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.)

Grizzlies sign Toney Douglas for remainder of season

Memphis Grizzlies' Toney Douglas (16) defends Brooklyn Nets' Isaiah Whitehead (15) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) The Memphis Grizzlies have signed guard Toney Douglas for the remainder of the season

Douglas, 30, has played 14 games for the Grizzlies this season. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 5.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 17.2 minutes.

Douglas originally signed with the Grizzlies as a free agent Dec. 5 but was waived Dec. 15. He signed consecutive 10-day contracts with Memphis on Jan. 31 and Feb. 9.

The former first-round draft pick from Florida State has played 384 career regular-season games with the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans and Grizzlies.

Breaking down NBA trade deadline winners, losers: Good week for Pelicans, Raptors

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Drama, there was plenty of that. Rumors? Check. Hype? An overdose of it.

But actual trades, there were not a lot of those at the NBA trade deadline, like most years. And also like most years, there were few real game changers — while a big name or two changed teams, did anyone move into contention? Not sold that happened.

Still, there were winners and losers. And it’s time to break them all down.

Here are my top three winners and losers.

WINNERS:

New Orleans Pelicans. A small market team that fell into one franchise cornerstone star fell into another one Sunday because the Sacramento Kings wanted to move DeMarcus Cousins fast, before the owner changed his mind again, and said team seems to have a difficult-to-explain fascination with Buddy Hield. Now with Cousins and Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have potentially the best frontcourt in the NBA. (I say potentially because we need to see them actually play for a while before making declarations.)

There’s still work to do in New Orleans — re-sign Jrue Holiday this summer, get more shooting, find a wing defender —  but this team is in position to make a playoff push this season, then be much more of a threat next season. The hardest part of assembling a great team is getting the superstars because there is a limited supply. The Pelicans have two of them. Now we see what they do with it, but this is great news for a small market team that can struggle to get attention in football country. People will be watching now.

Toronto Raptors. Heading into the run-up to the trade deadline, their weak spot was the four, plus they needed to get more defense.

Then over the course of a week, the Raptors added Serge Ibaka and on deadline day P.J. Tucker in a fantastic trade. While Boston can sit back with those two Brooklyn picks and say the future is a few years from now, the Raptors can’t — their window is now. Ibaka isn’t the All-Star, borderline Defensive Player of the Year anymore, he doesn’t move like that guy now, but he’s still a huge upgrade over what they had. Tucker is the kind of physical defender Toronto needs in the postseason. I’m not sold the Raptors stand a chance against a healthy Cavaliers team, but their moves may have moved them back up to being the second best team in the East — now they need to make up the two games on the Wizards and move back up to the three seed in the East. They don’t want to be the four seed and get Cleveland in the second round.

Dallas Mavericks. They have been looking for their next Tyson Chandler for a while. They thought they had that and more a couple of years ago before DeAndre Jordan had a change of heart. Now they got their guyNerlens Noel. He could be an anchor for a decade, and the Mavs gave up only Justin Anderson (a potentially nice “3&D” player), Andrew Bogut (who the Sixers will waive), and what was billed as a first-round pick but is top 18 protected this year so it will revert to two second rounders.

There are reasons for concern for Dallas — Noel has a worrying injury history, a limited offensive game (but he stays in his lane), and the fact he’s likely going to get  a contract in the $100 million range this summer — but it was still a smart roll of the dice for Cuban’s team. Noel could be the center of the future, paired with Harrison Barnes for years as they Mavs rebuild in a post-Dirk era.

Honorable mention: Houston Rockets, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel.

LOSERS:

DeMarcus Cousins. There are 30 million reasons Cousins ends up on this side of the list. There may well be positives for him — he got out of dysfunctional Sacramento, he gets to play with a star in Anthony Davis, he can reset the narrative on his career — but he still lost out on $30 million because he will not get the designated player contract. It’s through no fault of his own, and his agent tried to prevent the move, but in the end Cousins lost out on a lot of cash when he got traded.

Sacramento Kings. Like everything with Sacramento, the trade of Cousins just didn’t feel thought out. In the least. It’s not moving on from Cousins that I’m questioning — that is a defendable action both in terms of on-court results and upcoming costs — but the execution of it. Forget that going back as far as couple years ago before the 2015 draft there were much better offers available — the Lakers offered both their first round picks, which became D'Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr., plus other parts — even now there were other teams that wanted in on the bidding and were never called. They were settled on Buddy Heild, who they like more than anyone else in the league, and wanted to move quickly before owner Vivek Ranadive changed his mind again. Maybe the Pelicans’ offer was the best one on the table right now, but better run franchises find ways to get more out of big deals because they don’t feel rushed.

