Sam: 2012-13 NBA Awards

Sam: 2012-13 NBA Awards
April 18, 2013, 2:15 pm
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With the NBA's regular season ending Wednesday and the playoffs beginning Saturday, it's time to hand out awards.

Some of the categories feature closer races than others, with several deserving candidates, but these are picks are based on the opinion of this writer.

[RELATED: A look inside Bulls-Nets first-round matchup]

On to the winners, as well as those in the conversation:

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Miami Heat
Runners-up: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
There's no debate here, as James has had a historic run all season and while Anthony, the NBA's scoring champion, has made the Knicks truly relevant again, and Durant has added more diversity to his already-potent game, neither player holds a candle to the dominance of the soon-to-be four-time league MVP.

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Runners-up: George Karl, Denver Nuggets; Lionel Hollins, Memphis Grizzlies
This might seem like a homer pick, but without Derrick Rose all season, the "Bench Mob" disassembled and a litany of injuries throughout the campaign, Thibs has done his best coaching job during his tenure in Chicago, though Karl's mastery in guiding a team without a certified superstar in Denver has been remarkable, as has Hollins being able to navigate an in-season trade of Rudy Gay, one of the Grizzlies' top players.

[MORE: NBA Playoffs first-round predictions]

Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Runners-up: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets; Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
After an unheralded four-year college career at mid-major Weber State, Lillard was a runaway winner from start to finish, as he proved to be both NBA ready and poised to join the league's growing ranks of elite floor generals, but injuries aside, Davis' potential deemed the Chicago native worthy of being the No. 1 pick, while Beal appears to be a very solid shooting guard for years to come and a solid backcourt partner for John Wall.

Defensive Player of the Year: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Runners-up: Tony Allen, Grizzlies; Andre Iguodala, Nuggets
George's defensive versatility, two-way play and being a major cog in one of the league's top defensive units gives him the slight edge over Allen, a Windy City native who is more of a specialist, but has a ball-hawking sidekick alongside him in league steals leader Mike Conley, and Iguodala alone hasn't transformed the Nuggets' defense, but he gives them a stopper capable of at least making opposing wings' jobs difficult every evening.

Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Knicks
Runners-up: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers; Nate Robinson, Bulls
Crawford looked like the winner of this award, not to mention an All-Star snub, a few months ago, but Smith's torrid end to the season, coinciding with the Knicks' success, gives him a boost, and while the likes of Golden State's Jarrett Jack and Oklahoma City's Kevin Martin deserve consideration, it's hard to discount Robinson's strong contributions to the injury-riddled Bulls.

Most Improved Player: Omer Asik, Houston Rockets
Runners-up: Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic; Greivis Vazquez, Hornets
It could be argued that Asik's improvement stems from a much larger role in Houston than the one he had in Chicago, but even taking his rebounding and defensive impact, predicting his competence on offense would have been tough, as he is on the verge of becoming one of the league's upper-echelon centers. Asik is similar to Vucevic, who was buried on the bench for Philadelphia last postseason before being traded to Orlando in the Dwight Howard deal and emerging as a double-double machine, while Vazquez has quietly become an unconventional point guard that can hold his own on a nightly basis.

[MORE: Complete Bulls-Nets first-round playoff schedule]

All-NBA team: Anthony (forward); James (forward); Marc Gasol (center), Grizzlies; Chris Paul, (guard) Clippers; Kobe Bryant (guard), Los Angeles Lakers
Paul was in discussions with Anthony and James as a fringe MVP candidate early in the season, while Gasol might have been the most complete traditional back-to-the-basket center this season and Bryant, even at his advanced age, performed yeoman's duty for the Lakers while healthy.

2nd team: Durant (forward); Tim Duncan (forward), San Antonio Spurs; Joakim Noah (center), Chicago Bulls; Russell Westbrook (guard), Thunder; Tony Parker (guard), Spurs
Durant gets left off because of Anthony's run to close the season, while Duncan, only nominally a forward, had a flashback type of campaign, Noah established himself as an offensive threat and true upper-echelon player at his position, Westbrook's impact can't be denied and Parker would have deserved MVP consideration if he had stayed healthy.

3rd team: Luol Deng (forward), Bulls; George (forward), Pacers; Chris Bosh (center), Heat; James Harden (guard), Rockets; Stephen Curry (guard), Golden State Warriors
Deng's all-around brilliance outweigh his numbers, George has blossomed into Indiana's alpha dog in the absence of Danny Granger, Bosh has evolved into Miami's second-most important player, Harden jumped to an elite level when given his own team to carry and Curry, finally healthy for the majority of the season, proved himself to be perhaps the game's top shooter.

All-Defensive team: George; Deng; Larry Sanders (center), Milwaukee Bucks; Allen (guard); Iguodala (guard)
Deng gets none of the glory, but usually shadows the Bulls' top opposing scorer, while being relied upon to shoulder the load offensively, and Sanders has become one of the league's top shot-blocking threats, as well as one of the NBA's most improved players in general.

2nd team: James; Serge Ibaka (forward), Thunder; Noah; Conley (guard), Grizzlies; Avery Bradley (guard), Boston Celtics
James would be on the first team if he defended top scorers all game instead of just switching onto them at the end of games, Ibaka is an imposing rim protector with agility, Noah was the versatile anchor for the Bulls' formidable defense, Conley's ball pressure helped key Memphis' defensive attack and Bradley could be the league's top on-ball defender.

All-Rookie team: Lillard; Davis; Beal; Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons; Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
Drummond is raw, but became increasingly effective as the season wore on, while Waiters showed potential as a scorer next to Kyrie Irving.

2nd team: Harrison Barnes, Warriors; Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats; John Henson, Bucks; Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni (tie), Knicks
Barnes was a solid starter all season for a playoff team, Valunciunas looks like Toronto's center of the future, Kidd-Gilchrist displayed flashes for a hapless team, Henson showed glimpses of potential as an interior force and the 28-year-old Copeland and 35-year-old Prigioni were nice additions from overseas for the Knicks.