NBA: Miami Heat’s LeBron James the frontrunner for MVP award
Iarla Duignan takes a look at the frontrunners to scoop a gong at the NBA Season Awards, including Miami Heat's Lebron James
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James
Even though voters may be still reluctant to vote for LeBron James, the truth is this isn’t even close. In arguably his best season of his nine so far, James has dominated night in, night out. Even in this condensed season, which has been full of injuries and poor play, his brilliance has been one of the only constants. Stats don’t tell the whole story, but once again his are off the charts. He averaged 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists while shooting an incredible 53 per cent from the field. The Miami Heat are also 13-1 in games that Dwyane Wade has missed. Defensively, he has been incredible, as he usually takes on the task of guarding the opposition’s best player. Ultimately, James will be judged on his post-season exploits. He is on course to become the eighth player to win the MVP for a third time. The previous seven all won a championship. No pressure then Lebron.
Honourable Mentions: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul.
Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich
The lockout season wasn’t supposed to suit the San Antonio Spurs with an aging squad and the prospect of playing every other night. Against all odds, they have compiled the best record in the league and are two games away from home field advantage for the playoffs. Gregg Popovich once again had to deal with a serious injury to Manu Ginóbili, along with the mid-season retirement of TJ Ford. He has been carefully managing Tim Duncan and Tony Parker’s minutes. His squad hasn’t missed a beat as he has put together one of the deepest teams in the league with Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and new signing Stephen Jackson all getting big minutes. His Spurs teams of old used to win by defense, but as his stars got older, he has changed his philosophy. This season, his team have the best offense in the league and are one of the most enjoyable teams to watch. He has upset a few people by resting his players in some games, but Popovich has only one goal in mind: a championship. The four-time NBA champion has once again proved himself the best coach in the league.
Honourable Mentions: Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel.
Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving
In truth, the race for Rookie of the Year was over when Ricky Rubio blew his knee out in March, so the standout contender remains Kyrie Irving by some distance. He leads all rookies with 18.8 points per game, to go along with 5.5 assists. The next highest scorer is Brandon Knight with 12.9 points. Perhaps most impressive is how easily he has transitioned to the NBA on a poor team. He is clearly the best player on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he has led them to some impressive victories. With the game on the line, Irving has been incredible. He has the best clutch (last five minutes of the game, with five points or less between the teams) numbers in the league, shooting 54 per cent for the season. A few injuries recently have slowed down his and the team’s progress. At just 20, Irving is undoubtedly a star in the making and the Cavaliers can finally move past Lebron James’ departure.
Honourable Mention: Kenneth Faried, Ricky Rubio.
Most Improved Player: Ryan Anderson
Most Improved Player is one of the most difficult categories to vote for. There are no set criteria for the award. It could go to an up-and-coming star who has made another jump in production or to a player that has some out of nowhere that has taken the league by storm. This was Jeremy Lin’s award to lose before he got injured. The sheer hype and hysteria surrounding him was incredible, but he just hasn’t played enough to win. Ryan Anderson deserves the award – he has improved his numbers across the board for a playoff team. He has gone from a solid rotation player to a feared weapon, becoming one of the best three-point shooters in the league, hitting 40 per cent of them. His points have gone from 10.6 points a game last season to 15.9 this campaign.
Honourable Mention: Jeremy Lin, Greg Monroe.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler
Plenty of votes will go to the Miami Heat’s James for in this category, and rightfully so. But is a perimeter lockdown defender as important as a big man, clogging up the middle, blocking shots and intimidating players coming down the lane? It’s open to debate. Dwight Howard has won the last three titles doing exactly that, and he could win again. Tyson Chandler has changed the identity of the New York Knicks. Defensively, they have been porous for years, but big-man Chandler – who joined this season – has given them a backbone and a new attitude. It’s the same attitude that he brought to champions Dallas Mavericks last season and possibly they’re missing without him now. The numbers don’t lie in this case, in the three games he has missed this season, the Knicks gave up an average of 116.3 points per game. With him on the floor, they give up 93.8 points a game.
Honourable Mention: Lebron James, Serge Ibaka.
Best Sixth Man: James Harden
This one isn’t hard as James Harden is the best player coming off the bench in the league. He would probably start for every other team in the league. In a move, that isn’t often seen from young players, he has embraced his bench role, sacrificing his own personal numbers in doing so. He is the fulcrum of the team’s offense when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are getting their rest and he can be the third option at the end of games. He is scoring almost 17 points a game at 49 per cent and is a danger any time he takes to the floor, as shown last week when he exploded for 40 points against the Phoenix Suns. His importance to the Thunder was highlighted against the Lakers this week when he was knocked out of the game. Offensively, they fell apart in the second half without his playmaking skills and the Lakers came from 18 down to win.
Honourable Mention: Lou Williams, Mo Williams.