At the halfway point of the NBA’s regular season, there’s already been a lot of unexpected occurrences—injuries to marquee players, surprise teams and the like—and the predictable.
Plenty more is in store for the second half of the campaign, but midway through, here are front-runners for the league’s postseason hardware:
Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder - With All-Star sidekick Russell Westbrook in and out of the lineup due to knee issues, Durant has had to take on even more of a load, not just as a scorer, but in other aspects of the game, while keeping his team atop the competitive West.
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Runner-up: LeBron James, Miami Heat
Others: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers; Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Coach of the Year: Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers - One could have guessed that the Blazers were a fringe playoff team, as this writer did, but few observers, if any, could have seen Portland becoming a Western Conference power and while much of the credit goes to star players Aldridge and Damian Lillard, Stotts’ guidance can’t be overlooked.
Runner-up: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Others: Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers; Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers - The Syracuse product has quickly made Sixers fans forget departed point-guard predecessor Jrue Holiday and while he’s struggled as of late after a hot start for Philadelphia, he’s had to shoulder a heavy burden for a rookie at arguably the league’s most talented position.
Runner-up: Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Others: Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers - Hibbert has been the anchor for the league’s top defense, shutting down the paint with his massive frame and shot-blocking prowess, which might not garner a lot of recognition from fans, but certainly have been crucial to the East-leading Pacers’ success this season.
Runner-up: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Others: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers; Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
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Sixth Man of the Year: Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls - Usually the domain of instant-offense perimeter scorers, Gibson isn’t the classic sixth man, but with his impactful defense and much-improved offensive game, he’s been the Bulls’ most consistent player all season, bouncing back from an up-and-down, injury-riddled campaign a year ago.
Runner-up: Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers
Others: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers; Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets
Most Improved Player: Miles Plumlee, Phoenix Suns - This award typically goes to the player who best capitalized on a more prominent role—which certainly applies to Plumlee following his trade to Phoenix and walking into the Suns’ starting center spot—but after coming off the bench as a senior at Duke, toiling in the D-League as a rookie last season and not being able to steal any minutes from the likes of Ian Mahinmi in Indiana, the athletic big man is now a major factor for arguably the league’s biggest surprise team.
Runner-up: Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
Others: Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets; Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks