LeBron, Thibodeau Headline NBA Oscars
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 01:03
It’s that time of the year again. With the Academy Awards coinciding nicely with the NBA’s halfway point, here are my picks for the NBA’s midseason Oscars.
Best Original Screenplay
The Los Angeles Lakers were instantly deemed title favorites in the wild West earlier this year when they acquired superstars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to pair with stalwarts Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. Assembling four future hall-of-famers in Hollywood was going to be a sight to see, but who would have ever thought it would end up like this? Total dysfunction has engulfed the team, which currently sits two and a half games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Gasol and Nash have missed a combined 45 games already. The second unit has been headlined by Earl Clark, who has never averaged more than five points per game in any of his four full pro seasons.
And the Dwight Howard experiment has been a consistent letdown, with the big man putting up his worst numbers since his second year in the league. The end result? Plenty of distracting stories and not nearly enough wins. The latest developments, which include Howard’s claim to be fully fit and Bryant’s silencing of Mark Cuban with a monster 38-point game against the Mavericks, point to the Lakers perhaps finally being on the right track. With what’s happened so far this year, though, the end to this script is anything but certain.
Best Supporting Actor
Chris Paul has quietly taken over the city of Los Angeles. While the Lakers’ melodrama holds the attention of the basketball world, CP3 is making his case for best point guard in the game. And his case is convincing: 16 points, nine assists and 2.5 steals per game, with the Wake Forest product’s crunch-time intangibles equally as impressive. In the last five minutes of games with his team ahead or behind by no more than five points, Paul has notched 66 points on 43-percent shooting from the field and a sultry 92-percent shooting from the charity stripe. Paul has taken the wheel for the more relaxed L.A. team this year, content to sit back and let the drama play out on the purple and gold side of town as he calmly distributes the ball and scores when his team needs him the most.
The fiery Tom Thibodeau has his Chicago Bulls sixth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Central Division on the back of their stingy defense, which ranks third in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions. Thibodeau’s defensive genius has the Bulls primed to be a tough out from this year’s playoffs despite the continued absence of star player Derrick Rose. It is a testament to Thibodeau’s coaching ability that the Bulls, who have been devastated offensively by the loss of Rose, find themselves with one of the 10 worst offenses in the league and yet remain within three games of the division-leading Indiana Pacers. Rose’s return will only brighten the prospects for the tireless Thibodeau’s quest for a “Best Picture.”
Simply put, LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and there’s little argument to be made to the contrary. LeBron has put together a first half of the season worthy of the highest praise, as his string of six games with 30-plus points while shooting at least 60 percent from the field was a first in NBA history.
The streak met its untimely end in garbage time of a February game against the Thunder when James missed a late three-pointer. His field goal percentage that night? “Only” 58 percent, to go along with 39 points in a comfortable Heat victory. LeBron’s stellar play this campaign has been no flash in the pan, either: He is fourth in the league in points per game, in the top 15 in assists per game, in the top 30 in rebounds per game and in possession of a sizable lead over Kevin Durant for the honor of most efficient player in the league as measured by effective field goal percentage. James’ otherworldly play so far has the Heat firmly atop the leaderboard in the Eastern Conference, six games up on the second-place Pacers, and it also has him playing the role he was born for: king of the court.
What a joy the San Antonio Spurs are to watch. Charging out to the best record in the league, the familiar cast and crew of the Gregg Popovich era have done it again. The same three wily veterans continue to spearhead the Spurs attack: Tim Duncan (36 years old), Manu Ginobili (35) and Tony Parker (30) are the top three scorers on the team. Three more Spurs average double-figures in points per game, and these six account for the bulk of the production for the fourth-highest-scoring offense in the game. The Spurs are defined by unselfishness — leading all teams in the league in assists per game — and it shows in the sheer aesthetic beauty of their game. What is the last season you can remember in which the Spurs weren’t championship contenders? San Antonio’s ensemble isn’t the flashiest in the league, but there is no more satisfying feeling than seeing the Spurs surgically dispatch another helpless opponent.
Peter Barston is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. RAISING THE BAR appears every Friday.