By Paul Forrester
February 17, 2010
NBA Awards Races

As Kevin Durant plays his way into the MVP conversation and Thunder coach Scott Brooks crafts this team into a legit defensive unit, the West playoff race has some new blood -- and sooner than expected. Talented, long and dotted with eight first-round draft picks, the Thunder promise to be a beast come spring.

With Durant already in the fold, GM Sam Presti, who is known for his sharp eye for talent, will set his sights on acquiring key support players this summer. So while the Thunder have been one of the biggest surprises this season, the playoffs are sure to run through Oklahoma City next year. Note to Western teams: Watch out.

(All stats are through Feb. 16.)

League MVP
LeBron James
F, Cleveland Cavaliers   
Last Week: 1
29.9 7.1 8.3 50.6
Last year, LeBron gave his teammates Flip video cameras at the news conference for his MVP trophy. This year, before James decides on where he'll be in 2010, the Cavs have to find some way of repaying him -- not just for the cameras, but for turning them into stars.
Kevin Durant
F, Oklahoma City Thunder   
Last Week: 3
29.7 7.5 2.9 48.1
Having scored at least 25 points in a string of 26 straight games, and with his Thunder edging up the playoff ladder, Durant gets the call here, especially with the next guy's injury.
Kobe Bryant
G, Los Angeles Lakers   
Last Week: 2
28.0 5.3 4.6 46.1
The Lakers' 4-0 mark during Kobe's absence illustrates not only the depth of L.A.'s talent, but the effectiveness of the triangle offense. But let's be honest, just like the Bulls never won a title without M.J., the Lakers aren't likely to get one without Kobe.
Chris Bosh
F, Toronto Raptors   
Last Week: --
24.4 11.4 1.0 52.6
He may not be his team's bulldog leader, like LeBron or Dwyane Wade, but with his numbers -- No. 3 in the league in total rebounds, No. 2 in double-doubles and No. 3 in efficiency -- Bosh has undoubtedly carried the Raptors.
Steve Nash
G, Phoenix Suns   
Last Week: --
18.1 11.2 3.3 51.7
Heck, if he is good enough to light the Olympic torch less than 24 hours before winning the All-Star Skills competition, it's little wonder why he's been able to perform at the same level that won him back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and '06.
Rookie of the Year
Spotlight: Any doubts of Evans being this season's top rookie put to rest when he spearheaded a Kings' comeback win over the Knicks prior to the All-Star break. "Too big, too quick, too strong and too good," wrote the New York Daily News. 1. Tyreke Evans, Kings (LW: 1)
2. Stephen Curry, Warriors (LW: 5)
3. Brandon Jennings, Bucks (LW: 2)
4. DeJuan Blair, Spurs (LW: 4)
5. Omri Casspi, Kings (LW: 3)
Sixth Man Award
Spotlight: Only LeBron has scored more in the fourth quarter this season, and only the Spurs' bench averages more points per game than the Rockets. Yes, part of that is because Landry is getting more minutes, but he's also doing more with them, like averaging 21.2 points per 36 minutes. 1. Carl Landry, Rockets (LW: 2)
2. Jamal Crawford, Hawks (LW: 1)
3. Anderson Varejao,Cavaliers (LW: 3)
4. Jason Terry, Mavericks (LW: 4)
5. Udonis Haslem, Heat (LW: --)
Coach of the Year
Spotlight: Teams as young as the Thunder (average age: 24.4) aren't supposed to improve from 27th to third in field-goal defense in a single year. Nor is a team that lost 59 games supposed be in the mix to host a playoff series a season later. Unless, it appears, Scott Brooks is coaching. 1. Scott Brooks, Thunder (LW: 4)
2. Nate McMillan, Trail Blazers (LW: 2)
3. Rick Adelman, Rockets (LW: 1)
4. Lionel Hollins, Grizzlies (LW: )
5. Jerry Sloan, Jazz (LW: --)
Defensive Player of the Year
Spotlight: His teammates may ignore him more than they should on offense, but they can't deny his importance as a defensive sponge. Shaq may demand he keep the Superman moniker, but Howard has already stolen the title of the best defensive big man in Magic history. 1. Dwight Howard, Magic (LW: 1)
2. Josh Smith, Hawks (LW: 5)
3. Gerald Wallace, Bobcats (LW: 2)
4. LeBron James, Cavaliers (LW: 4)
5. Kendrick Perkins, Celtics (LW: 3)
Most Improved Player
Spotlight: Sometimes it's best not to over think things, like whether an MVP contender can also be the most improved player. Durant increased his scoring average at least four points a season in each of his first three campaigns, and he's also improved his shooting and rebounding. Oh, and he's also the main reason Oklahoma City is turning heads this season. 1. Kevin Durant, Thunder (LW: 1)
2. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies (LW: 2)
3. Carl Landry, Rockets (LW: 4)
4. Andrew Bogut, Bucks (LW: --)
5. Aaron Brooks, Rockets (LW: 3)

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