Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) puts up a shot against Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) puts up a shot against Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) puts up a shot against Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to drive around Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to drive around Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to drive around Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) looks to drive around Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) looks to drive around Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) looks to drive around Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) before the start of the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) before the start of the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) before the start of the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) end up in the stands with the fans after chasing a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) end up in the stands with the fans after chasing a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) end up in the stands with the fans after chasing a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) fist bumps young fans sitting behind the Warriors bench before the first half of their NBA basketball game against Houston Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) fist bumps young fans sitting behind the Warriors bench before the first half of their NBA basketball game against Houston Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) fist bumps young fans sitting behind the Warriors bench before the first half of their NBA basketball game against Houston Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
<p>Kevin Durant</p>
Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

<p>Kevin Durant</p>
Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
Kevin Durant
NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
Kevin Durant
NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
Kevin Durant
NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
Kevin Durant
NBA Fearless Forecast Weekly Rank: 3
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) puts up a shot over Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) puts up a shot over Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) puts up a shot over Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball between Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) and forward Luc Mbah a Moute (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball between Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) and forward Luc Mbah a Moute (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball between Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) and forward Luc Mbah a Moute (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
<p>Saturday was theoretically a great day for sweeping playoff-centric takes, with the <a href="https://www.si.com/nba/2018/01/20/cleveland-cavaliers-defense-joke-eastern-conference-no-more-excuses" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Cavs falling apart" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Cavs falling apart</a> against a surging, star-led Thunder team in the afternoon, then the Warriors and Rockets deciding their season series in Houston a few hours later. It was a meeting rife with mistakes, but not lacking for symbolism as the hosts mostly imposed their will, capitalized on mistakes and came away with a 116-108 win.</p><p>True to its star-studded nature, this game had a little bit of everything. There was an extended ABC televised interlude bemoaning player-ref relations (and briefly losing sight of the actual game). There were oddities: Harden only shot two free throws, Eric Gordon was 0–9 from three, Klay Thompson had just eight points. There were 34 total turnovers. There was a sequence where Kevin Durant lost his shoe. Golden State’s 14-game road win streak was snapped. And Houston remains undefeated in games where Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela … all play. </p><p>All that made for an interesting matchup atop what is always a fun watch — these are two dynamic offenses with key stylistic differences. The Warriors harp on ball movement and unselfishness and unshakeable chemistry. The Rockets are more reliant on quick actions and allowing Harden and Paul to dictate the game out of isolation and high ball screens. Houston’s duo was spectacular, with Paul sniffing a triple-double (33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) and Harden adding 22 points and eight assists. Even without a suspended Trevor Ariza, the rotational glue held fast. </p><p>The Rockets opened strong, as Harden drained three threes in the first two minutes (in just his second game back from injury) and Paul dictated play effectively and had his three-ball working. The Warriors leaned on their bench for support amid dry starts from Steph Curry and Thompson. Everyone launched threes, Houston shot more free throws, nearly doubled the rebounding split but still went into halftime with a 17-point lead cut to seven.</p><p>Past playoff struggles aside, this Rockets team is cut from a different fabric, with credit due to Paul adding some toughness and supercharging the offense (past playoff struggles aside). But nearly all games against Golden State wind up close if you aren’t careful, and after all that, the Warriors rode Draymond Green (21 points, seven rebounds and six assists) and Kevin Durant (26, seven and five), Curry figured it out and they took the lead back with 10 minutes left. The back-and-forth was as sloppy as the rest of it, but no less entertaining.</p><p>With the Rockets up three and less than two minutes left, Harden was isolated with Curry in front of him and time expiring before stepping back to his right and confidently sealing the game from the right wing. He would block Curry on the subsequent possession to protect a six-point lead and the Warriors had to burn their last timeout with 33 seconds left because Nick Young fell down. This was the final meeting of the season between the teams, following Houston’s tight opening-night win and Golden State’s 10-point win on Jan. 4. The Rockets can at least eye the post-season with knowledge of their opponent.</p><p>As always, it’s tempting to conclude something when these teams clash, but let’s not do that and hope instead for a seven-game set to pore over in May. The Warriors are on an all-time great run, the Rockets as a whole are right up there this season and their recent meetings have been close. The Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in the first round of 2015&#39;s playoffs. These are the NBA’s two highest-scoring offenses. There’s history and talent and lots and lots of points. If nothing else, Golden State and Houston are hurtling toward one another a little faster this time around.</p>
After Houston's Win, Here's Hoping for a Warriors-Rockets Playoff Series

