Weekly Countdown: NBA scouts, executives honor the season's best
Derrick Rose (ROY) and LeBron James (MVP) were unanimous winners with panel
The experts were divided on Coach of the Year; Cleveland's Mike Brown won out
More topics: uncertainty in the 2009 draft; two head-coaching prospects
5 major awards
This week I polled a half-dozen NBA advance scouts and pro personnel executives -- experts who spend the season traveling the league to break down players firsthand and again on tape -- for their choices for the regular-season awards. You'll find their opinions differ from the media voters, myself included, who decide most of these contests. (I'll reveal my selections next week.)
5. All-NBA. Broken into three teams:
In order to recognize the best players, some panelists fiddled with positions by referring to Gasol or Tim Duncan as a center or nudging Johnson out of the backcourt. "I'm surprised there are not a lot of forwards to choose from this year,'' an advance scout said. "That run of great power forwards is going away, especially with [Kevin] Garnett being out a lot of the year.''
Parker has never made an All-NBA team. "I think he has carried them,'' said another scout who picked him as a first-teamer. "They've been missing [Manu] Ginobili a lot, and Parker has stepped up a lot of those nights.''
One surprising absentee was Shaquille O'Neal, who is leading the league in field-goal shooting (61.2 percent) and averaging 18.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks while missing just seven games entering the final week. "Has he made his team better, or has he brought it down to his level?'' a personnel executive said. "Even on bad teams someone has to score points.''
The panel lauded Duncan. "On the offensive end, they still get it to him and they run their '4 down' when they need to get a score,'' a scout said, referring to a post-up play for Duncan. "If you watch him defensively, his feet are great and he works in the paint -- he's so smart and so active with his hands. He's slowing down, but he takes pride in defense, and he understands how to play defense better than anyone in the league.''
Williams, meanwhile, overcame a sprained ankle that limited him over the first half of the season. "I like Deron Williams as a defender,'' a scout said. "He does a great job guarding the pick-and-roll. He's one of the best in the league at it.''
G Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Pierce deserves to be a first-teamer, according to the panel. "He has done a great job of keeping that team in contention,'' an admirer said. "You can't stop him offensively, and he plays at both ends. At the end of the game, he's playing defense against the best perimeter player. He has been their glue all year.''
4. Rookie of the Year. Per my official NBA ballot, I asked the panel for three names in order.
Rose finished first on all six ballots. "Far and away the best,'' a voter said. "He has all the talent and he's that team's leader: To have that combination in a rookie is very unusual.''
Here's a voter on Lopez: "He has played consistently the last half of the season, and it's hard to get numbers when you're a big man and you've got to go get the ball and catch it and score -- as opposed to being able to take the ball up the floor and force a possession [from the backcourt].''
Reaction was mixed on Mayo after a strong start to the season. "I thought he declined through the year. I still like him, I really like him. But his shooting has gone down, and that coincides with Mike Conley's having the ball more.''
Added another voter: "Mayo is like [Kevin] Durant a year ago: He can really score. But the more I look at him, I can't help but start to wonder: Is he going to be more than that? Is he going to be a guy who tries to do more than get his 20 points?''
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and Timberwolves forward Kevin Love also received consideration. "Westbrook is a stats filler," a panelist said. "He needs to learn to limit his turnovers and improve his decision-making. His shot is not broken; he has a good-looking shot, and as it develops he's going to be dangerous because he attacks so hard and puts people on their heels. He also needs to be better at finishing at the rim.''
On Love: "I was really disappointed in him at the beginning of the year, but he's gotten better all year long. Now he isn't trying to do things he's not capable of."
NBA Truth & Rumors