Posted on: May 12, 2011 2:50 pm
Edited on: May 12, 2011 5:23 pm

NBA announces All-NBA teams

Posted by Matt Moore

Here are the 2010-2011 All-NBA team rosters:

     Position  Player, Team (1st Team Votes)   Points
     Forward   LeBron James, Miami (119)       595
     Forward   Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City (69)        492
     Center    Dwight Howard, Orlando (118)    593
     Guard     Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers (98)   551
     Guard     Derrick Rose, Chicago (118)     593


     Position  Player, Team (1st Team Votes)   Points
     Forward   Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers (2)      259
     Forward   Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas (47)      437
     Center    Amar’e Stoudemire, New York (2) 258
     Guard     Dwyane Wade, Miami (24) 392
     Guard     Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City        184


     Position  Player, Team (1st Team Votes)   Points
     Forward   LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland     135
     Forward   Zach Randolph, Memphis  67
     Center    Al Horford, Atlanta     62
     Guard   Manu Ginobili, San Antonio      106 Guard
     Chris Paul, New Orleans   157 
So most of that is pretty standard. Dwyane Wade being second team is pretty insane, but Kobe Bryant could shoot 30% for the rest of his career and still make first-team. That's just how things work. The big surprise is Russell Westbrook, second team All-NBA point guard over Chris Paul. That's just insanity. Westbrook was a force this season. He was blistering, hyper-aggressive, and carried nearly as much of the load as Kevin Durant while also playing the most difficult position in the league. But for him to have gotten the votes over CP3 is simply madness.  Paul was the biggest reason for the Hornets' return to the playoffs and at times, was the best point guard in the league (if you consider Derrick Rose to be beyond positional elements). 

It's good to see LaMarcus Aldridge get run on the third team, along with Zach Randolph, Al Horford, and Ginobili. The most amusing instances, though, are the "Also Receiving Votes" entries.
 Other players receiving votes, with point totals (first team votes in
 parentheses): Rajon Rondo, Boston, 68; Paul Pierce, Boston, 55; Carmelo
 Anthony, Denver-New York, 53; Kevin Love, Minnesota, 48; Tim Duncan, San
 Antonio, 43; Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers, 36; Tony Parker, San Antonio,
 27; Kevin Garnett, Boston, 22; Deron Williams, Utah-New Jersey 19; Steve
 Nash, Phoenix, 17; Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee, 13; Monta Ellis, Golden State,
 11; Nene, Denver, 11; Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers, 9; Kevin Martin, Houston,
 7; Tyson Chandler, Dallas, 7; Joakim Noah, Chicago, 5; Marc Gasol,
 Memphis, 3; Al Jefferson, Utah, 3; Kendrick Perkins, Boston-Oklahoma City,
 3; Andrea Bargnani, Toronto, 2; Chris Bosh, Miami, 2; Andre Iguodala,
 Philadelphia, 1; Emeka Okafor, New Orleans, 1; Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers,
 1; Gerald Wallace, Charlotte-Portland, 1; Jason Kidd, Dallas, 1; Luis
 Scola, Houston, 1; Luol Deng, Chicago, 1;  Ray Allen, Boston, 1
Let's rank them based on hilarity. 

5. Deron Williams: Well, he did have a huge impact on the Jazz' season.

4. Steve Nash: This is actually absurd because Nash only got 17 votes. If you watched him this year, that's a pretty tough sell.  

3. Al Jefferson: Yes, because that guy really lived up to expectations and contributed in a meaningful way. 

2. Kendrick Perkins: Little known fact: you don't actually have to play in the NBA for most of the season to mak the All-NBA team for that season. Good to know. 

1. Andrea Bargnani: There are no words.
Category: NBA
Posted on: April 21, 2011 11:52 am

Kevin Love deserves an award, just not MIP

Posted by Matt Moore

"Most Self-Actualized Player?" "Most Resiliant to Bad Coaching Player?" "Most Stat-Excessive Player?" 

Any of these would be adequate awards to give Kevin Love. But "Most Improved Player?" 

It just doesn't fit. 

Don't get me wrong, this isn't some crank post about how Love didn't really improve, that he just chased stats on a bad, bad, bad team. There was a little bit of that last part going on, but those stats did help his team. Love was the Wolves a best player, and that does constitute an improvement compared to his previous season. But what's wrong here is the idea that Love somehow made a phenomenal jump in ability, skill, and performance, worthy of the MIP award. To say that is downright insulting. 

To Kevin Love. 

Love has been this good. He wasn't this good as a rookie, no one is. But he was this good last year. He would have put up these numbers, and had he gotten the minutes he was rewarded this season as a sophomore, the slight differential in his per-36 and advanced stats would likely have been negated. Love was ready to contribute at this level last season. He didn't. Not because of his play, or his attitude, or because he was stuck behind better players, but because Minnesota Timberwolves coaching and management have never really understood the enormous asset they have available at power forward in Love. 

