Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

<p><strong>Conferencia Oeste</strong><br>Equipo: Golden State Warrriors<br>Foto: Getty Images </p>
Kevin Durant

Conferencia Oeste
Equipo: Golden State Warrriors
Foto: Getty Images

<p>The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we&#39;ve already seen a year&#39;s worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers&#39; locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it&#39;s the action on the court that&#39;s been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.</p><p>With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there&#39;s no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover&#39;s NBA experts dish their picks.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Most Valuable Player</strong></h3><p><strong>Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team. </p><p><strong>Andrew Sharp: VACANT. </strong>This is a cop-out, but it&#39;s also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you&#39;d asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would&#39;ve bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/12/27/jimmy-butler-timberwolves-nba-mvp-karl-anthony-towns-andrew-wiggins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation.</a> And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It&#39;s also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we&#39;re back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it&#39;s a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP. </p><p><strong>Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets.</strong> There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.</p><p><strong>Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.</p><p><strong>Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs.</strong> James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA. </p><p><strong>DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors.</strong> James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.</p><h3><strong>Rookie of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He&#39;s got <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tremendous all-around numbers," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tremendous all-around numbers,</a> he&#39;s one of the two best players on what&#39;s currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum&#39;s not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?</p><p><strong>Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.</p><p><strong>Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. </strong>There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks. </p><p><strong>Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.</p><h3><strong>Defensive Player of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. </strong>I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/15/kyrie-irving-boston-celtics-brad-stevens-winning-streak-danny-ainge" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as the hottest team in the league," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as the hottest team in the league,</a> the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn&#39;t, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it&#39;s between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player <a href="https://stats.nba.com/teams/defense/?sort=DEF_RATING&#38;dir=-1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who&#39;s still at No. 1." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">who&#39;s still at No. 1.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors.</strong> Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.</p><p><strong>Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics.</strong> The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. </p><p><strong>Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves. </p><h3><strong>Sixth Man of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/smoy.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history</a>. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:</p><p>We can&#39;t let anyone else win this award. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers.</strong> This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.</p><p><strong>Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. </strong>OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why. </p><p><strong>Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.</p><h3><strong>Most Improved Player </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. </strong>Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who &quot;improve&quot; at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year&#39;s playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he&#39;d made it, no one would&#39;ve questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he&#39;s carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.</p><p><strong>Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award. </p><p><strong>Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.</p><h3><strong>Coach of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because <a href="http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/09/boston_celtics_news_brad_steve_3.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his pedagogy is dope." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his pedagogy is dope.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. </strong>This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.</p><p><strong>Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics.</strong> Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who&#39;ve stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. </strong>I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close. </p><p><strong>Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs.</strong> With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs&#39; offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.</p>
The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Midseason Awards

The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we've already seen a year's worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers' locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it's the action on the court that's been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.

With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there's no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover's NBA experts dish their picks.

?

Most Valuable Player

Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team.

Andrew Sharp: VACANT. This is a cop-out, but it's also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you'd asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would've bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation. And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It's also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we're back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it's a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP.

Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.

Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA.

DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors. James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.

Rookie of the Year

Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.

Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He's got tremendous all-around numbers, he's one of the two best players on what's currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum's not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.

Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.

Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks.

Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers. We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.

Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season as the hottest team in the league, the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn't, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it's between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player who's still at No. 1.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.

Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose.

Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves.

Sixth Man of the Year

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.

Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:

We can't let anyone else win this award.

Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers. This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.

Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.

Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why.

Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.

Most Improved Player

Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month.

Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who "improve" at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year's playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he'd made it, no one would've questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he's carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize.

Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.

Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.

Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award.

Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.

Coach of the Year

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements.

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.

Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who've stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close.

Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs' offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.

<p>The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we&#39;ve already seen a year&#39;s worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers&#39; locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it&#39;s the action on the court that&#39;s been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.</p><p>With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there&#39;s no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover&#39;s NBA experts dish their picks.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Most Valuable Player</strong></h3><p><strong>Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team. </p><p><strong>Andrew Sharp: VACANT. </strong>This is a cop-out, but it&#39;s also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you&#39;d asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would&#39;ve bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/12/27/jimmy-butler-timberwolves-nba-mvp-karl-anthony-towns-andrew-wiggins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation.</a> And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It&#39;s also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we&#39;re back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it&#39;s a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP. </p><p><strong>Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets.</strong> There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.</p><p><strong>Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.</p><p><strong>Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs.</strong> James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA. </p><p><strong>DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors.</strong> James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.</p><h3><strong>Rookie of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He&#39;s got <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tremendous all-around numbers," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tremendous all-around numbers,</a> he&#39;s one of the two best players on what&#39;s currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum&#39;s not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?</p><p><strong>Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.</p><p><strong>Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. </strong>There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks. </p><p><strong>Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.</p><h3><strong>Defensive Player of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. </strong>I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/15/kyrie-irving-boston-celtics-brad-stevens-winning-streak-danny-ainge" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as the hottest team in the league," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as the hottest team in the league,</a> the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn&#39;t, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it&#39;s between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player <a href="https://stats.nba.com/teams/defense/?sort=DEF_RATING&#38;dir=-1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who&#39;s still at No. 1." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">who&#39;s still at No. 1.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors.</strong> Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.</p><p><strong>Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics.</strong> The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. </p><p><strong>Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves. </p><h3><strong>Sixth Man of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/smoy.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history</a>. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:</p><p>We can&#39;t let anyone else win this award. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers.</strong> This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.</p><p><strong>Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. </strong>OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why. </p><p><strong>Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.</p><h3><strong>Most Improved Player </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. </strong>Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who &quot;improve&quot; at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year&#39;s playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he&#39;d made it, no one would&#39;ve questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he&#39;s carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.</p><p><strong>Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award. </p><p><strong>Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.</p><h3><strong>Coach of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because <a href="http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/09/boston_celtics_news_brad_steve_3.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his pedagogy is dope." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his pedagogy is dope.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. </strong>This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.</p><p><strong>Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics.</strong> Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who&#39;ve stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. </strong>I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close. </p><p><strong>Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs.</strong> With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs&#39; offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.</p>
The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Midseason Awards

The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we've already seen a year's worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers' locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it's the action on the court that's been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.

With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there's no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover's NBA experts dish their picks.

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Most Valuable Player

Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team.

Andrew Sharp: VACANT. This is a cop-out, but it's also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you'd asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would've bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation. And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It's also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we're back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it's a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP.

Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.

Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA.

DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors. James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.

Rookie of the Year

Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.

Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He's got tremendous all-around numbers, he's one of the two best players on what's currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum's not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.

Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.

Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks.

Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers. We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.

Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season as the hottest team in the league, the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn't, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it's between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player who's still at No. 1.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.

Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose.

Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves.

Sixth Man of the Year

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.

Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:

We can't let anyone else win this award.

Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers. This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.

Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.

Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why.

Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.

Most Improved Player

Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month.

Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who "improve" at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year's playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he'd made it, no one would've questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he's carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize.

Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.

Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.

Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award.

Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.

Coach of the Year

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements.

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.

Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who've stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close.

Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs' offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.

<p>The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we&#39;ve already seen a year&#39;s worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers&#39; locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it&#39;s the action on the court that&#39;s been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.</p><p>With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there&#39;s no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover&#39;s NBA experts dish their picks.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Most Valuable Player</strong></h3><p><strong>Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team. </p><p><strong>Andrew Sharp: VACANT. </strong>This is a cop-out, but it&#39;s also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you&#39;d asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would&#39;ve bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/12/27/jimmy-butler-timberwolves-nba-mvp-karl-anthony-towns-andrew-wiggins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation.</a> And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It&#39;s also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we&#39;re back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it&#39;s a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP. </p><p><strong>Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets.</strong> There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.</p><p><strong>Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.</p><p><strong>Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs.</strong> James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA. </p><p><strong>DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors.</strong> James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.</p><h3><strong>Rookie of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He&#39;s got <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tremendous all-around numbers," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tremendous all-around numbers,</a> he&#39;s one of the two best players on what&#39;s currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum&#39;s not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?</p><p><strong>Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.</p><p><strong>Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. </strong>There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks. </p><p><strong>Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.</p><h3><strong>Defensive Player of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. </strong>I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/15/kyrie-irving-boston-celtics-brad-stevens-winning-streak-danny-ainge" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as the hottest team in the league," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as the hottest team in the league,</a> the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn&#39;t, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it&#39;s between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player <a href="https://stats.nba.com/teams/defense/?sort=DEF_RATING&#38;dir=-1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who&#39;s still at No. 1." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">who&#39;s still at No. 1.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors.</strong> Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.</p><p><strong>Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics.</strong> The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. </p><p><strong>Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves. </p><h3><strong>Sixth Man of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/smoy.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history</a>. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:</p><p>We can&#39;t let anyone else win this award. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers.</strong> This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.</p><p><strong>Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. </strong>OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why. </p><p><strong>Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.</p><h3><strong>Most Improved Player </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. </strong>Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who &quot;improve&quot; at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year&#39;s playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he&#39;d made it, no one would&#39;ve questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he&#39;s carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.</p><p><strong>Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award. </p><p><strong>Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.</p><h3><strong>Coach of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because <a href="http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/09/boston_celtics_news_brad_steve_3.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his pedagogy is dope." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his pedagogy is dope.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. </strong>This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.</p><p><strong>Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics.</strong> Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who&#39;ve stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. </strong>I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close. </p><p><strong>Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs.</strong> With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs&#39; offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.</p>
The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Midseason Awards

The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we've already seen a year's worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers' locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it's the action on the court that's been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.

With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there's no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover's NBA experts dish their picks.

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Most Valuable Player

Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team.

Andrew Sharp: VACANT. This is a cop-out, but it's also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you'd asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would've bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation. And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It's also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we're back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it's a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP.

Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.

Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA.

DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors. James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.

Rookie of the Year

Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.

Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He's got tremendous all-around numbers, he's one of the two best players on what's currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum's not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.

Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.

Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks.

Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers. We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.

Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season as the hottest team in the league, the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn't, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it's between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player who's still at No. 1.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.

Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose.

Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves.

Sixth Man of the Year

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.

Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:

We can't let anyone else win this award.

Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers. This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.

Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.

Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why.

Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.

Most Improved Player

Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month.

Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who "improve" at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year's playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he'd made it, no one would've questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he's carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize.

Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.

Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.

Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award.

Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.

Coach of the Year

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements.

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.

Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who've stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close.

Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs' offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.

<p>The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we&#39;ve already seen a year&#39;s worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers&#39; locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it&#39;s the action on the court that&#39;s been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.</p><p>With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there&#39;s no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover&#39;s NBA experts dish their picks.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Most Valuable Player</strong></h3><p><strong>Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team. </p><p><strong>Andrew Sharp: VACANT. </strong>This is a cop-out, but it&#39;s also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you&#39;d asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would&#39;ve bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/12/27/jimmy-butler-timberwolves-nba-mvp-karl-anthony-towns-andrew-wiggins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation.</a> And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It&#39;s also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we&#39;re back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it&#39;s a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP. </p><p><strong>Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets.</strong> There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.</p><p><strong>Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.</p><p><strong>Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs.</strong> James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA. </p><p><strong>DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors.</strong> James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.</p><h3><strong>Rookie of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He&#39;s got <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tremendous all-around numbers," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tremendous all-around numbers,</a> he&#39;s one of the two best players on what&#39;s currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum&#39;s not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?</p><p><strong>Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.</p><p><strong>Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. </strong>There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks. </p><p><strong>Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.</p><h3><strong>Defensive Player of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. </strong>I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/15/kyrie-irving-boston-celtics-brad-stevens-winning-streak-danny-ainge" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as the hottest team in the league," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as the hottest team in the league,</a> the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn&#39;t, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it&#39;s between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player <a href="https://stats.nba.com/teams/defense/?sort=DEF_RATING&#38;dir=-1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who&#39;s still at No. 1." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">who&#39;s still at No. 1.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors.</strong> Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.</p><p><strong>Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics.</strong> The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. </p><p><strong>Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves. </p><h3><strong>Sixth Man of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/smoy.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history</a>. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:</p><p>We can&#39;t let anyone else win this award. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers.</strong> This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.</p><p><strong>Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. </strong>OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why. </p><p><strong>Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.</p><h3><strong>Most Improved Player </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. </strong>Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who &quot;improve&quot; at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year&#39;s playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he&#39;d made it, no one would&#39;ve questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he&#39;s carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.</p><p><strong>Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award. </p><p><strong>Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.</p><h3><strong>Coach of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because <a href="http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/09/boston_celtics_news_brad_steve_3.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his pedagogy is dope." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his pedagogy is dope.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. </strong>This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.</p><p><strong>Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics.</strong> Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who&#39;ve stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. </strong>I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close. </p><p><strong>Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs.</strong> With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs&#39; offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.</p>
The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Midseason Awards

The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we've already seen a year's worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers' locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it's the action on the court that's been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.

With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there's no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover's NBA experts dish their picks.

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Most Valuable Player

Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team.

Andrew Sharp: VACANT. This is a cop-out, but it's also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you'd asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would've bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation. And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It's also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we're back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it's a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP.

Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.

Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA.

DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors. James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.

Rookie of the Year

Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.

Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He's got tremendous all-around numbers, he's one of the two best players on what's currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum's not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.

Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.

Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks.

Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers. We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.

Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season as the hottest team in the league, the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn't, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it's between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player who's still at No. 1.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.

Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose.

Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves.

Sixth Man of the Year

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.

Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:

We can't let anyone else win this award.

Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers. This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.

Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.

Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why.

Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.

Most Improved Player

Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month.

Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who "improve" at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year's playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he'd made it, no one would've questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he's carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize.

Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.

Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.

Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award.

Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.

Coach of the Year

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements.

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.

Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who've stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close.

Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs' offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.

<p>The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we&#39;ve already seen a year&#39;s worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers&#39; locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it&#39;s the action on the court that&#39;s been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.</p><p>With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there&#39;s no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover&#39;s NBA experts dish their picks.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Most Valuable Player</strong></h3><p><strong>Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team. </p><p><strong>Andrew Sharp: VACANT. </strong>This is a cop-out, but it&#39;s also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you&#39;d asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would&#39;ve bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/12/27/jimmy-butler-timberwolves-nba-mvp-karl-anthony-towns-andrew-wiggins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation.</a> And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It&#39;s also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we&#39;re back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it&#39;s a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP. </p><p><strong>Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets.</strong> There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.</p><p><strong>Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.</p><p><strong>Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs.</strong> James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA. </p><p><strong>DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors.</strong> James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.</p><h3><strong>Rookie of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He&#39;s got <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tremendous all-around numbers," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tremendous all-around numbers,</a> he&#39;s one of the two best players on what&#39;s currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum&#39;s not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?</p><p><strong>Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.</p><p><strong>Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. </strong>There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks. </p><p><strong>Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.</p><h3><strong>Defensive Player of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. </strong>I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/15/kyrie-irving-boston-celtics-brad-stevens-winning-streak-danny-ainge" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as the hottest team in the league," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as the hottest team in the league,</a> the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn&#39;t, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it&#39;s between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player <a href="https://stats.nba.com/teams/defense/?sort=DEF_RATING&#38;dir=-1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who&#39;s still at No. 1." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">who&#39;s still at No. 1.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors.</strong> Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.</p><p><strong>Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics.</strong> The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. </p><p><strong>Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves. </p><h3><strong>Sixth Man of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/smoy.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history</a>. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:</p><p>We can&#39;t let anyone else win this award. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers.</strong> This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.</p><p><strong>Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. </strong>OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why. </p><p><strong>Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.</p><h3><strong>Most Improved Player </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. </strong>Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who &quot;improve&quot; at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year&#39;s playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he&#39;d made it, no one would&#39;ve questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he&#39;s carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.</p><p><strong>Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award. </p><p><strong>Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.</p><h3><strong>Coach of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because <a href="http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/09/boston_celtics_news_brad_steve_3.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his pedagogy is dope." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his pedagogy is dope.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. </strong>This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.</p><p><strong>Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics.</strong> Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who&#39;ve stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. </strong>I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close. </p><p><strong>Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs.</strong> With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs&#39; offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.</p>
The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Midseason Awards

The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we've already seen a year's worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers' locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it's the action on the court that's been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.

With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there's no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover's NBA experts dish their picks.

?

Most Valuable Player

Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team.

Andrew Sharp: VACANT. This is a cop-out, but it's also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you'd asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would've bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation. And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It's also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we're back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it's a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP.

Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.

Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA.

DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors. James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.

Rookie of the Year

Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.

Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He's got tremendous all-around numbers, he's one of the two best players on what's currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum's not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.

Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.

Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks.

Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers. We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.

Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season as the hottest team in the league, the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn't, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it's between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player who's still at No. 1.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.

Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose.

Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves.

Sixth Man of the Year

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.

Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:

We can't let anyone else win this award.

Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers. This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.

Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.

Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why.

Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.

Most Improved Player

Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month.

Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who "improve" at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year's playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he'd made it, no one would've questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he's carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize.

Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.

Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.

Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award.

Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.

Coach of the Year

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements.

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.

Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who've stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close.

Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs' offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.

<p>The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we&#39;ve already seen a year&#39;s worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers&#39; locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it&#39;s the action on the court that&#39;s been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.</p><p>With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there&#39;s no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover&#39;s NBA experts dish their picks.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Most Valuable Player</strong></h3><p><strong>Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team. </p><p><strong>Andrew Sharp: VACANT. </strong>This is a cop-out, but it&#39;s also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you&#39;d asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would&#39;ve bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/12/27/jimmy-butler-timberwolves-nba-mvp-karl-anthony-towns-andrew-wiggins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation.</a> And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It&#39;s also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we&#39;re back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it&#39;s a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP. </p><p><strong>Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets.</strong> There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.</p><p><strong>Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.</p><p><strong>Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs.</strong> James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA. </p><p><strong>DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors.</strong> James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.</p><h3><strong>Rookie of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He&#39;s got <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tremendous all-around numbers," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tremendous all-around numbers,</a> he&#39;s one of the two best players on what&#39;s currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum&#39;s not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?</p><p><strong>Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.</p><p><strong>Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. </strong>There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks. </p><p><strong>Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.</p><h3><strong>Defensive Player of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. </strong>I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/15/kyrie-irving-boston-celtics-brad-stevens-winning-streak-danny-ainge" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as the hottest team in the league," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as the hottest team in the league,</a> the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn&#39;t, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it&#39;s between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player <a href="https://stats.nba.com/teams/defense/?sort=DEF_RATING&#38;dir=-1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who&#39;s still at No. 1." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">who&#39;s still at No. 1.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors.</strong> Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.</p><p><strong>Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics.</strong> The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. </p><p><strong>Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves. </p><h3><strong>Sixth Man of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/smoy.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history</a>. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:</p><p>We can&#39;t let anyone else win this award. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers.</strong> This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.</p><p><strong>Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. </strong>OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why. </p><p><strong>Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.</p><h3><strong>Most Improved Player </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. </strong>Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who &quot;improve&quot; at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year&#39;s playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he&#39;d made it, no one would&#39;ve questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he&#39;s carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.</p><p><strong>Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award. </p><p><strong>Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.</p><h3><strong>Coach of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because <a href="http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/09/boston_celtics_news_brad_steve_3.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his pedagogy is dope." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his pedagogy is dope.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. </strong>This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.</p><p><strong>Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics.</strong> Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who&#39;ve stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. </strong>I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close. </p><p><strong>Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs.</strong> With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs&#39; offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.</p>
The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Midseason Awards

The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we've already seen a year's worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers' locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it's the action on the court that's been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.

