Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Let the speculation begin.
We have reached the midway point of the 2012-13 NBA regular season. We would not be doing our jobs if we didn't analyze who should win each individual award now, with basically three full months of the season to go.
Remember, we do things a little differently here at Nothin' but Net. I'll give you my choices for all the awards with precise analysis and maybe a witty barb. But, we're going to hand out the opposite award in each category as well.
(Hint, the Los Angeles Lakers are going to dominate the Oppos like "Titanic" at the Oscars.)
MVP - KEVIN DURANT, Oklahoma City Thunder.
RUNNERS-UP - LEBRON JAMES, Miami Heat; CHRIS PAUL, Los Angeles Clippers; CARMELO ANTHONY, New York Knicks.
Before the season, yours truly opined that writers would tire of voting for James. Sure, he'd put up MVP-caliber numbers, but time had come to spread the wealth.
It's possible that scenario still plays itself out. It's tricky because James' numbers are astounding (26.5 ppg/8.2 rpg/7.1 apg/1.6 spg) and the Heat are great once again. And don't kid yourself, team success matters.
The Thunder are better than the Heat, but is Durant better than James? Certainly not. Durant is a more gifted scorer, but all-around, it's James all the way.
But Durant gets the nod, not just because of LeBron over-saturation. Durant has improved his scoring numbers from last season. His rebounding average is down a hair, but assists are up almost a full assist, steals are up and blocks are up.
Durant's 3-point percentage (42 percent) and field-goal percentage (52 percent) are both career highs.
The biggest thing that swayed this in Durant's favor is how great the Thunder have been, especially in light of the big preseason move. When OKC traded James Harden just before the season started, no one thought the Thunder would benefit right away.
Durant put the team on his back and the Thunder have the same record through 43 games last season. Yes, Russell Westbrook has been sensational this season, but it's not like James is playing with the Washington Generals.
Durant has improved defensively, the team is great, his numbers are up, so why not Durant? Plus, it won't be LeBron. You can't put a price on that.
LEAST VALUABLE PLAYER - DWIGHT HOWARD, Los Angeles Lakers.
RUNNER-UP - ANDREW BYNUM, Philadelphia 76ers.
Howard gets the nod over Bynum as the least valuable player and that's saying something since Bynum has not played a minute all season.
Howard is not to blame for the Lakers' woes. More on that later, but Howard has been a central figure in their demise.
Statistically, Howard has been fine. His scoring numbers are the lowest in three seasons and the rebounding is down, just a touch. The blocked shots are there, but what landed Howard this particular dishonor is the way he's going about this season.
Howard is a free agent after the season and his style is wearing thin. He complains about his shots attempts and, if you believe recent reports, won't speak up about it when confronted, even inside the confines of a Lakers team meeting.
His passive-aggressive attitude this season makes you think the chances he signs with the Lakers in the offseason are dimming. Howard has voiced his displeasure with his shot attempts. What exactly did he expect coming from Orlando, where the next-best scoring option was Jameer Nelson, to Los Angeles? Did he think the offense would suddenly stop flowing through Kobe Bryant, the fifth-leading scorer in the history of the NBA, and go through him?
It's crazy if he's bothered by shot attempts and his sulky, one-word answers to reasonable questions endears him to no one. Howard's reputation is taking hits. Most people believe he is the reason Stan Van Gundy got canned in Orlando and his orchestration of his own departure from the Magic should be studied by in classrooms on how not to act.
Howard has earned his spotty reputation and now his attitude has at the very least a negative impact on this dysfunctional Lakers group. Howard looks more injured than he claims to be, and back injuries are no joke.
His attitude has turned into one and the punchline isn't funny.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR - JAMAL CRAWFORD, Los Angeles Clippers.
RUNNERS-UP - JARRETT JACK and CARL LANDRY, Golden State Warriors; MATT BARNES, Los Angeles Clippers; J.R. SMITH, New York Knicks; KEVIN MARTIN, Oklahoma City Thunder.
This is an outstanding crops of talent up for this award, but Crawford pulled ahead based on one huge statistic - he is third in the NBA in points scored in the fourth quarter.
As a critical piece of the NBA's best overall bench, Crawford is a vital cog in winning games. All of these five candidates see substantial fourth-quarter minutes, but Crawford's impact on the game separated him from the rest.
WORST SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR - ANYONE ON THE PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS BENCH.
RUNNERS-UP - PAU GASOL, Los Angeles Lakers.