Love played 28.6 minutes per game last year, which doesn't sound like that much more than his 35.8 he played this season. But it's the inconsistency he got them which infuriated Wolves fans. Take a look at Love's 2009-2010 minutes compared to this season, and pay particular attention to the wider range of game-to-game minutes Love received last season. 

Most of Love's dips this season were due to injury. Last year, he was yanked around from game to game. Even take a look at those first couple of games. He was getting fewer minutes this season, without Al Jefferson, than he was last season.  But from there, Love took over, had his breakout games, which forced the Minnesota coaching staff to play him and for management to back him. It hasn't exactly been a secret that GM David Kahn has never bought into Love as the star and franchise player for this team. There was a lot of talk in circles about Minnesota's management being signficantly interested in trading Love. If Love were to be swapped tomorrow, inevitably for some sort of high draft bust with upside, most people that follow the NBA wouldn't be shocked. 

Kevin Love had a phenomenal season, the kind of season he should have had last year. You can argue that it's Love's improvement that earned hi more trust from the coaching staff which led to those higher minutes, but to do so would be to ignore what he was capable of last season. You can argue that Love's per-36-minute numbers and rebound percentages show enough of an improvement to warrant the award, but how much of that was simply due to opportunity and being allowed to be a focus on the floor; how much of it was the result of improved confidence? 

Minnesota has a brighter future than most think. Even without Ricky Rubio, there's some talent on that squad, and they played with a lot of toughness for stretches in games last year. A coaching change will help, a management shift towards a more cohesive roster will benefit the team. But while Love deserves to be rewarded for his efforts, to call him most improved is to insult his intelligence in regards to what he's been capable of in this league the whole time. 
Posted on: April 19, 2011 1:00 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 6:15 pm

Lamar Odom named NBA Sixth Man of the Year

Posted by Royce Young

Tuesday morning, the Lakers called a press conference involving Lamar Odom and they weren't just announcing another reality show. Odom has been named this season's NBA Sixth Man of the Year. 

Tuesday afternoon, the Lakers issued the following statement confirming the honor.
“Lamar could realistically start for any team in this league but his team-first attitude has allowed us to utilize him in a sixth man role,” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.  “He could have won this award in any of the last several seasons and I’m happy that his unselfishness and talent have finally been recognized.” 
I wrote a few weeks ago about Odom and to me, it was about a no-brainer pick as there is. Odom embodied everything a sixth man should be. He filled in starter time, played excellent minutes off the bench and provided the Lakers with one of the top weapons in the league. 

You could make an argument for this being Odom's best season, especially in terms of efficiency. He averaged 14.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in 32.5 minutes a night. He also shot 53 percent from the field, a career-high. He finished with a 19.50 PER which is also the best he's had in his nine-year career.

He's always been sort of the X-factor for the Lakers because of his unique skillset. And he's always been very good for them in whatever role he's used. But his main issue has been consistency. This season, he's been reliable almost every single night. When that happens not only is he one of the most dynamic players in basketball, but the Lakers are maybe the toughest team to beat.

There were certainly other good candidates. Jason Terry, Thaddeus Young, Glen Davis, Jamal Crawford -- all good players. But Odom really feels like the one player out of this group that if you subtracted him, his team would be cost a substantial number of wins. I really think he's that valuable to what the Lakers do. Just the options he gives Phil Jackson late in games to match up or create mismatches with.

Really, the best argument there is right now as to why not to vote for Odom is because he started so many games. As long as he's within the rules, it doesn't matter to me and again, I kind of like that. Like I said, being the type of play that's able to fill in wherever is needed is what makes a great sixth man.

No Laker had ever previously won the Sixth Man award, which started in 1983. Odom finished sixth in voting in 2010, earning one of 120 first-place votes.
Posted on: April 13, 2011 1:25 pm
Edited on: April 13, 2011 1:42 pm

2011 NBA MVP: A share of greatness

Derrick Rose is likely to win the 2011 NBA MVP. But considering all the evidence, Matt Moore has an out-of-the-box solution to the Rose-Howard debate. Plus, a reminder to the NBA and NBPA of what's most valuable. 
Posted by Matt Moore

Derrick Rose deserves the MVP

That statement is not the result of a complex re-examination or twisting of the considerable statistical evidence that suggests there are more worthy candidates. It does not dismiss the validity of empirical consideration in regards to player evaluation, and it does not seek to suggest that the dramatic elements that surround Rose this season are irrelevant in the discussion. It's just an opinion, an estimation, a conclusion reached after watching a great deal of basketball in 2010-2011, and weighing all the evidence, be it plays watched, columns read, data examined, or context inherent in the seasons of Rose and his contemporaries. 

Why is Rose worthy of the Most Valuable Player award? Because in a single season he's taken the remnants of a first-round also-ran Bulls team, integrated new components which don't make a complete, dominant squad, and led them to the best record in the East. Tom Thibodeau's defense was the biggest reason for the Bulls' climb to contention, but Chicago still would have been nothing more than a tough first-round out without Rose. Rose is the offense for the Bulls. And while that offense is nowhere near the top of the league in efficiency, it's been more than enough to get the Bulls where they want to go. 