Saturday was theoretically a great day for sweeping playoff-centric takes, with the Cavs falling apart against a surging, star-led Thunder team in the afternoon, then the Warriors and Rockets deciding their season series in Houston a few hours later. It was a meeting rife with mistakes, but not lacking for symbolism as the hosts mostly imposed their will, capitalized on mistakes and came away with a 116-108 win.

True to its star-studded nature, this game had a little bit of everything. There was an extended ABC televised interlude bemoaning player-ref relations (and briefly losing sight of the actual game). There were oddities: Harden only shot two free throws, Eric Gordon was 0–9 from three, Klay Thompson had just eight points. There were 34 total turnovers. There was a sequence where Kevin Durant lost his shoe. Golden State’s 14-game road win streak was snapped. And Houston remains undefeated in games where Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela … all play.

All that made for an interesting matchup atop what is always a fun watch — these are two dynamic offenses with key stylistic differences. The Warriors harp on ball movement and unselfishness and unshakeable chemistry. The Rockets are more reliant on quick actions and allowing Harden and Paul to dictate the game out of isolation and high ball screens. Houston’s duo was spectacular, with Paul sniffing a triple-double (33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) and Harden adding 22 points and eight assists. Even without a suspended Trevor Ariza, the rotational glue held fast.

The Rockets opened strong, as Harden drained three threes in the first two minutes (in just his second game back from injury) and Paul dictated play effectively and had his three-ball working. The Warriors leaned on their bench for support amid dry starts from Steph Curry and Thompson. Everyone launched threes, Houston shot more free throws, nearly doubled the rebounding split but still went into halftime with a 17-point lead cut to seven.

Past playoff struggles aside, this Rockets team is cut from a different fabric, with credit due to Paul adding some toughness and supercharging the offense (past playoff struggles aside). But nearly all games against Golden State wind up close if you aren’t careful, and after all that, the Warriors rode Draymond Green (21 points, seven rebounds and six assists) and Kevin Durant (26, seven and five), Curry figured it out and they took the lead back with 10 minutes left. The back-and-forth was as sloppy as the rest of it, but no less entertaining.

With the Rockets up three and less than two minutes left, Harden was isolated with Curry in front of him and time expiring before stepping back to his right and confidently sealing the game from the right wing. He would block Curry on the subsequent possession to protect a six-point lead and the Warriors had to burn their last timeout with 33 seconds left because Nick Young fell down. This was the final meeting of the season between the teams, following Houston’s tight opening-night win and Golden State’s 10-point win on Jan. 4. The Rockets can at least eye the post-season with knowledge of their opponent.

As always, it’s tempting to conclude something when these teams clash, but let’s not do that and hope instead for a seven-game set to pore over in May. The Warriors are on an all-time great run, the Rockets as a whole are right up there this season and their recent meetings have been close. The Warriors beat the Rockets in five games in the first round of 2015's playoffs. These are the NBA’s two highest-scoring offenses. There’s history and talent and lots and lots of points. If nothing else, Golden State and Houston are hurtling toward one another a little faster this time around.

