By: Pedro Heizer, Matt Pineda, Matt Blue, and Steve Rawnsley
We are at the halfway point for many teams and others are approaching it. This season has had a lot of surprises and many things stay the same. It’s been great having a full season again where our mid-way point gives us a chance to reflect and look to the future.
Here at Crank Up The HEAT, we like to take a stab at our mid-season awards. These are not our predictions for the awards, but rather who deserves them at this point. We’ve taking our insights beyond the box score, and look at who is most deserving of the NBA’s season awards.
We’ve got 4 writers, so 4 answers for each question and award. So take a look at what we think, and then tell us what you think!
Who’s your MVP so far?
Pedro Heizer: Chris Paul
Before my inbox get filled with hate mail, hear me out. Paul is a supreme playmaker on a team filled with players who otherwise would not be able to get their own shot. The Clippers are currently 32-10 (2nd in the Western Conference behind OKC) and the hottest team in Los Angeles. Paul brings good things to life for the Clippers, and is, unquestionably, the best off-the-dribble creator in the league. The Clippers’ high-flying style may lead you to believe that Paul commits his share off turnovers, but, to the contrary, he leads the NBA in assist/TO ratio at 4.41. However, CP3′s impact has not been limited to the offensive end of the floor. Paul is tops in the NBA in steals (91 total, 2.6 per game), wreaking havoc and fueling Los Angeles’ dynamic transition game.
Matt Pineda: Kevin Durant
KD is leading the league in scoring at 29.5 PPG and has the Thunder with the league’s best record. He’s also getting a career high in assists. LeBron may surpass him in the end, but right now Durant has been the star.
Matt Blue: LeBron James
Recently, LeBron became the youngest player to ever reach the prestigious 20,000 point club. He is having another remarkable season. There has been no championship hangover for him.
Steve Rawnsley: LeBron James
The guy is simply the best all around player in the league. I do not think he is in his own tier though, as Durant has closed the gap. LeBron is leading the HEAT to the best record in the East despite the downward trajectory that has been started in Wade’s career, and not having a real center that is a glaring hole because of the rebounding struggles.
Who’s your Most Improved Player so far?
Pedro Heizer: James Harden
This is always among the toughest awards, in part because the criteria is so murky. Maybe I’ve gone crazy but if I had told you at the beginning of the season that James Harden would be averaging 25.8 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, 5.3 assists per game (all career highs) would you would have probably thought I was… Well, if that doesn’t impress you, I think his player efficiency rating of +22.83 will.
Matt Pineda: Greivis Vasquez
He has played extremely well for a not so well team. Last year he scored 8.9 and had 5.4 assists. This year? He’s up to 14.3 PPG and 9.2 assists, which is 3rd best in the NBA. He’s taken huge steps to being a legit starting point guard in the NBA.
Matt Blue: James Harden
This may be a bit astonishing to you, but let me go ahead and explain my reasoning behind this selection. After all, how much better could the former 6th man of the year possibly get? Harden has been the heart and soul of the Houston Rockets this season. His scoring average has increased by about 10 points per game and he has even exponentially increased his assist numbers. With increased playing time as a starter, his numbers of gone up dramatically as a result. Harden has embraced the challenge of trying to resurrect the Houston Rockets.
Steve Rawnsley: Nikola Vucevic
Once thought to be a throw-in in the Andrew Bynum Andre Iguadala, and Dwight Howard trade, he is now making some serious noise for Florida’s other team. Since December first, he is 4th in the league in rebounding behind now injured Varajo, K-Love, and Dwight Howard.
Who’s your best 6th man?
Pedro Heizer: Jamal Crawford
Crawford is absolutely controlling this category. I can’t think of a better player coming off the bench right. Crawford is averaging, off the bench, 16.5 points, and 2.4 assists per game in one of the league’s most exciting team. In fact, ill make a case for him to be in the Western Conference lineup come the all star game.
Matt Pineda: Jamal Crawford
At 16.5 PPG, Crawford is just getting it done. It also helps that the Clippers are playing so well. But, we all know that Crawford doesn’t have a good history of playing for good playoff teams. But he is the best player that isn’t starting.
