We’re more than half way through the 2013-14 NBA season, and boy has it been electrifying and full of surprises. We’ve watched Kevin Durant single-handedly take over games with his hot hand, witnessed the Trail Blazers catch elite teams off guard to tally wins, while Roy Hibbert’s tightfisted defense has made the Pacers the best team in the league. With the start of the All-Star break, it’s only right to acknowledge a few individuals whose dominant performances and leadership have made the first half of this season incredible.
Most Valuable Player
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant, the league’s agile leading scorer (31.2 points per game), can catch and shoot while being double teamed and still knock down clutch shots. And he has carried the Thunder on his back since Russell Westbrook was sidelined in November. Durant scored 41 or more points five times — I repeat, five times! — in January and put up at least 30 points in 12 straight games. Oh, and he’s grabbing boards too, recording nine double-double this season. On defense, he’s got a solid 75 total steals this season. The numbers don’t lie: Durant is the best.
Defensive Player of the Year
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Hibbert block parties are nothing short of fun. They happen almost every night and are always thrilling. His biggest swat party of the year? The season opener against Orlando, when he blocked seven shots. The 7-foot-2 big man is one of the best low post defenders who fiercely protects the basket against dribble-drive scorers — just ask Carmelo Anthony, who knows first hand the difficulty of getting a shot over Hibbert at the rim. Hibbert currently ranks third in blocks per game (2.5) and is a major reason why the Pacers hold opponents to an average of 90 points, tops in the NBA.
Rookie of the Year
Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
Carter-Williams is a game changer for Philly. The 76ers are 15-28 when he’s in the lineup and 1-11 without him. Although a series of different injuries has kept him off the court for 12 games this season, Carter-Williams is on pace to become just the third player since 1951 to lead all rookies in scoring, assists, and rebounding (17.1 points, 6.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds per game). And he doesn’t shy away from big games. Instead, he plays big. He produced 22 points, 12 assists, and nine steals against the Heat in Philly’s season opener, showing everyone he can command a game.
Coach of the Year
Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers finished the 2012-13 season with 33 total wins. This season, Portland has 36 wins before the All-Star break and own the fifth-best record in the NBA. Give a lot of credit to Stotts, who installed a motion offense that forces defenders to chase the Trail Blazers all over the floor. And he knows how to get the most out of last year’s Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, and double-double machine LaMarcus Aldridge. Stotts preaches selflessness — always making the extra shot to find the open man — and the team has bought into it. The result? The Trail Blazers lead the league in points per game with 108.
Most Improved Player
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
The hard-nosed Stephenson has grown into being an important piece for Indy, both offensively and defensively. Stephenson’s versatility is the reason why he leads the Pacers in assists and is their second leading rebounder, while leading the league in triple doubles (3). And just for comparison, here are his numbers from last season and this year:
8.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.9 apg
14.1 ppg,7.2 rpg, 5.2 apg
Now, that’s improvement.
Nick Young, L.A. Lakers
Let’s go unexpected and cast a vote for the player known as Swaggy P. Sure, you could tap Manu Ginobili of the Spurs or Jamal Crawford of the Clippers for this award. But let’s not overlook Young’s emergence as fresh talent on a team that lacks healthy bodies. He’s a strong ballhandler, has solid defensive chops, and is the Lakers’ second leading scorer behind Pau Gasol. Young has been the heart and soul for the Lakers, revving his team up when everyone else has written the team off as washed-up and done. Young may not be a shoo-in for this award come June, but he’s got all the intangibles that give the Lakers a spark during a very dark season.
What players do you think have been the best so far this NBA season? Let us know in the comments section below!
Photos: Layne Murdoch Jr. /NBAE via Getty Images, AP Photo/Wally Santana, Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images, Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports, Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports, Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images