Feb 8, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Anderson Varejao (17) tries to block a shot attempt by Los Angeles Clippers small forward Caron Butler (5) in the fourth quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

2011-12 Wine And Gold Awards

Although Antawn Jamison has already been named the recipient of the 2011-12 NBA Sportsmanship Award within the Central Division and Kyrie Irving is pretty much a lock for the Rookie of the Year Award, there are still many players on the Cavaliers who deserve to be recognized for their hard work this season.

The format for the Wine and Gold awards follows almost exactly the NBA’s, with honors for the Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and MVP. It was a tough season to swallow for Cavaliers fans, but these players made sure that every time they stepped on the court, they made an impact. Here are your 2011-12 Wine and Gold Awards.

Rookie of the Year

Mar, 9, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) shoots the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) and point guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

This one, along with the MVP award, is a no-brainer. Although Tristan Thompson played great down the stretch as the team’s center, no player in the NBA, could match the productive rookie season that Irving had.

Earning the nickname “Mr. Fourth Quarter” for his comeback efforts and amazing performances in the closing moments of a handful of games this season. Missing his first game-winning attempt early in the season against the Indiana Pacers, Irving used his mistakes to learn how to become the point guard and court general the Cavaliers need.

Getting that first missed shot at a game winner out of the way really helped pave the way for many magical fourth quarter feats. It helped him learn that before he could achieve greatness as an NBA point guard, he needed to go through the struggles and frustrations first.

Having one of the best rookie seasons as a point guard in NBA history, Irving lived up to the hype as the No. 1 pick for the Cavaliers, even without playing the entire season. Taking a look at Irving’s final numbers this season, let’s compare them to that of Magic Johnson’s:

Kyrie Irving (2011-12)

- Averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals

- Shot 46.9 percent from the field, 39.9 percent from three and 87.2 percent from the free throw line

Magic Johnson (1979-80)

- Averaged 18.0 points, 7.3 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals

- Shot 53 percent from the field, 22.6 percent from three and 81 percent from the free throw line

Magic had the best rookie season by any point guard in NBA history up to this point, but after comparing their rookie-season numbers next to each other, Irving had one of the most promising rookie seasons in recent memory.

Most Improved Player

Feb 22, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Alonzo Gee (33) dunks against New Orleans Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez (21) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

After becoming a consistent part of the starting lineup, Alonzo Gee showed that he could be a force to reckon with off the bench and as a starter. From his emphatic dunks to his physical defensive play, Gee became a very important role player for the Cavaliers as the season progressed.

Gee, who played a bulk of last year was the Cavaliers, also juggled time with the Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs, averaging 5.9 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.7 rebounds. He also averaged 20 minutes per game in the season following his rookie season with the Wizards.

This year Gee was a much more explosive and aggressive player than he has been in the past, earning himself a spot in the starting lineup. Gee also say a dramatic change in his stat line as he averaged 10.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals. Gee also logged 29 minutes per game in the 63 games that he played in this season. He started 31 of those.

Defensive Player of the Year

Defensively the Cavaliers were one of the worst units in the league, letting opponents average 100.2 points against them, which was bad enough for 26th in the NBA. It was clear all season that Cleveland was missing a strong, defensive presence.

With that said, my pick for the Cavaliers Defensive Player of the Year only play 25 games this season. Anderson Varejao deserved to win this award, as he had a great rhythm working the boards until he went down with a wrist injury for the season.

Varejao was having without a doubt the best season of his career, averaging 10.8 rebounds (7.1 defensive rebounds), 1.4 steals and 0.7 blocks. The stats don’t tell all, however, as the energy that Wild Thing displayed on the floor was clear to anyone who watched him play this season. Look for Varejao to come back next season and have another amazing start to the season.

Sixth Man of the Year

With all the injuries that the Cavaliers had to cope with and find replacements for this season, it was hard for any one player to develop into a dominant sixth man for the Wine and Gold. Daniel Gibson saw his season end early, Omri Casspi may have just been the biggest disappointment of the season, Ramon Sessions and Gee developed into starters by the mid-way point of the season and players like Lester Hudson and D.J. Kennedy only saw a few games as prime bench players.

It’s tough to call, but I’m going to have to go with Gee again. Gee had to be the best player to come off the bench for the Cavaliers. He was the perfect man for the job, and head coach Byron Scott kept him on the bench for as long as he could.

At the beginning of the season Gee was putting up double-digit performances almost every night off the bench, garnering many screams (or putting an entire opposing crowd to silence) with his momentum-changing dunks. It will be interesting to see which players remain on the sideline for the Cavaliers this season, but Gee has done all he can to make sure that he’s donning the Wine and Gold for another season.

MVP

Like I mentioned earlier in this article, Irving definitely deserves the Team MVP award. After only playing a handful of collegiate games and then making the immediate jump afterward to the NBA, Irving came into the Cavaliers organization ready to make a difference.

Already trusting him with game-altering shots, coach Scott used his experience playing as a guard next to Magic Johnson and coaching Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul to mentor Irving during his first season in the Association. That helped build up his confidence and led to multiple fantastic finishes led by Irving.

Although an injury prevented him from playing in 15 games, Irving already has plans to work and train with the U.S. Olympic Team this summer and to lead his team in summer workouts. If Irving is the most valuable player on the team now, I wonder how important he’ll be to the Wine and Gold next year after all the hard work he’s about to put in.

That about wraps up the coverage of the 2011-12 NBA season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Stay tuned to Right Down Euclid for playoff coverage and John Hollinger’s final statistics for the Cavaliers season.

Tags: Alonzo Gee Anderson Varejao Byron Scott Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving Magic Johnson

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