Jan 24, 2013, 12:31 PM EDT
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
Jul 22, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler would reportedly be sent to Minnesota.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
Blake Griffin, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Damian Liillard among players who would face fines if they participated in a planned exhibition in Manila.
High school standout Emmanuel Mudiay skips college for China payday. You’ll see more of this if age limit goes up.
Jul 22, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
If the age limit jumps to 20 more players will choose getting paid over college.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:27 PM EDT
Wizards take a more subtle approach than some of the others we’ve seen.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Rookies Doug McDermott and Marcus Smart make the cut to train with the National Team in Vegas.
Jul 22, 2014, 11:13 AM EDT
Vujacic is known for his time with the Lakers, and hasn’t played meaningful minutes since 2011.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:37 AM EDT
Kings go nuts after winning Summer League championship.
Jul 22, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT
Restricted free agent remains unsigned.
Jul 22, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT
Seattle won 1979 title before team moved to Oklahoma City
Jul 22, 2014, 8:42 AM EDT
The list includes Gorgui Dieng and Donatas Montiejunas.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Carter denies LeBron’s advisors forced him back to Cleveland
Jul 22, 2014, 1:24 AM EDT
Ray McCallum dropped 29 and even threw in a Jordan shrug.
Jul 22, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Would you rather have Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green?
Jul 21, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Hummel gets second NBA deal after spending season in Spain
Jul 21, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Former Colorado point guard out with ACL tear
Jul 21, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
Jazz point guard will help national team prepare for World Cup this summer
Donald Sterling reportedly meets with Steve Ballmer, which might accelerate Clippers sale (or do the complete opposite)
Jul 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Donald Sterling also reportedly met with Shelly Sterling for three hours
Jul 21, 2014, 6:54 PM EDT
The Suns are going to be a League Pass favorite next season.
Jul 21, 2014, 6:22 PM EDT
Cooper, who coaches WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, expected to make full recovery
Jul 21, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Celtics fans are asking “why?” Good question.
- Report: Bulls making push to trade for Kevin Love 0
- Seven standout players from Las Vegas Summer League 9
- Maverick Carter: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade still speak nearly daily 23
- Red hot Ray McCallum leads Sacramento Kings to Summer League title with 77-68 win against Houston 3
- Lakers great Michael Cooper diagnosed with cancer 14
- Report: Stan Van Gundy tells Josh Smith, barring unexpected trade, forward will start season with Pistons 8
- Mike Krzyzewski would trade Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love with “not one second of hesitancy” 71
- Mario Chalmers: “I never thought anybody would want to leave Miami for Cleveland” 68