why should we award mediocrity? Oh wait, it's because you hate Larry Brown. I forgot that. So do I, but come on Dan.

CMFost said...

To me being a fan of the Celtics I am greatly disappointed in them as a team with or without Paul Pierce in the line up they should not be as bad as they are.

Unknown said...

Jazz getting "brutal 3-seed in the West that goes through Phoenix in the conference semis?" Meh, PHX vs UT is 0-3. The Jazz have them right where they want them!

pv845 said...

I would agree with the Isiah post. He has a few more in wins in what I think is an even more pitiful Leastern Conference. I don't know that he is doing that much better as much as he is playing much more inferior competition.

Big D said...

Dan, I agree that LeBron may be plateauing in the first stage of his career.

Consider this:
1)He was the most hyped player, maybe ever, in the NBA.

2)Everything in the game has come easy to him, and he's never experienced losing (hard to believe, coming from Cleveland).

3)Playing for his hometown, he never had to prove anything to the fans. They already knew what he could do as an individual - the only challenge would be if he could take an inferior team and make it that much better.

Of course he's plateauing - he's got nothing left to prove on an individual level, and if the team fails, he has the "easy out" of blaming the stark lack of support, with the added bonus that the hometown fans will never blame him.

LeBron needs one of three things:

1) A change of scenery (sorry, but it needs to be said. Would he kick into another gear if he was traded? I vote yes.

2) A legitimate second banana. None of this Larry Hughes/Big Z bullshit. Get him a #2 (a Pippen to his Jordan, a Kobe/Wade to his Shaq, a Jamison to his Arenas...) and let's see what he can really do.

3) A full fledged gauntlet being thrown down by someone else. D-Wade winning a title first was probably the best thing that could have happened to the Cavs, or at least ot LeBron. Now he has something to shoot for - a player drafted well after him already has a title. And playing in the same conference, no less.

pv845 said...

Another thing that I forgot about is how I wonder if at this time next year whether we will all be talking about the depth of the draft class. If this class is so poor because of the lack of HS, then next year should be VERY deep. Or so people are saying.

kash said...

Can a team be a big disappointment if it's injuries that derail them?
If you were told that 2/5 of any teams starters would be injured, I'm sure everyone's expectations would've been different.

Bust - Miami, world champs under .500

Mega said...

Most underachieving team?

Chicago Bulls. Nuff said!

BLUE said...

Gilbert Arenas is cool, he's funny, he's the hip guy in the league, but he's not the MVP. He's not the MVP of his own team. Caron Butler is carrying that team with his all-round game.

Isiah Thomas for coach of the year? Let me introduce you to Jerry Sloan. I know he coaches out in the mountains which is foreign to you east coasters, but he's taken a team and put them in contention. So what if they're in the 3 spot, would you rather be in the 4 spot and have to go to Dallas in the 2nd round? That makes no sense.

Maybe the reason that you consider the NBA a niche sport is because you're stuck in your niche of the world. I can understand why you would think that when you don't see past the headlines.

Kevin said...

Stop the Isiah for Coach of the Year talk...sure, probably nobody would lead the Knicks to a playoff spot, but nobody would have been nearly as bad as Larry Brown last year (including Brown himself)...give it to someone who actually deserves it...

Riggs said...

Dan - no offense - I love your blog, read it daily - have read it since the quickie days. But for you to say the "Bloggers MVP" is Arenas is, in my opinion, kind of dumb of you to say. Earlier in your post you mention that the NBA fanhouse is the premier blog for NBA, and as recently as this morning they posted Steve Nash and Nowitski as 1,2 in the MVP race. Arenas was at number 5 and falling. I agree - he has caused some excitement, but like Stacker says, the east is brutal this year. And also considering the recent slide by the Suns without Nash, how can you not say Nash is your MVP, handsdown! Sorry Dan - maybe he's your MVP, but "Bloggers MVP" - well - you'll have to show me more evidence... I'm not sold on that one quite yet.

Alan said...

UH, NO. The most underachieving team clearly appears to be the Nets... what a joke of a record with all that talent! I like Dan's pick of Agent Zero, even with his recent 'mini-slump'. Carlos Boozer (before injury), Steve Nash & Dirk Nowitski also warrant serious consideration. Jerry Sloan should also be mentioned for COY, along with Eddie Jordan and, suprisingly enough, Phil Jackson.

John Jaeger said...

No mention of Mavs? Championship collapse could have killed lesser teams and after starting 0-4 for the year they have only lost 5 games since then.

JunkCult said...

So what you're saying is Isiah Thomas is the coach of the year because even though he stinks, the previous coach stunk worse?

Sweeeeet standards! I wanna work for YOU!

Anonymous said...

Nash is the MVP, and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz............

Sorry, I'm awake. Is it the 3rd round of the playoffs yet? No?


Unknown said...

This may be blatant homerism, but why isn't Sam Mitchell getting any talk as Coach of the Year?

He's absorbed considerable roster turnover and his no-nonsense (can we still fault him for his apparent dust-up with Vince Carter?) approach seems to have hastened the development of the team's younger players. Jose Calderon, for instance, has been a revelation of late.

I had originally hope that the Raptors would chase the Durant/Oden ping-pong balls but, given a soft schedule, 45+ wins isn't out of the question.

Big D said...

How about Tyson Chandler as Comeback Player of the Year / Most Improved Player? He's #3 in the league in rebounding, behind a couple of guys you may have heard of... Kevin Garnett & Dwight Howard...

Patriots64 said...

MVP - Nash though Kobe is closing
ROY - Andre Bargnani
Coach Sam Mitchell
Most underachieving team - Nets