We’re about to hit the All-Star break in the NBA, which marks the unofficial midway point of the regular season. Injuries to stars throughout the league have marred things a bit, but, as always, there are several stars shining bright.
Here with our unofficial midseason awards we have Kevin Roberts of BreakingFootball.com and Gregg Ring of…something. You don’t need further introduction, so let’s get to it.
Coach of the Year
Taylor Smith: Terry Stotts (Portland Trail Blazers) – Most didn’t have the Blazers in mind as they were making their preseason prognostications, but as of today, Stotts’ crew sits just a game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the top spot in the Western Conference. Sure, the rise of LaMarcus Aldridge to superstardom and the addition of Robin Lopez has plenty to do with this, but Stotts has done a good job making the pieces fit nicely. I still don’t think they have a strong enough bench or play stingy enough defense to truly contend for a title this season, but Rip City will certainly be a tough out come playoff time. Honorable Mention: Jeff Hornacek (Suns), Frank Vogel (Pacers), Dwane Casey (Raptors)
Kevin Roberts: Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns) – I suppose this award normally goes to an elite contender or a team with the most wins, but has anyone done more with less? Mind you, this is also the rookie coach’s first season leading the Suns, too. Phoenix has been extremely competitive with or without awesome offseason acquisition Eric Bledsoe, and could make the playoffs in a year where they were expected to be a doormat. If we’re going powerhouse, though, Frank Vogel clearly needs everyone to take their hats off.
Gregg Ring: Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns) – The first-year head coach has an underwhelming bunch right in the thick of the Western Conference playoffs picture. Frank Vogel will probably end up with this award if the Pacers best the Heat for the No. 1 seed in the East, but for now, Hornacek takes the nod for doing more with less than anyone in the league. Honorable Mention: Frank Vogel (Pacers)
6th Man of the Year
Taylor Smith: Jamal Crawford (Los Angeles Clippers) – The Clippers have had numerous injuries to their guards all season long, with Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Reggie Bullock all missing significant time. Crawford has started a few games, but he’s the spark of the Clips’ bench unit. The second unit isn’t nearly as productive as it was a year ago, but Crawford remains a very valuable, versatile player that can score in bunches and also initiate the offense. Honorable Mention: Reggie Jackson (Thunder)
Kevin Roberts: Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs) – I’m left unimpressed by the field of 6th men this year. Ginobili is at least playing for a great Spurs team and has actually played very well. In fact, he’s played so well that he’s making everyone who wrote him off last year look foolish. Perhaps he’s got redemption on his mind after a shaky Finals a year ago. If not Ginobili, then Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson deserve consideration.
Gregg Ring: Reggie Jackson (Oklahoma City Thunder) – This pick is obviously predicated on the return of Russell Westbrook, but Jackson is everything you want a 6th man to be. He is a solid scoring and ball-handling option off-the-bench and can easily step in as the starter when needed. If Westbrook is delayed in his comeback too much, Reggie may get too many starts for this award, but that doesn’t downplay the guy’s value. Honorable Mention: Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
Defensive Player of the Year
Taylor Smith: Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers) – The anchor of the league’s most prolific defense is an easy choice here. Hibbert is averaging a career-high 2.6 blocks per game (2nd in the NBA) and helps completely seal off the paint to opposing players foolish enough to test him. He rarely gets into foul trouble (despite being 7’2″ and not particularly athletic), because he’s smart with his verticality and positioning. His offensive game isn’t consistently good, but his primary value lies on the other end of the floor. Honorable Mention: Andre Iguodala (Warriors)
Kevin Roberts: DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers) – If not only because he seems so dominant in the things he does well when he does them. If he’s not leading a block party, Jordan is actually “playing defense”, something I feel gets lost in the art of picking the Defensive Player of the Year. Serge Ibaka is a strong candidate, too, while it’s hard to ignore Anthony Davis and his league-leading 3 blocks per game.
