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PBT’s NBA Mid-Season Awards: All hail Kevin Durant

Jan 24, 2013, 12:31 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors Getty Images

It’s the halfway point of the NBA season. To me having a serious discussion about end of season awards before this point is like discussing the 2016 presidential election today — it’s all speculation and wishful thinking.

Now we have enough games to have a body of evidence and a discussion. So here are my picks for all the awards, as things stand at the midway point of the season. I’ll give you my top five for MVP and three for everything else — including team to beat for the NBA title.

MVP
1. Kevin Durant
2. LeBron James
3. Chris Paul
4. Carmelo Anthony
5. Kobe Bryant

To me this is a two man race with a gap to the No. 3 spot. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the two best basketball players walking the face of the earth and both are having monster seasons — LeBron is averaging 26.5 points per game on 55 percent shooting, plus 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds a game, with a PER of 30.3. Durant is at 29.6 points a game on 52 percent shooting with 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game with a PER of 29.2. It’s tight.

What puts Durant on top for me is he is leading his team to more consistent play — the Heat appear bored and coasting to wins some nights, the Thunder seem to bring it every night. In the playoffs when the Heat are focused the outcome may be different, but this is a regular season award and I think Durant is getting more out of his team — James Harden was traded, he had to take on more playmaking load and the Thunder are better than last year. So he gets the big award for now.

Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard
2. Anthony Davis
3. Andre Drummond

This is not the runaway some fans think it is — Lillard is putting up 18.3 points and 6.6 assists per game and has taken charge of the Trail Blazers offense, but his defense is not good and his PER of 16.6 reflects some inefficiency in his game. He’s been fantastic, he’s the clear leader halfway home, but there are other good rookies, too.

Anthony Davis is not getting noticed because: 1) He’s on the Hornets and they only make news because they are about to be the Pelicans; 2) He has an unconventional offensive game — he doesn’t have a go-to offensive move, he doesn’t rack up a lot of highlights. What he does is space the floor well, play efficiently, defend well and he’s great on the roll or cutting off the ball. He’s going to be very special soon.

And my god Lawrence Frank, why are you playing so much Jason Maxiell and not so much Andre Drummond? You’re not making the playoffs, develop your young star. Drummond has the best PER among rookies at 22.9.

Sixth Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford
2. Jarrett Jack
3. J.R. Smith

This race is still really wide open for me. J.R. Smith puts up big numbers at times but he’s a little too streaky and inefficient for my taste. Jarrett Jack is right there because not only does he come in and anchor the second unit for the Warriors, he is a guy they trust with the ball in his hands at the end of games. He’s got the best PER of the group at 17. But he’s getting outscored pretty heavily by the other two, averaging 12.5 points a game.

Jamal Crawford’s flashy game — he finally practiced dribbling last summer! — fit with the Clippers “new Showtime” style, but the key is he is second on the team in scoring (16.6 points a game) and he leads the best bench unit in the NBA. He has been streaky and inefficient as well, but has had better results.

Defensive Player of the Year
1. Joakim Noah
2. Marc Gasol
3. Chris Paul

This is a tough and deep category — notice I don’t have any Pacers on here and they have the best defense in the land. Paul George easily could be on this list. Chris Paul makes it because he is leading the league in steals (2.6 a game) which is key to a pressure Clippers defense designed to set up fast breaks and highlight alley-oops to Blake Griffin. The Clippers have been good defensively and Paul leads them on that end, too. Marc Gasol is second because… have you watched him or Memphis? He just owns the paint and makes smart reads.

But the top spot goes to the Energizer Bunny that is Joakim Noah — the Bulls are a playoff team without MVP Derrick Rose because Noah has anchored their defense and brings it every night. Tom Thibodeau rightfully gets a lot of credit for what the Bulls do defensively, but it doesn’t work without Noah, who plays the role Kevin Garnett did in the scheme in Boston just as well.

Coach of the Year
1. Mark Jackson
2. Frank Vogel
3. Mike Woodson

Right or wrong, this award generally goes to the coach who exceeded expectations with his team. Woodson has gotten more out of the Knicks and got them to jell in a way Mike D’Antoni simply could not. Frank Vogel has the Pacers playing the best defense in the NBA by being smart and playing to their strengths. The Pacers have been without Danny Granger all season, have watched Roy Hibbert slump all season, and are still right there in the East and getting better.

But the award goes to Mark Jackson. And I’ll take my crow cooked medium rare — I thought this was a bad hire, taking the inexperienced coach out of the broadcast booth and it would backfire. But the fact is once he got a healthy team Jackson’s skill is getting guys to buy in and believe in the system and with that he has the Warriors impressing everyone (they beat the Thunder and Clippers in the last few days). Most importantly, Jackson got them playing good team defense, and that was a huge change.

