Running with the Bulls: NBA midseason awards

Running with the Bulls: NBA midseason awards

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
Posted: 1:20 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Before every NBA season, there are players and teams that the so-called experts (this writer included) believe will dominate headlines and then fail to live up to the hype right away. After the first few weeks of the season, more predictions are made based on the early returns, with observers going out on a limb to proclaim that those who have made immediate impacts will sustain their effectiveness over the course of the campaign. The halfway point of the season, while not a crystal ball, is a much more accurate way of determining future successes or failures. But instead of making any hare-brained claims, let's take a look at the NBA's top first-half performers.
MVP: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Forget about this being the obvious homer pick and let's examine his candidacy. One front-runner, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki has missed significant time due to injury, leading to the Mavericks' recent slide. Another, New York's Amar'e Stoudemire, has been excellent, but his Knicks have also swooned lately. Miami's duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have effectively separated themselves from the other, potentially splitting votes--or garnering less momentum because of their partnership--at season's end. Kobe Bryant hasn't had a vintage season and at least right now, neither are his Lakers. The only other player in the league who presents a credible threat at the midseason point is Orlando's Dwight Howard, but since winning does play a factor--it might be prudent to see how the Magic's overhaul plays out in the long run--Rose's guidance of the Bulls to success (without co-stars Joakim Noah andor Carlos Boozer for long stretches) wins out at this juncture.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Is there any other choice? Not only is Blake Griffin already arguably the league's most exciting player, but he's managed to not only lead the perennially-lowly Clippers to the brink of respectability as of late, he's reinvigorated enigmatic point guard Baron Davis, possibly extending former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro's Hollywood shelf life in the process. Griffin isn't just good for a rookie, he's a dominant force, as evidenced by his NBA season-high 47 points Monday. The scary thing is, he's only going to get better.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Maybe the Spurs are still boring as far as personalities are concerned, but nobody can accuse them of playing that way this season. Popovich has completely flipped their style of play, turning San Antonio into a run-and-gun team, de-emphasizing future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan on the offensive end (which many suspect is a ploy to save his legs for the grind-it-out, halfcourt-heavy playoffs) and making the up-tempo nature of backcourt stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili the team's new focal point. In addition to having likely the league's best backcourt, "Pop" has gotten through to small forward Richard Jefferson and has melded a seemingly haphazard bunch of role players (such as 26-year-old sharpshooting rookie Gary Neal and roly-poly undersized second-year bruiser DeJuan Blair) into an exemplary complementary unit, resulting in the league's best record.
Most Improved Player: Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Another no-brainer, as Love, the league's top rebounder, has become the bizarro Dennis Rodman this season. The wide-bodied, ground-bound power forward Kevin Love is a freak of nature on the glass in today's NBA, recording multiple 20-point, 20-rebound games, including a high of 31 boards in one night. Defensively challenged, Love is a savvy and versatile offensive performer, with comfortable 3-point range, excellent passing ability and old-school sensibilities. Although he toils for an awful Minnesota squad, Love a must-see attraction, despite his decidedly below-the-rim game.
Most surprising team: New York Knicks

Although they haven't been as good lately--losing the element of surprise is a factor--the fact that the Knicks are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference is a bit of a shocker, especially given their slow start to the season. Much of the credit can be given to the elite play of their top offseason acquisition Stoudemire (getting his former player back, as well as others who fit his "Seven Seconds or Less" system is obviously a big part of Mike D'Antoni's turnaround of the team), but the squad's supporting cast--the likes of floor general Raymond Felton, sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari, versatile forward Wilson Chandler and rookie Landry Fields have all played significant roles--has been much better than advertised, bringing legitimate excitement back to the Big Apple for the first time in more than a decade.

Most disappointing team: Milwaukee Bucks
After last season's "Fear the Dear" run, expectations were high for the Bucks, particularly after an offseason that many observers thought was quietly among the league's best. But injuries to second-year point guard Brandon Jennings and others, as well as star center Andrew Bogut's not-yet-complete return to form have derailed Milwaukee. One of the NBA's most inept scoring teams, they have simply been unable to regain the magic that carried them last season. In the top-heavy East, there's still time to make a run, but it's doubtful they'll be able to build on the progress made a year ago.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Robin Lopez on when he knew he'd be suspended: 'When I threw a punch'

Robin Lopez on when he knew he'd be suspended: 'When I threw a punch'

Most NBA players have to let their adrenaline come down before the reality of what's coming next begins to hit them, but Robin Lopez had his moment of clarity at the oddest time during his altercation with Toronto's Serge Ibaka on Tuesday night.

When asked when he knew he would be serving at least a one-game suspension for his missed punch in the fourth quarter of their loss to the Raptors, Lopez said, "When I threw a punch."

The process from the NBA to Lopez was pretty straightforward, and Lopez called the one-game suspension "fair."

Ditching the caveman look for a clean shaven appearance at Friday morning's shootaround, Lopez seemed at ease with what happened and wasn't going to contest the one-game decision, especially since the NBA could've gone with two or three games as no precedent has been set for fighting this season.

"I mean, that's what the league gave. I'm going to stick with it," Lopez said, adding, "I didn't change my story."

The multiple camera angles would've made it impossible to believe a different recollection of the events had Lopez attempted to finagle himself out of the one-game suspension that stopped his 71-game starting streak with the Bulls this season.

[BULLS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

His matter-of-fact statement after an emotionally charged incident didn't hurt the Bulls. They beat the Pistons by 20 as Lopez was serving a banishment that ended his streak of 187 consecutive games played. But he was happy Joffrey Lauvergne got a chance to prove his worth.

Lauvergne had 17 points and seven rebounds Wednesday night, and he'll be behind Lopez against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night as Cristiano Felicio is recovering from a hard fall late in the Raptors game.

"He's very versatile. He's a playmaker, he can score from a lot of different spots on the floor. He's a really smart basketball player," Lopez said of Lauvergne. "I always want to be out there with the guys. But they took care of business and did their thing. So I was pleased to see them pick up the win."

Picking up two in a row shouldn't be a monumental task against the 76ers, though they are 3-3 in their last six games and the Bulls haven't won two in a row in nearly a month as their grip on a playoff spot has loosened.

For the moment, the Bulls sit ninth in the East, a full game behind the surging Miami Heat, with a 34-38 record. Teams with nothing to lose can be playoff spoilers, and the Bulls have lost more than their share of games to lesser teams this season.

"Those teams do play loose," Lopez said. "They kind of just go out there to play basketball, and that can be a bit dangerous. But we've got something to play for, so we've got to be more motivated. The Sixers especially, they play really well, they have a lot of energy. So we've got to go out there, we've got to play motivated."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

usatsi_9965113.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls make the postseason?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Brian Hedger (nhl.com) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel.  The Bulls beat the Pistons in a game with huge playoff implication.  So could they actually make the postseason?

The Blackhawks are closing in one division title but what’s their biggest weakness?

Plus Theo Epstein’s a really great leader, Kyle Hendricks is going to have to wait a while to pitch plus DeShone Kizer loves the band “Chicago” but will he play here?