A look at basketball's best at the halfway point
The National Basketball Association has been a roller coaster full of surprises, highlighted thus far by dominating stretches by top teams (two 15+ game win streaks by the Phoenix Suns, 13 in a row by the Dallas Mavericks), uniform changes (Allen Iverson, Chris Webber) and an ugly brawl at Madison Square Garden. With the All-Star break fast approaching, we break down the top teams and dish out midseason hardware.
|Nitin's Top 10 Power Rankings:|
Most Valuable Player
Nitin: Steve Nash, PG, Phoenix Suns
Captain Canada isn't about to give up his crown. Looking for a ridiculous third M.V.P. honor in a row this year, point guard Steve Nash has led the Phoenix Suns to a race with the Dallas Mavericks for dominance in the West. His 33-year-old shoulders have shown no weariness through the Suns' amazing 15 and 17-game win streaks. Critics claim that fellow All-Stars Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion should take a large part of the credit for Phoenix's successful season so far. But "Nashty" does it all. Nash has put up career-high averages in points per game (19.3) and assists (11.8) while shooting a sizzling 49% from beyond the arc. The fact that he has to come off the bench during this year's All-Star game is disgusting. The NBA's best deserves more than that.
Andrew: Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks
The Hasselhoff-humming German is the best player on the best team in the league. 'Nuff said. Dirk is averaging 24.8 points and 9.4 boards, tops on the team and among the best in the league in both categories. In Avery Johnson's new system, Nowitzki is becoming a solid all-around contributor, no longer deserving of the 'Irk' moniker for his lack of D. No longer relying on his jumper, Dirk has become an able and willing penetrator, leading to career high percentages from both the field (49.8) and the line (90.4). Sure, his numbers aren't as gaudy as some others, but when it comes down to it, the Blond Bomber is securing the Ws, the only stat that matters come playoff time.
Most Improved Player
Nitin: Josh Howard, SG/SF, Dallas Mavericks
Josh Howard has been lurking in the shadows of All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki for four years now. This year he has emerged as one of the most flexible defenders in the league, with an All-star level offense at his side. His ability to drive in the paint, shoot the three and hit his free throws has taken the pressure off Dirk. Averaging a career high of 19.5 points per game, his value has skyrocketed for the Mavericks, who are 19-2 when he scores 20 points or more. Dallas fans will be screaming for David Stern's head if he doesn't replace the injured Yao or Carlos Boozer with Howard in the All-Star game.
Andrew: Kevin Martin, SG, Sacramento Kings
Although Deron Williams in Utah and Josh Howard in Dallas are in the midst of great years, they were expected to progress and develop into star-caliber players after success on the collegiate level. On the other hand, Western Carolina alum Kevin Martin has emerged from nowhere to become one of the league's top young guards. After showing flashes of brilliance a season ago as a replacement for the injured Bonzi Wells, Martin has emerged as a solid contributor on his own, averaging 20.7 points, and is the only bright spot in a mercurial Kings offense.
Rookie of the Year
Nitin: Andrea Bargnani, PF, Toronto
Andrea Bargnani deserves the R.O.Y. more than Portland guard Brandon Roy and an otherwise pathetic rookie class. Taking the backseat to All-Star power forward Chris Bosh, the Italian has made the most of his 23 minutes per game, averaging 10.2 points with an outside shooter's touch. He isn't quite the Dirk yet, but his game and confidence has improved by the month, becoming a key bench player for the rolling Raptors. Roy took a hit to his chances with 20 DNPs caused by a heel injury and doesn't give much for anyone to judge him on. Aside from these two, the sad 2007 rookie class is headed by Adam Morrison, who shoots an appalling 37.9%.
Andrew: Brandon Roy, SG, Portland Trailblazers
While Roy has missed 20 games this year thanks to a bum heel, he has been an impact player whenever he plays, averaging 15.2 points a game as the number two man in Portland behind Zach Randolph. He has adjusted quite well to the pace of the pro game after a storied career at Washington, averaging more than a steal a game. His shot ball handling (1.6 TOs) could use some work, but he has had the best showing in an admittedly weak, high schooler-less draft class. Plus, he has the perfect last name for the award.
Sixth Man Award
Nitin: Leandro Barbosa, PG, Phoenix Suns
How does anyone manage to shine like he does, behind a point guard like Steve Nash? Point guard Leandro Barbosa has been a noticeable spark off of the deep Phoenix bench, averaging 16.4 points and 4 assists. He uses his godly speed and deep shooting ability to fuel the run-and-gun offensive scheme run by the Suns. Barbosa beats out Chicago guard Ben Gordon, who while leading the Bulls in scoring, is soon to lose his eligibility for the award after returning to the starting five.
Andrew: Ben Gordon, SG, Chicago Bulls
Gordon has been starting as of late, but according to league rules, a player is eligible if they come off the bench for more games than they start, a condition Gordon fulfills, at least for now. On a team lacking surefire offense, Gordon has been a spark as a sub and a starter, leading Chicago in points. He even arguably plays better off the bench, scoring more points (22.6 to 19.6), including three-pointers at a studly 41.1% clip. At season's end, he may not be eligible for this award, but for now, he is more than deserving.
