Updated: December 17, 2008

Most Valuable Player Watch
James 1. LeBron James, CavaliersG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
24 35.5 .488 .280 .801 2.0 1.2 6.8 6.4 27.1 33.3
Mo Williams has been great, but the biggest reason the Cavaliers are having their greatest season ever is James, even though he has had better seasons statistically. (Last week: 1 | Team record: 20-4)
Wade 2. Dwyane Wade, HeatG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
24 36.7 .481 .247 .758 2.2 1.5 5.1 7.2 28.0 29.7
Proof that you can do only so much heavy lifting before you finally get tired: Wade had three straight poor-shooting games, and, as expected, Miami lost all three contests. (Last week: 2 | Team record: 12-12)
Paul 3. Chris Paul, HornetsG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
21 37.5 .509 .351 .894 2.8 0.2 5.3 11.9 19.8 30.5
With Christmas rapidly approaching, the league's premier point guard has been even more generous than usual, averaging 13 assists per game in the month of December. (Last week: 5 | Team record: 14-7)
Bryant 4. Kobe Bryant, LakersG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
24 34.7 .461 .295 .873 1.5 0.5 5.4 4.3 25.0 23.9
Reduced minutes have led to Bryant's averaging his lowest point total since the 2003-04 season and his lowest assists-per-game total since he averaged just 3.8 in 1998-99. (Last week: 3 | Team record: 21-3)
Howard 5. Dwight Howard, MagicG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
23 36.9 .571 .000 .567 0.8 3.9 14.1 1.5 21.1 27.5
Even the Man of Steel gets hurt sometimes. A sore left knee has caused the big fella to miss the first two games of his five-year career. He may return Thursday against the Spurs. (Last week: 4 | Team record: 19-6)
Billups 6. C. Billups, NuggetsG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
23 34.7 .430 .417 .892 1.3 0.3 2.5 7.0 17.7 21.4
Denver is 16-5 with Billups in the lineup. He is everything you want from your point guard -- solid on defense, careful with the ball, capable of hitting big shots and a leader. (Last week: 6 | Team record: 17-8)
Duncan 7. Tim Duncan, SpursG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
23 35.3 .526 .000 .702 0.3 1.8 10.8 3.3 21.0 25.8
His points-per-game average is the highest it's been since 2003-04, he has posted a double-double in seven straight, and he is the key cog in one of the stingiest defenses. (Last week: 10 | Team record: 15-8)
Johnson 8. Joe Johnson, HawksG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
24 39.6 .465 .377 .822 1.2 0.5 4.5 5.4 23.1 20.6
He had 11 points in the fourth as the Hawks ended the Cavs' 11-game win streak. He followed that up with 28 points and 8 dimes as Atlanta beat Charlotte for its third straight win. (Last week: 7 | Team record: 15-9)
Roy 9. Brandon Roy, BlazersG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
26 36.8 .468 .329 .841 1.0 0.3 4.6 5.2 22.3 24.2
Despite playing with a torn tendon in his right little finger, he had 29 points, five assists and four steals in the Blazers' win against the Kings on Tuesday. (Last week: 9 | Team record: 16-10)
Nowitzki 10. Dirk Nowitzki, MavsG MIN FG% 3P% FT% STL BLK RPG AST PTS PER
23 38.2 .464 .386 .914 0.7 0.9 9.2 2.5 26.3 23.7
He has posted double-doubles in 10 of his last 14 games and is averaging 32 points (he dropped a season-high 46 on the Thunder) and 10 rebounds in seven games in December. (Last week: NR | Team record: 13-10)
Awards Watch: Preseason | Week 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
Most Improved Player of the Year Watch

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

When Carlos Boozer went down with a strained quad in late November, a drop in production from the power forward position was expected for the Jazz. However, reserve forward Paul Millsap has filled in admirably.

Since replacing Boozer in the starting lineup, Millsap has averaged 17.8 points and 11 rebounds on 56.7 percent shooting in 13 games. He has notched a double-double in 12 straight games, and he torched Kevin Garnett and the Celtics for 32 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals Monday.

He shows nice touch on midrange jumpers; goes after every loose ball; and, simply put, works harder than everyone else on the floor.

When Boozer gets healthy, the Jazz will have to find a way to keep getting Millsap extended minutes -- maybe even playing the two together.

Most Improved Top 5
1. Devin Harris, Nets (Last week: 1)
2. Paul Millsap, Jazz (Last week: NR)
3. John Salmons, Kings (Last week: 2)
4. Andris Biedrins, Warriors (Last week: 3)
5. Nene, Nuggets (Last week: 5)


David Thorpe of Scouts Inc. weighs in with his leading candidates:

1. Devin Harris, Nets: He's a shooter, slasher, defender and leader. And he's doing it for a tougher-than-expected team.

2. Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers: He has career highs in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, true shooting percentage and points and assists per 40 minutes. He is also a key component to a title contender.

