Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors

PBT’s NBA Mid-Season Awards: All hail Kevin Durant

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It’s the halfway point of the NBA season. To me having a serious discussion about end of season awards before this point is like discussing the 2016 presidential election today — it’s all speculation and wishful thinking.

Now we have enough games to have a body of evidence and a discussion. So here are my picks for all the awards, as things stand at the midway point of the season. I’ll give you my top five for MVP and three for everything else — including team to beat for the NBA title.

MVP
1. Kevin Durant
2. LeBron James
3. Chris Paul
4. Carmelo Anthony
5. Kobe Bryant

To me this is a two man race with a gap to the No. 3 spot. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the two best basketball players walking the face of the earth and both are having monster seasons — LeBron is averaging 26.5 points per game on 55 percent shooting, plus 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds a game, with a PER of 30.3. Durant is at 29.6 points a game on 52 percent shooting with 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game with a PER of 29.2. It’s tight.

What puts Durant on top for me is he is leading his team to more consistent play — the Heat appear bored and coasting to wins some nights, the Thunder seem to bring it every night. In the playoffs when the Heat are focused the outcome may be different, but this is a regular season award and I think Durant is getting more out of his team — James Harden was traded, he had to take on more playmaking load and the Thunder are better than last year. So he gets the big award for now.

Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard
2. Anthony Davis
3. Andre Drummond

This is not the runaway some fans think it is — Lillard is putting up 18.3 points and 6.6 assists per game and has taken charge of the Trail Blazers offense, but his defense is not good and his PER of 16.6 reflects some inefficiency in his game. He’s been fantastic, he’s the clear leader halfway home, but there are other good rookies, too.

Anthony Davis is not getting noticed because: 1) He’s on the Hornets and they only make news because they are about to be the Pelicans; 2) He has an unconventional offensive game — he doesn’t have a go-to offensive move, he doesn’t rack up a lot of highlights. What he does is space the floor well, play efficiently, defend well and he’s great on the roll or cutting off the ball. He’s going to be very special soon.

And my god Lawrence Frank, why are you playing so much Jason Maxiell and not so much Andre Drummond? You’re not making the playoffs, develop your young star. Drummond has the best PER among rookies at 22.9.

Sixth Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford
2. Jarrett Jack
3. J.R. Smith

This race is still really wide open for me. J.R. Smith puts up big numbers at times but he’s a little too streaky and inefficient for my taste. Jarrett Jack is right there because not only does he come in and anchor the second unit for the Warriors, he is a guy they trust with the ball in his hands at the end of games. He’s got the best PER of the group at 17. But he’s getting outscored pretty heavily by the other two, averaging 12.5 points a game.

Jamal Crawford’s flashy game — he finally practiced dribbling last summer! — fit with the Clippers “new Showtime” style, but the key is he is second on the team in scoring (16.6 points a game) and he leads the best bench unit in the NBA. He has been streaky and inefficient as well, but has had better results.

Defensive Player of the Year
1. Joakim Noah
2. Marc Gasol
3. Chris Paul

This is a tough and deep category — notice I don’t have any Pacers on here and they have the best defense in the land. Paul George easily could be on this list. Chris Paul makes it because he is leading the league in steals (2.6 a game) which is key to a pressure Clippers defense designed to set up fast breaks and highlight alley-oops to Blake Griffin. The Clippers have been good defensively and Paul leads them on that end, too. Marc Gasol is second because… have you watched him or Memphis? He just owns the paint and makes smart reads.

But the top spot goes to the Energizer Bunny that is Joakim Noah — the Bulls are a playoff team without MVP Derrick Rose because Noah has anchored their defense and brings it every night. Tom Thibodeau rightfully gets a lot of credit for what the Bulls do defensively, but it doesn’t work without Noah, who plays the role Kevin Garnett did in the scheme in Boston just as well.

Coach of the Year
1. Mark Jackson
2. Frank Vogel
3. Mike Woodson

Right or wrong, this award generally goes to the coach who exceeded expectations with his team. Woodson has gotten more out of the Knicks and got them to jell in a way Mike D’Antoni simply could not. Frank Vogel has the Pacers playing the best defense in the NBA by being smart and playing to their strengths. The Pacers have been without Danny Granger all season, have watched Roy Hibbert slump all season, and are still right there in the East and getting better.

But the award goes to Mark Jackson. And I’ll take my crow cooked medium rare — I thought this was a bad hire, taking the inexperienced coach out of the broadcast booth and it would backfire. But the fact is once he got a healthy team Jackson’s skill is getting guys to buy in and believe in the system and with that he has the Warriors impressing everyone (they beat the Thunder and Clippers in the last few days). Most importantly, Jackson got them playing good team defense, and that was a huge change.

Teams Most Likely to Win NBA Title This Season
1. Thunder
2. Heat
3. Clippers

When the Heat and Thunder were playing last year, I was saying not to be surprised if we saw that same finals three out of the next five years. It looks as if we might get a rematch this June. The Thunder are better — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 24, they are still at the point in their careers where their games make big strides each year. After their first Olympic experience, both came back better playmakers and that helped because when James Harden was traded the Thunder needed them to fill that gap. They did. Throw in the improved Serge Ibaka and good production from Kevin Martin and the Thunder are the team to beat in the West. The one team that can do it — the Clippers. Vinny Del Negro may run simple sets, but when you have Chris Paul letting him make decisions and improvise is smart coaching. Most importantly for the Clippers, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have learned how to defend as a unit on the back line (most of the time) and when the Clippers defend they are hard to beat. They are also much deeper now.