An MVP is a great player that addresses his weaknesses to the degree it's difficult to establish any way to stop him. The first half of the year, there were questions about Rose's ability to create and finish after contact. His free throws made and attempted improved as he began initiating and then finishing off in traffic. Speaking of finishing, Rose has a downright supernatural ability to close the deal once at the point of attack. He's able to adjust to any angle, counter any defensive presence, explode past any defensive set. Defenses will bring three players primed to Rose on the pick and roll, and still be helpless to stop Rose hitting the extra gear to get to the rack. He improved his three-point shooting, giving him range to punish teams that played off him. Even after we outlined how Rose's shooting had dipped as the year had gone on, Rose recovered in March and especially in April, closing the season strongly from the perimeter. Rose is a willing defender, a fierce leader, and does all of these things with an incredible array of excitement around him. 

One of the most often used metrics to attack Rose's candidacy (one of the few to look poorly on him; the majority simply don't reflect as highly upon him as other candidates) is his on/off court numbers. In short, the Bulls give up more points with Rose on the floor than off. But to focus in on this pattern is to ignore first the amount of time Rose spends on the floor, who he spends it with, and the makeup of the Bulls' reserve unit. Tom Thibodeau favors sending in entire lineups, like in hockey, and as a result, Rose primarily plays with the starting unit, which features Carlos Boozer. Boozer is a fine offensive weapon, but defensively, he's kind of a mess. That he's a part of the best defense in the league is a testament to the technique and awareness of the Bulls' help defenders. The Bulls' second unit, by contrast, is made up of defensive players like Ronnie Brewer, Omer Asik, and Taj Gibson, playing against other teams' second unit. Again, once context is given, some, though not all, of the numbers that question Rose's candidacy aren't as lethal.

But the biggest reason to push Rose over the top is this. Rose has taken games over the way no other player has this season. Kobe Bryant has found age taking the slightest bit of venom off his stinger. LeBron James has looked apoplectic in Miami next to Wade and Bosh late. Dwight Howard is a liability offensively due to his free-throw shooting and the traditional role of the big man in late-game situations (though it's fair to argue that shouldn't be held against him). But Rose? It's not just on the offensive end. If the Bulls need that key steal, Rose creates it. If the Bulls need to close the gap in a flurry, Rose takes off like a rocket, concerned with speed, not making sure he takes a Jordan-like approach. Rose's gap in efficiency (which has shrunk over the final month of the season) is mitigated by his lethality.

Yes, Rose is a popular story. But why is that a problem? Shouldn't the MVP reflect what the fans want? Isn't it, at the end of the day, nothing more than an award to celebrate the season and anoint a player as a hero in basketball? Derrick Rose has been the most exciting player in 2010-2011, and he's got the wins to go along with it. 

Derrick Rose is worthy of the MVP. 

Dwight Howard is worthy of the MVP. 

That statement is not the result of simply reading numbers in a table and ignoring everything that happened on the floor. It does not reflect a bias towards centers in a league weak in big men. It is the result of watching a lot of games, looking at all the information, Howard's impressive work at both ends of the floor, the relative weaknesses of his team and the marginal success they've had, and yes, the great numbers he puts up in advanced metrics. But to simply say "Dwight Howard is MVP because his numbers are better" isn't just a weak argument, it's a cruel case of shorting Howard's impact in all phases of the game. 

Derrick Rose is a fine story, but what about Howard? The Magic could have melted down, Howard could have demanded a trade, he could have given up on the team and stopped caring when things didn't go right. Instead Howard posted his best season yet. Howard helped keep a Magic team in transition grounded, leading them to homecourt in the playoffs, despite Gilbert freaking Arenas being a key bench player for them. Howard has pushed his team all season, and while some of his in-press badgering seems heavy handed, he's just as committed to winning as Derrick Rose is, despite the differential in demeanor between them. 
Howard's MVP case starts of course at the defensive end. Watching defense isn't just unpopular, it's difficult. To really get a sense of what Howard does, you have to not watch the ball move. You have to focus on Howard, how he keeps his spacing, reacts to not just the ball's movement, but how the offense shifts to try and create opportunities with the extra pass. How many times has an offense drawn help against the Magic, rotated the ball the corner where the offensive player attempts a pump-and-go baseline drive, only to find Howard have rotated from the far side over and completely cut off the lane? To put Howard into the simple context of just blocks is to ignore the real work of a defender, dissuading field goal attempts, disrupting passing lanes, and suffocating possessions. No one does it better than Howard. 

So the question is offense. And it's there we may react too much to "feel." Howard scored 23 points on 14 shots this season, shooting 59 percent from the field. That's how he winds up with such great efficiency. Howard's drop-hook is not a thing of beauty. It's the same rolling, awkward bird flap it's always been. But the fact remains; Howard is a force on offense. He sets brutal screens, works well off the roll, has added a short-range jumper, and, oh, yeah, can dunk hard enough to rend the heavens asunder. 

