By Paul Forrester
March 03, 2010
NBA Awards Races

What makes a Rookie of the Year? Truth be told, it's often little more than a stats-grab, an award given to the newbie who tallies the most points or hands out the most assists. To gather the types of numbers that win, however, a rookie has to earn starter's minutes, which usually come with a team digging itself out of one lottery while headed to the next.

Hence, Tyreke Evans gets the freedom to direct the Kings' offense, and Stephen Curry gets to play without having to make defense a priority in Golden State.

Early in the season, Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings seemed destined for those sorts of numbers and freedom, until a playoff race and a coach who breathes defense intervened. So while Jennings' numbers have declined from the early-season marks that made him the favorite for rookie honors, he's received a lesson in leadership. It hasn't been pretty, though, as his 36.8 percent shooting attests, but it could help him become a more complete player.

As for the short term, who gets the nod in the Rookie of the Year race this week -- Evans for his steady, across-the-board production, Curry for his recent dominance or Jennings for his guiding a playoff contender? Read on ...

(All stats and records are through March 2.)

League MVP
LeBron James
F, Cleveland Cavaliers   
Previous Ranking: 1
29.9 7.1 8.5 50.3
We'll let Stan Van Gundy handle this one. "LeBron is going to get the award. It's not going to be a close vote," the Magic coach told FanHouse. "All the players and coaches in the league know who is going to get the MVP." Well, settles that one.
Kobe Bryant
G, Los Angeles Lakers   
Previous Ranking: 3
27.4 5.3 4.8 45.8
What do the Lakers hope to gain by playing a guy 39 minutes a night after coming back from an ankle injury? The West is all but wrapped up and does anyone think L.A. can't win at least one on the road in the Finals should it lose home-court advantage for a potential series with Cleveland?
Dirk Nowitzki
F, Dallas Mavericks   
Previous Ranking: --
25.2 7.8 2.5 47.9
Just when we thought the No. 2 seed in the West was reserved for the Nuggets, Nowitzki helps guide the Mavs to eight straight wins, including conquests in Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte.
Kevin Durant
F, Oklahoma City Thunder   
Previous Ranking: 2
29.8 7.6 2.8 47.9
He blocked 1.2 shots per game in February, a pretty good indicator he's learning to excel on both ends of the floor. And leading the Thunder to the best month since the franchise moved to OKC (9-2) is a pretty good indicator he's learning how to compete for the MVP.
Dwight Howard
C, Orlando Magic   
Previous Ranking: --
18.5 13.2 2.8 60.1
Again, Coach Van Gundy, your thoughts: "You would think that he's not one of the elite players in the league ... the stuff I read about him," Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel. If there's guys in the league playing better than he is right now, there's like two or three of them."
Rookie of the Year
Spotlight: After Kevin Martin was shipped to Houston, the Kings moved Evans' locker closest to the players' exit, a courtesy previously awarded Chris Webber in years past. The keys to the franchise now clearly rest in Evans' hands, not a bad idea for someone Jazz star Deron Williams said "makes me look small." 1. Tyreke Evans, Kings (PR: 1)
2. Brandon Jennings, Bucks (PR: 3)
3. Stephen Curry, Warriors (PR: 2)
4. Darren Collison, Hornets (PR: --)
5. Marcus Thornton, Hornets (PR: --)
Sixth Man Award
Spotlight: While no longer a sixth man, Landry's work off the bench in Houston (16.1 points, 5.6 rebounds per game) was enough to help the Rockets secure one of the best scorers in the game, Kevin Martin, at the trade deadline. That's a good return for someone who started one game before becoming a King. 1. Carl Landry, Kings (PR: 1)
2. Jamal Crawford, Hawks (PR: 2)
3. Jason Terry, Mavericks (PR: 4)
4. Anderson Varejao, Cavs (PR: 3)
5. J.R. Smith, Nuggets (PR: --)
Coach of the Year
Spotlight: Everywhere around Brooks' team are signs it is maturing into a contender far ahead of schedule. Example: The Thunder won only eight times on the road last season and now they hold the league's fifth-best road mark at 17-12. And no, you don't want to see OKC come late April. 1. Scott Brooks, Thunder (PR: 1)
2. Nate McMillan, Trail Blazers (PR: 2)
3. Scott Skiles, Bucks (PR: --)
4. Jerry Sloan, Jazz (PR: 5)
5. Mike Brown, Cavaliers (PR: --)
Defensive Player of the Year
Spotlight: Blocking 3.3 shots and grabbing 13.2 rebounds per game in February is the stuff of defensive dominance, but committing 3.7 fouls per contest this season is the stuff of reckless indulgence. It's time for Howard to stop complaining and start adding some savvy to his skills. 1. Dwight Howard, Magic (PR: 1)
2. Josh Smith, Hawks (PR: 2)
3. Andrew Bogut, Bucks (PR: --)
4. Gerald Wallace, Bobcats (PR: 3)
5. Anderson Varejao, Cavs (PR: --)
Most Improved Player
Spotlight: With his 29 consecutive games of scoring at least 25 points, Durant beat out Kobe, LeBron and Allen Iverson with the feat. Be careful, Thunder fans, as New York media have already started salivating over bringing Durant to the Big Apple should Oklahoma City not grant the young star an extension this summer. 1. Kevin Durant, Thunder (PR: 1)
2. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies (PR: 2)
3. Andrew Bogut, Bucks (PR: 4)
4. Carl Landry, Kings (PR: 3)
5. Aaron Brooks, Rockets (PR: 5)

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