NBA Roundtable: Award Winners

Michael WhittenbergSenior Writer IApril 7, 2008

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This has been one of the craziest NBA seasons in recent memory.

The race for the top spot in the Western Conference has been unreal, and one 50 win team will be left out of the playoffs.

Also, the race for the league's Most Valuable Player has been one to remember.

For the die-hard NBA fans, the debate for the league's MVP has been done time and time again this season.

But this time, not only will be debate the MVP—but the Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year.

Plus, we will reveal our most surprising and most disappointing teams this season.

My usual favorites—Erick Blasco, Andrew Ungvari, Dave Metrick and Dave Finnochio took part in this discussion.

Now, onto the awards:

Most Valuable Player

Michael Whittenberg

Before I reveal my pick for MVP, I want to reveal my five finalists in no particular order.

Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and LeBron James were my five finalists.

We all know the race will probably go down to Paul and Bryant—which is why I chose Kobe Bryant for this year's most valuable player.

This was a tough decision—Bryant gets it simply because I think he is a better leader than CP3.

Not to say that Paul isn't a leader—but Bryant has impressed me how far he has come as a leader.

It was just six or seven years ago when people thought of him an arrogant ball hog—who just cared about scoring.

Don't believe me? Just find some old interview footage of Shaquille O'Neal. 

Chris Paul's numbers (21.5 PPG and 11.5 APG) are more than impressive to because no point guard has averaged at least 20 and 10 since, well let's say it's been a while.

Kobe is "arguably" the league's best player, and finally has the team record to back it up.

And now that the Lakers are over 50 wins for the first time since Shaq's departure, Bryant will finally have a realistic chance to win it this year. 


Erick Blasco

I must confess that I have no clue as what constitutes the Most Valuable Player in the NBA.

Is it the best player? The most important player to his team? The most spectacular player? The most complete player?

And how does someone define these traits?

That being said, I’ll give my definition a spin.

An MVP should be a dominant player that is the driving force of his team’s greatness.

An MVP should be able to enforce his skills against even the most skilled of opponents. 
An MVP shouldn’t just be a player who plays at a high level, but one who has his team play at a high level because of him. 
An MVP should only play for a team that has matched or exceeded expectations as MVP’s don’t disappoint. MVP’s should also only play on teams with exceptional records. 
MVP’s should be able to dominate weaker teams because of their presence, and should be able to beat elite teams because of their tremendously talented and clutch play in close games. 
Numbers should not matter in determining an MVP. Players are great on basketball courts, not stat sheets.

With that as criteria, my MVP goes to Paul Pierce.

Who cares if his numbers aren’t as spectacular as Kobe Bryant’s, or if he doesn’t appear on Sportscenter as often as Chris Paul has?

Pierce has elevated himself to becoming a go-to offensive force, and a defensive stopper as well.

Despite Kevin Garnett’s presence, it is Pierce who is the most dangerous in the Celtics offense because of his ability to drive and finish, drive and dish, elevate for jumpers, and make the correct pass.

With less scoring responsibility, Pierce has been able to play physical lock-down perimeter defense on any wing player he’s matched up with.

Plus, Pierce’s help defense has been one of the best in the league.

In two head-to-head match-ups with MVP-candidate Kobe Bryant, Pierce put up 20 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and four steals in his first match-up, and 33 points, three assists, eight rebounds, and three steals in his second.

This showed that Pierce was able to dominate a number of different ways: By taking charge with scoring, and also by being a facilitator. By controlling the boards, and by being a defensive presence.

Meanwhile, in those two games, MVP-candidate Kobe Bryant shot 15-46, less than 33%.

MVP’s don’t shoot 33% against the best competition. Kobe didn’t record a single steal, had only three assists in each game, and most importantly, lost both games by 13 and 19 points.

Pierce also excelled against Chris Paul’s Hornets, going off for a combined 27.5 points, with 20-22 from the free throw line, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

His individual defense held Peja Stojakovic to 7-27 shooting, and his help defense kept Paul from going completely bananas (20.5 PPG, 8.5 AST, 1.5 TO). The Celtics lost a close game in New Orleans 113-106, while the Celtics blew the Hornets off the court in Boston 112-92.

Let’s also not forget that Shane Battier locked up Kobe Bryant to 11-33 shooting during Houston’s 22-game winning streak, and his Rockets scored double digit wins over the Hornets twice over the same stretch.

The one player Battier wasn’t able to stop was Paul Pierce, as Pierce’s offense got the best of Battier’s defense during Boston’s streak-snapping blowout win over the Rockets.

With that evidence, Pierce takes the award for this season’s MVP.


Dave Metrick 

Winner: Kobe Bryant 

He’s the best player in the league on a Laker team that may still end up with the best record in the west. 

