NBA’s Best in 2009-10
All 82 games matter so I never finalize my awards predictions until the season ends. This year, the only drama for me was between #2 and 3 on my MVP list. I don’t think I would have changed my choice had the Magic and Lakers tied for the second best record in the league but that distinction is pretty important.
1. LeBron James
2. Dwight Howard
3. Kevin Durant
LeBron is a clear winner. He’s the best offensive player, one of the best 15 or so defensive players and the catalyst for the best team in the league. Right now, LeBron is the only basketball player in the world that can do everything very well.
Dwight Howard edges Kevin Durant by a small margin for me. Durant is my favorite player to watch on the offensive end of the court and Howard my favorite defender. The substitution test says Durant should finish 2nd here. (Imagine replacing each guy with an average player at his position then consider what the team would do.) Durant’s Thunder would be in the 35 win range while Howard’s Magic would still be well above .500. This year, though, the substitution test would fail to acknowledge that the Magic have had important players in and out of the lineup all year but have never really faltered. That’s almost entirely due to Howard. He’s been the constant force that’s maintained some offensive continuity and transformed a group of poor individual defenders into a top tier defensive unit. Durant’s made impressive strides defensively but he’s (at best) the Thunder’s fourth best defender and that difference plus Orlando’s second best record status pushes Howard past Durant by a nose.
Rookie of the Year
1. Tyreke Evans
2. Brandon Jennings
3. Stephen Curry
This is a classic multi-player race reminiscent of MVP races in ’73 and ’90. In the end, Evans’ raw numbers are so extraordinary I believe I would have to search for reasons NOT to give him the nod. As reported widely, he’s joined Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James as the only rookies to average 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Perhaps more amazing is taking a moment to consider the rookies who didn’t meet those marks. We’re talking about the most versatile guys in history, players like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Grant Hill and Tim Duncan. NONE of those guys did what Tyreke Evans has done. It’s gotta be Evans.
In most years, Brandon Jennings would be an easy choice for this award. 55 points in a single game and quarterbacking a basement dweller to the playoffs without their only star player? Jennings’ campaign began and ended in truly spectacular fashion. However a dip in his play during the middle portion of the season provides some justification for pulling him down to second. Second to Tyreke Evans is still a remarkable accomplishment, clearly validating Jennings’ experiment to Italy.
Third on my list is the guy many are predicting to be the best in this rookie class and perhaps an all-time great, Stephen Curry. Curry had a slower start than the meteors above him but is already being considered for next year’s All-Star Game. Curry can pass, shoot, score, rebound and defend at a high rate and excelled in the midst of an amazingly dysfunctional situation. The area where Curry’s NBA pedigree serves him best though is his decision making. On a super high volume offensive team, he still managed to create a nice balance of shooting and passing. His backcourt mate, Monta Ellis, was at his very best late in the year when he began mimicking Curry’s efforts to share the rock. Not to slight, Ellis but because Curry and Evans do so many different things well it’s already become a pipe dream of mine to watch those two play in the same backcourt for a season. ASGs just won’t be enough!
Part 2 is next!