We've hit the halfway point in the NBA season, which means we have midseason awards to hand out. Here are the winners for Royce Young, Matt Moore and Zach Harper in this season's awards race:
Rookie of the Year
There's really no great answer here. Carter-Williams started off the season on fire, seemingly winning the award on opening night with a triple-double against the Heat. But injuries have slowed him, and his team has regressed. Then there's Victor Oladipo who has been good, but not great. Or you could go small sample size and pick Trey Burke, who has clearly improved the Jazz since he came back from injury. Really, just take anyone. As long as it's not Anthony Bennett.
Matt Moore: Carter-Williams, 76ers
Can I pass? OK, fine, I'll go with Carter-Williams barely over Oladipo. Oladipo's had a lot of highlights and projects to have the better career, but Williams has been a firebug for the Sixers, who needed someone outside of Evan Turner, Thad Young, and Spencer Hawes to play well just be competitive. He's shown he can be a great defender in time and has some ability to get to the rim. Still can't shoot though.
One guy I wish could get more run in this award but won't? Steven Adams. He leads all rookies in Win Shares via Basketball-Reference.com and he's the one player actually making serious contributions to a major team. He's been great, without any of the stats to back it up.
Also, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would win this if the Pistons' offense wasn't just kids throwing eggs at a wall.
Zach Harper: Carter-Williams, 76ers
All his numbers would lead you to believe he's been the best rookie through the first half. He's the rookie leader in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals. But how much of that is good play and how much of that is being in the situation he's in? It probably won't matter, but winning this ROY could end up being about as prestegious as when Mike Miller won the award. You forgot about that, didn't you? Marc Jackson came in third! No, not the Mark Jackson.
Sixth Man of the Year
There's really no slam dunk candidate for Sixth Man. Isaiah Thomas would be it, but he's become the Kings' full-time starter now that Greivis Vasquez moved on to Toronto. Reggie Jackson has been solid filling in for Russell Westbrook as well as leading one of the most explosive bench units in basketball, but he's been a tad inconsistent. There's Rodney Stuckey, but he's doing it on a poor team.
So I'll say Harrison Barnes, whose numbers don't pop, but has been impactful for Golden State in a bunch of different lineups because of his versatility. He proves Mark Jackson options on both ends of the floor, and is a player who you can run an offense through, particularly in the mid-post.
Matt Moore: Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Pistons
Per 36 minutes: 19.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals on shooting splits of 46-31-82. Stuckey's also been a reliable defender and has made a lot of plays. In the selfish, lost mess that is Detroit's offense, Stuckey is one of the few players who looks to be genuinely engaged on both ends and playing within himself.
This team is competitive, even without Derrick Rose (injured, out for season) and Luol Deng (traded to Cavaliers). They've played the second-best defense all season long and they're still a pain to deal with on random nights. A big part of that is Gibson, so instead of just giving the award to the best scorer off the bench for a mediocre-to-good team (sorry, Nick Young!), I think we should reward the guy having the biggest impact off the bench. I'd wager that now, it's Gibson and it's harder for him to do because of their depleted rotation.
Executive of the Year
Royce Young: Neil Olshey, Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers finished last season on 16 straight losses and it was largely because they had zero depth. Olshey addressed the issues in the offseason and shored up the starting five with a shrewd move: Acquiring Robin Lopez for nothing. Now LaMarcus Aldridge is talking about staying, and the team is winning.
Matt Moore: Ryan McDonough, Phoenix Suns
The Bledsoe gamble has worked out even with the knee injury; he looks like a franchise player. Their trades have netted them two valuable players in Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green. McDonough shed salary, added draft picks (they have the capacity for three in the coming loaded draft), built a fun team, and hasn't had the Bledsoe-Dragic dynamic detonate. He hired the man who may be the coach of the year. Did we mention those draft picks? Masterful job in his first year on the job by McDonough.
Zach Harper: Olshey, Trail Blazers
This team had three goals in the offseason: 1) make sure LaMarcus Aldridge is happy, 2) find a big man to put next to Aldridge, and 3) acquire a bench that is productive and doesn't include Sasha Pavlovic. Olshey did those things and the end result has been one of the best surprise stories of the season. The Blazers' bench hasn't blown away the competition by any means but they're also not historically bad. They get enough of the job done to give a relatively rested starting lineup a chance to win games. And Robin Lopez's presence next to Aldridge is everything that JJ Hickson couldn't be last season.
Most Improved Player
It seems a little unfair to give this to a guy selected No. 1 overall because, duh, that kind of guy is supposed to be good. But Davis has made an incredible leap this season as both a well-rounded offensive player and a premier rim-protecting defender. He's a terror rolling to the basket of high screens, and now he has a consistent mid-range game to go with it. Davis was always supposed to be good. But the improvement he's made as a complete player from last season to this one is impressive.
We're one big tantrum away from this entire campaign of Cousins' blowing up in our face, but as of right now, DMC looks to be the most improved in my mind. Both from an attitude standpoint (yes, he still complains about the officiating but he's trying to be a leader) and a play standpoint (he's eating your interior and giving a lot of effort on defense), it's hard for me to find someone more improved than him.
