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: Dwyane Wade’s cousin killed as innocent bystander in gang shooting in Chicago

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  General manager Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls (L) listens as Dwyane Wade speaks during an introductory press conference at the Advocate Center on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This news is just sickening. In a world with just too much sickening news.

According to NBC 5 in Chicago (which spoke to police), Dwyane Wade‘s first cousin Nykea Aldridge was pushing a stroller down the street when she was shot and killed as an innocent in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

The 32-year-old woman, whom family identified as Nykea Aldridge, was apparently the unintended victim of a gang shooting, police said. She was walking around 3:30 p.m. in the 6300 block of South Calumet when two males approached another male and opened fire, police said.

Wade tweeted this.

Aldridge was on her way to a local school to register her kids (they had just moved) when the shooting took place. There has been a rash of gang and gun violence in Chicago in the past year, and Dwyane’s mother Jolinda Wade had just been on a panel on ESPN’s Undefeated talking about it.

Wade is coming to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls this season.

Our thoughts are with Nykea Aldridge’s family and friends.

Bill Walton blames himself for Clippers leaving San Diego

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13:  Member of the Boston Celtics 1986 Championship team Bill Walton is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Donald Sterling was the owner of the Clippers when they left San Diego to move to the Los Angeles Sports Arena in 1984. He’s a greedy man who lived in Los Angeles, he owned a bad Clipper team playing in a fast-aging building in San Diego, Sterling was bouncing checks to the point the NBA was ready to take the team away from him, and the selfish owner wanted the team closer to him in a situation where he could make as much money as possible. To suggest Sterling (especially in that era) made any move that was not financially related would be just wrong.

Still Bill Walton — a San Deigo native — blames himself for Clippers leaving San Diego.

He talked about it with the brilliant Arash Markazi of ESPN.

“When you fail in your hometown, that’s as bad as it gets, and I love my hometown,” said Walton, who grew up in La Mesa, 9 miles east of downtown San Diego. “I wish we had NBA basketball here, and we don’t because of me….

“It’s my greatest failure as a professional in my entire life,” Walton said. “I could not get the job done in my hometown. It is a stain and stigma on my soul that is indelible. I’ll never be able to wash that off, and I carry it with me forever.”

It was not on Walton. Not even close.

This was the Walton between the as-good-as-any-center-ever Walton that led the Trail Blazers to the title in 1977 and the Sixth Man of the Year Walton in Boston in 1985. The Clippers’ Walton was the one battling multiple foot surgeries that kept him out of most of multiple seasons in a row — something he could not control. And if you want to make judgements about how he was healthy before and after his time with the Clippers but seemed to get poor medical treatment on cheap Sterling’s team, go right ahead.

The move to LA was all about Donald Sterling. It was about his pocket book and what was convenient for him. There was a reason his team was at the bottom of the NBA for two decades (and that since he sold the team, while they have struggled to advance deep in the playoffs, they have been a more serious threat).

Bill Walton shouldn’t blame himself.

 

Jeremy Lin has cameo in Taiwanese music video. Because he can.

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You know Jay Chou as “Kato” from the Seth Rogen version of “The Green Hornet.” Well, you know him that way if you’re one of the people who suffered through that disappointing effort.

It turns out, Chou is basically the Justin Timberlake of Taiwan — actor, musician, good at everything he touches (except the Green Hornet, but that’s not on him). He’s huge.

And in his latest music video (above) he has Brooklyn’s Jeremy Lin as a co-star.

There is pop-a-shot, a lot of ice cream references, and of course dancing in outfits that you and I couldn’t pull off in public. Just go ahead and watch it. You know you want to.

Expect to see Chou courtside in Brooklyn this season. They could use it, the Nets need a few celebs in house.

(Hat tip to  of CBSSports.com, apparently an avid follower of the Taiwanese music scene, and The Score.)

As expected, John Wall denies he cares what Beal, Harden, or others make

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 29:  John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 29, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This was as predictable as Trump mentioning his wall in a stump speech he feels going flat.

Thursday, the Ringer reported that Washington’s John Wall was unhappy when he saw the money thrown around this summer at James Harden and even Wall’s teammate Bradley Beal. The quote that summed it up from an anonymous source: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

The second that story hit the web you knew Wall would deny it, and that came via ESPN’s The Uninterrupted (which has done well since it’s launch):

For both of you who hate video and prefer it written out:

“I just wanted to clear the air for all these people talking about how I’m watching other people’s pockets and I’m not worried about basketball and getting better. Listen, that doesn’t matter to me. If I produce like I’m supposed to on the basketball court and take care of myself and image, I’m going to be fine with making money. That’s not why I play the game of basketball.”

Two quick thoughts. First, talk to Wall for any length of time and it does become clear he loves basketball and plays the game with a passion. That shouldn’t be up for debate.

Secondly, everybody in the NBA compares salaries. Everybody knows what everybody is making. There’s another locker room measuring comparison equivalent, but I’m not going there. The reality is guys who were not free agents or up for an extension — and because of the length of Wall’s contract, that includes him — were shaking their heads at the money thrown around. Of course they wanted a piece of it. That’s different than jealousy, or lacking chemistry with a teammate because of it.

That said, Beal and Wall have never clicked like expected. Injuries are certainly a part of the issue, but it’s fair to question what else is going on, and if Scott Brooks as coach can change that.