With the NBA reaching the halfway mark of the 2012-13 season it's time to hand out some mid-season awards. The Five-Man Weave crew weighs in with their picks for the best and brightest from the first half.
The Best Team of the first half is...
Josh Lewenberg: LA Clippers. I never thought I'd say (or type) this, but the Clippers have been the NBA's best first-half team. With the exception of a tough November road trip they've been consistently dominant from the outset. They're deep, they're talented and they've played at an elite level on both ends of the floor. For now I'm sold but as I alluded to last week, their true test begins in April.
Duane Watson: The Los Angeles Clippers right now, are playing like the best team in the league. Despite the wins, the depth and the defence, they are one hell of a fun team to watch.
Will Strickland: Even though the Thunder have the best record in the NBA, I'm rolling with the Clippers. Chemistry, Cohesion. Continuity. Chris Paul. Yeah, it's an easy bake answer, but it would have been a stretch to call the Bobcats the best just because they haven't defected to the NDBL!
Tim Chisholm: The L.A. Clippers. They're 31-9, which actually puts them a game behind the Thunder in the West, but they've played with a relentless dominance all season long that has made them a title contender far ahead of their starrier city-mates. They're top-five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and the competitive fire that is burning inside of Chris Paul is as hot as that of anyone in the NBA.
Mitch Ward: The Oklahoma City Thunder are the best team in the NBA thus far. See, it says so right here.
The first half Most Valuable Player is...
Lewenberg: Kevin Durant. As was the case last season and will be the case for years to come, this award boils down to Durant vs. LeBron James. In terms of efficiency and proficiency Durant is having one of the greatest offensive seasons ever while demonstrating improved ability as a passer and playing the best defence of his career. Meanwhile, the Thunder haven't missed a beat after many expected them to falter in the post-Harden era. Slight edge to KD.
Watson: Kevin Durant does so much and can score in so many ways. Sure Westbrook can score and his team has improved, but the Thunder's fortunes or failures lie in his gangly arms.
Strickland: While I felt like Chris Paul has changed the Clipper culture to the degree we've almost forgotten how bad they really were & LeBron James is so consistently excellent that we've become spoiled & used to 27-7-7 every night that he's the default MVP, Kevin Durant looks like he has higher goals in mind & is the Most Valuable Player of the NBA right now.
Chisholm: Kevin Durant. An MVP runner-up a season ago, he's done exactly the kind of thing that people want young superstars to do when they lose in the NBA Finals: Improve. He's shooting the ball at an historic rate, he's passing better, playing better defence and his team has been dominant. He's so much more than the scoring machine he's labeled as, and his team is reaping the rewards so far this season.
Ward: Chris Paul has been spectacular but this is a two-horse race between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. LeBron is still the better overall player of the two but Durant gets the MVP for the first half mainly because he has helped his team win more games. He has improved his passing and defence and also happens to be in the midst of one of the greatest shooting seasons in NBA history (52.5% FG, 40.2% 3P%, 90.1 FT%).
The Rookie of the Year goes to...
Lewenberg: Damian Lillard. Of all the mid-season awards this one may be the simplest. Anthony Davis may very well be the better player in two-three years from now but in year one, Lillard's leadership, poise and overall explosiveness sets him apart. With a young and previously overlooked Blazers team hovering in playoff contention, this should be a no-brainer.
Strickland: Damian Lillard. No Debate. He's leading a now healthy Portland team who looks like they'll find their stride & be a low playoff seed in the West. I believe Anthony Davis will have a better career long term, right now, Baby Billups rules the Rookie Roost.
Chisholm: Damian Lillard. In a way it's an unfair question. While most of this year's big-minute rookies are barely out of their teens, Lillard is a mature 22-years-old and looks it on the court. He was just more ready to handle the NBA than most of his peers and his 18.1 points and 6.5 assists per game simply reinforce that thinking.
Ward: Damian Lillard has been at the top of the rookie rankings all season long. It's not even close at this point. With him the Blazers are fighting for a playoff spot in the West. Without him, they are a lottery team.
The NBA's best Sixth Man is...
Lewenberg: Jamal Crawford. No disrespect to J.R. Smith, who is having a renaissance season in New York but Crawford deserves serious All-Star consideration coming off the pine in L.A. He's been the most reliable scorer on the league's best team, ranking third among all players in fourth-quarter points, trailing only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Elite company.
Watson: J.R. Smith who wanted to be a starter, but is coming off the bench, getting starter minutes. He's averaging 16.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, guarding the opponents best wing players and hitting game winning shots with some extra salsa.
Strickland: Hoped I could have said Nets' Marshon Brooks here, but Avery Johnson stifled that (Thanks, Lil' Buddy!). Now under Carlesimo, though he's getting tick & producing, I'd be a fool & missing a chromosome not to see that Clipper super sub Jamal Crawford aka JCrossover is the unquestioned leader of the 6th Man Pack right now.
Chisholm: Jamal Crawford. He is the purest example of the 'Sixth Starter' motif as there is in the NBA this season. He is torching opponents off of the bench, posting his second-highest True Shooting Percentage (.554) of his career, and he's leading the most potent bench crew the NBA has seen in several years.
