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.

Houston acquires 2025 2nd-round pick in eight-player trade with Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Sacramento Kings
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski described this as a “cap-centric deal”, since it helped the Thunder get around $10 million below the luxury tax, while Houston added a 2nd-round pick by taking on $1 million in cap space.

The Rockets acquired Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Moe Harkless, Theo Maledon and a protected 2025 2nd-round pick from the Hawks and sent David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss to Oklahoma City.

The 2nd-rounder from Atlanta is protected 31-40, and it will become the second best 2026 2nd-round pick between the Mavericks, Thunder, and 76ers if it doesn’t convey in 2025.

A tweet from Jackson Gatlin of Locked On Rockets indicates that Houston will also receive $6.3 million in cash from the Thunder.

Previous reports indicated that Derrick Favors was unlikely to remain with the Thunder this season, while Ty Jerome wasn’t participating in training camp as his representatives worked with the team to find an exit strategy for him. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported that Houston plans to waive Jerome. Harkless was traded for the third time this summer. He was dealt from Sacramento to Atlanta in July as part of the Kevin Huerter deal, and then was shipped to OKC for Vit Krejci earlier this week. Hopefully he’ll be able to settle in with Houston this season.

As he enters his seventh season, this will be the sixth team that Nwaba has suited up for. The journeyman has had a few solid seasons, including averaging 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.0 steals for Houston during the 2020-21 season. Among the players in the deal, he’s the most likely candidate to carve out a role on his new team next season.

Brown, Burke, and Chriss were already traded once this summer as part of the deal that said Christian Wood to Dallas. Now, they’ll be depth pieces in Oklahoma City if the team decides to keep them around.

Daily Thunder’s beat writer Brandon Rahbar pointed out that the trade wouldn’t have been possible without the Disabled Player Exception that the Thunder received because of Chet Holmgren’s injury.

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

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Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.

 

Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.