1. Stein's First Trimester Awards
Marc SteinMarc Stein [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com
Originally Published: Dec 21, 2012
Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul
Getty ImagesWho are the MVPs of the first trimester? LeBron, Melo, CP3 and KD are all under consideration here.
The Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz are already there. Every other team in the league will join them soon enough.

We're naturally referring to the 27- or 28-game mark on a standard NBA schedule, which ranks as a holiday unto itself at Stein Line HQ. And hopefully not just on my calendar.

The arrival of Christmas, in basketball's blissfully lockout-free winter, signifies the return of the First Trimester Report. Thanks to that dreaded work stoppage none of us will ever forget -- I hurt for hockey and its fans every time I see a tweet about how poorly NHL labor talks are going -- our trusted trimester concept had to take a one-season hiatus in 2011-12.

So join us now, with normal service resumed, to take stock of what we've seen one-third of the way through by sizing up the league through the prism of its major award categories.

Anthony

Eastern Conference MVP of the First Trimester

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

What I said before the season holds even truer two months in: LeBron James ranks as undisputed king of this league.

He's the best player on the planet as he approaches his 28th birthday next week and happens to have launched his first title defense by shooting (54.2 percent from the field and 43.4 percent on 3s) and rebounding the ball (8.5 boards per game) better than ever before.

Yet I'd still say, looking exclusively at the season's maiden trimester, that Anthony's start is a narrow notch better than all that, given how much progress Melo has made from a villainous 2011-12 season that ultimately drove away Mike D'Antoni and Jeremy Lin.

For all the credit we routinely dish to various other Knicks, as you'll see again in the Coach of the First Trimester passage, let's not overlook what stands as maybe the biggest reason why New York has been able to use the Dallas Mavericks' one-star championship blueprint from 2011: Anthony, like Dirk Nowitzki at his peak, is a matchup nightmare at the 4 spot who is legitimately devastating as a play-finisher when surrounded by the right role players.

Just like in 2008, Melo returned from the Olympics in top shape and fully focused. The results: Anthony is scoring as rampantly as ever (28.0 ppg), shooting 46 percent from the 3-point line (compared to 33.1 percent on 3s for his career) and carrying an offense that ranks No. 1 in the league even though the other players in the Knicks' top six apart from Tyson Chandler (namely Ronnie Brewer, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak, J.R. Smith and Rasheed Wallace) are shooting a combined 40.4 percent from the floor.

The reality is that in April, LeBron is going to be incredibly hard to dislodge from the top spot on most MVP ballots, even if we were to exclude the Western Conference from consideration and reduce the field to James and Anthony. Our inclination, then, is to give Melo this trimester nod to ensure that he's recognized, because I've been as guilty as anyone in taking for granted how much the modern-day Bernard King has done to expand his game, trust his teammates more and establish the Knicks, without warning, as the new top threat to LeBron's Heat in the East.


Durant

Western Conference MVP of the First Trimester

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

The margins aren't any wider on the left side of the conference divide. Kevin Durant and Chris Paul both make a strong Best in the West case, with the Clippers' record right up there with the Thunder's & and with CP3 on pace for merely the fourth season of his career in which he's averaged better than 15 points and nine assists nightly while somehow racking up more steals than turnovers.

You're invited to try to rewind through history to find another point guard who's pulled that off.

Yet there's Durant, playing more of an all-around game than ever before in the wake of James Harden's controversial departure, setting himself up to be the first player to average at least 27 points, eight boards, four assists and 1.5 steals since David Robinson back in 1993-94.

You've undoubtedly heard how Durant has broken into exalted 50/40/90 territory as a shooter: 52.1 percent from the floor, 42.7 percent on 3s and 90.4 percent at the line. No one's suggesting that he doesn't have help, since Serge Ibaka has responded to the faith management has shown in him by taking a big-time leap alongside a sharper Russell Westbrook, but the line forms behind KD when we talk about how impressively OKC has weathered the departure of an All-Star caliber talent.

The only team in the league, by the way, yet to lose two games in a row? Yup: Durant's Thunder.


Lillard

Rookie of the First Trimester

Damian Lillard,
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