The NBA has invaded Houston this weekend for its annual All-Star gala, so what better time than now to unveil the latest version of the Ceddy Awards? Enjoy the look back at the first half of the season.
Best player: LeBron James, Miami. The numbers (27.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.9 assists) speak for themselves, but he’s playing with scary efficiency in addition to the unmatched athleticism. The old book on LeBron was that you could limit his effectiveness by making him shoot jumpers. Now he’s making 56 percent of his field goal attempts while shooting 42 percent from three-point range. What now?
Second best player: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City. He still doesn’t rebound enough (6.7 per game) for a guy who is close to 7-feet, but Durant continues to improve his overall game. He’s going to the hole more now and getting more cheap points from the free throw line. He will win MVP awards down the line.
Most under-appreciated player: Tony Parker, San Antonio. He still gets my MVP nod, though LeBron will run away with the trophy with the season he is having. Parker (20 points, 7.6 assists) has the Spurs atop the league standings despite not having banged-up teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili available on a nightly basis.
Best coach: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio. Want proof of a coach’s philosophy trickling down from the best player to the end of the bench? The Spurs went to Chicago and beat the Bulls 103-89 last week without Parker, Duncan, Ginobili, and Stephen Jackson. Pop has the best program in the league. His players have totally bought in to his coaching philosophy.
Best defender: Joakim Noah, Chicago. With Derrick Rose still trying to come back from knee surgery, Noah is still the best hustling big man in the business. He does all the dirty work for the Bulls with the blue-collar numbers to back it up: 11.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks.
Runner-up: Tyson Chandler, New York. After being left off the All-NBA Defensive First Team despite being named the defensive player of the year, Chandler has continued to give the Knicks a great interior presence by averaging 11.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
Most guts: Boston Celtics. After the Celtics lost point guard Rajon Rondo for the season with a knee injury, head coach Doc Rivers kept the ship afloat. Boston is 7-1 without Rondo and enters the All-Star break at 28-24.
Best sixth man: J.R. Smith, New York. Underneath those 12,000 tattoos lies the heart of a killer. Smith is the perfect impact reserve. He’s averaging a career best 16.2 points a game and providing a great spark off the bench.
Worst personnel moves: The 25-29 Lakers are a real mess. The organization fired head coach Mike Brown after five games, led Phil Jackson to believe he would be the replacement, then went out and hired the defensively inept Mike D’Antoni. And I haven’t even mentioned the Dwight Howard-Kobe feud. What a fiasco.
Best show: Inside the NBA. Unmatched in any sports market. Even with the bumbling Shaquille O’Neal added to the cast, it continues to be the most entertaining studio show on television. Charles Barkley is broadcasting gold and Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith play their positions perfectly.
Most surprising team: Atlanta. Didn’t we all think the Hawks would plummet earthward after Joe Johnson left? That hasn’t happened. The Hawks are 25-18 and in the running to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference.
Dark horse title contender: The L.A. Clippers. The best team at Staples Center sits at 39-17. Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul are two of the best leaders in the game and Blake Griffin is starting to knock down jump shots.
Best rookie: Damon Lillard, Portland. If this kid played for the Lakers or Celtics, he would already be a household name. Lillard is quietly averaging 18.3 points and 6.5 assists for the Blazers.
Biggest All-star snub: Josh Smith, Atlanta. He doesn’t always take the smartest shots, but Smith has been great this season: 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and a robust 2.3 blocks per game. Plus he’s one of the game’s best finishers.
Runner-up: Steph Curry, Golden State. I agree with coach Mark Jackson for calling out the coaches for not selecting Curry, who is averaging 20.9 points, and 6.6 assists, while shooting 45 percent from three-point range.