Ian Thomsen Rose has driven the Bulls to the top of the East as their leading scorer and playmaker, despite extended injuries to big men Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. James has steadily adapted his style to help construct a winning formula in Miami, while Bryant has maintained a simmering intensity throughout the Lakers' long pursuit of a third consecutive title. Howard and Nowitzki are simply indispensable to their contending teams.
Top 5 Derrick Rose Dwight Howard LeBron James Kobe Bryant Dirk Nowitzki
Chris Mannix Any other year, Howard might have run away with it. He ranks in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding, blocks and field-goal percentage and anchors a top-five defense. But the dynamic Rose has been overwhelmingly dominant since opening night. He carried the Bulls through injuries to Boozer and Noah early and facilitated the offense (career-high 7.8 assists) nearly as well as he scored. He's a blur in the open court and unstoppable off the dribble in the half court. Tough decision most of the season, easy one in the end.
Ian Thomsen You never would have known Griffin lost his true rookie season last year to a knee injury that required surgery. As explosive as he is around the basket, it's his perpetual high-gear motor that sets him apart from his fellow rim attackers. Sooner rather than later, Wall will be joining the crowded group of elite point guards. Cousins, for all of the minor controversies surrounding him, generated a productive season.
Chris Mannix Easiest award on the ballot. Wall might have made things interesting had he not missed large chunks of the first two months of the season, but Griffin's highlight-reel athleticism and surprisingly complete game -- he ranks second in 20-point, 10-rebound performances (46) behind Dwight Howard and is the only player to average 20 points, 12 rebounds and three assists -- will give Griffin a landslide victory.
Ian Thomsen Odom could have been an All-Star this year, so effective has he been in his versatile role for the Lakers. His play off the bench is one of their unique strengths. Davis has been crucial to the Celtics' success as an undersized big man who attacks the basket, makes 17-footers (though not as many lately) and draws charges. Young provided energy that defined Philadelphia's improvement this year.
Chris Mannix I've got a bit of a beef with the NBA on this because Odom will finish the season with three times as many starts (34) as Terry (10) or Davis (11), who have been true sixth men. But the rules say a player who sits more games than he starts is eligible, and Odom is by far the best choice. He's been arguably the Lakers' most consistent player, ranking in the top 10 in rebounds and field-goal percentage.
Coach of the Year
Top 3 Tom Thibodeau George Karl Doug Collins
Ian Thomsen Many others -- including Nate McMillan, Gregg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy, Lionel Hollins, Rick Adelman, Monty Williams, Erik Spoelstra and on and on -- are deserving of mention. But Thibodeau married the Bulls to his disciplined, defense-first program with astonishing success. Karl kept his Nuggets in contention during the 'Melo-drama, then assembled the new pieces to form a better team. Collins made believers of his previously moribund Sixers.
Top 3 Gregg Popovich Tom Thibodeau Doug Collins
Chris Mannix While it's excruciating leaving McMillan and Karl off the ballot, choosing between Popovich and Thibodeau is even more difficult. But I lean toward Popovich, who scuttled San Antonio's deliberate offense in training camp in favor of an up-tempo system, got his players to buy into it for an entire season and held off the hard-charging Lakers down the stretch, even without Tim Duncan for six games in that span. Popovich is a four-time NBA champion, but this was his finest coaching job to date.
Ian Thomsen Not only does Howard rank among the top three in blocks (2.4 per game) and defensive rebounds (10.1), but Orlando's midseason trade put more pressure than ever on him to gather its team defense. And he succeeded, based on the Magic's impressive field-goal defense (43.7 percent, No. 5 overall). Garnett recovered from two years of knee problems to command Boston's defense and control the defensive boards (7.8) as the team's centers shuffled in and out. Bogut overcame injuries to lead the league in blocks (2.6) and rank No. 4 in defensive rebounds (8.0).
Chris Mannix Howard has the gaudy numbers and every scout will tell you he has an effect on virtually every defensive possession that finishes in or near the paint. But the most impressive part of Howard's season is that he has carried a stingy Magic D almost single-handedly. He plays next to an undersized power forward (Brandon Bass), and the defensive skills of the wing players in front of him are average at best. This is an award that, barring injury, Howard should win every year.
Ian Thomsen The rise from good to great is the most difficult and important improvement any player can make, and Rose accomplished that ultimate mission by developing his three-point shooting as well as his leadership skills at both ends of the floor. Aldridge's growth as an inside presence and team leader kept the injured Blazers in contention, and if I could have a do-over, I'd reverse my mistake of leaving him off my All-Star ballot. Love emerged as the league's top rebounder.
Chris Mannix This is a tricky category because voters tend to have different criteria. Some like "the guy who came out of nowhere" (see Golden State's Dorell Wright) or the "big star who became a bigger one" (Derrick Rose). I'm going with Love, who broke Moses Malone's consecutive double-doubles record and will become the first 20-point, 15-rebound player since Malone in 1982-83.
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