3. Shaquille O'Neal, Suns: I thought he was awful last season. I think he's pretty good now.

4. Tony Parker, Spurs: He is scoring and passing better, and playing on a team that may be scary in a few months.

5. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavaliers: He is more efficient than ever and anchoring a terrific team.

Rookie of the Year Watch
1. Derrick Rose, Bulls: For the first time in a long time, he woke up with a bad feeling after a bad game. He went 3-for-16 from the field and tied his season low with six points (second time all season he didn't score in double digits). (Last week: 1)

2. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies: Through the first quarter of the season, the ROY race has been between Rose and Mayo. But I don't think Mayo's hot shooting will be enough to offset Rose's playmaking abilities in the voters' eyes. (Last week: 2)

3. D.J. Augustin, Bobcats: He came off the bench and scored a season-high 29 points, gave out seven assists, made clutch free throws that forced overtime and dominated fellow rookie star Derrick Rose as Charlotte ended its seven-game losing streak. (Last week: 4)

4. Michael Beasley, Heat: In an effort to top Rose's "getting injured after cutting an apple in bed" story, Beasley missed a game with flu-like symptoms he says he may have gotten from his three dogs. (Last week: 5)

5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies: He is averaging 11 points, 6.8 rebounds and a block per game. He has also started 20 out of 25 games and has helped Memphis win four of the past five. (Last week: NR)

Sixth Man of the Year Watch

1. Jason Terry, Mavericks: How will the return of Josh Howard from an ankle injury affect the high-scoring Terry? (Last week: 1)

2. Manu Ginobili, Spurs: It didn't take him long to find his groove. In seven games in the month of December, he is averaging 16.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists for San Antonio, which has won six straight. (Last week: 4)

3. Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz: He has already missed a total of four games because of injury this season and a strained upper back muscle may make the versatile forward add to that total. (Last week: 2)

4. J.R. Smith, Nuggets: His total of 16 games scoring in double digits is second to Terry for the most in the league by a bench player. (Last week: NR)

5. Nate Robinson, Knicks: He torched the Lakers for 33 points Tuesday and is averaging 26 points in the three games since returning from a groin injury. (Last week: NR)


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ESPN'S NBA AWARDS WATCH
Maurice Brooks, former Race to the MVP columnist at NBA.com, is an NBA editor at ESPN.com.

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Coach of the Year Watch

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

1. Mike Brown, Cavaliers: Cleveland has the third best record in the league (20-4), is unbeaten at home (13-0), is playing defense like never before and doesn't appear to be complacent. Sure, a lot of those things are because of LeBron, but at what point does it become obvious that Brown deserves credit, too? (Last week: 4)

2. Lawrence Frank, Nets: New Jersey's three-game losing streak cost Devin Harris his spot in the MVP top 10. Still, Frank has one of the league's youngest teams (rookie Brook Lopez is playing great) exceeding expectations … by a lot. (Last week: 1)

3. Gregg Popovich, Spurs: The Spurs' lineup had a lot of inexperienced and unproven players in it during the first few weeks of the season while Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were busy getting healthy. While being without two of the best players in the world would bury most teams, the Spurs find themselves tied for first place in the Southwest Division. (Last week: NR)

4. Doc Rivers, Celtics: His confidence in Rajon Rondo -- letting him call his own plays and allowing him to run more this season -- is paying huge dividends. Hard to believe this year's version of the C's is better than the title winners from last season. (Last week: NR)

5. Nate McMillan, Blazers: His young squad dropped three in a row before getting back on track Tuesday night. If the coaching staff can teach Greg Oden some moves on the block, this team can be dangerous. (Last week: 5)



Fantasy Basketball: Rookie Report


NBA Statistical Leaders

Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Points per game
Dwyane Wade, Heat (28.0)
NBA scoring leaders

Rebounds per game
Dwight Howard, Magic (14.1)
NBA rebounding leaders

Assists per game
Chris Paul, Hornets (11.9)
NBA assists leaders

Steals per game
Chris Paul, Hornets (2.8)
NBA steals leaders

Blocks per game
Dwight Howard, Magic (3.8)
NBA blocks leaders

Field goal percentage
Nene, Nuggets (.606)
NBA field goal leaders

3-point field goal percentage
Matt Bonner, Spurs (.526)
NBA 3-point shooting leaders

Free throw percentage
Jose Calderon, Raptors (1.000)
NBA free throw shooting leaders



Nowitzki's Scoring Spree
NBA Awards Watch columnist Maurice Brooks talks about moving the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki into the MVP rankings and questions whether Elton Brand is a good fit in Philadelphia.

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