Expert’s Corner: Midseason Awards

Believe it or not, we’re already past the halfway point of the season, with all the teams having played more than half of their regular season games. And with the NBA’s official ‘halftime break’ – the All Star Weekend – looming closer, there is no better time to recognize some of the league’s best performers through the first half of the season. In this week’s Expert’s Corner, Akshay Manwani and Karan Madhok make their picks for the Mid-Season individual awards. Who do you agree with? And who could sustain their pace to eventually lift the mantles by the end of the season?

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Karan Madhok
Writer, NBA India
Karan's Predictions

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant has on another stratosphere this season and is the clear Mid-Season MVP. Durant is league’s leading scorer to go with a career-high in assists and ever-improving all-round and defensive game. Without Westbrook, he has led OKC to the best record in the league while enjoying a historic scoring run. The best individual player in the best team equals… Most Valuable. Case closed.

Defensive Player of the Year: As the anchorman of the league’s best defense in Indiana (and one of the greatest defensive teams in history), Roy Hibbert gets my vote as DPOY. Hibbert is one of the league’s top rebounders and leaders in blocked shots, but his influence go far beyond the numbers as he changes shots more than any other player in the league. A special nod to Joakim Noah, too, for anchoring the Bulls despite their setbacks.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams of the 76ers is the leader in this mostly one-man race. Despite falling to 11th in the draft, MCW has made the most of his opportunity in Philadelphia and currently leads all rookies in scoring, assists, rebounds, and steals. Unless Trey Burke or Victor Oladipo make a big surge in the season’s second half, this award is MCW’s to lose.

Most Improved Player: Always the most contentious award, since there are so many types of ‘improvement’ that can be rewarded. Eric Bledsoe was running away with this award, but his injury has been a major setback. I would vote for Anthony Davis, who has improved from an inconsistent/oft-injured rookie season to becoming one of the finest two-way big men in the league this year.

6th Man of the Year: Although he’s injured now, I would give the mid-season 6th man of the year award to a throwback: the one and only Manu Ginobili . After a rested off-season, Ginobili was back to his old ways and becoming a live-wire off the bench for the Spurs. A long-term injury might keep him away from holding on to his lead though, with Jamal Crawford and Reggie Jackson (once Westbrook returns) ready to step up as his challengers.

Coach of the Year: The Phoenix Suns have been the story of the season and first-time Head Coach Jeff Hornacek deserves a ton of credit. Hornacek has brought energy, winning attitude, and tactical genius to a team that was supposed to be amongst the league’s worst. Even after losing Eric Bledsoe, the Suns find themselves in a playoff spot in the tough West. Hornacek has helped turn a group of underrated and forgotten names into contenders.

Mid-Season Champions: NBA titles aren’t won in February, but if they were, I would give the Mid-Season trophy to the Oklahoma City Thunder. A nine-game winning streak – impressively, without Russell Westbrook – has propelled them matching the Pacers at the top of the league standings. OKC have the NBA’s best player and an improving support cast. The scary thing is that, once Westbrook returns, they could rise even higher.

Akshay Manwani
Writer, NBA India
Akshay's Predictions

Most Valuable Player: Can it be anyone other than Kevin Durant at the moment? The Oklahoma City Thunder forward is shooting lights out and seems on course to become the first player in four seasons to average more than 30 points per game. That he has done so in Russell Westbrook’s absence, with OKC on a winning run, makes Durant’s performance meaningful.

Defensive Player of the Year: If the Indiana Pacers stand at the top of the league with a defensive rating of 93.9 and are on track to become one of the best defensive teams of all time, Pacers’ big man Roy Hibbert deserves credit. He has patrolled the paint, blocked shots and given the Pacers a physical toughness that could help them get to the Finals and beyond this season.

Rookie of the Year: This, like the MVP award, is a bit of a one-sided affair with Philadelphia 76ers’ Michael Carter-Williams way ahead of the rookie pack. Carter-Williams is averaging 17.2 ppg, 6.7 apg and 2.4 spg, which gives him a PIE rating of 10.6 percent, the best amongst the rookies who are averaging more than 30 minutes a game.

Most Improved Player: If we criticized Anthony Davis for underwhelming in his rookie season last year, we need to applaud the New Orleans Pelicans power forward for delivering to his potential this season. From averaging 13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 1.8 bpg, Davis has gone to 20.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 3.3 bpg in 2013-14, showcasing a tremendous improvement to all aspects of his game.

6th Man of the Year: I believe Jamal Crawford should have won this award last season when it was given to JR Smith and there is nothing to convince me that he shouldn’t win this accolade now. Through 34 games where he came off the bench, Crawford has given the Clippers 17.9 ppg, while shooting 43.6 percent from the field this season. If that doesn’t win him the award this year, I don’t know what will.

Coach of the Year: Put your hand up if you thought coach Scott Brooks and the OKC Thunder would have the league’s best record at the halfway-mark, with Westbrook missing for the bulk of this period. Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Steven Adams have all impressed in Westbrook’s absence and full credit to Brooks for allowing these untested players to bloom.

Mid-Season Champions: I know that OKC have the better record at 37-10 and have done extremely well even with Russell Westbrook’s absence. But the Indiana Pacers have looked the best team to me all through the first half of the season. They have a star in Paul George, who is in the MVP discussion, have one of the best defenses of all-time and have a well balanced, all-round rotation, with multiple scoring options.