Regular Season Honors

Some props before the playoffs

Editor's note: Britt Robson is on vacation this week. His column will return on Monday, April 15.

I am writing this Friday night, a day after the Wolves teased us with their second straight win, a laugher over the hapless Knicks. The primary reasons for this modest winning streak--which continued with a win over the Nets on Sunday--include the sudden, inexplicable rejuvenation of Rasho Nesterovic and the fact that Wally Szczerbiak is shooting the lights out again.

I've commented ad nausea about the Wolves' woes during the past three columns. To change the pace a bit, I've decided to weigh in with my opinions about the rest of the league and its season, with the caveat that there's still a dozen games left to go. Tomorrow I head out for a week's vacation, so there won't be a column on Monday, April 8. Look for a preview of the Wolves' upcoming playoff series on April 15.

 

Most Valuable Player

  1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
  2. Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
  3. Jason Kidd, New Jersey Nets
  4. Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
  5. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves

Duncan is Mr. Unflappable, the model of consistency, so it's easy to overlook how dominant he becomes when the game is on the line. But the Spurs are battling for the league's top record and their second-best player is probably Malik Rose--enough said.

If Shaq hadn't been hurt a couple of times, I'd give him the nod. He is clearly the league's best player, seeing more zones, traps, double-teams, and hard fouls than anybody, yet soldiering through with his monster strength in the low-post. He also plays better defense and passing skills than most people realize.

Kidd makes the list because he's exciting and plays in a major market. The Nets would be a seventh or eighth playoff seed if they played in the Western Conference all year, however, so let's not go overboard.

The same thing can be said of the Pistons, but I'm tired of people overlooking Wallace, who ranks among the league's leaders in both blocks and rebounds. He plays with a fervor on defense that is every bit as important to Detroit's personality as Kidd's floor game is to New Jersey's.

KG, of course, is on his way to becoming one of only a handful of players to rack up more than twenty points, ten rebounds, and five assists for three years running. And his defense, while slipping a bit in the last month, is top notch.

 

Overrated as MVP candidates: Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzski

 

Coach of the Year

  1. Rick Carlisle, Detroit Pistons
  2. Maurice Cheeks, Portland Trailblazers
  3. Byron Scott, New Jersey Nets
  4. Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers
  5. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

In his rookie year, Carlisle convinced Jerry Stackhouse to share the ball, exploited the match-up advantages Clifford Robinson affords, made do with Chucky Atkins at the point, and deployed a hard-nosed defensive style that features 10 guys playing at least 15 minutes a game. It took some time to get acquainted--the Pistons were 19-20 in late January--but the team has since gone 24-9.

Remember all the Portland jokes? Remember when Bonzie Wells was saying he didn't care if the fans showed up or not? The class and selflessness Cheeks (another rookie coach) exuded as a player has begun to rub off on this group of erstwhile, spoiled brats. Add that to the talent on the Trailblazer's roster, and it's not inconceivable that they could win a championship.

Scott is presiding over the most improved team in the league (the trading and drafting of GM Rod Thorn also played a role). Even with Shaq and Kobe, it's fair to ask whether the Lakers would be favored to win their third straight title if Del Harris, and not Phil Jackson, were suddenly running the team. And Popovich, like his superstar Duncan, is smart, efficient, and so quiet it is easy to forget how good he is performing.

Where's Don Nelson or Rick Adelman? Well, a significant part of a coach's regular season duty is getting his team prepared for success in the playoffs. That factor elevates my rating of Carlisle and Cheeks, and penalizes Nelson and Adelman, whose teams this year, as in the past, seem to lack the defensive intensity necessary to sustain themselves in the playoff grind. Of course time will tell if I'm wrong about that...

 

Overrated coaches: Isiah Thomas, George Karl

 

All-NBA Defensive Team

  1. Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
  2. Doug Christie, Sacramento Kings
  3. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
  4. Gary Payton, Seattle Supersonics
  5. Dikembe Mutumbo, Philadelphia 76ers
  6. Scottie Pippen, Portland Trailblazers

 

Rookies of the Year

  1. Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
  2. Jamaal Tinsley, Indiana Pacers
  3. Shane Battier, Memphis Grizzlies
  4. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
  5. Andrei Kirilenko, Houston Rockets

(Based on raw potential, though, I'd rank Chicago's Tyson Chandler and Houston's Eddie Griffin ahead of all these guys.)

 

Most Underrated Stars

  1. Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
  2. Andre Miller, Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Scottie Pippen, Portland Trailblazers

Wallace has led the Pistons in rebounding in all but five games this season, and leads the league with 245 blocked shots (Raef LaFrenz is second with 188). Playing with a bunch of scrubs on the sub-mediocre Cavs, Miller has more point-assist double-doubles than anybody else in the NBA--including Jason Kidd. After being written off as old, Pippen's tenacious D and ability to play point forward (freeing up Damon Stoudamire for scoring) has transformed the Trailblazers.
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