Friday, April 17, 2009

More 2008-09 NBA Awards, Starring Crazy Stan Van Gundy, Derrick Rose, and Dwight Howard

Earlier this week, we handed out our MVP award to LeBron James. Here are our thoughts on other '08-09 postseason awards.

1. Stan Van Gundy, Orlando
2. Mike Brown, Cleveland
3. Nate McMillan, Portland
4. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio
5. Doc Rivers, Boston

Stan Van Gundy wins for us, as we don't think that this Orlando team had any business winning 59 games this season, and most notably, we find it truly shocking that the Magic were no. 1 in the league in defensive efficiency with their personnel, including forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, who was one of the key elements of a Sonics team that was considered to be an historically bad defensive team in 2005-06. Also, Orlando and SVG dealt with the midseason loss of its second All-Star as if it were barely a speed bump, integrating a new player in a fairly seamless fashion.

We certainly think that Stan wrung every ounce of success that he could out of this ballclub, but we wonder at what cost. Pretty much every time we saw a clip of a miked-up Magic huddle on a national TV game, we started laughing. Every time, no matter the situation, Stan was manic, screaming and gesticulating wildly. Every single time, even during the middle of one of Orlando's signature wins of the season, a 116-87 thrashing of the league's top team, Cleveland, there was Stan, frantically yelling himself hoarse in the TO's, despite huge leads.

It drove *us* crazy to watch, and we only had to see a few snippets a handful of times a year. We have to think it drove the Magic players a little nuts to deal with this all day, every day over the course of an 82-game season. Dwight Howard confirmed as much in taking questions from fans on his blog recently:
    QUESTION: How do you guys learn to use Coach Van Gundy's screaming as a motivator? Does it not bother you? Don't you get sick of it? — Omar DaShiki

    DWIGHT: Sometimes it’s motivating, but 90 percent of the time it does upset me. But he has a way of saying all of the right things. But when you are on the court, in the heat of battle, you don’t [want] somebody getting on you. But that’s just the way it is with him.
We just wonder if Stan is going to wear out his welcome more quickly than expected in Orlando. Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich have proven that you can have extended NBA coaching careers while being tough and harsh and blunt with players at times, but even those guys seem to pick their spots. There's a constant urgency with Stan that seems more likely to lead to player burnout, though you can't argue with his remarkable results with the Orlando defense that his style begat in '08-09.

Mike Brown also had a team that didn't seem to have the horses to win as many as it did (66), even though he does have a thoroughbred for all time. He gets credit for expanding the offensive repertoire of his club while not sacrificing any of its defensive prowess.

Nate "Sarge" McMillan gets credit for leading the youngest team in "effective age" to win 50+ games in the last 30 years, for turning in one of the best seasons in the league with the second-youngest playing rotation - that's not supposed to happen.

Gregg Popovich navigated rough waters of injuries, and what has to be one of the least-talented rosters in the league 4 through 15, to lead San Antonio to one of the top five records in the league. The Spurs won several games thanks to last-second heroics, often due to perfectly drawn up and executed plays (see the Finley shot on Wednesday). No one is better at calling plays in the huddle at crunch time, and it paid off more than ever this year.

Doc Rivers somehow got 62 wins out of a team that played the last quarter of the season without its heart and soul, and dealt with injuries to other key players in the rotation as well.

1. Derrick Rose, Chicago
2. Brook Lopez, New Jersey
3. Kevin Love, Minnesota
4. Marc Gasol, Memphis
5. Michael Beasley, Miami

Derrick Rose tops an outstanding rookie class after averaging a 17-4-6 as the floor leader for a 41-41 playoff team. He gets the call narrowly over Brook Lopez, who was quite frankly much better than we expected him to be after watching him in Pac-10 play. If you'd prefer to swap the Miracle Glass Cleaner from the West Coast (Kevin Love) and Señor Scruffy from Spain (Marc Gasol) in the 3-4 spots, be our guest. It was close, and both players have some similar unselfish skills, to boot.

Russell Westbrook would have been on this list for much of the season, but from March 22 on, he averaged a putrid 12.4 ppg on .346 FG% shooting, as OKC stumbled home to a 4-9 record after showing some promise midseason. Meanwhile, Mike Beasley rumbled home with 20.6 pts and 8.6 rebounds on .553 FG% in April. He is the legitimate no. 2 scoring option for a 43-39 playoff team, and he edges Westbrook for no. 5. We wouldn't be surprised at all if Beasley is top scorer in this class next season, and if he's over 20 ppg.

