THE BEST FROM THE FIRST HALF OF THE 2017-18 SEASON
With most teams now having played more than half the games on their regular season slate, it’s time to perform a mid-season check on the individuals and teams most deserving of the NBA’s major postseason awards, along with a few other superlatives. Here are the In The Gym Range’s 2017-18 NBA MidSeason Awards.
Amongst a pack of worthy contenders for this award, LeBron James — even in his 15th season in the NBA — is still league’s alpha dog. At 33 years old, he’s having his third-best shooting year ever, averaging eight rebounds per game, and averaging a career-high in assists, despite losing one of the game’s biggest stars in the offseason (and not getting the replacement player until just a few short weeks ago).
Even if you make the argument that James’ Cavaliers are struggling this season, you could just as easily make a counter-argument that they’d be the worst team in the NBA if you removed James and added a replacement-level player to the roster. His candidacy as one of the three greatest players in the history of the game only continues to cement itself with each passing season.
Rookie Of The Year: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Remember when everyone started overthinking about whether Ben Simmons should be the unquestioned #1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and completely forgetting about the fact that he was a 6’10 superfreak athlete with the body of a power forward and the fluidity and floor vision of a point guard? That all seems really stupid now, in hindsight.
Do you know who was the last player to average over 16 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists at only 21 years old? Magic Johnson, back in 1981. So many people scoffed at the fact that Las Vegas oddsmakers set the Philadelphia 76ers’ over/under win total at 40.5 games, yet Simmons — and Embiid, when he’s able to play — have the team on pace for just over 41 wins this year, and their playoff appearance in six seasons.
Defensive Player Of The Year: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
When asked about his chances to win this year’s Defensive Player Of The Year award, Draymond Green graciously stated that he believed teammate Kevin Durant was more deserving. That’s exactly what you’d want to hear from a great teammate, and someone who prides himself on doing all the “dirty work” that doesn’t appear on the stat sheet, even if Green’s belief (about Durant being more deserving) isn’t all that accurate.
The Warriors’ best defensive lineup this season features Green, but not Durant. For a team that’s not interested in burning too much fuel during the regular season, he keeps Golden State’s defensive engine roaring, evidenced by the team’s fourth-best defense in the league.
Sixth Man Of The Year: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
At least at this point in the season, it’s really hard to see anyone other than Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers winning this award, for one simple reason: at his current scoring clip of 23.2 points per game, he would go down as the highest-scoring sixth man in NBA history. He’s scoring more points per game than perennial All-Stars like Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and Klay Thompson.
It is ironic that someone like Williams, who’s been a sixth-main extraordinaire for much of his career, would finally earn the official accolades as such, after enjoying his best season at the age of 31 years old. He’s a big reason why the Los Angeles Clippers find themselves right on the fringe of the Western Conference playoffs.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: NIKOLA MIROTIC, WILL BARTON, J.J. BAREA (Eric Gordon would have been on this list but is not eligible sine he has started more than half of the games he has played in.)
Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
This season, Victor Oladipo transformed himself from a player who was going to be labeled as “a jack of all trades but a master of nothing” and “a player thrown into the trade for Paul George only because his original team wanted to dump his salary,” to “one of the 15 best players in the entire league.” Saying that Oladipo is enjoying a breakout season this year is like saying the state of Indiana is somewhat known for its basketball.
Where do you start? At the fact that Oladipo is smashing his previous career totals in field goal percentage (48.3%), three-point percentage (40.2%), points (24.3), rebounds (5.3), and steals (1.9) per game? Or the fact that his Pacers team was predicted to finish 12th in the Eastern Conference, but now finds itself with the 7th seed in the East if the playoffs started today? Oladipo a no-brainer lock to make his first All-Star game appearance this season, and he’s more than deserving.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, KRIS DUNN, AARON GORDON, CLINT CAPELA
Coach Of The Year: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
In complete fairness, you could easily make the case that Erik Spoelstra should be the reigning coach of the year (as opposed to Mike D’Antoni). Given the fact that he didn’t win it last year, despite leading his Miami Heat to a 30-11 record over the second half of last year, it’s hard to see him being overlooked again, thanks to the job he’s done this season.
With no players likely to make the All-Star game, and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Miami Heat are currently one of the four best teams in the Eastern Conference, and allow the third-fewest points per game of any NBA team. The Heat are flirting with winning 50 games this year, with a lineup led by Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters, and Goran Dragic. With all due respect to Gregg Popovich and Brad Stevens, nobody is doing more with less than Spoelstra.
Executive Of The Year: Kevin Pritchard, Indiana Pacers
No single executive this past off-season was excoriated like Kevin Pritchard of the Indiana Pacers. Everyone publicly ridiculed Pritchard for “only” getting back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the trade that sent Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder, instead of a potential All-Star like Kevin Love, or a package of assets and players from the Denver Nuggets and/or Boston Celtics.
But fast forward to the present, and Indiana landed a franchise cornerstone to rebuild the team upon along with a talented big man who helps facilitate the offense in so many different ways; juxtapose that with the fact that the guy they traded away looking more and more like a one-year rental in his new destination. Pritchard deserves to receive a “mea culpa” from virtually everyone in and around the NBA.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: MASAI UJIRI, DARYL MOREY, TIM CONNELLY
Most Surprising Team: San Antonio Spurs
When you’ve been without one of the five best players in the NBA for the majority of the season, and you spent most of the offseason trying to unload the contract of your second-best player, you shouldn’t be on pace to win more than 52 games this year. But, that’s why Gregg Popovich may not win the coach of the year award this year, but still be the best coach in the NBA.
After a mutual clearing-of-the-air with Lamarcus Aldridge, including Popovich openly stating how he was at fault for “over-coaching” the team’s other All-Star, San Antonio has one of the five best records in the NBA, even though Kawhi Leonard hasn’t played in 38 of the team’s 47 games this year.
Most Disappointing Team: Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte isn’t necessarily on most people’s radar, as far as the team earning the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. This is a team that was supposed to finish with over 41 wins, and one of the top six spots in the Eastern Conference. Instead, they’re four games out of the 8th spot in the East, on pace to win less than 35 games this year, and allegedly been making it known that they would be open to trading the guy who’s supposed to be their franchise player in Kemba Walker.
Head coach Steve Clifford’s 21-game absence (due to headaches caused by sleep deprivation) is certainly a contributing factor, but they’ve just been a mess in general for much of this season.