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) tips a shot-attempt by Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) tips a shot-attempt by Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) tips a shot-attempt by Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) drives around Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) drives around Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) drives around Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball under pressure from Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball under pressure from Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball under pressure from Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Green And-One Layup
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Green And-One Layup
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Green And-One Layup
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Green And-One Layup
Kevin Durant passes to Draymond Green for the layup and one.
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
Durant Rattling The Rim
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
Durant Rattling The Rim
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
Durant Rattling The Rim
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
Durant Rattling The Rim
Kevin Durant with a quick spin move and a dunk.
<p>Zion Williamson is headed to Duke. In a news conference at his high school on Saturday, the highest-ranked undecided high school senior revealed that he has verbally committed to the Blue Devils, choosing them over finalists Clemson, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. The announcement comes after he took official visits to Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky, in addition to unofficial visits to in-state schools South Carolina and Clemson.</p><p>Williamson, a five-star forward in the class of 2018, recently returned to the court for Spartanburg Day (S.C.) School after an extended absence because of a foot injury. He participated in a prestigious tournament pitting teams from around the country, the Hoophall Classic, in Springfield, Mass., last weekend. In a game televised on ESPN against the high school team the Ball brothers played for (Chino Hills), Williamson put up 36 points.</p><p>The decision surprised most familiar with Williamson’s recruitment. A much less heralded program, Clemson, was viewed as the favorite in the leadup to the announcement.</p><p>• <strong><a href="https://www.si.com/longform/2017/zion-williamson-basketball-dunks-high-school/index.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:LONGFORM: How Zion Williamson Went Global in the Viral Era" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">LONGFORM: How Zion Williamson Went Global in the Viral Era</a></strong></p><p>Williamson is not regarded as the best prospect in the country; he checks in at No. 2, behind Duke small forward commit R.J. Barrett, in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), a composite that incorporates data from multiple services. But Williamson has a strong case for being the most famous player who currently suits up for an American high school, particularly given LaMelo Ball’s recent move to a Lithuanian pro team.</p><p>By the time Zion Williamson revealed his college choice on Saturday, he’d already drawn hundreds of thousand of views on YouTube clips of his highlights, packed gyms across the Southeast with adoring fans, amassed more than one million Instagram followers, prompted Drake and Odell Beckham Jr. to wear his high school jersey and earned the description “once in a generation-type athlete” from Kevin Durant.</p><p>Williamson is a legendary dunker whose jams offer a mesmerizing blend of power and grace. Most of the defenders he faces in his South Carolina prep league are better off not challenging him at the rim, but if they do, there’s a considerable risk they’ll end up on the wrong end of a viral posterization. And Zion is just as spectacular when uncontested on a fast break, like when he pulled off <a href="https://twitter.com/TommyBeer/status/831517687096426496" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:this 360 windmill" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">this 360 windmill</a> during a game last February.</p><p>Williamson’s game is built on power. While listed at small forward by multiple recruiting sites, he measured 6’5’’ (without shoes) and 272 pounds at a USA Basketball camp in October. He can rush past defenders with an explosive first step, and shrug off others while barreling toward the rim. Although he’s yet to develop into a high-level outside shooter, Williamson is an adept playmaker who can use his power to pull down rebounds in traffic.</p><p>With Williamson in the fold, Duke’s 2018 recruiting class now includes the top three recruits in the RSCI: Barrett, Williamson and Cameron Reddish, a five-star small forward out of Westtown (Pa.) School. The Blue Devils also signed the No. 1 point guard in the country last November in Tre Jones (No. 7 in the RSCI), the younger brother of Tyus Jones, who helped the program win its last of five national championships in 2015.</p><p>The addition of Williamson likely will make Duke the favorite to claim its sixth next spring. Several Blue Devils starters, including big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval, could declare for the draft this offseason, and senior Grayson Allen is using his final season of eligibility. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will reload with at minimum three potential one-and-done players who have the potential to be picked in the lottery in 2019.</p><p>Beyond its on-court impact, the Williamson commitment strengthens Duke’s case as the nation’s premier recruiter. The Blue Devils and Kentucky annually compete to sign the most coveted high schoolers in the country, and by reeling in the three top-ranked prospects in a single class, Duke has left no doubt which program has the upper hand in this cycle.</p>
Viral Sensation Zion Williamson Picks Duke as Blue Devils Solidify Loaded 2018 Class

Zion Williamson is headed to Duke. In a news conference at his high school on Saturday, the highest-ranked undecided high school senior revealed that he has verbally committed to the Blue Devils, choosing them over finalists Clemson, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. The announcement comes after he took official visits to Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky, in addition to unofficial visits to in-state schools South Carolina and Clemson.

Williamson, a five-star forward in the class of 2018, recently returned to the court for Spartanburg Day (S.C.) School after an extended absence because of a foot injury. He participated in a prestigious tournament pitting teams from around the country, the Hoophall Classic, in Springfield, Mass., last weekend. In a game televised on ESPN against the high school team the Ball brothers played for (Chino Hills), Williamson put up 36 points.