Plus, he’s sure to land the “he’s the best player and probably should’ve won this before” votes. 

All that being said, it would be hard to argue against Chris Paul if he wins it.


Andrew Ungvari 

Chris Paul.

That's the pick right now.

Back in February I mentioned that the best player on the team that finishes with the top-seed in the west deserved the MVP.

I'm hearing everybody else in the media saying the same thing these days. Looking at the Hornets remaining schedule, I think they'll finish first.

Paul has been fantastic this year. I picked him as my first-half MVP but never thought he'd keep up the same pace over the course of an entire season.

Not only did he do it but he did it against a much more difficult second-half schedule.

Do I think he'll win it? Absolutely not.

I'd be the house that Kobe gets it because the media feels it's his turn. Kobe's had an amazing season.

But if you look at the Laker's record without Bynum or Gasol in their lineup they're a .500 team.

For every impressive victory they've had at Dallas or at Utah without Gasol or Bynum, there's a home loss to Charlotte or Memphis to negate it.

Here's how I think the voting will go: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Amare Stoudemire.


Dave Finocchio

Chris Paul's assist to turnover ratio is 4.6. In Steve Nash's best year, his assist to turnover ratio was 3.5.

Paul is leading his team is scoring with 21.5 points per game, he leads the league in assists and steals (with 11.5 and 2.7, respectively) and his team is going to win the deepest conference in the history of the NBA.

Paul does whatever his team needs him to do in every given moment to give them the best chance to win each game. No one has been more valuable to his team this year.

He's the MVP, and it's not even close.


Coach of the Year

Whittenberg: Byron Scott gets my vote.

Yes, Doc Rivers' Celtics have had the biggest turnaround in NBA history, but I find New Orleans turnaround better considering they didn't add three All-Stars to the team.

I totally respect Rivers because it took some work to get his players to gel in his system.

The Hornets won 39 games last season, and have 54 as of today.

Not only that—but the Hornets are first place in one of the Western Conference's toughest divisions.

Chris Paul may get all the credit—but Scott has played a vital role as well.


Blasco: This award has to go to Doc Rivers.

He's instilled a completely unselfish mindset in all of his players, he's coached up all of Boston's kids, his game planning and in-game adjustments have been on-point, his Celtics are the best defensive team in the league, his Celtics are the most physical team in the league, and all of his players have played hard on ever single play this season.

No team is more prepared going in to the postseason than Rivers' Celtics.


Metrick: Byron Scott

His Hornets are on the verge of finishing first in a Western Conference that's stacked like a Russ Meyer movie. 

And he's putting this together with inexperienced youth and cast-offs.


Ungvari: Byron Scott

Scott has done a terrific job in New Orleans.

There are other coaches that I think who are as deserving but this year's award will go to Scott as the MVP voter's way of saying "Sorry we didn't give the MVP to your boy, Chris Paul. 

But here's some hardware for yourself to help you get over it.

He managed to avoid the late-season collapses of the previous two years.

Even though the Hornets had devastating injuries to blame for those, Scott managed to give the team an identity and make them popular in the Crescent City.

The team is selling tickets and is no longer the first-round pushover that other teams in the west may have anticipated.

The Coach of the Year award is probably the least important award.

If you don't believe me, then please tell me who won the award each of the last three years.


Finocchio: What Nate McMillan instilled in his young Trailblazers this season will pay dividends for years to come.

Even though they ran out of steam, to play at such a high level, with consistent discipline, against this Western Conference was incredible. He's my guy.

Honorable Mention: Reggie Theus, Stan van Gundy


Rookie of the Year

For the first time since 2000 when both Elton Brand and Steve Francis won it, I think both Kevin Durant and Al Horford should share co-honors this year.

I think Durant should win it simply because of his numbers he has put up on offense. (20.0 PPG)

He team is so bad, but he most likely will win the award because of the reason stated above.

Al Horford should win it because he is averaging close to a double-double, and his team is in playoff contention.


Blasco: Al Horford's tough rebounding has been a key factor in Atlanta's playoff chase.

Kevin Durant’s volume scoring hasn’t made an impact in the win column.


Metrick: Kevin Durant

His stats are certainly impressive. 

But when you consider he's putting up these numbers on a horrific team that has virtually no other offensive options, they're freakin' awesome.


Ungvari: Al Horford

If numbers don't lie, then you have to give the award to Horford.

He's shooting close to 50% and averaging close to 10 points, 10 boards and one block per game.

He's had 20 games this year where he's had at least 13 rebounds but more importantly, the Hawks have already won five more games than they won all of last year and appear headed to the playoffs.

Kevin Durant is averaging 20 points per game but he's doing it on 17 shots per game.

He's shooting less than 43 percent on the season and only about 28 percent from downtown.

