I would normally wait until the All-Star break to start looking at possible award winners and projecting how the All NBA and All Defense teams will break down, but I’m going to be on vacation over the All-Star break, and we are past the halfway point in the season. Most teams have played at least 45 games, and we have a feel for who is good, who is bad, and why. Of course a team could get a player back from injury or click into Godzilla vs. Tokyo mode and run off 20 straight wins, but we’ll work with what we know so far.
Most Valuable Player – Kevin Durant. We’ve talked about why KD is the best choice for MVP a few times on this site, so I’ll keep this brief. He plays on the best team. He has the best statistics / metrics. He comes through in big moments. He can’t be defended one-on-one, which disrupts the defense of every opponent and opens things up for his teammates. He’s doing it all without the help of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Jeff Green or any of the other young talent the Thunder management drafted to put around him with the exception of Serge Ibaka. Runners up: LeBron James. Chris Paul has been disqualified after missing so many games (and the fact that his team has excelled without him probably doesn’t help his cause). No one else is close.
Defensive Player of the Year – Roy Hibbert. He is the defensive anchor of one of the greatest team defenses in league history. I’m going to write a post about where the Pacers rank all-time defensively (the Oracle predicts that it will be very high), but suffice it to say that this year, Indiana is the best by a Midwestern mile. The separation in Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) between the #1 Pacers and #2 Bulls is larger than the separation between Chicago and #8 Minnesota. Roy’s size and alert positioning are keys to the Pacer defensive superiority. He leads the league in individual defensive rating, and his ability to protect the rim and discourage slashers from even attempting to drive helps Indiana to play man to man along the perimeter limiting fouls committed and 3 point opportunities as well. He’s a classic NBA giant in a league of stretch bigs, and he is dominant on the defensive end. Runners up: Paul George, Serge Ibaka, Joakim Noah, Andrew Bogut.
Rookie of the Year – Michael Carter-Williams. Not the strongest race in the world this year. Of players given more than 20 minutes a game to show their stuff, MCW is the only one with a PER above the 15 mark, which is the level of an “average” NBA player. Several future stars could emerge in the second half of the season or in years to come, but so far this has been an underwhelming rookie class. Runners up: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Tim Hardaway, Jr.
6th Man of the Year – Markieff Morris. This is a really tough award to pick so far this season. San Antonio and the Clippers have both gotten fantastic contributions from multiple players off the bench. Manu Ginobili and Jamal Crawford, both former winners, are producing well and coming up in big moments for their teams. However, I’m leaning towards Markeiff Morris of the Phoenix Suns for the award this year. He leads all bench players in Win Share and has a 19.2 PER, and his shooting, defense, and versatility have really helped Phoenix’s second unit excel. Runners up: Manu, Jamal, Darren Collison, Taj Gibson, Andre Blatche.
Most Improved Player of the Year – DeAndre Jordan. I don’t think Jordan will win this award, but his improvement has been tremendous. He has doubled his rebounds per game, is playing over 11 more minutes per game, and has become a positive factor in crunch time. Doc Rivers deserves some of the credit for positioning Jordan to succeed, but DeAndre certainly has done his part as well. The actual winner will probably be Lance Stephenson of the Pacers who is also highly deserving. Runners up: Lance, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Isaiah Thomas, Roy Hibbert, all of the Suns.
Coach of the Year – Jeff Hornacek. The Suns are great, and their commitment to team play is the reason. Credit Hornie for keeping them on the same page and instilling a system that is fun and effective. Runners up: Frank Vogel, Gregg Popovich, Terry Stotts, Doc Rivers.
I’m not going to do full 3 team All-NBA projections, but I will say that I think the voters need to get creative with the positions because so many of the best players this year have been forwards. LeBron, Durant, Paul George, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, and Carmelo Anthony all need to be included, and Ibaka and David Lee deserve consideration as well (and I’m probably leaving some guys out too). Maybe move George to guard and call LaMarcus a center? I do believe the All-NBA team is still G-G-F-F-C. I hope so anyway for the sake of historical consistency.
I’ll just give some options on the All-Defense Teams as well. Hibbert and George need to be on the team, and I could see Lance making it as well. Ibaka is a no-brainer as is Noah. I like Bogut for the third center, but Tim Duncan and DeAndre deserve consideration as well. To beef out the perimeter, I’d go with Andre Igudala, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard then consider some guys on good defensive teams who might not get much press like Thabo Sefolosha and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Could I squeeze Dwight Howard in as a forward? He’s been a great defender on a terrible defensive team. Surprisingly, I don’t think LeBron James has a guaranteed spot on this team. He probably will make it, and his athletic ability is one of the keys to causing the turnovers that sustain what is otherwise a mediocre Heat defense, but his attention to detail and overall effort have been lacking this year, and there are a lot of deserving forwards.