We’re at that point in the season where it’s just common practice to break down the first half of the NBA season.
So let’s begin…
Rami Michail: This is a tough call, LeBron, Paul George, Blake Griffin and others have all had great years, but this has to go to Kevin Durant. He has OKC as the number one team in the NBA without their SECOND BEST PLAYER! His ability to create and rebound has turned him into one of the better all-around players in the league.
Brian Gosset: No doubt, it has to be KD. LeBron’s putting up good numbers, but OKC has the best record in the league. KD leads in scoring and that streak of 30/25 points is epic. 20 straight with 25 or more (16-30+, 6-40+, 1-50 in that span).
Ace Feltman: No way around it, Kevin Durant. He’s carried the Thunder to an NBA best 43-12 record at the All-Star Break. I expected the Thunder to be exposed as a one-man team with Westbrook hurt, and in a way they have been. But Durantula has been unleashed. It’s not a recipe for playoff success, but enjoy it while it is.
Marc Cashion: Kevin Durant for sure. LeBron has seemed to coast at times while Durant has played lights out every game without his second star Russell Westbrook. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up once Westbrook returns.
Defensive player of the year?
BG: It comes down to The Brow, Ibaka, Hibbert, and DeAndre Jordan. Not sold on Hibbert, and DJ could very well win Most Improved. I have to go with NBA blocks leader, Anthony Davis. He’s the only one over three blocks a game (3.07) while Ibaka’s second at 2.56. Davis has 18 out of 44 games with four or more blks. Season-high 9 on 11/16. Downfall is Pelicans’ record. Award began in 1982. Most winners are on a division leader. Chandler won it two years ago while NYK was 7th in the East. Alvin Robertson won it with SA in 1985 with 35-47 record (8th).
RM: I was going to go with Roy Hibbert, but thanks to Brian, I got to go with The Brow too.
MC: I’m going with Roy Hibbert. While Anthony Davis has the most blocks every player for every team that plays Indiana has to worry about where Hibbert is at all times. I give Hibbert the edge just because his inside presence is much stronger.
AF: Because Kevin Durant has bonkers, LeBron James won’t win his third straight and fifth MVP award in six seasons, but I’m giving him the Defensive Player of the Year so far as a “consolation.” The Heat have a very respectable 37-14 record, 2.5 GB of the conference leading Pacers, and it’s all due to King James. Dwyane Wade rests as he pleases and Chris Bosh is still jurassically inconsistent, leaving LeBron to get it done for the team on both ends every night. Not only can he score on anyone in the league, he can guard anyone in the league
RM: Plenty of candidates to choose from, but my vote goes to Paul George. He showed flashes during the playoff run and has kept that momentum going. He’s seen his scoring and field goal percentage increase, as he’s leading the Pacers to the East’s best record to this point. Yes he won it last season, but he’s continued to transform–from a good player to a great player and now, looking more and more like a franchise player. DeAndre is a close second for me, as he’s having a great season under Doc Rivers (look below).
BG: Like I said, Jordan could win this. Started in all 55 games so far. 10.1 points, 14 boards and 2.3 blks up from last year’s 8.8, 7.2, and 1.4. Career highs in points, rebs, asts, blocks, steals, d rebs and off. rebs. George’s rebs and assists are down, and since he won the award last year, don’t know if anyone’s won it two in a row? I really think that’s going to hurt George, winning it in 2013. Really not sure on others. *Since beginning in 1985, no player has won it twice at all, let alone in a row.*
MC: I looked at plenty of candidates and all were worthy but my most improved player has to go to Lance Stephenson. Last year he seemed slated as just another role player for the Pacers, a good one at that, but nonetheless just a role player. He now has emerged as a threat on offense and defense. Any number you look at he has improved, his points per game has jumped from 8.8 to 14.1, rebounds from 3.9 to 7.3, assists 2.9 to 5.1. I can go on, his offense has greatly improved and he has always been a force on defense. Look for him to land a huge contract this offseason because of the improvement.
