With another dramatic NBA season drawing to a close, this column takes a look at the main contenders for the big awards that are on offer:
Most Valuable Player:
- LeBron James, Miami Heat.
- 26.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG.
There isn't much doubt about this award. LeBron has been nothing short of mind blowing this season. He is the best player in the NBA by some margin and has demonstrated it again this season. Many thought LeBron may become a bit complacent this season, having won everything there was to win in the game last season. That has been far from the case. James has led by example for this talented Heat team that narrowly missed out on the all-time winning streak, finally being defeated with the streak at 27. James has been wrapped in cotton wool towards the latter stages of the season as they clinched the number one Playoff seed in the Eastern Conference a long time ago. It will take a monumental effort for anyone to prize the NBA trophy from James and the Heat as they look to repeat.
2. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks.
- 28.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.6 APG.
Anthony has always been an elite scorer and this season has been no different. He is on the verge of claiming his first ever NBA Scoring title and is widely considered as the best scorer in the league at the present time. What's more impressive about Anthony this season is that he has developed his all-around game to lead the resurgent Knicks to the number 2 seed in the East and home court advantage in what promises to be a mouth-watering series against the Boston Celtics. Anthony has thrived as he has moved to Power Forward and has come on leaps and bounds on the defensive side of the floor. If it hadn't been for James' blistering form then Anthony may have been lifting the MVP award to go along with his scoring title. The Knicks will need Anthony's incredible form to continue if they are to get that elusive Playoff series victory.
3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder.
- 28.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 4.6 APG.
Durant has had another stellar year as he looks to drive the Thunder back to the finals. He has been an effortless scorer who has the ability to drop 50 points on any given night. Durant, like Anthony, has also developed his all-round game tremendously, this season being a career high in assists for Durant by some margin. His defensive prowess has also come along, durant will now take on the responsibility of guarding the op positions best player on the perimeter in critical situations. Whether the Thunder will achieve the number one seed in the Western Conference remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, with Durant playing at this level and with further improvement still to come, the Thunder won't be far away from an NBA title in the not-to-distant future.
4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers.
- 17.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 9.6 APG.
Chris Paul has changed the way people view the Los Angeles Clippers. Once considered the laughing stock of the entire league, they now have a team that can finally have a legitimate chance of winning an NBA title. Paul is the main catalyst, the perfect floor general and the best point guard currently playing in the league. He has incredible vision on the court and the Clippers fast-Break offense is tailor-made for Paul to do the most damage. His experience will be vital if the Clippers are going to go deep in the post season. With the chemistry of the Clippers almost solely dependant on Paul's ability to see the plays almost before they happen it is vital that they sign Paul to a long-term max contract in the off-season if they want to continue their rise from in obscurity.
5. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers.
- 27.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.0 APG.
Before the tragic injury that shocked the Basketball world, Kobe Bryant was demonstrating just why he is considered one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He has been the one constant on a disappointing Lakers team and did more than anyone to make sure the Lakers at least have a chance of getting to the Play-offs. Some say Bryant's injury was a direct result of him not getting enough rest during this critical stage of the season. Bryant is not as young as he used to be and while his talents don't seem to have regress ed he has logged so many minutes throughout his career to come crashing down to Earth at some point. Bryant now faces a gruelling few months of rehabilitation as he looks to bounce back from a torn achilles tendon. However, Kobe can look back on this season with some individual pride even if his Lakers team has massively under-achieved this season.
6. James Harden (HOU)
7. Tim Duncan (SAS)
8. Dwayne Wade (MIA)
9. Russel Westbrook (OKC)
10. Steph Curry (GSW)
Defensive Player of the Year:
1. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder.
- 13.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, 3.1 BPG.
Ibaka has been the anchor on the interior this season for the Thunder and has taken over the mantle from Kendrick Perkins as the teams leading defensive presence. Buoyed by a new contract Ibaka has been playing like he looks to earn every penny of his larhe salary. He has been the stand out defensive player in the NBA this year and he will be key to the Thunders chances in the Playoffs. They realised this when they faced the difficult decision to choose between Ibaka and James Harden, deciding to take Ibaka on a long term deal and trade Harden to the Houston Rockets.
2. Andre Iguodala (DEN)
3. Josh Smith (ATL)
4. Tyson Chandler (NYK)
5. Carlos Boozer (CHI)
Sixth Man of the Year:
1. J.R Smith, New York Knicks.
- 18.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.7 APG.
We have witnessed the maturity of the talented but troubled J.R Smith before our very eyes this season. There has never been any doubting Smith's ability but he has tended to focus more on his social life which has caused his game to suffer. Not this year though, this year he has been counted on to be the Knicks second scoring option behind Carmelo Anthony and has been far more consistent than in previous seasons. It is between Smith and Jamal Crawford for this award and the preference is for Smith, who has been more than just the scorer Crawford is. His rebound and assist totals are extremely impressive for a man coming off the bench. Whether Smith can keep this consistency when he gets his new deal next season remains to be seen.
2. Jamal Crawford (LAC)
3. Manu Ginobili (SAS)
4. Nate Robinson (CHI)
5. Jeff Green (BOS)
Most Improved Player:
1. Paul George, Indiana Pacers.
- 17.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 4.1 APG.
With Danny Granger missing for most of the season, Paul George has done an incredible job of filling his shoes. He was a first time All-Star this year and has been the main contributing factor in the Pacers revival this season which has them as the third seed in the Eastern Conference currently. George is an efficient scorer who has no trouble differing to his team-mates if they have a better opportunity for a basket. He will have continue this fine form if the Pacers are to surprise people in the Play-offs. Some people are still unconvinced by this Pacers team but they are solid defensively and if George can become the closer they are missing without Granger then they can do some damage in the Post season.
2. James Harden (HOU)
3. Brook Lopez (BKN)
4. Jrue Holliday (PHI)
5. Steph Curry (GSW)
Rookie of the Year:
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers.
- 19.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.5 APG.
This was probably the easiest decision to make out of any of the awards. Lillard has been a revelation this season in Portland and has been the clear winner of this award for some time now. He has proven he can score on anybody in the league. He is a worry for any team, so much so that when they played the Lakers he had the pleasure of being guarded by Kobe Bryant for the duration of the game, such was the concern they had for Lillard. The ceiling couldn't be higher for this kid and with a solid interior presence in LaMarcus Aldridge to take the pressure off, the Trail Blazers are only a couple of pieces away from being relevant again.
2. Andre Drummond (DET)
3. Anthony Davis (NOL)
4. Bradley Beal (WAS)
5. Harrison Barnes (GSW)
Coach of the Year:
1. Greg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs.
- Record 58-22.
Much like LeBron James, we tend to take Popovich's talents for granted. He has once again worked wonders with an ageing Spurs lineup and has them as one of the elite forces in the League once more. It's been a controversial season in some respects as Popovich has angered the NBA commissioner David Stern by resting his stars for Nationally televised game which has caused fines throughout the season. This has been irrelevant to Popovich and the Spurs. They do not want a repeat of last season when they were the numer one seed in the West and crashed out in the first round, looking lethargic. History shouldn't repeat itself this time around with the Spurs 'Big 3' having had as much rest as possible during the regular season. Can they win it all? The keys will be short series' and the health but it is well within their grasp.
2. Eric Spoelstra (MIA)
3. Mike Woodson (NYK)
4. Vinny Del Negro (LAC)
5. Scott Brooks (OKC)
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_