Ward: Jamal Crawford has been great but J.R. Smith gets the nod in this spot. Both are averaging 16.7 points for the season but Smith is grabbing three extra rebounds, adding an extra ½ assist per game and is a better defender.
The NBA's top defensive player so far is...
Lewenberg: Tim Duncan. Apparently the fountain of youth can be found deep in the heart of Texas. In just 30 minutes a night, at 36 years young, the future Hall of Famer ranks third in blocked shots while anchoring a top-10 NBA defence. Respect.
Watson: The guy who always plays solid defence, but doesn't get recognized. Andrei Kirilenko is the only player in the league ranked in the top-25 in blocks AND steals. His length at 6'9" allows him to guard positions 2-4. A subtle game changer.
Strickland: Though the Usual Suspects (D12, Tyson Chandler, Serge Ibaka) are having decent years on this end of the floor, Chris Paul leads the league in steals AGAIN and LeBron James is always my pick for this award, am I crazy for going with the unsexy pick in Milwaukee Bucks' Larry Sanders, who is leading the NBA in blocks?
Chisholm: Tony Allen. Memphis' temperamental wing stopper has become THE defensive force on the perimeter in the NBA and leads the charge for the second-most efficient defence in the league. The Grizzlies give up 5.6 points per 100 possessions less when he is on the court and his disruptive style of play has Memphis snatching 9.2 steals per game. Despite all of the talent in their starting five, Allen is the engine that makes them go.
Ward: LeBron James. His combination of size, speed and smarts is the main reason the Heat have been able to thrive playing small ball this season. No one can lock an opponent down like James can when he puts his mind to it.
The Coach of the Year is...
Lewenberg: Frank Vogel. Danny Granger's absence has clearly hurt Indy's offence – only Washington scores fewer points per possession – but it hasn't affected the record. The Pacers' top ranked defence has them knocking on Miami and New York's door atop the Eastern Conference and their unassuming bench boss deserves most of the credit.
Watson: He's been without his best player, (Granger) his All-Star centre, (Hibbert) took the first two months of the season off, and he's made a serviceable player out of a bench warmer (Stephenson). Yet, the Indiana Pacers are only three games out of first place in the Eastern Conference and the best defensive team in the league. Ladies and gentlemen I introduce... Frank Vogel.
Strickland: Vinny Del Negro, who has been smart enough to fall back & let Chris Paul & Chauncey Billups "x & o" it just enough that he doesn't usurp his own power while still trying to look in command (kinda) of the deepest team in the NBA. Honourable Mentions to Bulls' Tom Thibodeau & Pacers' Frank Vogel for keeping their respective teams competitive without top stars in Derrick Rose & Danny Granger.
Chisholm: Vinny Del Negro. Seriously. The best asset a coach can have is the ability to adapt to his personnel and Del Negro has done that by unleashing Chris Paul and letting him be the leader he needs to be to be at his best. Few coaches are able to sacrifice that much control and still see results in the win column, but Del Negro appears to have struck that balance which has put the Clippers into the Championship conversation this season.
Ward: This might seem a bit off the board, but I have to give Terry Stotts in Portland his due. This team was not supposed to challenge for the playoffs in the West but right now they are sitting in the eight spot. The Blazers bench is terrible but Stotts is finding the right combinations to keep the team in the hunt.
The Executive of the Year goes to...
Lewenberg: Danny Ferry. All aboard the rebuild express. In his first week on the job in Atlanta, the former Cavs boss unloaded the "untradeable" contract of Joe Johnson and jettisoned Marvin Williams, engineering one of the speediest makeovers in league history. They remain competitive in 2012-13 and with just four contracts guaranteed for next season, the Hawks can afford to be major players in the Chris Paul/Dwight Howard sweepstakes this summer.
Watson: Daryl Morey. He hemorrhaged his team last year in hopes of landing Dwight Howard and came up short. Everyone laughed or raised eyebrows on their spending on Asik and Lin. He pulls a trade that gets them a bonafide star in James Harden, adds supplemental pieces and the Rockets are in the Playoff hunt.
Strickland: Mitch Kupchek. To get Steve Nash & Dwight Howard to go along with Pau Gasol & Kobe Bean Bryant to destroy the entire NBA, how could it be anyone else? Go Lakers... __________ (insert sinister snicker here)
Chisholm: Bob Myers. He's been on the job in Golden State for only nine months, but in that time he's overseen and overhauled of the Warriors' supporting crew, bringing in Harrison Barnes, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry which has helped Steph Curry and David Lee plant their club squarely into the Playoff picture out West.
Ward: I bet Mitch Kupchak thought he had this won back in October. Guess not. Thanks to the melt-down in Lakerland your winner is Houston's Daryl Morey. Despite failing to land Howard, Morey still got himself a star in James Harden. He also nailed the Omer Asik signing even if Jeremy Lin hasn't totally panned out.
The Five-Man Weave is made up of TSN.ca Raptors blogger Tim Chisholm ( @timpchisholm), TSN Radio 1050 Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050), Duane Watson (@sweetswatson) and Will Strickland (@WallStrizzle1) from TSN Radio 1050's 1-on-1 with Will and Duane, and TSN.ca NBA Editor Mitch Ward (@jmitchw).