Matt Blue: Jamal Crawford
Crawford has been absolutely sensational coming off the bench for a very deep LA Clippers team. He is averaging 16.5 points per game, a 16.77 PER rating, an offensive rating of 106 and a win share per 48 minutes estimate of 1.25 with the league average being .100. With the numbers he has posted this season, you would think he was starter.
Steve Rawnsley: Jamal Crawford
I have never liked him, as he has always been more of a volume scorer. (A volume scorer is a scorer that takes a lot shots to get his points.) However, this year he has been much more efficient even if that has started to drop off a little lately.
Who’s your best Defensive player?
Pedro Heizer: Marc Gasol
Well, rest assured Dwight Howard won’t be walking away with the trophy this time around. The Grizzlies allow about four fewer points per 100 possessions when Gasol is on the floor, and though he’s not an electric shot blocker like Ibaka, he protects the rim well. Most important: He is almost always in the right place, moving around the floor in sync with an opponent’s offensive sets, and with such braininess it often seems as if Gasol is one step ahead of that offense.
Matt Pineda: LeBron James
It might be time he gets recognized for his versatility with hardware. He can guard any position at any time. He can shut down Pau Gasol, or put him on Darren Collison. He is the HEAT’s most important player because he can shut anyone down who gets hot. It’s not about the stats, it’s about stops!
Matt Blue: Larry Sanders
You are probably mumbling to yourself “who in the world is that?” right about now. Obviously the Milwaukee Bucks do not get a lot of national publicity. And that is putting it kindly. But let me just say this. Larry Sanders is singlehandedly preventing the Milwaukee Bucks from being a completely incompetent defensive team. He may be an obscure name to you, but he still deserves a tremendous amount of credit for his impeccable and relentless defense.
Steve Rawnsley: LeBron James
He is the most physically gifted player I have ever seen. The physical tools he has, sets him apart defensively. He can guard any position because he is so strong, has length, and speed.
Who’s your best Rookie?
Pedro Heizer: Damien Lillard
This award is turning into a runaway, albeit, not with the candidate that most expected it to be. There’s half a season left to be played, but there’s hardly a chance that Damian Lillard can be caught from behind (figuratively, and literally speaking). From opening night, Lillard has been the floor leader for the Blazers, and he has not disappointed in any way. He refuses to hoist bad shots, he spreads the ball amongst all of his teammates, and he values the basketball.
Matt Pineda: Damien Lillard
There isn’t much to debate here. Lillard has surpassed expectations for him and has elevated his team to playoff contention in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Lillard will be a great player if he stays healthy.
Matt Blue: Damien Lillard
The young Trail Blazers rookie has shown that he has the potential to be one of the very best guards in the NBA. Lillard has been head and shoulders above every rookie this season. This is a slam dunk selection.
Steve Rawnsley: Damien Lillard
Is this even a question? Even if Anthony Davis did not miss the fourteen games, I would still say Lillard is rookie of the Year. I think the better question is who is the 2nd best rookie so far?
Who’s your best Coach?
Pedro Heizer: Mark Jackson
Momma, there goes that man. Jackson has the Warriors playing very good basketball. At 25-15 the warriors are currently the fifth seed in the western conference and they look like a serious playoff contender.
Matt Pineda: Mark Jackson
Having the Warriors off to a 25-15 record in an extremely talented and deep Western Conference is great. Jackson in just two years is now fulfilling his promise of making this team a playoff team. They are currently 5th in the West and that’s all without the injured Andrew Bogut.
Matt Blue: Tom Thibodeau
Just think about how incredible it is that Thibodeau has been able to keep Chicago afloat without Derrick Rose. The Bulls currently have a record of 23-16 which is good for 5th in the EAST. The Bulls have been able to have success this season thanks to their knack for rebounding and defense. The Bulls have played hard-nosed basketball this season and this directly reflects the personality and coaching style of their head coach.
Steve Rawnsley: Kevin McHale
They have the youngest team, and are making a playoff run. They were tired of being in the middle of the draft where they could not really improve the team, but couldn’t make it out of the first round. The Rockets rebuilding effort is off to a great liftoff.