D'Antoni is the right choice
How often do we get to experience the Cinderella stories that we are seeing in
Gordon is a lock to grab the Sixth Man award, thus possibly giving him a double- double.
Most Improved might be a difficult choice for voters with so many breakout seasons from young stars like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Gilbert Arenas, Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson and solid performances from players like Bobby Simmons.
Defensive Player always is a popularity contest because there are so many worthy winners
But the toughest of all awards will be selecting Coach of the Year.
This season has given us a number of feel-good turnaround stories. Just look at the job Eddie Jordan has done in Washington with the Wizards. Or Rick Carlisle of the Pacers, who has had to deal with the suspension of three key players. What about the great job George Karl has done with the underachieving Nuggets? In addition, Rick Adelman has done great with the revamped Kings. And Stan Van Gundy – although he has the most dominant player on the planet in Shaq – knew how to define roles and get consistent play from role players.
Phoenix, Seattle and Chicago have a combined record of 148-73 this season compared to a dismal 89-161 last season. Neither of these teams was considered to be a big-time player in the postseason this year.
That's especially true for the Chicago Bulls. They had gone south since Michael Jordan departed, but with some solid drafting and key veteran pickups in Antonio Davis and Othella Harrington, the Bulls are in contention for not only the playoffs, but also home-court advantage in the first round.
After a 0-9 start of the season, the Bulls have gone 41-23. What made Skiles a Coach of the Year candidate was his ability to have patience with young players like Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon. He allowed them to make mistakes early on, which gave him a platform to teach and correct.
But the best coaching move Skiles has made this season was moving a struggling Ben Gordon to the bench, transforming him into the likely Sixth Man of the Year (at least, that's my choice). Gordon has been the best player in the league lately when it comes to fourth-quarter scoring.
Nate McMillan was a player that did whatever he had to do to win the game. That was always his focus. I have said this many times. He and Derrick McKey were the best players I have ever played with because they had not one selfish bone in their body when the game started. That mentality has made McMillan a great coach. The Sonics were my pick to have the worst record in the Western Conference before the season started. I believed that because of the role players they had – guys like Danny Fortson, Antonio Daniels, Jerome James, Nick Collison, Luke Ridnour or Reggie Evans.
But I should have known better because these players are mirror images of their coach. McMillan has done a fabulous job of getting the best out of them every night. Point guards Ridnour and Daniels are combining 21 points and 10 assists per game. Fortson, James, Evans and Collison have played huge roles defensively and on the boards.
McMillan has also put tremendous emphasis on making sure Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic get the majority of looks – especially down the stretch, where these three have regularly won games with their great shooting.
It also is pretty obvious if you have watched a Sonic game this year that McMillan has given Allen the opportunity to provide leadership – especially in the fourth quarter, which is huge, because players respect and play harder for coaches when they allow them to make key decisions.
McMillan and Skiles have done great, but the award will have to go to Mike D'Antoni and here's why.
The Suns are quite frankly the most exciting basketball team the NBA has seen since my favorite basketball player of all-time – Magic Johnson – led the Los Angeles Lakers in the 80s.
The single most important reason why this team is so exciting is the creative offensive mind of D'Antoni.
Yes, I know the additions of Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson were huge, but does that translate into having the best record in the NBA at 57-17 and having a sick 30-8 road record? I don't think so.
He puts the smallest lineup on the floor every night and barks out one word: Run! And boy, do they run.
People say you win in the playoffs with defense. I tend to agree, but what these writers and critics seem to forget is defense can come in the form of offense.
Case in point. When we played against the great Celtic teams led by Larry Bird and Magic's Lakers, we were caught between a rock and a hard place when we thought about going to the offensive glass. We knew that if we did not get the rebound, that would be a layup for them. So those teams knew that for the most part they had to defend one possession with not much pressure to block out because teams were afraid to crash the glass.
The only way that philosophy works is if you are committed to run every time. D'Antoni has convinced his team to stick to that commitment all season.
Now look at the job he has done to not only turn the offense over to MVP candidate Steve Nash, but also convince five scorers – led by Amare Stoudemire (26 points per game) – to spread the floor and play unselfish basketball for 48 minutes.
Before the season, D'Antoni had to convince Stoudemire and Shawn Marion to play out of their natural positions and right now these two players are having career years. Stoudemire is the second most dominant player in the league behind Shaq and Marion has become the best rebounder in the league pound for pound since Dennis Rodman.
He has turned a good inside player – Quentin Richardson – into one of the best three-point shooters in the league by allowing him to lead the league in three-point attempts. Q and multi-versatileJoe Johnson have given the Suns the best three-point shooting combo in the league.
D'Antoni has not given in to critics who say the Suns can't play and win a half-court game. After watching the Suns beat up Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady for their 30th road win in Houston Sunday night, I feel now they can play that way when they have to. But because of D'Antoni's constant barking to run, to play free and unselfishly, they don't have to.
I give D'Antoni extreme high marks for not only playing five scorers, but also convincing them to cut down in minutes with the addition of Jim Jackson and Walter McCarty and the increased playing time he has given to ever-improving Leandro Barbosa and Steven Hunter.
Most coaches would not want to deal with this mix of players because of the potential for jealousy and selfishness, but D'Antoni has proved that it can be done with quality leadership.
That's why he will win Coach of the Year this season.
Eddie Johnson is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
Tell us what you think about this column. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com