Defensive Player of the Year
Nitin: Emeka Okafor, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats
The last thing any player wants to do is drive against Emeka Okafor. Some choose to call him the "S.W.A.T." The 2005 Rookie of the Year has rebounded from a poor 2006 campaign to make a statement for the struggling Charlotte Bobcats. His 2.9 blocks per game average doesn't even speak for his entire defensive game. He has become a flexible defender, guarding anyone from the small forward to center positions. Okafor also leads the league in offensive boards, grabbing four a game, and is sixth in the league for total rebounds.
Andrew: Ron Artest, SF, Sacramento Kings
His head has been far from being perfectly aligned this year, but Artest has been a legitimate defensive stopper for the Kings. Averaging 2.3 steals a game to lead the league, the "TruWarier" has found more success on the court than in record stores, where his first rap album "My World" tanked badly, getting outsold almost 20 times more by K-Fed's debut. Despite his on again/off again trade demands, prima-donna attitude and misguided musical aspirations, his D has been impeccable, holding stud scorers Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter all below 40% FG shooting in the past month. Ron-Ron's offense is still quite erratic and his personality can still be a team cancer, but the numbers he puts up and the respect he commands as a defender speak for themselves.
Comeback Player of the Year
Nitin: Amare Stoudemire, C, Phoenix Suns
The Comeback award is really up for grabs in a two-man race between Amare and Carlos Boozer. Both have been phenomenal after suffering from serious injuries last season. But Stoudemire should get the nod over Boozer, who has recently fractured his left fibula and is slated to be out until after the All-Star break. Amare has been a monster both defensively and offensively this year after a slow start, averaging 19.3 points, 1.4 blocks and a career high 9.3 boards. He has been able to leave his knee injury for his past and excel in a fast paced offense full of dunks and alley-oops courtesy of Steve Nash.
Andrew: Amare Stoudemire, C, Phoenix Suns
After playing in just four games last season thanks to microfracture knee surgery, Amare has returned to his high-level play. The rust showed early on, but he has been on fire as of late, averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds in the past two months. Some players, like Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway, have never been the same after microfracture surgery, but Amare is back at the explosive level of years past, taking a huge role in a Suns offense that's looking scary-good.
Coach of the Year
Nitin: Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz
Last year, the Utah Jazz finished their season with a dead even 41- 41 record and failed to advance to the playoffs. So far this year, they lead the Northwest division with a 32-17 record with momentum to spare. What's so different? Not too much really. Aside from the front office acquisitions of guard Derek Fisher and rookies Paul Millsap and Ronnie Brewer, the fate of the Jazz has rested comfortably in coach Jerry Sloan's hands. He has given his young, developing point guard Deron Williams both freedom to run the floor and weapons to win games. The Jazz may not be back in its glory days with Stockton and Malone, but Sloan has found the groove again using Williams and complementary centers Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer.
Andrew: Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been one of this season's pleasant surprises, and much of their success can be attributed to the guidance of the Zen Master. Jackson has milked a great year out of a newly unselfish Kobe Bryant as well as decent contributions from the likes of Luke Walton, Smush Parker and Andrew Bynum. Many questioned his decision to return to Los Angeles prior to the 05-06 season, considering the Lakers a project many years in the making, but Jackson has helped lead a quick turnaround from a franchise embarrassment to a dangerous playoff contender. His triangle offense is thriving, averaging 103.9 points per game, good for fifth in the league. Hitting double digits in championship rings this year is a long shot, but Jackson has done a great job nurturing the younger players and keeping the egos in check, returning a winning atmosphere to Staples Center.
Executive of the Year
Nitin: Mark Warkentein, Denver Nuggets
Two big trades are his two big reasons for winning the award. Warkentein engineered the biggest trade of the season, acquiring superstar guard Allen Iverson in exchange for virtually nothing in Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first-round draft picks. By putting Iverson and star forward Carmelo Anthony together (at the time, the two leading scorers in the NBA), the Nuggets have established possibly the most dangerous duo in the league. Warkentein also put together a trade dealing guards Earl Boykins and Julius Hodge for point guard Steve Blake. Not only did this move unload salary cap room, but the Nuggets found a true point guard in Blake, to help create enough shots to keep the two scoring machines happy.
Andrew: Bryan Colangelo, Toronto Raptors
After helping to establish an offensive juggernaut in the desert with the Suns, Colangelo took his game North of the border where he has transformed the Dinos into a surprise division leader. Trading for point guard T.J. Ford has been a great move, the newly-signed international superstars Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa have been solid contributors and first overall pick Andrea Bargnani is also rounding out into a nice player. Chris Bosh and his obscenely long neck still run the show, but Colangelo should be applauded for constructing a potent supporting cast.
Andrew Kung. Andrew Kung is a rising Magnet junior who is psyched for a year of Chips Online. He has lived in New York, Michigan, and New Mexico prior to his current residence in Maryland. As a cynical sports fan, he is not often disappointed, but not … More »
Nitin Sukumar. Nitin's middle name is Antonio Gates. More »