And have we mentioned he's one of the best rebounders in the league, topped only by Kevin Love? That Howard controls a ridiculous amount of caroms from both his guys and the opponent? That means control of possessions for the Magic. Which again, leads to efficient scoring. That's how the Magic have dragged their way to the fourth seed. 

There will inevitably be questions about the technicals. How could the MVP be that boneheaded? But if Howard's pursuit is to gain an advantage in officiating, something all players, and especially the great ones try to do, isn't that worth the fines and suspensions? This is a regular season award, but the point of winning is to angle for a championship. And losing a game in the regular season means almost nothing when weighted against the incredible impact he has in all the others he plays in. The free throw shooting? What, you haven't seen some of Wilt's free throw shooting numbers, let alone Shaq? 

Stats aren't everything. But they are something. They provide neutral, indisputable elements to give texture and context to what we see, and what we don't. Our eyes aren't going to give us the total view of Howard's defensive impact. Our eyes won't credit Howard with his newfound offensive versatility. It will accentuate Howard's weaknesses while glossing over Rose's. But even if we throw out the stats, the fact remains. 

Dwight Howard is worthy of the MVP. 

2011 NBA MVP Debate
So what's the answer, then? Rose is the better story, and that's a valid reason to vote for him. Howard is empirically the best player, and he shouldn't be punished because of some ignorant resistance to the evolution of statistics in basketball.  You can't watch Rose and not believe that he's worthy of the title "Most Valuable." But it's not like watching Dwight Howard play shows some sort of context that proves he's not as good as the numbers say he is. The past few weeks have seen a fairly brutal series of arguments arise on the web between the two. Both sides have taken polarizing positions. If you rely on statistical data to augment or define your position, you're either a "stathead," or a "nerd." If you choose to let the game speak for itself, trust your eyes, and rely on anecdotal information as the traditional evaluation of the award has been, you're accused of being closed-minded or simple. It's been a tragic case of the new fan-media conglomeration eating itself. To argue one player or the other is worthy is a fine and noble pursuit. To try and concretely determine that either player is lacking in credentials for Most Valuable Players is a misguided approach. And that's where we reach the end of the examination and reach a simple conclusion. 

There should be two Co-MVPs this season. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard should split the MVP. 

Both represent the balance of this season.  The flashy guard in the big market making thrilling plays and winning games. The big man down low, dominating in measurable ways and trying to hold together a small-market team desperately needing to stay relevant. The steal, the block, the three, the dunk. Each is as worthy of the award as the other, and neither have set themselves apart to the degree we can say definitively they are ahead. How to vote this way? I'm not sure. It will surprise exactly no one that I don't receive a vote. But the most accurate representation of the Most Valuable Player for 2010-2011 is to split the award between Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose. 
This season more than any other shows why if the league wanted to really provide the best recognition for these players, they should split the award into three categories. Offensive Player of the Year, raise Defensive Player of the Year's standing to equal level, and Most Outstanding Player. Creating a "triple-crown" of sorts would allow voters to accurately differentiate between MVPs like Steve Nash, who represented an outstanding player and the best offensive threat but who suffered defensively, and players like Michael Jordan, who likely would have won all three. It would provide yet another level of debate, as fans and media made the case for why or why not a player should get a third, two-thirds, or all three of the triple-awards share. It would more accurately designate the factors that go into determining the award.  Some consider offense to be more important, others feel defense is criminally underrated in consideration of the award, and most simply go off of "feeling." Most Outstanding Player would allow voters to designate a player who wasn't toppermost of the poppermost in either category, but when considered in context, still had the most outstanding season. It allows for empirical consideration and disregarding, focusing on personality and story or sheer highlight impact. Creating offensive player would help to bring defensive player to where it needs to be, as an equal counterpoint, rather than an award given to a player as a consolation prize for not having as nice of a highlight reel or mid-range jumper. And again, the triple-crown winner? That's a player that you could certify as a legend. 

But on the other hand, why would the league want to disrupt the voting process? Lost in all the consternation about the vagueness of the award is this: it does what it's supposed to for the league, it keeps you involved. People argue on barstools over who's better, they buy jerseys to support their guy, they make websites, call into talk shows, comment on blogs (man, do they comment on blogs), launch Twitter campaigns with little or no actual argument other than "My guy is the MVP, period!" All of this does little to advance the debate about what valuable is or who the best player is, but it sells. It brings more attention, passion, and dollar bills to the National Basketball Association, and that's why it's there. 

Still, it's been a groundbreaking season for ratings, star potential, national attention, and innovation. It's only fitting that the Most Valuable Player award reflect that by branching out of the norm and voting for Co-MVPs. It would do us right to spread the wealth. You know, before the summer when there's no wealth to be spread for however long the nuclear winter lasts. 

One more comment. 

LeBron James is worthy of the MVP. 

