Saturday, May 05, 2007

NBA Awards: Good Job, Everyone

I know that the NBA awards are "regular season" awards and that the postseason doesn't count, although my buddy Josh Stump is at least one person who makes a good case that they should:

The principle of recency, and sports media types' obsession with the best player on the best team, would likely devalue regular season play and heavily reward playoff stars, but I'm not sure that isn't how it should be anyway. I mean, the whole point is to make and advance in the playoffs, right? I mean, in any race, the length of time you lead or the number of laps you lead really doesn't matter if you fall 50 feet before the finish line and finish 10th. It's harsh, but probably also a decent reflection of what is important about the race.

He makes a compelling case, although I've already digressed from my intended point, which is to say that the voters really blew it this year when it came to choosing the NBA award winners, at least if the first round of the playoffs are any indication. Of the six major awards, only two guys - Most Improved Player Monta Ellis and 6th Man Leandro Barbosa - are still alive in the postseason, and only Barbosa played a major role in a winning playoff team's success. (Note: I am assuming that Dirk is going to win the MVP Award. If he does, this post will hold up. If not, then it will just be a well-played reverse jinx.)

Of the other four award winners, Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy never even got a shot in the postseason, which is fine, because the ROY isn't about making winning contributions, especially in light of the fact that most top rookies are being drafted by pretty terrible teams. But the other three awards - the biggies - should be about winning, no? And after two weeks of playoff action, the results aren't pretty:

- The (likely) MVP, Dirk Nowitzki suffered through a tough series, disappeared in an elimination game, complained about being surrounded by 6'7" defenders, conceded defeat at one point, admitted he had no post game, and saw his team become the first #1 seed to lose a seven-game series to a #8 seed in NBA history. The problem here is that Dirk has been playing like this for the past month, yet either nobody noticed or cared. He was noticeably mediocre for long stretches of the season (trust me, I was counting on him in a key fantasy league - in fact, the one in which Stump is the commish of), got dominated by Nash in that big Mavs-Suns matchup in March, and finished with his least impressive stat line of the past four seasons. Meanwhile, Nash elevated his game to a higher level this year, flawlessly incorporated Amare back into the attack, and led the Suns to the second-best season in franchise history. The tragedy here isn't that Dirk gagged in the first round, it is that it took the gagging to make everyone realize how blind they were during the regular season.

- The Coach of the Year, Sam Mitchell was badly outcoached by Lawrence Frank and possibly cost his team two games in the series against New Jersey. And in case your math is rusty, they needed those two W's to take the series. The first was in Game One when he infamously sat Bosh for 15 minutes with two fouls (made even more embarrassing when Nellie kept Baron the floor despite two fouls with great success) and the second was between Games Three and Four when he accused Jason Kidd of faking his knee injury, which led to Kidd coming out and making about a bazillion threes in a blowout win. Now Colangelo has to figure out how to jettison the Coach of the Year in order to bring in his guy Iavaroni, and Jeff Van Gundy and Jerry Sloan are left wondering how in the world Sam Mitchell kept them from getting a nice trophy for their mantle.

- The Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Camby proved that he is utterly clueless when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll (only the most important play in basketball) and that he has no shot at guarding Tim Duncan, as his Nuggets were rolled by the Spurs. If Camby was really the best defensive player in the league this year (say, as good as Duncan), the Nuggets would have been playing a Game Seven, at the very least.

So all told, not a strong showing. Not by the award winners and certainly not by the award voters. Because the flaws on display in the first round weren't exactly amazing surprises. Perhaps those that vote on NBA awards should try watching a few more games.

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