Now that the first half of the NBA season has been logged in the books, and All-Star weekend has concluded, the league's prestigious awards start to loom larger on many people's minds.
Celtics fans mainly consider who deserves their team's honors, while others prefer to focus only on the national scale.
The following slides detail who deserve the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player and Rookie of the Year honors for both the Boston Celtics' 2012-13 team and the overall league.
Paul Pierce continues to lead an injury-plagued Celtics squad.
Boston's MVP honors might have been a bit more difficult to hand out before Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL. But ever since, Paul Pierce has been the clear choice as the top performer and most valuable player of the Celtics.
Pierce has remained Boston's top scorer, but he has also facilitated on the offensive end, averaging the most assists (7.2 per game) since Rondo went down. He has also improved his rebound rate, collecting 9.4 boards each contest (he averaged 4.4 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game with Rondo on board).
Bottom line, the Captain has stepped up. And he has proved that the heart of the team still beats through him. He has made plays, created on the offensive side, played great defense, boxed out under the boards and hit clutch shots. He stays as fiery and competitive as ever, and continues to make his team better. He is the best of the current generation of Celtics.
As far as the NBA is concerned, however, nobody can argue that the best player suits up for the Miami Heat. LeBron James has absolutely lit up opponents this season, especially over Miami's current seven-game winning streak, in which James has logged 30 points each night. He has also maintained a staggering field goal rate over 60 percent in all but one of those contests.
The most mind-boggling part of LeBron's banner year involves his continued priority to play team basketball. He looks to pass first, choosing to drive or shoot only when teammates find no openings or when James finds himself in single coverage. And nobody in the league can guard him.
Arguably at the peak of his career, James possesses seemingly-inhuman strength, speed, quickness and passing efficiency. His jump shot has been accurate and his defense continues to impress. The only ways LeBron will lose the MVP race are if he goes down with an injury or if the NBA feels bad for Kevin Durant.
Garnett maintains defensive dominance, even at the age of 36.
Like Pierce, Kevin Garnett has increased his production since the absence of Rondo and rookie big man Jared Sullinger. He serves as the catalyst of Boston's defense, anchoring the low post.
In the Celtics' current 8-1 run since Rondo's injury, Garnett has averaged 17 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per contest. But his best defensive contributions often do not make the box score.
Garnett alters shots outside the key, on the perimeter and down low. He slides over on help defense, makes key steals and clears defensive rebounds. He fires up his teammates and never ceases to amaze with his will to win. The former MVP and Defensive Player of the Year started in Houston Sunday for his 15th and possibly final All-Star Game.
Across the league, nobody deserves the midseason Defensive Player of the Year more than Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls. He has been an absolute beast for one of the better defensive teams in the East.
Noah averages 11.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, two blocks and 1.3 steals per game. He really does it all for the Bulls, including crisp passing with four assists a game. He provides the Bulls with a plus-ten point differential when he's on the floor, and continually harasses opponents with his foot speed, natural instincts, length and athleticism.
Oklahoma City Thunder center Serge Ibaka and the New York Knicks' Tyson Chandler are once again having great defensive years, as are Milwaukee Bucks rising star Larry Sanders and the aforementioned King James. However, Noah stands alone with his complete statistical package and on-court impact.
Jason "Jet" Terry relishes his scoring opportunities off the Celtics' bench.
Jason Terry has been underwhelming in many ways this season, mostly due to his inability to get the second string offense going while he runs the floor. But his offensive explosion the past few weeks has been undeniable. The Celtics would not be in playoff contention without Terry's clutch offense, including some huge three-pointers.
While Rondo's absence leaves a serious gap in play-making potential, Terry's style of play has thrived since the starting point guard's injury. The 2008-09 Sixth Man of the Year has shown once again that he can score with the best of them, accepting his role in an offense that has been seriously hurt.
Terry's numbers have ballooned since Rondo's injury. He has collected 13 points and 3.5 assists a game, but more importantly he has stepped up in the clutch.
The Celtics grabbed Terry for his veteran experience, with which he has not disappointed. If he can play better team basketball from here on out, moving the basketball to create opportunities for teammates, he might once again end up in the running for NBA Sixth Man honors.
But at this point, New York Knicks small forward J.R. Smith seems to have that award locked up. Averaging a career-best 16.2 points and five rebounds, and tying his best assist total of 2.8 per game, Smith has absolutely blossomed as part of the Knicks' stellar offensive scheme.
Smith may not be the prototypical sixth man, considering he averages 33 minutes per game, but he still comes off the bench and gives his team exactly what it needs. He's also shooting his best free throw percentage since 2006, which only helps as a weapon on the drive.
Any team in the NBA would love to have a J.R. Smith as a reserve. He serves as the best player on the best bench in the Eastern Conference.
Jeff Green might be the future of the Celtics.
Jeff Green has finally blossomed into the player that Danny Ainge expected. The numbers may not all be there on the whole as of yet, but nobody can deny the impact Green has had on both ends of the floor for Boston, especially since Rondo's absence.
Green has stepped up when the veterans of the squad have appeared exhausted, hitting clutch shots and slashing to the hoop when the C's need it the most. He has also come through with huge defensive plays against the likes of top-notch opposing players, proving once and for all that the Kendrick Perkins trade that brought him to Boston was well worth the sacrifice.
Green's 34 percent mark from three-point range is the second-highest of his career, as is his 0.7 blocks per game average. He has also stayed away from foul trouble, logging 1.7 fouls per contest in nearly 25 minutes a game.
His impact has outshone his statistics, however, as he has stepped up in crucial moments like the tough overtime contests against the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets. Green clearly has a great future in a Celtics uniform.
Another young standout with a promising NBA future is Greivis Vasquez, the third-year 6'6” point guard for the New Orleans Hornets. Vasquez leads the league in assists with 499, averaging 9.4 per game (good for third in the league). He also logs 13.9 points per game, five points better than last year, with a dependable 36 percent from three-point land.
Adding to his impressive campaign, Vasquez has grabbed 4.6 boards per game, a superb rebound ratio for a young point guard. He's recorded 20 double-doubles, tied with his predecessor, the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, for tops in the league among point guards.
While Vasquez will never be as effective a player as Paul, he lightens the sting the Hornets felt when they lost the perennial All-Star. And as New Orleans prepares its transformation to the Pelicans this summer, they will likely do so with a newly-crowned Most Improved Player of the Year.
Sullinger's presence down low was essential for the Celtics in the first half of the season.
Despite having his season cut short by unavoidable back surgery, Jared Sullinger undoubtedly deserves to be called the Celtics' Rookie of the Year. Serving his purpose down low, Sullinger was averaging a shade under six rebounds in just about 20 minutes per game. He added six points per game on 49 percent shooting.
He also registered half a block and half a steal a game, and shot 75 percent from the free-throw stripe. He logged an impressive four double-doubles, all the while carving a place for his number seven in the hearts of Boston fans for years to come.
Sullinger may not be the greatest defensive power forward in the game, but his wide 6'9”, 260-pound frame makes for a solid presence where the C's need it the most.
On the national level, Portland Trailblazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard stands out as the best in his class. The unequivocal leader of the young Blazers, Lillard currently averages 18.3 points, 6.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and one steal per game.
Lillard maintains decent accuracy from distance, shooting 35 percent from three-point land. But his dribble penetration has wreaked the most havoc on opponents, creating opportunities and getting him to the free-throw stripe, where he shoots a staggering 85 percent.
Portland only stands to benefit from building around the 22-year-old Lillard, who adds athleticism to a basketball mind that appears wise beyond its years. This point guard has many future All-Star weekends to look forward to, and possibly even a few MVP races as well.