With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there's no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover's NBA experts dish their picks.

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Most Valuable Player

Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team.

Andrew Sharp: VACANT. This is a cop-out, but it's also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you'd asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would've bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation. And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It's also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we're back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it's a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP.

Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.

Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA.

DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors. James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.

Rookie of the Year

Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.

Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He's got tremendous all-around numbers, he's one of the two best players on what's currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum's not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.

Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.

Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks.

Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers. We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.

Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season as the hottest team in the league, the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn't, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it's between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player who's still at No. 1.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.

Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose.

Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves.

Sixth Man of the Year

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.

Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:

We can't let anyone else win this award.

Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers. This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.

Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.

Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why.

Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.

Most Improved Player

Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month.

Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who "improve" at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year's playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he'd made it, no one would've questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he's carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize.

Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.

Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.

Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award.

Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.

Coach of the Year

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements.

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.

Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who've stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close.

Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs' offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.

<p>The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we&#39;ve already seen a year&#39;s worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers&#39; locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it&#39;s the action on the court that&#39;s been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.</p><p>With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there&#39;s no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover&#39;s NBA experts dish their picks.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>Most Valuable Player</strong></h3><p><strong>Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team. </p><p><strong>Andrew Sharp: VACANT. </strong>This is a cop-out, but it&#39;s also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you&#39;d asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would&#39;ve bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/12/27/jimmy-butler-timberwolves-nba-mvp-karl-anthony-towns-andrew-wiggins" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation.</a> And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It&#39;s also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we&#39;re back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it&#39;s a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP. </p><p><strong>Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets.</strong> There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.</p><p><strong>Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. </strong>At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.</p><p><strong>Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs.</strong> James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA. </p><p><strong>DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors.</strong> James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.</p><h3><strong>Rookie of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He&#39;s got <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/s/simmobe01.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tremendous all-around numbers," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tremendous all-around numbers,</a> he&#39;s one of the two best players on what&#39;s currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum&#39;s not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?</p><p><strong>Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. </strong>The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.</p><p><strong>Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. </strong>There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks. </p><p><strong>Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers.</strong> We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.</p><h3><strong>Defensive Player of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. </strong>I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2017/11/15/kyrie-irving-boston-celtics-brad-stevens-winning-streak-danny-ainge" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as the hottest team in the league," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as the hottest team in the league,</a> the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn&#39;t, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it&#39;s between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player <a href="https://stats.nba.com/teams/defense/?sort=DEF_RATING&#38;dir=-1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:who&#39;s still at No. 1." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">who&#39;s still at No. 1.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors.</strong> Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.</p><p><strong>Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics.</strong> The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. </p><p><strong>Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. </strong>The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves. </p><h3><strong>Sixth Man of the Year</strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as <a href="https://www.basketball-reference.com/awards/smoy.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history</a>. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.</p><p><strong>Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:</p><p>We can&#39;t let anyone else win this award. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers.</strong> This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.</p><p><strong>Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. </strong>OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why. </p><p><strong>Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. </strong>Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.</p><h3><strong>Most Improved Player </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. </strong>Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who &quot;improve&quot; at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year&#39;s playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he&#39;d made it, no one would&#39;ve questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he&#39;s carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize. </p><p><strong>Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.</p><p><strong>Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. </strong>The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award. </p><p><strong>Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.</strong> Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.</p><h3><strong>Coach of the Year </strong></h3><p><strong>Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements. </p><p><strong>Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. </strong>The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because <a href="http://www.masslive.com/celtics/index.ssf/2017/09/boston_celtics_news_brad_steve_3.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:his pedagogy is dope." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">his pedagogy is dope.</a></p><p><strong>Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. </strong>This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.</p><p><strong>Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics.</strong> Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who&#39;ve stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.</p><p><strong>Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. </strong>I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close. </p><p><strong>Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs.</strong> With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs&#39; offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.</p>
The Crossover's 2017-18 NBA Midseason Awards

The NBA season is just past its halfway point, but it feels like we've already seen a year's worth of shenanigans, from LaVar Ball trying to hijack the Lakers to the Rockets trying to storm the Clippers' locker room like the beaches of Normandy. Of course, it's the action on the court that's been most memorable. Between Lou Williams turning into an All-Star and LeBron James rediscovering his youth, there has been no shortage of excellence to sort through on the hardwood.

With every team now on the back nine of its schedule, there's no better time than no to recognize that excellence with some midseason hardware. Who deserves MVP? Is the Rookie of the Year race over? And what about Most Improved? The Crossover's NBA experts dish their picks.

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Most Valuable Player

Ben Golliver: LeBron James, Cavs. For now, the answer is James, who has survived a truly blood war of attrition that has weakened the candidacies of potential contenders like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard, among others. Although Cleveland has lacked an imposing defense (or any defense, really) and night-to-night stability, James individually has been as electric and formidable as ever. He hasn’t missed a game, he’s among the league leaders in minutes, and he’s near the top of the leaderboard in the major advanced stats (No. 2 in PER, third in Win Shares, No. 8 in Real Plus Minus). From an historical standpoint, James is also tracking toward the first 27 PPG/8 RPG/8 APG season of his career, which would place him in select company with the likes of Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and Harden in the modern era. This race is far from over, though: Harden has returned from a hamstring injury and could retake his early lead, while Kevin Durant lurks as a dark horse because he’s enjoying the most complete season of his career for the league’s most dominant team.

Andrew Sharp: VACANT. This is a cop-out, but it's also a celebration. Two weeks ago if you'd asked me to pick an MVP for this season, I would've bet my entire bank account on LeBron. Two weeks before that, I would have done the same thing with James Harden. Somewhere in the middle of that stretch, in late December, I argued that Jimmy Butler belonged in every MVP conversation. And all the while, the Warriors have been dominating with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, while Giannis Antetokounmpo is putting up ungodly numbers for the Bucks. Throw in Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as longshots from the two best teams in the East right now, and the field is fairly crowded. It's also wide open. LeBron is technically still the favorite, and if the Cavs can shore up their defense, he will probably win. But at the moment it seems more likely that we see another midseason swoon from Cleveland, in which the Cavs sleepwalk through six weeks without playing defense. Then we're back to square one. I know these awards are supposed to be based on the first half of the season—the rest of picks will follow that format!—but this category is an excuse to consider the bigger picture. And again, it's a reason to celebrate. We are halfway through the regular season, and I have absolutely no idea who will win MVP.

Rob Mahoney: James Harden, Rockets. There may come a time when Harden’s games missed to injury will drag him down in the MVP race, but to this point the other candidates have simply been too accommodating. LeBron James, another popular choice for the award, captains one of the most frustrating teams in the league. Other contenders have missed about as much time as Harden, failed to produce to the same ridiculous extent, or lost too many games thus far to be realistically eligible. Harden deserves this. It would be nice if he were healthy enough to claim it outright, though for now he’ll slot in as the favorite by default.

Jeremy Woo: LeBron James, Cavs. At age 33, LeBron’s having one of his best seasons ever and dragging the Cavs toward the playoffs yet again. Cleveland hasn’t been the NBA’s best team, but James remains its best player. It’s his best scoring season since 2010, his third-best shooting year ever, and he’s averaging eight rebounds and a career high 8.8 assists. James Harden is again a quality candidate, but the presence of Chris Paul has been a factor in Houston’s improvement and in my mind has a bit of a Warriors effect when it comes to mental vote-splitting. Because these are unscientific fake awards, here’s to LeBron.

Rohan Nadkarni: LeBron James, Cavs. James Harden was the frontrunner for this award until he missed two weeks due to injury, but I think James has a strong case either way. At some point, how does the consensus best basketball player in the world keep getting denied the MVP award? The Cavs’ struggles and putrid defense hurt James’s case, but that team would fall apart without him. The relevant stats are there—27 points, 8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game, a 63.4% true shooting percentage, and one tweet calling the president a bum. LeBron, at 33, is still the most feared player in the NBA.

DeAntae Prince: Kevin Durant, Warriors. James Harden produces better numbers in Houston. LeBron James carries a heavier load in Cleveland. Sure, these things are true, but Kevin Durant is simply playing great basketball for the NBA’s best team in Golden State. We all tend to overthink award season at times. Right now, though, Durant is seamlessly fitting into the world-beating Warriors while averaging 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. All indications suggest the Warriors will cruise through this season and stand alone as the NBA’s top franchise. The gap between Golden State and Cleveland widens every day, and Durant’s otherworldly talent is the reason for that, as was clear in last year’s NBA Finals. He’s now further ingratiated within the Warriors’ system and figures to only get better from here.

Rookie of the Year

Golliver: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The “Build players up only to tear them down” cycle has been running in overdrive this season, with Simmons as its latest victim. Yes, Philly’s do-everything point forward saw his scoring dip in December, allowing Utah’s Donovan Mitchell to move past him as the top rookie scorer. Yes, he finds life much more difficult when Joel Embiid is out injured. And, yes, he still doesn’t have a jump shot. Regardless, Simmons has been a revelation, appearing at or near the top of his class in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. From a durability and impact standpoint, Simmons has missed just one game and posted a +2.0 net rating for a Sixers team that is above .500 and in the East’s playoff picture. The last player to match Simmons’ 16.8 PPG / 8 RPG/ 7.3 APG stat line at age-21 or younger? Magic Johnson in 1981. The Ben Backlash needs to stop.

Sharp: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Through the first half of the season, Ben Simmons is the rookie of the year. He's got tremendous all-around numbers, he's one of the two best players on what's currently a playoff team, and for the first six weeks of the season he exceeded even the wildest expectations of most Sixers fans. But his game has slightly tailed off since then, so Simmons hyperbole comes with a caveat: he will probably win rookie of the year, and a season like this would probably win rookie of the year in 90 percent of all seasons in the past 25 years. But Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable in Utah, Jayson Tatum's not slowing down in Boston, and if Simmons looks mortal through the second half of the year, this race will get really interesting. ?

Mahoney: Ben Simmons, Sixers. The case for Simmons is complicated, though it all comes back to this: His very presence forces opponents out of their comfort zone. Few teams come adequately prepared to defend a 6-10 point guard with a baby hook shot, much less one who sees the floor as clearly as Simmons does. That means that matchups are scrambled, defensive concepts are compromised, and every opponent has to dedicate mental energy to contain Simmons. The fact that he has no jump shot whatsoever makes it possible, but not without deliberate gameplanning—an impressive feat for a rookie. Note that to even “contain” Simmons, in this case, is relative; his averages of 16.6 points, 7.2 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game have never been matched in NBA history.

Woo: Ben Simmons, Sixers. Doubling down on my pre-season pick, here. How bold. Simmons’s counting stats are there, the Sixers are around .500 (and making some big-picture progress), and even though he’s a redshirt rookie, he’s really the most sensible pick here. Donovan Mitchell is fun, and Jayson Tatum has been hyper-efficient. They’ve all exceeded expectations. But Mitchell has been afforded every shot he wants, and Tatum has been a supporting player (albeit an excellent one). The Sixers have been with and without Joel Embiid and leaned on Simmons as the nightly workhorse, and Simmons has been up for it. It’s not often you find a 21-year-old who’s a triple-double threat every night, bottom line.

Nadkarni: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. There’s some recency bias here, sure, but Mitchell has the edge over Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum for me for one big reason: role. Mitchell, a pick at the bottom of the lottery, has been asked to carry the Jazz offensively way earlier in his career than anyone expected. Simmons and Tatum are having great seasons, but are greatly aided by those around them. I don’t like giving the award to redshirt rookies, and Simmons’s splits when he’s playing with or without Joel Embiid take away a little bit of his shine. Tatum, who Boston fans would like to remind you is only 19, is feeding off two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. If you switched Tatum and Mitchell, wouldn’t Mitchell also thrive as a third or fourth option? So I’m going with Donovan, who is keeping the Jazz competitive, and more importantly, routinely throwing down awesome dunks. Damn, I love dunks.

Prince: Ben Simmons, Sixers. We rarely see NBA rookies like Ben Simmons. So much of ‘The Process’ coming to fruition counted on him playing the point guard position and taking on the brunt of the team’s offensive creation from the first day of his NBA career. Simmons never skipped a beat at any point this season, blending perfectly with Joel Embiid and punishing offenses at the rim. Simmons, who flirts with a triple-double every night, will be yet another player to sit out a season only to return and win Rookie to the Year, a la Blake Griffin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Golliver: Al Horford, Celtics. Much like the MVP race, the Defensive Player of the Year race is less compelling than it should be given the absence of premier candidates like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. With Golden State’s defense slipping from its peak stinginess in recent years, the door opens for Horford, who has been the most important player on the NBA’s top defense. Horford might not be as frenetic as Draymond Green or as imposing as Joel Embiid, but he’s been versatile, intelligent and dependable for a Celtics team whose roster is filled with young players and new faces. This race will remain wide open all season: Green, Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City’s wing duo of Paul George and Andre Roberson should all be in the mix.

Sharp: Al Horfod, Celtics. I have no idea how the Celtics still have the No. 1 defense in the league. There are a few decent explanations—length, athleticism, switchable defenders, good coaching—but they remain one of the youngest teams in basketball. When Boston began the season as the hottest team in the league, the one trend that was definitely supposed to fade was the elite defense. But it hasn't, and Horford deserves a ton of credit for keeping things together as the cornerstone. In a year with no Kawhi, no Gobert, it's between Horford and Draymond Green. Who knows how that race will finish, but halfway through the year, I will go with the player who's still at No. 1.

Mahoney: Draymond Green, Warriors. Al Horford would also be a worthy choice here, though ultimately I sided with the player whose surroundings have proven…less reliable. Years of record-chasing and championship runs have taught Golden State not to take the regular season too seriously. You see this most in their commitment to defense; the focus and intelligence that made the Warriors so special in coverage have fallen away, leaving behind an incredibly capable team that doesn’t always choose to play that way. Green is the exception, and his performance on that end of the floor brings a redeeming cohesion to the fourth-best defense in the league.

Woo: Al Horford, Celtics. There aren’t any perfect candidates here, so let‘s honor the guy anchoring the league’s most efficient defense. You’ll find a slew of Celtics atop the league leaders in individual defensive rating, and while that speaks to the strength of the scheme, Horford has often been the man at the center of it all, tasked with communicating from the back and understanding what’s happening at all times. This has all come after the departures of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. He’s not a box-score hero which might make his candidacy difficult, but he deserves some credit for what the Celtics have accomplished.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose.

Prince: Al Horford, Celtics. The Boston Celtics have surprised this season with new parts and young players, shooting to the top of the Eastern Conference. They have done that on the strength of their defense. All over the court, they have players who are tough to score against, with Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Al Horford sits at the center of that league-leading defense, pulling the strings and helping seal the openings from the backline. That Boston can play on such a string is a testament to Horford, who seldom receives the credit he deserves.

Sixth Man of the Year

Golliver: Lou Williams, Clippers. Sweet Lou isn’t just having a career year at age 31, he’s in the mix for some truly unusual awards and honors. Although he’s moved into LA’s starting lineup in recent weeks, Williams still qualifies as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate because he’s come off the bench for more games (30) than he’s started (13). If he remains SMOY eligible and maintains his current 23.2 PPG scoring average, he would surpass Bucks guard Ricky Pierce as the highest-scoring SMOY in NBA history. What’s more, Williams has a legit chance at earning a reserve spot on the West’s All-Star team. If he makes it, he would become the first All-Star since Kobe Bryant in 1998 to appear in more than 50 games while making fewer than 20 starts. As long as he remains eligible, this award should be his given his exceptional efforts keeping the Clippers afloat during a string of injuries to Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers and Danilo Gallinari.

Sharp: Lou Williams, Clippers. Watch Lou Williams drop 50 here:

We can't let anyone else win this award.

Mahoney: Lou Williams, Clippers. This goes beyond the tired trend of awarding Sixth Man to whichever sub scores more than the others. As far as I can tell, Williams is on pace to be the highest-scoring bench player in NBA history. His play is a propulsive influence behind the injury-dinged Clippers’ ongoing survival, not to mention their improbable standing at (No. 8) in the Western Conference. Williams has always been good at what he does (get buckets, draw fouls, make plays), but he’s never been better.

Woo: Eric Gordon, Rockets. OK, so Gordon has been filling in the starting lineup as Chris Paul and James Harden have missed time. But there’s not a more potent primarily-bench scorer in the league (with Lou Williams shifting to the starting five). The Rockets have hit the high end of their potential right away, and having Gordon to space the floor at all times is a major reason why. He’s actually shooting just under 34% from three, but still averaging 19 points. It’s the threat of his presence that opens things up for that offense.

Nadkarni: Lou Williams, Clippers. Lou has started only 13 of the Clippers’ 43 games entering Jan. 19, so I think he still qualifies as a sixth man? Maybe he’ll start too many games by season’s end, but Williams easily deserves this award right now. A man once known for having two girlfriends has practically turned into Kyrie Irving on offense. Entering this season, the Clippers hadn’t beaten the Warriors since Christmas 2014. With no Blake Griffin (or Chris Paul), Lou dropped a casual 50 points in an L.A. win in Golden State. Williams is averaging more points per game than Jimmy Butler, C.J. McCollum, John Wall, Paul George and a bunch of other ridiculous names. The Clippers have no business being as good as they are in the West—Williams is a huge reason why.

Prince: Lou Williams, Clippers. Like Jamal Crawford who came before him, Lou Williams is a career sixth man who simply gets buckets—and he has been for more than a decade. The difference this year is that the fate of a team has been placed in his hands. Sure, it was handed over by default, but he has handled it with care and produced like an All-Star. Chris Paul’s joke about Williams being the go-to guy was probably meant to sting Blake Griffin, but the fact that he even thought to say it is proof of the type of year Williams is having.

Most Improved Player

Golliver: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks. Porzingis was so superhuman to begin the season that his steady statistical regression over the last six weeks has naturally been deflating. Don’t get sucked into the handwringing whirlpool. Porzingis has been a clear plus on both offense and defense for the Knicks, ramping up as a lead scorer in Carmelo Anthony’s absence while also emerging as the NBA’s leading shot-blocker at age 22. For context, the only big men during the three-point era to match Porzingis’s 23.6 PPG/ 6.9 RPG/2.4 BPG stat line at age-22 or younger are Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis. That’s pretty, pretty, pretty elite company. The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Porzingis can still improve in so many different aspects: his reading of defenses, shot selection, and playmaking for others are all works in development. Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a plausible Most Improved Player candidate for the last three years in a row, Porzingis may very well find himself back in this discussion next year. This much is certain: He should be selected as an East All-Star reserve later this month.

