Now that NBA All-Star Weekend has mercifully ended, it seems like a good time to hand out some mid-season awards. The compressed season has given us lots of basketball to talk about in a few short months and some performances worthy of particular attention.
Most Valuable Player — LeBron James, Miami Heat
Any surprise here? James may be having his best season ever in leading the Heat to a tie for the league’s best record at 27-7. The Chosen One has career-high marks in field-goal percentage (54.7 percent), three-point shooting (41.3 percent) and rebounds (8.1 per game).
All of his numbers are eye-popping and he seems intent on proving his many detractors wrong. His intensity has noticeably increased this season in his quest to win his first NBA title. No player in the league has been better this season.
Runner-up — Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Rookie of the Year — Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
While Irving may not make Cleveland fans forget about James, he has been excellent in his debut season. The first overall pick has exceeded expectations so far, shooting 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range.
It also helps Irving’s case that this year’s rookie class is pretty weak. Ricky Rubio has provided excitement and MarShon Brooks and Kemba Walker have been effective scorers, but Irving should run away with this award.
Runner-up — Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Sixth Man of the Year — James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
Harden has elevated his game to a whole new level this year for the 27-7 Thunder. He is third on the team in scoring behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and has proven to be an effective shooter, slasher, rebounder and ball-handler. He still plays only 32 minutes per game, but that number should increase in the second half of the regular season and the playoffs.
When Harden is paired with Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt, teams are faced with two hybrid guards that pose all sorts of problems. There have been other solid bench players this season, but none have been as important or performed as well as Harden.
Runner-up —Al Harrington, Denver Nuggets
Defensive Player of the Year — Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Howard has won this award three consecutive years and seems to be the front runner again this year. He’s an incredible rebounder and an intimidating shot-blocker. No one changes an offensive game plan like Howard, who makes trips to the paint a living nightmare. Though Howard has demanded a trade multiple times this year, his production on the court has never been a problem.
LeBron James could also stake some claim to this award, as his perimeter defense, strength and ball-hawking abilities may be as important as his offense to the Heat’s title chances. But this award seems to be Howard’s to lose.
Runner-up — LeBron James, Miami Heat
Coach of the Year — Rick Adelman, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves won 17 games last year. They won 15 games the year before that. This year, they’ve already won 17 games and are right in the middle of the playoff hunt. Keeping Michael Beasley happy and productive while coming off the bench has been an impressive feat. Adelman also moved Rubio to the starting lineup early in the season when many coaches may have stubbornly stuck with their original rotation.
If the Timberwolves make the playoffs this year (an unlikely event, but still possible), Adelman will have done one of the finest coaching jobs in recent memory. He has been incredibly successful as an NBA coach but never seems to get the recognition he deserves. This may be the year, and the team, that proves what a fine coach Rick Adelman is.
Runner-up — Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Most intriguing NBA Finals matchup- Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs
This lockout-shortened season seems to be built for younger, athletic teams to dominate veteran squads. So why are the Spurs 24-10?
I would love to see the Heat run up and down the floor, while the Spurs try to make every possession a half-court battle. Without Manu Ginobili for all but nine games so far this season, the Spurs have kept winning. But they only stand a chance in the playoffs with a healthy and dynamic Ginobili on the floor. This could also be the last real chance for this team, lead by Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, to win a championship
Last year’s Finals collapse makes the Heat a fascinating team to watch. They seem more hungry and determined than last year. A Heat-Spurs Finals would be a contrast in styles where two teams are desperate to win for different reasons.
Runner-up — Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder