by Lang Whitaker

Late yesterday afternoon, after a week of more or less constant thought about it, I filed my ballot for the NBA’s postseason awards. I was asked to vote in a number of categories, and I spent way too much time chewing on it, to make sure I didn’t forget anyone or cast a vote I’d later regret.

And I feel good about the way it shook out. Here’s how I voted in the various categories (and quick explanations as to why I voted the way I did)…

NBA MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
1. Hedo Turkoglu — Magic
2. Rudy Gay — Grizzlies
3. Al Jefferson — T-Wolves

A gimme.

NBA COACH OF THE YEAR
1. Byron Scott — Hornets
2. Phil Jackson — Lakers
3. Eddie Jordan — Washington

That’s right, for assistant coach of the year, I chose Byron Scott. Kidding! Hey, Coach Scott and I have had our differences in the past (when he was coaching in Jersey, more specifically), but I thought he did a terrific job all season. He had the Hornets in first place at the All-Star break, and he kept them near the top of the charts until the final week. Consistency is so hard to achieve in the NBA, and Lord Byron did it. I went with him over Phil because I thought Phil had a little more to work with, both with personnel and organizationally. I also thought Eddie Jordan deserved some recognition for what he did this season in Washington. I also considered Rick Adelman, Nate MacMillan, Doc Rivers and Flip Saunders. As good as Portland was in November, they were nearly as bad in February (including a 2-9 skid). Houston and Adelman had that incredible run as well, but I thought the three coaches I picked each were a little more consistent over the long haul.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
1. Kevin Garnett — Celtics
2. Shane Battier — Rockets
3. Josh Smith — Hawks

This was a tough category to figure. The usual suspects (Bowen, Artest, Raja Bell) all did their things this season, but I thought Garnett, Battier and Smith each made huge differences for their teams all season long. I did not give Marcus Camby, last year’s defensive player of the year, a vote here because even though he improved his averages on rebound and blocks per game, I just morally felt strange recognizing just his defense for a team that was second-worst in the NBA on defense.

ALL-NBA TEAMS
First Team
F — LeBron James
F — Kevin Garnett
C — Dwight Howard
G — Kobe Bryant
G — Chris Paul

Second Team
F — Tim Duncan
F — Paul Pierce
C — Amare Stoudemire
G — Baron Davis
G — Deron Williams

Third Team
F — Dirk Nowitzki
F — Carlos Boozer
C — Marcus Camby
G — Allen Iverson
G — Chauncey Billups

I thought this was by far the toughest category to pick, because there’s a mandate to only use guys in their correct positions. So for Amare, for instance, is he a center or a forward? I listed him as a center, even though he plays alongside Shaq, because that’s the position he played for the majority of the season. It’s tough to find three worthy centers for this list. Kaman had great stats, but he only played in 50-something games. I thought about Tyson Chandler, but I felt Camby was a better all-around player. Sure, Camby only averaged 9 points per game, but he played in 79 games and averaged 13 boards and 3.6 blocks per game. One other guy who I narrowly missed getting in there was T-Mac, who played a key role on a good team, but he missed 20 percent of his team’s games and averaged his lower ppg, rpg and apg than last season.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
1. Manu Ginobili — Spurs
2. Leandro Barbosa — Suns
3. Josh Childress — Hawks

Don’t get mad at me, Raptors fans. I actually submitted my ballot with Ginobili first, Barbosa third and with Jose Calderon in second, but I was told Calderon did not qualify for this award. (Not sure what the qualifications are, because it was never fully spelled out to me.) So I re-submitted with the guys you see above.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
1. Al Horford — Hawks
2. Kevin Durant — Sonics
3. Al Thornton — Clippers

I went back and forth on this one about a dozen times in the last week. I obviously saw Horford play more than I did Durant, but I did watch a lot of Durant’s 42 point game last night, and it didn’t change my mind. The argument I kept hearing for Durant was that he was asked to carry a terrible team and that somehow should be factored in. And I understand that line of thought, but at the same time, they won 20 games, so it’s not like Durant’s absence would’ve hurt them all that much. Durant scored a lot of points, but I just thought Horford was more complete and his accomplishments (playing out of position all season and still finishing with 27 double-doubles for a team that qualified for the Playoffs) were more impressive to me. I think that long-term, Durant will turn out to be the better NBA player. But as far as their rookie years, Horford was better.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
5. Tim Duncan — Spurs

Respect.

4. Kevin Garnett — Celtics

I know KG had a lot of supporters out there for the MVP, and as important as he was to the Celtics turning things all the way around, I still think that without Pierce and Allen, Boston wouldn’t have been nearly as good. And I think a Boston team without KG wouldn’t be nearly as bad as they were last season. I don’t want to discount KG’s impact on the culture of the Celtics, but if you’re looking for an MVP from Boston, maybe look to Danny Ainge. (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.)

3. LeBron James — Cavs

He might be the best all-around offensive player in the NBA, but even King James couldn’t get the Cavs to win consistently.

2. Chris Paul — Hornets
1. Kobe Bryant — Lakers

This was the other race that was clogging my brain all week. I think Chris Paul is unbelievably good, as valuable to his team as any player in the League. I also love the spirit he plays with and his creativity on the court. But at the end of the season, Kobe Bryant is a better basketball player than anyone else in the NBA. As surprising as the Hornets’ success has been, did anyone see this coming from the Lakers? I didn’t, and I went to training camp in Hawaii with them. I wrote last week about how the Rookie of the Year race was really about style versus substance, and in a strange way, the MVP vote was also. As fun and entertaining and awesome as Chris Paul is, and as impressive as CP3 has been statistically, I just couldn’t see any reason that he was more important to his team than Kobe was to Los Angeles. And I love Chris and his entire family, who are some of the nicest people in the world.

But at the end of the day, to me, Chris Paul wasn’t the best all-around player in the NBA this season. Kobe Bryant was.
So I voted for Kobe.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below and I’ll holler back…