Sharp: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. This award gives voters trouble most years. The criteria is nebulous and there are a dozen different players who "improve" at various levels of the league, so you can take this one in a bunch of different directions. All of which is to say, Victor Oladipo has made it much easier in 2018. He was invisible at the end of last year's playoffs, he was disappointing during his time in Orlando, and now ... Oladipo was very nearly an All-Star starter. If he'd made it, no one would've questioned whether he deserved it. His success in Indiana remains one of the wildest stories of the season, he's carried the Pacers into the thick of the playoff race, and all of this is exactly the sort of performance this award was invented to recognize.

Mahoney: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. I’m gobsmacked. Oladipo played the first four years of his NBA career in a certain style and to a certain standard. Then, in his fifth, he completely changed the trajectory of his career. A perpetual underwhelmer is now on the cusp of his first ever All-Star selection. The new opportunity he’s found in Indiana is almost incidental relative to the way Oladipo has remade his body and altered his game.

Woo: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Although some of Oladipo’s breakout has been due to a massive situational improvement, he’s inarguably taken a huge step forward as a scorer, emerging as a capable anchor for a team in playoff position (and making the Paul George trade look pretty smart, all things considered). He’s more confident than ever, posting career highs in shot attempts, field–goal percentage and three-point shooting, rebounding, steals and points. Oladipo’s still only 25! Honorable mention to Spencer Dinwiddie, but Oladipo’s uptick can’t be ignored here.

Nadkarni: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. The Pacers have the sixth-best offense in the NBA, better than the Pelicans, Spurs, Nuggets, Thunder and a bunch of other teams with well-known stars. But on the back of Oladipo, the Pacers have been the biggest surprise team in the league. Given full space to thrive, Oladipo is averaging career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, blocks, steals and points. His net rating is +14.6. Basically, when Oladipo is on the court, the Pacers play like the Houston Rockets. When he’s off the court, Indy plays like the second-worst team in the league. No one imagined Oladipo having that kind of impact this season, and he should run away with this award.

Prince: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, we parsed through teams and decided which franchises would land at the bottom of the standings. The Hawks, Nets and Bulls were obvious choices, and, at the time, the Pacers felt like they belonged in that company. Victor Oladipo alone changed Indiana’s destination. His transformation from Russell Westbrook’s sidekick to the Pacers’ leading man happened seamlessly. An IU alum playing in front of his home fans, Oladipo looks more comfortable now than he has at any point in his NBA season. The end result will be an All-Star season and a Most Improved Player award.

Coach of the Year

Golliver: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Making the Coach of the Year case for anyone besides Stevens is far more difficult than making the case for him. He simply checks every box: The Celtics are winning, they play with consistent energy, they play disciplined defense, they receive steady contributions from stars and role players alike, they didn’t collapse when Gordon Hayward was lost on opening night, and they have a sterling 20-8 record in games that are within five points or fewer in the last five minutes. As a steady, meticulous and erudite communicator, Stevens’s fingerprints can be found on all of Boston’s achievements.

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.

Mahoney: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. This award—more than any other—dovetails with narrative. Popovich doesn’t have that on his side, but why should that get in the way of the NBA’s best year-over-year coach? San Antonio has gotten nine games out of Kawhi Leonard this season and fewer than 500 minutes from Tony Parker. Rudy Gay and Danny Green have each missed about a fourth of the season to date. And still the Spurs sit pretty with the third best record in the West and the fifth best record in the league. LaMarcus Aldridge went to Popovich to be traded. He wound up staying, signing a contract extension, and playing the best basketball of his career. Give this thing to the coach holding his team together in the absence of a legitimate MVP candidate.

Woo: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Stevens was a good bet for this award even before Gordon Hayward’s grueling injury led to an instant gut-check for his team and massive roles for several young players who've stepped up admirably. The Celtics have pulled together after big changes to the locker room and rotation and sit atop the East despite it all. Sometimes Stevens can get a little too much credit from the media, but this one is a bit of a no-brainer to me.

Nadkarni: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. I don’t understand how anyone else wins this award. With no All-Stars and a slew of injuries (each one of Miami’s five projected starters headed into this year have missed chunks of time), the Heat are fourth in the East, ahead of Wall’s Wizards and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks. The Heat have no business being only one game behind the Cavaliers for third in the East, but Spoelstra is finding ways to mix-and-match his roster to gut out wins every night. The Heat are 19–8 in clutch games, Wayne Ellington has turned into Ray Allen 2.0, and Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson are screening defenses to death, all of which can be traced back to Spo’s genius. Miami has road wins over Boston, Washington, Toronto, Milwaukee and Indiana, and the Heat are looking stronger as the season rolls on. Spare me your other picks for this award. The Coach of the Year is Erik Spoelstra and it’s not even close.

Prince: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Spurs' offense now runs through LaMarcus Aldridge and counts on outside shots from Patty Mills, Danny Green and Pau Gasol to stay afloat. When broken down in those terms, it’s becomes amazing that the Spurs are still contenders in the superteam era. San Antonio is holding strong behind the Warriors and Rockets, with star-laden teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City behind it. The key to that success is yet another masterpiece from Popovich, who does more with less every year. He can make amends with LaMarcus Aldridge, bring Dejounte Murray along while sending Tony Parker off and keep veterans like Pau Gasol engaged all at once.

<p>Warriors All-Star Steph Curry and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will match $10,000 donations to United Playaz, a San Francisco-based charity that provides comprehensive services to prepare at-risk youth for higher education, employment and healthy living. </p><p>The donation comes as part of Kaepernick&#39;s $1 million pledge—the controversial quarterback announced a plan to donate $1 million and all the proceeds from his jersey sales from the 2016 season to more than 40 different charities. After his latest charitable comittment, Kaepernick has now donated $980,000 of the planned $1 million and will be selecting two more charities to receive $10,000 to complete the pledge. </p><p>&quot;I think it&#39;s amazingly important and powerful what Colin&#39;s doing—putting his money where his mouth is and actually reaching out to the community with the resources he has to better our youth&#39;s lives in the community,&quot; said Curry, a two-time MVP and two-time NBA champion, in a video posted to Kaepernick&#39;s Twitter account. &quot;I think I wanted to be involved for that reason, to be able to support the United Playaz foundation out in San Francisco who are providing resources and a sense of direction for the youth in San Francisco. </p><p>&quot;I appreciate Colin being able to help me support the Bay Area. Keep doing what you&#39;re doing, man.&quot;</p><p>Curry&#39;s teammate, Kevin Durant, also made a charitable donation in cohort with Kaepernick. On Wednesday, Durant <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/17/colin-kaepernick-kevin-durant-match-10000-donation" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:announced that he and Kaepernick had matched $10,000 donations to Silicon Valley De-Bug" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">announced that he and Kaepernick had matched $10,000 donations to Silicon Valley De-Bug</a>, a community organizing, advocacy and a multimedia storytelling organization</p><p>Kaepernick, 30, has never been far from headlines since he started kneeling during the national anthem in the 2016 season to protest racial injustice in America. A number of other NFL players followed suit and began protesting, a movement that picked up steam when President Donald Trump said in September 2017 that players who kneel should be &quot;fired.&quot; </p><p>Despite throwing for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2016, and despite a slew of injuries to quarterbacks that saw multiple previously unsigned players find a team during the season, Kaepernick was not signed by an NFL team during the 2017 campaign. </p><p>Kaepernick was awarded <em>Sports Illustrated&#39;s </em>Muhammad Ali Legacy Award in 2017 for his social justice activism. </p>
Steph Curry, Colin Kaepernick Match $10K Donations to Bay Area Charity

Warriors All-Star Steph Curry and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will match $10,000 donations to United Playaz, a San Francisco-based charity that provides comprehensive services to prepare at-risk youth for higher education, employment and healthy living.

The donation comes as part of Kaepernick's $1 million pledge—the controversial quarterback announced a plan to donate $1 million and all the proceeds from his jersey sales from the 2016 season to more than 40 different charities. After his latest charitable comittment, Kaepernick has now donated $980,000 of the planned $1 million and will be selecting two more charities to receive $10,000 to complete the pledge.

"I think it's amazingly important and powerful what Colin's doing—putting his money where his mouth is and actually reaching out to the community with the resources he has to better our youth's lives in the community," said Curry, a two-time MVP and two-time NBA champion, in a video posted to Kaepernick's Twitter account. "I think I wanted to be involved for that reason, to be able to support the United Playaz foundation out in San Francisco who are providing resources and a sense of direction for the youth in San Francisco.

"I appreciate Colin being able to help me support the Bay Area. Keep doing what you're doing, man."

Curry's teammate, Kevin Durant, also made a charitable donation in cohort with Kaepernick. On Wednesday, Durant announced that he and Kaepernick had matched $10,000 donations to Silicon Valley De-Bug, a community organizing, advocacy and a multimedia storytelling organization

Kaepernick, 30, has never been far from headlines since he started kneeling during the national anthem in the 2016 season to protest racial injustice in America. A number of other NFL players followed suit and began protesting, a movement that picked up steam when President Donald Trump said in September 2017 that players who kneel should be "fired."

Despite throwing for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2016, and despite a slew of injuries to quarterbacks that saw multiple previously unsigned players find a team during the season, Kaepernick was not signed by an NFL team during the 2017 campaign.

Kaepernick was awarded Sports Illustrated's Muhammad Ali Legacy Award in 2017 for his social justice activism.

While NBA Influencer Chris Brickley usually trains stars such as Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, he joined SI's Matt Dollinger and Rohan Nadkarni in studio to deliver some tips on how to improve their game.
Crossover TV Episode 9: NBA Influencer Chris Brickley In Studio
While NBA Influencer Chris Brickley usually trains stars such as Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, he joined SI's Matt Dollinger and Rohan Nadkarni in studio to deliver some tips on how to improve their game.
<p>LeBron James and Steph Curry were voted captains for this year&#39;s All-Star Game, the NBA announced Thursday.</p><p>The votes were a combination of fans, media and NBA players. The fan vote accounted for half of the decision while the media and player votes were 25 percent each.</p><p>James was the top overall vote-getter for the fifth time in his career while Curry collected the most votes in the Western Conference. For the first time, the game will not be a matchup of East vs. West, but instead James and Curry will pick teams, starting with the other eight players chosen as starters.</p><p>Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan were the other starters from the East and Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins filled out the final four spots for players from the Western Conference.</p><p>The remainder of the All-Star participants will be chosen by coaches and will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 23. The selected teams will be announced Thursday, Jan. 25.</p><p>The All-Star Game will be in Los Angeles and can be seen Sunday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. EST on TNT.</p>
LeBron James and Steph Curry Voted Captains for 2018 All-Star Game

LeBron James and Steph Curry were voted captains for this year's All-Star Game, the NBA announced Thursday.

The votes were a combination of fans, media and NBA players. The fan vote accounted for half of the decision while the media and player votes were 25 percent each.

James was the top overall vote-getter for the fifth time in his career while Curry collected the most votes in the Western Conference. For the first time, the game will not be a matchup of East vs. West, but instead James and Curry will pick teams, starting with the other eight players chosen as starters.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan were the other starters from the East and Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins filled out the final four spots for players from the Western Conference.

The remainder of the All-Star participants will be chosen by coaches and will be announced Tuesday, Jan. 23. The selected teams will be announced Thursday, Jan. 25.

The All-Star Game will be in Los Angeles and can be seen Sunday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. EST on TNT.

When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.
Warriors beat Bulls 119-112 for 14th straight road win
When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.
When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.
Warriors beat Bulls 119-112 for 14th straight road win
When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors is fouled while driving be David Nwaba #11 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 17, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Warriors defeated the Bulls 119-112. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Warriors beat Bulls 119-112 for 14th straight road win
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors is fouled while driving be David Nwaba #11 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 17, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Warriors defeated the Bulls 119-112. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant, left, Stephen Curry, center, and Chicago Bulls&#39; Lauri Markkanen wait to reenter the game during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, Stephen Curry, center, and Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen wait to reenter the game during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, Stephen Curry, center, and Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen wait to reenter the game during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant, left, and Chicago Bulls&#39; Zach LaVine watch the ball sail out of bounds during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, and Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine watch the ball sail out of bounds during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, and Chicago Bulls' Zach LaVine watch the ball sail out of bounds during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant, left, JaVale McGee, center, and Stephen Curry sit on the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, JaVale McGee, center, and Stephen Curry sit on the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, JaVale McGee, center, and Stephen Curry sit on the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket past Chicago Bulls&#39; Lauri Markkanen during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket past Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket past Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant (35) tries to shoot under pressure from Chicago Bulls&#39; Lauri Markkanen during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) tries to shoot under pressure from Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) tries to shoot under pressure from Chicago Bulls' Lauri Markkanen during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. The Warriors won 119-112. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Bulls&#39; Robin Lopez (42) goes up for a dunk over Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant (35) and Zaza Pachulia during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Bulls' Robin Lopez (42) goes up for a dunk over Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) and Zaza Pachulia during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Bulls' Robin Lopez (42) goes up for a dunk over Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) and Zaza Pachulia during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant, center, shoots over Chicago Bulls&#39; Justin Holiday (7) and Robin Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, center, shoots over Chicago Bulls' Justin Holiday (7) and Robin Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, center, shoots over Chicago Bulls' Justin Holiday (7) and Robin Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
YouTube announced today that it&#39;s enlisted the help of basketball star Kevin Durant in a bid to expand original sports content.
YouTube partners with Kevin Durant to expand original sports programming
YouTube announced today that it's enlisted the help of basketball star Kevin Durant in a bid to expand original sports content.
Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant will be matching a $10,000 donation from Colin Kaepernick to a charity promoting racial equality.
Kevin Durant matches Colin Kaepernick's donation
Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant will be matching a $10,000 donation from Colin Kaepernick to a charity promoting racial equality.
Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant will be matching a $10,000 donation from Colin Kaepernick to a charity promoting racial equality.
Kevin Durant matches Colin Kaepernick's donation
Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant will be matching a $10,000 donation from Colin Kaepernick to a charity promoting racial equality.
<p>Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced on Twitter on Wednesday that Warriors&#39; star Kevin Durant will match his $10,000 donation to Silicon Valley De-Bug.</p><p>While Kaepernick hasn&#39;t announced the donation yet, Warriors&#39; point Stephen Curry <a href="https://twitter.com/Con_Chron/status/953677781505847297" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">said</a> he&#39;s also contributing to the pledge. He will be donating to United Playaz, which is a youth organization in Oakland, California. </p><p>Kaepernick is completing his Million Dollar Pledge by donating $10,000 to different organizations over 10 days. ?As part of the final stage, he asked his friends where he should be giving his last $100,000. Durant suggested De-Bug.</p><p>Silicon Valley De-Bug is a &quot;community organizing, advocacy and a multimedia storytelling organization&quot; in San Jose, California, that&#39;s been around since 2001, according to its <a href="https://www.siliconvalleydebug.org/about" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:website" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">website</a>. The group is focused on everything from criminal justice reform to police accountability to bail reform. </p><p>Kaepernick <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/09/02/49ers-colin-kaepernick-donate-salary-1-million-anthem-protest" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:announced" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">announced</a> last year he was donating a million dollars, creating his Million Dollar Pledge. See where Kapernick has donated his money <a href="https://www.si.com/sportsperson/2017/12/06/colin-kaepernick-charity-giving-donations" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a>. </p><p>The former quarterback started kneeling during the national anthem last season to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Several other NFL players, as well as numerous other athletes across America, ultimately joined him. The protests grew this season after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who chose to follow suit. Trump said owners should &quot;fire&quot; NFL players who protest the anthem and referred to them as &quot;son[s] of b------&quot;. Players responded by protesting en masse. </p><p>Kaepernick was awarded the 2017 <em>Sports Illustrated&#39;s</em> Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his social justice work and belief no matter the cost. </p>
Colin Kaepernick Says Kevin Durant Will Match $10,000 Donation as Part of Million Dollar Pledge

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced on Twitter on Wednesday that Warriors' star Kevin Durant will match his $10,000 donation to Silicon Valley De-Bug.

While Kaepernick hasn't announced the donation yet, Warriors' point Stephen Curry said he's also contributing to the pledge. He will be donating to United Playaz, which is a youth organization in Oakland, California.

Kaepernick is completing his Million Dollar Pledge by donating $10,000 to different organizations over 10 days. ?As part of the final stage, he asked his friends where he should be giving his last $100,000. Durant suggested De-Bug.

Silicon Valley De-Bug is a "community organizing, advocacy and a multimedia storytelling organization" in San Jose, California, that's been around since 2001, according to its website. The group is focused on everything from criminal justice reform to police accountability to bail reform.

Kaepernick announced last year he was donating a million dollars, creating his Million Dollar Pledge. See where Kapernick has donated his money here.

The former quarterback started kneeling during the national anthem last season to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Several other NFL players, as well as numerous other athletes across America, ultimately joined him. The protests grew this season after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who chose to follow suit. Trump said owners should "fire" NFL players who protest the anthem and referred to them as "son[s] of b------". Players responded by protesting en masse.

Kaepernick was awarded the 2017 Sports Illustrated's Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his social justice work and belief no matter the cost.

