As most teams hit the midway mark in their season this week, TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on some of the players who have stood out to me in the first half. Here are his mid-season NBA awards.
MVP: (KEVIN DURANT-Thunder) - Has been sensational this season and more importantly, the most consistent player in the league. Considering that his team has been without star guard Russell Westbrook and with the free agent departure of sharpshooter Kevin Martin, he's had to carry the majority of the load to not only keep his team afloat but more importantly, at an elite level. He's delivered on every level. Sure, LeBron James is the best all-around player in the game today yet he's had stretches where he seems to have it on cruise control. Durant brings it for you all the time and for that, I give it to him at the midpoint.
ROOKIE: (MICHAEL CARTER WILLIAMS-Sixers) - Simply put, brilliant. His team has been abysmal without him and yet have a decent (considering they're in tank mode) 12-18 record when he plays. This guy is a better player than he was in college at Syracuse, much like Russell Westbrook at UCLA. He impacts the game on so many fronts it's ridiculous. I love watching him play and if I can't catch his game, I make sure I check the boxscores from his games to see his eye-popping stats. I shook my head when they traded Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans on draft night but now I completely understand why they did. They've got a major impact guy to run their team for years to come. Special talent.
COACH: (JEFF HORNACEK-Suns) - Could have gone with Terry Stotts of the Trail Blazers or Frank Vogel of the Pacers here but who figured the Suns would be this good this year? No one. They were one of the teams in the discussion as being in full 'tank mode' yet a funny thing happened on the way to the lottery. This team plays really hard. Wonderful decision to team the two point guards together (Dragic and Bledsoe). They play with energy and a purpose. Outstanding role definition and they share the ball. To me, the coaching has been a major factor bringing it all together nicely. The injury to Eric Bledsoe is a major blow and I'm not sure if they can hold on to a playoff spot but at this point, you've got to give major props to Hornacek and his staff for a job well done.
DEFENCE: (ROY HIBBERT-Pacers) - All he does every night is block and alter shots and make you think twice and a third time about bringing your game into the lane. On top of that, he rebounds and is a physical force in the paint. The Pacers are the league's best defensive team and a huge reason is the fact that they have outstanding rim protection and it all starts with this man. Offensively, he's become a much more polished player as well. He said his goal was to be the top defender in the league and in my book, he's it.
MOST IMPROVED: (LANCE STEPHENSON-Pacers) - This second round pick has continued to get better and better. He had a lot of rough edges to his game and his personality coming out of Cincinnati but to his credit, he's slowly but surely emerged as a significant part of the attack of the league's top team. He can score, rebound, pass and guard for you. Plays with great passion and intensity and has slowed his game down and now plays at a controlled speed with a purpose. Will get a nice raise this off-season. Well earned and well deserved.
RAPTORS MVP: (KYLE LOWRY) - No doubt about this pick. He's been a constant with his leadership, defence and clutch play. Has major league competitive spirit in his personality and zero back-down as well. Give him credit, he's in the best shape of his career (I love guys in their contract year, it's amazing how it happens like this so often) and it shows in his game. His ability to get in the lane and create for teammates has grown nicely along with his consistency with the 3-point shot which makes him a greater force in the screen-and-roll game. Ultimately, you watch this team this year and his personality and will to win and pay the price has made this an enjoyable first half of the season for Raptors fans. Yes, there have been plenty of bumps in the road but when you think of Lowry, he's been a major bright spot. Good for him, he's paid the price and gives it to you consistently.