The decision surprised most familiar with Williamson’s recruitment. A much less heralded program, Clemson, was viewed as the favorite in the leadup to the announcement.

LONGFORM: How Zion Williamson Went Global in the Viral Era

Williamson is not regarded as the best prospect in the country; he checks in at No. 2, behind Duke small forward commit R.J. Barrett, in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), a composite that incorporates data from multiple services. But Williamson has a strong case for being the most famous player who currently suits up for an American high school, particularly given LaMelo Ball’s recent move to a Lithuanian pro team.

By the time Zion Williamson revealed his college choice on Saturday, he’d already drawn hundreds of thousand of views on YouTube clips of his highlights, packed gyms across the Southeast with adoring fans, amassed more than one million Instagram followers, prompted Drake and Odell Beckham Jr. to wear his high school jersey and earned the description “once in a generation-type athlete” from Kevin Durant.

Williamson is a legendary dunker whose jams offer a mesmerizing blend of power and grace. Most of the defenders he faces in his South Carolina prep league are better off not challenging him at the rim, but if they do, there’s a considerable risk they’ll end up on the wrong end of a viral posterization. And Zion is just as spectacular when uncontested on a fast break, like when he pulled off this 360 windmill during a game last February.

Williamson’s game is built on power. While listed at small forward by multiple recruiting sites, he measured 6’5’’ (without shoes) and 272 pounds at a USA Basketball camp in October. He can rush past defenders with an explosive first step, and shrug off others while barreling toward the rim. Although he’s yet to develop into a high-level outside shooter, Williamson is an adept playmaker who can use his power to pull down rebounds in traffic.

With Williamson in the fold, Duke’s 2018 recruiting class now includes the top three recruits in the RSCI: Barrett, Williamson and Cameron Reddish, a five-star small forward out of Westtown (Pa.) School. The Blue Devils also signed the No. 1 point guard in the country last November in Tre Jones (No. 7 in the RSCI), the younger brother of Tyus Jones, who helped the program win its last of five national championships in 2015.

The addition of Williamson likely will make Duke the favorite to claim its sixth next spring. Several Blue Devils starters, including big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval, could declare for the draft this offseason, and senior Grayson Allen is using his final season of eligibility. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will reload with at minimum three potential one-and-done players who have the potential to be picked in the lottery in 2019.

Beyond its on-court impact, the Williamson commitment strengthens Duke’s case as the nation’s premier recruiter. The Blue Devils and Kentucky annually compete to sign the most coveted high schoolers in the country, and by reeling in the three top-ranked prospects in a single class, Duke has left no doubt which program has the upper hand in this cycle.