Kevin Durant matches Colin Kaepernick's donation
YouTube taps Kevin Durant for more sports-focused video
YouTube taps Kevin Durant for more sports-focused video
YouTube taps Kevin Durant for more sports-focused video
YouTube taps Kevin Durant for more sports-focused video
YouTube taps Kevin Durant for more sports-focused video
YouTube taps Kevin Durant for more sports-focused video
<p>Get ready for a busy night in the NBA with 10 games on the schedule Wednesday. There are plenty of elite options to choose from for your DFS entry with the Warriors, Thunder and Pelicans in action. There are a lot of great options available up and down the price scale, as well. Consider using some of the players below and plugging them into our <a href="https://www.lineuplab.com/NBA/DK" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:NBA Lineup Optimizer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">NBA Lineup Optimizer</a> to hopefully craft a winning lineup.</p><h3>Point Guard</h3><p><strong>John Wall, at Hornets (FD: $10,100, DK: $9,700)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 48.87, DK: 50.36</em></p><p>Wall is having by far his best month of the season, averaging 25.9 points, 11.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.4 three-pointers in seven January games. Not only is he averaging 39 minutes in those games, but he also has an excellent 33.7% usage rate. He dominated the Hornets in their first meeting this year, scoring 31 points and dishing out 11 assists. He won’t come cheap, but expect him to be worth his lofty price tag Wednesday.</p><p><strong>Milos Teodosic, vs. Nuggets (FD: $5,100, DK: $5,200)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 23.74, DK: 24.99</em></p><p>The Clippers are still thin in their backcourt, leaving Teodosic with an opportunity for added minutes. While his production isn’t off the charts, he has averaged a valuable 11.0 points, 6.7 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 3.0 three-pointers in his last three games. Wednesday brings a favorable matchup against the Nuggets, who allow the third-most points per game to point guards on both FanDuel and DraftKings. If you are looking for a cheap point guard option, Teodosic does have upside.</p><h3>Shooting Guard</h3><p><strong>Lou Williams, vs. Nuggets (FD: $8,900, DK: $8,700)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 41.29, DK: 42.95</em></p><p>Williams is one of the hottest scorers in the NBA right now, averaging 31.2 points and 4.4 three-pointers in his last 13 games. He’s not just looking for his own shot though, also averaging 5.4 assists per game over that same stretch. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career and playing a ton due to all of the Clippers injuries, resulting in a 29.9% usage rate that ranks inside the top-20 in the league. He should have plenty of opportunities to be productive again Wednesday.</p><p><strong>Tim Hardaway Jr., at Grizzlies (FD: $6,400, DK: $5,900)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 29.06, DK: 30.05</em></p><p>Hardaway returned Friday from a lengthy absence due to a leg injury, scoring 16 points in 25 minutes off the bench. He scored 25 points in 33 minutes the next game Saturday before sitting out the second leg of the back-to-back set Sunday. He is set to play again Wednesday and could resume his role in the starting five. The Knicks badly need his offense, and it’s a good sign that he played 33 minutes Saturday. He has the potential to provide value at this reasonable price against the Grizzlies.</p><p><em>Want more in-depth DFS advice? <a href="https://www.lineuplab.com/subscription/subscribe-package/31?aid=si" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Click here and use promo code NEWYEAR40" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Click here and use promo code NEWYEAR40</a> to get 40% off a season-long subscription with our partners at Lineup Lab, helping Joes play like DFS pros.</em></p><h3>Small Forward</h3><p><strong>Kevin Durant, at Bulls (FD: $10,600, DK: $10,600)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 52.56, DK: 52.62</em></p><p>The Bulls have won three in a row and are a tough team at home, but playing the Warriors is an entirely different beast. They don’t have anyone who matches up well defensively with Durant, which really can be said for most teams. On a roster loaded with elite talent, Durant still gets plenty of chances to score evidenced by a 30.4% usage rate that ranks 11th-best in the league. If the Bulls can keep this game close, Durant could be in line for a monster performance.</p><p><strong>Josh Richardson, at Bucks (FD: $5,800, DK: $6,200)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 24.42, DK: 24.22</em></p><p>The Heat continue to battle injury issues, the latest of which is Tyler Johnson (ankle), who is listed as doubtful for Wednesday. Richardson is playing a lot as a result, averaging 37 minutes in his last eight games. He hasn’t let the added opportunities go to waste, averaging 14.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.9 three-pointers over that same stretch. He doesn’t cost a ton, making him worth considering for your entry.</p><h3>Power Forward</h3><p><strong>Blake Griffin, vs. Nuggets (FD: $8,700, DK: $9,000)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 43.04, DK: 44.33</em></p><p>Known for his excellent scoring abilities, Griffin is averaging at least 21 points per game for the fifth straight season. However, with all of the Clippers injuries at guard and Chris Paul now in Houston, Griffin is averaging a career-high 5.4 assists per game this year. He doesn’t provide much in the way of defensive stats, but the increase in assists has helped to create a high floor in DFS. The Nuggets allow the 10th-most points per game to power forwards on both FanDuel and DraftKings, making Griffin an excellent option yet again Wednesday.</p><p><strong>Lauri Markkanen, vs. Warriors (FD: $6,400, DK: $6,300)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 29.36, DK: 30</em></p><p>The Bulls thought very highly of Markkanen when they drafted him, but even they would have found it hard to imagine he would begin his career playing so well. Thrust into a starting role from the start of the season due to the fight between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, Markkanen became the fastest player in NBA history to reach 100 career three-pointers Monday against the Heat, doing it in 17 fewer games than the previous record holder, a guy by the name of Stephen Curry. If the Bulls are going to keep up with the Warriors offense, they are going to need all the scoring they can get from Markkanen. Considering the Warriors play at the fourth-fastest pace (102.4 possessions per game) in the league, Markkanen makes for an excellent option Wednesday.</p><h3>Center</h3><p><strong>DeMarcus Cousins, at Hawks (FD: $11,900, DK: $10,800)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 57.99, DK: 60.21</em></p><p>This game could get ugly for the Hawks. They received some reinforcements up front with the recent return of Dewayne Dedmon, but they don’t have anyone capable of hanging with Cousins. Cousins’s 32.5% usage rate is fourth-highest in the league and he has at least 15 rebounds and five assists in four of his last six games. The Hawks allow the-third most points per game to centers on both FanDuel and DraftKings, so don’t be afraid to pay up for Cousins on Wednesday.</p><p><strong>Jonas Valanciunas, vs. Pistons (FD: $5,500, DK: $5,200)</strong><br><em>Projected Points: FD: 25, DK: 25.12</em></p><p>Valanciunas has the potential to put up big double-doubles, evident by the fact that he has scored at least 15 points and grabbed at least 13 rebounds in three of his last six games. The problem is, he’s very inconsistent, scoring no more than eight points and grabbing five rebounds or fewer in two of the other three games. His playing time is not consistent by any means, but the good news is the Raptors may be forced to play him more than usual Wednesday to battle with Andre Drummond. If you want to take a chance on a cheaper center with upside in tournament play, Valanciunas might be your man.</p>
NBA DFS Picks for January 17

Get ready for a busy night in the NBA with 10 games on the schedule Wednesday. There are plenty of elite options to choose from for your DFS entry with the Warriors, Thunder and Pelicans in action. There are a lot of great options available up and down the price scale, as well. Consider using some of the players below and plugging them into our NBA Lineup Optimizer to hopefully craft a winning lineup.

Point Guard

John Wall, at Hornets (FD: $10,100, DK: $9,700)
Projected Points: FD: 48.87, DK: 50.36

Wall is having by far his best month of the season, averaging 25.9 points, 11.3 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.4 three-pointers in seven January games. Not only is he averaging 39 minutes in those games, but he also has an excellent 33.7% usage rate. He dominated the Hornets in their first meeting this year, scoring 31 points and dishing out 11 assists. He won’t come cheap, but expect him to be worth his lofty price tag Wednesday.

Milos Teodosic, vs. Nuggets (FD: $5,100, DK: $5,200)
Projected Points: FD: 23.74, DK: 24.99

The Clippers are still thin in their backcourt, leaving Teodosic with an opportunity for added minutes. While his production isn’t off the charts, he has averaged a valuable 11.0 points, 6.7 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 3.0 three-pointers in his last three games. Wednesday brings a favorable matchup against the Nuggets, who allow the third-most points per game to point guards on both FanDuel and DraftKings. If you are looking for a cheap point guard option, Teodosic does have upside.

Shooting Guard

Lou Williams, vs. Nuggets (FD: $8,900, DK: $8,700)
Projected Points: FD: 41.29, DK: 42.95

Williams is one of the hottest scorers in the NBA right now, averaging 31.2 points and 4.4 three-pointers in his last 13 games. He’s not just looking for his own shot though, also averaging 5.4 assists per game over that same stretch. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career and playing a ton due to all of the Clippers injuries, resulting in a 29.9% usage rate that ranks inside the top-20 in the league. He should have plenty of opportunities to be productive again Wednesday.

Tim Hardaway Jr., at Grizzlies (FD: $6,400, DK: $5,900)
Projected Points: FD: 29.06, DK: 30.05

Hardaway returned Friday from a lengthy absence due to a leg injury, scoring 16 points in 25 minutes off the bench. He scored 25 points in 33 minutes the next game Saturday before sitting out the second leg of the back-to-back set Sunday. He is set to play again Wednesday and could resume his role in the starting five. The Knicks badly need his offense, and it’s a good sign that he played 33 minutes Saturday. He has the potential to provide value at this reasonable price against the Grizzlies.

Want more in-depth DFS advice? Click here and use promo code NEWYEAR40 to get 40% off a season-long subscription with our partners at Lineup Lab, helping Joes play like DFS pros.

Small Forward

Kevin Durant, at Bulls (FD: $10,600, DK: $10,600)
Projected Points: FD: 52.56, DK: 52.62

The Bulls have won three in a row and are a tough team at home, but playing the Warriors is an entirely different beast. They don’t have anyone who matches up well defensively with Durant, which really can be said for most teams. On a roster loaded with elite talent, Durant still gets plenty of chances to score evidenced by a 30.4% usage rate that ranks 11th-best in the league. If the Bulls can keep this game close, Durant could be in line for a monster performance.

Josh Richardson, at Bucks (FD: $5,800, DK: $6,200)
Projected Points: FD: 24.42, DK: 24.22

The Heat continue to battle injury issues, the latest of which is Tyler Johnson (ankle), who is listed as doubtful for Wednesday. Richardson is playing a lot as a result, averaging 37 minutes in his last eight games. He hasn’t let the added opportunities go to waste, averaging 14.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.9 three-pointers over that same stretch. He doesn’t cost a ton, making him worth considering for your entry.

Power Forward

Blake Griffin, vs. Nuggets (FD: $8,700, DK: $9,000)
Projected Points: FD: 43.04, DK: 44.33

Known for his excellent scoring abilities, Griffin is averaging at least 21 points per game for the fifth straight season. However, with all of the Clippers injuries at guard and Chris Paul now in Houston, Griffin is averaging a career-high 5.4 assists per game this year. He doesn’t provide much in the way of defensive stats, but the increase in assists has helped to create a high floor in DFS. The Nuggets allow the 10th-most points per game to power forwards on both FanDuel and DraftKings, making Griffin an excellent option yet again Wednesday.

Lauri Markkanen, vs. Warriors (FD: $6,400, DK: $6,300)
Projected Points: FD: 29.36, DK: 30

The Bulls thought very highly of Markkanen when they drafted him, but even they would have found it hard to imagine he would begin his career playing so well. Thrust into a starting role from the start of the season due to the fight between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, Markkanen became the fastest player in NBA history to reach 100 career three-pointers Monday against the Heat, doing it in 17 fewer games than the previous record holder, a guy by the name of Stephen Curry. If the Bulls are going to keep up with the Warriors offense, they are going to need all the scoring they can get from Markkanen. Considering the Warriors play at the fourth-fastest pace (102.4 possessions per game) in the league, Markkanen makes for an excellent option Wednesday.

Center

DeMarcus Cousins, at Hawks (FD: $11,900, DK: $10,800)
Projected Points: FD: 57.99, DK: 60.21

This game could get ugly for the Hawks. They received some reinforcements up front with the recent return of Dewayne Dedmon, but they don’t have anyone capable of hanging with Cousins. Cousins’s 32.5% usage rate is fourth-highest in the league and he has at least 15 rebounds and five assists in four of his last six games. The Hawks allow the-third most points per game to centers on both FanDuel and DraftKings, so don’t be afraid to pay up for Cousins on Wednesday.

Jonas Valanciunas, vs. Pistons (FD: $5,500, DK: $5,200)
Projected Points: FD: 25, DK: 25.12

Valanciunas has the potential to put up big double-doubles, evident by the fact that he has scored at least 15 points and grabbed at least 13 rebounds in three of his last six games. The problem is, he’s very inconsistent, scoring no more than eight points and grabbing five rebounds or fewer in two of the other three games. His playing time is not consistent by any means, but the good news is the Raptors may be forced to play him more than usual Wednesday to battle with Andre Drummond. If you want to take a chance on a cheaper center with upside in tournament play, Valanciunas might be your man.