The Heat are coasting to the best record in the East. You only see their pressure defense and full intensity for a quarter here or a half there — but when you do you wonder if anyone can beat them when they are focused. And as we head into the playoffs they will get focused.

(Note: There are no picks for Most Improved Player because I can’t stand the award in concept and how it is usually handed out to a guy who just got more minutes because his coach finally woke up.)

Report: Heat, Chris Bosh clashed over Bosh wanting to play while on blood thinners

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on January 26, 2016 in New York City.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Chris Bosh missed the second half of the 2015-16 season with a reoccurrence of the blood clots that kept him out much of last season, and the situation was clouded by a lack of clarity. Reports emerged closer to the playoffs that Bosh and the Miami Heat disagreed about the handling of Bosh’s condition, that he wanted to play and doctors wouldn’t allow it. The Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson has some new details of their disagreement, which centered around Bosh wanting to play while on blood thinners.

According to a team source, the Bosh camp spent considerable time exploring the idea of Bosh continuing to take those blood thinners, but at a time of day (such as early morning) that the medication would be out of his bloodstream by game time.

Someone with knowledge of the situation said blood tests indicated the medication was out of Bosh’s system after 8 to 12 hours, which would significantly lessen the risk for Bosh playing. But the Heat and team doctors rejected that idea.

None of the doctors involved in Bosh’s case is commenting, but Robert Myerburg — an expert on treatment of athletes and a cardiologist at U-Health – said even though some of the newer blood thinners can be out of a patient’s system within 12 hours, “I would not use that strategy [that the Bosh camp explored]. There’s too much at risk.

“The drug being out of the system is not what worries me as much as the unprotected time” during games and other times when the blood thinner is out of his system, even more so if he’s subjected to trauma in an area where there was past clotting (in his leg and calf). He said patients with atrial fibrillation can sometimes be taken off thinners when they go on a skiing trip, but this is different.

As much as Bosh believed the blood thinners would be out of his system, the Heat were right to handle it the way they did. Even if timing the medication differently lessened the risk of playing, the Heat were still the ones responsible for what happened when he played. If something were to happen to him, the Heat would have to be the ones to explain how they let their medical staff be overruled by Bosh and allowed him to be placed in a life-threatening situation. Both Bosh and the Heat are apparently optimistic that he’ll be able to return next season, but blood clots are nothing to play around with, and taking an overly cautious approach this season was better than the alternative.

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff in talks to join David Fizdale’s staff in Memphis

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 21:   Head coah J.B. Bickerstaff of the Houston Rockets looks on at Toyota Center on April 21, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Now that former Heat assistant David Fizdale has accepted the Grizzlies’ head coaching job, he’s starting to put together his staff. One name to keep an eye on, according to John Martin of ESPN 92.9 in Memphis: J.B. Bickerstaff, who served as the Rockets’ interim coach this season after the team fired Kevin McHale in November.

The Rockets were a chemistry disaster this season, but Bickerstaff is highly regarded around the NBA in coaching circles. He was a candidate to keep the coaching job in Houston when the Rockets’ front office began their search, but he withdrew his name from consideration when he started receiving interest around the league as a lead assistant. It sounds like Memphis is one of the teams going after him, and he’d be a good hire for Fizdale’s staff.

Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob does “we’re not worthy” bow to Klay Thompson

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the fourth quarter in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Thompson “ridiculous.” That may be an understatement.

Thompson had 41 points, hit an NBA record 11 three-pointers in a playoff game, and the Golden State Warriors don’t force a Game 7 without him.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob may have had the best response, he drops to his knees and does the “we’re not worthy” bow before Thompson in the hallway postgame. (As there are reports a return trip to the Finals again could be worth $40 million to the franchise, Lacob should be bowing to Thompson for making that even possible.)

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Hat tip Eye on Basketball.

Reports: Bucks to extend Jason Kidd’s contract, hire Jazz’s Justin Zanik as assistant GM

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 20:  Head coach Jason Kidd of the Milwaukee Bucks stands on the court during introductions to the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 20, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Bucks defeated the Suns 101-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Bucks have a promising young core — led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, John Henson, and Kris Middleton — but one that took a step back this past season. Setbacks can mean changes in the power structure of an organization, and there are changes coming to Milwaukee.

However, not in the coaching ranks — Jason Kidd isn’t going anywhere, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Bucks are moving toward a contract extension with Kidd as coach, league sources said.

There will be changes further up the ladder.

John Hammond, the GM who was the architect of the current roster, has just one year left on his current contract, and the Bucks are bringing in Utah’s Justin Zanik as a GM in waiting, according to Wojnarowski.

Zanik, an assistant general manager with Utah, will join the Bucks with a similar job title – and an agreement that he will eventually become the successor to Milwaukee GM John Hammond, sources said.

Zanik has constructed a strong reputation within the league as a front-office executive and previously a player agent. Milwaukee was aggressive in pursuing him to eventually lead the franchise’s basketball operations.

The key is can Zanik and Kidd work together — Kidd has consistently pushed for more power in personnel decisions.

Bucks owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry have been aggressive since buying the team, and you can expect Zanik will be under orders to get this team back to the playoffs and back on an upward trajectory. That may just take time as all their young talent comes together. Well, that and they have to figure out how to make Greg Monroe fit with everyone else.