<p>It’s a big Saturday night in the NBA, and we have two key matchups that could dominate much of the ownership on this DFS slate. It’s rare to have so many of the night’s plays concentrated between just two games, but that is definitely the case here. Let’s take a look at the key stacks to build around for cash games. And be sure to use 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 round out the rest of your plays.</p><h3>Game Stack Alert No. 1</h3><p><strong>Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers</strong></p><p><strong>Khris Middleton (FD: $7,400, DK: $7,900)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 39.29, DK: 40.38</em></p><p><strong>Eric Bledsoe (FD: $7,000, DK: $7,600)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 39.84, DK: 40.4</em></p><p><strong>Tony Snell (FD: $3,700, DK: $3,800)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 17.76, DK: 18.19</em></p><p><strong>Matthew Dellavedova (FD: $3,500, DK: $3,300)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 19.32, DK: 20.55</em></p><p><strong>John Henson (FD: $5,200, DK: $4,600)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 29.08, DK: 27.58</em></p><p>In a gift of very early injury reporting, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brogdon have already been ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Bulls. This is one of those situations we wait for in DFS: a superstar (and another auxiliary piece) out for a team, leaving a clear delineation of minutes and opportunity in their wake. Between the two of them, we are left to redistribute about 70 on-court minutes and a healthy dose of usage, rebounds and assists.</p><p>Middleton and Bledsoe are the two clear winners in this situation, and will likely be among the highest-owned players Saturday evening. Giannis is the Bucks’ leader in nearly every relevant category (minutes, points, rebounds and assists), and without him these two will be asked to pick up much of the slack. With Giannis off the court this season, Middleton and Bledsoe see significant bumps in usage. Middleton is the big gainer going from 24% to 33%, while Bledsoe goes from 27% to 31%. Both should log heavy run, with Middleton a likely candidate to crest the 40-minute plateau. Philadelphia runs the third-fastest pace in the league, and both should compound the usage spikes with a heavier volume of possessions. Again, this is close to the dream DFS scenario when putting together cash game lineups.</p><p>The other Bucks’ pieces will be called on to fill in along the rotational edges, with Dellavedova likely drawing the start at two-guard, and Snell covering the wing duties on defense. Neither lights the world on fire from a fantasy perspective, but at their respective price points, it’s tough to argue with the minutes-based upside in this matchup. I suppose we can be somewhat concerned with the blowout if the Bucks are running thin on talent, but the upside outweighs that concern.</p><p><strong>Joel Embiid (FD: $10,500, DK: $10,400)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 53.63, DK: 55.21</em></p><p><strong>Dario Saric (FD: $5,500, DK: $6,200)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 31.78, DK: 33.2</em></p><p><strong>T.J. McConnell (FD: $5,100, DK: $4,800)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 26.06, DK: 25.75</em></p><p><strong>Robert Covington (FD: $5,100, DK: $5,000)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 31.96, DK: 31.79</em></p><p>While the Bucks have opportunity opening up without their superstar, the Sixers are simply priced too low across the industry. Embiid is nearing a joke of a price point on FanDuel. The Bucks are on the prowl for a center in the trade market, but until they pull off some kind of deal, they’re stuck running out John Henson and Thon Maker to deal with opposing bigs. The Bucks allow roughly 5% more scoring than league-average to centers, and The Process is coming off a two-game stretch that saw him averaging 30 points, 14 rebounds and five assists against two of the better defensive teams in the game, the Celtics and Raptors. Milwaukee is a far cry from those squads and Embiid rates out as the best big-money option on the evening slate of games.</p><p>Meanwhile, Saric was something of a FanDuel chalk play on Thursday night against the Celtics and didn’t disappoint. He put up 16 points, six rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes of action. The big story for Saric is the absence of J.J. Redick in the first unit. While it isn’t an exact opportunity switch, Saric does see a 10% usage bump with the Sixers’ sharpshooter off the court. This played out on Thursday with his 14 shot attempts, his most since December 30th. Saric matches up well against a smaller, wing-driven Bucks’ team playing without their best defender.</p><p>And finally, you can consider rounding out some lineups (more on the GPP side of things) with guys like Simmons, Covington, and McConnell. The former two are really struggling on the fantasy end of the ball in the short term, which has led to Simmons second-lowest FanDuel price of the season, and Covington’s lowest. It can be tough buying players at the low end of their relative production, but these are also the scenarios that can lead to massive separation upside.</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>Game Stack Alert No. 2</h3><p><strong>Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets</strong></p><p><strong>Stephen Curry (FD: $9,500, DK: $10,300)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 51.81, DK: 53.82</em></p><p><strong>Kevin Durant (FD: $10,700, DK: $10,300)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 51.27, DK: 51.27</em></p><p><strong>Draymond Green (FD: $8,000, DK: $8,200)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 39.48, DK: 38.88</em></p><p>In what lines up as the marquee game of the night, the Warriors head into Houston to take on the Rockets in a matchup of the two best teams in the Western Conference. The total on this game is an absurd 235 points, with Vegas projecting it to stay close, favoring the Warriors by four. These two teams put up a combined 238 points on January 4, and that was without both Durant and James Harden. This has shootout written all over it, and targeting the big money on the Warriors has significant upside.</p><p>These are the third- and eighth fastest-paced teams in the league, and both Curry and Durant should see significant shot volume. Curry is shooting an absurd 51% from three over his last ten games, while Durant is averaging 28 points, six rebounds and five assists over his last five. It doesn’t take a genius to come up with superlatives for these two. Rest assured this is just the kind of matchup we want to target their upside, even at expensive price points.</p><p>Green tops out a very thin power forward position, where it’s very difficult to find reliable minutes on FanDuel. He played 38 minutes in their last meeting and put up the rare triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists. We can’t pencil him in for the exact same production because, again, that game didn’t feature Durant. But the minutes are, real and these are just the kind of matchups the Warriors wait for in unleashing their utility knife.</p><p><strong>P.J. Tucker (FD: $4,100, DK: $3,700)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 21.9, DK: 21.83</em></p><p><strong>Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (FD: $4500, DK: $4200)</strong></p><p><em>Projected Points: FD: 21.94, DK: 21.14</em></p><p>I’m not as interested in the big money options on the Rockets considering Harden is working his way back from injury, while Chris Paul’s and Eric Gordon’s prices are up in the short term playing without Harden. But the cheaper wings are interesting. Both Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green are serving suspensions for storming the Lakers’ locker room, leaving Tucker and Mbah a Moute to soak up almost all of the remaining minutes. These two were brought in over the offseason almost specifically to matchup up as three-and-D wings against the Warriors. They should both see minutes in the mid-to-upper 30s, and are coming in near the bottom of the salary tier.</p><p>Tucker played 34 minutes off the bench on Thursday and Mbah a Moute went 32 in the starting role, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds. That game was in hand late, and yet the Rockets still played a very tight rotation. There’s every reason to expect they will use a similar minutes allocation on Saturday.</p>
NBA DFS Picks for January 20

