After his sudden
star turn for a new team last season, SI's choice was even more impressive as a
leading man in 2005-06
The Pistons were
hot, Tim Duncan was hurt, Kobe Bryant was back and so too was Ron Artest, who
made more waves on the court than off it. It's time to review the highs and
lows of the regular season that was, with the understanding that the best--the
playoffs--is yet to come. But you didn't rent your black ties and evening gowns
to hear the emcee prattle on. The envelopes, please....
Steve Nash, Suns
Despite the loss of seven players from last year's 62-win team, including
frontline colossus Amar� Stoudemire, Phoenix will most likely finish with the
fourth-best record, thanks to the heavy load shouldered by its point guard.
Nash increased his scoring average by nearly 25% (from 15.5 to 19.2 points at
week's end) and is the only player in the league to shoot better than 50% from
the field and 40% from beyond the arc. His playmaking has not suffered either.
With 10.4 assists per game through Sunday, Nash led the league, and six of his
teammates were averaging career bests in scoring, with five of them likely to
set personal highs in shooting percentage.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks.
OF THE YEAR
Tim Duncan, Spurs
Though his offensive output is significantly down because of a yearlong bout
with plantar fasciitis, the gutsy power forward still ranked in the top 12 in
blocks (2.00) and defensive rebounds (8.2) at week's end. San Antonio was the
league's top defensive team and the Western Conference's top seed only because
he didn't take a month off to heal.
Ben Wallace, Pistons.
ROOKIE OF THE
Chris Paul, Hornets
The 20-year-old point guard ranked second in steals (2.29 per game), seventh in
assists (8.0) and fifth in assists-to-turnover ratio (3.38) through Sunday
while throwing in a rookie-best 16.3 points per game to keep overachieving New
Orleans in the playoff chase. The wonder is that he slipped to fourth in the
draft; how the Hawks and the Blazers in particular must regret their
Charlie Villanueva, Raptors.
COACH OF THE
Flip Saunders, Pistons
After being fired by the Timberwolves, he appeared to be stepping into a
furnace when he replaced Larry Brown. Instead Saunders improved last year's
Eastern Conference champs dramatically. How often does a Finals entry make a
double-digit jump in victories? At week's end Detroit was on pace for a 12-win
improvement, an increase trumped by only the Hornets (21) and the Hawks and
Jazz (13 each).
Avery Johnson, Mavericks.
Mike Miller, Grizzlies
The league's third-leading scorer off the bench, with 13.4 points per game
through Sunday, the 6'8" guard has been indispensable to a surprisingly
successful team that relies on its reserves as few others do.
Speedy Claxton, Hornets.
Boris Diaw, Suns
Poorly cast as a guard in Atlanta last season, the 24-year-old was moved to
forward in Phoenix, where he has overmatched his opponents with his quickness
and skill. Diaw is one of three players--along with LeBron James and Jason
Kidd--to average more than 10 points, six rebounds and six assists. Some of the
6'8" Frenchman's contributions have been less obvious, most notably his
lockdown of Yao Ming (six points) on Nov. 23.
Elton Brand, Clippers.
EXECUTIVE OF THE
Donnie Nelson, Mavericks
Over the last two years he has presided over the emotional departures of floor
leader Nash, locker room leader Michael Finley and coach Don Nelson (his dad).
The result? The most balanced team in franchise history and, if last Friday's
inspired 92-86 win at San Antonio is any indication, an excellent shot at the
first Finals berth in franchise history.
Elgin Baylor, Clippers.