I know it's a little past the true midseason point, but since I was writing then, I want to take today to hand out my award predictions for this NBA season.
Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
Also Considered: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett
With all apologies to Steve Nash and what's left of Jason Kidd, Chris Paul is now the best point guard in basketball. Paul is averaging over 20 ppg and 10 apg, a rarity in the NBA. He's shooting 48% from the field, another incredible feat for a guard. He also makes 35% of his 3's and 87% from the line. He does all this while playing 38 minutes/gm. In a stocked Western Conference, Paul has taken the Hornets all the way to the top. They're leading a Southwest division that includes Dallas and San Antonio, the last two Western Champs. While James may lead the league in Player Efficiency Rating at 30.4, Paul sits in 3rd behind Amare Stoudemire. I value Paul's ability to win in the Western Conference, while James sits in fourth in East. Paul also turns the ball over less than James while shooting nearly the same percentage playing point guard.
Rookie of the Year
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Also Considered: Kevin Durant, Luis Scola, J.C. Navarro
While I think Durant will eventually win the award and be the better pro going forward, I like Horford's play this year more. Durant is shooting the ball 17 times a game because he's allowed to and Seattle doesn't have any other options. I'm not going to reward him for scoring 19/gm on only 40% shooting. He doesn't contribute any besides his scoring at this point. At 6'9" he should be grabbing more than 4 rebounds/gm. To me, Horford has been the better player. On the Hawks where he is only the fourth or fifth option behind Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, and Marvin Williams, and maybe even Josh Childress, Horford has still put in 9 pts/gm. He also grabs 10 rebounds a game as well. He does this while only playing 31 minutes/gm, hardly equal to the 35-40 minutes that most starters play. Horford ranks in the top 15 in rebounds/48 minutes and offensive rebounds/gm. His ability to score and rebound gives Atlanta a lot more than what Durant gives Seattle.
Most Improved Player
Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers
Also Considered: Hedo Turkoglu, Rudy Gay, Chris Kaman
Why did L.A. trade for Pau Gasol? Would they have done it if Bynum had not gotten hurt? I'm not so sure. Bynum's absence was a big blow to the Lakers and it showed just how valuable he has become. Bynum averages 13.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg, and shoots 64% from the field. Those are incredible numbers from a 20-year-old. This is a guy who had to fight Kwame Brown for playing time last year. Now, Bynum is a viable option in the triangle offense, not just some stiff for Bryant to use as screens. His size and ability to draw double teams opens up room on the perimeter for Farmar, Walton, and Radmanovic. Draft experts knew he'd be a project when he was picked three years ago, but I'm not sure many would imagine him coming along so quickly.
Coach of the Year
Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers
Also Considered: Byron Scott, Reggie Theus
Without Greg Oden, many thought the Blazers would tag along with the Sonics and T'Wolves at the bottom of the standings. Instead, the Baby Blazers have actually spent time in first place in their division. Though they've recently fallen back to earth a bit, they are still five games over .500 in the competitive West. Led by the combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, Portland used a 13-game winning streak to vault itself into contention. McMillan has done his best to keep them there, although their lack of a third scoring threat has hurt somewhat. Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster are decent on the wings, but they aren't yet consistent enough to help. Aldridge could use Oden to help inside, instead he has former lottery picks Channing Frye and Joel Pryzbilla. Frye can't play inside, relying on a jumper instead. Przybilla has always been a good shot-blocker, but that's all he's ever been. For McMillan to have this team where they are, it's surprising.