By, Justin Danziger
We are halfway through the NBA season and the word “shocking” doesn’t even begin to describe what we’ve seen. Stars have emerged, veterans have broken down, and Josh Smith has found himself adjusting to a new role in a new city. It will be exciting to see what the second half has in store for us.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Coming into the season, James Harden was widely considered a one sided player. A pure scorer…and that’s it. Harden has proved his critics wrong and is the mid-season MVP. Not only is he leading the league in scoring by nearly two points per game, but he is actually trying on defense — and succeeding. Harden ranks 7th in the league in steals per game. But it’s not just his stat-line that makes him MVP.
Over the summer, the Rockets lost some key cogs in their roster in their quest to land Chris Bosh. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin just to name a couple. They were supposed to fall behind in the Western Conference race. James Harden refused to let that happen. He has kept the Rockets in the race (a current 3rd seed) and continued to win games even with his counterpart (Dwight Howard) sidelined with injury.
Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
The Popovich prodigy took over in Atlanta in 2013 after coaching as an assistant for the Spurs. Now with a healthy roster, Budenholzer is taking the Atlanta Hawks to new heights. He’s implemented a system similar to the one run in San Antonio with a lot of movement and screening involved. Using what he’s learned coaching under Pop, Budenholzer is leading the Hawks to the top of the East and the league’s longest winning streak. He’s won December Coach of the Month and is on his way to even more accolades.
Most Improved Player: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
No other player has made as big a leap as Jimmy Butler. Butler went from averaging 13 points to 21 points per game in nearly the same amount of minutes. Never mind his one assist leap, two rebound improvement, and field goal percentage in his per game stat-clip.
What is so amazing about Butler is his story. He was thrown out onto the street by his mother, whose last words to him were, “I don’t like the look of you. You gotta go.” He was just 13 at the time. Now he is on his way to a max-contract and a long future in the NBA. It’s simple, he can do it all. At just 25, Butler was awarded All-Defensive Second Team honors and is a future All Star.
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
In what has been an underwhelming draft class, the number one pick, Andrew Wiggins, has truly stood out from the rest. He leads the rookies in points per game with 14.5 and has recently been on fire, averaging 21 points per game in his last ten matches. More than that is the fact that he is improving by the day. He is slashing and getting to the line, and his jump shot is a lot smoother than we expected. He is having a relatively easy time from behind the arc, shooting 38.7 percent, and is playing that tough defense that he trademarked back in Kansas.
Ever since Jabari Parker went down with an ACL tear not too long ago, the ROY race has been wide open and it is Wiggins’ to lose. Nikola Mirotic and KJ McDaniels have been talked about as well, but neither is putting up the solid numbers that Wiggins is. While the strength of his team has to be taken into account, talent can be seen on any roster.
Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas, Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns are inventing a new brand of basketball: the point guard system. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe start the game with Isaiah Thomas coming off the bench. The 5’8’’ guard made his mark as a scorer on the Kings last season but was dumped for Darren Collison. The Suns picked him up and he has been a sparkplug off the bench. Averaging 14.8 points in 25.3 minutes, Thomas keeps the high pace going when the starters go to the bench.
While it is arguable whether Thomas would be a starter elsewhere, he seems content where he is and is a much needed back up.
Biggest Disappointment: The Homecoming
The Cleveland Cavaliers got all the attention this summer since signing LeBron James, drafting Andrew Wiggins, then trading him for Kevin Love. The team was supposed to be the next 2008 Celtics but they have struggled to put the pieces together. Now with LeBron injured, the Cavs can’t pull out wins and are falling behind in the non-competitive Eastern Conference. While LeBron warned us that these things take time, there is no excuse for the lackluster performance the Cavaliers are showing. Sitting at 19-19 and on a five game losing streak, the Cavs need to figure out what’s wrong soon.