With the 2012/13 NBA regular season coming to a close yesterday, it’s time to hand out the awards for the league’s highest achievers.
It will surprise you little to know that I don’t actually receive an official vote, so the following individuals will have to console themselves with being named The Roar’s own prestigious award winners.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James
I dedicated an entire article to this award yesterday, but if you can’t be bothered reading it, all you need to know is that LeBron had one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history.
Not only that, but his team had one of the greatest regular seasons in NBA history – winning 27 straight at one stage – and LeBron should therefore be the unanimous winner of the MVP award, with Kevin Durant a little distance behind him, and little known player called Day Light finishing third.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard
Though Portland fell away in the race for a playoff spot in the West, and he had some issues on the defensive end at times, the Trailblazers point guard is my choice for the award that goes to the NBA’s best first year player.
Lillard was sensational at times for the Blazers. Showing the benefits of a full four years at college, Lillard was more mature and heady than most rookies, and particularly impressive when you consider that he was playing the hardest position on the floor for inexperienced players.
In fact, it was this last point that gave him the slight edge over the Hornets’ Anthony Davis, who was able to be brought along just a touch more slowly in New Orleans.
Considering point guard and centre are the two hardest positions to fill for any team, both the Blazers and Hornets – soon to be Pelicans – should be very happy with their respective young players.
Defensive Player of the Year: LeBron James
At the halfway mark of the year, I nominated LeBron James for this award due to his versatility and ability to completely shut down an opposing player.
Covering every position from point guards to centres, and regularly being switched onto the opposing team’s best player if they were playing well, I see no reason why I should change my earlier prediction.
Especially when you consider that Dwight Howard wasn’t back to his dominating best after surgey, Tyson Chandler got injured, Andre Kirilenko fell away after the All Star break, and Avery Bradley, Serge Ibaka, Larry Sanders and Luol Deng were good, but not better than LeBron, who should take home this award for the first time.
Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich
Shall we flip a coin? This award could honestly go to any number of worthy candidates and there would be few complaints.
At the halfway mark of the season, I chose the New York Knicks Mike Woodson.
Yet whilst there can be doubt he has done a great job, having seen the team in person, it’s clear Jason Kidd has had a large effect on this team from a leadership and tactical point of view.
Throw in the fact that the team freelances a bit on offense, and it ever so slightly opens the door for another ‘pure’ coaching effort to possibly be rewarded.
George Karl, Lionel Hollins, Erik Spoelstra, Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel, Scott Brooks, Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale and unbelievably, even Vinny Del Negro could all be deserved winners in some people’s eyes. And I’ve probably overlooked someone.
However, for mine, the coach that does the most actual coaching, and a great job at that, is Gregg Popovich.
Despite ageing stars and plenty of injuries, the San Antonio Spurs churned out yet another 50 win season – their 14th in a row – and the second best record in the Western Conference.
An offensive system built on unselfish movement of the ball and high percentage shots, combined with sharp rotations on defense, gets this coach’s son a little bit excited, I have to admit.
Throw in Pop’s brilliant in-game adjustments, and I believe he’s the best coach in the league, and therefore should be awarded as such.
6th Man of the Year: JR Smith
JR Smith was the early season front-runner before he – and the Knicks – hit a bit of a rough patch halfway through the season.
However, both his team and Smith, in what is surely connected, came good in the home stretch of the season, winning 14 in a row at one stage.
Smith brought every quality you’d want from a 6th man: explosive scoring, the ability to be effective upon immediately entering the game, a sparkplug when the team needed it, game-winning shots, and above all, embracing his role and realising how important and valuable a game-changer off the bench is.
Few could have predicted that Smith could be counted upon to consistently provide such qualities, and that’s why he’s also my…
Most Improved Player: JR Smith
Smith’s numbers improved across the board, as he established career highs in points, rebounds and assists.
However, I have to be honest, it wasn’t his numbers that swayed me, it was the way he played. Renowned as a bit of a loose cannon, who displayed terrible shot selection, played poor defence, and was even labelled ‘selfish’, Smith seemed to grow up this year.
Early on in the season, he was very good on defense, made the extra pass on offense, and generally took good shots.
That improvement alone may have been good enough to earn him this award, but what put him over the edge and above other candidates was his in-season improvement.
As the Knicks season fell apart mid-season and Smith’s shooting percentage plummeted, he decided to completely change his game.
He stopped settling for jumpers, and aggressively drove to the ring, increasing his shooting percentage and his free throw attempts dramatically.
After shooting 36% with 3.4 free throw attempts per game in January, Smith increased to 44% with 6 attempts per game in March, evidence of him changing his game in order to be more efficient.
It was a savvy move from a player whose basketball IQ and reliability have been heavily questioned in the past.
He improved from last season, and he improved within the season. If that doesn’t earn you the Most Improved Player trophy, what does?