It’s a big Saturday night in the NBA, and we have two key matchups that could dominate much of the ownership on this DFS slate. It’s rare to have so many of the night’s plays concentrated between just two games, but that is definitely the case here. Let’s take a look at the key stacks to build around for cash games. And be sure to use our NBA Lineup Optimizer to round out the rest of your plays.

Game Stack Alert No. 1

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Khris Middleton (FD: $7,400, DK: $7,900)

Projected Points: FD: 39.29, DK: 40.38

Eric Bledsoe (FD: $7,000, DK: $7,600)

Projected Points: FD: 39.84, DK: 40.4

Tony Snell (FD: $3,700, DK: $3,800)

Projected Points: FD: 17.76, DK: 18.19

Matthew Dellavedova (FD: $3,500, DK: $3,300)

Projected Points: FD: 19.32, DK: 20.55

John Henson (FD: $5,200, DK: $4,600)

Projected Points: FD: 29.08, DK: 27.58

In a gift of very early injury reporting, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brogdon have already been ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Bulls. This is one of those situations we wait for in DFS: a superstar (and another auxiliary piece) out for a team, leaving a clear delineation of minutes and opportunity in their wake. Between the two of them, we are left to redistribute about 70 on-court minutes and a healthy dose of usage, rebounds and assists.

Middleton and Bledsoe are the two clear winners in this situation, and will likely be among the highest-owned players Saturday evening. Giannis is the Bucks’ leader in nearly every relevant category (minutes, points, rebounds and assists), and without him these two will be asked to pick up much of the slack. With Giannis off the court this season, Middleton and Bledsoe see significant bumps in usage. Middleton is the big gainer going from 24% to 33%, while Bledsoe goes from 27% to 31%. Both should log heavy run, with Middleton a likely candidate to crest the 40-minute plateau. Philadelphia runs the third-fastest pace in the league, and both should compound the usage spikes with a heavier volume of possessions. Again, this is close to the dream DFS scenario when putting together cash game lineups.

The other Bucks’ pieces will be called on to fill in along the rotational edges, with Dellavedova likely drawing the start at two-guard, and Snell covering the wing duties on defense. Neither lights the world on fire from a fantasy perspective, but at their respective price points, it’s tough to argue with the minutes-based upside in this matchup. I suppose we can be somewhat concerned with the blowout if the Bucks are running thin on talent, but the upside outweighs that concern.