He is the merger of the two sides. He's as lightning-strike-like as Derrick Rose, while being as fundamentally sound as Dwight Howard. He carries an equal load as Derrick Rose, despite his All-Star teammates, and does so as efficiently as Dwight Howard. He makes the highlight plays that make you jump out of your seat, and has become one of the most overwhelming defenders in the league. He is strong, he is fast, he is productive, and he is talented. He has had a stellar season producing in so many areas while not sacrificing defensively. He's led the Heat to the best efficiency differential in the NBA. He is, pound for pound, the best player in the NBA. 

He can't win the award. That's obvious. There's a million reasons why. His popularity, for one. You can't have an MVP half the fanbase of the league hates, even if he is selling jerseys. There's got to be a practical implication here. Second, he hasn't closed well down the stretch. If we only base our discussion around the last five minutes of the game, James just hasn't been there this season. It's not that you want the ball in his hands late. It's just that you're not struck with the same fear as you have with Derrick Rose (or Kobe Bryant for that matter; had Bryant not had a few too many games where he thought he was still 27, he'd be right here with LeBron for being worthy). The numbers say he's better than Rose in the clutch. But the games we remember most, like against Chicago, or Boston, it hasn't been there. It's not fair, but that's the perception, and it's based on a reality of sorts. His All-Star teammates do demand that he exceed expectations, or at least reach the lofty goals set for him by the media in preseason. He called his shot alongside the Triad this summer and he missed. If you think that shouldn't play into voters' consideration of his season, you're an idealist. Let's be reasonable. You can't talk that talk, and then walk sort of, but not quite that walk. James can't win, but that doesn't mean he's not worthy. 

LeBron James can't win the MVP because everyone hates him. That's not a bitter statement, it's an exaggeration of the fact that most people, most fans don't like him. Those are the consequences for his decisions, and they are fair. The story says no. But if we're evaluating whether or not James deserved to be right there for the conversation, his play, night in and night out, says yes. 

In closing, it's been a tremendous season. We will have what will likely be a new MVP, one of the youngest ever.  The big markets are all back to relevance (even if small-markets are being strangled to death in the process).  The MVP debate this season reflects the incredible number of stars we are able to enjoy every night. Kevin Durant led the Thunder to the fourth seed in the West (probably) and led the league in scoring, and he'll only get a handful of second and third place votes. Dirk Nowitzki at age 30 put in one of the best seasons of his career and had the Mavericks in play for the top spot in the West for much of the year. Kobe Bryant was Kobe Bryant. Again. If wins were irrelevant in the conversation, Kevin Love would have had a say in the debate. Amar'e Stoudemire helped put the Knicks back into relevance when his starting center was Ronny Turiaf for most of the year. The list goes on and on. It's been an incredible season, one of the best ever, and an equally exciting playoff season is around the corner. 

So consider this a logic-driven plea. To the representatives of the NBPA and NBA owners' group, consider how much potential the sport has right now, how much has gone right for it. There are points to each side's position in the labor talks, and business will always come first. But to lose out on the unbelievable potential the sport has right now is to squander one of the best opportunities the league will ever have to reach heights it has never seen. A prolonged lockout would squash all that momentum. Each side has reasons for their positions. And that's understandable. But get in a room. Talk. And keep talking until a resolution is reached to save the season. You've got so much going right for yourselves. But the best thing you have is a fanbase that's truly excited to follow and be involved in your sport. 

And that's what's most valuable. 
Posted on: April 13, 2011 12:44 pm
Edited on: April 13, 2011 2:03 pm

What happened to the MVP favorite, Kevin Durant?

Posted by Royce Young

Kevin Durant had already accomplished the hard part. He had the buzz.

The first step in winning basketball most prestigious individual award is building that buzz. With a fantastic season where he became the youngest scoring champion in history, led his surprising Thunder to 50 wins, placed second behind LeBron for MVP and then put a young Team USA squad on his back in Turkey for the first World Championship gold medal in 16 years, Durant had everyone talking.

In fact, coming into the season, Durant was the overwhelming pick by NBA general managers to win the MVP. Most fans were taking him, especially with the way LeBron James damaged his image and his importance by going to Miami to join Dwyane Wade.

But all that buzz is actually what sort of betrayed Durant. Expectations for him were taken to an entirely new level. He averaged 30.1 points per game on awesome percentages last season, so the assumption was he'd top that this year.

He didn't. But it's not like he was bad, or even average. He was terrific. He's about to win his second straight scoring title averaging 27.8 points per game on 46 percent shooting. That's not all that bad, you know. Really, the only difference from this year and last year's scoring numbers is that Durant took almost 150 fewer free throws. Give him 135 more makes from the stripe and he averages 29.6 ppg, much closer to on par with last season.

Most importantly though, his team has gone from fun 50-win upstart to a 55-win legitimate contender in the Western Conference. In terms of resume, Durant has a solid one. Probably an MVP-worthy one.

Bur for some reason, he just sort of got overlooked. Most don't even have Durant in their top five. It's likely he'll finish sixth, behind Dirk Nowitzki. Maybe it was because of his semi-slow start. Maybe it's because teammate Russell Westbrook stole some of the spotlight. Maybe it's because he didn't reach the bar set for him in the offseason, because he didn't live up to the hype. Whatever the case, he sort of was forgotten, despite having a season almost on par to the campaign that had him as runner-up to LeBron.

