As the NBA playoffs approach, it is time to give out the 2012 regular season awards. The season provided some fantastic highlights, including a high-octane start by the Miami Heat, a riveting slam dunk contest, and the legendarily hilarious Charlotte Bobcats. Corey Maggette would have won the iMVP (ironic Most Valuable Player) award for shooting 37 percent and blocking one shot all season, but he did too much right by his team missing 32 games. Next time, Corey.
Here are NBA Wired's regular season award winners:
Most Valuable Player
It was a three-way race between LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul. In the end, James takes it for being the best player in basketball and leading Miami to a 13-1 record when the team's other offensive anchor, Dwyane Wade, sits out. Wade also saw a decline in minutes played, meaning James had to do more work on both ends.
Kevin Durant's frontcourt scoring and defensive rebounding are incredibly valuable, but Durantula's right-hand man, an improved Russell Westbrook, was healthy all year. CP3 lifting L.A. after the team struggled without Chauncey Billups made Paul a legitimate contender. He's arguably the second-best player in the league after James.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Howard can usually sleepwalk his way to this award. Howard's late-season injury combined with Orlando's slip to defensive mediocrity (and perhaps some voter fatigue as well; I don't claim to be immune) opens the door for other star defenders.
Tyson Chandler and Kevin Garnett are the favorites. Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng are also contenders, and their plus/minus stats- specifically RAPM (regularized adjusted plus/minus)- give them legitimacy. However, those stats paint a positive picture for Tyson and KG, too. Both centers- yes Garnet plays center now- are elite defensive rebounders and shot-changers who also defend their position well. Garnett slowed the likes of Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, while Chandler locked down Howard a few times.
Boston has the NBA's second-best defense thanks to KG, while New York has the fifth-best defense despite playing Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony at the forward positions. Garnett may be the best per-minute defender in the league, but Chandler bridges the gap playing more minutes in more games. Tyson gets the edge based on playing with worse teammates, but KG is deserving as well.
Sixth Man of the Year
James Harden would be one of the top-25 starters in the league. He's one of the league's best pick-n-roll guards, able to make cross-court passes, drive to the rim to draw fouls, and shoot 3's off the dribble. His 66 percent True Shooting Percentage ranks second in the league, remarkable considering he's a perimeter player. His production was instrumental in OKC's dominant season, and his beard was instrumental in cushioning the destructive 'bow of World Peace.
Rookie of the Year
Kyrie Irving helped the Cavs overachieve this year. He averaged 18.8 points and 5.5 assists per game on excellent percentages, and he showed a combination of poise, skill, and underrated athleticism that allowed him to get anywhere he wanted on the court.
Iman Shumpert and Ricky Rubio displayed great play and potential as rookies, too.
Most Improved Player
Jeremy Lin would have been a lock had it not been for his regular season-ending injury. Andrew Bynum, Nikola Pekovic, Greg Monroe, and Avery Bradley are solid choices: Bynum's knees stayed healthy, Bradley turned into a defensive star by season's end, Pekovic became a forcible presence inside, and Monroe matured as a lead player.
Bynum edges out Monroe based on his transition into a big minutes/big responsibility player on the Lakers following the Lamar Odom trade.
Coach of the Year
Tom Thibodeau, Frank Vogel, Doug Collins, and Gregg Popovich are all deserving candidates. Thibodeau lost his star, Derrick Rose, for nearly half the season, yet Chicago played well and even improved on a few facets from last year. Collins was an early-season favorite, but Philly's play declined throughout the season.
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