I love halftimes.
Halftimes give us Beyonce and concession-stand trips and bathroom breaks and trips to the media room for some chocolate chip cookies and pop-ins at the Hyde Lounge to see what's up and all other sorts of fun stuff.
But halftime is also a time of reflection, where we can digest what just took place. So that's what we shall do here in regards to the first three-and-a-half months of the NBA season.
And since we're halfway through the 100-plus game NBA campaign--if you take the playoffs into account for the championship teams--what better time than now to break out the HOOP 2012-13 NBA Halftime Awards, right here on the cusp of All-Star.
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MOST VALUABLE PLAYER Before we get ahead of ourselves and start comparing one-time Finals MVP LeBron James to six-time Finals MVP Michael Jordan, let's settle the matter of who is deserving of the 2012-13 HOOP Halftime MVP award: LeBron or Kevin Durant? LJ has a +7.3 Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus (second in the NBA) and a 31.26 Player Efficiency Rating (first) in 1884 minutes (11th). KD has a +6.1 RAPM (fourth) and a 29.21 PER (second) in 2015 minutes (third). LJ plays for a 35-14 team that has a 22 percent chance to repeat as NBA champions, while KD plays for a 41-12 squad that has a 30 percent chance to get over the championship hump this year. So itsthisclose if you go by the numbers, with a slight edge to LeBron. And I am a firm believer that you've got to beat the man with the belt before you can call yourself Champ. Durant has taken his game to another level--as has LeBron--and I would not be surprised to see KD get the upper hand on his All-NBA counterpart in the future. But at Halftime, I have to go with The King.
1. LeBron James, Heat; 2. Kevin Durant, Thunder; 3. Tony Parker, Spurs; 4. Chris Paul, Clippers; 5. Tim Duncan, Spurs.
THE ALL-NBA TEAM LeBron and KD need no explanation. Tim Duncan makes it, even though he has missed 10 of 54 games, because his +6.4 RAPM ranks third in the NBA, his 25.03 PER rates fourth in RAPM and his Spurs are in first with the best record again (42-12), while they maintain a 26 percent chance to get TD his fifth title. The Spurs' success is also the reason why Parker rates first-team status, keeping the Spurs in the No. 1 slot while both Duncan and Manu Ginobili were out (13 games for Manu). Parker also has a career-best 24.44 PER, which is MVP-candidate level, where he finds himself again, one year after he finished fifth in the 2011-12 MVP balloting. Chris Paul makes the Halftime first-team squad because, like TD, CP3 has an elite RAPM (+7.8 ranks first) and PER (26.61 rates third), even though he has missed a dozen of the Clippers' 54 games so far (L.A. is 31-11 with him, 6-6 without).
First Team: Tim Duncan, Spurs; LeBron James, Heat; Kevin Durant, Thunder; Tony Parker, Spurs; Chris Paul, Clippers
Second Team: Tyson Chandler, Knicks; Blake Griffin, Clippers; Carmelo Anthony, Knicks; James Harden, Rockets; Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Third Team: Kevin Garnett, Celtics, Paul Millsap, Jazz; Andre Iguodala, Nuggets; Kobe Bryant, Lakers; Dwyane Wade, Heat.
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DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR It's rare that a wing deserves to win the DPOY. After all, a great defensive big man not only slows down his counterpart, he adversely affects the other four men on the floor too, keeping them away from the paint, sending team field goal percentages plummeting. Andre Iguodala is the rare exception. His +4.2 defensive RAPM, 12.4 defensive PER and high volume of playing time (1781 minutes) give him better overall numbers than any big man out there. Part of his value comes from the predominance of so many great scoring wings and points nowadays (James, Durant, Anthony, Bryant, Harden, Westbrook) and 'Dala's capability of guarding them all well. If you want to hear some great narration from Iguodala himself on how he defends these guys, check out the great story from CBS Sports' Matt Moore.
1. Andre Iguodala, Nuggets; 2. Kevin Garnett, Celtics; 3. Omer Asik, Rockets.
ALL-DEFENSE TEAMS Kevin Garnett always kicks his game up another gear in the second half, but it'll be tough to raise his league-leading +5.5 defensive RAPM any higher than it already is. His Celtics, however, are going to need more minutes from him if they are going to lock down a top East seed in the remaining 30 regular-season games. Asik, meanwhile, is showing he can still play elite level defense (+4.9 defensive RAPM), even while his minutes have doubled from Chicago to Houston. You can bet the Rockets, who have a talented bunch of smart, offensive players are glad they lured Asik out of free agency to anchor their defense. Josh Smith may be traded in the next week--with his request reportedly denied for a max contract from the Hawks--but his defense makes him worth more than half the freight, not to mention his versatility at playing either forward spot. Iguodala, as mentioned before, is our DPOY selection, while George has been equally adept at shutting down shooting guards and small forwards of all makes and sizes (+3.1 defensive RAPM and 11.8 opponent PER).
First Team: Omer Asik, Rockets; Kevin Garnett, Celtics; Josh Smith, Hawks; Andre Iguodala, Nuggets; Paul George, Pacers
Second Team: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies; Tim Duncan, Spurs; Luol Deng, Bulls; Tony Allen, Grizzlies; Tony Parker, Spurs.
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THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR I wasn't that high on Damian Lillard at draft time--embarassingly so--but anybody with a pulse could easily see in summer league and preseason that the young Blazer was a legit ROY candidate. Lillard is averaging 18 points in 39 minutes per game without missing a contest this season, while maintaing a 16.27 PER. While it's true that 19-year-old phenoms Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond have plenty of upside in them, the 22-year-old point guard has outplayed all his rookie peers by actually getting Portland into playoff contention this season. That was unfathomable to me at the beginning of the season.
1. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers; 2. Anthony Davis, Hornets; 3. Andre Drummond, Pistons.
ALL-ROOKIE TEAM Lillard is a pick-and-roll machine that can bust you with the 3 (.353), beat you with a penetration (.538 true shooting percentage) or burn you with a pass (6.5 assists per game). Davis, while still learning the NBA game and his new Hornets teammates, has a remarkable PER for a 19 year old (20.16), averaging 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks in 28 minutes per game. Drummond, before he injured his back, was putting up historic numbers for a 19 year old, albeit in limited minutes, posting a teenage-record 22.48 PER, with 7 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 20 minutes per game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is another one of these 19 year olds with a bright future, showing the all-around game that not only embodies a stopper defender, but also an offensive threat (14.39 PER with 9 points and 6 rebounds in 26 minutes per game). Nicholson may seem the odd choice for the first-team selection, given his minimal 15 minutes per game play, but it's what Nicholson does in that time that makes the second-round power forward a sleeper find and productive player for the Magic (8 points and 4 rebounds per game with a 16.23 PER).
First Team: Andre Drummond, Pistons; Anthony Davis, Hornets; Andrew Nicholson, Magic; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats; Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
Second Team: Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors; John Henson, Bucks; Kyle Singler, Pistons; Bradley Beal, Wizards; Dion Waiters, Cavaliers.
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SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD Amir Johnson has always been his own worst enemy, getting in such penchant foul trouble that his Detroit and Toronto coaches could never play him 20-plus minutes his first five NBA seasons (he averaged 6 fouls per 36 minutes every one of those years). However, Johnson has managed to get it somewhat in control the last three seasons in Toronto. Now that the Raptor big is able to stay on the court 27 minutes per game--and only average 3.8 fouls--he has become a force off the bench (+4.1 RAPM), both offensively (+1.4 offensive RAPM) and defensively (+2.7 defensive RAPM). His 10 points, 7 boards average and overall efficiency (18.25 PER) make the former second-round pick the most valuable big in Toronto, an organization that spent a No. 1 and No. 5 pick on its starting bigs.
