Inside the NBA | Basketball awards at mid-season point
Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 08:01
As January comes to an end, we have reached the midpoint of the NBA regular season. With the all-star game just a couple weeks away, The Daily takes a look at the midseason award winners.
MVP: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Although he’s been a clear member of the NBA’s elite for the past few seasons, Durant has finally taken the next step towards becoming the MVP frontrunner in his seventh year in the league. While LeBron James still remains the nominal “best player on earth,” Durant has improved mightily this season, strengthening his overall game, and leading to career highs in points per game (31.1), assists per game (5.2), steals per game (1.5) and free throws made per game (10.1). In addition, his field goal percentage, 3-point accuracy and offensive efficiency have stayed at or above his career norms. He has accomplished all this with his all-star sidekick Russell Westbrook sidelined with knee problems. The Thunder hasn’t missed a beat despite Westbrook’s absence as they remain atop the competitive Western Conference. This sustained excellence is a clear result of Durant’s growth into a complete player. With less than 40 games remaining on the schedule, this award is Durant’s to lose.
ROY: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Halfway through the 2013-2014 NBA season, MCW has all but clinched the rookie of the year award. The 11th pick in the 2013 draft leads all rookies in scoring and rebounding, as well as assists and steals — all while being the focal point of the 76ers’ offense every night. While scouts were unsure of his ability to adjust to the professional game, Carter-Williams silenced his doubters right away, putting together arguably the most impressive NBA debut of all time with a near quadruple-double in an upset over the reigning champion Miami Heat. Since then, Carter-Williams has battled injuries, but when he has been on the floor, he’s been an electrifying talent with the potential to be a perennial all-star. In a rookie class full of busts, disappointments and a general lack of talent, the 76ers point guard has been among the lone bright spots.
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
In an era where rim protection is more important than ever, Roy Hibbert has nearly perfected the art of “verticality,” a term used to describe a situation where a player jumps straight in the air to contest an opponent’s shot at the rim without fouling. Second in the league averaging 2.5 blocks per game, Hibbert anchors the league’s best defense by a wide margin, allowing 93.8 points per 100 possessions — over four points better than the second place team. While the Pacers’ defense also employs superb defenders like Paul George and David West, the team’s defensive prowess is centered on its 7’2”, monstrous rim protector down low.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
The Coach of the Year award is almost always the most difficult to pick. Every season, there are multiple candidates deserving of the honor, and this year is no different. Terry Stotts has turned the Portland Trail Blazers into one of the league’s elite teams, Frank Vogel is leading an unstoppable defense in Indiana and Gregg Popovich continues to employ the best overall scheme in the league, finding ways to win games with an aging core. That said, Hornacek’s work thus far with the Suns must be recognized. Before the start of the season, nearly every NBA analyst projected the Suns to be among the worst teams in the NBA. Most thought Phoenix would tank so they could earn a high pick in the super-talented 2014 NBA draft class. Hornacek’s Suns, however, have shocked the basketball world, putting together a scrappy, fast-paced team that sits sixth in the stacked Western Conference, ahead of preseason favorites Memphis and Minnesota. Led by the dual point guard attack of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, the Suns own the eighth most efficient offense in the league. This approach can be credited to Hornacek’s enthusiasm and strategy on the sideline, which is why he sits currently atop the Coach of the Year leader board.
Most Improved Player: Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
The key to the Pacers rise lies within its ability to develop players, as they’ve turned former mid first round picks and second round-ers into all-stars. Stephenson, the 40th pick in the 2010 draft, falls into this category as he’s become one of the premier two-way shooting guards in the NBA. Although he is often the fourth option in the Pacers attack, Stephenson has flourished with his well-rounded game and leads the league with three triple-doubles. Stephenson may very well earn a spot on the all-star team with his stellar performance this season.