Philadelphia 76ers. GM Bryan Colangelo misread the market on big men, and it hurt the Sixers come the trade deadline. He had the chance to move Jahlil Okafor — the guy the Sixers preferred to move at the deadline — for better offers last summer. Same with Noel. But Colangelo waited too long to make his move, waiting for a better offer (and to see if Noel and Joel Embiid could play together), to the point that he had to trade Noel and get back just a couple of second round picks and a potential 3&D wing who couldn’t get into Rick Carlisle’s rotation in Dallas.

Bottom line, Philly traded their better availble big man for too little, and still have the guy they didn’t want on their roster. That’s not a good day.

Honorable mention: New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers (two teams that stood pat because they couldn’t make the move they needed — which is better than bad move, but not good).

Mike Budenholzer says Ersan Ilyasova will be good fit for Hawks

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 06:  Kelly Olynyk #41 of the Boston Celtics defends Ersan Ilyasova #23 of the Detroit Pistons during the first quarter at TD Garden on January 6, 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer says newly acquired power forward Ersan Ilyasova was targeted as a player he saw as a good fit on Atlanta’s front line.

The 6-foot-10 Ilyasova gives Atlanta a “stretch forward” who can make 3-pointers while playing behind All-Star Paul Millsap.

“To get somebody that we really targeted and wanted, we feel really good about that,” Budenholzer said Thursday.

Budenholzer said matching center Dwight Howard‘s inside game with Ilyasova “who can stretch and hit the 3s, that is a good pairing.”

Ilyasova is expected to join the team before the team plays Miami on Friday night.

Ilyasova was acquired from Philadelphia on Wednesday night. The 76ers obtained injured center Tiago Splitter and a protected second-round draft pick from Atlanta, and have the right to swap another 2017 second-round pick with the Hawks.

Ilyasova, from Eskisehir, Turkey, has averaged 14.8 points while starting in 40 of 53 games this season.

“He’s somebody that for some time all of us in the front office … we all kind of watched and wanted him to be a part of the team,” Budenholzer said. “I think he’s a smart player, a competitive guy. He does a lot of little things. He has an edge to him. Obviously he can shoot.”

The Hawks hope Ilyasova, 29, adds scoring punch as they attempt to improve their playoff position. They are fifth in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind Toronto.

“He can help our team a lot,” Millsap said. “We can help ourselves a lot too. With both of those, I think we can move up to 2. I think we’ve got a chance. We’ve got enough games to do it.”

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore said Ilyasova is “one of the best shooters in the game, I think, as far as playing the stretch 4 position.”

“If there’s one thing this team needs, I think, is a little more shooting and he can bring just that,” Bazemore said.

The Hawks cleared a roster spot before Thursday’s trade deadline by sending forward Mike Scott to the Phoenix Suns for cash.

Scott averaged 7.1 points over five seasons with Atlanta but had seen a diminished role this season. He was averaging a career-low 2.5 points in only 18 games this season and was sent to the NBA Development League on three assignments.

Charles Oakley plans to attend Knicks game in Cleveland

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2011 photo, then-Charlotte Bobcats assistant coach and former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley directs players in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Charlotte, N.C.  Oakley was forcefully removed from his seats at Madison Square Garden and arrested after an altercation near team owner James Dolan. Oakley shoved security guards before they pulled him away from his seat behind the baseline during the first quarter of the Knicks' 119-115 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, Feb. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
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Charles Oakley might not be welcome at Knicks games in New York.

Knicks games in Cleveland? I suspect he’ll get a different reception.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

Charles Oakley plans to attend New York’s road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, the former Knicks player told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

Oakley, a Cleveland native, has grown close with the Cavaliers. LeBron James particularly backed Oakley in his dispute with Knicks owner Jim Dolan.

To be clear, Oakley’s feud is more with Dolan than the Knicks, Oakley’s former team. So, assuming Dolan doesn’t attend tonight’s game, this won’t into the fireworks we saw at the last Knicks game Oakley attended.

It’ll just be a chance for more people outside Dolan’s payroll to embrace Oakley.