This is Part II of the soon-to-be annual Handing Out The Hardware entry. I'll be covering MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 6th Man of the Year, and Executive of the Year. I'm a little more meticulous than Zee, so expect to see a tidy 1,2,3 format for my selections. While I'm the main writer for these 4 award selections, Zee will be chiming in with his comments sporadically throughout my entry. Just like I'll be leaving my comments in Zee's entry. Without any further adieu, let's get this party started.
Most Valuable Player
My main criteria for selecting a league MVP are as follows: 1) team success, 2) do they make their teammates better, 3) individual stats, 4) how will their team fare without them.
1) Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) It pains me to say that Kobe is the front runner for the MVP award. He's done a tremendous job this year leading a young team to the top of the Western Conference. He's learned how to trust his teammates and defer to them in clutch situations. And as a result, his teammates are giving him the support that he needs to succeed. Even though his individual numbers are down from previous years, he is having the best year of his post-Shaq career. And his team's success is indicative of that. He's also had to overcome a lot of adversity this season: winning back the trust of his teammates and management after demanding a trade in the offseason, and overcoming injuries to Bynum, Gasol and Odom. Can you imagine what this team would be like without Kobe? They would not be making the playoffs at all. I gave him the nod over Chris Paul because the Lakers beat the Hornets a few nights ago, and will finish with the #1 seed.
2) Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets). CP3 is every bit as deserving of MVP as Kobe. He's putting up ridiculous stats (better than either of Steve Nash's MVP seasons), and is carrying a sub-par team to a division crown. Chandler and West are solid big men, but Stojakovic is gimpy and Peterson is garbage. And they have the worst bench out of all of the contending teams. The only reason they have such a good record is that Paul is willing them to victories. Rarely has a player done so much with so little. He's a once-in-a-generation player. I can't believe that Atlanta passed up on him when they desperately needed a PG. But with that said, I don't think it's his turn to win the MVP award yet. He still has many great years under his belt.
3) Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics). I can't believe how overlooked Kevin Garnett is in the MVP race. He's the best player on the best team. While he's not putting up great numbers, his impact on the franchise is unquestioned. He leads by example and has elevated the play of all of his teammates. They are now the best defensive team in the league. And you can't say that Ray Allen or any of the other new acquisitions are the reason for that. I understand why people would not vote for KG, though. He has a much stronger supporting cast than Kobe or CP3. Also when he was injured earlier during the season, the team did not miss a beat without him. Though that's partially because his impact on the team is still felt when he is not out on the floor. The only other candidate worth mentioning is Lebron James. But his team's overall performance will hurt his chance at winning MVP. They are struggling to win 45 games this year. But he is one of 3 players to average 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in a season. The other 2 are Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. Impressive.
Defensive Player Of The Year
Just like MVP, I look at team success when selecting a Defensive Play of the Year. I like to reward players from the top defensive teams in the league. In previous years, I would have given Bruce Bowen the award, for example. It's shocking to me that neither he nor Tim Duncan has ever won the hardware, given that the Spurs are always a top defensive team in the league.
1) Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics). He's the anchor for the #1 defensive team in the NBA. He leads by example, and inspires his teammates to play their best. He sets the defensive tone for the team, and never takes a game off. While his numbers are down from previous years, it's only because The Celtics are blowing away the competition, which allows him to play less minutes. Prior to this year, he was good for 12+ rebounds, 1.5+ steals, and 1.5 blocks every season. Those are ridiculous numbers. You cannot discount the impact that this guy has on his team. It's the intangibles that make Kevin Garnett a winner and great defender. And besides, it doesn't look like he is going to win the MVP award, so he needs some recognition for his efforts.
2) Shane Battier (Houston Rockets). The perfect team player. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty and defend the other team's best player. He'll make the hustle players, hit the occasional open shot, give up his body for charges and crash the rebounds with reckless abandon. He just knows how to win. I'm sure everyone remembers his masterful performance against Kobe Bryant during their 22-0 streak. Houston is the second best defensive player in the league, and that's with Yao Ming missing a huge chunk of games. You have to give Shane Battier credit for that. He's a defensive stopper and also a great help defender. He's an unsung hero and a glue player for this Houston team.
3) Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks). I refuse to nominate Marcus Camby for defensive player of the year when his team allows the second most points in the league (only behind the Warriors). Granted, Denver plays a fast style, but that's inexcusable. So for that reason, I have selected Josh Smith instead. J-Smoove is a defensive beast. He gets nearly 3 blocks per game, combined with 1.5 steals and 8.5 rebounds. Those are just nasty numbers from a Forward. He plays with great energy, defends the oppositions best player, and will only get better. It's scary to imagine what his upside is. A couple other players that deserve mention are Tim Duncan, Tayshaun Prince, Shawn Marion and Kobe Bryant. These are great defenders that bring it every year, and will always be in contention.
