The season is winding down and the awards are starting to filter out. This might be one the easiest seasons I have had in terms of picking award winners. These individuals stood out front and center all season long. The one thing I must admit is that I am seeing tremendous growth in the all-around abilities of players league wide. I give the credit to the abundance of unselfish all-around improvement of young cats like LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul to name a few.
The playoffs are coming and I am excited to witness what turns this second season will bring us if we’ll see a repeat or new champion crowned. Until then, here are my winners for the 2009-10 season.
MVP: LeBron James
I said last year and repeated it in my Top 25 list. LeBron James is the best basketball specimen I have ever seen play basketball. I know some people will argue for Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan, but I have never seen a 6-foot-8, 270-pound basketball player run, jump, score, defend and handle the ball like James. He can play all five positions and actually be considered as one of the best and intimidating at each one. Please name me a player that could achieve that kind of definition about his game. He is a walking triple-double every time he steps on the court and has improved his shooting each year since he entered the league. The Cavaliers would win 35 to 40 games without him. He has again gotten the best record in the league and has the Cavaliers primed to make another run at an NBA Title. Kevin Durant deserves high consideration as runner–up, but James will be King of the Hill for the next six years at least.
Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans
Evans wins this award by a slim margin over Stephen Curry, one of my favorite players in the league already. Evans gets the nod because he has been extremely consistent all year long. I give the Kings credit for doing their homework and seeing what others did not in Evans. He is a bruising point guard that literally beats up his defender already. And this is just his first year. It is extremely scary how good he will be once he develops a better shooting stroke and tones down his bad shots. Evans is a poor man’s LeBron James, because he can flirt with triple-doubles every time he steps on the floor. I expect Evans to be an All-Star next year if he works on his jump shot over the summer.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
I love everything about Howard as a person and basketball player. I don’t like the fact he is so friendly with opposition at times, but you can’t argue about his consistency on the basketball court. He really is a nasty basketball player and players are truly intimidated by him. But I want more. Why? Because I see greatness written all over him. I don’t want him being apologetic to Shaq because people call him Superman. I want him to show Shaq why he straight up took the name from one of the greatest centers in the history of the NBA. Shaq ran over every center to prove his point and Howard has to follow the road map. That is the only way Shaq will go away quietly.
He is the best defender in the league and I don’t see it changing for a while. The one thing that stands out about Howard is that he does not stop competing even when his teammates forget about him on offense. The best body in sports hands down. Josh Smith warrants heavy consideration for runner-up, but besting Howard will be a huge hurdle.
Most Improved Player: Rajon Rondo
The Celtics have three potential Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Rajon Rondo is their best player and will be a 20/10 player very soon. He has carved out an All-Star season with three players that demand the ball and attention. That is extremely difficult to do. I know because I once played with Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler and I saw how difficult it was for our young point guard Matt Maloney. Rondo has handled it well and has carved his way into the spotlight with toughness and consistency. His shooting stroke has improved each year and he has developed a decent mid-range game. He is also the best point guard defender in the league and will add that honor before his career is over. Marc Gasol definitely is a solid runner-up, but Memphis crashed at the end and that hurt his chances to win the award.
Sixth Man Award: Jamal Crawford
When the Hawks acquired Crawford, I called one of my best friends in the world, head coach Mike Woodson, and said, “You just picked up a clone of you and I.” Woody and I were career sixth men and Crawford was made for this role. It just took him a while to realize it as we all did, but now that he is enjoying being the game changer off the bench, the Hawks are a serious contender in the East. They now have a guy who can come off the bench and have a 30-point night in the playoffs. That will be huge. He has won numerous games this year in the fourth quarter and at the buzzer for the Hawks and this has allowed Joe Johnson to relax more and not be pressured into that role every night. Crawford has a coach in Woodson that understands he can shoot terrible in the first half, but score 20 points in the second half. This has allowed him to flourish and that is why he is my top player off the bench over the ultra consistent Jason Terry.
Coach of the Year: Scott Brooks
This award is the hardest of them all because so many coaches have done a tremendous job this year. Larry Brown, Nate McMillan, Scott Skiles, Jerry Sloan have been terrific, but the three that stand out are Scott Brooks, Mike Woodson and Alvin Gentry.
Woodson has found a way to win consistently with only one solid performer off the bench and an aging point guard in Mike Bibby. Gentry has helped turn the Suns into a solid defensive team with great contributions from his bench and still lead the league in most offensive categories.
Brooks wins the award because he has convinced a group of extremely young players, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, into thinking defense first and playing hard for 48 minutes. Only four teams have a better road record than the Thunder. That accomplishment alone gets Brooks the award. The Thunder has become one of my favorite teams to watch and I can’t wait to see how they perform in the playoffs.
Executive of the Year: Sam Presti
He gets the award for putting together a great collection of young talent and surrounding Brooks with a solid experienced coaching staff. Westbrook and James Harden will become a top-notch backcourt for a long time. Presti has the toughest job in the NBA when it comes to luring free agents to Oklahoma City and that is why he wins this award by a slight edge over Steve Kerr. The Suns have turned it around with Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, Robin Lopez, Louis Amundson, Channing Frye and old-school communicator Alvin Gentry. These are all Steve Kerr transactions and the Suns are still a 50-win team.