Who Will Take Home the Hardware?
Halfway through the season is a fair time to make evaluations I would say. From the 42-plus games that have already been played by each team, cases can be made for specific players, coaches and teams.
In terms of midseason awards, there have been individuals that have stood out from the rest of the pack and these individuals deserve the acknowledgement. Be it the most valuable player or the best rookie, these individuals have stepped up and have become the award front runners entering the second half of the season.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden (HOU)
Losing Dwight Howard in the Summer and hiring Mike D’Antoni as the team’s new head coach, there was a lot of speculation as to what this new-look Houston Rockets team would play like in the 2016-17 campaign. So far so good as the Rockets are the third best team in all of basketball, boasting a 34-14 record (.708% winning percentage) and a big reason why can be attributed to the play of James Harden.
Through 48-games, Harden is averaging 28.6-points, 8.2-boards, and a league-leading 11.6-assists per contest. Harden being moved to the point guard spot has been a revelation of sorts. Once a ball-dominating wing player who looked very disinterested in the team around him, has become the team in his new role. The entire team now revolves around him, the Houston offence begins and ends with ‘The Beard’. Harden has helped rejuvenate Nene, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, while creating legitimate NBA talents out of Clint Capela, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell.
While Russell Westbrook is putting up ridiculous numbers out in Oklahoma City, so too is Harden as he has become the first NBA player to ever put up a 50-15-15 triple-double. Harden also leads the league in win shares (9.4), is second in value above replacement player (5.3), and third in box plus/minus (10.0).
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green (GSW)
After falling just short of winning his first Defensive Player of the Year award last season, this just seems like Draymond Green’s year. The tenacity and intensity that Green brings on the defensive end of the court seems to have grown ten fold this year as he is now the defensive anchor of the best team in all of basketball.
With Andrew Bogut, the team’s best rim protector now in Dallas, the Warriors are still the number one defensive team in all of basketball allowing just 101.0 points per 100 possessions. Green has become the vocal leader of the Warriors defence, averaging a career high in steals with 1.9 per game, good for third in the league and matching his career high in blocks per game at 1.4 per contest. Draymond is second in the league in defensive win shares (3.1), third in defensive rating (99.0), and first in defensive box plus/minus (4.9).
At 6’7”, Green has a 7’1” wingspan which allows him to be one of the most versatile defenders in all of basketball. He has the strength and the low center of gravity to defend bigger post players as well as the agility and IQ to defend out on the wings.
Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon (HOU)
Finally healthy again, Eric Gordon is enjoying a renaissance season with the Houston Rockets in which he is averaging 17.4-points, 2.8-assists and is shooting nearly 40% from three-point range (39.2% on the season).
His value to the Rockets can best be related to the early season Most Valuable Player candidate, James Harden. With Harden on the floor, the Rockets outscore their opposition by 7.5-points per 100 possessions. With him off the floor, that number drops down only to 3.8-points per 100 possession. Much of the credit must go to Gordon for leading the second unit while the Rockets’ superstar is on the bench.
Gordon’s per 36 minutes numbers are even more staggering as the eight year veteran is averaging 20.5-points along with 3.3 assists. Gordon also has a PER of 15.0 and a win share of 2.9 on the season.
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid (PHI)
If there is one guy running away with an award, it’s Joel Embiid. ‘The Process’ has be nothing short of remarkable, finally making his NBA debut after two years marred with injuries and uncertainty. Despite playing on minutes restriction, Embiid is averaging 19.8-points, 7.8-rebounds, and 2.5-blocks per game. He is also shooting an incredible 34.8% from beyond the arc.
We have not seen a rookie have such a great impact on his team as Embiid has in quite some time. With Embiid, the 76ers have finally found an identity and whatever Sam Hinkie was attempting to build for years now seems far more clear. A majority of the credit must go to Embiid who has an outside shot of even cracking the 2017 Eastern Conference All-Star team.
What makes Embiid’s season even more impressive are his per 36 minutes stats, which are absolutely ridiculous. Embiid is putting up 28.3-points, 11.2-boards, and 3.5-blocks. If Embiid does not make the All-Star team this year, rest assured he will definitely win the Rookie of the Year award and if he can continue staying healthy, will be a perennial All-Star for many years to come.
Most Improved Player: Harrison Barnes (GSW)
After spending a majority of his first three NBA seasons as a role player on the Golden State Warriors, Harrison Barnes has become a franchise centre piece in Dallas. After averaging career highs in points (11.7), field goals made per game (4.5), and field goals attempted per game (9.6) last year with the Warriors, Barnes has seen his usage rate sky rocket.
Now as one of, if not the top scoring offence on a much weaker Mavericks team, Barnes is averaging 20.1-points per game, is making 8.1 field goals per game, on an average 17.2-taken shots per game. Barnes is also averaging 5.3-rebounds a season and is shooting 47.2% from the field on the year.
A big change that has favoured Barnes’ game was a position switch. Playing the three in his time in the Bay Area, Barnes is now a small ball power forward in the injury-riddled Dallas line-up. He is too agile and skilled for other big man to cover and has been a key component to the Mavericks improved defence.
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers (GSW)
When you bring in a Kevin Durant to an already 73-win team and perennial title contender, you’re doing your job pretty well. After the Golden State watched their infamous 3-1 blow away at the hands of the healthy Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals, Myers went right to work looking at improving an already dominant Warriors Roster. His prized free agent – Kevin Durant.
Myers was able to accomplish his goal, bringing in Durant, while not disturbing his core of Klay Thompson, Steph Curry and Green. Keeping Andre Iguodala, Ian Clark and Shaun Livingston in the fold, Myers was also able to bring in some reliable veterans in Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee, all of whom have been effective in their time on the court.
Most importantly, Myers was able to make everything work contractual and salary wise and now he can watch the best team in basketball compete for another championship.
Honourable Mentions: Daryl Morey (HOU), Sam Hinkie (PHI), Danny Ainge (BOS)
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni (HOU)
The Rockets are clearly the big winners in the midseason awards.
After reaching the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago under Head Coach Kevin McHale, the Rockets plummeted the following season, which led to a premature firing of McHale and further turmoil under interim Head Coach, J.B. Bickerstaff. The 2015-16 season culminated with a 41-41 record and the Rockets were ousted in the first round of the playoffs.
Fast forward to this season. Mike D’Antoni has been brought in and it was a match perfectly made in heaven. The Rockets have all the pieces that a D’Antoni system needs to be successful. With Harden in the centre, the Rockets have been playing at an extremely high tempo, averaging 114.5-points per game, good for second in the entire NBA. Under D’Antoni the Rockets are also fourth in pace (98.8), second in offensive rating (115.1), and third in the entire NBA at 34-14 – and that is the most important stat of all.
Honourable Mentions: Gregg Popovich (SAN), Brad Stevens (BOS), Quinn Snyder (UTJ)