AF: I agree with everyone else that it’s an Indiana Pacer, I agree with Marc that it’s Lance Stephenson. I won’t be redundant, but his numbers are not only up but way up all across the board. Sure, he’s still a nutcase with very little discipline, but these are regular season gimmicks we’re rewarding. He has become one of the elite role players in the league, no doubt fueling the Pacers 40-12 record and 25-3 home record. The Jazz fan in me would not be forgiven if I didn’t mention the emergence of Paul Millsap, but that hasn’t surprise me in the least.
RM: This is the toughest award for me to decide. Jr. Smith, Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson (injuries), Jarrett Jack, and many others haven’t exactly lived up to expectations. Jamal Crawford would have been my first choice, but he’s started too many games (18 starts at this point) to be considered. If Crawford is able to come off the bench for more games than he starts, he should no doubt be in line for his second 6th man award. If not, Taj Gibson may be in line for the award.
BG: Jamal Crawford without a doubt. Anderson is injured, and Carter and Smith are too inconsistent. Crawford will become the fourth player since the award started in 1982 to win it twice. Shooting percentage down, and only reason his points are up might be because he started when CP3 went down (18 games started), but as long as you come off the bench in 40 out of 82 games, you’re up for the award. Taj Gibson and Markieff Morris are a close 2 and 3.
MC: My top two would be Jamal Crawford and Reggie Jackson. However, with injuries these two have now started a considerable amount of games so my top pick at the moment would have to be Markieff Morris. The emerging Suns have strong depth at power forward with Channing Frye starting and the two Morris twins but Markieff Morris is the big threat down low. With 12.5 points per game and 5.7 rebounds Morris is my sixth man.
AF: Deron Williams! Just kidding. Jamal Crawford is on pace to reclaim the 6th Man Award after a four-year hiatus. After shipping off Eric Bledsoe in the off-season for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. Dudley hasn’t been very good at all and Redick got hurt, making J-Crossover a starter by default. Then the team lost Chris Paul. Sure Blake Griffin, Jack McBrayer and Intern have stepped up but Crawford has kept the Clippers afloat in the upper tier of the strong West, scoring 18.6 PPG, his highest ever as a 6th Man. (20.6 as a starter)
Rookie Of the year?
BG: Only two that should be up for it is MCW and Victor Oladipo. MCW should be leading all rooks in pts/rebs/asts, but not entirely sure. MCW avg 17.1pts 5.4rebs 6.5asts 2.1stls 3.5 turnovers (Shooting 40/29/70). Oladipo avg 13.9pts 4.4rebs 4asts 1.6stls 3.2 turnovers (Shooting 41/30/78). My pick is MCW, but who knows, may come down to better record. *Only 3 players from either team has won award since it began in 1952 (AI, Shaq, and surprisingly Mike Miller).
MC: Michael Carter-Williams is my rookie of the year up to this point. He continues to fill up the stat line night in and night out showing he has all the tools necessary to succeed in the NBA. His 17.1 points per game are impressive for a rookie but with the 76ers in the state that they are someone’s got to score right?
AF: I’d like to choose Trey Burke because his addition to the Jazz has made the once 1-14 club competitive and they actually enter the break with more wins than the turrible L.A. Lakers and the very young Sacramento Kings. But, the only possible argument I can make against Michael Carter-Williams is that the 76ers are so bad and have so little offense that somebody had to do it. The better players on the rebuilding Philly squad are better at defense than offense, some just the former apart of their skillset. Regardless I didn’t expect much of this rookie class outside of Burke, Victor Orlandipo, Ben McLemore and C.J. McCollum. MCW has been a real pleasant surprise. Do i think he’s a 17/6/5 career player? No. But I didn’t expect him to be a 10/5/3 rookie, so shut up Ace.
RM: Can’t believe everyone else passed up on Anthony Bennett! He’s been having such a great…Ya, MCW it is!
Coach of the year?
RM: Frank Vogel, Scott Brooks, and many others have done a great job, but what Jeff Hornacek has done with the suppose to be tanking Phoenix Suns has been amazing. The fact that the Warriors, Grizzlies, or Mavericks may miss out on the playoffs because of the Suns is stunning.
MC: Hornacek has done a great job, taking a team to looked to be anticipating a chance at the first overall pick to playoff contention. However, that doesn’t stand out to me like the job Terry Stotts has done with the Blazers. He has transformed a borderline playoff team to a top tier team in the West. Don’t think the Blazers are going away anytime soon, with a couple of youhg stars in Aldridge and Lillard we’ll be seeing a lot of the Blazers in years to come.
