Jerry Zgoda's Sunday Insider: Better LeBron = (half-season) MVP

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2013 - 7:21 AM

Close races abound for the NBA's postseason awards halfway through the season, except for the top rookie.


Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6)

Photo: Elise Amendola, Associated Press

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The Timberwolves' season hit the midway point last week. Here's a look around the league at the early leaders for the NBA's postseason awards:

MVP: LeBron James, Miami

Yes, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul have done everything to lead their teams to a better record than the defending champion Heat, but let's go with a novel concept for defining MVP: the best player in the world. Nobody's more efficient or a more versatile defender who's also shooting a career-best 58 percent and is a playmaking point guard in a 6-8 body. He's better than he was last season but not as good as he will be next season.

Runners-up: Durant; Paul; Carmelo Anthony, New York; Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers.

Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Portland

A runaway so far in a season filled with close contests, at least until -- or if -- No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis gets completely healthy. The little guy from little Weber State has transformed the Trail Blazers into playoff contenders with his scoring.

Runners-up: Davis, New Orleans; Bradley Beal, Washington; Andre Drummond, Detroit; Alexey Shved, Timberwolves.

Most Improved Player: Paul George, Indiana

A winner who will break the hearts of Wolves fans -- their team had an offer to trade Jonny Flynn to the Pacers for the 2010 draft's 10th overall pick, which it likely would have used to select this guy, but refused it. George is blossoming into a star.

Runners-up: Anthony, New York; Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia; Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans; Larry Sanders, Milwaukee.

Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers

Perhaps the best free-agent signing last summer. He's a fearless scorer on perhaps the league's deepest bench. The Wolves pursued him last season, but he made his intentions clear when free agency struck on July 1 and the Clippers quickly did the same.

Runners-up: J.R. Smith, New York; Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City; Jarrett Jack, Golden State; Ryan Anderson, New Orleans.

Coach of the Year: Mark Jackson, Golden State

A finalist for the Wolves job when Kurt Rambis was hired in 2009, Jackson had never done this until last season, but he has adapted just fine. He has a top assistant in Mike Malone and a treasure of accumulated talent including David Lee and Steph Curry. With a little luck and Memphis' decision to trade away Rudy Gay, the Warriors could earn a home-court playoff seed.

Runners-up: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago; Mike Woodson, New York; Vinny Del Negro, L.A. Clippers; Frank Vogel, Indiana.

Defensive Player of the Year: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City

The backbone of an improving Thunder defense. He's an accomplished shot-blocker and active help defender.

Runners-up: Joakim Noah, Chicago; Tony Allen, Memphis; Kevin Garnett, Boston; Sanders, Milwaukee.


Hot hand, or hothead?

Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook is back at it.

The All-Star point guard known for freakish athleticism and world-class temper stormed off the court and briefly went to the locker room during Thursday's victory over Memphis.

Westbrook yapped at teammate Thabo Sefolosha and jacked up a shot that caused Scott Brooks to pull him, then blew up when assistant Mo Cheeks tried to talk some sense to him on the bench.

"Listen, Maurice Cheeks and my man Scott Brooks got to handle this," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said afterward. "This has been going on for years now. But now they're an elite team. It's championship or bust. ... At some point, Scott and Maurice got to go, 'Hey dude, you either got to grow up or we can't win a championship.' This thing is going to show its ugly head deep in the playoffs if they don't. ... They've got to handle this."

The Beas is back

Phoenix started 3-2 under Lindsey Hunter after beginning the season 13-28 when Alvin Gentry coached, and former Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley seems to be turning himself about as well.

Granted, it's a small sample size, but entering Saturday night, Beasley had doubled his scoring average -- to 18.2 a game -- and was shooting 53.4 percent when playing for Hunter.

"No more nonchalant Beas," he told reporters. "I'm back to the Beast."

Parting words

TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal on the Grizzlies' trade last week that sent away Rudy Gay -- and more importantly, his huge contract -- to Toronto: "I don't like the trade because every year there are four or five good teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the championship. Memphis, with Rudy Gay, really had a shot to win the championship."


Monday: 7 p.m. vs. Portland (FSN). Wednesday: 8 p.m. vs. San Antonio (ESPN/FSN). Friday: 7 p.m. vs. New York (FSN)

Player to watch: Carmelo Anthony, New York Formerly the superstar who never really was, he grew up at last summer's OIympics and now at least has entered the MVP discussion. He set a franchise record by scoring 20 or more points in 31 consecutive games -- a run that ended Saturday.

VOICES "It felt like there were too many people out there." — Ricky Rubio on pregame warmups Wednesday when the Wolves had 12 players healthy for the first time since Dec. 26.


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