NBA Awards and Championship Contenders: Fact or Fiction

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2011

NBA Awards and Championship Contenders: Fact or Fiction

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 22:  Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets shoots the ball during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the New Orleans Arena on January 22, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Spurs 96-72.  NOTE TO U
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Now that we're past the midseason point of the NBA season, the debates and conversations are heating up. The teams and players who are real contenders and who aren't are starting to shape up. 

    Miami is too soft in the middle. Derrick Rose is only getting MVP talk in Chicago. The New Orleans Hornets had a nice start, but they aren't going anywhere. The Jazz are only a "regular season" team. The Lakers are flying "under the radar," and so on. Which of these are true and which aren't? Who are the contenders? 

    This next five slides will give you the answer to all these questions. Of course, my opinion is final and decisive and beyond reproach. Just ask my wife! Well, on second thought, don't ask my wife.

    But there are some thoughts on many of the hotly debated issues and some common misconceptions and some accurate concepts about this NBA season. 

Paul, Rondo, Rose or Williams Is the Best PG in the NBA

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    BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 19:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics takes a shot in the first quarter against the Detroit Pistons on January 19, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
    Elsa/Getty Images

    FACT: THEY ALL ARE

    There are four, and only four, accurate responses to this question. Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams are all the best point guard to run their respective teams, and I'm sorry, Oklahoma City Thunder fans, no Russell Westbrook is not. He's a solid and close fifth, or second, depending on your perspective. 

    By this, I mean that each of the four is the perfect point guard for their respective teams. 

    Chris Paul is incredibly fast and very efficient. He's great off the pick and roll and outside of Rose as quick as anyone to the basket. He's perfect for the Hornets, who need him to score but not to be the primary scorer. 

    Rajon Rondo is fairly adept at breaking down defenses, but not as strong as the other three. He is also the worst shooter of the lot. He has a nice field goal percentage, but that's because he doesn't have to shoot a lot, so he can be very selective. He has the luxury of being able to create shots for his teammates, but that plays into his best strength and where he is the strongest of the four—court vision. 

    Derrick Rose is expected to set up the entire offense with his incredible, blazing speed. He is the strongest of the four, even stronger than Williams. He is the best scorer of the four, and he is also the best defender. I don't believe that the other three could carry the Bulls offense as well as Rose does.

    Deron Williams is the most efficient, and the best balance of scoring and passing of the four. He is also the best passer into the post, and on a team that features two high-quality low-post scorers like Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, that's important. The offense he runs is also the most complex, and his superior basketball IQ is key. 

    Now, don't take any of this exclusively. All four guards can score, have good basketball IQ's, are quick and both able to score and pass. However, they each are stronger in certain areas, and those strengths are where their respective teams need them most.

    Ergo, all four are the best point guard in the NBA. 

Amare Stoudemire Is an MVP Candidate

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    NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks goes to the basket against the Phoenix Suns at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading an
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    FICTION: HE'S BENEFITING FROM THE NEW YORK SPOTLIGHT


    Amar'e Stoudemire is not an MVP candidate. Let me be clear about exactly what I said. I didn't say he's not the MVP. I said he's not a candidate.

    Now, while all the Knicks fans are getting themselves all bloated with rage, let me explain why. 

    First, the Knicks are a game over .500 right now. That's not because they are going through a slump, it's because they hit a little bit of reality in their scheduling. They started playing a string of opponents above .500. When you're running a string of wins together against weak teams, it means you're not weak, but it doesn't mean you're playing great.

    They are 7-12 against winning teams. 

    The Knicks are a good team, but they aren't an elite team and they aren't even a very good team. They are a team in New York, and that's the only reason that Stoudemire is getting any talk. People don't even try and disguise it. They literally make that argument that he should be MVP "because he's made basketball relevant in New York again." Making basketball relevant in New York is not a criteria for the award, though. 

    In 2005, he averaged 26 points and 8.9 boards while shooting .559 from the field. That year, the Suns finished with a record of 62-20. He finished ninth in the MVP voting. 

    In 2008, he had averages of 25.2 points and 9.1 boards with a .590 field goal percentage. That year, the Suns finished with a record of 55-27. He finished sixth in the MVP voting. 

    This year, he is averaging 26 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting .498 from the field. Statistically speaking, you could argue the other two seasons were better. It's inarguable that the teams were better. So why would anyone think that he deserves the MVP more?

    Amar'e isn't an MVP candidate, because he doesn't deserve the MVP. He doesn't even deserve to be in the conversation. 

The New Orleans Hornets Just Had a Nice Start

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 22:  Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets shoots the ball during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the New Orleans Arena on January 22, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Spurs 96-72.  NOTE TO U
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    FICTION: THE HORNETS ARE FOR REAL!

    The Hornets had that hot start, but since then, they have become closer to mediocre. That's the reasoning.

    It's wrong.

    If you don't believe me, go ask the Hawks, and then when you're done with them, go ask the Spurs. The back-to-back wins against those two teams by a combined 65 points was the third-highest in NBA history for back-to-back wins against teams that were at least 10 games over .500. 

    The Hornets are seventh in the NBA in the SRS rating on Basketball-Reference. They are fifth in the Hollinger ratings. While I recognize that those "objective" rankings have their limitations, they also have their strengths. That is, they don't have a bias. Sometimes, believe it or not, when objectivity and bias don't match, the problem is the bias. 

