A pretty eventful NBA season, dominated by stories of the Western Conference's superiority and the return of Michael Jordan, is drawing to a close. I have filled out my awards ballot and it looks like this:
Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic
Hardest decision I've had in this category in the 10 years I've had a vote. For the better part of the season, I had this going to Nets point guard Jason Kidd. I still appreciate what Kidd has done in making a good team better, but the talent cupboard is not bare in New Jersey. In Orlando, McGrady often took the floor with Don Reid, Monty Williams, Darrell Armstrong and Pat Garrity. McGrady is also a two-way player who's electrifying offensively and guards the opposing team's best player (unless he's a center). In terms of value to his team, Tracy McGrady is the MVP. He has carried the Magic without Grant Hill and last year's impressive rookie, Mike Miller, both of whom were obviously big parts of Orlando's plans.
Rookie of the Year
Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
For a while I thought Gasol might share this with Pacers point guard Jamaal Tinsley, but Gasol leads all rookies in scoring, rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage. He deserves it on his own. Gasol has been what he was projected to be as the third overall pick: a tall, slithery force in the paint, like Kevin McHale. He can run the floor and is not intimidated by NBA play as some European players can be. I bet the Hawks wish they'd held on to him.
Sixth Man of the Year
Quentin Richardson, Los Angeles Clippers
Richardson leads sixth men (or is among the leaders) in scoring, 3-pointers and several other categories. And the fact that we're talking about the sixth Clipper is just amazing. Bobby Jackson of the Kings and Corliss Williamson of the Pistons also had great years coming off the bench.
Defensive Player of the Year
Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons
Kind of speaks for himself. Leads the league in blocks and rebounds. Initially drew attention for his wild hair, then his play. Wallace is a great story. Undrafted out of Virginia Union and with his third team, Wallace has simply come out of nowhere to dominate.
Most Improved Player
Steve Nash, Dallas Mavericks
On a highly achieving team of scorers, Nash has consistently delivered whatever his team needs. Nash is averaging nearly eight assists per game, and this year he's added three points per game for an average of 18.3. The Mavericks are in the top echelon of the league right now, and no one is more responsible than Nash. I also considered Pistons star Jerry Stackhouse. Considering where he was when he came out of college, when he was paired up with Allen Iverson and then when he was sent to Purgatory, Mich. (I mean Detroit), Stackhouse has really developed. He's no longer obsessed with trying to lead the league in scoring. And this year Stackhouse has become a team leader by toning down his scoring and being more reliable in other areas. He's doing what he can to make the Pistons better.
Coach of the Year
Byron Scott, New Jersey Nets
It came down to deciding which impressed me more: Rick Carlisle and the Pistons winning the Central Division or Scott and the Nets having the best record in the Eastern Conference. I also looked at the amazing job that Maurice Cheeks did in Portland. Cheeks took a team that is usually overrated and underachieves and made the players achieve enough to be underrated. He also got Rasheed Wallace to just play. Nate McMillan also did a wonderful job in Seattle and got Gary Payton to just play. And Rick Adelman did a quietly superb job in Sacramento. While the Nets may not be the best team in the East, they had the best record, and especially after the storms of last year, Scott did a great job all season long. One funny note: Two of these coaches looked crazy for taking their current jobs (Carlisle and Cheeks). Not any more.
First Team All NBA
The team is self-explanatory. I know there are three guards, but Kobe Bryant is self-explanatory, too.