The NBA doesn’t really have an official halfway point to the season, but I feel that now is as good a time as any to look back at some players/coaches who have not only stood out with their stellar play, but have also put themselves right in the thick of things for some major individual hardware at the end of the season.
Of course, this is just my opinion, but if things keep shaping up the way they are, I may be sticking with these predictions heading into the summer months.
Stats: 29.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 52% from the field, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks, 29.34 PER
LeBron James is the best player in the world, but Kevin Durant has been the NBA’s best player this season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the league’s top dogs with a record of 34-10, and that’s while playing in the very difficult Western Conference. That doesn’t even bring into account the early season departure of reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets, which was/is just another hurdle Durant and the Thunder have had to overcome.
His shooting numbers are insane, as Durant is on pace to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from three-point range and 90% from the free-throw line.
Kevin looks like a man on a mission. That NBA Finals loss last summer changed him. It’s motivated him to not only raise his game to new heights, but to take this Thunder team back to the promise-land and win an NBA Championship.
The best player on the best team in the NBA is my Most Valuable Player, and rightfully so.
Stats: 18.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 42.3% from the field, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 16.70 PER
Despite the recent uprising of Anthony Davis in New Orleans (he’s missed several games with an ankle injury), I don’t see any way Damian Lillard doesn’t run away with Rookie of the Year in 2013.
His 18.3 points are 17th in the NBA. He’s logging 38+ minutes on a nightly basis (7th in NBA) while starting every one of Portland’s games. Damian leads all rookies in minutes played, points and assists.
I would suffice it to say that Damian Lillard is more important to the TrailBlazers success at the moment than Aldridge (just named to the Western Conference All-Star roster this past Thursday) is. Portland has no other point guard on the roster that can run the offense at a high-level (Ronnie Price is the backup) quite like Lillard can, so that puts even more pressure on his shoulders to stay on the court and be a facilitator and scorer. Even as a rookie, Damian has thrived in a leadership role, having the ball in his hands when the game is on the line and playing with the poise and finesse of a future all-star in this league.
I got so much heat at the start of the season from certain readers for picking Lillard as my early favorite for Rookie of the Year over Anthony Davis, the #1 pick in the draft. I hate to say I told you so, but……
NBA COACH OF THE YEAR: Mark Jackson (Golden State Warriors)
Warriors current record: 26-16, fifth in Western Conference
I love what Tom Thibodeau is doing in Chicago, keeping his team near the top of the Eastern Conference despite the absence of former league MVP Derrick Rose. I wouldn’t be shocked at the very least to see him win this award when it’s all said and done.
However, the way Mark Jackson and the Golden State Warriors are exceeding expectations this season just deserves to be commended.
I was reluctant at first with the hire, knowing Jackson had no previous coaching experience and was just coming off a gig as an NBA color commentator, but he’s proven me wrong in a big way. The Warriors are playing great team basketball, his players are finally healthy (Stephen Curry being the most notable), and in his second season as coach, Jackson has learned how to get the best possible defense out of a roster with no noticeable standouts on that side of the ball (Andrew Bogut is still hurt). Golden State ranks 12th in the NBA in opponents points per possession and sixth in opponents field-goal percentage (43.6%)
Not bad for a team that finished in the bottom-third of the league in defense last year.
Stats: 12.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 45.5% from the field, 1.3 steals, 2.1 blocks, 17.14 PER
Defensive numbers don’t always tell you who the best defensive player is, even though Noah’s steals and block totals (career-highs in both categories) are well above-average.
It’s the little things he does that go unnoticed that truly make him an elite defender in this league. His high energy makes him an outstanding option on the pick-and-roll as he can not only irritate guards, but have the quickness to get back under the net, hold down the paint against opposing bigs and contest shots.
I’ll give credit to coach Thibodeau’s system, as it’s the perfect environment for a center with the intangibles of a Joakim Noah. With Omer Asik in Houston, Noah has been forced to handle more of a defensive load for a longer portion of the game, ranking 9th in the league in minutes played at 38.3.
Stats: 16.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 42.3% from the field, 1.0 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.77 PER
It’s essentially a two-man race between Crawford and J.R Smith for Sixth Man of the Year. You can’t go wrong with either player. I’m going to give the slight edge to Jamal as he’s been more consistent throughout the season.
Crawford defines what it means to be an elite sixth man in this league. He provides instant offense off the bench, allowing the starters to get rest while not having to worry about the second-unit blowing games.
The presence of Jamal Crawford takes much of the burden to score off of guys like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. That will be extremely valuable once the postseason rolls through.
He’s the second-leading scorer on the team at 16.6 points a game.
Stats: 17.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 42.4% from the field, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 17.47 PER
There are others around the NBA who have seen a greater statistical improvement over the last year or so, but no one has taken quite the leap Paul George has, from a numbers standpoint and as a leader for his team.
The Indiana Pacers were in deep trouble when Danny Granger went down with a knee injury to start the year, but 22-year old Paul George has stepped in and kept this team afloat, even after going 10-11 through the first month and a half of the season. Indiana is just 3.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 26-17.
Not only has his offense dramatically improved (12.1 points to 17.3), but Paul has begun solidifying his place amongst the best wing defenders in the NBA.
His outstanding play hasn’t gone unnoticed, as George was named to his very his All-Star team this past Thursday.
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