PBT mid-season awards: MVP and All-NBA

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The 2019-20 NBA season will reach its midpoint by games played tonight. So, we’re naming winners for mid-season awards. Tomorrow, we’ll pick Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year and Coach of the Year.

Most Valuable Player

Kurt Helin: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

This is how wide-open this race remains to me: a couple of weeks ago I would have said LeBron James led this chase, and a few days ago it was James Harden (and Luka Doncic could still be the one holding the trophy at the end of the season). Harden’s case is his 37.2 points per game scoring average, which the fourth-highest average in NBA history (trailing only three Wilt Chamberlain seasons) — and he’s scoring even more efficiently than he did a season ago. However, those numbers have slipped slightly in recent weeks, although that’s because defenses have adjusted and are throwing crazy double-teams at him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 30 points and 12 rebounds a game, added a three-point shot to his game, and has led the Bucks to the best record in the NBA. As it was last season, it’s the defense that separates Antetokounmpo — and this year LeBron, too — from Harden in my book.

Dan Feldman: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

James Harden is averaging an astounding 37.2 points per game. That’s the start of his MVP case. But per 100 team possessions, Harden’s scoring lead over Antetokounmpo is a mere 46.4 to 44.9. Consider Antetokounmpo’s all-around advantages – especially defensively – and he deserves this honor.

Harden gets additional credit for playing more than Antetokounmpo. Those are minutes Harden is providing value to his team. But Antetokounmpo plays fewer minutes because he and Milwaukee are putting away teams early. Like Harden, Antetokounmpo is playing as much as necessary for his team to win.

LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Anthony Davis are also in the mix.

All-NBA

Kurt Helin:

First team

G: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

G: James Harden (Rockets)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

F: LeBron James (Lakers)

C: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Second team

G: Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

G: Kemba Walker (Celtics)

F: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

F: Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)

C: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

Third team

G: Paul George (Clippers)

G: Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

F: Pascal Siakam (Raptors)

F: Jimmy Butler (Heat)

C: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Every year I find All-NBA third team the most difficult part of the ballot — there are usually several players for each position very close in my mind, and those decisions by voters can have financial implications for the players. (Why players salary levels should not be based on media player votes is a rant for another day — but I have that rant ready.)

That’s the case again this season. I feel comfortable with the first two teams (although, obviously, things can shift) but the third team is challenging, and there are players not listed above who could make my end-of-year ballot. Karl-Anthony Towns is my fourth center but only because he has missed so much time and he likely gets back on the court soon (he has been phenomenal offensively when he plays). Bradley Beal could climb into a guard spot, as could Devin Booker or Trae Young (their defense still holds them back in my mind). Khris Middleton and others are hanging around as well.

Dan Feldman:

First team

G: James Harden (Rockets)

G: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

F: LeBron James (Lakers)

C: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Second team

G: Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

G: Chris Paul (Thunder

F: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

F: Jimmy Butler (Heat)

C: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

Third team

G: Ben Simmons (76ers)

G: Kemba Walker (Celtics)

F: Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)

F: Jaylen Brown (Celtics)

C: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Gobert and Jokic could go in either order at center. Because he has played less, Embiid had to edge out Bam Adebayo.

The final guard spot was extremely close between Walker, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker and Trae Young. It’s splitting hairs.

Same for the final forward spot. Brown narrowly topped Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram and Domantas Sabonis

Pascal Siakam might have taken it if he stayed healthy, and he’ll have a chance to seize it the rest of the season. Paul George could also get in the race at either forward or guard if he’s healthier the rest of the season.

Joakim Noah says focus of Achilles recovery was to make Clippers roster

Joakim Noah Clippers
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Joakim Noahlike Kobe Bryant and so many athletes before them — didn’t want an injury to define how his career would end.

Noah said he injured his Achilles back in September and the focus of his rehab is the chance he has now with the Clippers.

“You know, in September, I had a freak accident and cut my Achilles, and you know, I told myself that that’s just not how I wanted to end my career,” Noah said on a conference call with reporters Saturday.

“So you know, the day after the surgery, I was in the gym working out with the hope of making this team. I knew that if I didn’t keep training and if I got a call from the Clippers and I wasn’t ready, I knew I would have regrets for the rest of my life. So I kept training, and to be in this position right now, I feel very fortunate to be in this position, being with God, great players, being in a position to win a championship, it’s not something that I take for granted.”

