The only emphasis voters can place on James’ soon-to-be fourth MVP award is to just go ahead and name the honor after him.
But it's time to spread the love.
With so much attention given to the favorite, and as an effort to drift toward some other NBA talents, this awards edition is going to spotlight the players next in line for each season-ending honor.
For now, we’ll place the likely-winner on the trophy shelf and discuss other NBA stars worthy of recognition.
Sometimes it's easy to slip past the obvious.
While both Golden Warriors coach Mark Jackson and New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson might be favorites to earn Coach of the Year honors for turning around their respective franchises, it’s Gregg Popovich who continues to move the needle for the San Antonio Spurs.
Sometimes it hurts a candidate’s chances if he won the previous year, but Popovich again owns the best record in the NBA and is still getting it done even now without superstar point guard Tony Parker.
His system in San Antonio is like a Texas-sized juicer, squeezing out the nutrients of the varying names that rotate through.
The winning product doesn’t change.
The pieces include Danny Green, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, Patty Mills and other parts that you wouldn't associate with the game's best record.
Frank Vogel also deserves credit for swinging the Indiana Pacers upwards in the east despite Danny Granger’s significant injury. Vogel is utilizing lesser-known talent in a way similar to Popovich.
My Twitter followers say:
@jimmyspencernba it's tough, but doesn't Kevin McHale deserve some love?— Zach Mentz (@ZachMentz) March 8, 2013
@jimmyspencernba Spoelstra. The Heat look hungry and ready to repeat. That is always a difficult task after you have won it all.— DC(@dc_rise3fire) March 8, 2013
To be a great defensive player, a guy has to be a tad obnoxious.
Joakim Noah channels Dennis Rodman with added effort in the little-things department.
The Chicago Bulls center has become one of the game's best big men and he’s a favorite to be named Defensive Player of the Year. He's averaging 11.4 rebounds, 2.28 blocks and 1.28 steals per game.
Last year’s award-winner, New York Knicks center Tyson Chander, and runner-up Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder are both known names for their defense, but the big man whose name is becoming increasingly popular is Larry Sanders, the interior sheriff for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The 6’11” third-year center is averaging 3.1 blocks in just 26.4 minutes per game. He’s showing similar signs to what Chandler flashed during his days in Chicago.
At least that’s what Bucks coach Jim Boylan told Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:
Come to the basket and Larry is there. That's what he's done for us all year. He makes those plays. In my NBA experience, I look at Larry and I see a bit of Tyson Chandler. When I was in Chicago, Tyson was very similar, able to make a big play at the end of the game, a big block or a big tip-in. Larry has a lot of the same qualities.
My Twitter followers say (sarcastically in some cases):
March 8, 2013
@jimmyspencernba Joakim Noah. Defense is about intangibles and feel. He can defend any position, and he’s always aggressive.— Mr. Awesome (@meester_awesome) March 8, 2013
The Most Improved Player honor doesn't have to include being worthless the year prior.
James Harden, in just seven minutes more per game with the Houston Rockets, has an increased role with 10 more points per game (26.3), and he is up to 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds.
He is the most improved player in the league.
But Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is next in line. The biggest All-Star snub is averaging more points (22.1) and assists (6.7) than any point of his four-year career.
More than anything, he's part of a winning Golden State Warriors team and he's come back from an ankle injury that limited him to just 26 games last season.
Curry's dramatic scene came at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27 when he scored 54 points against the New York Knicks. That performance was part of a five-game stretch from Feb. 26 to March 4 in which Curry averaged 34.6 points per game.
Another young guard beginning to pop is Greivis Vasquez, who just two years ago averaged 12.3 minutes and 3.6 points per game as a rookie with the Memphis Grizzlies. This season he is up to 13.9 points and 9.4 assists per game as a starter for the New Orleans Hornets.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka has filled in as the third most valuable player behind the superstar tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. His scoring is up 13.6 points per game on 56.5 percent shooting.
At just 23 years old, the 6'10" power forward is up to an average of 7.8 rebounds per game, though his blocks have dropped from last season's average of 3.7 to 2.9 this season.
Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic has come on strong in his second year, as he averages a double-double at 12.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
My Twitter followers say:
@jimmyspencernba J.J. Hickson. It's like his half season with the Kings never happened.— Graham Womack (@grahamdude) March 8, 2013
@jimmyspencernba Earl Clark. In a Lakers season that has been sloppy and inefficient, he is a bright point for the future of the club.— Anthony Mitchell (@goldenstatenz) March 8, 2013
It's funny how quickly J.R. Smith stole the Sixth Man of the Year award from Jamal Crawford and Jarrett Jack.
