NBA Midseason Awards Report

LeBron James and Kevin Durant
Who’s your MVP? (Reuters)

As NBA marks the season’s halfway point with the all-star break, several players have already made strong cases to bring home awards come the end of the regular season.

The greatest buzz surrounds the race for MVP, with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant staking his claim as the favorite. A year after joining the lofty 50-40-90 club by shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line, Durant has taken his game to greater heights this season, averaging career highs in points per game (31.5), field goal percentage (51.0) and assists per game (5.5).

The three-time  scoring champ’s numbers have been enough to partially overshadow the most efficient season in LeBron James’s storied career. The Miami Heat forward is shooting a career-high 57.1 percent from the field, saving his best performance of the year for Wednesday, when he recorded 36 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and the game-winning three-pointer in a win against Golden State.

But according to NBA.com/stats, Durant’s value to the Thunder is slightly better than James’s worth to the Heat. When Durant is on the floor, the Thunder have a net rating of 8.7, meaning the team scores 8.7 more points per 100 possessions. Miami, on the other hand, has a net rating of 6.6 when James is on the floor.

What’s more, Durant’s PIE, which measures a player’s impact on each individual game he plays, is higher than James’s (21.4 vs. 19.7 percent) and when examining true shooting percentage, which includes the value of three-pointers and free throws, Durant’s 64.1 percent is nearly as efficient as James’s 65.2 clip.

Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
The easy explanation for giving this award to Davis is that he averages a league-high 3.1 blocks — and it’s not even close, with Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka in second at 2.5. But even more impressive is the second-year forward’s first-place ranking in NBA.com’s defensive impact measurable. Opponents make an average of just 2.8 field goals at the rim against Davis, compared to the impressive yet higher total of 4.1 by award candidate Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers. Davis’s mere presence appears to turn away opponents, as players attempt an average of just 6.1 shots against him, whereas Hibbert defends 9.1 shots per game. Prior to last season, Davis proclaimed his desire to win the Defensive Player of the Year award as a rookie before injuries derailed his chances. It appears the all-star reserve could get his wish following this season.

Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Some might reserve this spot for San Antonio Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili, who won the award in 2008. But injuries, including a strained hamstring that has sidelined him for the past eight games, and a slow start to the season have hurt Ginobili’s case to repeat. Meantime, Crawford’s play helped fill the void created when Chris Paul missed 18 games with a shoulder injury. In that span, Crawford averaged more points (22), assists (5.5) and rebounds (2.7) than his season averages.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
For as dismal as the Sixers have played of late, Carter-Williams has still shone brightly in his first season out of Syracuse. This year’s No. 11 overall pick was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week in November after averaging 22 points, nine assists and five rebounds in his first three games. Carter-Williams has continued his surprising play by scoring 719 points through his first 42 games after scoring just 544 points in 66 games at Syracuse. In the 12 games he’s missed, the Sixers are 1-11 as opposed to 14-28 with him in the lineup. Though Philadelphia appears headed for the NBA draft lottery again, the team has at least found a cornerstone to build around in Carter-Williams.

Most Improved Player: Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
After a strong finish to last season, Stephenson’s production has taken a quantum leap this year, helping spark the Pacers to the NBA’s second-best record. Despite moving from the starting lineup to sixth man, Stephenson’s points (8.8 to 14.1), assists (2.9 to 5.1) and rebounds averages have increased dramatically. With a NBA-high four triple-doubles, it’s clear why the Pacers are comfortable with Stephenson’s usage rate (measuring the percentage of offensive plays used by a player) increasing from 15.1 percent last year to 19.5 this season.
Davis stands as a close second in this award race, with averages of 20.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. But with the New Orleans forward just a year removed from being drafted No. 1 overall, one could argue that Davis’s needs a bigger sample size for a player expected to elevate his game in his second season.

BY THE NUMBERS
2
Teams in NBA history who have lost by 40 points in consecutive games. The Philadelphia 76ers reached this infamous feat by losing 123-80 to the L.A. Clippers on Feb. 9 and 123-78 to the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 10. The 76ers also lost back-to-back games by a combined 93 points in 1994, while the Detroit Pistons lost by a combined 95 points in consecutive contests in 1966.

12
Thirty-point games by Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin this year, already matching his output during the four-time All-Star’s 2010-11 rookie season.

QUOTABLES
“I was like, ‘What’s the play?’ Then I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the play.’”

- Heat forward Chris Bosh following a step-back three-pointer by LeBron James to give Miami a one-point win against Golden State on Wednesday.

“We respect this team. They respect us. But we don’t like them and they don’t like us. It’s that simple.”

-Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant following the team’s 98-95 win against the Portland Trailblazers on Tuesday. Portland had won the teams’ previous two matchups this season.

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