6th Man Of The Year
What I look for in a 6th man is someone that can provide energy off of the bench. Someone that can make a big play to change the pace of the game. Someone with versatility that can play multiple positions and do a little of everything.
1) Manu Ginobilli (San Antonio Spurs). For me, this is a no-brainer. Manu has put up ridiculous numbers playing in less than 32 minutes a game. Until recently, he was averaging over 20 PPG, which is crazy for a bench player. He's a player that really should be starting, but is willing to step down for the betterment of the team. He's a winner. Simple as that. He has been the motor for this San Antonio team. Their team will only go as far as Ginobilli will take them. He's their go-to-guy in the clutch, who will make all the big plays for them. He'll make the big shot, make the great pass, or get the big steal/block. For me, he's the model for the 6th man of the year award going forward.
2) Josh Childress (Atlanta Hawks). I prefer Josh over some of the other 6th man candidates because he's a two-way player. He has great versatility and is a very efficient player. He's shooting a ridiculous 57% from the field, and 81% from the charity stripe. So you know he'll make the most of every shot he gets. But he doesn't need to score to help his team. He can fill the stat line with his rebounds, passing, and defensive stats. He can replace any of the guys in the starting lineup, and their team won't miss a beat. He is an unsung hero for Atlanta and a perfect example of a utility player. He does a little of everything.
3) Travis Outlaw (Portland Trailblazers). Well, there are a number of candidates that are deserving of the #3 spot, but I decided to go with the unsung Travis Outlaw. He's a guy that doesn't get the credit that he deserves. He's really improved his game in recent years, and has become a reliable scorer off the bench. He's a go to guy in the clutch for Portland and has been a crucial part of their team's success. But he's not just a scorer like some other 6th men, he can contribute in other areas too. He has great versatility and is a great spark off the bench. Some other candidates worth mentioning are Jason Terry, Ben Gordon, David Lee and Leandro Barbosa.
Executive Of The Year
The difference between a good executive and a bad executive is simple. Look at the Timberwolves who were not able to bring in the talent to surround Kevin Garnett to win a championship, compared to the Celtics who have made all the right moves and positioned themselves for a Finals run.
1) Danny Ainge (Boston Celtics). He's done a brilliant job of assembling this Boston team and revitalized a floundering franchise. He deserves as much credit as Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers for the Celtics success. Danny rebounded well from the disappointment of not getting a top 2 pick, and made two blockbusters trades instead: getting first Ray Allen and than Kevin Garnett. He than was able to replenish his bench with some wiley veteran acquisitions such as Sam Cassell, PJ Brown, James Posey, Eddie House. In a blink of an eye, he completely re-made over this team and led them to 40+ more wins this season. Insane. Only 6 players remained from last year's team, yet this team has blended together brilliantly and has the best record in the league this year. You have to give Danny a lot of credit for that. He took a great risk in mortgaging off his team's future for a chance to win a championship, but I think it will pay off.
2) Mitch Kupchak (Los Angeles Lakers). A close second, Mitch is responsible for acquiring Pau Gasol. This move shook up the entire Western Conference and forced Phoenix and Dallas to make knee-jerk responses. By far, this was the biggest steal in recent years. They did not give away any of their core players, but got an all-star in return. Well played, Mitch. I also give him credit for not trading away Andrew Bynum when everyone was pressuring him to trade for Jason Kidd. And also for standing still and not trading away Kobe during the offseason when he was demanding a trade. He had faith in his team, and made a big pickup at mid-season to give them a shot at the title. While Ariza is injured, I also think that was also a solid trade by Mitch. He'll be an excellent addition to this team's bench. Signing Derek Fisher was a huge move during the off-season, as well.
3) Steve Kerr (Phoenix Suns). In his first year as GM, Steve makes one of the biggest trades of the year. He trades away Marcus Banks and Shawn Marion for the Big Cactus. It's a huge gamble, but it looks like it might pay off dividends. Shaq looks like a great fit for the Phoenix team, despite skepticism by a lot of experts and a slow start by the team after the trade. Most executives would not have had the guts to make a trade like that, as the trade changes the entire complexion of their team. But Steve realized that Phoenix needed to make a drastic move to compete in the Western Conference. I also like the pickups of Grant Hill and Gordon Giricek. Honorable mention goes to Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets for stealing Luis Scola from the San Antonio Spurs, drafting Carl Landry, and trading away 2 locker room cancers: Bonzi Wells and Mike James for Bobby Jackson. That's a great example of addition by subtraction.