Ian Thomsen James runs away with this award, considering his across-the-board contributions amid the absences of Dwyane Wade. No player excels in a greater variety of areas than James. Durant isn't as versatile, yet his Thunder are in title contention because of his productive leadership. The same goes for Parker, who carried the otherwise young Spurs in the absence of Manu Ginobili. Paul transformed the Clippers, and Bryant enabled the Lakers to bridge to an entirely new approach yet remain in the hunt for another ring.
Top 5 LeBron James Kevin Durant Kobe Bryant Rajon Rondo Chris Paul
Chris Mannix I don't know how anyone can not vote for James this season. Durant is a dynamic scorer -- Kobe, too -- but James is simply the most complete player in the NBA. He is, again, the closest thing to a walking triple-double since Oscar Robertson, and with Wade shuffling in and out of the lineup with injuries, James showed he is still capable of carrying a team. Throw in some clutch play and this vote becomes an easy one.
Ian Thomsen This was not a great class, but Irving was occasionally spectacular while showing the class of a game-winning leader for the Cavaliers in the last two minutes of a few close games. Leonard's numbers weren't exceptional, but his contributions to a title contender are not to be taken for granted. It's not easy to satisfy the detailed demands of Gregg Popovich. Rubio might have won my vote if not for his season-ending knee injury last month, after which his Timberwolves vanished from playoff contention.
Chris Mannix Irving was billed as the only franchise player in the 2011 draft, and he played like one, averaging 18.7 points and 5.5 assists. He's on track to join Larry Bird as the only rookies to average at least 18 points and shoot 40 percent or better from three-point range. Leonard doesn't put up big numbers, but he's a starter and a strong defensive presence on the West's top team. Thompson has taken full advantage of an expanded post-Monta Ellis role in Golden State.
Ian Thomsen Harden emerged as the Thunder's poor-man's version of Ginobili, minus the flair and the all-out killer instinct. Nonetheless, he fills a crucial role by coming off the bench to handle a variety of roles as OKC's third-best player. Harrington provided reliable bench scoring to help keep the Nuggets in the playoffs despite injuries and roster moves. Williams was the Sixers' primary scorer without complaining about his role with the second unit.
Chris Mannix Uh, yeah, this is an easy one. Harden is averaging career highs in points (16.8) and field-goal percentage (49.1), while Oklahoma City's offensive numbers spike across the board when he is on the floor. Williams is the closest thing Philadelphia has to a go-to player, while the embattled Mayo has quietly put together another solid season as Memphis' top reserve.
Coach of the Year
Top 3 Tom Thibodeau Mike Brown Gregg Popovich
Ian Thomsen A dozen candidates are worthy of votes, but Thibodeau is the runaway winner. His Bulls remained the best of the East despite the periodic unavailability of their top three wings -- Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and 2011 MVP Derrick Rose. At the end of a season filled with drama and potential crises, Brown has renewed the Lakers as title contenders (pending the health of Bryant). Popovich, once again, was amazing in turning over his roster with young contributors around the Spurs' eternal Big Three.
Top 3 Gregg Popovich Tom Thibodeau Frank Vogel
Chris Mannix The Popovich-Thibodeau race will be a dogfight, as it should be. Thibodeau has kept the Bulls atop the East despite Rose's missing 26 games. Popovich deserves props for taking youngsters on cheap deals (Danny Green, Gary Neal) and turning them into rotation players, while incorporating mercurial talents Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw late in the season. Edge on my ballot goes to Popovich, who is in a tougher conference. Vogel ekes past Doc Rivers for his steady leadership of a young team.
Ian Thomsen The Sixers rank second in points allowed per possession even though Iguodala is their only exceptional defender. He guards several positions, and it was because of their defense that the anemically scoring Sixers still have a shot at the playoffs. The Knicks ranked in the bottom three in opponent scoring last year without Chandler; with him, they've climbed into the top 10. Howard's season was a disaster in many ways, but his late-season absence because of a herniated disk shows his value -- the Magic simply can't defend without him.
Top 3 Tyson Chandler Dwight Howard Andre Iguodala
Chris Mannix Never thought I would vote for anyone but Howard in this category, but his injury problems late in the season opened the door for Chandler, who has been the catalyst in the Knicks' transformation from a dismal defensive team (22nd in defensive efficiency last season) to an elite one (fifth this year). The long and athletic Iguodala edges LeBron for third.
Ian Thomsen Bynum played almost every night while establishing himself as a 24-year-old All-Star, and his presence in the low post gives the Lakers hope of reaching the NBA Finals. In his second year, Cousins turned into a reliable double-double producer who is not done improving. Then there is Lin, who would be the outright winner before he was injured; even so, his early-season contributions remain worthy of a vote.
Chris Mannix Detroit's Monroe has led his team in scoring and rebounding 16 times this season; the five guys who have done that more are All-Stars. He's an offensive rebounding machine whose scoring has jumped by 6.1 points since last season. Pekovic was a human foul in his first season before emerging as a steady player this year. Anderson, the new prototype "stretch four," made the most of his contract season.
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