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NBA awards at the quarter mark of the season

We’re a quarter of the way through the 2012-2013 NBA season and you know what that means, it’s time for The PUP List’s first annual Quarter Awards. While content has been slow lately, thanks to the ever-daunting Finals Week, the break should bless you with plenty of posts.The Quarter Awards are the NBA’s standard yearly awards, handed out a quarter of the way through the season. The Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and MVP awards will all be doled out in this post. Is one fourth of the way into the season too early to hand out awards? Probably. But, is fun to read? Of course.

Sixth Man of the Year

jamal crawford headshotJamal Crawford – SG, Los Angeles Clippers

Crawford has been like a shot of 5 Hour Energy off the bench for the Clippers this season. Like the effective energy drink that carries risks like possible heart problems, Smith has brought efficient scoring off the bench, even if his defensive effort is a hindrance. Crawford is a grizzled sixth man in the NBA; he’s taken on the role just about everywhere he’s played. In fact, he already won the award in 2010 with the Atlanta Hawks. He’s averaging 16.5 points a game on 43 percent shooting while being on the court for an average of 29.5 minutes per game. That’s efficient. His Twitter handle, @JCrossover, pays homage to the deadliest weapon in his repertoire, his crossover. ESPN’s Chris Palmer even went as far as to dub Crawford as the most difficult NBA player to guard in the open court. The Clippers have the fourth best record in the league at 17-5, and Crawford is a big part of it.

Most Improved Player

varejao headshotAnderson Varejao – Center, Cleveland Cavaliers

If this were Pokemon, Andy Varejao would have evolved into his highest stage during the opening months of this season. After listening to LeBron supporters lament that ‘The King’ had “no one” around him during his Cleveland years, a blatant shot at Varejao’s skills, he has finally proven that he is an elite player in the NBA. Varejao is leading the league in rebounds per game. He’s averaging a double-double with 14.6 rebounds and 13.8 points per game; that’s a major improvement from his 11.5 rebounds and 10.8 points per game last season. On top of that, he’s been putting up those numbers while his star point guard, Kyrie Irving, has missed 11 games due to injury. He’s also improved his free throw percentage by seven percentage points; he’s hitting 75 percent of his free throws this year, compared to his 67 percent rating last year. While it’s hard to give an award to a player on a team with a 5-20 record, Varejao’s performance without his star counterpart is impressive enough to earn it. Anderson Varejao is the NBA’s Most Improved Player so far.

Defensive Player of the Year

joakim headshotJoakim Noah – Center, Chicago Bulls

In what has been a well documented process by adidas, Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose has been rehabbing his nasty ACL tear back to health. However, the Bulls (13-9) have been healthy enough to compete well without Rose, and a large part of that is due to Joakim Noah’s defensive output. The former Florida standout is averaging 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 1.4 steals this season. He’s in the top seven in the NBA in both rebounds and blocks. More impressively, he’s averaging the second most minutes per game in the league with 40.3, trailing only Luol Deng, his teammate in Chicago. Noah has to play extreme minutes in Rose’s absence and he has made the most of it. It’s rare to see a pure center in the top 10 in minutes per game, and Noah is second. The closest center to Noah on the minutes per game list is Atlanta’s Al Horford, and he’s tied for 19th with fellow center Dwight Howard as they average 36.7 minutes per game.  Noah is an integral piece in the Bulls’ puzzle and he’s been the Defensive Player of the Year through the first quarter of the season.

Coach of the Year

mike woodson head shotMike Woodson – New York Knicks

Mike Woodson may have found the perfect mixture of talent and veteran leadership with the New York Knicks this season. The Knicks are like that team in your local rec league with a few really good chubby guys and a father-son duo that wipe dudes up and down the court. Woodson got Ray Felton and Jason Kidd (the obvious father-figure in the previous analogy), ditched Jeremy Lin, and formed the perfect role for the human spark plug that is J.R. Smith off the bench. The Knicks are sitting pretty at 18-6, even without the explosive Iman Shumpert and Amar’e Stoudemire. Carmelo Anthony is playing his best team basketball since his Syracuse days. Tyson Chandler has the best shooting percentage in the league and he’s teamed up with his old buddy from Dallas, Kidd, to lead the locker room and the team in crunch time. Steve Novak hits threes in his sleep, even if he does awkwardly mimic Aaron Rodgers’ “discount double check” move after he does so. The Knicks have even resurrected Rasheed Wallace into a formidable role playing big man after he took a two year hiatus from the game. Woodson is doing everything right, he’s the Coach of the Year so far. But, it will be interesting to see how he works Stoudemire into the lineup once he’s ready to return, because his chemistry with Melo has been questionable in the past.

Rookie of the Year

damian l headshotDamian Lillard – PG, Portland Trail Blazers

In the easiest honor to hand out this season, Damian Lillard takes home the Quarterly Rookie of the Year Award, and he deserves every bit of it. The rookie out of Weber State has taken the league by storm, averaging 18.8 points per game, 6.3 assists per game, 3.3 rebounds per game, and 38 minutes per game. Thus far, the award is solely his with no one else really challenging since Anthony Davis has been nursing an off-and-on ankle injury for the majority of the season. Lillard is 22-years-old, which is pretty old for an NBA rookie these days. He played all four years of his college career at Weber State, which is rare in today’s NBA. Lillard is the Blazers most consistent player; he’s the only guy to start every game for the team this season. He plays with veteran poise, as evidenced by his cold-blooded three-point buzzer-beater to defeat the Hornets. He seems to play with a chip on his shoulder after being passed over by big colleges, and he is finally getting his chance on the big stage now with Portland.

MVP

melo headshotCarmelo Anthony – SG, New York Knicks

Melo is averaging 27.9 points per game, the second highest scoring average in the NBA, and leading the NBA’s biggest surprise so far this season to win after win. The Knicks (18-5) are currently ranked second behind the Thunder (19-4) in ESPN’s latest power rankings. He has missed three games due to minor injuries, the most recent miss coming when former Knick Jeremy Lin came back to The Garden and defeated the Melo-less Knicks, but he seems to be fine for the long term. Anthony is only averaging two assists per game, but it somehow seems like he’s playing great team basketball as most of the Knicks get buckets. New York is playing like the team your grade school coach always preached about. They have great ball movement, and they’re unselfish. Like Homeland, every Knicks game is must-see TV as they reign down threes like this Friday’s expected apocalyptic fire-hail. Carmelo is hitting 45 percent of his threes this season and he’s ripping down 6.4 boards per game. Opponents know that Melo is going to get the ball on the majority of Knicks possessions, but no one can stop him. He’s the game’s purest scorer and he has found his comfort zone during his third season in The Big Apple. The Knicks are “the real” as former WWE superstar The Iron Skeik would say, and Melo has the MVP and a Finals berth in his sights.

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