Joakim Noah added he was supposed to have a workout with the Clippers before the season, but the injury ended that.

“I was supposed to work out with them in September right before the season started. I was ready. I was really excited for the opportunity, and then, you know, just from up with one minute to the next, I cut my Achilles.

“So to be back in this position and to have the confidence from the organization… It’s just a class organization. I just feel like very, very blessed to be in this position right now.”

Noah provides depth and versatility behind an established Los Angeles frontcourt, something needed with the compacted schedule in the Orlando NBA restart. The Clippers start Ivica Zubac, a more traditional center, then bring potential Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Harrell brings his energy, 18.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a night, great pick-and-roll chemistry with Lou Williams, plus improved defense to the mix.

The Clippers are counting on the Noah from the second half of last season, where he was solid coming off the bench in Memphis playing quality defense plus scoring 7.1 points per game. Noah could even play himself into a Clipper contract for next season (depending on what happens with Harrell in free agency this offseason).

For now, Noah is just happy to be back on the court.

Philadelphia’s Ryan Broekhoff not in Orlando after wife tests positive

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Ryan Broekhoff, who never quite found a spot in the Dallas rotation, got a real opportunity when Philadelphia signed him as a substitute player for the restart in Orlando.

Except Broekhoff hasn’t gotten a chance to take advantage of the opportunity because there are things more important than basketball.

Broekhoff explained in a Tweet that his wife tested positive for the coronavirus and family has been his priority. As it should be.

Philly signed Broekhoff because the team needs shooting, and what he does is take and make threes — 51 of his 59 shot attempts in Dallas this season were from three (for his career 77.8% of his shot attempts are from deed) and he hit 40.3% of them.

Broekhoff was always going to struggle to find minutes with the Sixers. Philly is expected to start Shake Milton and Josh Richardson on the wing in Orlando, and coming off the bench behind them is Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Glenn Robinson III, and Alec Burks.

Kawhi Leonard arrives in Orlando, Nikola Jokic expected soon

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The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard has arrived in the NBA’s restart bubble in Orlando. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is not far behind him.

They are two of the biggest name players who were delayed arriving in Orlando, but for them the delays were short.

“Kawhi, he is here, he is going through the protocol,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said Saturday, adding the two-time Finals MVP arrived Friday night and is in the midst of the two-day/two-test quarantine all players and staff went through. If things go smoothly, he should be practicing with the team by Monday. Leonard’s arrival was delayed for “personal reasons” (and Leonard doesn’t open up much about his personal life).

Jokic tested positive for the coronavirus back in his native Serbia, which delayed his arrival stateside (where there were more tests and quarantine time). Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Jokic should arrive soon.

That leaves the two Houston stars — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — as the biggest names not yet in Orlando. Both are expected to arrive in the coming days. The Rockets have resumed practice without him.

Doc Rivers challenges Sen. Josh Hawley to acknowledge Black Lives Matter

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Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley used the NBA’s list of social-justice messages players could put on their jerseys as an opportunity to grandstand. He wants more politics in the NBA — just his politics. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski got in trouble for his succinct response to Hawley (Woj reportedly has been suspended).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers had a longer response — and a challenge for Hawley.

“I mean, we have a senator that Tweets at Woj yesterday just because he was talking about what we were going to put on the back of our jersey,” Rivers said from the NBA Orlando restart on a conference call with reporters. “And they always try to turn it into the military or the police. There’s no league that does more for the military than the NBA.

“But how that about that Senator? I’ll make a challenge: We will do things for the troops as long as he acknowledges Black Lives Matter. I think that would be really cool for him to do.

“You know, it’s funny, whenever we talk about justice, people try to change the message. Colin Kaepernick kneels, it had nothing to do with the troops. It had to do with social injustice, and everyone tried to change the narrative. How about staying on what we are talking about and dealing with that, instead of trying to trick us or change or trick your constituents? How about being real?

“I guarantee you, we’ve done more for the military than probably that Senator. And I guarantee you this: We also are going to do things for Black Lives Matter. How about him? Maybe he should join into that.”

Well said, Doc. Well said.

NBA players and coaches will continue to speak out throughout the Orlando restart, and there will be steps toward action. In an election year, expect other politicians to try and use that as a cheap opportunity to grandstand.