Teams Most Likely to Win NBA Title This Season
1. Thunder
2. Heat
3. Clippers

When the Heat and Thunder were playing last year, I was saying not to be surprised if we saw that same finals three out of the next five years. It looks as if we might get a rematch this June. The Thunder are better — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 24, they are still at the point in their careers where their games make big strides each year. After their first Olympic experience, both came back better playmakers and that helped because when James Harden was traded the Thunder needed them to fill that gap. They did. Throw in the improved Serge Ibaka and good production from Kevin Martin and the Thunder are the team to beat in the West. The one team that can do it — the Clippers. Vinny Del Negro may run simple sets, but when you have Chris Paul letting him make decisions and improvise is smart coaching. Most importantly for the Clippers, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have learned how to defend as a unit on the back line (most of the time) and when the Clippers defend they are hard to beat. They are also much deeper now.

The Heat are coasting to the best record in the East. You only see their pressure defense and full intensity for a quarter here or a half there — but when you do you wonder if anyone can beat them when they are focused. And as we head into the playoffs they will get focused.

(Note: There are no picks for Most Improved Player because I can’t stand the award in concept and how it is usually handed out to a guy who just got more minutes because his coach finally woke up.)

  1. fanofthegame79 - Jan 24, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    I need a better explaination about the MVP. Bottom line: LeBron is having a slightly better year than Durrant. Durrant has a “deeper team” so they will be better…..and currently they have 2 less losses than the Heat. However, in the one head-to-head match up between the Thunder and Heat, the Heat won. So why do we have Durrant as the MVP and the Thunder winning it all? Just wait until the end of the season – if I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow. But I don’t think I’ll be wrong. LeBron James is the best BASKETBALL player in the world – not just a scorer. And while Durrant has improved his game, he still doesn’t have the PER that James does. It’s close….but close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. We still have a half of a season left – and LBJ’s PER will still be higher than Durrants by season’s end.

    • willthedolphinseverwin - Jan 24, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      i agree with fanofthegame79 on the mvp. what gets me is the pick of the nba champs, still goes to OKC? really? Does anyone factor in the slug fest that the West winner will have to go through to just make it to the finals? The Heat may have to play the knicks in the ECF (big whoop) and will be rested and ready for the finals. I love Durant, second best player in the world, but hes gonna have to wait for LBJ to finish winning titles before his turn. and really how much longer will westbrook be willing to be #2. that is not gonna finish well.

    • airjunior23 - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      I’m givng the nod to KD…For some reason people keep sayin OKC is a deeper team…I don’t hear that…they have a great starting five and them there’s a fall off. Kevin martin, a ridiculous downgrade, no chance of a sixth man award….ever. but I will say, you can never get mad at consistency…hes a shooter, that’s it, harden was a gamechanger. The roster is only an eight man rotation…that’s not deep. LA clippers are deep. Knicks are deep….OKC is ran by the clutchness of their star and westbrook and some pretty good overall defense. Miami’s team is waaaay deeper than OKC mane…have a look on espn.com or something

      • fanofthegame79 - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:28 PM

        So let’s say that LeBron and Durant cancel each other out. And same with Wade and Westbrook…and Bosh and Ibaka cancel out. With that said…look at the rosters. The Thunder still have Martin from the trade. They have Perkins, a legit center. They have Collison who is a big man that stretches the floor to the 3-point line. Who do the Heat have that is young and can rebound/shoot? Battier? Mike Miller? Ray Allen? Sure, they can shoot, but not rebound OR defend (although Battier is a decent defender). The Thunder have the deeper team on paper. I agree 100% that the Clippers probably have the deepest team in the league. I wouldn’t say the Knicks (injuries will kill the old guys on the team by time playoffs role around). And remember, ESPN is the network that crowned the Thunder last year (also said they’re the deepest team) and they’re on the bandwagon again this year.

      • sportsnut101 - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:10 PM

        Miami has a deeper team. Okc only has collision n Martin to count on
        Miami has miller Ray Allen Haslem Lewis n just signed Birdman. N cole. Okc is winning cuz of durant n Westbrook n ebaka n Martin. Every other player on that team can’t be counted on

      • Kurt Helin - Jan 24, 2013 at 6:22 PM

        I don’t think you watched a lot of Thunder games this year.

