Mr. Royal covering today with his comprehensive NBA midseason report.

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 Lots to talk about. Texas fans renting billboards to make sure Johnny Football is the #1 pick, some dude we never heard of beats Rafael Nadal in 4 sets, whether or not Tiger missing the cut means anything, Richard Sherman showing mad respect to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker only days after ripping Crabtree, an awesome hockey game at Yankee Stadium, and so much more. But rant format is what the Fillerbuster does best so I’ll leave that stuff all to him.

I absolutely love mid-season awards columns. I love doing/reading these columns because they highlight just how fickle the sports gods can be. Sometimes, things change in a matter of weeks. This time last year, many of us thought Tony Parker and Chris Paul were solid MVP candidates in a year where there ended up being absolutely no question at all that MVP would go to Lebron.

I also love doing these columns because you also see that many of this year’s mid-season awardees are the same as last year’s. For example, this year’s “Team That We Should Be Talking More About But Aren’t For Some Reason Award” obviously goes to the San Antonio Spurs… THE SAME TEAM IT GOES TO EVERY YEAR! Talk about the Spurs. What they’re doing is a BIG deal. Its amazing. More on that later.

Let’s dive in:

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Most Improved Player

Nominees: Anthony Davis, Lance Stephenson, Marco Belinelli, Deandre Jordan

There’s a lot of guys out there that could easily win this award. It can be difficult to quantify improvement. For example, Belinelli is only averaging a couple points more than he has in the past, but his field goal and three point percentage are so much better that his efficiency per shot taken, per minute is greatly improved. Thus he should at least get a nomination in my book.

Deandre Jordan is proving that he is a lot more than just a fun guy to watch catch alley-oops from CP3. He’s averaging over 5.5 more rebounds and 1 more block per game. He’s first in the league in rebounds and field goal percentage (NOTE to self: we should call that the “Tyson Chandler Award”) and fourth in blocks. That’s huge defense, and super-efficient offense.

Lance Stephenson is my runner-up for this award though. My nickname for Lance last year was “The Hurricane.” You knew he was on the floor because he just went all out, thought he was on a fast break on every play he touched the ball, and didn’t always seem under complete control. Vogel seems to actually trust Stephenson this year. He plays most of the game now (about 35 minutes a game) and averages 5 more points, 3 more rebounds, two more assists, and shoots better (FG%, 3pt. %, and FT%).

But my winner is Anthony Davis and its simply because I’m a sucker for defense. Me handing this award to Davis might be just a giant overreaction to one of the most underwhelming rookie debuts for a highly-touted #1 pick I’ve ever seen. Or, it could be a completely appropriate response to a young kid elevating his game to the speed of the NBA. One thing is for sure: Anthony Davis is the best interior defender in the NBA not named Roy Hibbert right now (please note I say, “right now,” as in “at this moment”). He’s also averaging 20+ pts. a game, up 7 points from last year and 10+ boards a game. If you’re a second year guy who averages a double-double on 35-36 minutes a game, you’re making a case for Best Sophomore, not just Most Improved. Finally, there’s also something to be said for playing for a team called the New Orleans Pelicans and still bringing your 100% every night. Can you think of one reason not-named Anthony Davis that’s keeping the Pelicans from a Seattle SuperSonic-like extinction?

Also, new rule if you posterize Glen “Big Baby” Davis, you get to be in my column because I just never liked that dude.
http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=10358067&ex_cid=espnapi_public

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Sixth Man

Nominees: Manu Ginobili, Jamal Crawford, Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris, J.R. Smith (JK LMAO HAHA LOL)

Reggie Jackson has looked great. But he’s actually STARTED some games filling in for Russell Westbrook. It’ll be interesting to see where he fits in when Westbrook gets back, but for now, I’m looking for a true 6th Man type of guy.

Manu Ginobili is great off the bench, he’s always been great off the bench and for some reason it seems like he’s won the award like 8 times before (he’s only won once). His numbers don’t really blow you away this year though, which is the only thing holding me back from making him the guy. Although being a shooter with a 45% FG% is good stuff.

Markieff Morris is actually fantastic off the bench for the surprisingly good Suns. 13 points and 6 boards on 25 minutes a game is impressive for a guy who I didn’t know existed this time last year. The theme of this column seems to be all about efficiency and Markieff is 48% from the field.

But my winner here has got to be Jamal Crawford. I thought the Clippers would feel the effects of CP3’s injury in a bad, bad way and Crawford and that Clippers squad have put me in my place. Homeboy’s averaging 17.9 PPG and 22 PPG over the last 10 games and the Clippers are 31-15 despite the CP3 absence. In all fairness, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan have done a tremendous job stepping up in that area as well.

Most Surprising Team:

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Nominees: Washington Wizards, Portland Trailblazers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors

The reason why the Raptors and the Wizards are on this list is because I thought they’d be terrible and they’re above .500, which for the Eastern Conference, is very impressive. There’s not much more to that.

The real debate here is whether to give it to the Suns or the Trailblazers. I thought the Suns were going to be REALLY bad and they’re 25-18, 7th place in the West. That is very impressive. However, Portland was 33-49 last year. Its January 27th and they’ve already matched their win total for last year at 33-12, 2 games back from first place in the West.

So the winner is, Portland.

Most Awfully Disappointing Team:

Nominees: Brooklyn Nets, NY Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, LA Lakers

All these teams made the playoffs last year, and there’s a pretty good chance three of them will miss the playoffs this year.

Brooklyn gets disqualified from this award because they’re 9-1 over their last 10 games. You gotta respect that level of hotness. Plus, they’ve been playing without Brook Lopez.

The Bucks are on the list simply because they made the playoffs last year and have the worst record in the NBA. Not terribly earth-shattering though, I mean, its MILWAUKEE.

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The Knicks and Lakers are in similar situations to a point. Both are disappointing because they are big-market teams that made the playoffs last year, have star power, and are playing like a bunch of window-lickers. I expected it on defense, trust me. But offensively? no excuse. Here’s where the similarities stop. Kobe is out. Melo is playing every game, AND scoring like he always does (62 points in one game at MSG last week). The Lakers were the 8-seed last year, the Knicks were the 2-seed. Maybe this highlights just how important Tyson Chandler is to this team, or maybe it highlights just how poor the leadership of the Knicks is. Felton is the PG and he’s not a leader, Melo’s leadership is questionable (I don’t care what Jim Boeheim says), and Mike Woodson has gone from Coach of the Year candidate to Most Likely to Get Fired almost overnight. From not playing Shumpert on a hot streak against Indiana last year, the no-call timeout fiasco this year, and finally just the overall terribleness of the Knicks this year after being so good last year, its mildly surprising that Woodson is still around. But considering the fact that as long as James Dolan is selling tickets he doesn’t mind his team sucking at basketball, none of this is surprising.

But big congrats to Melo for scoring 62 points at the Garden last week against a team that didn’t exist 10 years ago. You’re really good at shooting a lot and winning a little. Fans love not winning championships and I’m sure when its all said and done, everyone will be like, “Yea, his teams always sucked in the playoffs and he never even went to the Finals, but those 62 points were AWESOME!” So again, congrats to Melo.

Ugh. Spare me. The winner is the Knicks. And its not even close. And James Dolan still sucks.

 

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The Dark Horse Award

Nominees: LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs

The Clippers are a good team without CP3. They’re a great team with CP3. Its official. They own LA, and its not even close. Its cool to see a team lose their best player, their leader, and watch other players rise to stardom in their absence. I could be totally off base here, but I think losing Chris Paul is exactly what this team needed to get to the next level. Blake Griffin is averaging 23 points a game and is now on his way to being a bonafide superstar (offensively at least). Deandre Jordan is having the best year of his career, and Jamal Crawford may be winning his second 6th Man Award. I also like a pure shooter like J.J. Redick coming off the bench. You add CP3 back in the mix late in the year, and I think they make a run, but fall short. Why? Because…

The only team that’s deeper than a healthy Clippers team is the Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately for Golden State’s opponents, there really is no answer for guys like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they heat up. When Andrew Bogut rolls out of bed on the right side and plays to his potential, there really are no gaps in their starting five, and that bench goes about another 3 guys deep (Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Jordan Crawford).

I just think its hard to ignore how good the Grizzlies were in the playoffs last year. Remember when we were talking about Marc Gasol being Defensive Player of the Year, and possibly a top-3 center in the NBA?

But look, at the end of the day, its all about San Antonio. They’re in second place in the West and once again… NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT THEM. Last I checked, the year before last, everyone said they were washed up and too old and then they took one of the most talented basketball teams ever assembled to seven games in the NBA Finals. May I remind you… Heat fans LEFT THE STADIUM at the end of Game 6 because they thought it was all over and the Spurs had won the championship.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4afRTDMYCc

Remember!? And the Spurs are right there again! So why don’t we talk about them. We love LA. We love the Thunder. We love Golden State. We love Miami. We love highflying, 360-dunking superstars.  Because they are old. Because they’re pretty boring most of the time. Duncan doesn’t really fly through the air and throw down monster slams. He kind of just jumps at the rim and somehow dunks. He doesn’t really elevate, he escalates. I don’t know, I’m not really making sense here but you get it. They aren’t a highlight reel team. They just ball. And they’re doing it without Danny Green right now. I think they’re one of the most amazing stories in all of sports. And even I’m not picking them to win it all.

Thus, Dark Horse Award.

 

Now we go to the no-brainer awards, that really don’t require much analysis so I won’t bore you:

Defensive Player of the Year Award: Roy Hibbert

Rookie of the Year: Michael-Carter Williams (just google NBA Rookie Stats)

Coach of the Year: Terry Stotts (Portland Trail Blazers) – Maybe this one isn’t a no-brainer to everyone, but its not even close for me.

Breakout Superstar of the Year: Paul George

 

And for the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

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Most Valuable Player

Nominees: Lebron James, Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant

Look, I’m slowly coming around to the whole Lebron being not a bad person/being a pretty OK superstar/face of the league guy. I still maintain that Jordan never would’ve left Chicago to team up with Isaiah Thomas and Hakeem Olajuwon or whatever, but that’s another argument and that’s not this fight. I think when you win four NBA MVP titles – whether fair or unfair – its gets harder to win another because people are just naturally like, “Yea, well you did that last year. Let someone else get a chance.” Which is why I think he won’t get it. But having said that, here’s a case for Lebron. His team seems to be sleepwalking and they’re in second place in the East with half of whatever’s left of Dwayne Wade. He’s averaging 26 points a game, 7 boards, 6.5 assists, and he’s shooting 58% from the field. He might be one of the most efficient players in NBA history. Not to compare the two, but even Jordan never shot more than 54% from the field (he also averaged over 30 ppg for 8 seasons but jeez there I go again…).

LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 24 points and 11.5 boards a game, but what really makes him an MVP candidate is what he means to that team in Portland. Without him in top form last season, the Trail Blazers were basically the Damian Lillard show. Which, for the record, was a great show. But, the Blazers didn’t win. And now Aldridge is healthy – and balling – and the Blazers are competing for first place in the West. You can count the number of guys who can guard him in the post on one hand, and he’s better than ever defensively.

But the reason why Kevin Durant is my MVP goes so far beyond the fact that he’s averaging 31 points a game. Kevin Durant may be the first player since Reggie Miller to shoot over 50% from the field, shoot over 40% from 3-point land, and 90% from the free throw line. Tack on 8 rebounds and 5 assists a game and THAT, my friends, is stupid-efficient. I like that he’s put on some weight. I like that he isn’t a defensive liability. I actually like that he doesn’t care about the turnover criticism. And I like that he’s the sole reason his team is in first place in spite of their top-3 point guard being out for the year. That last reason alone is enough to sell me on Durant being MVP.

Is it too early to make predictions? Nahhh.

In a grueling Game 7, Indiana finally gets over their Miami obstacle and Paul George firmly establishes himself as the NBA’s next big thing. The Spurs fountain of youth finally runs out against OKC in 6 games. But the Pacers ultimately remind us all that defense in the NBA isn’t dead and win in 6 or 7 games.

Who am I kidding? The Heat will probably win again. Crap.

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