NBA star <a href="https://ec.yimg.com/ec?url=http%3a%2f%2fdeadline.com%2ftag%2fkevin-durant%2f%26quot%3b&t=1516504024&sig=1.uIzc.Eq4uO5_NqBxvqHw--~D rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Kevin Durant" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Kevin Durant</a> of the <a href="http://deadline.com/tag/golden-state-warriors/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Golden State Warriors" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Golden State Warriors</a> is helping other sports stars up game when it comes to their <a href="http://deadline.com/tag/youtube/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:YouTube" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">YouTube</a> presence. Durant&#8217;s <a href="http://deadline.com/tag/thirty-five-media/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Thirty Five Media" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Thirty Five Media</a>, which is co-owned by Rich Kleiman will work closely with the popular video platform to help athletes launch their own channels. They will also create new and innovative sports programming as a development partner for YouTube. The news comes after the wild success of Thirty Five Media&#8217;s launch of Durant&#8217;s YouTube&#8230;
Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Media Teams With YouTube To Launch Athlete Channels
NBA star Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors is helping other sports stars up game when it comes to their YouTube presence. Durant’s Thirty Five Media, which is co-owned by Rich Kleiman will work closely with the popular video platform to help athletes launch their own channels. They will also create new and innovative sports programming as a development partner for YouTube. The news comes after the wild success of Thirty Five Media’s launch of Durant’s YouTube…
YouTube Teams With Kevin Durant to Add Athlete Channels, Sports Programming
YouTube Teams With Kevin Durant to Add Athlete Channels, Sports Programming
YouTube Teams With Kevin Durant to Add Athlete Channels, Sports Programming
<p>The NBA is set to unveil the starting lineups for the 2018 All-Star Game on Thursday, as determined by a joint vote among fans, players and media members.</p><p>While this year’s All-Star festivities include a major new wrinkle—the appointment of the conference leading vote-getters as captains who will draft their teams from a pool of All-Star players—the procedure for selecting the starters remains unchanged from 2017. This year, fans will again account for half of the vote, players will account for 25%, and a panel composed of 100 media members will account for the final 25%.</p><p>Without further ado, here’s how I casted my official ballot. Note: Media members were asked to select two backcourt players and three frontcourt players from each conference. (<em>All stats and rankings through Monday.)</em></p><p>??</p><h3><strong>East Backcourt: Victor Oladipo (Pacers) and Kyrie Irving (Celtics)</strong></h3><p>Right off the top, a classic voting dilemma: three very qualified candidates—Oladipo, Irving, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan—for only two spots. Unfortunately, this predicament is well-known and particularly annoying to All-Star voters, who might be able to avoid such pickles if the NBA ever moved to a fully position-less ballot.</p><p>The East’s top tier of guards isn’t as deep as it’s been in recent years. Washington’s John Wall has struggled with his efficiency and consistency. Although Bradley Beal, Wall’s teammate, has helped pick up the slack and deserves strong All-Star reserve consideration, his career year hasn’t translated to the type of stability one expects from a veteran-dominated roster. In Charlotte, Kemba Walker’s Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, already falling well off the playoff pace. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry has smartly been cast into a narrower role, leaving him in a similar boat as Miami’s Goran Dragic. Neither point guard has the per-game numbers to keep up with the East’s most productive backcourt players.</p><p>The Crossover&#39;s first backcourt pick is Oladipo (24.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4 APG), who easily qualifies as the biggest surprise among the 10 players selected here given his ho-hum 2016-17 campaign in Oklahoma City. Oladipo, Irving and DeRozan all have virtually identical per-game stats in terms of points, rebounds and assists, but Indiana’s new guard held slight edges in shooting efficiency and Player Efficiency Rating at the time ballots were due. More importantly, though, Oladipo’s impact numbers notably exceeded Irving and DeRozan.</p><p><em>• Indiana: +7.4 with Oladipo | -6.9 without Oladipo | Net: +13.8<br>• </em><em>Boston: +7.4 with Irving | +1.3 without Irving | Net: +9.6 </em><br><em>•</em><em>Toronto: +6.9 with DeRozan | +8.1 without DeRozan | Net: -1.2</em></p><p>As the East’s top two seeds, Boston and Toronto can point to numerous driving forces behind their success, including proven co-stars, deep rosters and established systems. For the overhauled Pacers, Oladipo has easily been the central force. Without him this year, Indiana is 0-5, losing by an average of 12.8 PPG. Indeed, Oladipo’s Pacers recall Jimmy Butler’s Bulls from years past. Without Oladipo, Indiana would be utterly hopeless, likely ranking among the league’s worst teams. With him, they are comfortably in the East’s playoff picture, even if they can’t quite keep up with the East’s best. They also possess a top-six offense league-wide, which still seems impossible given the loss of Paul George and their mediocre assembled talent. Considering their respective team contexts, Oladipo rates as the least replaceable of the three East backcourt candidates. </p><p>It’s fair to wonder whether Oladipo can maintain his career-best level of play, especially because both Irving and DeRozan have performed at an All-Star level for multiple years. A second-half drop-off in Oladipo’s efficiency and the Pacers’ success wouldn’t be surprising at all, leaving Irving and DeRozan as stronger All-NBA selections. However, this All-Star starter ballot was cast solely looking at games played between the start of the 2017-18 season and the voting deadline.</p><p>For the second spot, Irving (24 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG) versus DeRozan (25.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5 APG) is about as close as it gets, with their major statistics and advanced stats (PER, Win Shares) usually separated by mere decimals. Both have similar usage rates and similar impacts on their respective offenses. And relative to their all-around offensive games, both players are less accomplished and less integral to their team’s success on the defensive end.</p><p>DeRozan’s improvement as a reader of defenses coupled with his first serious dabbling outside the three-point arc have helped boost him from fringe All-Star selection to starter candidate, and they’ve moved him past Lowry on the list of Toronto’s most important players this season. Still, the pick here is Irving, due to his better on/off impact numbers, his superior outside shooting (proficiency and volume), and the Celtics’ East-leading record. </p><h3><strong>East Frontcourt: LeBron James (Cavaliers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), and Joel Embiid (Sixers)</strong></h3><p>Let’s not bother with unnecessary debates: Both James and Antetokounmpo are no-brainers.</p><p>At the midway point of his 15th season, James stands as the 2018 NBA MVP frontrunner. He has been the alpha and omega for the East’s most efficient offense while welcoming a host of new faces (Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green) and dealing with numerous injuries (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Rose). Even more remarkably, he’s shattered conventional expectations for age curves and post-30 decline. Throughout NBA history, only four players have matched James’ current stat line (27.3 PPG, 8 RPG, 8.8 APG): Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. All four did it at age 28 or younger, while James turned 33 last month.</p><p>Kudos to fan voters for recognizing Antetokounmpo’s brilliance: At just 23, he’s already challenging James for the title of the East’s leading vote-getter, pulling in nearly 1.5 million votes at last count. The NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player is now deep into his second season as one of the league’s top one-man shows. The Bucks boast a +4 net rating with Antetokounmpo on the court and a pitiful -11.3 net rating when he sits, a split that helps explain why he’s the NBA’s leader in minutes per game. A do-everything, play-anywhere force of nature, Antetokounmpo (28.3 PPG, 10.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) joins Larry Bird, David Robinson and Russell Westbrook as the only players to average 28/10/4 during the three-point era. While Milwaukee’s so-so record should leave observers wanting more, it would be so, so, so much worse without nightly heroics from their franchise player. </p><p>If he were eligible, DeRozan would have a strong case for the third frontcourt spot. Alas, Embiid and Boston’s Horford stand atop the remaining pool of frontcourt candidates, separating themselves from New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (fading slightly after a strong individual start), Detroit’s Andre Drummond (an afterthought following the Pistons’ recent cratering) and Cleveland’s Kevin Love (an undeniable part of the problem for Cleveland’s atrocious defense).</p><p>Horford’s portfolio is virtually identical to his previous All-Star seasons: His two-way game, unselfishness, inside/outside versatility, and intelligence have made him a more important driver of Boston’s winning than his raw stats (13.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) would suggest. As the stabilizing force for the NBA’s stingiest defense, Horford will command Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive team attention. He’s also enjoyed significantly better health than Embiid, logging 300+ more minutes and missing just four games.</p><p>Ultimately, the quality of Embiid’s minutes won out on this ballot. Aside from long-established A-listers like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden, Embiid helps his teammates find success better than anyone in the league. He draws tons of attention to free up role players. He works a nice two-man game with Ben Simmons. He blankets the paint on defense. He parades to the foul line. He cleans the glass. He leads with energy and fearlessness.</p><p>While Horford has a longer track record of winning and has enjoyed better health this season, Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the league’s most indispensable stars. Philadelphia’s net rating swings from -6.2 without him to +8.7 with him, and the Sixers are 2-7 without Embiid in the lineup. Boston, meanwhile, has gone 4-0 without Horford. Other than his lagging three-point efficiency and his DeMarcus Cousins-like propensity for turning the ball over by doing too much, Embiid (23.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) is virtually impossible to nitpick. His per-game numbers suggest he’s elite. His advanced stats suggest he’s elite. His impact numbers suggest he’s elite. The eye test suggests he’s an elite monster who would thrash and thrive to an even greater degree if surrounded by Boston’s talent.</p><p>Postscript: Horford is an easy reserve selection.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>West Backcourt: James Harden (Rockets) and Stephen Curry (Warriors)</strong></h3><p>Most years, good health weighs heavily on this voter’s ballot. That’s especially true in deep groupings like the West backcourt, which is always a gauntlet full of impossible choices. This season, though, toeing a hard line on health makes less sense due to a rash of injuries to star players and the increased proliferation of strategic resting.</p><p>Disqualifying or downgrading West guards for missing meaningful time would result in a bloodbath: Harden, Curry, and Portland’s Damian Lillard would all be impacted, along with Houston’s Chris Paul, Memphis’s Mike Conley and other perennial candidates who don’t belong in the conversation because they’ve missed huge chunks of the season. The top remaining, rarely-injured candidates would be Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and LA’s Lou Williams. All are worthy All-Star reserve candidates, but none belongs on the same tier as Harden and Curry, who have both been top-five overall talents this season.</p><p>Although currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harden (32.3 PPG, 9.1 APG, 5 RPG) is a must All-Star starter. At the time of his injury, he stood as the MVP favorite, leading the league in points, PER, Win Shares and Real Plus Minus. His individual success directly translated to team–wide success: Houston was on track for its best season in franchise history, the West’s No. 2 record, a top-two offense, and the NBA’s second-best point differential when he went down.</p><p>Curry (27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.5 APG) has already missed 14 games, a chunk that would usually see him dumped to the second team on this voter’s ballot. Much like Embiid, however, Curry’s play when healthy has simply been too dominant to snub. His stat line isn’t that far off his 2015 unanimous MVP campaign. He’s threatening another 50/40/90 shooting season. Golden State is playing at a 68-win pace when he suits up. The Warriors’ offensive rating is a preposterous 120.7 when he’s on the court. He ranks fourth in PER and first in Real Plus Minus. The sport continues to be molded by his influence.</p><p>That leaves Butler (21.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.1 APG) to fall to the West’s bench. As with DeRozan in the East, a position-less ballot could have potentially opened a starting spot for Butler, a punishing wing who capably defends four positions and easily oscillates between different roles in big and small lineups. Butler’s off-season arrival has delivered impressive and immediate results, transforming the Timberwolves from a decade-long also-ran to a top-four seed and a potential Northwest Division banner. Simply put, Butler is the top performer not included among this ballot’s 10 starters.</p><p>Despite his gaudy numbers, Westbrook (25 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 9.9 APG) should not be viewed as a serious All-Star starter candidate. Oklahoma City has just been too shaky, in part because he’s struggled to shoot efficiently and hasn’t displayed the delicate touch necessary to consistently pull quality contributions from his auxiliary options. </p><h3><strong>West Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Warriors), Anthony Davis (Pelicans) and Draymond Green (Warriors)</strong></h3><p>The West’s frontcourt picture will get dicey when it comes to separating the reserves from the snubs, but the starters are a simpler task.</p><p>Durant (26.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) is in, and his nomination doesn’t require an extended explanation. At this point of his career, the 2014 MVP has become a chameleon-like force, capable of matching his top peers in an increasingly long list of ways. Like Curry, he is a 50/40/90 candidate. Like Harden, he is a primary scorer and playmaker for an elite offense. Like James, he steps forward as a major stabilizing force when his teammates are in and out of the lineup. Like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, he has become a major plus on defense, one capable of defending elite wings while also carrying a significant offensive burden. Like Horford and Green, he has risen to the challenge of interior defense while logging major minutes in undersized spread lineups. Like Irving, he never hesitates to break off a defender with his handle. Like Antetokounmpo, he’s a terror in transition, and his length and athleticism present constant problems for opponents big and small.</p><p>In sum, Durant’s case to surpass James as the game’s top all-around talent is only gaining momentum. </p><p>Even with the injury issues in the West, it’s impossible to justify placing two Pelicans—who have hovered near .500 and the playoff bubble all season—in the All-Star starting lineup. While DeMarcus Cousins (25.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.1 APG) started with a bang and continues to boast insane numbers, his steak doesn’t quite match his sizzle. Hence, Davis (26.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.3 APG) makes more sense the New Orleans representative: His per-game stats are huge as always, he holds a team-best +5.3 net rating, and New Orleans is 3-6 when he plays fewer than 25 minutes. Simply put, he’s more reliable than Cousins, who leads the league in turnovers and fouls, while also ranking among the league leaders in technical fouls and ejections.</p><p>The West’s final frontcourt spot is a tangled ball of yarn due to Leonard’s numerous injury issues. One school of thought suggests transferring his spot to LaMarcus Aldridge (22.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 APG), who stepped forward as San Antonio’s leading scorer in Leonard’s absence. Others might argue for Cousins based on his Shaquille O’Neal-like numbers. Still others might nominate Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (20.2 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG), a natural/smooth/efficient/forceful offensive weapon who has responded in recent weeks to severe criticism of his defense. All three have legitimate cases, as would Butler if he were eligible in the frontcourt.</p><p>On this ballot, the choice is Green (11.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG), who obviously trails his aforementioned competition as a scorer. What sets Green apart is everything else: His comfort guarding any player at any time and at any spot on the court; his motor; his ability to step forward as an initiator in Curry’s absence; his decision-making; his rim-protection; and his ability to push the ball end to end in transition. Green is key to helping Golden State play at the league’s No.4 pace, he is the leading assist man on the league’s No. 1 assist team, he is a key playmaker for the NBA’s No. 1 offense, he is the leading rebounder on a team that’s juggled centers all season long, and he’s the most proven and versatile cog in the NBA’s No. 4 defense.</p><p>While Green has become a familiar face during Golden State’s run of dominance—emerging as one of this year’s leading All-Star vote-getters—the breadth of his positive contributions can still get lost in Superteam envy or in complaints about his behavior. So, here’s a cool shorthand method for explaining his unique and wide-ranging impact: <a href="http://bkref.com/tiny/dWaNc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Green and James are the only two players to average" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Green and James are the only two players to average</a> seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block during the three-point era. This season, James is doing it for the fourth time during a career in which he will likely go down as one of the top two players ever. Green, meanwhile, is doing it for the third straight time while playing in the shadow of two all-timers in Curry and Durant. The Warriors’ blossoming dynasty greatness is fueled in no small part by Green’s consistent greatness across so many different facets of the game.</p><p>Check back next week for The Crossover&#39;s All-Star reserve selections. </p>
The Crossover's 2018 NBA All-Star Game Starters

The NBA is set to unveil the starting lineups for the 2018 All-Star Game on Thursday, as determined by a joint vote among fans, players and media members.

While this year’s All-Star festivities include a major new wrinkle—the appointment of the conference leading vote-getters as captains who will draft their teams from a pool of All-Star players—the procedure for selecting the starters remains unchanged from 2017. This year, fans will again account for half of the vote, players will account for 25%, and a panel composed of 100 media members will account for the final 25%.

Without further ado, here’s how I casted my official ballot. Note: Media members were asked to select two backcourt players and three frontcourt players from each conference. (All stats and rankings through Monday.)

??

East Backcourt: Victor Oladipo (Pacers) and Kyrie Irving (Celtics)

Right off the top, a classic voting dilemma: three very qualified candidates—Oladipo, Irving, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan—for only two spots. Unfortunately, this predicament is well-known and particularly annoying to All-Star voters, who might be able to avoid such pickles if the NBA ever moved to a fully position-less ballot.

The East’s top tier of guards isn’t as deep as it’s been in recent years. Washington’s John Wall has struggled with his efficiency and consistency. Although Bradley Beal, Wall’s teammate, has helped pick up the slack and deserves strong All-Star reserve consideration, his career year hasn’t translated to the type of stability one expects from a veteran-dominated roster. In Charlotte, Kemba Walker’s Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, already falling well off the playoff pace. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry has smartly been cast into a narrower role, leaving him in a similar boat as Miami’s Goran Dragic. Neither point guard has the per-game numbers to keep up with the East’s most productive backcourt players.

The Crossover's first backcourt pick is Oladipo (24.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4 APG), who easily qualifies as the biggest surprise among the 10 players selected here given his ho-hum 2016-17 campaign in Oklahoma City. Oladipo, Irving and DeRozan all have virtually identical per-game stats in terms of points, rebounds and assists, but Indiana’s new guard held slight edges in shooting efficiency and Player Efficiency Rating at the time ballots were due. More importantly, though, Oladipo’s impact numbers notably exceeded Irving and DeRozan.

• Indiana: +7.4 with Oladipo | -6.9 without Oladipo | Net: +13.8
Boston: +7.4 with Irving | +1.3 without Irving | Net: +9.6
Toronto: +6.9 with DeRozan | +8.1 without DeRozan | Net: -1.2

As the East’s top two seeds, Boston and Toronto can point to numerous driving forces behind their success, including proven co-stars, deep rosters and established systems. For the overhauled Pacers, Oladipo has easily been the central force. Without him this year, Indiana is 0-5, losing by an average of 12.8 PPG. Indeed, Oladipo’s Pacers recall Jimmy Butler’s Bulls from years past. Without Oladipo, Indiana would be utterly hopeless, likely ranking among the league’s worst teams. With him, they are comfortably in the East’s playoff picture, even if they can’t quite keep up with the East’s best. They also possess a top-six offense league-wide, which still seems impossible given the loss of Paul George and their mediocre assembled talent. Considering their respective team contexts, Oladipo rates as the least replaceable of the three East backcourt candidates.

It’s fair to wonder whether Oladipo can maintain his career-best level of play, especially because both Irving and DeRozan have performed at an All-Star level for multiple years. A second-half drop-off in Oladipo’s efficiency and the Pacers’ success wouldn’t be surprising at all, leaving Irving and DeRozan as stronger All-NBA selections. However, this All-Star starter ballot was cast solely looking at games played between the start of the 2017-18 season and the voting deadline.

For the second spot, Irving (24 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG) versus DeRozan (25.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5 APG) is about as close as it gets, with their major statistics and advanced stats (PER, Win Shares) usually separated by mere decimals. Both have similar usage rates and similar impacts on their respective offenses. And relative to their all-around offensive games, both players are less accomplished and less integral to their team’s success on the defensive end.

DeRozan’s improvement as a reader of defenses coupled with his first serious dabbling outside the three-point arc have helped boost him from fringe All-Star selection to starter candidate, and they’ve moved him past Lowry on the list of Toronto’s most important players this season. Still, the pick here is Irving, due to his better on/off impact numbers, his superior outside shooting (proficiency and volume), and the Celtics’ East-leading record.

East Frontcourt: LeBron James (Cavaliers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), and Joel Embiid (Sixers)

Let’s not bother with unnecessary debates: Both James and Antetokounmpo are no-brainers.

At the midway point of his 15th season, James stands as the 2018 NBA MVP frontrunner. He has been the alpha and omega for the East’s most efficient offense while welcoming a host of new faces (Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green) and dealing with numerous injuries (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Rose). Even more remarkably, he’s shattered conventional expectations for age curves and post-30 decline. Throughout NBA history, only four players have matched James’ current stat line (27.3 PPG, 8 RPG, 8.8 APG): Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. All four did it at age 28 or younger, while James turned 33 last month.

Kudos to fan voters for recognizing Antetokounmpo’s brilliance: At just 23, he’s already challenging James for the title of the East’s leading vote-getter, pulling in nearly 1.5 million votes at last count. The NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player is now deep into his second season as one of the league’s top one-man shows. The Bucks boast a +4 net rating with Antetokounmpo on the court and a pitiful -11.3 net rating when he sits, a split that helps explain why he’s the NBA’s leader in minutes per game. A do-everything, play-anywhere force of nature, Antetokounmpo (28.3 PPG, 10.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) joins Larry Bird, David Robinson and Russell Westbrook as the only players to average 28/10/4 during the three-point era. While Milwaukee’s so-so record should leave observers wanting more, it would be so, so, so much worse without nightly heroics from their franchise player.

If he were eligible, DeRozan would have a strong case for the third frontcourt spot. Alas, Embiid and Boston’s Horford stand atop the remaining pool of frontcourt candidates, separating themselves from New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (fading slightly after a strong individual start), Detroit’s Andre Drummond (an afterthought following the Pistons’ recent cratering) and Cleveland’s Kevin Love (an undeniable part of the problem for Cleveland’s atrocious defense).

Horford’s portfolio is virtually identical to his previous All-Star seasons: His two-way game, unselfishness, inside/outside versatility, and intelligence have made him a more important driver of Boston’s winning than his raw stats (13.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) would suggest. As the stabilizing force for the NBA’s stingiest defense, Horford will command Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive team attention. He’s also enjoyed significantly better health than Embiid, logging 300+ more minutes and missing just four games.

Ultimately, the quality of Embiid’s minutes won out on this ballot. Aside from long-established A-listers like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden, Embiid helps his teammates find success better than anyone in the league. He draws tons of attention to free up role players. He works a nice two-man game with Ben Simmons. He blankets the paint on defense. He parades to the foul line. He cleans the glass. He leads with energy and fearlessness.

While Horford has a longer track record of winning and has enjoyed better health this season, Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the league’s most indispensable stars. Philadelphia’s net rating swings from -6.2 without him to +8.7 with him, and the Sixers are 2-7 without Embiid in the lineup. Boston, meanwhile, has gone 4-0 without Horford. Other than his lagging three-point efficiency and his DeMarcus Cousins-like propensity for turning the ball over by doing too much, Embiid (23.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) is virtually impossible to nitpick. His per-game numbers suggest he’s elite. His advanced stats suggest he’s elite. His impact numbers suggest he’s elite. The eye test suggests he’s an elite monster who would thrash and thrive to an even greater degree if surrounded by Boston’s talent.

Postscript: Horford is an easy reserve selection.

?

West Backcourt: James Harden (Rockets) and Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Most years, good health weighs heavily on this voter’s ballot. That’s especially true in deep groupings like the West backcourt, which is always a gauntlet full of impossible choices. This season, though, toeing a hard line on health makes less sense due to a rash of injuries to star players and the increased proliferation of strategic resting.

Disqualifying or downgrading West guards for missing meaningful time would result in a bloodbath: Harden, Curry, and Portland’s Damian Lillard would all be impacted, along with Houston’s Chris Paul, Memphis’s Mike Conley and other perennial candidates who don’t belong in the conversation because they’ve missed huge chunks of the season. The top remaining, rarely-injured candidates would be Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and LA’s Lou Williams. All are worthy All-Star reserve candidates, but none belongs on the same tier as Harden and Curry, who have both been top-five overall talents this season.

Although currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harden (32.3 PPG, 9.1 APG, 5 RPG) is a must All-Star starter. At the time of his injury, he stood as the MVP favorite, leading the league in points, PER, Win Shares and Real Plus Minus. His individual success directly translated to team–wide success: Houston was on track for its best season in franchise history, the West’s No. 2 record, a top-two offense, and the NBA’s second-best point differential when he went down.

Curry (27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.5 APG) has already missed 14 games, a chunk that would usually see him dumped to the second team on this voter’s ballot. Much like Embiid, however, Curry’s play when healthy has simply been too dominant to snub. His stat line isn’t that far off his 2015 unanimous MVP campaign. He’s threatening another 50/40/90 shooting season. Golden State is playing at a 68-win pace when he suits up. The Warriors’ offensive rating is a preposterous 120.7 when he’s on the court. He ranks fourth in PER and first in Real Plus Minus. The sport continues to be molded by his influence.

That leaves Butler (21.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.1 APG) to fall to the West’s bench. As with DeRozan in the East, a position-less ballot could have potentially opened a starting spot for Butler, a punishing wing who capably defends four positions and easily oscillates between different roles in big and small lineups. Butler’s off-season arrival has delivered impressive and immediate results, transforming the Timberwolves from a decade-long also-ran to a top-four seed and a potential Northwest Division banner. Simply put, Butler is the top performer not included among this ballot’s 10 starters.

Despite his gaudy numbers, Westbrook (25 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 9.9 APG) should not be viewed as a serious All-Star starter candidate. Oklahoma City has just been too shaky, in part because he’s struggled to shoot efficiently and hasn’t displayed the delicate touch necessary to consistently pull quality contributions from his auxiliary options.

West Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Warriors), Anthony Davis (Pelicans) and Draymond Green (Warriors)

The West’s frontcourt picture will get dicey when it comes to separating the reserves from the snubs, but the starters are a simpler task.

Durant (26.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) is in, and his nomination doesn’t require an extended explanation. At this point of his career, the 2014 MVP has become a chameleon-like force, capable of matching his top peers in an increasingly long list of ways. Like Curry, he is a 50/40/90 candidate. Like Harden, he is a primary scorer and playmaker for an elite offense. Like James, he steps forward as a major stabilizing force when his teammates are in and out of the lineup. Like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, he has become a major plus on defense, one capable of defending elite wings while also carrying a significant offensive burden. Like Horford and Green, he has risen to the challenge of interior defense while logging major minutes in undersized spread lineups. Like Irving, he never hesitates to break off a defender with his handle. Like Antetokounmpo, he’s a terror in transition, and his length and athleticism present constant problems for opponents big and small.

In sum, Durant’s case to surpass James as the game’s top all-around talent is only gaining momentum.