    • soopreme - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      The rational that this guy uses is completely absurd.
      The team seems bored so he’s going to penalize Lebron but Lebron brings it every night and he is having arguably his best season.
      Thats rediculous.
      The team coasting is a coaches problem not Lebron he brings it every night.
      I watch every game the Heat has played this year and he has not coasted any game this year.
      You can’t penalize Lebron for that.
      Secondly, you noticed he only talked about one side of the court.
      Not only is Lebron having his most effecient season offensively, but again he is ARUGUABLY THE BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE but he is only considering offense.
      Lets not forget Lebron was the top vote getter for all nba first team defense last year selected by the COACHES.
      Can Durant make an all nba defensive team once in his life before we consider him the best player in the league?

  2. aboogy123456 - Jan 24, 2013 at 12:48 PM

    The MVP is a popularity contest as always. Durant is having a great season but he’s not the best player in the league. I can easily make a case that chris paul, kobe, and lebron are all better players. But the MVP always has to do with winning and players around you, bs award.

    • borderline1988 - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:11 PM

      There is no argument to say Kobe is a better player (at this point). The absolutely only stat that he measures up to Lebron and Durant is PPG. And that’s only because he shoots more…he’s no-where close in efficiency.

      The thing about Lebron is that he’s not only giving you 27ppg, he’s rebounding, opening the court for others, assisting on other plays, leading fast breaks, playing exceptional defense at every position…he’s like a one-man basketball wrecking crew.
      Durant is starting to become what Lebron already is, except he’s smoother on the offensive end so in a couple of years he may be better than Lebron.

    • pudgalvin - Jan 24, 2013 at 6:26 PM

      I’d love your hear your argument for Kobe being a better player than Durant at this point in their careers.

  3. jaygott87 - Jan 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    LeBron is the MVP, quit being biased and WITNESS the greatness.

    • 00maltliquor - Jan 24, 2013 at 5:24 PM

      LeBron could literally win MVP EVERY single fricken year, but he’s got too many so the votes gonna naturally swing in Durant’s favor since he deserves one too but will prolly never get one so as long as Bron is still in the league. “They” are just gonna try to get it out the way while they can since the race is close enough this year. Personally, I think it should be Chris Paul, but he doesn’t put up gaudy enough #s like the other two.

  4. shanbhu - Jan 24, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    Heat will turn up the defense in the playoffs, there is no need for them to do it right now. They have the best record in the east without doing so, when the time is right, we will see them what tey do

  5. fanofthegame79 - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    Sorry for the extra “R’s” in Durant’s name…..don’t know what I was thinking.

  6. kelsey412 - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    Please take Kobe off that list. Watch the games. A black hole last 5 mins of any game. Jacks ups shots like crazy and misses all of them. He is out of control

  7. lemfaxx - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    How bout vince for 6th man & duncan for defensive player…

  8. bucrightoff - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    Kobe more valuable than Tim Duncan? Not a freaking chance. Also Duncan not even considered defensive player of the year? Just don’t like the Spurs? I guess you must enjoy your success with extreme amounts of melodrama and not boring, consistent dominance.

  9. cosanostra71 - Jan 24, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    Hey remember when everyone said the Lakers ripped off Memphis for trading Marc Gasol and Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol? And here we are now and I think a lot of other Laker fans would agree we would rather have Marc at this point! Not that Pau is bad though. Marc has really turned into an excellent player.

    • fanofthegame79 - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:23 PM

      I think Marc is better than Pau at this point – but would Marc have been the starting center for 2 NBA championship teams when they won? It took Marc this long to lose weight and grow into the player he was last season and this season. It’s a timing thing.

      • cosanostra71 - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        No, the Lakers wouldn’t have won in 09 and 10 with Marc instead of Pau, but I am referring to right now.

  10. eventhorizon04 - Jan 24, 2013 at 2:18 PM

    I’m a Heat fan, but I don’t get why some are getting worked up. Kurt is offering his opinion that the Thunder are playing better basketball than the Heat (which is true) and Kevin Durant is having a better season than LeBron (debatable but reasonable).

    I personally believe the Heat are guilty of inconsistent effort, not lack of talent/ability, but the fact remains the Heat have been a worse team than than the Thunder this season so far except for the one close game against the Thunder that the Heat won (which proves nothing since it’s just 1 regular season game).

    If you argue that “The Heat are better than the Thunder this year because the Heat beat the Thunder once in the regular season,” then I guess that means the NY Knicks HAVE to be much better than the Heat since the Knicks beat the Heat TWICE this regular season (once without Carmelo). A regular season game or two means nothing – looking at the season as a whole, OKC has been the better and more consistent team, with more wins despite playing in the more difficult conference (the West).