1. Amir Johnson, Raptors; 2. Ryan Anderson, Hornets; 3. Manu Ginobili, Spurs.
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MOST IMPROVED PLAYER PLAYER Last year, James Harden was an unsung star who got overlooked for the All-Star and All-NBA teams, but was recognized for being the best Sixth Man in the league. This year, Harden is an underrated superstar who will get overlooked for MVP votes, but will become an All-NBA player and has already been named to the 2013 All-Star squad. Those leaps and bounds are more than enough improvement to warrant this award from where he came from. Harden's before picture looks like this: +4.4 RAPM, 21.13 PER, 17 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steals in 31 minutes per game. His after picture: +4.5 RAPM, 23.34 PER, 25 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals in 38 minutes per game.
1. James Harden, Rockets; 2. Kosta Koufos, Nuggets; 3. Robin Lopez, Hornets.
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COACH OF THE YEAR James Harden > Kevin Martin. So, when the Thunder make the cost-conscious big trade and are still able to post a 39-13 record, thus maintaining a .750 record better than last season, well, you gotta give credit to Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks for keeping the troops' confidence sky-high. His positivity cannot be overlooked and it is a main reason why you seldom hear controversy emanating out of the OKC locker rooms.. So while Pop, Tibbs and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra are all deserving of accolades, what Brooks has done in developing Durant, Westbrook and Company is especially admirable.
1. Scott Brooks, Thunder; 2. Gregg Popovich, Spurs; Tom Thibodeau, Bulls.
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EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR I guess I gotta ask Mitch Kupchak to return this trophy after all of us gave it to him when the Laker GM acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash last summer. And instead, we present the 2012-13 ExOY to Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who not only was the Moneyball winner when he landed Asik and Jeremy Lin in free agency at bargain rates, but also when he cashed in his chips to acquire James Harden from the Thunder at a max contract. Now Morey has himself a young, cap-friendly playoff-contending squad that will have room this summer to lure another max player if Morey so chooses. Billy Beane could not have done it better himself.
1. Daryl Morey, Rockets; 2. Sam Presti, Thunder; 3. Glen Grunwald, Knicks.
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THE TEAM OF THE YEAR Well, we know this question cannot answer itself until June during the 2013 NBA Finals. But we definitely are seeing a separation of tiers. And the teams on the top tier are undoubtedly the Spurs, Thunder and Heat. San Antonio is especially impressive because it has posted the NBA's best record (42-12, projected to win 63 games, in spite of injuries to Duncan (10 games), Ginobili (13) and Kawhi Leonard (21). Oklahoma City has surprised all by losing Harden and getting better, thanks to the continued development of Durant and Westbrook, along with the continual chemistry growth amongst the Thunder's core players. Miami has risen above the East by coasting to a 35-14 mark, with virtually nobody doubting they will not appear in the Heat's third straight Finals, as long as the Big 3 can stay healthy through June
Tier One: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat
Tier Two: Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics
Tier Three: Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Hornets, Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves
Tier Four: Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats.
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THE MOST SURPRISING TEAM OF THE YEAR ESPN now projects the Rockets to win 47 games this year, but I defy anyone to show me anybody in October that predicted this Houston team would: A. make the playoffs; or, B. win 40-something games. Even with the big-money additions of Harden, Asik and Lin, nobody thought Houston would become a playoff contender with this core team. Sure, we all thought the Rockets had a good future with great salary-cap maneuverability in the year to come. But a shot at 45 wins now? Nobody thought that. Chalk it up to a smart-working team that studies harder than the rest.
1. Houston Rockets; 2. Golden State Warriors; 3. Portland Trail Blazers.
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MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM OF THE YEAR To fully capture the hype that was taking place during the NBA preseason, an ESPN survey of 35 experts found that 25 thought the Lakers would win the West with eight predicting they'd win it all. Yet five games into the 2012-13 season, the Lakers themselves had doubts, fired their coach, Mike Brown, after a 1-4 start, talked to Phil Jackson, dissed Phil, hired Mike D'Antoni, who had to operate without a training camp or a healthy Steve Nash, a less-than-100-percent Dwight Howard, an on-again-off-again injured Pau Gasol and an urgent Kobe Bryant--who all battled as a newfound team all season long, just to try to reach the .500 mark and the playoffs. Disappointing indeed.
1. Los Angeles Lakers; 2. Minnesota Timberwolves; 3. New Orleans Hornets.