That's the thing about being the favorite though. People expect things. Durant was expected to take his game to another level and despite his team being better with Durant still doing very good things, he wasn't as good as we thought. That made all the difference.

When he was showered with all that offseason praise for announcing his extension on Twitter, for winning gold and for being the frontrunner for MVP, there was some worry that it might have an effect on Durant. Some wondered if it was possible for it all to get in his head a bit. But KD said it well back in September at the Thunder's media day.

“I feel like the same guy I was in high school. I’ve got a car and a driver’s license, but other than that, it’s the same.” And a giant house, and a shoe, and millions of dollars... but let's not get picky here because I see his point.

When he was asked about NBA GMs picking him as the preseason MVP he said, “I mean, it’s cool but it doesn’t really mean too much." Don't let him fool you entirely -- he would very much have liked to win. But it was never his focus.

Durant said a month ago that the media tends to gravitate toward the new guy. He was that guy last season leading a surprise team to the postseason. This year, it's Derrick Rose. Having that fresh face really is a pretty big advantage. Rose wasn't pegged by anyone as a preseason MVP candidate. So his awesome season seemed to come out of nowhere, making it feel like he really elevated his level of play this year (which he has of course). Durant, on the other hand, appeared to regress. How can a guy be an MVP when he wasn't as good as last year?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing for Kevin Durant here. He's not this season's MVP. But I also don't think he really did anything to entirely remove his name from the discussion.

Winning the MVP really was never on Durant's mind though. Before the season he said, "I don’t set individual goals like that. The only goals I set for myself is to try to have a better season than I did last year. That’s about it. I don’t have to score more points, or get more rebounds or get more assists. But if I got better throughout the season is how I determine if I had a better season than last year.”

Well, he didn't score more points or get more rebounds or get more assists. But his team went from novelty future winner to a contender right now. His team went from good to very, very good. From scary to downright terrifying. Somehow, I think that's the goal Durant had all along. So he can live with his name slipping from the MVP talk.

And before you get too wrapped up in thinking Durant had a "down" year or disappointed in some way by not fulfilling all the hype, remember this: He's only 22 years old. He's just finishing up his fourth season in the NBA. He still has a lot, and I mean a lot, of time left. His MVP will come, but like he said, that's not really what he's thinking about.
Posted on: April 9, 2011 3:23 pm
Edited on: April 9, 2011 4:12 pm

Absolutely no doubt about Blake Griffin for ROY

Posted by Royce Young

It's this season's easiest award to hand out. It's like The Godfather winning Best Picture in 1972. There's really no other option and it was so good you almost want to give it two trophies.

Blake Griffin is the Rookie of the Year. He was so good, he may have staked out Rookie of the Decade.

There isn't any kind of debate here. No discussion to be had. It's the anti-MVP debate. Whatever metric you use -- advanced stats, regular stats, your eye ball, YouTube hits -- Griffin is your winner.

(Really, the biggest debate there was with Griffin was about a potential nickname. Blake Superior, The Blake Show, Quake Griffin, Captain Planet as Deron Williams dubbed him -- nothing seemed to totally fit but darn it, we were all trying.)

Let me go over his resume briefly in case you somehow were in a bomb shelter the past six months: 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on 50 percent shooting, a Clipper franchise record for double-doubles in a season (60) and 500 jaw-dropping plays. He was the first rookie All-Star since Tim Duncan, won the dunk contest and participated in all three nights of All-Star Weekend. And just remind yourself again quickly here, he's 21 years old and just finished his rookie season.

Most likely, Griffin will become the third unanimous Rookie of the Year selection to go with Ralph Sampson (1983) and David Robinson (1989) since the NBA/ABA merger. You really could make a pretty strong case that Griffin had one of the best rookie seasons in history.

Griffin is such a sure thing that if you're just dying to discuss this year's rookies, you've got to talk about the runner-up. It's most likely John Wall, but players like Landry Fields, DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe have had really strong seasons. Coming in to the season, most were unsure of Griffin and had Wall, Cousins, Monroe, Evan Turner and Derrick Favors as their favorites. But this race was actually pretty much over by the end of November where Griffin averaged a double-double and blew us away with a flurry of ultimate highlight dunks.

I think one of the most interesting things about Griffin's rookie year though is how he almost overshadowed himself. He became more of a novelty, more of a highlight machine than a basketball player. And what was overlooked is that Griffin is a terrific basketball player.

He plays like an animal that's caged for 22 hours a day but is let out for two hours every few days on a hardwood floor. That may be his kryptonite too though -- he might actually play too hard. Every Clipper fan -- and NBA fan for that matter -- lives in fear every time he rises high off the floor only to come crashing down like a pile of bricks dropped from a ladder. But it's also a reason Griffin is so intoxicating. He plays each game like it's the only chance he gets to do it for weeks.

