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Archive for Sunday, April 15, 2007

Commentary: MVP? Dirk Nowitzki

Team success must be considered

April 15, 2007

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— Let's be honest. This hasn't been the best NBA season to come down the pike. There have been too many injuries to too many stars; a stupid fight that derailed a potential MVP season from Carmelo Anthony; the continued, um, stink of big-city franchises in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. But it's the end of the regular season, and we need to honor those folks who did the best work in 2006-07.

Most valuable player

My choice: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas. No, he's not a better player than Kobe Bryant. But the award isn't for the "best player"; it's for the "most valuable," which means you have to take the accomplishments of the team into account.

Nowitzki has just as much impact on the offensive end of the floor as Bryant or Steve Nash. Nowitzki "makes the hockey assist," a member of the Mavericks' brain trust said, without handling the ball nearly as much as Kobe or Nash. And considering that he still shoots much more from the perimeter than down on the block, Nowitzki's career-best 49.9 percent shooting mark is ridiculous.

At the other end, he's become a much better defender and rebounder (9.1 boards this season). He has come out of his shell and become the leader the Mavericks hoped for. And think about this: In the last two years, Nowitzki's team has gotten to the NBA Finals and will win more than 65 games this season - neither of which was accomplished when Nash, the two-time MVP, was on the roster.

Silver: Nash, Phoenix.

Bronze: Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers.

Rookie of the year

My choice: Brandon Roy, Portland. This was the easiest pick by far this season, as Roy (16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds) has been the class of the rookie class all season.

He already has become the Blazers' go-to guy on the floor down the stretch and has taken charge of the locker room - he firmly took Zach Randolph to task at a team meeting for going to a strip club while he was supposed to be on bereavement leave. "That's when he became the leader of our team," a Blazer Maniac says approvingly of Roy.

Silver: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland.

Bronze: Andrea Bargnani, Toronto.

Most improved player

Every year, I holler at the top of my lungs: This award should not go to a good player whose numbers went up because he got more minutes. It should go to a player who is significantly better this season as a basketball player than he was last season.

My choice: Kevin Martin, Sacramento. In his third season, Martin is stronger, tougher, and has become a go-to guy (20.5 points per game, almost double last season's average) for the otherwise struggling Kings, posting career bests in steals, rebounds and assists as well.

How else do you know when someone's gotten better? When a guy on a bad team gets enough calls to rank 11th in the league in free-throw attempts.

Silver: Monta Ellis, Golden State.

Bronze: Caron Butler, Washington.

Coach of the year

My choice: Jeff Van Gundy, Houston. Considering that Yao Ming missed 33 games with a broken leg, that Tracy McGrady has his usual back issues and that the Rockets have had to depend on the ancient Dikembe Mutombo and a kid like Chuck Hayes - not to mention having to deal with the soap opera that is Bonzi Wells - winning 50 games in the brutal West is amazing.

Moreover, JVG has adapted better than ever; with no one to throw the ball in to for long stretches this season, Van Gundy has allowed his guards to fire three-pointers nearly at will (the Rockets are fifth in the league in three-point percentage) while never letting up on them on defense. And Houston, as ever, leads the league in defensive field-goal percentage and is second in fewest points allowed.

Silver: Avery Johnson, Dallas.

Bronze: Sam Mitchell, Toronto.

Defensive player of the year

My choice: Shane Battier, Houston. He has been one of the best in the league for years, but never got any attention playing on barely there teams in Memphis. The Rockets needed someone to help Tracy McGrady guard the elite perimeter players, though, and that's why they were happy to trade Rudy Gay to the Grizzlies for Battier, who hasn't disappointed.

It was Battier, along with Dikembe Mutombo, who held Houston's season together after Yao's broken leg cost him a third of the season. Nowitzki, Kobe, Shawn Marion - Battier guards 'em all.

Silver: Bruce Bowen, San Antonio.

Bronze: Tayshaun Prince, Detroit.

Sixth man of the year

My choice: Manu Ginobili, San Antonio, by an eyelash over Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa, who has teamed with Steve Nash to make a lethal combination at crunch time.

Ginobili, once again, may have turned the Spurs' season around when they were floundering by agreeing to give Gregg Popovich some pop off the bench. Barbosa can't start for the Suns; Nash is ahead of him. But considering Ginobili's pedigree and who plays ahead of him (I'm looking at you, Brent Barry), what he's doing is an incredible gesture.

Silver: Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix.

Bronze: Jerry Stackhouse, Dallas.

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