I think Durant has really come one during these last few weeks but I think that Horford has been more impressive.  He looks like a seasoned veteran out there while Durant still looks like a rookie.

Luis Scola made a case during the Rockets' winning streak but that balloon popped over the team's last ten games.


Finocchio: As much as I appreciate Kevin Durant keeping my Warriors hopes alive last night, his season was hardly rookie of the year material.

He has this in common with every other rookie in the 2007-08 class.

I officially abstain, as there is no worthy recipient for this award.


Most Improved Player

Whittenberg: If it were possible to give it to a player twice, I would give it to Monta Ellis.

But since it's not, Rajon Rondo gets my vote.

Everyone is saying Hedo Turkoglu should win it, but it's really no shocker that his numbers have gone up this season.

He's averaged double figures since the 04-05 season, and last season was his first season starting every game he played.

The reasoning may not satisfy some, especially you Orlando and Hedo fans—but I'm sticking to it.

I like Rondo because his game has improved, despite having to play with three All-Stars.

To be be honest, I really didn't think Rondo was going to be a good player in the pros. 

And I definitely thought he wasn't ready for the NBA when he left Kentucky.

He proved me wrong, and he even has a chance to win an NBA title this season.

Rudy Gay would have got my vote, but he plays for one of the league's worst teams. 


Blasco: Hedo Turkoglu has always been a nice player, but his new-found athleticism and confidence has been stunning.

Hedo is asked to do everything for the Magic and rarely has he disappointed.


Metrick: Rudy Gay

I must admit, I haven’t seen a lot of Grizzlies games this season (has anyone?), but the numbers are solid. 

He's improved in just about every statistical category and his scoring has jumped from 11 points a game to 20. 


Ungvari: Rudy Gay

At first I was going to go with Dwight Howard or Al Jefferson but then I realized that both have shown enough promise over the last couple years that their improvement isn't all that surprising.

I'm giving it to Gay by a nose over his fellow sophomore, LaMarcus Aldridge. Both guys have had leap years in terms of improvement but Gay's is more surprising.

After watching him at UCONN and then in his rookie year in Memphis I never believed Gay's heart was in the game.

I thought that he was going to be a lot like Tim Thomas--all the physical tools but no passion for the game. Gay proved me wrong this year.

He also proved it to management because they felt confident enough in his ability to be a franchise player that they traded their star player for cap space.

There were stretches of games where he was able to take over.

Take last week's game against the Lakers.  Grizzlies' management would probably have preferred to lose the game but Gay scored 28 points, had 7 boards, 4 assists and 3 blocked shots in a Grizzlies' victory at Staples Center.

And like Durant, he’s not getting a lot of help.


Finocchio: Monta Ellis, again, in a landslide.

In terms of marginal improvement, there's just no way that anyone who got better than Ellis this season.

He's moved from "talented but wilts under pressure" to "All-Star gamer with unlimited upside." Not bad...

Honorable Mention: Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo


Defensive Player of the Year

Whittenberg: His team as a whole plays horrible defense, but Marcus Camby gets my vote for his individual effort.

Camby is averaging 3.7 blocks per game along with 10.3 defensive boards per game.


Blasco: Bruce Bowen appears to have slipped a notch this season, and the Denver Nuggets are too poor defensively for Marcus Camby to gain any real consideration.

Shane Battier has played man-sized defense every game this year, and his professionalism and toughness have rubbed off on his teammates.

It's Battier’s defense tenfold over Tracy McGrady’s offense, as the Rockets’ MVP.


Metrick: Marcus Camby

Okay, admittedly, he’s on one of the worst defensive teams in the league. 

But imagine where the Nuggets would be without him. 

He's a great defensive rebounder and he's swatting away just under four shots a game. 

It's a crime that this guy hasn’t been on the All-Star team in the last two seasons.


Ungvari: Kevin Garnett

Contrary to what Shaquille O'Neal believes, KG was the best defensive player in basketball this year.

He not only did it with rebounds and blocked shots but he quarterbacked the NBA's best defensive unit.

His tenacity and intensity on defense became contagious.

Consider this award the voter's way of saying

"Sorry we pretended that you didn't exist in the MVP voting after the All-Star break but you already won one. Here's something you could put next to it. I know it's not the same thing but we don't want you to think we forgot about you."

You can make the case for Marcus Camby every year.

But Camby's numbers are overly-impressive because he's a one-man team on defense that's expected to do everything for his team.

I'm sorry but you can't give the Defensive Player of the Year award to a guy on a defense that bad.


Finocchio: Dwight Howard made the most impact on the defensive end of any player in the league. He's an imposing shot blocking presence, and he simply does not allow second chances via offensive boards.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett


Sixth Man of the Year

Whittenberg: Manu Ginobli

The man has only started 23 games, so technically he is a sixth man.

