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It’s the midway point of the NBA season and it’s been a very eventful first half. It all started in the offseason with the blockbuster trade between Boston and Cleveland that sent Kyrie Irving to the Celtics while Isaiah Thomas went to the Cavaliers. Boston is winning this deal so far, having the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Not to be outdone, Houston made their own splash acquiring Chris Paul from the LA Clippers. I, like others, doubted this pairing would be successful but it has worked out great so far, to the tune of the second best record in the Western Conference. James Harden and Chris Paul have been spectacular together. Right now, they are the biggest threat to dethrone the Golden State Warriors.
With that said, here are my midway point awards and observations:
Most Shocking Moment:
Without question, it was the Celtics’ Gordon Hayward’s gruesome ankle injury just moments into the season opener against the Cavaliers. With the trade and subplot storyline between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, it was tailor made for drama television. All that took a backseat when Hayward went up for an alley oop and came down awkwardly.
MVP: James Harden, Shooting Guard, Houston Rockets
Harden’s numbers are eerily similar to last season (except rebounds). He’s leading the league in scoring (31.6) and third in assists (9.1). Many thought his numbers would take a hit with Paul on board. His biggest impact has been his leadership. He’s the main reason the Rockets are in the position they are now.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Power Forward, Golden State Warriors
Green’s versatility and ability to guard every position on the floor makes him invaluable. His transition defense is top notch. He can block shots but his understanding of positioning allows him to take charges as well. His communication puts everyone in the right place and keys the Warriors’ defense.
Sixth Man: Lou Williams, Guard, LA Clippers
The trade from the Rockets to the Clippers seemed to rejuvenate him. To say he’s been a spark off the bench would be an understatement. He’s already had a 50 point explosion, three 40 point performances and 11 games over 30 points. With all the injuries, he’s kept them in striking distance of the playoffs.
Most Improved Player: Clint Capela, Center, Houston Rockets
All of his numbers are up across the board, from field goal percentage to rebounds to free throw percentage to points. The work he put in over the summer with Rocket legend Hakeem Olajuwon has paid huge dividends. The stat improvement is obvious. However, it’s his impact on the game at both ends that is most noticeable. It’s a great story and lesson about putting in that work. His drafting went without fanfare but people are starting to take notice.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
With the early season ending injury to Gordon Hayward, most predicted struggles for the Celtics. Stevens has not only held the team together but has them performing at a high level. Add in the huge offseason trade and incorporating new faces, you can see why Stevens is considered a rising force in the coaching ranks. Their defense has been outstanding and a hallmark of Stevens’ teams. Oh yeah, on top of all of that they are winning. They own the best record in the East at 37-15. He continues to show how adaptable he is no matter who is on the roster.
Most Improved Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
At the midway point last season, they were 14-27 and going no where fast. This season, they are 32-22 at the same point and in the top half of the Western Conference standings. In the offseason, they traded Ricky Rubio to Utah then replaced him when they signed Jeff Teague. On draft day, they hit paydirt when they made a trade with Chicago that landed All-Star guard Jimmy Butler and underrated forward Taj Gibson. These moves along with the improvement of young guns Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins have the Timberwolves in 4th place in the Western Conference. Remember, they only won 31 games all last season.
Most Disappointing Team: Memphis Grizzlies
After going 24-17 at the midway point last season, they have fallen off a cliff at 18-32. They got rid of veterans Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen along with leadership and great locker room presence. They decided to go with the younger guys around a core of Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and Marc Gasol. That plan has severely backfired. Injuries and poor performances has them on the outside of the playoff picture. Firing Coach Fizdale early on didn’t help the situation.