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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.