In fact, after laying low for much of the season, we'd have to say that two of the most celebrated rookies - Beasley and Greg Oden - are among the most intriguing X-factors in the entire playoffs. Be Easy looks increasingly comfortable, to the point where we thought to ourselves, "Geez, you can't really stop the guy from scoring when he's on" in watching him a couple times in April. He attacks in a smooth and varied fashion on the offensive end.

Meanwhile, Oden also seemed to be gaining strength and confidence over the course of the season. He was one of the most productive rookies per minute, but the trick, of course, was keeping him on the court, either due to health or fouls. Now, he could be a pivotal factor in the postseason, as Portland matches up against Yao and the Rockets and then, if they advance, the Lakers' long frontline. If Oden is able to step up, and stay on the court... man, Portland could really be a handful for the Lakers.

Eric Gordon, Rudy Fernandez, and O.J. Mayo were among others who merited consideration in this shockingly deep class of rooks. And, as a side note, within an outstanding rookie class, it was an especially good year for Pac-10 rookies, as B. Lopez, Love, Westbrook and Mayo were among the best in the class, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was one of the most pleasant surprises.

1. Dwight Howard, Orlando
2. LeBron James, Cleveland
3. Ron Artest, Houston
4. Kevin Garnett, Boston
5. Tim Duncan, San Antonio

Dwight Howard was an easy choice as the DPoY, as the anchor and indomitable presence at the back of the league's top defense. LeBron James finally harnessed his all-time great athleticism on the defensive end, and man, it was kind of scary. At his best, he roamed the court in a Pippenesque manner, and this is with more of a Karl Malone body. Scary. Two of the most diametrically opposed personalities in the league, Ron Artest and Shane Battier, are the top perimeter defensive tandem in the league. Whatever works. Ron-Ron brought the crazy in a good way this season, mostly, and that's about all you can ask for with him.

We can't leave Kevin Garnett off the list even though he missed a quarter of the season. The Celtics were still easily the best defensive team in the league when he was on the floor, and KG was still the dominant defensive player, and defense was still a huge key to Boston's 27-2 start, which is what carried them to the no. 2 seed. As easy a choice as Howard was, we're certain that Garnett would have been our DPoY had he played a bit closer to 82. Let's hope that KG's mysterious knee problems don't mean that his days as a defensive superstar are permanently over.

Tim Duncan's knee problems caused him to slip out of his perennial ranking in our top 2, but he was still the anchor of a San Antonio defense that rated no. 6 in the league, and does not have terribly impressive personnel surrounding him, especially with Bruce Bowen declining out of the rotation.

If you want some proper All-Defensive Teams, sub in Rajon Rondo at guard with the top four above, and then make this the Second Team:
    G Chris Paul
    G Dwyane Wade
    F Shane Battier
    F Tim Duncan
    C Emeka Okafor
1. Jason Terry, Dallas
2. Lamar Odom, LA Lakers
3. Travis Outlaw, Portland
4. Nate Robinson, New York
5. Andrei Kirilenko, Utah

We strongly support the objective analysis movement in basketball, but the Sixth Man Award is one where we tend to go by feel a little bit, with so many guys lumped in a similar range of PERs. That said, The Jet was an easy choice with his efficient 19.6 ppg and 19.35 PER off the pine as a Dallas stalwart.

Lamar Odom's numbers were solid, and we think they would have been much more impressive numbers if he wasn't surrounded by so much talent. He was a true glue guy for a 65-17 team as an unselfish force on both ends. Travis Outlaw is a killer in the clutch - Portland's true no. 2 option in fourth quarters. At a certain point, Nate Robinson's numbers cannot be denied, although we think they're inflated a little by SSoL ball, but geez, you gotta respect a 5-7 guy who averages 4 reb in 30 mpg, among other things, no? Andrei Kirilenko was an underrated presence, especially on defense, and the Jazz really struggled when he was out of the lineup.

1. Rajon Rondo, Boston
2. Nene, Denver
3. Devin Harris, New Jersey

We'd rather that this award didn't exist, as it's rather hard to define, and somewhat pointless, but we'll play along. We had Rajon Rondo tied for 15 on our MVP ranking, on our All-Defensive First Team, and just missing our All-NBA third team. We just think that that's fairly shocking and remarkable progress for the young guard.