Most Improved Player
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
MIP often goes to a player who got a significant minutes increase, which is why Kevin Love is the most frequently cited player for this award this year. But Aldridge was already carrying a heavy minutes load for the Blazers last year, and was asked to do even more this year, and he delivered. His scoring average jumped almost 4 points per game, and on a notoriously injury-prone team, he played 81 of 82 games. His 21.5 PER was easily a career best.
Most Regressed Player
Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards/Orland Magic
Arenas wasn't great in limited action last year, but he was still well above league average in PER (18.7) while averaging better than 22 points per game. This year? He fell off a cliff. Playing 70 games, his most since '06-07, Arenas shot a dismal 36.6% from the field while posting a PER of 10.8. The latter figure ranks among the 20 worst in the NBA, and none of the other players that low were ever as good as Gilbert.
6th Man of the Year
Lamar Odom, Los Angeles Lakers
Like many past winners of this award, Odom is a sixth man in name only. He may not start, but he's part of the Lakers finishing lineup, which is arguably more important in determining "starer vs reserve" status. Still, you can't deny his productivity.
12th Man of the Year
Jamaal Magloire, Miami Heat
There's no real good "opposite" of 6th Man, so this'll have to do. And while I'm not entirely sold on my selection of Big Cat, you have to applaud him for accepting his role in Miami's strange center rotation, and managing to actually be mildly productive when called upon. Plus, like any true end-of-the-bench guy, Magloire put up insane numbers in the last game of the season, grabbing 19 rebounds, the most by a Heat player in more than five years.
Coach of the Year
George Karl, Denver Nuggets
It would have been so easy for this team to just give up on the season multiple times this year, but Karl kept them from doing so, and they were actually one of the league's best teams after trading away their best player. Karl's never won this award before, but this isn't just a "lifetime achievement" thing; he was great this season.
Worst Coach of the Year
John Kuester, Detroit Pistons
It'd be easy to give this to the fired Jim O'Brien, or Kurt Rambis, who "led" the Wolves to the league's worst record (yes, worse than the Cavs), but neither of them were the subject of a reported player revolt. Kuester was, to the point that his team reportedly started calling him Sean Penn (as in "Dead Man Walking"). Ouch.
Executive of the Year
Pat Riley, Miami Heat
People keep looking for reasons that Riley won't get this award, pointing out that the Mike Miller signing hasn't worked out and he nearly signed Eddy Curry. But look, the guy got LeBron, Wade and Bosh to all sign with the same team. They should re-name the award after him for pulling that off.
Worst Executive of the Year
David Kahn, Minnesota Timberwolves
I'd suggest they should also rename this (non-existent) award after KAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHNNNNN!, but he's got a long way to go to match Isiah Thomas.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
The easiest award on the board. Well, except for Kahn's.
Offensive Player of the Year
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
I wanted to give this to LeBron James or Derrick Rose, but to me the opposite of "Defensive Player of the Year" is the guy who focuses entirely on offensive at the complete expense of the other end of the court. And no one embodies that more than Nash, who posted an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 118, while giving up a defensive rating of 114.
Rookie of the Year
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
I stand corrected. THIS was the easiest call. Though I did briefly consider giving my award to Gary Neal (Fight on, Towson Tigers!).
Old Man of the Year
Grant Hill, Phoenix Suns
The 38-year-old Hill seemed like he'd be on his way out of the league about five years ago, but he found the fountain of youth in Phoenix. This year he posted a PER right around league average while being surprisingly spry on defense, despite being the third-oldest player in the league (behind Shaq and Kurt Thomas).
Least Valuable Player
Josh Powell, Atlanta Hawks
(going with the opposite first here, to build the suspense)
Just like with MVP, there are a lot of ways to define LVP. Is it the pure worst player in the league? Is it the guy who did the least while making the most money? The worst player on the worst team? I like to think of it as a guy who was horrible for an otherwise good team. So by that standard, the pick has to be Powell. He had -0.2 win shares -- yes, negative -- this season while playing 54 games for the Hawks. That was the worst number for any player playing 500+ minutes for a playoff team. But stats don't tell the whole story. You have to watch the games to appreciate how bad Powell is. I was watching Heat-Hawks the other day, and I saw Powell have this stretch in the fourth quarter: offensive goaltending, missed 5-foot jumper, missed layup, made a couple easy dunks, fouled a three-point shooter, offensive foul on a fast break. Sure, the 4 points he scored were nice, but he easily cost the team more than that. LVP, indeed.
Most Valuable Player
Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
I'm gonna try keep this short, because I don't want to get too much into the "stats vs eye test" debate that has shaped this MVP race. I will say that while I do think LeBron has the stats to be the MVP, he just hasn't always seemed very MVP-like this year, which couldn't possibly be a more wishy-washy subjective statement, but it's true. On the other hand, Howard has the stats and passes the eye test (to be fair, Derrick Rose's stats are pretty damn good too, just not as good as Howard's). I know people want to knock him for the free-throw shooting, but even at his worst, he's still getting his team a point per possession during hack-a-Dwight, which is not terrible. He's the best defensive player in the league, he's becoming a bigger force on offense, and his team would be pretty bad without him -- yes, they had a strong performance against Chicago without him, but that was just one game, and they still lost.
If I was ranking a ballot 1-5, I'd have it like this:
1. Dwight Howard
2. LeBron James
3. Derrick Rose
4. Chris Paul
5. Dwyane Wade
Be sure to check back later today, when I'll have my picks for the first round of the playoffs.