BG: Really not a fan of giving it to a team you expect to be good, like if the Spurs was first in West and giving it to Pops. Hornacek is my top choice (see surprise team for more detail). Another good one, if they win the division/top-4 in East, our old friend, Dwane Casey up in Canada.
AF: I really hope the league doesn’t see the Westbrook-less success of OKC as a result of coaching, because it’s all on #35. Scott Brooks remains Vinny Del Negro-esque in his player rotations and free-for-all play calling, if you want to “call” it that. The award belongs to Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. I predicted a last place finish in the West for Phoenix, but despite losing arguably their best player Eric Bledsoe in their final bout of 2013, they are a playoff team. A frikkin’ playoff team. I’m shocked. I’ll be even more shocked if Hornacek doesn’t win the Coach of the Year award. Need to mention Raptors and Trail Blazers coaches Dwane Casey and Terry Stotts, forever remembered in Mavericks history.
Comeback player of the year?
MC: I swear I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible, but Dirk Nowitzki has been unbelievable. With a serious injury and not making the playoffs during the 2012-2013 campaign, Dirk has simply been Dirk this season. Averaging 21.7 points and leading the Mavs to a sixth seed going into the All-Star break I don’t know of any better choice.
BG: Has to be Dirk. I ask you to name any one else remotely close in the discussion. Missed 27 straight, 29 overall last year. Leads the Mavs with 21.7 points, 12th in the NBA. Still shows he can score 30, 35 and even 40 at 35-yrs-old.
AF: Hmmm, everyone’s picking Dirk. Personally I think our treasure is above this award. I’m going to go outside the bubble and pick Nets 6’7” point guard Shaun Livingston. In 2007 Livingston suffered one of the most gruesome injuries ever, tearing three out of the four ligaments in his knee. This year he has carved out a role with the Brooklyn Nets and even jumped past Deron Williams and his max contract into the starting lineup. His numbers of about 8/3/3 aren’t going to jump off the page but his return from that injury is nothing short of remarkable.
RM: Dirk Nowitzki, many wrote him off after last season’s mess in Big-D, but averaging just under 22 points and being right there for his second 50-40-90 season, The Big German has the Mavericks in the playoff hunt again. I’m also very excited that Greg Oden is finally back on an NBA court. Also happy to see Livingston starting to play to his level of talent.
Most surprising team?
BG: Suns. This team was projected to hit the lottery again and win 20-25 games, yet they’re in the 7th spot with 30 wins with 31 games to go. Second would be Toronto, four games above .500 and leading the Atlantic by 3.5 games. Really thought NYK or BKN would be dominating the division.
MC: Definately the Phoenix suns. From looking like a for sure lottery pick the Phoenix Suns are in the playoff hunt.
RM: Looks like I’m on my own with this one. I’m gonna have to pass up the Suns for the Portland TrailBlazers. I was expecting the Blazers to improve with a retooled bench, but wasn’t expecting this. Though the Blazers have lost some of that early season buzz, they still have the ability to make some noise in the postseason.
Most disappointing team?
RM: AHHHH….So many teams here to choose from. I didn’t have high hopes for the Knicks leading into the season, the Nets had many question marks surrounding their roster, and I didn’t expect the Pistons to actually make everyone look dumb for doubting Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. That being said, I think I’ll pick the Knicks. Expected them to slip, but not this much in the horrid East.
BG: Has to be the Knicks and Nets in the East, I won’t go more into detail with that. Might be NYK, BKN seems to be finding it and in the current playoff picture. In the West, I think the Nuggets, T’Wolves and even maybe the Grizzlies (5th last year, currently 9th and six over .500). Kings could be one too, with the talent they have.
MC: While I would love to put the New York Knicks here, I’m going to go a different route. The Sacramento Kings currently sit last place in the Western Conference. How can you justify being in last place with Demarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Williams, Marcus Thornton, and plenty of role players. It is inexcusable to me for the Kings not to be in the playoff hunt.
