PBT’s Mid-Season NBA Awards: Curry, Harden, and love for Budenholzer

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We’re at the mid-way point of the NBA season — it’s time to hand out some virtual hardware.

Or, at least who we think should take home the NBA award hardware at this point. There’s still half a season to go and so every race is still open to change… except maybe Rookie of the Year.

The races feel wide open because some of the obvious front-runners have been injured and/or off their game — before the season everyone thought that MVP would be a two-horse race between Kevin Durant and LeBron James, but as of right now neither might make the top five for that award. So it goes on down the line.

The entire team at ProBasketballTalk — Kurt Helin, Brett Pollakoff, Dan Feldman and Sean Highkin — voted on all the major end-of-the-year awards and we’ve laid out our choices below below, with a little explanation of the thinking on each. As noted above, this is who would get our vote as of today, this list could look very different come the end of the season.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (Kurt, Dan, Sean): Offensively he is a force of nature and is the only player in the NBA in the top 10 in scoring (23.2 per game), assists (8 per game) and he is doing it efficiently — he is taking 16.4 shots a game, and has a ridiculous true shooting percentage of .636. However, the real reason he’s the best player on the best player on the best team is his improved defense. It’s not just the 2.1 steals per game it’s his ability to fight over picks, plus his improved help defense. This race is far from over — with Kevin Durant and LeBron James down this season the field is wide open — but Curry is making a strong case for the MVP. —KH

James Harden, Houston Rockets (Brett): Stephen Curry has been the best player on the league’s best team, and usually that’s enough to warrant MVP consideration. But James Harden has simply been otherworldly offensively, and much more valuable to his team’s overall success. Harden leads the league in scoring, has scored 40 or more points on four separate occasions, and led the Rockets to an 8-3 record while Dwight Howard was sidelined due to injury. Curry may be able to similarly carry his team, but the wealth of talent in Golden State means he hasn’t had to. Harden has, and he’s more than risen to that challenge. —BP

ROOKIE OF THE HALF YEAR

Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (unanimous): This category has felt cursed with guys like Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle out of the running due to injuries. But let’s not take away from the fact Andrew Wiggins has become a real shooter — he hit 39 percent from three in January — and is regularly notching 20 point games to go with his already solid defense and off the charts athleticism. This is not the most impressive rookie class so far, but Wiggins is starting to look like he could be special. He is developing quickly. —KH

COACH OF THE HALF YEAR

Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks (unanimous): There is a reason the Spurs didn’t want to see Budenholzer leave, that they wanted him to take over for Popovich someday, and you’re seeing it in Atlanta. The culture of selfless basketball, the player movement and ball movement, getting guys to buy in is all very Spursian and Budenholzer has brought it to Atlanta. Oh, and he’s got this team defending as well. Steve Kerr might be second in this race, he’s done a good job, but nobody has exceeded expectations and changed the feel of a team like Budenholzer. —KH

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SIXTH MAN OF THE HALF YEAR

Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors (Brett): It often takes two seasons for someone to fully recover from knee surgery and Williams is the poster child for that, bouncing back this season for the Raptors to score 15 points a game in better than 24 minutes a night. His athleticism has returned and with that he is attacking and getting to the line 4.8 times a game. He’s the energy the Raptors needed off the bench and is putting up numbers that warrant him winning the award.

Marreese Speights, Golden State Warriors (Kurt, Sean): While he’s playing fewer minutes (just below 19 a game) than any of the other candidates for this rather wide open award, he’s having a huge impact. There are the raw numbers of 12.6 points and 5.1 rebounds a game, but Speights is putting up his numbers far more efficiently than his competition with a .568 true shooting percentage and a 21.2 PER. Speights is also the best defensive player of the candidates, and is a central part of the Warriors’ league-best defense. —KH

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers (Dan): Sixth Man of the Year is a wide-open race with at least a dozen legitimate candidates. I went with Thompson, who’s averaging 9.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, because he’s filled a large role while clearly making his team better when on the court. To be fair, Thompson earned a lot of his value while starting for an injured Anderson Varejao, but the award’s criteria doesn’t separate production when starting vs. coming off the bench. The only rule is a player must come off the bench more than he starts, which Thompson has (31 games off the bench, 11 starts). With Timofey Mozgov stepping in, Thompson probably won’t deserve this honor at the end of the year, but for the season’s first half, he’s got my vote. —DF

