This has been my second season providing these rankings for BSO, and I’m (frankly) honored to have enjoyed the opportunity. I appreciate and thank each of you that have taken the time to read and/or comment on them, as well as those that have followed and interacted with me via Twitter. The NBA’s 2012-13 season has provided us with a tremendous amount of highlights, and memorable plays/performances. Even with the recent injuries, I still believe the playoffs are guaranteed to offer an unparalleled level of excitement and entertainment. The storylines are endless. Without further ado…
Most Valuable Player: Lebron James- 26.8 PPG, 7.3 APG, 8 RPG
Not only was James the best player on the best team, but he remains the most dynamic talent the NBA features today. Delonte West is asking himself, “How playa’ is that?”
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard- 19.1 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.2 RPG
Ant Davis may have possessed the hype heading into the year, but Lillard made a believer out of everyone in the NBA from the start of the season and never looked back. This young man is looking to take the league by storm over the next couple years.
Most Improved Player: Paul George- 17.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 7.6 RPG
George’s rapid improvement may have come as a shock to some, but his emergence into a bona fide star will be contingent upon how he performs in the postseason. The playoffs are where we separate the men from the boys.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard- 12.4 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG
Look beyond much of the media-driven drama and hoopla, and you’ll see that Howard actually battled a still recovering back and several additional injuries to lead the league in rebounds, finish top-5 in blocks, and swiped over a steal per game at the center position.
Coach of the Year: George Karl- The man without a “superstar” navigated his team to the league’s best home record, 3-seed in the Western Conference, and got the most out of his roster.
#1 Miami Heat 65-16: The 27-game winning streak was simply the icing on the cake for a team that has been the most consistently dominant force throughout the season. Although I expect more of a challenge than some that are predicting the Heat will sweep their way (at least) to the Finals, I do expect them to represent the Eastern Conference when the dust settles.
#2 OKC Thunder 60-21: OKC’s path to the Finals could potentially be far more difficult, as even though the Western Conference playoff picture has been altered by injuries to key players, it remains the more dangerous conference for a potential upset.
#3 Denver Nuggets 56-25: Denver is one of the teams battling injuries with leading scorer Danilo Gallinari out for the year (ACL), Kenneth Faried slowed by a recent ankle sprain, and Ty Lawson nursing a heal injury. With the deepest and most well-rounded team in the league, these injuries still haven’t slowed their momentum.
#4 New York Knicks 53-28: Melo isn’t likely to get the MVP, but it is time for some folks to place aside their dislike of his “style” and simply acknowledge what a transcendent scorer he is. Just when the team looked as though it was going to fizzle out, Anthony and J.R. Smith slashed, dashed, and shot their way to the franchise’s first Atlantic Division banner since 1994 and the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference.
#5 San Antonio Spurs 58-23: Since their overtime victory over the Jazz on March 22nd, the Spurs are just 5-7 over their last 12 games. Part of that is due to injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but part can (likely) also be attributed to Gregg Popovich having the luxury of not caring about maintaining the top seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs know they can play their style in any arena, but also know it will require a healthy core to do so.
#6 Los Angeles Clippers 54-26: Lob-City transformed from being the pun of everyone’s joke to a legitimate threat in the West. Chris Paul remains the gift that keeps on giving, as he’s conducted one of the most exciting offenses the league’s seen in years. The question for LAC remains, will they possess enough physicality and interior offense/defense in the postseason to make it more than a “show” when it means something?
#7 Memphis Grizzlies 55-26: The Grizzlies may regret that home loss (last Saturday) at the hands of the Clippers more than they realize. Even though Memphis surrendered home court for their opening-round series with the Clippers last season, this team has had a different look within their eyes since trading away Rudy Gay and opening the offense to run freely through their talented big men. They’re one of the toughest and grittiest teams in the league, and will need to be if they want to make their way through this Western Conference playoff field.
#8 Indiana Pacers 49-31: Paul George’s aforementioned emergence and head coach Frank Vogel’s hard-nosed style are what has Pacers fans feeling as though they stand a shot at upsetting Miami at some point in the postseason. As they are currently matched up with the equally-as-tough Chicago Bulls, fans may want to focus on challenge before them rather than looking ahead at what could be.
#9 Golden State Warriors 46-35: Beat Portland on the final night of the regular season, and the Warriors lock up the 6-seed. Regardless of where they end up, the Warriors and head coach Mark Jackson deserve credit and praise for the season they’ve put together. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson may be the best shooting backcourt the league has seen in some time, and they are only 25 and 23, respectively. That said, in order to stand a chance in the postseason, they’ll also need a healthy dose of David Lee and simply a healthy Andrew Bogut.
#10 Houston Rockets 45-36: James Harden isn’t likely to receive any love in the MVP discussion, so I am going to give him his due credit at this time. After being acquired just before the start of the season, Harden did nothing but prove skeptics and even critics wrong throughout the year. His 26 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4,8 RPG not only propelled the Rockets into the postseason when practically no one predicted as much, but it has placed him in the discussion as one of the league’s most versatile players.
#11 Los Angeles Lakers 44-37: The Lakers battled injuries all season, and were finally hit with the one loss most feel it is impossible to overcome, Kobe Bryant’s achilles tear. Truly, a tough way to see him end one of his finest seasons of a brilliant 17-year career. The time has come for Dwight Howard to show whether he truly wants to eventually wear the crown in Los Angeles. A resurgent, finally healthy, Pau Gasol doesn’t hurt…neither would a return of Steve Nash. Has anyone seen him? The Lakers could still finish in the 7th, 8th, or even 9th seeds depending upon how things shape up over the last two days of the regular season.
#12 Brooklyn Nets 48-33: I continue to get the “we get no respect” response from Nets fans via Twitter to which I can only smile. Rather than making light of their history, I simply tell them the postseason is where respect is earned. Never given. Whether they want to acknowledge it or not, I’m sure Nets fans are hoping the Hawks maintain the 5-seed. Brooklyn split with Atlanta, but lost the season series (1-2) with Chicago.
#13 Chicago Bulls 44-37: With or without Derrick Rose, the Bulls remain the team no one wants to face in the first round. Not, necessarily, because they can/will beat anyone, but because head coach Tom Thibodeau’s punishing brand of basketball is certain to let remind any opponent they’ve been through a battle.
#14 Atlanta Hawks 44-36: The Hawks are who we thought they were. That brief description should upset some folks. @LA_SportsTalk if you have a rebuttal.
#15 Boston Celtics 41-39: Going 5-10 down the stretch is no way to close a season out, but something about the Celtics always makes me wary of counting them out entirely. If the Knicks or their fans think they’ll have an easy series due to the recent struggles and overall injuries the Celtics are enduring, they had better think again.
#16 Milwaukee Bucks 37-44: The only reason the Bucks are on this list is because they couldn’t back their way entirely out of the postseason. I can just hear my family members in Milwaukee now…but (deep down) they know it’s true.