Last year, the lockout had us all so starved for professional basketball that we didn’t care how sloppy the games were. Career highs in turnovers? Who cares? Horrible field goal percentages? Phooey! This? Okay, well that was pretty bad. But still, basketball was back after its short hiatus, and in the end we were all treated to one of the most exciting NBA Finals in recent memory.
So far, this year has been even better. Players have reminded us why preseason exists, with a tremendously high level of play straight out of the gate. And while some things haven’t changed (the Heat are still scary good, Kobe scores in bunches, the Washington Wizards still exist), there have been numerous surprises. I mean, how many of you had Golden State out playing the Lakers?
Today, we recognize those who have made their mark in the first quarter of the season. All of your standard awards will be given out, with a few surprises mixed in. Naturally, I expect a lot to change between now and next summer, but in the meantime let’s take a look at the best of the best so far this season.
Most Improved Player – Jrue Holiday
At the young age of 22, it appears that Jrue Holiday is coming into his own. While Holiday has virtually been a starter since he entered the league in 2009, it is this year that we have seen him become a leader. Filling the void left by Andre Iguodala, and his injured replacement Andrew Bynum, Holiday has stepped up, posting career highs in points (18.4), assists (8.9) and PER (18.1). What’s more, he’s accomplished all of this with a depleted roster in the suddenly stacked Atlantic Division.
Sixth Man of the Year – Andray Blatche
I’ve already discussed my affinity for Andray Blatche, but for me it is unquestionable that he has been the Sixth Man of the Year thus far. Long since dismissed as wasted talent, Blatche has been putting up numbers worthy of Sixth Man and Most Improved Player. Per 36, he is averaging 20.1 points and 10.7 rebounds, both of which are career highs. He is also posting a PER of 23.8, making him the most efficient player on the Brooklyn Nets. His play has been so good that there has been heavy talk about featuring him as the starting 4, displacing the previously established Kris Humphries.
Most Deserving of a Trade – Eric Bledsoe
Poor Eric Bledsoe. The man dubbed Mini-Lebron can’t seem to buy minutes on the Clippers, buried underneath literally every other guard at Vinnie Del Negro’s disposal. It’s a shame, seeing as he always manages to dazzle in the limited opportunities he is given. Surely, there must be some team out there that could use his talent, even if it’s in a Sixth Man type of roll. Plus, it’s just not fair that we as fans are deprived of more highlights like this.
Defensive Player of the Year – Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is ageless. Every year I expect some type of drop-off in his game, but every year he’s just the same Timmy from the year before. At the age of 36, Duncan is still leading an incredibly solid San Antonio Spurs team, while posting some incredible numbers on the defensive end. Per 36, Duncan is averaging 12.2 rebounds per game, 9.9 of which on the defensive end. In fact, Duncan is grabbing approximately 30% of all defensive rebounds available while he is on the floor, far and beyond his career high. He has also managed 3 blocks and 1 steal during this time. Bow down, youngins. Tim Duncan is here to stay.
Coach of the Year – Mark Jackson, Golden State Warrior
Who saw this coming? The Golden State Warriors currently sit 5th in the West, only two games back of the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Clippers. All of this from a team that is still missing it’s perennially injured center, Andrew Bogut. This is all the more impressive when you realize that this same Warriors team was 25-41 last year. That season was marked by the NBA’s third worst defense, who gave up over 109 points per game. Looking now to this season, they’ve managed to lock it down on the defensive end, coming in as the 11th best in the league while continuing to be one of the best offensive teams. I don’t know if last year’s results were indicative of a learning curve for coach Mark Jackson, but whatever it is he has seemed to get the hang of things this time around.
Flop of the Year – Donald Sloan
While most of the attention in the flopping world has circled around Brooklyn, where Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace have established an All-Flop Team, none of their recent actions compare to that of Donald Sloan. I know that the NBA has an established tiered system of punishment for floppers, but Donald Sloan should have racked up at least three warnings for this horrible job. I mean, the dude pirouettes.
Rookie of the Year – Damian Lillard
No surprise here. After years and years of disappointing draft picks, it seems that the front office in Portland has finally got one right. A steal at the sixth overall pick, Lillard has quickly established himself as a dominating force at the point. Averaging 18.8 points and 6.3 assists per game, it is fair to say that Lillard is outplaying all other members of the 2012 Draft.
Most Valuable Player – Kevin Durant
Perhaps slightly more controversial than Rookie of the Year, Kevin Durant should at least be in everyone’s Top 2 players of the season. The reason that I give him the nod over Lebron James is that KD is well on his way to a breathtaking 50-40-90 season, a feat that not even James has accomplished. He is doing all of this while leading his team to a Western Conference leading 18-5 record and NBA leading offensive rating. With the way he’s playing, I would be shocked if the Thunder did not at least repeat as Western Conference champions.