Coach of the Year
Royce Young: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Make a case for Terry Stotts and I'll roll with that too, but Hornacek has taken a team everyone thought was complete lottery fodder and turned them into a Western Conference playoff contender. They're slipping because of injuries, but the development between the Morris twins, as well as Eric Bledsoe, has shown Hornacek to be a gifted head coach.
Matt Moore: Hornacek, Suns
Has done the most with the least. Terry Stotts has built a great offense, but he had Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge along with a host of good veterans. Hornacek has a young team sharing the ball, making the right play, defending at a decent clip and running a smart offense. That's the biggest thing for me. A lot of veteran teams (Detroit) aren't smart in any capacity. So to have a team like this playing to the level it has, running with the West's big boys, that deserves credit. Talk to the Suns, they'll all point to the confidence Hornacek has given them.
Zach Harper: Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers
This isn't to disrespect what Jeff Hornaceck has done in Phoenix, because his team looks good when everybody else thought they'd be in the cellar, but what Stotts has done from taking a borderline team to one of the best in the league so far means more to me. We keep waiting for this team to fall back to earth and they keep winning games with one of the best offenses we've seen in years. The surprises from bad to good are nice but the surprise from mediocre to great is better.
Defensive Player of the Year
It's extremely close between him, Serge Ibaka and Andre Iguodala. Start with Iguodala, who clearly is the backbone to the Warriors defensively (they allow 103.7 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor, only 95.3 points per 100 with him on). But he's missed significant time, and it's hard to ignore the fact that Hibbert anchors the best defense in basketball. Opponents are shooting only 40.9 percent at the rim against Hibbert, and the Pacers allow the fewest paint points in the league. Ibaka is the shot-blocking master, and has improved dramatically defending in the pick-and-roll, but he's still just not quite as consistently solid as Hibbert. Close, close race though.
Matt Moore: (TIE) Serge Ibaka, Thunder, Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
This one is razor thin for me, and in cases where it's this close, I always cop out and go with a tie. HIbbert makes more of an impact schematically. Wings are way more afraid to drive on him and the result is that offenses die on the perimeter just passing the ball around and shooting. He's the best rim-protector in the league and that's an invaluable talent in the league right now. But Ibaka may have been the best overall individual defender. He's fixed all of his issues with falling for pump fakes, he's phenomenally better in space than he used to be, and he's still a monster a blocks and rebounds. For the first time in his career, he really deserves to be considered for this award, and I might even take him over HIbbert, gun to my head, because of his versatility. Great race for this one, honestly.
Zach Harper: Hibbert, Pacers
He anchors the best defense in the entire league and they seem to be stopping people at a historic pace. His ability to defend the basket and have the back of every player in his lineup allows them to go straight up against most offenses and not lose a beat. Personally, I don't see how it's close this year.
Most Valuable Player
Royce Young: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
If you want to shade this discussion based around who the best player in the world is, you're doing it wrong. Because the MVP isn't about who the best is. It's about who is having the best, most impactful season. And any way you color the numbers, it's Durant.
He's superior to LeBron in virtually every statistical category, even PER, a stat LeBron has owned the past seven or eight years. And then there's the narrative aspect. Durant is carrying his team in the absence of Russell Westbrook, even elevating his play to new levels (averaging 35.8 points on 64.5 percent true shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 13 games) as the Thunder have gone 8-5 without their All-Star point guard. Durant still isn't the best player in the world -- though the gap is clearly closing -- and won't overtake LeBron until he has championships to his name. But so far in the 2013-14 season, Durant has been better.
Matt Moore: Durant, Thunder
I held out. I did. I took my time, because what LeBron James does on both ends of the floor is amazing. But there's no getting around it, even with James shooting 60 percent from the floor for mos of the season. Durant has been downright unstoppable and there's a point where the offensive domination simply exceeds everything else. James remains the one player I want on the floor for me in a fourth quarter of a playoff game (how amazing is that turnaround from a few years ago?) but Durant has had the objectively better season. His production isn't just scoring it's rebounds and assists and blocks and working in the post and leadership. Durant's ability to draw fouls can be maddening for fans, but think of what it does to an opponent's rotations. You're literally forcing the opposing coach to change what he wants to do with his lineups.
LeBron's coasting, and if he turns it on in February or March, he can easily jump back to the top. But for now, I'm sold. Kevin Durant is carrying a young Thunder team to the top of the West, again, and doing it in such dramatic fashion that I have no choice but to recognize him as having had the most impactful season. For now.
(P.S.: Paul George should really get more consideration.)
Zach Harper: Durant, Thunder
He was on one of the best teams in the league and one of the seven best players in the NBA was taken away from it due to injury. They've struggled a bit in terms of their prior success, but Durant is leading his team by taking his game to the next level and then some. It's not just the 54-point game sending this over the top. It's every aspect of the game on both ends of the floor being determined by his effort, leadership and communication. If you give it to LeBron James, I won't be mad; my vote would go to Durant.