He's a 6-10 monster of a man, built of a adamantium that can run like a wide receiver, leap like a high-jumper and is strong like a bull. He's graceful in his movements, skilled with the ball, can handle in traffic, pass masterfully to cutting guards, post guys bigger than him and score in any situation. He even stepped out to 3-point range a bit (30.4 percent). If that's what's next for him, well, God help us all.

My favorite game of the season was also his best, but one that didn't have a high-flying dunk in it. Against Indiana in December, he notched 47 points on 19-24 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out three assists. He only dunked once so instead of wowing everyone above the rim, Griffin showcased his complete game. He posted, he nailed jumpers, he spun, he ran the floor, he finished in traffic -- it was just an awesome performance. Don't get me wrong, he had about 50 awesome games this season, but that was his best one and it was because he actually had the chance to show how good he really is.

It's almost a shame Griffin became such a sensation because of that. Between jumping over the car, the YouTube clips and all the buzz he manifested in every arena he walked into, Griffin's actual game was almost an afterthought.

Don't get me wrong, the dunks were awesome. I mean, watch this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this or this or this or this or this.

But I get the feeling we sort of got all of it out of our systems this season. By the end of the year, every dunk Griffin had wasn't exploding on Twitter and uploaded to YouTube 15 seconds after it happened. People sort of chilled on him, which is a good thing in the long run. Now people can begin to appreciate how fantastic a basketball player he is, instead of seeing him only as a dunking machine.
Posted on: April 7, 2011 12:32 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 12:35 pm

Kevin Durant: "Of course" Derrick Rose is MVP.

Kevin Durant is okay with not being on the MVP list. Well, not that okay. But he does think it belongs to Derrick Rose

Posted by Matt Moore

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Stan Van Gundy, countless columnists, fans, and I'm pretty sure a few members of various royal families. These are all people who have pledged their support for Derrick Rose for MVP. 

Throw Kevin Durant on that list. 

In an interview with HoopsHype, Durant laid out pretty clearly that he's okay with being overlooked for MVP despite being the favorite to win his second consecutive scoring title, and gave his support to the kid from Chicago:
"As of right now, I congratulate Derrick Rose for winning MVP… Yeah, of course (Rose should be the MVP). He’s having a phenomenal season. They’re No. 1 in the East now, especially with all the firepower that went to the East… (Rose), Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, those three guys should be MVP candidates.’’
via HoopsHype.com NBA Blogs - Chris Tomasson » Durant’s under-the-radar season.

If you want to read some subtext, hit the find hotkey on your browser and do a search for "Dwight Howard." This will be the first mention of his name. Howard hasn't received much of an endorsement at all. He's not even mentioned by Durant. Durant does mention Kobe Bryant several times, showing his respect for him.

Durant probably should be on the list. But if we're looking for marks, his field goal, free throw, and 3-point shooting percentages are all down. He's taken a slightly lower role in the offense (while still having one of the top usage rates in the league), and his rebounds are down as well. Last season's results shouldn't bear out in the current MVP race, but they're going to. 

Consider Durant's endorsement yet another sign that the MVP race, no matter how much debate should be held, is over.   

Posted on: March 31, 2011 6:36 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 12:58 am

COY: Down to Popovich vs. Thibodeau

Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau have coached brilliantly this year. But who's the NBA Coach of the Year? 
Posted by Matt Moore

They're wrong, you know. Five things are actually certain, not two. Death, taxes, Gregg Popovich will verbally tear you in half should you make an egregious mistake on the floor for him, and Tom Thibodeau will do the same, but be even louder when he does it. The fifth thing? One of those two men will win the 2010-2011 NBA Coach of the Year Award. 

As is the case with any award, particularly this year, there's no shortage of worthy nominees for Coach of the Year. George Karl comes to mind first. After all, he held a fractured, pressured locker room together through the insanity of the Melo saga, then turned a team without a superstar into the fifth seed, one who no one wants to run into in a dark first-round alley. J.R. Smith may be his best scoring component, his point guard is in his third season and two of his best frontcourt defenders are best known for their insane map of tattoos. Karl has done a great job. 

Another head guy that pops up is Lionel Hollins. Hollins has the Grizzlies in the playoffs despite a roster with considerable shortcomings, almost entirely made up of youngsters, and now without its highest paid player with Rudy Gay on the shelf. Zach Randolph is a team leader. Tony Allen is the emotional spark. And the squad that was one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season is all of a sudden a ball-hawking terror on the defensive end. Hollins has been superb. 

Doug Collins is going to sneak under the radar. The Sixers had a disastrous start. It was truly horrible. Then, they got better. Much better. And all of a sudden, they're the team  who is rocketing towards clinching the playoffs with a tough schedule, an over-the-hill star in Elton Brand, and a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none best player in Andre Iguodala. Collins has come out of nowhere to do a bang-up job. 

But in reality, this comes down to those two guys. The two best teams in each conference. But to see the real reason the award comes down to these two, you have to go far beyond the record. And you have to go even beyond that to find who deserves it more between the two basketball geniuses. 

