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 says Luka Doncic ‘didn’t have to go to class, study hall’

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Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic Has been a professional basketballer since he was 16 years old, first appearing with the top-tier Real Madrid squad in the ACB in 2015. Doncic has been a resident of Spain since he was 13, and as such he has needed to complete specific schooling as required by Spanish law.

Nobody told Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant that.

In a recent comment about Doncic to media, Durant said that he felt as though part of the reason the Mavericks rookie has a leg up is because he has been able to focus on basketball for much longer than some of his American compatriots.

Via ESPN:

“He played in Europe last season. The rest of the rookie class played in college. So he’s in the second best league in the world learning how to play the game. He didn’t have to go to class, study hall, none of that extra stuff the rest of the guys had to go through, he was just focusing on his game probably since he was 14 years old. So that’s an advantage for him and you could tell that he’s not shy, he’s not afraid of the moment. And he’s going to be a force.”

Durant’s information about Doncic doesn’t appear to be based in fact. Doncic completed his Spanish schooling according to Eurohoops.net, which would mean he’s had to participate in academics up until last year. While Doncic has been a professional — and has been getting paid above board longer than other rookies — it’s not as though he hasn’t had to complete schooling.

This also raises some comparative questions about what Durant thinks goes on for kids in high-level AAU programs, top high school academies in the U.S., or even for players like Durant himself, who played just one year in college. That’s before we even get into semantics about the rigor of academics for sports phenomenons, home and abroad.

The mystery of European prospects has started to fade, but international players still have some kind of shroud hanging around them for people in the U.S., and that includes NBA players. It’s best to get out of this type of thing early and dispel it with the facts we know and have available to us. Durant was being complimentary, of course, but the Warriors forward saying Doncic has been focusing on nothing but basketball since he left middle school is a bridge too far.

In any case, there’s no doubt Doncic is going to be a force. We all picked him for Rookie of the Year, and unless someone stops him that’s exactly what he’s going to be.

Report: Lakers to change up lineups in lieu of LeBron, wins

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The Los Angeles Lakers are not a good basketball team without LeBron James. This is fairly obvious, and we knew the ultimate test heading into this season would be if James suffered an injury that kept him out for a significant period of time.

Of course we have been able to test this theory firsthand this season as LeBron has not played since a 127-101 win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. The Lakers have lost seven of their last 10 games, and so head coach Luke Walton has decided to switch up his starting lineup.

Both Josh Hart and JaVale McGee will find themselves in the reserve rotation moving forward for Los Angeles.

Via Twitter:

McGee started the season strong but has seen a downward trend in subsequent months. McGee’s rebounding numbers and have been disappointing as of late, but most shocking has been his field goal percentage. He’s been hovering in the low-60s all season long but in the month of January McGee has dipped to just 47.4 percent.

Hart has been relatively steady, although January has been hard on him from beyond the 3-point line. Typically a reliable outside shooter, Hart has shot just 17.5 percent from downtown since the start of the new year.

No doubt Walton is hoping that a change in the lineup will help alter some of the scouting opponents have against the Lakers, as well as revitalize both McGee and Hart individually.

Terry Rozier on Celtics’ challenge: “Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

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Too many mouths to feed.

Among the many “what is wrong with the Celtics?” theories the idea that there are too many players who want touches and shots had a lot of traction around the league. Last playoffs, then rookie Jayson Tatum, second-year player Jaylen Brown, and “scary” Terry Rozier had increased roles — and thrived. They were the alphas (along with Al Horford), the guys with the ball in their hands leading a team to the conference finals, and they liked it — these are young players trying to carve out a role (or, in Rozier’s case, prove to other team’s he’s a starting point guard) and they didn’t want to take a step back. But that’s what had to happen with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the rotation. The result was a lack of a pecking order on offense, uncomfortable sacrifices, and precious little of the fluid play that got them within a game of the Finals a year ago.

Rozier seems to agree with that theory, speaking to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports in a story about Kyrie Irving’s adjustment to being a leader.

“I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this,” Rozier told Yahoo. “Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it.”

When asked if the roster was too talented, Rozier didn’t back down.

“Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

If everyone buys in, if everyone sacrifices (including Irving), if guys are willing to accept a role, all that talent can make the Celtics versatile and the team everyone expected. The team to beat in the East.

To get there will require Irving to be a leader — in words and actions. That’s more than just calling out the young core, it’s getting them involved and feeling like contributors so they are willing to make sacrifices. It’s doing the little things yourself. Can Irving do all that and turn Boston into the conference favorite we expected.

Or were Nets fans right, he is going to get frustrated and leave this summer?

The second half of this season in Boston is going to be fascinating.

Philadelphia signs Corey Brewer to 10-day contract in effort to add depth

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The Philadelphia 76ers remain a step behind Toronto and Milwaukee — and maybe Boston — in the Eastern Conference, despite adding Jimmy Butler to form a “big three” with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. One issue is getting those three to make sacrifices to their games and meld together. The second big issue is depth: J.J. Redick is their fourth best player, then things drop off a cliff.

Enter veteran Corey Brewer.

For at least 10 days, anyway.

The 76ers signed Brewer to a 10-day contract, the team announced Tuesday.

“For me, I love playing basketball. I just wanted another opportunity,” Brewer told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I feel like I did enough last year that I should be on a team. But sometimes things don’t work out the right way … you can’t look it like that. An opportunity is an opportunity. I get to come here, and I gotta prove myself…

“I’m like a glue guy,” he said. “I do all the little stuff. I play hard, I’m going to run hard, and I feel like the way Ben [Simmons] pushes it, that’s right up my alley.”

Brewer is the king of the leak out and may benefit from some Simmons passes that way.

Brewer split time last season between the Lakers and Thunder, and in OKC he showed he could play a role on the right team and shot 34.3 percent from three. That fit was not evident on the young Lakers, Brewer looked out of place and struggled with his shot, which is likely why he was not able to land a guaranteed contract this past offseason.

This is a 10-day contract, the Sixers can sign him to two of those before having to either let him go or commit to him for the rest of the season. This is likely the first in a series of roster moves over the next few weeks as Elton Brand looks to find the right pieces to go around his big three stars so the team can make a push this offseason.