Joel Embiid (FD: $10,500, DK: $10,400)

Projected Points: FD: 53.63, DK: 55.21

Dario Saric (FD: $5,500, DK: $6,200)

Projected Points: FD: 31.78, DK: 33.2

T.J. McConnell (FD: $5,100, DK: $4,800)

Projected Points: FD: 26.06, DK: 25.75

Robert Covington (FD: $5,100, DK: $5,000)

Projected Points: FD: 31.96, DK: 31.79

While the Bucks have opportunity opening up without their superstar, the Sixers are simply priced too low across the industry. Embiid is nearing a joke of a price point on FanDuel. The Bucks are on the prowl for a center in the trade market, but until they pull off some kind of deal, they’re stuck running out John Henson and Thon Maker to deal with opposing bigs. The Bucks allow roughly 5% more scoring than league-average to centers, and The Process is coming off a two-game stretch that saw him averaging 30 points, 14 rebounds and five assists against two of the better defensive teams in the game, the Celtics and Raptors. Milwaukee is a far cry from those squads and Embiid rates out as the best big-money option on the evening slate of games.

Meanwhile, Saric was something of a FanDuel chalk play on Thursday night against the Celtics and didn’t disappoint. He put up 16 points, six rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes of action. The big story for Saric is the absence of J.J. Redick in the first unit. While it isn’t an exact opportunity switch, Saric does see a 10% usage bump with the Sixers’ sharpshooter off the court. This played out on Thursday with his 14 shot attempts, his most since December 30th. Saric matches up well against a smaller, wing-driven Bucks’ team playing without their best defender.

And finally, you can consider rounding out some lineups (more on the GPP side of things) with guys like Simmons, Covington, and McConnell. The former two are really struggling on the fantasy end of the ball in the short term, which has led to Simmons second-lowest FanDuel price of the season, and Covington’s lowest. It can be tough buying players at the low end of their relative production, but these are also the scenarios that can lead to massive separation upside.

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.

Game Stack Alert No. 2

Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets

Stephen Curry (FD: $9,500, DK: $10,300)

Projected Points: FD: 51.81, DK: 53.82

Kevin Durant (FD: $10,700, DK: $10,300)

Projected Points: FD: 51.27, DK: 51.27

Draymond Green (FD: $8,000, DK: $8,200)

Projected Points: FD: 39.48, DK: 38.88

In what lines up as the marquee game of the night, the Warriors head into Houston to take on the Rockets in a matchup of the two best teams in the Western Conference. The total on this game is an absurd 235 points, with Vegas projecting it to stay close, favoring the Warriors by four. These two teams put up a combined 238 points on January 4, and that was without both Durant and James Harden. This has shootout written all over it, and targeting the big money on the Warriors has significant upside.

These are the third- and eighth fastest-paced teams in the league, and both Curry and Durant should see significant shot volume. Curry is shooting an absurd 51% from three over his last ten games, while Durant is averaging 28 points, six rebounds and five assists over his last five. It doesn’t take a genius to come up with superlatives for these two. Rest assured this is just the kind of matchup we want to target their upside, even at expensive price points.

Green tops out a very thin power forward position, where it’s very difficult to find reliable minutes on FanDuel. He played 38 minutes in their last meeting and put up the rare triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists. We can’t pencil him in for the exact same production because, again, that game didn’t feature Durant. But the minutes are, real and these are just the kind of matchups the Warriors wait for in unleashing their utility knife.

P.J. Tucker (FD: $4,100, DK: $3,700)

Projected Points: FD: 21.9, DK: 21.83

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (FD: $4500, DK: $4200)

Projected Points: FD: 21.94, DK: 21.14

I’m not as interested in the big money options on the Rockets considering Harden is working his way back from injury, while Chris Paul’s and Eric Gordon’s prices are up in the short term playing without Harden. But the cheaper wings are interesting. Both Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green are serving suspensions for storming the Lakers’ locker room, leaving Tucker and Mbah a Moute to soak up almost all of the remaining minutes. These two were brought in over the offseason almost specifically to matchup up as three-and-D wings against the Warriors. They should both see minutes in the mid-to-upper 30s, and are coming in near the bottom of the salary tier.

Tucker played 34 minutes off the bench on Thursday and Mbah a Moute went 32 in the starting role, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds. That game was in hand late, and yet the Rockets still played a very tight rotation. There’s every reason to expect they will use a similar minutes allocation on Saturday.

<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.

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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>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>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.

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