Even with the injury issues in the West, it’s impossible to justify placing two Pelicans—who have hovered near .500 and the playoff bubble all season—in the All-Star starting lineup. While DeMarcus Cousins (25.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.1 APG) started with a bang and continues to boast insane numbers, his steak doesn’t quite match his sizzle. Hence, Davis (26.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.3 APG) makes more sense the New Orleans representative: His per-game stats are huge as always, he holds a team-best +5.3 net rating, and New Orleans is 3-6 when he plays fewer than 25 minutes. Simply put, he’s more reliable than Cousins, who leads the league in turnovers and fouls, while also ranking among the league leaders in technical fouls and ejections.

The West’s final frontcourt spot is a tangled ball of yarn due to Leonard’s numerous injury issues. One school of thought suggests transferring his spot to LaMarcus Aldridge (22.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 APG), who stepped forward as San Antonio’s leading scorer in Leonard’s absence. Others might argue for Cousins based on his Shaquille O’Neal-like numbers. Still others might nominate Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (20.2 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG), a natural/smooth/efficient/forceful offensive weapon who has responded in recent weeks to severe criticism of his defense. All three have legitimate cases, as would Butler if he were eligible in the frontcourt.

On this ballot, the choice is Green (11.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG), who obviously trails his aforementioned competition as a scorer. What sets Green apart is everything else: His comfort guarding any player at any time and at any spot on the court; his motor; his ability to step forward as an initiator in Curry’s absence; his decision-making; his rim-protection; and his ability to push the ball end to end in transition. Green is key to helping Golden State play at the league’s No.4 pace, he is the leading assist man on the league’s No. 1 assist team, he is a key playmaker for the NBA’s No. 1 offense, he is the leading rebounder on a team that’s juggled centers all season long, and he’s the most proven and versatile cog in the NBA’s No. 4 defense.

While Green has become a familiar face during Golden State’s run of dominance—emerging as one of this year’s leading All-Star vote-getters—the breadth of his positive contributions can still get lost in Superteam envy or in complaints about his behavior. So, here’s a cool shorthand method for explaining his unique and wide-ranging impact: Green and James are the only two players to average seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block during the three-point era. This season, James is doing it for the fourth time during a career in which he will likely go down as one of the top two players ever. Green, meanwhile, is doing it for the third straight time while playing in the shadow of two all-timers in Curry and Durant. The Warriors’ blossoming dynasty greatness is fueled in no small part by Green’s consistent greatness across so many different facets of the game.

Check back next week for The Crossover's All-Star reserve selections.

<p>The NBA is set to unveil the starting lineups for the 2018 All-Star Game on Thursday, as determined by a joint vote among fans, players and media members.</p><p>While this year’s All-Star festivities include a major new wrinkle—the appointment of the conference leading vote-getters as captains who will draft their teams from a pool of All-Star players—the procedure for selecting the starters remains unchanged from 2017. This year, fans will again account for half of the vote, players will account for 25%, and a panel composed of 100 media members will account for the final 25%.</p><p>Without further ado, here’s how I casted my official ballot. Note: Media members were asked to select two backcourt players and three frontcourt players from each conference. (<em>All stats and rankings through Monday.)</em></p><p>??</p><h3><strong>East Backcourt: Victor Oladipo (Pacers) and Kyrie Irving (Celtics)</strong></h3><p>Right off the top, a classic voting dilemma: three very qualified candidates—Oladipo, Irving, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan—for only two spots. Unfortunately, this predicament is well-known and particularly annoying to All-Star voters, who might be able to avoid such pickles if the NBA ever moved to a fully position-less ballot.</p><p>The East’s top tier of guards isn’t as deep as it’s been in recent years. Washington’s John Wall has struggled with his efficiency and consistency. Although Bradley Beal, Wall’s teammate, has helped pick up the slack and deserves strong All-Star reserve consideration, his career year hasn’t translated to the type of stability one expects from a veteran-dominated roster. In Charlotte, Kemba Walker’s Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, already falling well off the playoff pace. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry has smartly been cast into a narrower role, leaving him in a similar boat as Miami’s Goran Dragic. Neither point guard has the per-game numbers to keep up with the East’s most productive backcourt players.</p><p>The Crossover&#39;s first backcourt pick is Oladipo (24.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4 APG), who easily qualifies as the biggest surprise among the 10 players selected here given his ho-hum 2016-17 campaign in Oklahoma City. Oladipo, Irving and DeRozan all have virtually identical per-game stats in terms of points, rebounds and assists, but Indiana’s new guard held slight edges in shooting efficiency and Player Efficiency Rating at the time ballots were due. More importantly, though, Oladipo’s impact numbers notably exceeded Irving and DeRozan.</p><p><em>• Indiana: +7.4 with Oladipo | -6.9 without Oladipo | Net: +13.8<br>• </em><em>Boston: +7.4 with Irving | +1.3 without Irving | Net: +9.6 </em><br><em>•</em><em>Toronto: +6.9 with DeRozan | +8.1 without DeRozan | Net: -1.2</em></p><p>As the East’s top two seeds, Boston and Toronto can point to numerous driving forces behind their success, including proven co-stars, deep rosters and established systems. For the overhauled Pacers, Oladipo has easily been the central force. Without him this year, Indiana is 0-5, losing by an average of 12.8 PPG. Indeed, Oladipo’s Pacers recall Jimmy Butler’s Bulls from years past. Without Oladipo, Indiana would be utterly hopeless, likely ranking among the league’s worst teams. With him, they are comfortably in the East’s playoff picture, even if they can’t quite keep up with the East’s best. They also possess a top-six offense league-wide, which still seems impossible given the loss of Paul George and their mediocre assembled talent. Considering their respective team contexts, Oladipo rates as the least replaceable of the three East backcourt candidates. </p><p>It’s fair to wonder whether Oladipo can maintain his career-best level of play, especially because both Irving and DeRozan have performed at an All-Star level for multiple years. A second-half drop-off in Oladipo’s efficiency and the Pacers’ success wouldn’t be surprising at all, leaving Irving and DeRozan as stronger All-NBA selections. However, this All-Star starter ballot was cast solely looking at games played between the start of the 2017-18 season and the voting deadline.</p><p>For the second spot, Irving (24 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG) versus DeRozan (25.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5 APG) is about as close as it gets, with their major statistics and advanced stats (PER, Win Shares) usually separated by mere decimals. Both have similar usage rates and similar impacts on their respective offenses. And relative to their all-around offensive games, both players are less accomplished and less integral to their team’s success on the defensive end.</p><p>DeRozan’s improvement as a reader of defenses coupled with his first serious dabbling outside the three-point arc have helped boost him from fringe All-Star selection to starter candidate, and they’ve moved him past Lowry on the list of Toronto’s most important players this season. Still, the pick here is Irving, due to his better on/off impact numbers, his superior outside shooting (proficiency and volume), and the Celtics’ East-leading record. </p><h3><strong>East Frontcourt: LeBron James (Cavaliers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), and Joel Embiid (Sixers)</strong></h3><p>Let’s not bother with unnecessary debates: Both James and Antetokounmpo are no-brainers.</p><p>At the midway point of his 15th season, James stands as the 2018 NBA MVP frontrunner. He has been the alpha and omega for the East’s most efficient offense while welcoming a host of new faces (Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green) and dealing with numerous injuries (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Rose). Even more remarkably, he’s shattered conventional expectations for age curves and post-30 decline. Throughout NBA history, only four players have matched James’ current stat line (27.3 PPG, 8 RPG, 8.8 APG): Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. All four did it at age 28 or younger, while James turned 33 last month.</p><p>Kudos to fan voters for recognizing Antetokounmpo’s brilliance: At just 23, he’s already challenging James for the title of the East’s leading vote-getter, pulling in nearly 1.5 million votes at last count. The NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player is now deep into his second season as one of the league’s top one-man shows. The Bucks boast a +4 net rating with Antetokounmpo on the court and a pitiful -11.3 net rating when he sits, a split that helps explain why he’s the NBA’s leader in minutes per game. A do-everything, play-anywhere force of nature, Antetokounmpo (28.3 PPG, 10.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) joins Larry Bird, David Robinson and Russell Westbrook as the only players to average 28/10/4 during the three-point era. While Milwaukee’s so-so record should leave observers wanting more, it would be so, so, so much worse without nightly heroics from their franchise player. </p><p>If he were eligible, DeRozan would have a strong case for the third frontcourt spot. Alas, Embiid and Boston’s Horford stand atop the remaining pool of frontcourt candidates, separating themselves from New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (fading slightly after a strong individual start), Detroit’s Andre Drummond (an afterthought following the Pistons’ recent cratering) and Cleveland’s Kevin Love (an undeniable part of the problem for Cleveland’s atrocious defense).</p><p>Horford’s portfolio is virtually identical to his previous All-Star seasons: His two-way game, unselfishness, inside/outside versatility, and intelligence have made him a more important driver of Boston’s winning than his raw stats (13.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) would suggest. As the stabilizing force for the NBA’s stingiest defense, Horford will command Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive team attention. He’s also enjoyed significantly better health than Embiid, logging 300+ more minutes and missing just four games.</p><p>Ultimately, the quality of Embiid’s minutes won out on this ballot. Aside from long-established A-listers like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden, Embiid helps his teammates find success better than anyone in the league. He draws tons of attention to free up role players. He works a nice two-man game with Ben Simmons. He blankets the paint on defense. He parades to the foul line. He cleans the glass. He leads with energy and fearlessness.</p><p>While Horford has a longer track record of winning and has enjoyed better health this season, Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the league’s most indispensable stars. Philadelphia’s net rating swings from -6.2 without him to +8.7 with him, and the Sixers are 2-7 without Embiid in the lineup. Boston, meanwhile, has gone 4-0 without Horford. Other than his lagging three-point efficiency and his DeMarcus Cousins-like propensity for turning the ball over by doing too much, Embiid (23.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) is virtually impossible to nitpick. His per-game numbers suggest he’s elite. His advanced stats suggest he’s elite. His impact numbers suggest he’s elite. The eye test suggests he’s an elite monster who would thrash and thrive to an even greater degree if surrounded by Boston’s talent.</p><p>Postscript: Horford is an easy reserve selection.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>West Backcourt: James Harden (Rockets) and Stephen Curry (Warriors)</strong></h3><p>Most years, good health weighs heavily on this voter’s ballot. That’s especially true in deep groupings like the West backcourt, which is always a gauntlet full of impossible choices. This season, though, toeing a hard line on health makes less sense due to a rash of injuries to star players and the increased proliferation of strategic resting.</p><p>Disqualifying or downgrading West guards for missing meaningful time would result in a bloodbath: Harden, Curry, and Portland’s Damian Lillard would all be impacted, along with Houston’s Chris Paul, Memphis’s Mike Conley and other perennial candidates who don’t belong in the conversation because they’ve missed huge chunks of the season. The top remaining, rarely-injured candidates would be Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and LA’s Lou Williams. All are worthy All-Star reserve candidates, but none belongs on the same tier as Harden and Curry, who have both been top-five overall talents this season.</p><p>Although currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harden (32.3 PPG, 9.1 APG, 5 RPG) is a must All-Star starter. At the time of his injury, he stood as the MVP favorite, leading the league in points, PER, Win Shares and Real Plus Minus. His individual success directly translated to team–wide success: Houston was on track for its best season in franchise history, the West’s No. 2 record, a top-two offense, and the NBA’s second-best point differential when he went down.</p><p>Curry (27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.5 APG) has already missed 14 games, a chunk that would usually see him dumped to the second team on this voter’s ballot. Much like Embiid, however, Curry’s play when healthy has simply been too dominant to snub. His stat line isn’t that far off his 2015 unanimous MVP campaign. He’s threatening another 50/40/90 shooting season. Golden State is playing at a 68-win pace when he suits up. The Warriors’ offensive rating is a preposterous 120.7 when he’s on the court. He ranks fourth in PER and first in Real Plus Minus. The sport continues to be molded by his influence.</p><p>That leaves Butler (21.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.1 APG) to fall to the West’s bench. As with DeRozan in the East, a position-less ballot could have potentially opened a starting spot for Butler, a punishing wing who capably defends four positions and easily oscillates between different roles in big and small lineups. Butler’s off-season arrival has delivered impressive and immediate results, transforming the Timberwolves from a decade-long also-ran to a top-four seed and a potential Northwest Division banner. Simply put, Butler is the top performer not included among this ballot’s 10 starters.</p><p>Despite his gaudy numbers, Westbrook (25 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 9.9 APG) should not be viewed as a serious All-Star starter candidate. Oklahoma City has just been too shaky, in part because he’s struggled to shoot efficiently and hasn’t displayed the delicate touch necessary to consistently pull quality contributions from his auxiliary options. </p><h3><strong>West Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Warriors), Anthony Davis (Pelicans) and Draymond Green (Warriors)</strong></h3><p>The West’s frontcourt picture will get dicey when it comes to separating the reserves from the snubs, but the starters are a simpler task.</p><p>Durant (26.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) is in, and his nomination doesn’t require an extended explanation. At this point of his career, the 2014 MVP has become a chameleon-like force, capable of matching his top peers in an increasingly long list of ways. Like Curry, he is a 50/40/90 candidate. Like Harden, he is a primary scorer and playmaker for an elite offense. Like James, he steps forward as a major stabilizing force when his teammates are in and out of the lineup. Like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, he has become a major plus on defense, one capable of defending elite wings while also carrying a significant offensive burden. Like Horford and Green, he has risen to the challenge of interior defense while logging major minutes in undersized spread lineups. Like Irving, he never hesitates to break off a defender with his handle. Like Antetokounmpo, he’s a terror in transition, and his length and athleticism present constant problems for opponents big and small.</p><p>In sum, Durant’s case to surpass James as the game’s top all-around talent is only gaining momentum. </p><p>Even with the injury issues in the West, it’s impossible to justify placing two Pelicans—who have hovered near .500 and the playoff bubble all season—in the All-Star starting lineup. While DeMarcus Cousins (25.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.1 APG) started with a bang and continues to boast insane numbers, his steak doesn’t quite match his sizzle. Hence, Davis (26.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.3 APG) makes more sense the New Orleans representative: His per-game stats are huge as always, he holds a team-best +5.3 net rating, and New Orleans is 3-6 when he plays fewer than 25 minutes. Simply put, he’s more reliable than Cousins, who leads the league in turnovers and fouls, while also ranking among the league leaders in technical fouls and ejections.</p><p>The West’s final frontcourt spot is a tangled ball of yarn due to Leonard’s numerous injury issues. One school of thought suggests transferring his spot to LaMarcus Aldridge (22.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 APG), who stepped forward as San Antonio’s leading scorer in Leonard’s absence. Others might argue for Cousins based on his Shaquille O’Neal-like numbers. Still others might nominate Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (20.2 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG), a natural/smooth/efficient/forceful offensive weapon who has responded in recent weeks to severe criticism of his defense. All three have legitimate cases, as would Butler if he were eligible in the frontcourt.</p><p>On this ballot, the choice is Green (11.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG), who obviously trails his aforementioned competition as a scorer. What sets Green apart is everything else: His comfort guarding any player at any time and at any spot on the court; his motor; his ability to step forward as an initiator in Curry’s absence; his decision-making; his rim-protection; and his ability to push the ball end to end in transition. Green is key to helping Golden State play at the league’s No.4 pace, he is the leading assist man on the league’s No. 1 assist team, he is a key playmaker for the NBA’s No. 1 offense, he is the leading rebounder on a team that’s juggled centers all season long, and he’s the most proven and versatile cog in the NBA’s No. 4 defense.</p><p>While Green has become a familiar face during Golden State’s run of dominance—emerging as one of this year’s leading All-Star vote-getters—the breadth of his positive contributions can still get lost in Superteam envy or in complaints about his behavior. So, here’s a cool shorthand method for explaining his unique and wide-ranging impact: <a href="http://bkref.com/tiny/dWaNc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Green and James are the only two players to average" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Green and James are the only two players to average</a> seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block during the three-point era. This season, James is doing it for the fourth time during a career in which he will likely go down as one of the top two players ever. Green, meanwhile, is doing it for the third straight time while playing in the shadow of two all-timers in Curry and Durant. The Warriors’ blossoming dynasty greatness is fueled in no small part by Green’s consistent greatness across so many different facets of the game.</p><p>Check back next week for The Crossover&#39;s All-Star reserve selections. </p>
The Crossover's 2018 NBA All-Star Game Starters

The NBA is set to unveil the starting lineups for the 2018 All-Star Game on Thursday, as determined by a joint vote among fans, players and media members.

While this year’s All-Star festivities include a major new wrinkle—the appointment of the conference leading vote-getters as captains who will draft their teams from a pool of All-Star players—the procedure for selecting the starters remains unchanged from 2017. This year, fans will again account for half of the vote, players will account for 25%, and a panel composed of 100 media members will account for the final 25%.

Without further ado, here’s how I casted my official ballot. Note: Media members were asked to select two backcourt players and three frontcourt players from each conference. (All stats and rankings through Monday.)

??

East Backcourt: Victor Oladipo (Pacers) and Kyrie Irving (Celtics)

Right off the top, a classic voting dilemma: three very qualified candidates—Oladipo, Irving, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan—for only two spots. Unfortunately, this predicament is well-known and particularly annoying to All-Star voters, who might be able to avoid such pickles if the NBA ever moved to a fully position-less ballot.

The East’s top tier of guards isn’t as deep as it’s been in recent years. Washington’s John Wall has struggled with his efficiency and consistency. Although Bradley Beal, Wall’s teammate, has helped pick up the slack and deserves strong All-Star reserve consideration, his career year hasn’t translated to the type of stability one expects from a veteran-dominated roster. In Charlotte, Kemba Walker’s Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, already falling well off the playoff pace. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry has smartly been cast into a narrower role, leaving him in a similar boat as Miami’s Goran Dragic. Neither point guard has the per-game numbers to keep up with the East’s most productive backcourt players.

The Crossover's first backcourt pick is Oladipo (24.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4 APG), who easily qualifies as the biggest surprise among the 10 players selected here given his ho-hum 2016-17 campaign in Oklahoma City. Oladipo, Irving and DeRozan all have virtually identical per-game stats in terms of points, rebounds and assists, but Indiana’s new guard held slight edges in shooting efficiency and Player Efficiency Rating at the time ballots were due. More importantly, though, Oladipo’s impact numbers notably exceeded Irving and DeRozan.

• Indiana: +7.4 with Oladipo | -6.9 without Oladipo | Net: +13.8
Boston: +7.4 with Irving | +1.3 without Irving | Net: +9.6
Toronto: +6.9 with DeRozan | +8.1 without DeRozan | Net: -1.2

As the East’s top two seeds, Boston and Toronto can point to numerous driving forces behind their success, including proven co-stars, deep rosters and established systems. For the overhauled Pacers, Oladipo has easily been the central force. Without him this year, Indiana is 0-5, losing by an average of 12.8 PPG. Indeed, Oladipo’s Pacers recall Jimmy Butler’s Bulls from years past. Without Oladipo, Indiana would be utterly hopeless, likely ranking among the league’s worst teams. With him, they are comfortably in the East’s playoff picture, even if they can’t quite keep up with the East’s best. They also possess a top-six offense league-wide, which still seems impossible given the loss of Paul George and their mediocre assembled talent. Considering their respective team contexts, Oladipo rates as the least replaceable of the three East backcourt candidates.

It’s fair to wonder whether Oladipo can maintain his career-best level of play, especially because both Irving and DeRozan have performed at an All-Star level for multiple years. A second-half drop-off in Oladipo’s efficiency and the Pacers’ success wouldn’t be surprising at all, leaving Irving and DeRozan as stronger All-NBA selections. However, this All-Star starter ballot was cast solely looking at games played between the start of the 2017-18 season and the voting deadline.

For the second spot, Irving (24 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG) versus DeRozan (25.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5 APG) is about as close as it gets, with their major statistics and advanced stats (PER, Win Shares) usually separated by mere decimals. Both have similar usage rates and similar impacts on their respective offenses. And relative to their all-around offensive games, both players are less accomplished and less integral to their team’s success on the defensive end.

DeRozan’s improvement as a reader of defenses coupled with his first serious dabbling outside the three-point arc have helped boost him from fringe All-Star selection to starter candidate, and they’ve moved him past Lowry on the list of Toronto’s most important players this season. Still, the pick here is Irving, due to his better on/off impact numbers, his superior outside shooting (proficiency and volume), and the Celtics’ East-leading record.

East Frontcourt: LeBron James (Cavaliers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), and Joel Embiid (Sixers)

Let’s not bother with unnecessary debates: Both James and Antetokounmpo are no-brainers.

At the midway point of his 15th season, James stands as the 2018 NBA MVP frontrunner. He has been the alpha and omega for the East’s most efficient offense while welcoming a host of new faces (Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green) and dealing with numerous injuries (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Rose). Even more remarkably, he’s shattered conventional expectations for age curves and post-30 decline. Throughout NBA history, only four players have matched James’ current stat line (27.3 PPG, 8 RPG, 8.8 APG): Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. All four did it at age 28 or younger, while James turned 33 last month.

Kudos to fan voters for recognizing Antetokounmpo’s brilliance: At just 23, he’s already challenging James for the title of the East’s leading vote-getter, pulling in nearly 1.5 million votes at last count. The NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player is now deep into his second season as one of the league’s top one-man shows. The Bucks boast a +4 net rating with Antetokounmpo on the court and a pitiful -11.3 net rating when he sits, a split that helps explain why he’s the NBA’s leader in minutes per game. A do-everything, play-anywhere force of nature, Antetokounmpo (28.3 PPG, 10.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) joins Larry Bird, David Robinson and Russell Westbrook as the only players to average 28/10/4 during the three-point era. While Milwaukee’s so-so record should leave observers wanting more, it would be so, so, so much worse without nightly heroics from their franchise player.

If he were eligible, DeRozan would have a strong case for the third frontcourt spot. Alas, Embiid and Boston’s Horford stand atop the remaining pool of frontcourt candidates, separating themselves from New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (fading slightly after a strong individual start), Detroit’s Andre Drummond (an afterthought following the Pistons’ recent cratering) and Cleveland’s Kevin Love (an undeniable part of the problem for Cleveland’s atrocious defense).

Horford’s portfolio is virtually identical to his previous All-Star seasons: His two-way game, unselfishness, inside/outside versatility, and intelligence have made him a more important driver of Boston’s winning than his raw stats (13.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) would suggest. As the stabilizing force for the NBA’s stingiest defense, Horford will command Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive team attention. He’s also enjoyed significantly better health than Embiid, logging 300+ more minutes and missing just four games.

Ultimately, the quality of Embiid’s minutes won out on this ballot. Aside from long-established A-listers like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden, Embiid helps his teammates find success better than anyone in the league. He draws tons of attention to free up role players. He works a nice two-man game with Ben Simmons. He blankets the paint on defense. He parades to the foul line. He cleans the glass. He leads with energy and fearlessness.

While Horford has a longer track record of winning and has enjoyed better health this season, Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the league’s most indispensable stars. Philadelphia’s net rating swings from -6.2 without him to +8.7 with him, and the Sixers are 2-7 without Embiid in the lineup. Boston, meanwhile, has gone 4-0 without Horford. Other than his lagging three-point efficiency and his DeMarcus Cousins-like propensity for turning the ball over by doing too much, Embiid (23.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) is virtually impossible to nitpick. His per-game numbers suggest he’s elite. His advanced stats suggest he’s elite. His impact numbers suggest he’s elite. The eye test suggests he’s an elite monster who would thrash and thrive to an even greater degree if surrounded by Boston’s talent.

Postscript: Horford is an easy reserve selection.

?

West Backcourt: James Harden (Rockets) and Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Most years, good health weighs heavily on this voter’s ballot. That’s especially true in deep groupings like the West backcourt, which is always a gauntlet full of impossible choices. This season, though, toeing a hard line on health makes less sense due to a rash of injuries to star players and the increased proliferation of strategic resting.

Disqualifying or downgrading West guards for missing meaningful time would result in a bloodbath: Harden, Curry, and Portland’s Damian Lillard would all be impacted, along with Houston’s Chris Paul, Memphis’s Mike Conley and other perennial candidates who don’t belong in the conversation because they’ve missed huge chunks of the season. The top remaining, rarely-injured candidates would be Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and LA’s Lou Williams. All are worthy All-Star reserve candidates, but none belongs on the same tier as Harden and Curry, who have both been top-five overall talents this season.

Although currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harden (32.3 PPG, 9.1 APG, 5 RPG) is a must All-Star starter. At the time of his injury, he stood as the MVP favorite, leading the league in points, PER, Win Shares and Real Plus Minus. His individual success directly translated to team–wide success: Houston was on track for its best season in franchise history, the West’s No. 2 record, a top-two offense, and the NBA’s second-best point differential when he went down.

Curry (27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.5 APG) has already missed 14 games, a chunk that would usually see him dumped to the second team on this voter’s ballot. Much like Embiid, however, Curry’s play when healthy has simply been too dominant to snub. His stat line isn’t that far off his 2015 unanimous MVP campaign. He’s threatening another 50/40/90 shooting season. Golden State is playing at a 68-win pace when he suits up. The Warriors’ offensive rating is a preposterous 120.7 when he’s on the court. He ranks fourth in PER and first in Real Plus Minus. The sport continues to be molded by his influence.

That leaves Butler (21.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.1 APG) to fall to the West’s bench. As with DeRozan in the East, a position-less ballot could have potentially opened a starting spot for Butler, a punishing wing who capably defends four positions and easily oscillates between different roles in big and small lineups. Butler’s off-season arrival has delivered impressive and immediate results, transforming the Timberwolves from a decade-long also-ran to a top-four seed and a potential Northwest Division banner. Simply put, Butler is the top performer not included among this ballot’s 10 starters.

Despite his gaudy numbers, Westbrook (25 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 9.9 APG) should not be viewed as a serious All-Star starter candidate. Oklahoma City has just been too shaky, in part because he’s struggled to shoot efficiently and hasn’t displayed the delicate touch necessary to consistently pull quality contributions from his auxiliary options.

West Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Warriors), Anthony Davis (Pelicans) and Draymond Green (Warriors)

The West’s frontcourt picture will get dicey when it comes to separating the reserves from the snubs, but the starters are a simpler task.

Durant (26.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) is in, and his nomination doesn’t require an extended explanation. At this point of his career, the 2014 MVP has become a chameleon-like force, capable of matching his top peers in an increasingly long list of ways. Like Curry, he is a 50/40/90 candidate. Like Harden, he is a primary scorer and playmaker for an elite offense. Like James, he steps forward as a major stabilizing force when his teammates are in and out of the lineup. Like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, he has become a major plus on defense, one capable of defending elite wings while also carrying a significant offensive burden. Like Horford and Green, he has risen to the challenge of interior defense while logging major minutes in undersized spread lineups. Like Irving, he never hesitates to break off a defender with his handle. Like Antetokounmpo, he’s a terror in transition, and his length and athleticism present constant problems for opponents big and small.

In sum, Durant’s case to surpass James as the game’s top all-around talent is only gaining momentum.

Even with the injury issues in the West, it’s impossible to justify placing two Pelicans—who have hovered near .500 and the playoff bubble all season—in the All-Star starting lineup. While DeMarcus Cousins (25.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.1 APG) started with a bang and continues to boast insane numbers, his steak doesn’t quite match his sizzle. Hence, Davis (26.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.3 APG) makes more sense the New Orleans representative: His per-game stats are huge as always, he holds a team-best +5.3 net rating, and New Orleans is 3-6 when he plays fewer than 25 minutes. Simply put, he’s more reliable than Cousins, who leads the league in turnovers and fouls, while also ranking among the league leaders in technical fouls and ejections.

The West’s final frontcourt spot is a tangled ball of yarn due to Leonard’s numerous injury issues. One school of thought suggests transferring his spot to LaMarcus Aldridge (22.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 APG), who stepped forward as San Antonio’s leading scorer in Leonard’s absence. Others might argue for Cousins based on his Shaquille O’Neal-like numbers. Still others might nominate Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (20.2 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG), a natural/smooth/efficient/forceful offensive weapon who has responded in recent weeks to severe criticism of his defense. All three have legitimate cases, as would Butler if he were eligible in the frontcourt.

On this ballot, the choice is Green (11.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG), who obviously trails his aforementioned competition as a scorer. What sets Green apart is everything else: His comfort guarding any player at any time and at any spot on the court; his motor; his ability to step forward as an initiator in Curry’s absence; his decision-making; his rim-protection; and his ability to push the ball end to end in transition. Green is key to helping Golden State play at the league’s No.4 pace, he is the leading assist man on the league’s No. 1 assist team, he is a key playmaker for the NBA’s No. 1 offense, he is the leading rebounder on a team that’s juggled centers all season long, and he’s the most proven and versatile cog in the NBA’s No. 4 defense.

While Green has become a familiar face during Golden State’s run of dominance—emerging as one of this year’s leading All-Star vote-getters—the breadth of his positive contributions can still get lost in Superteam envy or in complaints about his behavior. So, here’s a cool shorthand method for explaining his unique and wide-ranging impact: Green and James are the only two players to average seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block during the three-point era. This season, James is doing it for the fourth time during a career in which he will likely go down as one of the top two players ever. Green, meanwhile, is doing it for the third straight time while playing in the shadow of two all-timers in Curry and Durant. The Warriors’ blossoming dynasty greatness is fueled in no small part by Green’s consistent greatness across so many different facets of the game.

Check back next week for The Crossover's All-Star reserve selections.

<p>The NBA is set to unveil the starting lineups for the 2018 All-Star Game on Thursday, as determined by a joint vote among fans, players and media members.</p><p>While this year’s All-Star festivities include a major new wrinkle—the appointment of the conference leading vote-getters as captains who will draft their teams from a pool of All-Star players—the procedure for selecting the starters remains unchanged from 2017. This year, fans will again account for half of the vote, players will account for 25%, and a panel composed of 100 media members will account for the final 25%.</p><p>Without further ado, here’s how I casted my official ballot. Note: Media members were asked to select two backcourt players and three frontcourt players from each conference. (<em>All stats and rankings through Monday.)</em></p><p>??</p><h3><strong>East Backcourt: Victor Oladipo (Pacers) and Kyrie Irving (Celtics)</strong></h3><p>Right off the top, a classic voting dilemma: three very qualified candidates—Oladipo, Irving, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan—for only two spots. Unfortunately, this predicament is well-known and particularly annoying to All-Star voters, who might be able to avoid such pickles if the NBA ever moved to a fully position-less ballot.</p><p>The East’s top tier of guards isn’t as deep as it’s been in recent years. Washington’s John Wall has struggled with his efficiency and consistency. Although Bradley Beal, Wall’s teammate, has helped pick up the slack and deserves strong All-Star reserve consideration, his career year hasn’t translated to the type of stability one expects from a veteran-dominated roster. In Charlotte, Kemba Walker’s Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, already falling well off the playoff pace. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry has smartly been cast into a narrower role, leaving him in a similar boat as Miami’s Goran Dragic. Neither point guard has the per-game numbers to keep up with the East’s most productive backcourt players.</p><p>The Crossover&#39;s first backcourt pick is Oladipo (24.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4 APG), who easily qualifies as the biggest surprise among the 10 players selected here given his ho-hum 2016-17 campaign in Oklahoma City. Oladipo, Irving and DeRozan all have virtually identical per-game stats in terms of points, rebounds and assists, but Indiana’s new guard held slight edges in shooting efficiency and Player Efficiency Rating at the time ballots were due. More importantly, though, Oladipo’s impact numbers notably exceeded Irving and DeRozan.</p><p><em>• Indiana: +7.4 with Oladipo | -6.9 without Oladipo | Net: +13.8<br>• </em><em>Boston: +7.4 with Irving | +1.3 without Irving | Net: +9.6 </em><br><em>•</em><em>Toronto: +6.9 with DeRozan | +8.1 without DeRozan | Net: -1.2</em></p><p>As the East’s top two seeds, Boston and Toronto can point to numerous driving forces behind their success, including proven co-stars, deep rosters and established systems. For the overhauled Pacers, Oladipo has easily been the central force. Without him this year, Indiana is 0-5, losing by an average of 12.8 PPG. Indeed, Oladipo’s Pacers recall Jimmy Butler’s Bulls from years past. Without Oladipo, Indiana would be utterly hopeless, likely ranking among the league’s worst teams. With him, they are comfortably in the East’s playoff picture, even if they can’t quite keep up with the East’s best. They also possess a top-six offense league-wide, which still seems impossible given the loss of Paul George and their mediocre assembled talent. Considering their respective team contexts, Oladipo rates as the least replaceable of the three East backcourt candidates. </p><p>It’s fair to wonder whether Oladipo can maintain his career-best level of play, especially because both Irving and DeRozan have performed at an All-Star level for multiple years. A second-half drop-off in Oladipo’s efficiency and the Pacers’ success wouldn’t be surprising at all, leaving Irving and DeRozan as stronger All-NBA selections. However, this All-Star starter ballot was cast solely looking at games played between the start of the 2017-18 season and the voting deadline.</p><p>For the second spot, Irving (24 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG) versus DeRozan (25.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5 APG) is about as close as it gets, with their major statistics and advanced stats (PER, Win Shares) usually separated by mere decimals. Both have similar usage rates and similar impacts on their respective offenses. And relative to their all-around offensive games, both players are less accomplished and less integral to their team’s success on the defensive end.</p><p>DeRozan’s improvement as a reader of defenses coupled with his first serious dabbling outside the three-point arc have helped boost him from fringe All-Star selection to starter candidate, and they’ve moved him past Lowry on the list of Toronto’s most important players this season. Still, the pick here is Irving, due to his better on/off impact numbers, his superior outside shooting (proficiency and volume), and the Celtics’ East-leading record. </p><h3><strong>East Frontcourt: LeBron James (Cavaliers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), and Joel Embiid (Sixers)</strong></h3><p>Let’s not bother with unnecessary debates: Both James and Antetokounmpo are no-brainers.</p><p>At the midway point of his 15th season, James stands as the 2018 NBA MVP frontrunner. He has been the alpha and omega for the East’s most efficient offense while welcoming a host of new faces (Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green) and dealing with numerous injuries (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Rose). Even more remarkably, he’s shattered conventional expectations for age curves and post-30 decline. Throughout NBA history, only four players have matched James’ current stat line (27.3 PPG, 8 RPG, 8.8 APG): Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. All four did it at age 28 or younger, while James turned 33 last month.</p><p>Kudos to fan voters for recognizing Antetokounmpo’s brilliance: At just 23, he’s already challenging James for the title of the East’s leading vote-getter, pulling in nearly 1.5 million votes at last count. The NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player is now deep into his second season as one of the league’s top one-man shows. The Bucks boast a +4 net rating with Antetokounmpo on the court and a pitiful -11.3 net rating when he sits, a split that helps explain why he’s the NBA’s leader in minutes per game. A do-everything, play-anywhere force of nature, Antetokounmpo (28.3 PPG, 10.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) joins Larry Bird, David Robinson and Russell Westbrook as the only players to average 28/10/4 during the three-point era. While Milwaukee’s so-so record should leave observers wanting more, it would be so, so, so much worse without nightly heroics from their franchise player. </p><p>If he were eligible, DeRozan would have a strong case for the third frontcourt spot. Alas, Embiid and Boston’s Horford stand atop the remaining pool of frontcourt candidates, separating themselves from New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (fading slightly after a strong individual start), Detroit’s Andre Drummond (an afterthought following the Pistons’ recent cratering) and Cleveland’s Kevin Love (an undeniable part of the problem for Cleveland’s atrocious defense).</p><p>Horford’s portfolio is virtually identical to his previous All-Star seasons: His two-way game, unselfishness, inside/outside versatility, and intelligence have made him a more important driver of Boston’s winning than his raw stats (13.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) would suggest. As the stabilizing force for the NBA’s stingiest defense, Horford will command Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive team attention. He’s also enjoyed significantly better health than Embiid, logging 300+ more minutes and missing just four games.</p><p>Ultimately, the quality of Embiid’s minutes won out on this ballot. Aside from long-established A-listers like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden, Embiid helps his teammates find success better than anyone in the league. He draws tons of attention to free up role players. He works a nice two-man game with Ben Simmons. He blankets the paint on defense. He parades to the foul line. He cleans the glass. He leads with energy and fearlessness.</p><p>While Horford has a longer track record of winning and has enjoyed better health this season, Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the league’s most indispensable stars. Philadelphia’s net rating swings from -6.2 without him to +8.7 with him, and the Sixers are 2-7 without Embiid in the lineup. Boston, meanwhile, has gone 4-0 without Horford. Other than his lagging three-point efficiency and his DeMarcus Cousins-like propensity for turning the ball over by doing too much, Embiid (23.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) is virtually impossible to nitpick. His per-game numbers suggest he’s elite. His advanced stats suggest he’s elite. His impact numbers suggest he’s elite. The eye test suggests he’s an elite monster who would thrash and thrive to an even greater degree if surrounded by Boston’s talent.</p><p>Postscript: Horford is an easy reserve selection.</p><p>?</p><h3><strong>West Backcourt: James Harden (Rockets) and Stephen Curry (Warriors)</strong></h3><p>Most years, good health weighs heavily on this voter’s ballot. That’s especially true in deep groupings like the West backcourt, which is always a gauntlet full of impossible choices. This season, though, toeing a hard line on health makes less sense due to a rash of injuries to star players and the increased proliferation of strategic resting.</p><p>Disqualifying or downgrading West guards for missing meaningful time would result in a bloodbath: Harden, Curry, and Portland’s Damian Lillard would all be impacted, along with Houston’s Chris Paul, Memphis’s Mike Conley and other perennial candidates who don’t belong in the conversation because they’ve missed huge chunks of the season. The top remaining, rarely-injured candidates would be Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and LA’s Lou Williams. All are worthy All-Star reserve candidates, but none belongs on the same tier as Harden and Curry, who have both been top-five overall talents this season.</p><p>Although currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harden (32.3 PPG, 9.1 APG, 5 RPG) is a must All-Star starter. At the time of his injury, he stood as the MVP favorite, leading the league in points, PER, Win Shares and Real Plus Minus. His individual success directly translated to team–wide success: Houston was on track for its best season in franchise history, the West’s No. 2 record, a top-two offense, and the NBA’s second-best point differential when he went down.</p><p>Curry (27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.5 APG) has already missed 14 games, a chunk that would usually see him dumped to the second team on this voter’s ballot. Much like Embiid, however, Curry’s play when healthy has simply been too dominant to snub. His stat line isn’t that far off his 2015 unanimous MVP campaign. He’s threatening another 50/40/90 shooting season. Golden State is playing at a 68-win pace when he suits up. The Warriors’ offensive rating is a preposterous 120.7 when he’s on the court. He ranks fourth in PER and first in Real Plus Minus. The sport continues to be molded by his influence.</p><p>That leaves Butler (21.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.1 APG) to fall to the West’s bench. As with DeRozan in the East, a position-less ballot could have potentially opened a starting spot for Butler, a punishing wing who capably defends four positions and easily oscillates between different roles in big and small lineups. Butler’s off-season arrival has delivered impressive and immediate results, transforming the Timberwolves from a decade-long also-ran to a top-four seed and a potential Northwest Division banner. Simply put, Butler is the top performer not included among this ballot’s 10 starters.</p><p>Despite his gaudy numbers, Westbrook (25 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 9.9 APG) should not be viewed as a serious All-Star starter candidate. Oklahoma City has just been too shaky, in part because he’s struggled to shoot efficiently and hasn’t displayed the delicate touch necessary to consistently pull quality contributions from his auxiliary options. </p><h3><strong>West Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Warriors), Anthony Davis (Pelicans) and Draymond Green (Warriors)</strong></h3><p>The West’s frontcourt picture will get dicey when it comes to separating the reserves from the snubs, but the starters are a simpler task.</p><p>Durant (26.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) is in, and his nomination doesn’t require an extended explanation. At this point of his career, the 2014 MVP has become a chameleon-like force, capable of matching his top peers in an increasingly long list of ways. Like Curry, he is a 50/40/90 candidate. Like Harden, he is a primary scorer and playmaker for an elite offense. Like James, he steps forward as a major stabilizing force when his teammates are in and out of the lineup. Like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, he has become a major plus on defense, one capable of defending elite wings while also carrying a significant offensive burden. Like Horford and Green, he has risen to the challenge of interior defense while logging major minutes in undersized spread lineups. Like Irving, he never hesitates to break off a defender with his handle. Like Antetokounmpo, he’s a terror in transition, and his length and athleticism present constant problems for opponents big and small.</p><p>In sum, Durant’s case to surpass James as the game’s top all-around talent is only gaining momentum. </p><p>Even with the injury issues in the West, it’s impossible to justify placing two Pelicans—who have hovered near .500 and the playoff bubble all season—in the All-Star starting lineup. While DeMarcus Cousins (25.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.1 APG) started with a bang and continues to boast insane numbers, his steak doesn’t quite match his sizzle. Hence, Davis (26.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.3 APG) makes more sense the New Orleans representative: His per-game stats are huge as always, he holds a team-best +5.3 net rating, and New Orleans is 3-6 when he plays fewer than 25 minutes. Simply put, he’s more reliable than Cousins, who leads the league in turnovers and fouls, while also ranking among the league leaders in technical fouls and ejections.</p><p>The West’s final frontcourt spot is a tangled ball of yarn due to Leonard’s numerous injury issues. One school of thought suggests transferring his spot to LaMarcus Aldridge (22.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 APG), who stepped forward as San Antonio’s leading scorer in Leonard’s absence. Others might argue for Cousins based on his Shaquille O’Neal-like numbers. Still others might nominate Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (20.2 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG), a natural/smooth/efficient/forceful offensive weapon who has responded in recent weeks to severe criticism of his defense. All three have legitimate cases, as would Butler if he were eligible in the frontcourt.</p><p>On this ballot, the choice is Green (11.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG), who obviously trails his aforementioned competition as a scorer. What sets Green apart is everything else: His comfort guarding any player at any time and at any spot on the court; his motor; his ability to step forward as an initiator in Curry’s absence; his decision-making; his rim-protection; and his ability to push the ball end to end in transition. Green is key to helping Golden State play at the league’s No.4 pace, he is the leading assist man on the league’s No. 1 assist team, he is a key playmaker for the NBA’s No. 1 offense, he is the leading rebounder on a team that’s juggled centers all season long, and he’s the most proven and versatile cog in the NBA’s No. 4 defense.</p><p>While Green has become a familiar face during Golden State’s run of dominance—emerging as one of this year’s leading All-Star vote-getters—the breadth of his positive contributions can still get lost in Superteam envy or in complaints about his behavior. So, here’s a cool shorthand method for explaining his unique and wide-ranging impact: <a href="http://bkref.com/tiny/dWaNc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Green and James are the only two players to average" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Green and James are the only two players to average</a> seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block during the three-point era. This season, James is doing it for the fourth time during a career in which he will likely go down as one of the top two players ever. Green, meanwhile, is doing it for the third straight time while playing in the shadow of two all-timers in Curry and Durant. The Warriors’ blossoming dynasty greatness is fueled in no small part by Green’s consistent greatness across so many different facets of the game.</p><p>Check back next week for The Crossover&#39;s All-Star reserve selections. </p>
The Crossover's 2018 NBA All-Star Game Starters

