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Thunder’s Westbrook heads NBA midseason award picks

AP

Is the NBA’s MVP always the league’s best player? No. If that were the case, Michael Jordan would have at least a dozen MVPs and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant wouldn’t have just one each.

This year’s MVP race figures to be as tight as any in recent memory.

As of now, it’s hard not to vote for Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook.

By the time ballots are due in April, I’m sure I’ll have flip-flopped dozens of times between Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden.

But the fact many felt OKC could still reach the playoffs after Kevin Durant’s departure speaks to the greatness of Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double with 31.1 points (first in the NBA), 10.5 rebounds and 10.1 assists.

Harden (29.2 points, league-leading 11.3 assists, 8.3 rebounds) plays for a better team and would be a worthy winner.

But Westbrook has been a one-man gang, doing everything needed to keep the Thunder a winning team. At this stage of the season, there’s no one more valuable.

Also in the running: Isaiah Thomas, Boston; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio; LeBron James, Cleveland; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Durant, Golden State.

Stephen Curry reaction to his team's 109-106 loss vs Kings.

Isaiah Thomas on playing at new arena seeing familiar faces in the stands.

Other midseason award picks:

Defensive Player of the Year

It’s time for Draymond Green to get his due.

Without Andrew Bogut, the Warriors were supposed to drop off significantly on defense. But with Green, Golden State remains one of the NBA’s best defensive teams.

Green leads the NBA with 2.09 steals per game and has helped the Warriors tie for first in opponents’ field-goal percentage (43.6).

Other contenders: DeAndre Jordan, L.A. Clippers; Rudy Gobert, Utah; Leonard, San Antonio

Coach of the Year

Before the season, my prediction was Utah’s Quin Snyder, and he’s done nothing to make me feel silly about that.

Still, it’s hard to ignore Erik Spoelstra, who consistently does an excellent job in Miami.

Regardless of the roster, Spoelstra maximizes the Heat’s potential. When he had elite talent, that meant winning championships. This season, it has meant turning what looked like a tanking team into one that could make the playoffs.

Other contenders: Steve Kerr, Golden State; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio; Brad Stevens, Boston; Scott Brooks, Washington; Mike D’Antoni, Houston.

Sixth Man of the Year

Eric Gordon once appeared destined for stardom.

Then the Clippers traded the shooting guard to New Orleans as part of the Chris Paul deal and he was plagued by injuries.

Gordon is thriving in his first season with Houston, averaging 17.2 points. He is a key part of the Rockets’ improvement after a disappointing 2015-16 season.

Other contenders: Zach Randolph, Memphis; Patty Mills, San Antonio; Lou Williams, L.A. Lakers

Rookie of the Year

Only injuries can prevent Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid from winning the award.

He’s averaging 20.2 points in only 31 games. Should he win the honor if he plays in only 40 to 50 games? It’s a tough call, but no other rookie compares to Embiid.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

Midseason All-NBA

Guards

  • Russell Westbrook, Thunder
  • James Harden, Rockets

Forwards

  • LeBron James, Cavaliers
  • Kevin Durant, Warriors

Center

  • DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
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