With all-star weekend only a few days away, it’s that time of year again.

The free-agent frenzy of this past summer saw stars realign, spawning one of the most highly anticipated NBA seasons in recent memory. After a first half in which the Spurs amazed us, the Cavaliers shamed us and Charlie Villanueva managed to score a headline by tattletale tweeting, it’s time to sit down and reflect on what has been. With that, here are my mid-season awards:

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, F, Miami Heat

Of all my mid-season awards, this was by far the toughest call, due in large part to the subjective interpretation of the award’s meaning. Frankly, I think people make too much of a mess of deciphering the MVP. You just need to ask yourself one simple question: “Who is the best player in the league today?” Oh, okay, well yeah, that would be LeBron James.

James simply does it all – a 6-foot-8 point-forward, he is more often than not the best scorer, passer, rebounder, and defender on the court at any given time. Despite having fewer touches in the Miami Thrice offense, he is third in the NBA in scoring and is a triple-double threat every night. To round it out, James leads one of the league’s top defensive units (the Heat are fifth in the NBA in points allowed at 94.1).

I’m not a big proponent of trying to determine the MVP by figuring out which player’s team would be the most lost without him; however, those in favor of this invalid determinant have a picture-perfect example at their disposal. In their first season in the post-LeBron era, the Cavaliers sit at an NBA-worst 10-46 and have suffered an NBA-record-setting, 26-game losing streak in which they did not win a game between Dec. 19, 2010 and Feb. 10, 2011.

How much the Cavs are missing James this season is fairly self-evident. With the Heat clicking on all cylinders following a rocky 9-8 start, King James takes home his third consecutive Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

Other notables: Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls; Amar’e Stoudemire, F, New York Knicks; Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas Mavericks

Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, F, Los Angeles Clippers

This one’s a no brainer. Griffin was drafted No. 1 overall in 2009 but missed the entirety of his would-be rookie season due to a broken left kneecap. The preseason injury led critics to wonder if Griffin would be the latest in a lineage of cursed Clipper lottery picks (see Michael Olowokandi, Darius Miles and Shaun Livingston), but Griffin’s 20-point NBA debut this season foreshadowed something entirely different.

Known best for his highlight-reel dunks, Griffin has used his athletic 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame to embarrass even bigger defenders on a regular basis. Statistically, Griffin’s numbers speak for themselves; at 22.7 points per game and 12.7 rebounds per game, he has earned the right to be the first rookie to participate in the all-star game since Tim Duncan in 1998. While Griffin hasn’t exactly turned around the Clippers, who sit fourth in the Pacific Division at 21-35, he has undoubtedly given them new life and created a second team of relevance in Los Angeles.

Other notables: John Wall, G, Washington Wizards; Landry Fields, G, New York Knicks

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic

This award has always been more about impact than statistics, but Howard brings both to the table. He is second in the NBA in rebounds (13.9) and fifth in blocks (2.11) per game, but his defensive prowess is better measured by factors that don’t show up on the stat sheet. No one player covers more ground in the paint than Howard, and many shots that he doesn’t block are deterred or altered by his commanding presence.

SI.com’s Chris Mannix said it best: “His true value is evidenced by the fact that Orlando is one of the top defensive teams despite a starting lineup featuring the defensively limited Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson and undersized power forward Brandon Bass.”

Howard is poised to win the defensive player of the year award for the third consecutive season.

Other notables: Tyson Chandler, C, Dallas Mavericks; Kevin Garnett, F, Boston Celtics

Sixth Man of the Year: Jason Terry*, G, Dallas Mavericks

Terry is, in my mind, the archetypal NBA sixth man. High-energy, a provider of instant offense, and a player who, although not a starter, most often finishes games, Terry is one of the five guys Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle wants on the floor in crunch time.

Terry actually began the season in the starting lineup, but after a “troubling” 3-2 start, both he and teammate Dirk Nowitzki implored Carlisle to start Deshawn Stevenson at shooting guard in his place and have Terry provide a spark off the bench instead. The tactic worked, as the Mavs reeled off 21 wins in their next 24 contests.

Terry, who is averaging just under 16 points per game, has been an invaluable offensive threat for a Dallas squad that has seen injuries plague its top scorers (Nowitizki missed nine games with a sprained knee, and forward Caron Butler is likely out for the season with a torn patella tendon).

*Terry is my selection for this award so long as Lamar Odom (F, Los Angeles Lakers) remains ineligible. Odom has started 32 of the Lakers’ 56 games thus far this season due in large in part to the lingering knee problems that have forced starting center Andrew Bynum to miss significant time.

In a primarily starting role in Bynum’s place, Odom has averaged 15.1 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game and provided length and discipline on defense that have more than compensated for the lack of the 7-foot-1 Bynum’s interior presence. With Bynum now back from injury and having returned to the starting lineup, Odom has resumed his role as the Lakers’ invaluable sixth man. To become eligible for the award, Odom would have to finish the regular season having come off the bench in more games than he started. If Bynum remains healthy and Odom continues his stellar production, he should have some hardware in his future and would get my vote over Terry.

Other notables: Jamal Crawford, G, Atlanta Hawks; Glen Davis, Boston Celtics; George Hill, G, San Antonio Spurs

Most Improved Player: Kevin Love, F, Minnesota Timberwolves

On an abysmal Timberwolves squad, Love has been nothing short of remarkable, and in so many ways. After quietly averaging a double-double in both his rookie and sophomore campaigns, Love’s scoring and rebounding have surged in his third year in the league. To go along with his 21.1 points per game (up seven points from last season), Love’s league-leading 15.4 rebounds per game (up four from last year) is good for the highest rebounding average since Dennis Rodman grabbed 16 per contest in 1996-1997.

As of Feb. 10, Love has posted 41 consecutive double-doubles, including an extragalactic 31-point, 31-rebound personal domination of the New York Knicks frontcourt on Nov. 12. To complement his inside dominance, Love, although 6-foot-10, has developed lethal range from beyond the arc. He is shooting at a .430 clip from three, up 11 percent from last season and good for 12th in the NBA.

Needless to say, Love has had a sensational season and earned himself a spot on the all-star roster for the Western Conference. As great as Love has been this year, it is equally astonishing that he was not even a starter for the woeful Timberwolves at the end of last season.

Other notables: Raymond Felton, G, New York Knicks; LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Portland Trailblazers; Eric Gordon, G, Los Angeles Clippers

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Popovich completely revamped his offensive and defensive schemes at the start of this season to compensate for his aging stars. Offensively, the Spurs have transitioned from running their offense through franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan to relying heavily on the quick-strike capabilities of their younger guards. As a result, Duncan — despite being named to his 13th all-star game in 13 season — is having the worst statistical season of his career, but he quite frankly couldn’t care less.

San Antonio has epitomized the concept of “team” in 2010-2011, having nine players average over 18 minutes per game, with five averaging double figures in scoring. The result? An NBA-best 46-9 record and recognition as the fifth-fastest team to win 40 games in NBA history. Though comparisons have arisen, the Spurs likely won’t catch the NBA record of 72 victories compiled by the 1996-1997 Chicago Bulls. However, they are on pace to win 69, which would tie the 1971-72 Lakers for second-best all-time.

As the Spurs gear up for the season’s home stretch, their ability to keep their veterans healthy will be the most important key to their continued success. Only the second half of the season will tell how good the Spurs can actually be, but there is no doubt that Popovich has been far and away the NBA’s best coach at the midway point.

Other notables: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat; Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

 

Tim Delaney is a junior in the College. From The Stripe appears every other Thursday online at thehoya.com/sports.

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