    As for LeBron versus Durant:
    Scoring:
    Durant is having an absolutely nuts season shooting (52% FG – 42% 3PT- 91% FT) and scoring 29.6 points per game.
    LeBron is having a great season (55% FG – 39% 3PT – 74% FT) shooting but has scored “only” 26.5 points per game.
    Significant advantage to Durant.

    Playmaking:
    Durant has improved as a playmaker this season, as he is now averaging 4.4 assists per game. However, he is also averaging 3.3 turnovers per game.
    LeBron continues to do LeBron-like things as a playmaker, averaging 7.1 assists per game compared to 2.8 turnovers per game.
    Significant advantage to LeBron.

    Rebounding:
    Durant is averaging 7.4 rebounds per game.
    LeBron is averaging 8.2 rebounds per game.
    Slight advantage to LeBron.

    Defense:
    Durant has improved defensively this season, but advanced stats show LeBron is the much better and more versatile wing-defender.

    I still believe LeBron is the better player when it comes to everything except scoring (an area where nobody in the NBA beats Durant, which is scary given how young Durant is…), but a lot of people treat the MVP award as an award for “The Best Player on the Best Team,” as opposed to the “Best Player in the NBA.”

    If you believe MVP is “Best Player on the Best Team,” the award goes to Durant.
    If you believe MVP is “Best Player in the NBA” I still think the award to LeBron.

  11. aboogy123456 - Jan 24, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    More evidence why these awards are bs: Why is lebron not up for defensive player of the year? Because he’s good at offense? I think a big reason that he can be considered the MVP is because he’s the best defensive player in the whole league, and he has been for a couple years now. This is one reason why people who think Durant is the MVP are just wrong. Durant’s really good at defense, but he’s no where near the game changer on defense that lebron or even chris paul is.

  12. miamatt - Jan 24, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    One statistical correction: LBJ is averaging 8.2 rebounds per game, not 6.9.

    I still give the MVP to LeBron, his game has improved as well. OKC has been a better, more consistent team this season than Miami (though the head to head result says otherwise) and that does play a role as this is a regular season award we’re talking about. Still, LeBron is Miami’s best scorer, rebounder, distributer, and defender. Not only that, he is the most versatile and perhaps best defensive palyer in the league. Durant is amazing, but LeBron is still superior in just about every.

    Kobe doesn’t even belong on that list, he is jacking up shots on a truly bad team. Even on bad teams, SOMEBODY has to score.

  13. paleihe - Jan 24, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    The MVP award is pretty ridiculous at this point. It’s useless and doesn’t mean much. It generally just goes to the best player on the best team. Wait til the season ends, see which team has the best record, and hand it over to their best player.

    Not much thinking going on there.

    Durant? Good choice, but was the team any different last year? They were one of the top teams throughout the year.
    Lebron? Same thing. His team was one of the best throughout last year (I’m talking about regular season since that’s what the MVP is based on).

    For my money, it’d be Chris Paul. He’s changed the entire organization over a two year period. Then, it’d be Carmelo because of his commitment to defense and how well NY has played. Then, it’d be Steph Curry.

    • lyndseymarieee - Jan 24, 2013 at 5:13 PM

      I think OKC is playing way better this season than last.

  14. boxingfan1019 - Jan 24, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    Putting Kobe on that list makes absolutely NO sense. Lebron should be first, but I can understand with the leadership Durant is showing. But outside of shooting, what does Kobe contribute? Certainly not leadership. It’s been shown throughout his career, he’s not a true leader. He does not make his teammates better. They have to add already established talent around him because he won’t help anyone else raise their game. He shouldnt be anywhere near consideration for the MVP.

  15. savvybynature - Jan 25, 2013 at 1:28 AM

    Someone isn’t a Spurs fan.

    To give Kobe and ‘Melo MVP votes over Duncan is questionable, considering Duncan has a higher PER and has a w/s about 4X that of either, but to ignore him for DPOY? That’s just silly.

    No love for Pop for COY either?

    Do you even realize the Spurs have the 2nd best record in the league despite having played more total games, more road games, and tougher competition (based on SoS) than any of your 3 “title contenders”?

    I know you were a former beat writer for the Lakers, but if you are going to run an NBA blog isn’t it time to at least attempt to be objective? Sure, it’s the hated Spurs and Duncan, who robbed the precious Kobe of his own dynasty and relegated him to 2nd best player of his generation (most heavily marketed though, by a long shot, that’s for sure!), but a quick look at the advanced stats shows you that you are wrong in ignoring the success of the Spurs this season.

    • kavika6 - Jan 25, 2013 at 2:43 AM

      Right on savvybynature!

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