AF: I picked the Brooklyn Nets to finish 3rd in the East and the New York Knicks 5th (Bulls 4th). However, the East was supposed to be bad and they’re exceeding that sentiment with flying colors. I thought the Knicks would be above average, I thought Brooklyn would be very good. They’re just good. But the Knicks are TURRIBLE. A hot mess. It’s almost like Isiah Thomas has regained control of the franchise. So I choose them.
Most Surprising Player?
MC: Plenty of choices here to wade through but my most surprising player is Lamarcus Aldridge. At 28 years old Aldridge has catapulted himself into star status and surprisingly close to a superstar. I know Kevin Love puts up awesome double double numbers but how about Aldridge averaging 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game on an elite NBA team. I’m very impressed with the play of Aldridge and the Blazers and look forward to seeing if they can keep it up.
RM: Blake Griffin. I won’t deny it, I have been one of his doubters and haters. But he sure has shut me up this season.
BG: Got to agree with Rami and go with my man Blake. CP3 went down, and it seemed like Blake excelled to an elite level. He’s improved on his range and free-throw shooting. Who knows Blake could win most improved as well. Avg 24.2 points, 9.8 rebs and shooting career-high 71 percent from the line. 12 30-pt games, 2 40s, currently scoring 25 or more in 8 straight and 12 of 13. Dbl-dbl in 5 of 6 FEB games.
AF: Love the LMA pick by Marc, so I’ll find another. Aldridge’s Portland squad is in a three-way tie for the number three spot in the West, along with the Clippers and the Houston Rockets, which is where I’m going with my selection. Chandler Parsons has been so good all across the board for his Rockets team and my fantasy team, but this is not a surprise to me. However, the third of three 2012 first round draft picks, Terrence Jones out of Kentucky, has absolutely soared with the opportunity to fill the vacancy at power forward for the star-studded Houston Rockets. Jeremy Lamb (12th) was shipped off as part of the James Harden deal, Royce White (16th) hasn’t played in an NBA game but Terrence Jones (18th) has been a gem. After just 19 games in his rookie season, much of it spent in the D-League, he’s started 43/48 games this year after the Omer Asik-Dwight Howard frontcourt combo didn’t pan out. Per 36 minutes his averages are 15 points, 9.4 rebounds and almost 2 blocks! He also makes half a three pointer a game. Without his stability at the 4, the Rockets would surely not be where they are, even with all of the big name talent they have.
Most disappointing player?
RM: O.J Mayo? Wasn’t a fan of the Bucks signing him. Was at the least expecting him to put up some decent numbers on a bad team, but not this. 12.2 ppg from your “Big” free agent signing. Also, how is he not starting on a team that has won just 9 games!?
MC: This is a tough one. Like Rami said O.J. Mayo has been absolutely horrible. My choice however is Josh Smith. He is the primary reason why the Pistons, although star studded, cannot even get into the playoffs in the laughably bad East. He is averaging 3.5 three point attempts per game while shooting 23.1% from behind the arc. Someone needs to sit that man down and explain to him that heaving up horrible threes should never be an option.
BG: Really don’t know, don’t care LOL. Could be any one of the guys you say. But I’m going with Joe Johnson only because I still think he doesn’t deserve to be an all star this year. I know BKN is kind of loaded, but I just don’t understand, if you’re a shooter, how do you score TWO points in like 35 minutes of playing time. And for his level of playing, he has WAY too much single-digit scoring games.
AF: Deron Williams. The former 3rd overall pick that got his max contract in the summer of 2012 has been AWFUL. When he’s not hurt, he’s ineffective, inefficient and for now isn’t even a starter for Brooklyn. Of course I’m a big Shaun Livingston fan as exemplified above, but the Nets need Deron Williams to regain his all-star and even elite form if they’re to make any noise in the playoffs that isn’t coming from their knees.
Bottom 4 Seed That Is The Biggest Threat?
BG: I’m just going to say it could be anyone. Right now, bottom four is POR, DAL, PHX, GS and any one of those teams can beat a top-4. Nuff said.
MC: I think a healthy Memphis Grizzlies team can beat a top four seeded team or maybe a Golden State squad. The Splash Bros. could become unstoppable and we have seen how difficult it is to play the Grizzlies in a seven game series (in 2011 the Grizzlies beat the top seeded Spurs in the first round of the playoffs).
