The NBA All-Star break is a chance for players to celebrate the league. Still others take the opportunity to go on vacation and get away from the rigors of the league.
But it’s also a time to predict the annual award winners around the league. The season is more than halfway over, and we have a large enough sample size to see who is good and who is bad.
So here’s how my ballot would look if I had to vote today.
MVP:James Harden, Houston
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Sometimes the MVP becomes the award for being the best player on the best team. The Rockets do not have the league’s best record, but there’s no way to underscore the value of Harden this season. He leads the NBA in scoring. Harden’s defense had been laughable with the Rockets in the past, but this season he’s been a reason Houston has made strides to become a better defensive unit. Dwight Howard has been in and out of the lineup because of injuries, but Harden has not allowed the Rockets to sink in the standings.
Also in the conversation: Stephen Curry, Golden State; LeBron James, Cleveland
Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers
This might might be a classic prisoner-of-the-moment decision. Jordan, however, has been an anchor in the middle this season. Before he was coming up with 20/20 games, Jordan was leading the league in rebounds and was second in the NBA in blocks. His athleticism allows him to alter shots that he can’t get to. Jordan’s defense warranted consideration for the All-Star Game, too. He wasn’t selected for the game, but he should get plenty of love for his play by the end of the season.
Also in the conversation: Draymond Green, Golden State; Tim Duncan, San Antonio
Rookie of the Year:Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota
The 2014 draft class was supposed to be one of the greatest ever. It hasn’t lived up to the billing yet. Part of that is because Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker has missed much of the season with a torn ACL. But the top pick in the draft has shown signs he will be a big-time player in the future.
He leads all rookies in scoring and appears to have adjusted well to being traded by Cleveland before he ever played for the Cavaliers in the Kevin Love deal. It’s still too early to declare last year’s draft class a group of underachievers, but of the bunch, Wiggins has given us the most reason to expect big things.
Also in the conversation: Elfrid Payton, Orlando; Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia
Coach of the Year:Steve Kerr, Golden State
To simply say Kerr inherited a good team is to demean the job he’s done in his first season as coach of the Warriors.
Kerr replaced Mark Jackson, who was popular with key players such as Curry. Golden State had improved and Jackson was a big reason for that. But management believed the Warriors could do better, and Kerr has proven it right. The Warriors remained a good defensive team while also becoming a more efficient offensive team. Kerr’s decision to stick with Green as a starter has worked beautifully, and most nights the Warriors play a brand of basketball the rest of the league would love to emulate. That Kerr was able to reach his players and get more out of them is no coincidence. He’s doing a great job.
Also in the conversation: Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta; Jason Kidd, Milwaukee
Sixth Man of the Year:Lou Williams, Toronto
The Raptors started out well and then DeMar DeRozan went down with an injury. But Toronto did not fall apart because Williams was able to help keep the Raptors going amid lineup shuffling. He has always been an explosive scorer, and the Raptors are benefiting from that this season.
Also in the conversation: Isaiah Thomas, Phoenix; Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Most Improved Player:
Jimmy Butler, Chicago
No arguing this award. Butler went from a one-dimensional player known as a defender to an offensive threat, while not tailing off on defense. He made his first All-Star Game, and it doesn’t figure to be his last.
Also in the conversaton: Nobody
All-NBA First Team
Guards: Stephen Curry, Golden State; James Harden, Houston
Forwards: LeBron James, Cleveland; Anthony Davis, New Orleans
Center: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings