|Monday, April 15
Updated: April 16, 4:29 PM ET
Duncan deserves MVP for being Spurs' lone star
By David Aldridge
Special to ESPN.com
Normally, for my end-of-year picks column, I use some kind of gimmick set-up. Not this year. This season was by far the toughest to pick award winners, and I'm too tired to come up with something funny. So let's hand out some hardware.
But first, I want to be as clear as possible on this. My criteria for picking winners is mine and it may not make sense to you, just as yours may not make sense to me. So your arguments against my selections probably aren't going to sway me. That's why awards of any kind are, in truth, kind of silly. But they gave me the ballot.
It's Duncan over Kidd for a few reasons. One, you'd probably take Kidd's cast of finishers -- Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, Todd MacCulloch, Keith Van Horn, Richard Jefferson and Lucious Harris -- over Duncan's. Duncan was San Antonio's finisher. Second, Duncan had to carry his team for most of the season while David Robinson struggled to regain his form and Bruce Bowen and Danny Ferry missed significant time with injuries. Moreover, Duncan had to do all this with a rookie point guard from France who was himself out of the lineup for a month. Third, while Kidd's impact on the Nets as a passer is obvious, Duncan was, through Sunday, top six in the league in five different categories: scoring (25.5 per game, fifth), rebounds (12.7 per game, second), blocks (2.41, fourth), minutes (40.7, sixth) and double-doubles (65, first). In addition, he raised his free-throw percentage from last year's horrible .618 to .801, and he's shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. And he has started and played every game, while Shaq has missed a handful due to injuries and/or suspensions. But the Diesel gets major props here for not only playing, but still being mostly dominant while not anywhere close to 100 percent. McGrady has been outstanding for the Magic in Grant Hill's absence, and Pierce has erupted onto the scene as a superstar. But the Big Fundamental has them all beat.
Rookie of the Year
Not really close, though Richardson and Parker have had their moments and Kirilenko showed signs at times of being this generation's Michael Cooper. The Spanish Fly has been the best rookie since Tinsley's sparkling November, dominating players much older and stronger than he with ambidextrous skills around the basket. He's no typical Euro who wants to stay outside the 3-point line. Plus, he's ornery. When asked after a couple of subpar performances in February if he was hitting the wall, Gasol snorted, "There is no wall" and proceeded to pick up the pace the rest of the way. If Gasol can put 25 pounds on his current 216-pound willowiness, look out. With Battier and Gasol, the Grizz have a great one-two punch.
Sixth Man of the Year
Defensive Player of the Year
Should be a runaway for Wallace, who will be only the fourth player in league history to lead the league in both rebounds and blocked shots. He never gives up on a play and he never seems to be out of position, and despite being only 6-foot-8 or so, he has fouled out just twice this season against the league's bigger centers. Mount Mutombo hasn't been quite as hard to scale this season as in years past. Kidd and Iverson were as pesky as ever in the ball-hawking department.
Most Improved Player
Most of the time, guys get this award in their second or third season. (And, many times, it goes to a guy that was a top-five pick the year before, which I've never understood. Aren't those guys supposed to be good players?) That's why Bones Barry's season is all the more impressive. In his seventh season, Barry -- heretofore a wild, undisciplined 3-point shooter -- has posted career highs in rebounds, points per game and field-goal percentage. He's 13th in the league in steals (1.77) and 12th in steals per turnover. He has earned the respect of GP, which takes some doing. Szczerbiak raised his 3-point shooting from 33 to 45 percent this season. O'Neal has become the best center in the Eastern Conference and raised his scoring by a third. Olowokandi has made himself into a player, conveniently, in his contract year. Nailon helped keep the Hornets afloat while Jamal Mashburn missed most of the season with injuries.
Coach of the Year
Scott will get a lot of votes, and he should; the Nets' success is not just a matter of Kidd's excellence, it is also in part because Scott and Eddie Jordan put in a system that maximized Kidd's gifts by insisting that his teammates move without the basketball. Adelman didn't allow the Kings to use Chris Webber's injury early in the season as an excuse, then seamlessly brought Webber back into the fold while Sacramento finally gained some toughness. McMillan brought the Sonics out of nowhere to a playoff spot, with a group most of you have never heard of (who has Predrag Drobnjak, Art Long and Jerome James on their rotisserie teams?), while Nellie and Jax did maybe the hardest thing a coach can do -- keep a bunch of talented guys happy. And O'Brien took essentially the same team he had last season and improved it. But I'm going with Carlisle, the first-year head coach whose team isn't as good as any of the previously mentioned chaps. He reached out to Jerry Stackhouse and Clifford Robinson during the summer, knowing they'd be the team's leaders and had to be on the same page as he. He put in defense first and demanded the Pistons stick with it. And more importantly than the Xs and Os, Carlisle took a personal challenge -- his occasional volatility as an assistant with the Nets and Pacers -- and changed his tune. He still wants to win, but he's smoothed out the rough edges. As you know, I've said and written that this guy would be a hell of a head coach. Occasionally, I get one right.
Executive of the Year
Petrie did the league's best work in six weeks over the summer, somehow prying Mike Bibby from the Grizzlies and re-signing both Chris Webber and Doug Christie in the face of serious competition from other teams. And Sacramento's first-round pick, Gerald Wallace, shows signs of being a contributor down the road. In five years, Petrie has been as instrumental as anyone in changing the view of Sacramento from NBA backwater to desirable destination.
David Aldridge is an NBA reporter for ESPN.