No one saw this coming from San Antonio. They were supposed to be a playoff team, sure. But there was no indication that this season would find the Spurs winning.. and winning... and winning. What Popovich has done is taken a team that was between identities last season and shifted it into a juggernaut. Most people found the re-signing of Richard Jefferson preposterous in light of his contributions last season. Instead, Popovich turned Jefferson into a corner shooter, having him fill the role that so many veteran wings have taken, that of the long, defensive wing who spots-up for kickouts upon drives from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and on kickouts from Tim Duncan. Popovich has created an offensive juggernaut, which was tops in offensive efficiency for most of the season (until the aforementioned George Karl's Nuggets started tearing up opponents). George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, even Matt Bonner? These are all parts of the offensive albatross Pop put together out of the ashes of a second-round flameout squad. Yes, the health of the Spurs has helped, and yes, the defensive prowess hasn't been as impressive as previous Spurs teams'. But the proof is in the pudding. Popovich not only pushed the Spurs to topple nearly every team they came across, but kept on them through the dregs of January and February. It's only been in March, against elite playoff teams and dealing with injuries as the team starts to coast towards the playoffs, that the Spurs have shown any vulnerabilities in terms of overall performance. 

Maybe most impressive about Pop's work this year, however, is his ability to get outside of his traditional framework. Instead of blasting his team into smithereens when it's winning about its poor defensive performances, instead Popovich pushed the offense more. He's still cranky about the defense; he's Pop. But he also understood as he always has that winning is what matters in this league; it's results that you're judged by in this league. As the Spurs take on the Celtics Thursday night, the contrast is clear. Both Popovich and Doc Rivers have had to deal with new elements built around the same core, and new identities wrapped around the same principles. But while Rivers' Celtics remained a top team for most of the season, but still struggled to understand who they were as a team, Popovich's Spurs have simply kept speeding forward, destroying whatever was in their way, until just recently. If the defense were a little bit better, or had they driven right through the injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, there'd be no doubt that this would not only be the best coaching work of Pop's career in a regular season, but one of the better performances by any coach, ever. 

If only. 

NBA Awards
But it's those same reasons that we look across to the other conference, and see the barking, hoarse-voiced rage of another genius, whose team is similarly unbalanced, and yet nearly as successful. Chicago is 54-20, three games behind San Antonio for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau has been everything many thought he'd be in his first year in Chicago, and more. He's combined the raw emotional challenge of Doc Rivers, with the cold, ruthless tactician work of Popovich in previous years. He commands the best defense in the league, on a roster that features Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng in a prominent role. Boozer, Deng, Korver, Rose, Bogans, the list goes on and on of average-to-subpar defenders who all of a sudden are part of the fiercest trap in the league, the stiffest challenge at the rim, the quickest swarm to a loose ball. They are ball-hawks and charge-takers, dunk-stoppers and steak-makers, and they are constantly, constantly, constantly working to help one another to close any holes in their defense.

Thibodeau has the Bulls believing in themselves, 100 percent convinced that there is no limit to how far they can go. Playoffs? Who cares about making the playoffs. Let's talk about winning the championship. Not in a year. Not in a few years. Now. They buy in, completely and totally, to the team concept, to the defensive principles, to the guidance of their coach and the leadership he's instilled in his star point guard. 

Ah, Rose.

To give Thibodeau credit is as short-sighted as giving Rose credit for the Bulls' defense. In reality, both have excelled by letting the other do their thing. Coaches are often attributed with the success of improving a player, ignoring the work done in the offseason and the fact that so often, these star players simply break off the play and go be their awesome selves. Thibodeau has been honest about his approach. The Bulls' offense isn't a juggernaut, even within the Eastern Conference and certainly not when stacked up against San Antonio's. But it gets the job done, because Thibodeau has taken a hands-off approach. He trusts his players to execute, and trusts his star point guard to make plays. How often do we see coaches doom their teams by demanding they play within the system? Thibs merely asks them to commit to his proven defensive principles, and in return, gives them the freedom to be the players they are. It's a strikingly simple approach that makes you slap yourself on the forehead and ask why no one thought of this before. 

While Popovich has enjoyed the luxury of having his team healthy and complete for most of the season, Thibodeau has led the Bulls to this point despite missing Carlos Boozer for months, and Joakim Noah for weeks. The Bulls have played few games with a full roster, yet here they are. It's a testament to the ability to not only work around roster holes, but to develop a system which makes no individual player essential to the success of the team. Watch the Bulls. It's not the personnel that makes them an awesome force on defense, it's the wholesale commitment to the act. There's no uncertainty when they trap the ball-handler on the wing off the pick and roll, no hesitation when the weak-side defender rotates to cut off perimeter penetration. There's confidence, assurance, belief in their teammates, in the system, in their success. 

Coach of the Year is a regular season award. To try and judge these two based on their playoff prospects is short-sighted and complicated. Instead, it comes down to which team has been more impressive with the hand they've been dealt. And considering the cards and how he's played them, there can be no doubt. Tom Thibodeau is the 2010-2011 NBA Coach of the Year.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com