The Latest 2012-13 NBA Awards Odds: Predicting a Winner in Each Category
The NBA is the land of superlatives, and everyone is tagged with a status.
It’s not enough to simply be good at your job or successful as a team; a player is labeled either the best or the worst, otherwise they’re simply irrelevant.
It’s a league indifferent to the intermediate and even the greatest of the greatest are ranked. So it’s no surprise that season-ending awards are central to the exhausted, formal breakdown of placing status.
After two weeks of basketball, we have even more insight into the front-runners for each major NBA award.
Coach of the Year: Mike D'Antoni
Phil Jackson never won a Coach of the Year award with the Los Angeles Lakers; the regular season was outwardly a gift for the veteran coach, and the only award that mattered was a championship trophy.
But suddenly, the Lakers are in need of a hero and the man who can fix it will receive all the accolades.
Mike D’Antoni has inherited a Lakers team in dramatized disarray. The pressure is thick and critics are ready to malign the veteran coach with “Phil wouldn’t have done that” remarks.
But the truth is that D’Antoni has received a gift. And if things go as well as they should, he will be labeled the savior of Lakers Land - as artificial of a repair job as it may be.
First, the media will love him. They’ll oversimplify the pick-and-roll and assume it will instantaneously work to perfection when it’s run 70 times per game.
But when the team goes 8-6 in December, including a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, the first Los Angeles freak-out will commence.
Kobe Bryant will be furious, reportedly of course. Steve Nash will take the blame. Shaquille O’Neal will point back to the team’s mistake of not getting Jackson.
Then, reality will set in.
D’Antoni’s offense will truly begin to click after the New Year and the Super Lakers will start to roll.
Bryant will flash that creepy grin as if he never said a bad thing about his coach, Nash will decline the credit, and O’Neal will say Jackson would have been undefeated.
In the meantime, D’Antoni will have “turned around” a Lakers team that, in reality, had only lost four games with Mike Brown before being written off.
D’Antoni will be the hero, earning Coach of the Year honors.
Runner-up: Mike Woodson, New York Knicks
Most Improved Player: O.J. Mayo
It’s the same ball. The same baskets. The same defenses.
But O.J. Mayo is exhibiting what a new uniform can do. Since coming to the Dallas Mavericks, Mayo’s scoring numbers are up. The fifth-year guard is putting up career numbers, averaging 21.4 points per game early on.
Mayo's role is obviously more featured in Dallas until Dirk Nowitzki returns, but the 25-year-old isn't just dominating the ball. He has been more efficient. He's shooting 47.5 percent from the field and an early, inflated 60 percent mark from three-point range.
Mayo will need to continue to expand his role with the Mavericks to make his teammates better, especially after the return of their superstar, but he's off to an impressive start.
He is playing inspired and he’s in an ideal situation for success. Mayo is an early favorite to be named Most Improved Player.
Runner-up: Glenn Davis, Orlando Magic
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard
As the Bay Area kids say: Damian Lillard has swag.
The No. 6 overall pick and native of Oakland is stuffing crow between the keys of this writer's laptop.
I underestimated the purity of Lillard’s shot and his ability to release so quickly off the dribble. The rookie is averaging 18.4 points and 6.6 assists per game for the Portland Trail Blazers.
He shows a willingness to shift and dash on defense, though he needs to work on keeping the ball in front of him.
Overall though, Lillard is exhibiting very early signs of a legitimate scoring star in the NBA. With much more that can be added to his game, his ceiling is lofty.
A comparison to Derrick Rose may seem lofty in itself, but the Weber State product is in line to follow in Rookie of the Year honors.
Runner-up(s): Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis
Defensive Player of the Year: Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka has the tools of a great defender. It’s because of those tools that he finished second in voting last season as the league’s most valuable defender.
But he isn’t there. Yet.
Ibaka just turned 23 years old last month, and he has much to learn about being a good defender. He’ll greater understand defensive spacing and containment and the proper methods of effective help defense and rotation.
But what he lacks in fundamentals, he makes up for in presence. Ibaka blocked 241 shots in last year's 66-game season. That's a pace of nearly 300 if projected out for a full season. Absurd.
With experience comes growth and Ibaka, paired with that abundance of natural talent, will continue to develop as a defender. This 2012-13 season will be Ibaka’s breakout defensive season, and he will take honors as Defensive Player of the Year.
Runner-up: Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford is the ideal sixth man, and his current role with the deep and talented Los Angeles Clippers makes him an ideal candidate to win Sixth Man honors.
Crawford, who won the award with the Atlanta Hawks in 2009-10, is averaging 20.7 points per game off the bench in 28.9 minutes per game.
He's the perfect answer for quick scoring when needed and he's shooting 50 percent early on.
While Willie Green starts at shooting guard for the Clippers, it is Crawford who gets the majority share of minutes. If Chauncey Billups doesn't regain his health, it will continue to be Crawford's load to carry.
Runner-up: Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James
For the fourth time in fives years, LeBron James will be the most imperative to his team’s success and will be named the league’s Most Valuable Player.
No standing on an unsteady limb here. It's the obvious choice, and the only accurate choice.
Early on this season, there are no top five statistical leaders who share multiple categories. For instance, none of the top-five scorers are in the top five in assists, none of the top-five rebounders are in the top five in field-goal percentage, and so on.
There is no Triple Crown winner this year, no Miguel Cabrera of hoops.
So naturally, we look at the biggest impact players being the ones who create the most shot opportunities and score at the highest rates—furthered by layers of defense, rebounding, or an ability to strengthen team cohesion.
In other words, scoring is the most important thing and they should probably be able to do some other things too.
James is a top five scorer, a top 10 rebounder, and will eventually fall in again this season as a top 15 assists leader. He takes his defense just as seriously, and he is one of the league's premier defenders.
There is absolutely no evidence to support that he will slow down this season. James is continuing to get better. As the best player in this league, there is no way to substantiate picking against him as the MVP again this season.
Runner-up: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Follow Jimmy Spencer on Twitter at @jimmypspencer