ProBasketballTalk’s mid-season awards: Durant for MVP, Carter-Williams for ROY

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We are at the NBA’s mid-season — it takes that long to really start to get a line on the NBA’s award season. Guys get hot early then fade, and you can bet some guys will make a push the second half of the season (remember J.R. Smith for Sixth Man of the Year last season?).

But as of today, this is how I would vote for the NBA’s end-of-season awards.

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Injuries can often swing thinking on this award, some years it is how a team might crumble without their star. This year, it’s about Durant has stepped up with Russell Westbrook out. Durant had to step up his scoring, but the efficient way he has done it puts him on top of the list here. With all due respect to LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Chris Paul and others, this is a two-man race — LeBron James or Durant will win it. Right now Durant is in the lead.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

He’s putting up good numbers — 17.3 points, 6.4 assists, 5.9 rebounds, with a PER of 17.4 — and while he has been a volume scorer (shooting percentage of 40.6, true shooting percentage of 48.4) he’s been the best rookie at impacting both ends of the court. Trey Burke is showing some strong play in Utah and Victor Oladipo is showing flashes in Orlando, and those two are still in the race, but in a down year for rookies (hello Anthony Bennett) MCW is having the best season of the class.

Sixth Man of the Year: Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs

This is a two-man race right now and I lean toward Ginobili over Jamal Crawford of the Clippers, who has had to step up his scoring in the wake of injuries in Los Angeles. However, Ginobili has had a renaissance season and what he brings is not just 12.4 points a game assists, rebounds and generally smart play that elevates those around him. Bottom line, the Spurs are an elite team and their offense improves 12 points per 100 possessions when Ginobili is on the court, the Spurs outscore their opponents by 14.1 points per 100 possessions when he plays. Crawford doesn’t have that kind of all around impact.

Coach of the Year: Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers

He has gotten the Trail Blazer players to buy into a system of ball movement that has given them the best offense in the NBA this season. This was a team that with a similar roster last season didn’t even make the playoffs. This is also one of the more wide open awards still heading into the second half of the season, with Frank Vogel in Indiana and Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix in the mix.

Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers

Hibbert is the clear winner here and more than any other category should win in a landslide at the end of the season. There is no player that protects the pain, who disrupts an opponents’ offensive game plan like Hibbert. He is the focal point of Indiana’s league-best defense.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”