The NBA is set to unveil the starting lineups for the 2018 All-Star Game on Thursday, as determined by a joint vote among fans, players and media members.

While this year’s All-Star festivities include a major new wrinkle—the appointment of the conference leading vote-getters as captains who will draft their teams from a pool of All-Star players—the procedure for selecting the starters remains unchanged from 2017. This year, fans will again account for half of the vote, players will account for 25%, and a panel composed of 100 media members will account for the final 25%.

Without further ado, here’s how I casted my official ballot. Note: Media members were asked to select two backcourt players and three frontcourt players from each conference. (All stats and rankings through Monday.)

??

East Backcourt: Victor Oladipo (Pacers) and Kyrie Irving (Celtics)

Right off the top, a classic voting dilemma: three very qualified candidates—Oladipo, Irving, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan—for only two spots. Unfortunately, this predicament is well-known and particularly annoying to All-Star voters, who might be able to avoid such pickles if the NBA ever moved to a fully position-less ballot.

The East’s top tier of guards isn’t as deep as it’s been in recent years. Washington’s John Wall has struggled with his efficiency and consistency. Although Bradley Beal, Wall’s teammate, has helped pick up the slack and deserves strong All-Star reserve consideration, his career year hasn’t translated to the type of stability one expects from a veteran-dominated roster. In Charlotte, Kemba Walker’s Hornets have been one of the league’s biggest disappointments, already falling well off the playoff pace. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry has smartly been cast into a narrower role, leaving him in a similar boat as Miami’s Goran Dragic. Neither point guard has the per-game numbers to keep up with the East’s most productive backcourt players.

The Crossover's first backcourt pick is Oladipo (24.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4 APG), who easily qualifies as the biggest surprise among the 10 players selected here given his ho-hum 2016-17 campaign in Oklahoma City. Oladipo, Irving and DeRozan all have virtually identical per-game stats in terms of points, rebounds and assists, but Indiana’s new guard held slight edges in shooting efficiency and Player Efficiency Rating at the time ballots were due. More importantly, though, Oladipo’s impact numbers notably exceeded Irving and DeRozan.

• Indiana: +7.4 with Oladipo | -6.9 without Oladipo | Net: +13.8
Boston: +7.4 with Irving | +1.3 without Irving | Net: +9.6
Toronto: +6.9 with DeRozan | +8.1 without DeRozan | Net: -1.2

As the East’s top two seeds, Boston and Toronto can point to numerous driving forces behind their success, including proven co-stars, deep rosters and established systems. For the overhauled Pacers, Oladipo has easily been the central force. Without him this year, Indiana is 0-5, losing by an average of 12.8 PPG. Indeed, Oladipo’s Pacers recall Jimmy Butler’s Bulls from years past. Without Oladipo, Indiana would be utterly hopeless, likely ranking among the league’s worst teams. With him, they are comfortably in the East’s playoff picture, even if they can’t quite keep up with the East’s best. They also possess a top-six offense league-wide, which still seems impossible given the loss of Paul George and their mediocre assembled talent. Considering their respective team contexts, Oladipo rates as the least replaceable of the three East backcourt candidates.

It’s fair to wonder whether Oladipo can maintain his career-best level of play, especially because both Irving and DeRozan have performed at an All-Star level for multiple years. A second-half drop-off in Oladipo’s efficiency and the Pacers’ success wouldn’t be surprising at all, leaving Irving and DeRozan as stronger All-NBA selections. However, this All-Star starter ballot was cast solely looking at games played between the start of the 2017-18 season and the voting deadline.

For the second spot, Irving (24 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG) versus DeRozan (25.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 5 APG) is about as close as it gets, with their major statistics and advanced stats (PER, Win Shares) usually separated by mere decimals. Both have similar usage rates and similar impacts on their respective offenses. And relative to their all-around offensive games, both players are less accomplished and less integral to their team’s success on the defensive end.

DeRozan’s improvement as a reader of defenses coupled with his first serious dabbling outside the three-point arc have helped boost him from fringe All-Star selection to starter candidate, and they’ve moved him past Lowry on the list of Toronto’s most important players this season. Still, the pick here is Irving, due to his better on/off impact numbers, his superior outside shooting (proficiency and volume), and the Celtics’ East-leading record.

East Frontcourt: LeBron James (Cavaliers), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), and Joel Embiid (Sixers)

Let’s not bother with unnecessary debates: Both James and Antetokounmpo are no-brainers.

At the midway point of his 15th season, James stands as the 2018 NBA MVP frontrunner. He has been the alpha and omega for the East’s most efficient offense while welcoming a host of new faces (Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green) and dealing with numerous injuries (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Derrick Rose). Even more remarkably, he’s shattered conventional expectations for age curves and post-30 decline. Throughout NBA history, only four players have matched James’ current stat line (27.3 PPG, 8 RPG, 8.8 APG): Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. All four did it at age 28 or younger, while James turned 33 last month.

Kudos to fan voters for recognizing Antetokounmpo’s brilliance: At just 23, he’s already challenging James for the title of the East’s leading vote-getter, pulling in nearly 1.5 million votes at last count. The NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player is now deep into his second season as one of the league’s top one-man shows. The Bucks boast a +4 net rating with Antetokounmpo on the court and a pitiful -11.3 net rating when he sits, a split that helps explain why he’s the NBA’s leader in minutes per game. A do-everything, play-anywhere force of nature, Antetokounmpo (28.3 PPG, 10.1 PPG, 4.5 APG) joins Larry Bird, David Robinson and Russell Westbrook as the only players to average 28/10/4 during the three-point era. While Milwaukee’s so-so record should leave observers wanting more, it would be so, so, so much worse without nightly heroics from their franchise player.

If he were eligible, DeRozan would have a strong case for the third frontcourt spot. Alas, Embiid and Boston’s Horford stand atop the remaining pool of frontcourt candidates, separating themselves from New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (fading slightly after a strong individual start), Detroit’s Andre Drummond (an afterthought following the Pistons’ recent cratering) and Cleveland’s Kevin Love (an undeniable part of the problem for Cleveland’s atrocious defense).

Horford’s portfolio is virtually identical to his previous All-Star seasons: His two-way game, unselfishness, inside/outside versatility, and intelligence have made him a more important driver of Boston’s winning than his raw stats (13.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) would suggest. As the stabilizing force for the NBA’s stingiest defense, Horford will command Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive team attention. He’s also enjoyed significantly better health than Embiid, logging 300+ more minutes and missing just four games.

Ultimately, the quality of Embiid’s minutes won out on this ballot. Aside from long-established A-listers like LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and James Harden, Embiid helps his teammates find success better than anyone in the league. He draws tons of attention to free up role players. He works a nice two-man game with Ben Simmons. He blankets the paint on defense. He parades to the foul line. He cleans the glass. He leads with energy and fearlessness.

While Horford has a longer track record of winning and has enjoyed better health this season, Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the league’s most indispensable stars. Philadelphia’s net rating swings from -6.2 without him to +8.7 with him, and the Sixers are 2-7 without Embiid in the lineup. Boston, meanwhile, has gone 4-0 without Horford. Other than his lagging three-point efficiency and his DeMarcus Cousins-like propensity for turning the ball over by doing too much, Embiid (23.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.4 APG) is virtually impossible to nitpick. His per-game numbers suggest he’s elite. His advanced stats suggest he’s elite. His impact numbers suggest he’s elite. The eye test suggests he’s an elite monster who would thrash and thrive to an even greater degree if surrounded by Boston’s talent.

Postscript: Horford is an easy reserve selection.

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West Backcourt: James Harden (Rockets) and Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Most years, good health weighs heavily on this voter’s ballot. That’s especially true in deep groupings like the West backcourt, which is always a gauntlet full of impossible choices. This season, though, toeing a hard line on health makes less sense due to a rash of injuries to star players and the increased proliferation of strategic resting.

Disqualifying or downgrading West guards for missing meaningful time would result in a bloodbath: Harden, Curry, and Portland’s Damian Lillard would all be impacted, along with Houston’s Chris Paul, Memphis’s Mike Conley and other perennial candidates who don’t belong in the conversation because they’ve missed huge chunks of the season. The top remaining, rarely-injured candidates would be Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Golden State’s Klay Thompson and LA’s Lou Williams. All are worthy All-Star reserve candidates, but none belongs on the same tier as Harden and Curry, who have both been top-five overall talents this season.

Although currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harden (32.3 PPG, 9.1 APG, 5 RPG) is a must All-Star starter. At the time of his injury, he stood as the MVP favorite, leading the league in points, PER, Win Shares and Real Plus Minus. His individual success directly translated to team–wide success: Houston was on track for its best season in franchise history, the West’s No. 2 record, a top-two offense, and the NBA’s second-best point differential when he went down.

Curry (27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 6.5 APG) has already missed 14 games, a chunk that would usually see him dumped to the second team on this voter’s ballot. Much like Embiid, however, Curry’s play when healthy has simply been too dominant to snub. His stat line isn’t that far off his 2015 unanimous MVP campaign. He’s threatening another 50/40/90 shooting season. Golden State is playing at a 68-win pace when he suits up. The Warriors’ offensive rating is a preposterous 120.7 when he’s on the court. He ranks fourth in PER and first in Real Plus Minus. The sport continues to be molded by his influence.

That leaves Butler (21.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.1 APG) to fall to the West’s bench. As with DeRozan in the East, a position-less ballot could have potentially opened a starting spot for Butler, a punishing wing who capably defends four positions and easily oscillates between different roles in big and small lineups. Butler’s off-season arrival has delivered impressive and immediate results, transforming the Timberwolves from a decade-long also-ran to a top-four seed and a potential Northwest Division banner. Simply put, Butler is the top performer not included among this ballot’s 10 starters.

Despite his gaudy numbers, Westbrook (25 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 9.9 APG) should not be viewed as a serious All-Star starter candidate. Oklahoma City has just been too shaky, in part because he’s struggled to shoot efficiently and hasn’t displayed the delicate touch necessary to consistently pull quality contributions from his auxiliary options.

West Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Warriors), Anthony Davis (Pelicans) and Draymond Green (Warriors)

The West’s frontcourt picture will get dicey when it comes to separating the reserves from the snubs, but the starters are a simpler task.

Durant (26.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 5.3 APG) is in, and his nomination doesn’t require an extended explanation. At this point of his career, the 2014 MVP has become a chameleon-like force, capable of matching his top peers in an increasingly long list of ways. Like Curry, he is a 50/40/90 candidate. Like Harden, he is a primary scorer and playmaker for an elite offense. Like James, he steps forward as a major stabilizing force when his teammates are in and out of the lineup. Like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, he has become a major plus on defense, one capable of defending elite wings while also carrying a significant offensive burden. Like Horford and Green, he has risen to the challenge of interior defense while logging major minutes in undersized spread lineups. Like Irving, he never hesitates to break off a defender with his handle. Like Antetokounmpo, he’s a terror in transition, and his length and athleticism present constant problems for opponents big and small.

In sum, Durant’s case to surpass James as the game’s top all-around talent is only gaining momentum.

Even with the injury issues in the West, it’s impossible to justify placing two Pelicans—who have hovered near .500 and the playoff bubble all season—in the All-Star starting lineup. While DeMarcus Cousins (25.5 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 5.1 APG) started with a bang and continues to boast insane numbers, his steak doesn’t quite match his sizzle. Hence, Davis (26.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.3 APG) makes more sense the New Orleans representative: His per-game stats are huge as always, he holds a team-best +5.3 net rating, and New Orleans is 3-6 when he plays fewer than 25 minutes. Simply put, he’s more reliable than Cousins, who leads the league in turnovers and fouls, while also ranking among the league leaders in technical fouls and ejections.

The West’s final frontcourt spot is a tangled ball of yarn due to Leonard’s numerous injury issues. One school of thought suggests transferring his spot to LaMarcus Aldridge (22.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.9 APG), who stepped forward as San Antonio’s leading scorer in Leonard’s absence. Others might argue for Cousins based on his Shaquille O’Neal-like numbers. Still others might nominate Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (20.2 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG), a natural/smooth/efficient/forceful offensive weapon who has responded in recent weeks to severe criticism of his defense. All three have legitimate cases, as would Butler if he were eligible in the frontcourt.

On this ballot, the choice is Green (11.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 7.6 APG), who obviously trails his aforementioned competition as a scorer. What sets Green apart is everything else: His comfort guarding any player at any time and at any spot on the court; his motor; his ability to step forward as an initiator in Curry’s absence; his decision-making; his rim-protection; and his ability to push the ball end to end in transition. Green is key to helping Golden State play at the league’s No.4 pace, he is the leading assist man on the league’s No. 1 assist team, he is a key playmaker for the NBA’s No. 1 offense, he is the leading rebounder on a team that’s juggled centers all season long, and he’s the most proven and versatile cog in the NBA’s No. 4 defense.

While Green has become a familiar face during Golden State’s run of dominance—emerging as one of this year’s leading All-Star vote-getters—the breadth of his positive contributions can still get lost in Superteam envy or in complaints about his behavior. So, here’s a cool shorthand method for explaining his unique and wide-ranging impact: Green and James are the only two players to average seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block during the three-point era. This season, James is doing it for the fourth time during a career in which he will likely go down as one of the top two players ever. Green, meanwhile, is doing it for the third straight time while playing in the shadow of two all-timers in Curry and Durant. The Warriors’ blossoming dynasty greatness is fueled in no small part by Green’s consistent greatness across so many different facets of the game.

Check back next week for The Crossover's All-Star reserve selections.

LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
LeBron James was nearly posterized by Kevin Durant, but saved himself at the last moment
Golden State Warriors&#39; Kevin Durant drives against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant drives against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant drives against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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