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Nothin' but Net: Midseason hardware
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Seventeen of the NBA's 30 teams have reached the halfway point in the season.
That's good enough for this physical specimen to declare it the halfway point. With that, let's recognize the award winners, in this scribe's opinion, not who I think will win, but who I would beseech the honor upon.
Let's do this in as fascinating a way as possible, at least in order.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR - ROY HIBBERT, Indiana Pacers
This is the opener on the card because it's the one race that is probably over already, barring a major injury.
Hibbert anchors the No. 1 defense in both opponents' scoring and opponent's field goal percentage. There's a good chance teammates Paul George, George Hill and Lance Stephenson join him on an All-Defensive team, but Hibbert's play in the middle makes everything else go. The wing defenders can't play as aggressively without knowing who they have watching their back.
He is a rim protector, ranking second in the league in blocked shots, but one can not emphasize enough how much this award needs to go to a Pacer. They allow 4.4 points less per game than next closest and the field goal percentage stat isn't razor-thin between them and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Pacers have allowed 100 points in only six of their 40 games. Yeah, this one goes to Hibbert.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS, Philadelphia 76ers
Yes, this rookie class has been bad. It's Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic or Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz. They are the only possible options on the menu.
Carter-Williams gets the nod because his numbers are simply better than anyone else's. He leads all rookies in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. MCW is actually second in the NBA in steals and he's proven to be a really strong defender, at least when it comes to getting his hands on loose balls. Length helps.
Carter-Williams' numbers are a tad inflated because of the system the Sixers employ. There is none. He has basically free reign of the offense, but it's enough to beat out the other two point guards.
Don't be shocked if Burke takes this title by the end of the season. His injury cost him time earlier and he's been a difference maker in Utah. Couple that with Carter-Williams' frailty and Burke might be the long-term choice, but for now, MCW has done enough to earn the award.
COACH OF THE YEAR - JEFF HORNACEK, Phoenix Suns
If you argued with me about Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers, I'd listen. I didn't have Portland making the playoffs, but they have two All-Star caliber players, I knew that.
Phoenix was my pick for the second-worst team in basketball. The whole spot, only Philly would be worse. Now, the Suns are headed to the postseason, and hopefully, when that doesn't happen, voters don't hold it against Hornacek.
Eric Bledsoe went down with an injury and that should probably derail the Suns' chance at the playoffs. They are three games in front for the eighth spot and Hornacek should get all of the credit.
Most believed Bledsoe would become an impact guy once he got a starting gig. No one saw the Morris twins evolving into studs. Hornacek is maximizing his players' talents. That, and a group who plays hard every game are signs of good coaching. Hornacek's point is getting across.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR - MANU GINOBILLI, San Antonio Spurs
There are a lot of guys who could be considered here, but for various reasons, they're disqualified.
Isaiah Thomas of Sacramento will end up starting too many games. Rodney Stuckey's Detroit Pistons have been too disappointing. Harrison Barnes doesn't have numbers.
That leaves Manu, in what was probably the biggest season of his post- championship career. Ginobili was awful in the NBA Finals in June. He signed a two-year contract and has delivered for the Spurs, who are, yawn, once again, one of the best teams in the league.
Ginobili averages 12.7 points, 4.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Those are very good bench player numbers and Ginobili's value isn't always in his stats. He remains an elite facilitator, and is by far the best facilitator among second-stringers. The Spurs are rolling once again and their bench leads the NBA in reserve scoring.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER - PAUL GEORGE, Indiana Pacers
Honesty, I hate this award.
You can vote for the player who either actually improves, or the player who gets more minutes in the rotation so his numbers improve. And, you never see a situation where a good player improves even more into an upper echelon of superstardom.
In my old sport - golf - Steve Stricker won back-to-back Most Improved Player awards. It looks crazy, but Stricker first became relevant, then a star.
George went through the same evolution this season. He became an All-Star last season, but now, George is a legitimate superstar. He's going to start an All- Star game, make an All-NBA team and possibly be the best player on a championship-winning team.
Oh, and I have numbers to support my case. His scoring is up from 17.4 ppg last season to 23.2 this season. All three of his shooting percentages (field, 3- point, free throw) jumped. Yes, his assists and rebounding are down, but George has improved and he's improved more than any player from last season to this one.
George won't win. He won't get a sniff except from smarter than necessary people like me trying to prove a point. Keep an open mind, examine everything and tell me George has improved more than anyone else.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER - KEVIN DURANT, Oklahoma City Thunder
LeBron James is the best player in the world. Durant is second. That's not what this award is about.
Take a top-seven player in the league like Russell Westbrook off the team and Durant has not only excelled himself, but the Thunder are still near the top of the standings in the NBA.
Durant has seven consecutive games of 30-plus points. During that time frame, he's also averaged six assists per game. He's completely unstoppable offensively at this point.
Since Westbrook went down recently, the Thunder are 8-5. Durant is the clear reason why and it's also his time.
James has won this award two years in a row and four of the last five. Aren't we tired of voting for him? That's not right, the award should go to the most- qualified, but for the love of Pete, can't we all get behind Durant?
01/21 14:41:12 ET
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