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.

Embiid scores career-high 49, 76ers beat Hawks 129-112

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PHILADELPHIAJoel Embiid scored a career-high 49 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Tobias Harris had 25 points and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Atlanta Hawks 129-112 on Monday night.

Missing All-Star Ben Simmons for the second time in three games because of a back injury, the Sixers mixed up their starting lineup and got 15 points from Furkan Korkmaz in a reserve role.

Trae Young led Atlanta with 28 points despite missing nine of 11 from 3-point range. De'Andre Hunter added 22 and John Collins had 21 for the Hawks.

After trailing by 21 in the first half, the Hawks outscored Philadelphia 23-9 to start the third quarter. They closed out the period with an 8-0 run and took a 92-91 lead into the fourth after Young nailed a 3.

The Sixers went up to stay on four consecutive free throws by Embiid. Harris sank a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 105-98.

Embiid’s dunk and 19-footer put Philadelphia up by 15 with 3:08 left, and the All-Star center heard “MVP!” chants when he went to the foul line in the final minutes. Embiid made 14 of 15 free throws and 17 of 24 from the floor. He hit a 3 in the final minute to set his personal best. His previous high was 46 against the Lakers on Nov. 15, 2017.

Simmons only played five minutes in a loss at Milwaukee on Saturday before exiting. He had tests on Sunday and needs further evaluation.

Coach Brett Brown wouldn’t speculate on the extent of the injury or how long Simmons will be sidelined. But it appears the team is preparing to play without him for a while.

TIP-INS

Hawks: The loss snapped a two-game winning streak. The Hawks haven’t won three in a row all season. … Young, who entered averaging 30.0 points per game, only had 10 in the first half. Young had 39 points and 18 assists in a 127-117 victory over the 76ers at home on Jan. 30. … Coach Lloyd Pierce was an assistant for five seasons under Brown in Philadelphia before going to Atlanta last year.

76ers: Al Horford was back in the starting lineup after coming off the bench the last three games The 6-foot-9. Horford had started 835 straight games since his rookie season in 2007 before Brown took him out of the starting lineup on Feb. 11. … Shake Milton started at point guard for Simmons. Shooting guard Josh Richardson also played the point.

UP NEXT

Hawks: Host Orlando on Wednesday to begin a stretch of seven of nine games at home.

76ers: Visit Cleveland on Wednesday seeking to sweep the four-game season series.

Moments we will never forget from Kobe Bryant’s memorial

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LOS ANGELES — “This morning was beautiful, it really was. It was emotional… You know what was interesting, if you looked around at all those people, it just brought people together.”

Doc Rivers, who coaches another team in a city he accurately described “brokenhearted,” summed up the feeling around Kobe Bryant’s memorial on Monday at Staples Center perfectly. It was a celebration for a basketball world — and a city in Los Angeles — that needed it.

It was filled with moments we will not forget.

Everything started with a soulful song from Beyoncé.

“I don’t know how Vanessa did it. I didn’t know that was possible,” Rivers said, encapsulating the feelings of everyone who watched Vanessa Bryant eulogize her husband and daughter with grace and beauty. It set the emotional tone for the day and was perfect.

Michael Jordan — the man that helped fuel Kobe and became his friend — spoke from his heart. He also had the funniest line of the day.

It it wasn’t MJ, it was Diana Taurasi who cracked up the crowd.

The same passion we all recognized in Kobe, obviously, Gigi inherited. Her skill was undeniable at an early age. I mean, who has a turn-away fade-away jumper at 11?

LeBron barely got it today.

When the event ended, former players and coaches hung out in Staples Center for more than an hour, just talking and reminiscing. Outside Staples, thousands of fans did the same thing.

Kobe Bryant touched so many lives in positive ways. That, more than anything, is his true legacy. And what was celebrated on Monday.

Report: Former NBA player Jonathon Simmons to sign with G-League

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CNBC’s Jabari Young reports that former NBAer Jonathon Simmons will sign with the G-League:

Simmons last played in the NBA in 2018-19 with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers acquired Simmons from the Orlando Magic are the 2019 trade deadline. Following the season, Simmons was traded again, this time to the Washington Wizards in a deal designed to shed some salary off Philadelphia’s cap sheet.

Simmons is no stranger to working his way to the NBA from the G-League. He once paid a $150 fee to attend an open tryout for players trying to make the then D-League. Simmons made it and was allocated to the Austin Spurs.

After two years in Austin, Simmons was signed to a training camp contract with the San Antonio Spurs. He spent the next two seasons in San Antonio before signing with Orlando as a free agent in 2017. At the 2019 trade deadline, Orlando sent Simmons to Philadelphia, along with a first round pick, for former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz.

Players sign with the G-League itself vs individual teams. They are then allocated to teams through a variety of methods. According to Young, Simmons is expected to ultimately land with the Santa Cruz Warriors. Santa Cruz has a good track record of getting players called up to the NBA, which is probably what attracted Simmons to agree to play for them.

Lakers, DeMarcus Cousins reportedly may talk new contract next summer

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Sunday, the Lakers waived DeMarcus Cousins to clear out a roster space for Markieff Morris. Cousins was signed last July to be the team’s starting center, but he tore his ACL in training and has not stepped on the court this season. It wasn’t personal, it was business, and under the terms of the CBA Cousins can continue his rehab in the Lakers’ practice facilities.

Cousins may be officially gone, but he could return next season to the Lakers, reports Joe Varden at The Athletic.

But the Lakers could re-sign him this summer, something both sides have expressed interest in pursuing, sources said.

This would be another one-year minimum contract deal, and it makes sense for both sides. Dwight Howard is a free agent and, after a resurgent (but not elite) season in Los Angeles, likely will get offers for more than the Lakers can pay him. JaVale McGee has a $4.2 million player option. Whatever McGee decides, the Lakers will be looking for another big man (and maybe two). Cousins could step right in.

What he can offer on the court coming off a torn Achilles and ACL remains to be seen, but the Lakers will not ask a lot of their centers. Cousins is a two-time All-NBA, four-time All-Star player who should still be able to give the Lakers some solid minutes in the paint.

The Lakers will keep their options open, but don’t be surprised if the two sides reunite.