NBA awards ... with a spin
This season more than most deserves an alternative take to the NBA's awards
Elton Brand and Baron Davis didn't live up to expectations with new teams
To counter the Sportsmanship Award, we named Shaq this year's Bad Sport
The NBA soon will tabulate, announce and present its annual awards, which are shiny and nice enough, but pale in comparison to the Larry O'Brien and Bill Russell trophies given to the champions and Finals MVP, respectively. This season more than most -- maybe because times are tough all over, imposing a half-empty, best-of-the-worst outlook on so many of us -- seems to cry out for some alternative awards, parallel (and clearly bogus) versions to capture some less illustrious achievements from fellows who found ways to smear lipstick off the pig and somehow turn chicken salad into, well, you know.
Here goes nothing, in a fairly literal way:
There is a sweet symmetry to this. These two guys did so little to elevate their teams' play. Brand has the greater claim about injuries, but even that would have been disappointing in what was billed as Philadelphia's Boston-like, one-offseason turnaround. In reality, the Sixers were better when Brand wasn't playing (though they struggled down the stretch), something Tracy McGrady has witnessed during his idle time in Houston. Davis, meanwhile, couldn't make up for the Clippers' many other injuries and, by moving from Golden State to L.A., pulled off the difficult task of making two teams worse than they were a year ago. Nobody will have more to prove next season than these two aspiring movie producers, who need to refocus on their day jobs.
It is Alexander's misfortune to find himself among a weak field of candidates, which, of course, in these topsy-turvy awards, is actually a good thing for the NBA. This season's rookie class has been a solid one from the start. Most of the lottery picks have contributed significantly, have shown glimpses of possible future stardom or both. Several later picks -- including J.J. Hickson, Courtney Lee, Nicolas Batum, George Hill and Mario Chalmers -- have made their teams better, too. In Milwaukee, No. 37 pick Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has had a greater impact than No. 8 guy, Alexander, for whom a steep learning curve is nothing new. Seems he went through a similarly rough start at West Virginia.
"It seems like everything you do is wrong and in your own head, you think it's right but it turns out to be wrong again,'' said Alexander, who has averaged 4.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in 12.1 minutes, his stats perking up with more time lately. For what it's worth, Alexander has been no worse than the No. 8 pick who preceded him: Golden State's Brandan Wright, who posted 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in 9.9 minutes as a rookie.
Yeah, right. It was Milwaukee's fault and its lack of Chinese culture and limited opportunities afforded by former Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak and ... and ... and ... The excuses can't hide the fact that Yi has had ample opportunities with the Nets this season and has frittered away most of them. Yi has played himself out of New Jersey's starting lineup and is averaging only 5.7 points since the All-Star break. He is shooting 38.5 percent for the season, to which we can only say, "Yao!''
Among the NBA's primary awards, none has been as embarrassing as Most Improved, which started as Comeback Player of the Year but had to be reimagined when too many guys started winning upon their return from drug rehab. Now, it often goes to a player who simply underachieved before that season, or someone who arrived to absolutely no expectations and, you know, wasn't awful. How else can we explain a list of winners that can lump in Kevin Johnson, McGrady, O'Neal, Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu with the likes of Don MacLean, Dana Barros, Gheorghe Muresan, Ike Austin and Bobby Simmons?
Curiously, though, it's one of the big names who ought to give his trophy back, or clear room on the mantel for this one. O'Neal's current numbers (13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds) aren't that much worse than his career averages when the season began (14.3, 7.7), but they are a steep drop from the standards he set from 2001-02 through '06-07 (20.4, 9.5). It's the second straight season, too, and O'Neal has been healthier this year.
That's offensive, as in "unpleasant." Repugnant even. And defensive as in "Ole!" Actually, judging the defensive acumen of most NBA players is best left to the coaches, which makes me wonder why those guys are granted the authority to select the NBA All-Defensive squads while the same old writers and broadcasters vote for top defensive player.
We can tell when a guy cheats into the passing lanes and otherwise gambles at the expense of playing fundamentally sound defense. We can total up steals and blocked shots with the best of them. We can even talk to players about the defenders who harass them the most. But judging one player's contribution to overall team defense, the weakside stuff and otherwise helping? That's heavy X's-and-O's stuff. Kevin Garnett made it easy to see the shift he precipitated in the Celtics' defensive outlook, but that's rare.
So I'm going with a guy who ought to be more effective -- Jefferson is plenty young and athletic enough -- especially when matched against fellow power forwards rather than centers. He wants to be an All-Star when he returns next season from knee surgery? Then light a fire on the defensive end. There's probably 400 other guys in the league who should hear the same thing.
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