He plays 31 minutes per game, comes in halfway through the first quarter, and plays more minutes the starting shooting guard, Michael Finley.

But with that said, he's a sixth man, like it or not.

He averages 19 PPG and in my opinion, has been the this Spurs MVP this season.  No disrespect Tim Duncan.


Blasco: It isn't really fair because he's a superstar coming off the bench, but Manu Ginobli is the sixth man of the year.

Ginobli does it all: shoot, drive, pass, defend, take extra steps on the way to the basket, and, most importantly, win.


Metrick: Manu Ginobli

It pains me to give Manu his due because there's something wildly irritating about him. 

And I think Coach Popovich purposely doesn’t start him so he'll win this stupid award. 

Horrible. But… you can’t argue with the numbers.


Ungvari: Leandro Barbosa

I can't give it to Manu Ginobli when he plays more minutes per game than Michael Finley does every night.

It's kind of a joke that Finley only starts because his ego can't fathom coming off the bench.

Barbosa is a killer. He's become the Suns' go-to guy when they need a big three-pointer and he's so difficult to defend.

He deservedly won the award last year and his numbers this year are almost identical.

On any other team, except maybe the Warriors, he's useless. But on this team he's more valuable than anyone except Amare Stoudemire or Steve Nash.


Finocchio: They may as well rename this the Manu Ginobli award, as he's probably the best sixth man in league history.

20 points, 5 rounds and 5 assists in 30 minutes a night off the bench.

Does any other top 15 player in the league come off the bench? No.

So it's an easy award to give out.


Most Surprising Team

Whittenberg: I'm going with the Boston Celtics

I picked New Orleans and Portland the first half of the season, but I'm going with the C's the second half.

We all knew that Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett would help the Celtics make a turnaround, but not like this.

Boston has 61 wins and have home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Not only that, but they have also beat all of the Western Conference's best teams at least once.

That there tells me they are for real and ready to make a fun to the Finals.


Blasco: While there have been a number of positive surprises this season, the Boston Celtics take the cake.

I wasn't sure their role players would be the right mix, I wasn't confident they’d stay healthy, I wasn't sure if they'd be a good defensive team, and I wasn't sure if Doc Rivers was the right man for the job.

Instead, the Celtics have gelled together and have played beautiful basketball from the season’s opening tip to the present.


Metrick: New Orleans Hornets

Going into the season, NBA fans knew the Hornets would be good. 

We just didn’t think they'd be this good. 

And anyone who says they foresaw them winning the west is lying.


Ungvari: Orlando Magic

They got a new coach who was the team's second choice, lost Grant Hill, had no first-round pick, got no contribution from last year's number one pick, and way overpaid for Rashard Lewis.

Despite all of that, they've already won 7 more games than they did all of last year and have been locked into the third spot in the east for a few months.

Stellar play from Hedo Turkoglu and the still-improving Dwight Howard have made them the league's biggest surprise.


Finocchio: The Houston Rockets won 22 games in a row this season. This was downright shocking.


Most Disappointing Team

Whittenberg: This is a no brainer.

It has to be the Miami Heat.  No one expected them to stink this bad.

I myself picked them to make one more run back to the Eastern Conference Finals this season, but they won't even make the playoffs.

Only nine wins the first half of the season, and I would be shocked if they don't get the top pick in the NBA Draft.


Blasco: Even with Shaq on the decline, the Heat still had Dwayne Wade and were supposed to be respectable in the Eastern Conference.

I mean, they did win a championship 22 months ago, right?

Instead, the Heat have played infinitely putrid basketball.

The veterans have broken down, the youngsters haven’t developed, and Ricky Davis is their lone consistent scoring threat.

There are disappointments and then there are abominations. The Heat fit the latter.


Metrick: Chicago Bulls

This was supposed to be the Eastern Conference team of the future. 

It was supposed to use its abundance of young talent to work a deal for Gasol or Garnett or Kobe. 

Those deals never happened. Instead, they Bulls floundered all season, then finally pulled the trigger on a trade that brought them Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden. Whoops.


Ungvari: Miami Heat

Even before all the injuries, the Heat stunk.

Still not two years removed from winning the NBA title, you'd expect more from a team with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.

How far the Heat have fallen will depend on whether or not they end up with Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose.

Without one of the top two picks in the draft, the Heat could be looking at a long rebuilding project that could lead to Wade leaving town for something better.


Finocchio: The Dallas Mavericks backed up a 67 win season with a first round playoff exit and a dismal regular season.

But nothing could have been more disappointing than forfeiting future point guard extraordinaire Devin Harris for another first round playoff exit with Jason Kidd.

How far the mighty have fallen.



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