Gregg Ring: Paul George (Indiana Pacers) – I just don’t think perimeter defenders get enough love in the DPOY voting. Roy Hibbert and Anthony Davis have been disruptive down low and the argument can be made that Dwight Howard is almost back to his old self. However, I’m taking the perimeter guy that can take the other team’s star night in and night out. George has certainly entered the conversation with LeBron as the best wing defender in basketball. Honorable Mention: Roy Hibbert (Pacers), Anthony Davis (Pelicans)
Most Improved Player
Taylor Smith: Lance Stephenson (Indiana Pacers) – Stephenson has quickly become one of my favorite players in the league. He currently leads the NBA with three triple-doubles on the season, and often times is used as Indiana’s point guard, allowing George Hill to spot-up on the wing. He’s an explosive athlete that has improved his three-point shooting, and he’s a very strong defender, too. He’s going to make a ton of money as a free agent this summer. Honorable Mention: Paul George (Pacers), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), DeMar DeRozan (Raptors)
Kevin Roberts: Lance Stephenson (Indiana Pacers) – LaMarcus Aldridge makes some sense as someone who jumped from borderline elite to undoubtedly elite, while Gordon Hayward taking over as Utah’s go-to scorer has been fairly impressive. However, I’m not sure anyone can list anyone other than Stephenson here. He’s basically Indiana’s point guard, plays lockdown defense, and can be a terror on the fast break. He’s a true glue guy and a jack-of-all-trades. There’s no doubt Indiana wouldn’t be as good as they are without him.
Gregg Ring: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans) – The Brow is quickly becoming a bona fide star in New Orleans. He was no scrub last season, but his jump to a 20-10 guy, not to mention averaging 3 blocks a game, gets him the narrow win over Lance Stephenson in my mind. Honorable Mention: Lance Stephenson (Pacers)
Rookie of the Year
Taylor Smith: Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) – This is a no-brainer. It’s a pretty weak rookie class overall, and MCW has been hands-down the most impressive of the first-year players. The wiry 6’6″ guard from Syracuse is averaging 17.5 points, 6.7 assists and 5.9 rebounds for one of the league’s very worst teams, and could develop to become one of those Oscar Robertson-style do-it-all point guards. If there were a draft do-over, he’d certainly be a top-3 pick. Honorable Mention: Trey Burke (Utah Jazz)
Kevin Roberts: Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) – Can it be anyone else? MCW loses points for missing some games, but he’s otherwise been phenomenal, putting up over 17, 6 and 5 a game. A triple-double threat on a nightly basis, the only thing holding MCW back is shot selection and defense. Both will come in due time, as his ceiling is nowhere to be found. Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo have certainly had their moments, but neither come close to touching MCW in this race.
Gregg Ring: Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) – I was tempted to go with Anthony Bennett here, but Carter-Williams gets the narrow edge. Even though the Sixers aren’t winning, Carter-Williams certainly isn’t the reason. With 17 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists a night, MCW is becoming one of the most well-rounded young point guards in the game already. Honorable Mention: Victor Oladipo (Magic)
Most Valuable Player
Taylor Smith: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) – I know LeBron is having another mind-bogglingly awesome season, but where would the Thunder be without Kevin Durant? Russell Westbrook has missed tons of time, yet the Thunder look to be Finals contenders regardless. The Slim Reaper is currently in the midst of one of the greatest individual scoring stretches in the history of the league, and has essentially carried OKC to the West’s best record. It’s amazing to think that he can continue to get better, but he continues to get better. He’s also just 25 years old. Scary. Honorable Mention: LeBron James (Heat)
Kevin Roberts: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) – It’s really not even close. Not only has Durant been on a ridiculous stretch in January that arguably pushed his MVP case over-the-top, but he’s averaging 31 points per game (no one else is close) and has the Thunder at 33-10 through 43 games. Yeah, he’s the man. If anyone else could unseat Durant, it’d likely come down to LeBron James or Paul George.
Gregg Ring: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder) – Check back next week. It’s a horse race between Durant and LeBron. While LeBron is still solidly the best all-around player in basketball, Durant gets the love at the moment because of his recent dominant run without Russell Westbrook. Unfortunately for James, he has set the bar so high that I don’t think he takes home the award unless the Heat overtake the Pacers in the East. If the Pacers continue to dominate, look for Paul George to slip-in as a dark horse candidate. Honorable Mention: LeBron James (Heat), Paul George (Pacers).
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.