NBA Awards Odds 2012-13: Passing Out the Hardware Way Too Soon
For a moment, forget everything your eighth-grade hoops coach taught you.
Basketball is not always a team game. It’s not always about running the play. It’s only sometimes about team defense, so long as you look good (Carmelo Anthony).
In the NBA, it’s about the individual. It’s about the 30-point game, the step-back three-pointer and the incredible swat that sent some rookie to the bench with his head down.
It’s about the individual’s ability to excel above all others and lead his team to the win.
So in this moment of looking beyond the basics of the game, let’s also skip the remaining 90 percent or so of the season and pop the champagne early on individual success.
Here’s a way-too-soon look at who will win NBA season awards this season, taking into account what we’ve seen thus far and what we can predict.
Note: All statistics and records are updated prior to games played on Nov. 21
Coach of the Year: Mike D'Antoni
Mike Brown may not have been the reason the Lakers started 1-4. And Mike D’Antoni probably won’t be the reason the Lakers will likely finish with one of the league’s best records.
But he'll certainly be recognized as if he were.
When Brown couldn’t find immediate success with a stacked Lakers lineup, a society of keyboard muggers went on the assault. The nation of hyper-critics grew offensive, pointing fingers and laughing at the “disgrace” in Los Angeles—even if only after just five games.
Now, D’Antoni has just entered as the probable hero.
The seemingly distraught Lakers are, in reality, perhaps an easy fix. It’s a dream roster of superstars for the veteran coach who will have every opportunity to look like a genius.
And sometimes, apparent genius is valued just as much or more than actual genius.
Most Improved Player: O.J. Mayo
The expectations have been high for O.J. Mayo since high school.
Now, at 25 years old, Mayo, while not yet the perennial All-Star some anticipated, is surpassing a new set of expectations.
In his new uniform, Mayo is averaging a career-high 21.8 points per game through 12 games, filling in as the leading scorer for the Dallas Mavericks until Dirk Nowitzki returns.
Not settling for jump shots, Mayo is utilizing his quickness and attacking the lane, shooting 49.4 percent.
Mayo’s assists numbers (3.0 per game) are still hovering around his career average, and that’s an area he can improve upon. It’s also unlikely that Mayo will continue his absurd three-point shooting marks of 3.3 made per game at 58.2 percent.
But he's playing inspired and, for now, is the front-runner to be named the league’s Most Improved Player.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is part of a nucleus in Portland that could make the Trail Blazers a future contender.
Alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, Lillard is exhibiting a quick release on a consistently lethal shot.
Lillard remains the hot hand and is leading all rookies in scoring at 19.0 points per game. His 2.4 three-pointers per game is also the most of all first-year players.
Defensively, Lillard still needs to learn to stay in front of the ball, but he shows a gift of lateral quickness, and there’s no lack of effort.
As for Lillard’s turnovers, that’s another work in progress. Rookies who have the ball in their hands as much as he does are generally going to struggle in this area.
It’s not just rookies; Kyrie Irving, Rajon Rondo, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and Deron Williams all average more turnovers.
Lillard has the tools to be an effective perimeter threat for years to come.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler
Blocks are the highlight play for a defensive player.
But it's like the NFL, where if you don't see a cornerback involved in the action, he's doing his job. In the NBA, if a center isn't blocking a lot of shots, it's sometimes because not many shots are being taken when he's around.
So although Tyson Chandler is averaging a career-low 0.6 blocks per game, it's a misleading number. He’s the captain of a New York Knicks defense that’s allowing just 88.9 points per game.
Chandler is looking like Ray Lewis on a basketball court, rotating with intensity and barking orders to his teammates. He is the anchor, aided by the veteran defensive presence of Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace. Even Carmelo Anthony is playing defense now.
With the Knicks winning, it’s easy for Chandler to get his teammates to buy into things. For this reason, Chandler is on his way to a second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford
The Clippers are one of the deeper teams in the league, led by the scoring abilities of veteran guard Jamal Crawford, an early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year.
The 32-year-old is leading the league in scoring off the bench with 19.7 points per game on 49.6 percent shooting. Crawford’s 33.6 points per 48 minutes ranks second in the NBA.
Crawford is the perfect bench player for the Clippers because his role is simple: score the basketball. He doesn’t have to distribute or run an offense so long as he can shoot at a high percentage and give the Clippers a punch when needed.
While Willie Green continues to start at shooting guard for Los Angeles, it's Crawford who gets the minutes. He’ll continue to earn those minutes, especially as Chauncey Billups battles health issues.
Crawford won the award in 2009-10 with an average of 20.7 points per game for the Atlanta Hawks.
Most Valuable Player: Carmelo Anthony
I wrote in mid-October that Carmelo Anthony's best chance to deliver on Big Apple expectations was to be more like Dirk Nowitzki.
To play like Nowitizki did in the Dallas Mavericks' 2011 championship season means that Anthony needs to play with more intensity, play bigger inside and rebound, and understand the greater role of defense.
So far, so good.
Anthony is delivering more than ever in a New York Knicks uniform and is outplaying the entire league, earning early notice as a potential Most Valuable Player. As a result, the Knicks' 8-1 record is the best in the NBA.
For once, it's more than just his scoring. Aside from Anthony's 24.2 points per game, the superstar is averaging a career-high 7.4 rebounds and is, you are reading this right, playing inspired defense.
Maybe it's the direction of Knicks coach Mike Woodson, or maybe Anthony just doesn't want to be the only New York defender not responding to the barking of Tyson Chandler. Either way, it's a different Anthony on defense.
Now, he is still taking more shot attempts per 48 minutes than any other player in the game, and his shooting percentage is mediocre relative to his career. But he has a fresh approach to his overall game.
The great Marc Spears quoted Spike Lee (who better?) regarding the improved play of Anthony. Lee had this to say:
Carmelo is just playing a complete game. Now for whatever reason that is, I don't want to get into it. I don't know. But there is a distinct difference in what he is doing now and when he first put on a Knick uniform.
Anthony, quoted in the same article, said he always had the ability to play defense, but he never decided to just go out and do it, and now he has a coach and system that stays on him about it.
So far, Anthony has played like Nowitzki did in 2011 plus defense, and it's paying off with winning results.
LeBron James may always be the league's default MVP, but Anthony is challenging right now.
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