NBA mid-season report

Most Valuable Player

5. Lebron James 

4. Dirk Nowitzki 

3. Dwight Howard

2. Amar’e Stoudemire  

1. Derrick Rose

You may be surprised to see Rose as my MVP of the league thus far, but here is the argument for it. His stats are obviously impressive — 24.6 ppg, 8.1 apg and 4.6 rpg — but what makes Rose my MVP is that he has carried the Bulls to the third best record in the East without consistent help.

Entering this season, the Bulls were expected to succeed because of the combination of Rose running the show at point and an excellent front line of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Well, the Bulls have raced out to a 31-14 start — 13 games ahead of second place Indiana in the Central Division — despite the fact that Boozer and Noah have only played in 27 and 24 games respectively.

The reason Chicago has been able to thrive, despite the injuries to their two best players, is Derrick Rose. He dominates the stat sheet and at the same time commands the game as well as any other point guard in the league.

Lebron is fifth because, despite the numbers, if you take him off the Heat they still make the playoffs in the East. Dirk is four for me because he makes Dallas one of the best teams in the West and without him they are a middle-of-the road team. Enough said.

Dwight is third for me, just behind Amar’e, because the way in which he can dominate games on the boards, defensively and his increasing ability to shoot efficiently. There isn’t a more game-changing defender in the league than Dwight, and his ability to defend the rim has allowed the Magic to go out and make moves to improve offensively. In other words, Howard defends so well that the Magic can sacrifice defense for offense and still have a more-than-effective defense. Now that is value.

Amar’e is number two because he has been able to carry the Knicks to a respectable record and a likely playoff birth despite the lack of depth on that team. Amar’e has led the Knicks back from the depths of the NBA cellar and inspired excitement and hope into a franchise that needed it desperately. Oh, his stats aren’t too bad either.

With all that being said, Derrick Rose is my MVP because if you take him off the Bulls they miss the playoffs even with a healthy Boozer and Noah. And if you take him off the Bulls and then add in the injuries to Noah and Boozer, yikes. Derrick Rose dominates games like no other point guard in the league right now. And when the game is on the line, there’s no other player I’d rather have to make a tough, gritty play.

Rookie of the Year

3. Landry Fields

2. John Wall

1. Blake Griffin

No contest here. Griffin is not only the rookie of the year but he should be an all-star. He is averaging a 23-12 and has revitalized an inept Clippers franchise. He has freakish athletic ability, a vicious arsenal of dunks and a superstar caliber potential that screams MVP in the future. No disrespect to John Wall and Landry Fields, but this race is over with months to go.

All-NBA First Team

G. Derrick Rose: 24.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, , 8.1 apg

G. Dwyane Wade: 25.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.2 apg

F. Lebron James: 25.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 7.2 apg

F. Amar’e Stoudemire: 26.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.7 apg

C. Dwight Howard: 22.1 ppg, 13.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg

All-NBA Second Team

G. Russell Westbrook: 22.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 8.4 apg

G. Kobe Bryant: 24.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.8 apg

F. Kevin Durant: 28.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.9 apg

F. Dirk Nowitzki: 23.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.4 apg

C. Pau Gasol: 18.6 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.9 apg

Projected Eastern Conference finals:

Chicago Bulls vs. Boston Celtics

I am going out on a limb and putting the Bulls over the Heat and Magic for two reasons. I don’t think the Heat can beat the Celtics or the Magic in a seven-game series because of their lack of depth, size and experience. The Magic have enough talent to reach the Finals, as we’ve seen in the past. But when you surround Dwight Howard with Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and others, that doesn’t exactly spell out consistent postseason performance.

The Bulls have a great mix of a dominant guard and an elite front line. They play defense and know how to win close games. The Celtics have invaluable playoff experience and depth at every position. Not to mention a late game finisher in Paul Pierce. I think the Bulls will need to catch some breaks but if they can perform with any consistency, they should be able to get to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics — and give them a series at that.

Projected Western Conference finals:

Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

I sat and thought about this one for a while and in the end I can’t pick this any other way. I would love to see Oklahoma City take the leap to an elite team in the NBA, but they don’t play much defense and can’t match up inside against the likes of Dallas and Los Angeles. I don’t have any confidence in Dallas; there are too many questions about health, toughness and ability to win playoff series. Utah could be a sleeper as well but in the end I am going with the Lakers vs. Spurs.

The Spurs have reinvented their offense this season to great effect. Greg Popovich has once again done a stellar job with his team and is the favorite for Coach of the Year. The Spurs have a remarkable mix of veterans — Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson and, of course, Tim Duncan — and youth — Gary Neal, George Hill and Dejuan Blair. The result? First place in the West with a 38-7 record.

The Lakers have shown signs of aging this season as they have struggled mightily at points. Despite those struggles they have a 33-13 record. To say a team is struggling with a 33-13 record shows how good the Lakers actually are. They have more size than anyone in the West, more playoff experience, more depth and a late game finisher in Kobe. They are a team — much like the Celtics — who are built for the grind of the postseason. I would be immensely surprised if the Lakers aren’t in the Western Conference finals.

Projected Finals:

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

I would much rather see Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the Finals again, but I just can’t see any team matching up inside against the Lakers. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom makes a trio of versatile big-men who are extremely difficult to contain, especially when you have to deal with Kobe Bryant’s ability on both ends of the floor.

The Celtics are very much in the same position as the Lakers. The Bulls’ starters can matchup inside with the Celtics’ starters, but when the bench comes into play, the Celtics are far superior. Defensively, the Celtics are the best in the league, when healthy, and I think Derrick Rose won’t be able to drive and finish the way he does normally.

Sure, it is a rematch of last year’s finals, but these are the best two teams who have the most experience, the most depth and the most size. Both teams have finishers — Kobe for the Lakers, Pierce for the Celtics — who can take and make clutch shots. Both teams play great interior defense and have phenomenal perimeter defense coming from individual players — Kobe for the Lakers, Rondo for the Celtics.

The biggest question for me is if Rondo can totally control the battle at point guard to the extent that he dominates for the entire series. Watching Rondo pass is truly an amazing thing to watch.

His ability to create shots is extraordinary and when he is creating shots for Ray Allen, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and others, the Celtics are hard to beat.

Do the Celtics’ veterans have enough in the tank to win the finals? If they stay healthy, I think they do.

NBA champs: Celtics