Although a lot of the NBA’s biggest stars haven’t made it with us, we’ve reached the midpoint of the season and it’s time to hand out some awards.
Coach of The Year: Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
There are a lot of deserving coaches for this award, like Frank Vogel (Indiana Pacers), Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat), Terry Stotts (Portland Trail Blazers), and slightly lesser candidates in Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers) and Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks). But what Hornacek has done in Phoenix is nothing short of a miracle. Phoenix was expected to go into full-on tanking mode for the much-ballyhooed 2014 draft class and acquired a roster full of interesting parts that in no way seemed to constitute an NBA roster. But by instituting an inventive two point guard system, fitting Eric Bledsoe and Gordan Dragic together, along with getting the most out of a bench filled with washed-up tweeners, Hornacek has the Suns comfortably in the seventh seed in the loaded Western Conference.
Sixth Man of The Year: Manu Ginobli, San Antonio Spurs
Many thought that Manu would barely play like a rotation player this year after a poor 2012-13 regular season and a postseason that reminded us of just how old he has become. Instead, Ginobli is the frontrunner to win Sixth Man of the Year at age 36, six years removed from his first Sixth Man award. His surface stats have barely changed, bumping his scoring average by almost a point and his assists and rebound numbers are identical, but he’s doing it on much improved efficiency from the field and the line. Reggie Jackson (Oklahoma City Thunder) is a serious candidate for the award, but the more time he logs in the starting lineup with Russell Westbrook out, the harder it will be for him to qualify.
Most Improved Player: Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers AND Paul George, Indiana Pacers
A lot of pundits think Stephenson has run away with this award. But as impressive as his transformation from the most unreliable starter on an elite team to borderline All-Star and nightly triple-double threat has been, his teammate’s transformation from borderline All-Star to top-four player in the NBA has been just as rewarding to watch. We already knew George was a solid two-way player, but he’s greatly improved his shooting touch and shown an extreme clutch element in his game. The teammates should split this award, and although no one has won the award twice, let alone back-to-back, George has the merits to pull it off.
Rookie of the Year: ???
I really wish this award didn’t have to be handed out at all this year, but saying we’ll wait until someone deserves he is the next best thing. Early in the season Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic) and Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) looked like bright spots in one of the worst drafts in history, but Oladipo has faded with inefficient scoring and it’s hard to watch MCW on the tanking Sixers. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) of Greece is supremely talented and figures to see more and more playing time as the season goes on and could make a late run for the award.
MVP: Kevin Durant
It’s taken a career month from one of the most talented scorers we’ve ever seen to push KD over LeBron for the league’s greatest honor. In 2014, Durant is averaging 37.0 points, 6.0 boards and 6.0 assists to keep the Thunder near the top of standings while Russell Westbrook recovers from knee surgery. For the first three months of the season we seemed destined to march into another LeBron first, KD second MVP race, but after seeing what Durant can do when he has the stage to himself, a lot of voters are going to be swayed. For the first time in his career Durant has a chance to taste the gold after a career’s worth of silver.