Thunder's Durant playing like an MVP
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Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, left, speaks with the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. before Sunday night's NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans.
Is it too soon to predict the fall of the King?
Probably not. Here's an all-star-break look at favorites for the NBA's postseason awards.
Most valuable player:
Remember in the 90s when Charles Barkley and Karl Malone had their special years to wrestle the MVP award away from Michael Jordan? Maybe this will turn out to be more than a one-year trend, but this is Kevin Durant's turn to win MVP.
Not only are his numbers amazing — 31.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, .510 field-goal percentage — but he has carried the Thunder to the top spot in the west without James Harden, Kevin Martin or much help from Russell Westbrook.
LeBron James is shooting a career-best 57.1 percent from the field, but his torrid 3-point pace from early this season has tailed off. Otherwise, it's just an ordinary great year for James, not great great.
1.Durant; 2. James; 3. Paul George, Pacers.
Coach of the year:
Last season's coach of the year, Denver's George Karl, is still out of a job, so this might be the award no one wants.
As always, an argument could be made for teams at the top of each conference. But this trophy usually goes to the coach who gets the most unexpected strong performance out of his team, and three stand out.
1.Terry Stotts, Blazers; 2. Dwane Casey, Raptors; 3. Jeff Hornacek, Suns.
Rookie of the year:
Philadelphia's Michael Carter-Williams took charge of this race in the first two weeks of the season. An injury slowed his momentum, but he still appears to have a solid grip on first place, leading all rookies not only in scoring (17.1 ppg) and assists (6.5) but also rebounds (5.4).
The two pursuers from the Big Ten, Orlando's Victor Oladipo (13.9 points) and Utah's Trey Burke (12.5 points, 5.5 assists), have ground to make up.
1. Carter-Williams; 2. Burke; 3. Oladipo.
Defensive player of the year:
Remember last season when Bulls center Joakim Noah seemed to be in the lead for this honor, then fell off the radar with all his foot problems. If he stays healthy, he probably will get some support for anchoring the consistently strong Bulls defense.
Indiana center Roy Hibbert could be in the same boat as the rim protector of the league's top defensive unit. LeBron James always claims he deserves this award, and he could be right. If voters plan on selecting the best defensive player regardless of team success, it's probably New Orleans' Anthony Davis.
1. Davis; 2. Noah; 3. Hibbert.
Sixth man award:
Steve Kerr said it's the Bulls' Taj Gibson, and he might have a point. The two best bench scorers this season (17.9 ppg) are the Clippers' Jamal Crawford, who has a chance to win, and the Lakers' Nick Young, whose team stinks.
Below them on the bench-scoring list are a few more players on miserable teams, Cleveland's Dion Waiters and Detroit's Rodney Stuckey.
Gibson is averaging 11.8 points as a sub this season. He's second in rebounds as a reserve to the Lakers' Jordan Hill, and second in blocked shots, to former Bull James Johnson, now with Memphis.
Some other guys with a chance to win are Phoenix forward Markieff Morris (12.5 points, 5.7 rebounds) and maybe 3-point champ Marco Belinelli (11.3 points, 48 percent from 3-point), although he has been starting lately.
1. Gibson; 2. Crawford; 3. Morris.
Most improved player:
Indiana's Lance Stephenson seems to have all the momentum for this award, going from 8.8 points last season to 14.1. But a couple of names to consider are Sacramento guard Isaiah Thomas (13.9 points to 20.2 points and 6.3 assists), and Oklahoma City's Reggie Jackson (13.6 points filling in for Russell Westbrook).
1. Stephenson; 2. Thomas; 3. Jackson.
All-NBA first team:
LeBron James, Heat; Kevin Durant, Thunder; Steph Curry, Warriors; Kevin Love, Timberwolves; Paul George, Pacers
All-NBA second team:
Chris Paul, Clippers; James Harden, Rockets; Blake Griffin, Clippers; LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers; Dwight Howard, Rockets.
All-NBA third team:
Damien Lillard, Blazers; John Wall, Wizards; Tim Duncan, Spurs; Carmelo Anthony, Knicks; Anthony Davis. Pelicans.
Best chance to win the title:
James needs his supporting cast to hit some open shots. Durant might need Westbrook. A third team appears to be in the best spot.
1. Pacers; 2. Heat; 3. Thunder.
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