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE HALF YEAR

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (Kurt, Dan): You really need to watch Golden State’s league-best defense to see how Draymond Green is key, how he is the glue that makes it work and how he should be DPOY. The advanced stats show it, he leads the NBA in defensive rating and defensive win shares. If you get caught up in his traditional numbers — not bad at 1.5 blocks and 1.4 steals a game but not eye popping — you miss the point. This is more like Marc Gasol winning a couple of years ago, when you watched closely he deserved it. There are other deserving candidates this year but Green should be at the top of the list. —KH

Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (Sean): Father time is losing the foot race with Duncan and he has anchored another strong year from the Spurs defense. Duncan has some raw numbers — two blocks a game while being in the top-five of both defensive rating and defensive win shares — but it is his intangibles leading that defense and make the Spurs dangerous. It doesn’t matter what age he is. —KH

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (Brett): Remember that part of defense is rebounding — you need to end the other team’s possession — and nobody has been better at that this season than Jordan, who is pulling down 13.4 boards a game. Combine that with his 2.4 blocks a game (second in the league) and you have a guy in charge of the glass when he is on the court.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE HALF YEAR

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (Kurt, Brett, Dan): If you’re going to improve, do it in a contract year. Butler and the Bulls couldn’t agree on a contract extension number and now the Bulls are going to really pay for him because in addition to his quality defense Butler has found his shooting stroke, hitting 39.7 percent from three (up from 28.3 percent a year ago), and is shooting 46.5 percent overall (up from 39.7 percent last season). He’s averaging 20.6 points a game for an improved Bulls offense, and while he’s been in a bit of a slump the past few weeks he’s still the leader in this category. —KH

Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (Sean): Under head coach Steve Kerr Green has jumped both in his production and role to become a key part of the West’s best team in the first half. He’s scoring more points (11.5 a game) but is doing it more efficiently and he is taking more threes and helping spread the floor for a team that loaded with dangerous shooters. He’s also a very good defender who has been the glue for making what the Warriors do on that end work. His improvement, and the trust Kerr has shown in him, make him a Sixth Man of the Year.

Andre Drummond leaves $1,000 tip for waitress, who says she is shaking with joy

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
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It has been a rough few months for everyone involved in the restaurant industry, with doors closed and an estimated 5.9 million jobs lost. Even as some restaurants start to re-open to diners in parts of the country, things are not the same — social distancing dining rooms with reduced capacity — and everyone is on a financial edge.

That’s why Cleveland Cavaliers’ big man Andre Drummond leaving a $1,000 tip for a waitress in Delray Beach, Florida, left her “shaking and had tears of happiness.”

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Our waitress, @kaxandra.diaz experience yesterday, “Today, started off as slow day at work getting there for my double shift. The past week, overall, has been pretty slow of course due to COVID. Restaurants and staff have been struggling, as you can imagine. Little did I know that today I would get a tip no server would guess that they would ever receive when they open that check book. Unknowingly, I was seated and served a table with @andredrummondd I had no idea who he was, and hadn’t seen him here before but we @che.delray always welcome our new customers. When I was given the checkbook, I went to put in the tip & information to close the table and I couldn’t believe it. From a $160 check, the tip read $1,000. I was shaking and had tears of happiness after what he left me. I had no idea how to react, I didn’t want to draw attention but at the same time I couldn’t describe the the amount of appreciation I had/ have. It’s so amazing to see people displaying acts of kindness in these uncertain times. This is a story I will never forget, thank you again so much @andredrummondd “ * * * * * * * * * @che.delray wants to thank you for your kindness, it was our pleasure to have you here! We hope you enjoyed your time with us, we wish you the best!

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Good on Drummond, it was a generous gesture in a time of need for many.

All Cedric Maxwell got for winning NBA Finals MVP was this janky watch (video)

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Just two NBA Finals MVPs who are eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame haven’t been selected for induction:

  • Cedric Maxwell (1981 Celtics)
  • Chauncey Billups (2004 Pistons)

Andre Iguodala (2015 Warriors) could join them, but he at least has some Hall of Fame chatter surrounding him. Billups is absolutely a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate, even if not enshrined.

