This is the time of the year when the Association’s league office sends out their annual ballots to media members around the country to vote on their choices for the various award categories, and after working for a franchise for years and never getting a chance to weigh in, I decided to select my winners in a few of the NBA’s top classifications. And no, they won’t be receiving any plaques from the station, it’s not that serious!
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER – Paul George, Indiana
The Pacers, who are up one game in the first round against the Hawks (primarily because of George), were dealt a significant blow to their roster at the beginning of the season when All-Star Danny Granger was lost to action with an injured left knee (he only ended up playing in five games), yet they witnessed the emergence of George in his place. Not only did he blossom into an All-Star himself, he helped Indiana to a third-place finish in the East and also showed the defensive ability to hold his own against LeBron James. He annoyed the Hawks in that first playoff game by posting a triple-double and they will have to shut him down to be successful.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR – J.R. Smith, New York
This was one of the difficult categories to choose from with the (LA) Clippers Jamal Crawford, Golden State’s Jarrett Jacck and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Martin among the candidates, but this year’s award belongs to the always-unpredictable bomber from the Big Apple. Crawford could have easily won this for a second time, yet Smith’s final month of the season showed just how much of a factor he’d been for the Knicks this season. J.R. shot, for him, an impressive 48.8 percent and averaged 23 points per game, and became the perfect number two behind Carmelo Anthony for the injury-plagued Knicks. Smith even did a great job in maturing on (and off) the court in listening to what coach Mike Woodson wanted from him each night. If the Knicks have any chance of reaching the East Finals and beating Miami, Smith will have to continue his excellent production off the bench.
COACH OF THE YEAR – Erik Spoelstra, Miami
Yeah, he’s got the Big Three…and yes, they are the defending champs, but to win 28 consecutive games against anyone at anytime is a monumental achievement. Denver’s George Karl, Houston’s Kevin McHale, New York’s Mike Woodson and Atlanta’s Larry Drew will get notice, but Spoelstra kept his team focused throughout the year and won a franchise record 66 games. With a team that Chicago’s Joakim Noah once called, “Hollywood as hell”, the Heat aren’t just the “LBJ, DWade and Bosh show” and that’s due to the other players buying and trusting Spoelstra’s philosophy and filling their roles smartly. Now, if they don’t make it back-to-back championships, then the entire season will have been a massive failure.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER – LeBron James, Miami
In what could be a surprising first (only because it should have happened years prior…you mean to tell me Wilt, MJ were never unanimous??), James SHOULD become the NBA’s first unanimous MVP and it should be the easiest ballot for voters to pick in 2013. New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant will be runners-up the King, but if anyone is foolish to give a first-place vote to anyone but LBJ, they should be banished from voting in the future. The numbers speak for themselves – 26.8 points per game, 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists – averages that been matched or exceeded by only four players (MJ, Larry Bird, John Havlicek (2x) and Oscar Robertson (5x) in history over the course of an season, and he also swished 57 percent of his shot from the field, 40.6 from three-point range. You may not like him (and in the spirit of disclosure, I was a critic of his approach as well (choices, not the talent)), but dude has dominated the game like no one else over the past two seasons and he will walk away with not just his fourth MVP award, but another South Beach post-season celebratory parade. He’s only five away…”five, six, seven…”.