The first half of the NBA season has flown by, and with the exception of some injuries (some of them heartbreaking, some of them more frustrating than anything else), the first 40-something games have been quite a treat for the fans. With that being said, the halfway point of the season gives fans and analysts alike a good chance to reminisce on the games already played, and have a bit of fun in handing out midseason awards to deserving players.
While, obviously, there are still a healthy amount of games to be played and these early winners may not maintain their current pace for the remainder of the season, if nothing else it allows these players to gain recognition for what they have achieved up until this point, while also giving basketball fans more to read. Without further ado (as I’m afraid there may be another serious injury in the league as I type this article), time to break down the NBA award winners at the halfway point of the season.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
In a season where many expected the Suns to join the tanking ranks (including perhaps many of the Suns themselves), the team has grown remarkably under the first-year head coach. Despite losing their second-leading scorer, Eric Bledsoe, to a torn meniscus at the end of December, the team has held onto the sixth spot in the Western Conference. Add in a couple of impressive wins against top teams (2-1 against the Portland Trail Blazers, wins on the road against the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers, and a 24-point dismantling at home against the Indiana Pacers), and it is safe to say that the season has been a success for the Suns.
Much of the credit should be given to Hornacek, who was able to implement an extremely efficient offense which featured both two point guards, the aforementioned Bledsoe and the fast-improving Goran Dragic. Before the season began the talk around Phoenix was of rebuilding and working on team chemistry. Now it is obvious that the building occurring is the creation of a strong core, while the chemistry being witnessed happens to be the bubbling over throughout the team’s roster.
At the halfway point, the nod for COY has to be given to the first-year coach who has been able to work through a knee injury to Bledsoe, the minimal impact of first-round pick Alex Len, and an extremely difficult Western Conference. The Suns may not be able to maintain their momentum until the end of the season, but anybody who isn’t excited to see what Hornacek can build in Phoenix must not be a fan of basketball.
Honorable Mentions: Frank Vogel (Indiana), Terry Stotts (Portland), Mike Budenholzer (Atlanta)
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
With the NBA’s best defense (allowing just 90.2 points per game—2.7 fewer than second-place Chicago, and 5.4 fewer than third-place Memphis), the Pacers probably have the top two candidates for DPOY this season. While Paul George may get much of the credit thanks to his dominance on both sides of the ball, the Pacers defense is anchored by Hibbert in the middle. While his 2.5 blocks per game match-up with his numbers from last season, his Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) has improved, and Hibbert ranks first in the NBA in the category.
While much of that can be attributed to the fantastic defensive system that Frank Vogel has put into place, it is impossible to ignore the defensive maturity that Hibbert has shown this season. While his foul numbers are still a bit troubling, the amount of less-than-intelligent fouls has decreased, and he has chosen his block attempts much more carefully.
Honorable Mentions: Paul George (Indiana), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)
Sixth Man of the Year: Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers
Sixth Man is usually one of the more difficult awards to determine, as the line between high bench scoring and actual bench productivity/efficiency is tough to decipher. However, one thing is for certain: there have been countless games this season where Nick Young was the only exciting player to watch on the court for the Lakers.
While the team has struggled mightily this season in the absence of Kobe Bryant, Swaggy P has been a source of both scoring and excitement for the Lakers. He has scored in double figures in 39 of the team’s 45 games, and has absolutely taken over on his own to secure a couple of the Lakers (few) wins.
While Jamal Crawford could just as easily take the midseason award for his steady production while Chris Paul has been out, the fact that Nick Young is single-handedly keeping the Lakers watchable on some nights wins it for him.
Honorable Mentions: Jamal Crawford (Los Angeles), Manu Ginobili (San Antonio), Markieff Morris (Phoenix)
Most Improved Player: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Normally I like to avoid second-year players when choosing an MIP, but no player has made a bigger jump than Anthony Davis from last season to this season. While it was obvious he had a solid rookie season, Davis has become an absolute monster in his second year. Not only is Davis leading the league in blocks by a healthy margin (3.3), but he is also putting up 1.5 steals per game while anchoring the improving Pelicans defense. More impressive, his 121 blocks on the season actually surpass his 118 personal fouls, a rare feat by elite shot blockers.
When you take into account that he is one of only four players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds (joining Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeMarcus Cousins), the magnitude of Davis’s leap between seasons becomes more apparent. His scoring average is +3.7/36 minutes, while his assists and rebounding numbers have seen slight rises as well. Even more impressively, he is doing it all with a relatively low usage percentage outside of the top 30. Davis has proven to be the energetic leader of the young Pelicans, and has amazed even the casual fans this season. While players like Lance Stephenson have taken the league by storm in part because of their supporting cast, Anthony Davis earns the midseason MIP award for forcing his way into the top 10 overall argument. The time for the brow is now.
Honorable Mentions: Lance Stephenson (Indiana), Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento), Goran Dragic (Phoenix), Terrence Jones (Houston)
Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
As tempted as I was to stray from the consensus and hand the award to Trey Burke or Victor Oladipo, it is impossible. While it is easy to nitpick the flaws in MCW’s game at this point (an inconsistent jumper, lack of muscle in bodying up on defense or taking advantage inside, and a propensity to turn the ball over), he has been the best rookie in basketball for the majority of the season.
Thanks in part to an amazing first three games this season, MCW was on everybody’s radar for ROY before the season even had a chance to heat up. Even since then he has scored in double figures in 30 of the Sixers 34 games, is a threat to put up big steal numbers on any night (eight games with 4+ so far this season), and he has silenced doubters who believed that he wouldn’t be able to gain respect from his teammates.
In fact, part of what hurts MCW is the inconsistency of his teammates that at times forces him to take too many shots, but on a team where he is expected to be the future at the point, it will all eventually be a great learning experience for him. In many other seasons, MCW may have had difficulty winning the award with his numbers, but due to the lackluster performance of many rookies so far this season, he is easily the best choice at mid-season.
Honorable Mentions: Victor Oladipo (Orlando), Trey Burke (Utah), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
At this point in the season, it is Durant’s award to lose.
Just take a look at his January for further proof: 36.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists on 54/42/88, with individual scoring performances of 41, 46, 48, 48, 54.
Kevin Durant has silenced all the critics who speculated that he needed Russell Westbrook on the court to play as well as possible, all while handing critical evidence to the thinkers on the opposite side of the spectrum who believe that Westbrook actually hinders Durant. One thing is for certain: Durant has proven that he is the best offensive player in the NBA, and the Thunder have their eye on a return to the NBA Finals if Durant can keep up his recent play.
This isn’t to say that LeBron James (or another player) couldn’t go on a similar streak in February and somehow overtake Durant for MVP, but at the midway point of the season, Durant is the hands down most valuable player to his team. Hopefully for Durant’s sake if he does win the award, fans will begin to to call him MVP rather than “The Slim Reaper,” a name he recently admitted that he wasn’t very fond of.
Honorable Mentions: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland), LeBron James (Miami), Paul George (Indiana), Anthony Davis (New Orleans)