Smith is averaging a career-high 16.1 points per game with the New York Knicks in his ninth season in the league, though the 27-year-old is shooting below 40 percent for the first time since 2005-06 with the New Orleans Hornets.
Jack has been the heart of the Golden State Warriors’ sudden jump into the Western Conference's postseason mix and Crawford continues to score in spurts for the Los Angeles Clippers (17.2 points per game) and provide highlights like this.
But the sixth man who’s earning more credit this season for simply doing what he’s done his whole career is Oklahoma City Thunder shooter Kevin Martin.
Martin is one of the league's finest pure scorers and he's assuming the role well for the Thunder. The nine-year pro's scoring has declined to 14.7 points per game since taking on a bench role in Oklahoma City, but his 42.7 three-point percentage is the highest of his career and he's hitting 44.6 percent from the field.
Martin doesn't need the ball in his hands during his 28.7 minutes per game, as he flows well within the offense and rarely turns the ball over (1.4 per game).
My Twitter followers say:
@jimmyspencernba not only has Gordon Hayward given Utah one of its biggest scoring threats, but he's also an underrated defender.— Tucan Sam (@SighMan_Says) March 8, 2013
@jimmyspencernba Kevin Martin? Martin-Durant are a most-efficient offensive duo when on the floor together.— Bobby G (@bobbyg27) March 8, 2013
Damian Lillard locked up Rookie of the Year in the first week of the season.
The Weber State product is already a game-changer in his first year with the Portland Trail Blazers; he’s shifty and streaky, tallying 18.6 points and 6.4 assists per game.
Lillard is still heating up, shooting 45.8 percent for his 20.7 points per game since the All-Star break. His quick-release three-pointer has dipped from November’s 40.4 percent to 35 percent for the season, but the deep shot will be a staple of his career game.
But it's runner-up Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets who deserves accolades despite injuries that stole a chunk of his rookie year.
The No. 1 overall pick missed 13 games in November and an additional pair recently, but when he does play, he's shooting 50.8 percent and scoring 12.6 points per game.
Those numbers aren’t easily earned by young big men. Davis has had immediate success as an interior defender, averaging 1.8 blocks per game, a sure-fire element of his game that acts as insurance as a top pick.
Fellow rookie center Andre Drummond, who has missed time with a back issue, may not receive credit until he finds health and increased minutes with the Detroit Pistons.
The 6’10”, 270-pound center is ranked just 11th of all rookies in scoring, but those numbers would increase if he's given more minutes and more opportunity. He’s shooting 59.2 percent (3.2-for-5.4 per game) in 19.7 minutes per game.
Drummond's 4.1 per-48 minute blocks average is also higher than any active rookie, according to NBA.com’s advanced stats.
My Twitter followers say:
@jimmyspencernba I do like how Waiters has played lately. He won't win it, but he's beginning to prove why he was the No. 4 pick— Zach Mentz (@ZachMentz) March 8, 2013
LeBron James is not only making his case as the league’s most valuable player, he may be earning a place as the greatest talent of this decade.
One of the finest players of all time is hitting his peak this season as a defending champion and his fourth MVP award seems inevitable.
James is shooting a career-high 56.2 percent from the field and a career-best 40 percent from three-point range for the Miami Heat. He continues to defend at an elite level and his rebounds are at a career-high 8.1 per game.
James is truly king.
But who else is deserving if it weren't for James?
Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant is the obvious second choice, and the Finals runner-up is currently the league’s top scorer at 28.6 points per game. Still, his dramatic scoring can’t keep pace with James’s all-around dominance and it might not be more valuable than what the league's best point guard offers.
Chris Paul is the overshadowed MVP this season.
Before Paul arrived, the Los Angeles Clippers were simply—well—the Clippers.
Paul has transformed the once lowly franchised into one of the league’s top contenders.
Paul's player efficiency rating of 26.06 is third in the league, behind just James and Durant. Paul is second in the league in assists (9.5) and first in steals.
As a floor leader of a highlight factory, Paul still takes care of the ball with a league-best steals per turnover rate of 4.45.
Essentially, Paul is superior at every aspect of his position, and because of that he is somewhat of a throwback to historic point-guard play.
James and Durant are the obvious MVP favorites, but Paul deserves mention.
Kobe Bryant can sneak into this conversation as soon as his Los Angeles Lakers sneak past the Utah Jazz, and Tony Parker also makes a case as leader of the league-best San Antonio Spurs.
My Twitter followers say:
@jimmyspencernba Chris Paul. The Clips were mediorce at best without him on the court. No one else can run that offense like Paul can.— Trey Adell (@TreyAdell) March 8, 2013
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