Maxwell, on the other hand, wasn’t on that level. He never even made an All-Star team. He was just a good player who had an excellent six games against the Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals.

Really, it’s a neat distinction to be the lone NBA Finals MVP who was never a star. Maxwell can cherish that.

And this watch, which he reveals in this entertaining video.

NBPA reaching out to players, getting feedback on return scenarios

Michele Roberts
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been in information gathering mode since the day he was forced to shut the league down. He’s gathered information from medical experts on how a return would work, talked to owners and GMs about the financial end and what they hope to see, and had conferences with the league’s broadcast partners.

Most of all, Silver wanted to know what the players thought. With the NBA closing in on a return strategy — Friday Silver and team owners will have a conference call that could lead to a decisive plan — players’ union executive director Michele Roberts is taking the return plans to the players for feedback, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It looks like the NBA will return to play in Orlando, with training camps starting in late June and games in mid-July.

The questions to be answered are:

• Do all 30 teams report to Orlando to play a handful of regular season games, getting teams over the 70 game threshold?
• Do just the top 16 teams report with the league jumping straight to the playoffs?
• If the league does go straight to the playoffs, how will that impact player pay, which is tied to the regular season?
• Will there be a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds?
Should the NBA do a 1-16 seed playoff format, or keep the traditional Eastern/Western conference format?
• Will each playoff round have seven games, or will the first round (or two) be best-of-five?

Everything option is still on the table (as officials will be quick to say). However, the buzz around the league has grown louder that just the top 16 teams will go to Florida, and there will be seven-game series for every round, as the league tries to squelch any asterisk talk.

We may know a lot more on Friday. And the players will have their say.

Michael Jordan on tape saying he wouldn’t play on Dream Team with Isiah Thomas

Pistons guard Isiah Thomas and Bulls guard Michael Jordan
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In “The Last Dance,” Michael Jordan was asked to react to Isiah Thomas’ explanation of the Pistons’ infamous walk-off. Jordan replied immediately:

I know it’s all bulls—. Whatever he says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. He’s had time enough to think about it. Or the reaction of the public, that’s kind of changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want. There’s no way you can convince me he wasn’t an a—hole.

Maybe there was some projection in that answer.

For years, Jordan has denied any involvement in Thomas not making the Dream Team. Rod Thorn, who was on the selection committee for the 1992 Olympics, has backed Jordan’s version of events.

But Jordan once revealed a different story.

Jordan on Jack McCallum’s “The Dream Team Tapes:”

Rod Thorn called me. I said, “Rod, I won’t play if Isiah Thomas is on the team.” He assured me. He said, “You know what? Chuck doesn’t want Isiah. So, Isiah is not going to be part of the team.”

Yes, the Pistons were being poor sports when they left the floor without shaking the Bulls’ hands in the 1991 playoffs. But that neither began nor ended the story.

The Bulls repeatedly disrespected the Pistons while finally overcoming Detroit. That particularly bothered the Pistons, because, on their way up, they paid deference to to the Celtics and Lakers. So, while the walk-off was – even according to Thomas – regrettable, it happened for a reason.

Jordan carrying his vendetta to the Dream Team only escalated matters. Yet, unlike the Pistons for not shaking hands, Jordan receives minimal scorn for his poor sportsmanship. Threatening not to play if a rival player is also included is the antithesis of what people want the Olympics to stand for.

And Jordan is now on published audio admitting that’s exactly what he did. You can listen to him for yourself.

As the best player and marketing giant, Jordan had the power. Thomas felt the consequences.

In 1992, Thomas was a marginal choice for the Dream Team. He wasn’t clearly better than the players who made it on current ability. He wasn’t as great as the players – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird – who made it on career accomplishments. It would’ve been fine to select Thomas. It would have been fine to omit him.

But it’s a shame he never got proper consideration on merit.

It’s also a shame Dream Team coach Chuck Daly, who coached Thomas in Detroit, is no longer alive to give his account. Did Dally really tell Thorn not to put Thomas on the Olympic team? Did Thorn really tell that to Jordan? Jordan and Thorn are just so untrustworthy on this matter.