AF: On a similar note as Brian, I’ll say any of the bottom four in the West can beat any of the top four in the West. The conference is that good.
RM: As much as I’d love to pick the Mavs here, we all know that if they were to face the Spurs or Thunder in the first round we wouldn’t exactly be too happy. I really think the Grizzlies find a way to get in at the expense of the Phoenix Suns. With the Grizz in, the number 1 or 2 seed will have their hands full.
Eastern Conference Champion?
RM: Ummm….this isn’t an easy pick. I really want to pick the Pacers to represent the East, but….there’s a guy by the name of LeBron James standing in their way. So….I’m going to just assume that Andrew Bynum pans out in Indiana and Wade’s knee will be a factor. So The Pacers will represent the East.
BG: Has to be Pacers vs Heat. Could very well come down to Oden vs Bynum. Pacers beat Heat by 6 in Indy, lost by 3 in Miami. Indy’s first in defense while MIA is 10th. And a factor could be Wade’s health.
MC: Wish I could pick the Pacers but Lebron is just too good I believe the Heat are going to take it easy on D Wade this last half of the year to make sure he is ready come playoff time.
AF: The playoffs are a whole different animal, and if D-Wade is healthy I’m still picking the Heat, even though Indiana will have home court advantage.
Western Conference Champion?
RM: While the East is just a two horse race, the West has 8 teams that can make some noise. Many will doubt the Mavs, but in the right matchup they can knock out a team like the Clippers, Rockets, or Blazers. Early round matchups/seedings will be a huge factor. Since I have to pick, it’s a coin flip between the Clippers and Thunder with the Clippers barely hedging them out.
BG: Want it to be the Mavs, and again, could very well be any of the top-8, but I think right now, have to go with the Thunder. Spurs always find a way though, so look out. Look out for Lob City too.
MC: The Western Conference this year will be incredibly difficult, it will be a tough road to the finals but the Thunder will come out on top. Superstars when games and with a healthy and fully rested Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Serge Ibaka, it’s tough for me to choose against them. Side note they come into the playoffs with much better role players than in the past (excluding James Harden) with Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steve Adams.
RM: Lob City vs the NBA’s best defense….They say defense wins championships, but with Chris Paul at the help and Griffin’s improved all-around game. I’ll take great offense over great defense.
BG: Mavs will win 2nd title in last four years. Dirk will win another Bill Russell Award by averaging 25 and 8 against Indy. Second choice…Indy vs Thunder. Pacers will keep Durant ringless.
MC: This may be a pipe dream of mine but I believe Kevin Durant will get that elusive championship ring beating Lebron in a heads up game. The Thunder just play with more heart and with an ailing Wade, I think it is the Thunder’s year. Plus how awesome would it be for the Heat to lose and Lebron to become a free agent.
Mavericks Season Outcome
RM: Let’s be real, it’s hard to not be bias with this question. I really see the Mavs finishing 6th or 7th in the West. If they are able to avoid OKC and the Spurs, I really like their chance to advance to the second round. After that? Unless the Spurs fall to the 4th seed or they are upset in the first round, the Mavs playoff run probably ends there.
BG: If the Mavs who played the final nine games (7-2) before the All-Star break show up to finish the season, a realistic shot could be 5th. Houston is on the rise while it seems to me that the Blazers are slipping. Dallas proved they can play defense (vs IND) and Dirk and Monta continue to be a good fit. Odds are 6th or 7th is where the Mavs will end up with, but I really think if Dallas gets matched up with either HOU/LAC/POR in the first round, there’s a good chance of an upset. Mavs are 2-2 vs HOU (could’ve been 3-1), and they’ve proven that they can take it vs POR/LAC on the road. I’d prefer POR only because of CP3’s return, Blake’s rise, and DJ’s presence.
MC: I think the Mavs have a chance to beat any team besides the Thunder and HEALTHY Spurs in the first round. However, if we end up playing the Trail Blazers or the Clippers we definitely have a chance to get into the second round. Unfortunately, I believe the second round is the best the Mavs can get to but again even getting to the second round depends on their matchup.
AF: 4 seed, sticking to my preseason prediction, and champions of the wooooooooooorld!