The all-star break has come and passed. The standings are starting to shape up into a real playoff picture, and the teams left behind have to feel a sense of urgency to get in from here. It is time for the mid-season awards — how the awards would be distributed if the season ended today.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: Will Barton
Will Barton’s sudden emergence at age 25 should instill hope in the plethora of raw talents that are still trying to rise — the likes of Archie Goodwin and Ben McLemore. His energetic, high octane play has served well to ease the Nuggets fan base as they watch first round draft pick Emmanuel Mudiay’s painful inefficiency. He is exactly the kind of piece that belongs on the Nuggets — a franchise historically renowned for building athletic teams.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: C.J. McCollum
Known to the collegiate world as Duke’s kryptonite in 2012 March Madness, C.J. McCollum has made the best of his opportunity this season with the Blazers. In the aftermath of major departures for the former fringe contenders, McCollum found himself with a much larger role. He responded by averaging over 20 points per game and 4 assists. It appears that Portland has constructed one of the more promising NBA backcourts, which gives them a strength to build around as they try and work their way back to the heights of the Damian Lillard/LaMarcus Aldridge days.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Draymond Green
Several of the players drafted ahead of Draymond Green in 2012 are not even in the league anymore. An incredible amount of teams missed out on his exponentially growing talent, which now includes premier defense as well as the shooting of a true stretch four, the best screens basketball has to offer and the most efficient point forward play in the league with 7.2 assists with just 3.0 turnovers.
It’d be easy to hand the award to Kawhi Leonard again, who is easily the NBA’s top perimeter defender and arguably the best small forward in the league. But Green’s defensive prowess has anchored the Warriors through this dominant campaign, and his metrics are flawless.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Kristaps Porzingis
The draft pick that was being labeled a bust from the time his name was called now looks like a seven foot three, more athletic version of Dirk Nowitzki. He’s the absolute scariest rookie Europe has ever sent us, and New York couldn’t be any luckier to have him. The other rookie in contention is Karl Anthony-Towns, who is going to be a phenomenal inside player. But while Towns can make great defensive plays, he also has momentary lapses in his help and fails to read plays as they develop. He’s a fantastic rookie and shows great potential. But Porzingis has the patience and confidence of a veteran, and a wide range of talents that edges him over the Kentucky graduate.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Scott Skiles
Skiles inherited a chaotic mess of young players and quickly infused the Orlando Magic with a basketball culture that has helped bring dramatic improvement to their record. Winning games without a good amount of three point shooting is becoming increasingly difficult in the NBA, but Skiles has managed to sustain moderate success by preaching aggressive defense and functional ball movement; the Magic ascended from 23rd to 7th in assists. Skiles has proven himself qualified in every one of his coaching opportunities that he’s been given, and his new job is no different.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Stephen Curry
If you ever wondered what would happen if a natural athlete just spent every minute of the day shooting baskets, the answer is Stephen Curry. He shoots as easily as we walk. He has the ball handling of a Globetrotter and pairs it with the court vision to sling lofty alley-oop passes from unprecedented distances, hitting the spot every time. The NBA has never been so captivated by watching a single player since the days of Michael Jordan, and it fittingly hasn’t seen this dominant of a season since then either. He’s the greatest offensive player we’ve ever seen, and his defense is underrated. There’s no questioning the reigning MVP.