    The Hornets have the third best defensive rating in the NBA. I'm not saying they're going to win the NBA title, but they do have the potential to take out one of the favorites in the playoffs. Beware the Hornet stingl!

Derrick Rose for MVP Is Just Chicago Talk

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    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Derrick Rose #1 and Kurt Thomas #40 of the Chicago Bulls battle for a rebound with Brendan Haywood #33 of the Dallas Mavericks at the United Center on January 20, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Mavericks 82-77.
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    FICTION: IT'S EVERYWHERE!

    Some people still have it in their head that only in Chicago are they talking about Rose for MVP. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

    Presently, there are two major media sites which have an MVP ranking in place. ESPN and NBA both have Rose as their first choice for MVP. But don't worry, I'm not just going to point to two meager national websites that are only visited millions of times per day and leave it at that. 

    If you really want to know who is taking him up for MVP, then look at the recent wake of opponents he's beaten and see what they are saying. 

    Here's what Tyson Chandler said: "When they start chanting, earlier [in the season] I was like, 'I dunno about that one,' " Dallas center Tyson Chandler said. "But the more and more as the game went on, I could understand why they were chanting. He's having an incredible year and, without him, it's not a close game.

    "He just puts so much pressure on you. I know me, as a big, coming over and trying to block his shot and Kurt Thomas ends up getting nine points...With his aggression and going to the basket, even if he misses, he's still putting guys in a position to succeed."

    Or how about the Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra: "[The Bulls are] a very good defensive team," Spoelstra said. "Right now, they're the best defensive team in the league. And that's what we want to be. That's what we're still striving to be.

    "They've been getting in a great flow offensively. Their point guard is having an MVP year. Their power forward is playing as well as anybody, giving them a great inside-out threat. And other guys are fitting in, and the pieces fit. They're playing very good basketball and we respect them for that."

    And for those that are appalled at the suggestion that Rose even belongs in the conversation about best point guard, how about former MVP Charles Barkley: "People keep talking about the elite teams, but they keep forgetting the Chicago Bulls," Barkley said on Monday night's Inside the NBA on TNT. "I love (Utah Jazz point guard) Deron Williams; he’s been the best point guard in the NBA, but you have to move him down to No. 2. Derrick Rose is the new best point guard in the NBA.” 

    Add in the praise that Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson offered up in their last visit to Chicago, and it's time to realize this is not 2009 any more. Rose has improved dramatically. If you haven't noticed, it's time to take notice.

    If you don't think he's MVP, that's fine, but you need to accept he belongs in the conversation. 

Blake Griffin Is the Rookie of the Year

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 12:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat at Staples Center on January 12, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
    Harry How/Getty Images

    FACT: HE'S ONE OF THE GREATEST ROOKIES EVER

    There is a lot of talk about Blake Griffin. In fact, there's been enough that it's gotten to the point of wondering whether the talk about Blake is for real. Is it possible that he is actually worthy of all the excitement he's generating?

    Let's put it this way. Here's a complete list of rookies who have posted 22 points and 12 rebounds per game in their rookie season in the three-point era. 

    Shaquille O'Neal

    Blake Griffn

    There's your complete and entire list. What do you think? Pretty good company there? 

Who Are the Elite Teams in the NBA?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers receives his 2009 NBA Championship ring from NBA Commissioner David Stern before the season opening game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on October 27, 2009 in Lo
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Who are the teams in contention for the NBA championship? It seems that some people are stuck in 2010 and only teams that contended last year can contend this year. Changes to team personnel are irrelevant. LeBron James will never win because he has never won and all of that.

    Sorry, I got some news for you. There are some new kids in the party, and some kids have moved back on the block too. Here are the four teams from both conferences who could really win it all. 

    FACT

    Eastern Conference

    Boston Celtics: Uhm. Yeah, no controversy here, but people do forget that Perkins has been out. They are actually better than they've been. 

    Miami Heat: The more they play together, the better they are going to get. And about that whole weak-in-the-middle thing. It's sort of true. According to hoopsstats, they are 18th in the NBA in the paint in efficiency differential. It's a concern, but they do have some talent there. 

    Orlando Magic: They were the first to make a big trade, and it might pay off doing it so early. The new teammates are getting time to play together more than anyone else who might make a big move before the trade deadline. 

    Chicago Bulls: They are third in the conference right now, and they have hardly even had their starting five together. Once they get their starting five on the same court, their offense will work out its issues, but their already-top-ranked defense will get even better. You can never count out a great defense. 

    Western Conference:

    San Antonio Spurs: They've been there before, and they're healthier they've been in a long time. We shouldn't be this surprised that they are this good. 

    Los Angeles Lakers: Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, yep. That pretty much says enough. And no, they aren't under the radar. Trust me, no NBA team is thinking they aren't "for real." 

    Utah Jazz: They are for real, peoples. When people say it's the same Jazz every year, they sort of miss how well the Jazz play in the postseason. They've just had some tough bounces. They keep having to play the Lakers. 

    Dallas Mavericks: People need to realize these are not your big brother's Mavs. They are a defense-first team, and Tyson Chandler is the best under-the-radar pickup of the offseason.  

    FICTION

    Atlanta Hawks: How are they any better than last year when they weren't good enough or the year before that?

    New Orleans Hornets: Just too many road games to win. They won't get the first-round bye. 

    Oklahoma City Thunder: Need to find a defense before they'll compete for real.