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.)
May 21, 2013, 9:55 AM EDT
The Charlotte Hornets became the New Orleans Hornets, which became the New Orleans Pelicans, allowing the Charlotte Bobcats to become the Charlotte Hornets. Got it? A few days after news leaked, the plan will become official today. Steve Reed of the Associated Press: Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is changing his team’s name to the…
May 21, 2013, 9:32 AM EDT
You can cross Stan Van Gundy off your coaching lists. The former Magic and Heat coach was on The David Baumann Show on 1080 The Team in Orlando and said he would not be coaching anywhere next season. He called it a family decision. He added that a few teams reached out to him but…
May 21, 2013, 9:03 AM EDT
Knicks GM Glen Grunwald wanted to sign Pablo Prigioni to a two-year deal, but the 35-year-old point guard and NBA rookie was only taking a one-year offer. That was practical — he signed for the veteran’s minimum and if he showed he belonged he could get a better deal. But it also may mean he…
May 21, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
Game 2 is not going to look like Game 1. Memphis is not going to get its doors blown off from the opening tip as happened in their Game 1 loss. You can expect better pick and roll defense out of Memphis. You can also expect better ball movement and more Zach Randolph. You can…
May 21, 2013, 2:02 AM EDT
From the start, there was one thing most likely to keep Mike D’Antoni from returning as Lakers coach — free agent Dwight Howard. It may not have been that direct — and it may not change who is the Lakers coach next season — but apparently Howard let Lakers management know exactly how he feels…
May 21, 2013, 1:19 AM EDT
We need a game in this series so we can talk about basketball and not this ridiculous game of telephone. As we explained before, LeBron James took umbrage at something a reporter told him Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel said — except Vogel never said it. What Vogel said was, “They’re the next team that’s in…
May 20, 2013, 11:15 PM EDT
If you’re like me, you have been transfixed by the tragic events that have unfolded around Oklahoma City on Monday, where a monster tornado has left death and devastation in its wake. The pictures out of schools in that city are heart wrenching. The thoughts of all of us here at PBT are with the…
May 20, 2013, 9:30 PM EDT
Just three seasons ago, the Golden State Warriors were a 26-win team with Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette as their two leading scorers — this was a team in need of a radical overhaul. Enter new ownership willing to invest in winning, new players to go with then rookie Stephen Curry, a new coach in…
May 20, 2013, 6:55 PM EDT
Let’s start out here by saying take this all with a grain of salt. People’s descriptions of fights after a bar closes often do not match reality. But a pair of brothers in Oregon told television station KGW that they snapped a picture of Blazers point guard Damian Lillard walking to his car outside a…
May 20, 2013, 5:56 PM EDT
Would the Nets wait to hire a coach until Memphis is eliminated from the playoffs just so they can make a run at Lionel Hollins, whose contract expires after the season? If Scott Skiles is a top alternative, patience could make sense. What’s there to lose? Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times: Some NBA officials…
May 20, 2013, 5:32 PM EDT
The Nets were surely dejected when Phil Jackson turned them down, so it seems they want at least one coaching candidate who’s extremely unlikely to reject them. Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times (hat tip: Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball): the Nets also have put Scott Skiles on their short list. Skiles was fired…
May 20, 2013, 5:23 PM EDT
The Nets are pretty hamstrung with their roster this summer. Billy King did put together an interesting team to open the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, a team led by Deron Williams and Brook Lopez that was the fourth seed in the East. But he capped out the team to do it — they have $86…
May 20, 2013, 4:07 PM EDT
In the last three years and five of the last six, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft has been a player who declared after only one year of college basketball (Blake Griffin being the exception). At one point, Shabazz Muhammad was rated as the the No. 1 incoming freshman, so it’s reasonable he…
May 20, 2013, 3:59 PM EDT
The NBA Summer League is about rookies and guys trying to make NBA rosters — basically it’s guys 10-15 on the NBA bench and a bunch of players who will be in Europe next season battling it out to impress scouts. But each year a handful of name players (often top drafted rookies) are there…
May 20, 2013, 3:44 PM EDT
Amar’e Stoudemire just dealt with one of the more frustrating seasons of his career. A variety of injuries limited him to only 29 appearances and 23.5 minutes per game when he was healthy enough to suit up. And while he made a return to the Knicks’ lineup in the 2nd round against the Pacers, he…
May 20, 2013, 2:43 PM EDT
For the next five weeks PBT will be profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we talk about Pitt’s star center. In today’s NBA player development matters a lot — draft a guy and for a few years bring him along slowly, develop his skills and mold him into a player…
May 20, 2013, 1:28 PM EDT
Fans of every lottery team have a simple solution for how to operate in a historically weak draft: Trade down. Of course, if you think this is a weak draft, other teams probably do too, and they’re not going to be so keen on trading up. But there might be one team interested in trading…
May 20, 2013, 1:25 PM EDT
It’s Dwight Howard silly rumor season. Everyone knows the Lakers are still the front-runners in this race but the latest reports have the Rockets and Mavericks at least in a good stalking position to make a move once this race moves into the home stretch. Other teams may try to get into the mix as…
May 20, 2013, 12:44 PM EDT
The Bobcats would receive the Trail Blazer’s first-round draft pick this year – a remnant of the Gerald Wallace trade – in the .001 percent chance Portland lands the No. 13 pick in tomorrow’s draft lottery. But Charlotte is doing a lot of work based on just that .001 percent chance. Rick Bonnell of charlotteobserver.com:…
May 20, 2013, 12:28 PM EDT
Bryan Colangelo is still going to be with the Toronto Raptors. But he is going to be on the other side of the building (at least metaphorically). By today the Raptors had to come to a decision on picking up Colangelo’s option as the franchise’s general manager and decision maker. And he is out in…
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