The Portland Trail Blazers' bench is the worst in the league. That's not a statement made on sight as much as one backed by numbers. They are the league's lowest scoring unit by almost nine full points (Portland reserves score 16.5 ppg and Memphis is 29th at 25.7 ppg).
A Portland player has come off the bench to score 10 or more points in a game 12 times in the Blazers' 42 games. In contrast, two Clippers players average 10 or more points per game.
Gasol is on here because I'm pretty sure he could file a lawsuit against Mike D'Antoni for bringing him off the bench. It's borderline criminal.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR - JOAKIM NOAH, Chicago Bulls.
RUNNERS-UP - PAUL GEORGE, Indiana Pacers; MARC GASOL and TONY ALLEN, Memphis Grizzlies; LARRY SANDERS, Milwaukee Bucks; SERGE IBAKA, Oklahoma City Thunder.
This is the hardest award to judge. Defensive statistics like steals and blocks can be misleading about how good a defender really is. Allen Iverson use to finish in the top 10 every season in steals, but one-on-one, he couldn't stay in front of an arthritic turtle.
Defense also is completely team-oriented. The last line of defense is always the big man. Do you reward a guy like Sanders who leads the league in blocks and is aggressive in protecting the rim? Or what about George, who is arguably the league's best on-the-ball defender?
So here was the criteria for my vote - the player had to come from one of the three elite defensive teams - the Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies or Chicago Bulls.
Noah got the nod for a few reasons. First, he is a spectacular post defender, but he also can get out and mix it up with guards on switched pick-and-rolls. He is a rebounder and a boundless source of energy. You could probably charge your iPhone on his body if it was low and he was in the neighborhood.
The Bulls are consistently one of the best defensive teams and rewarding the focal point of said unit seems appropriate. It's like Kevin Garnett anchoring all of those great Celtics defensive squads.
LEAST DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR - STEVE NASH, Los Angeles Lakers.
RUNNER-UP - NO ONE IS AS CLOSE TO AS BAD A DEFENDER AS NASH
When Nash was in his prime, he was a horrendous defender. He tries, God bless him for that, but Nash can't defend anyone at this point in his career.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - DAMIAN LILLARD, Portland Trail Blazers.
RUNNERS-UP - BRADLEY BEAL, Washington Wizards; ANTHONY DAVIS, New Orleans Hornets.
This race doesn't seem close to me. Lillard is top 20 in the league in scoring (18.3 ppg), 13th in assists (6.6) and seventh in minutes played. Plus, Lillard's play is the second-biggest reason behind LaMarcus Aldridge's consistently underrated greatness that the Blazers are even in playoff contention.
He leads all rookies in the above-mentioned categories.
LEAST ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - THOMAS ROBINSON, Sacramento Kings.
Robinson, the fifth pick in the draft, came in as a solid, hard-working citizen. He may still be, but he's only logging 15.5 minutes per game on a Kings team that is not exactly overflowing with talent.
COACH OF THE YEAR - TOM THIBODEAU, Chicago Bulls.
RUNNERS-UP - VINNY DEL NEGRO, Los Angeles Clippers; MIKE WOODSON, New York Knicks; MARK JACKSON, Golden State Warriors.
Too often, this award automatically goes to the coach of the team with the biggest turnaround from the previous season.
That's hogwash. Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the league, third behind Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics. His defensive schemes hold up every season, and in this one he has the Bulls in contention for the Central Division title without Derrick Rose, a top-10 player in the league. He relies on defense and veteran leadership, never panics and gets maximum results, especially out of underachievers like Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli.
LEAST COACH OF THE YEAR - MIKE D'ANTONI, Los Angeles Lakers
Simply put, a coach has to utilize his players' talents best to win games. D'Antoni's system does not fit the Lakers personnel no matter what anyone from the Lakers tells you.
Pau Gasol is a top-three post player in the NBA. D'Antoni has made him a glorified jump shooter and he has him doing it coming off the bench in favor of Earl Clark. D'Antoni is trying to rub two sticks together to get anything from this group, but his reliance on this system -- one that has not won a meaningful game in years -- has set the Lakers back.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER - PAUL GEORGE, Indiana Pacers.
RUNNERS-UP - JRUE HOLIDAY, Philadelphia 76ers; GREIVIS VASQUEZ, New Orleans Hornets; KEMBA WALKER, Charlotte Bobcats.
George has leapt into All-Star candidate and has done it at both ends of the floor. He is an elite defender and his scoring numbers have increased from 12.1 ppg to 17.3. Assist and rebound numbers are both up at least one a game. He is the best player on a Pacers team that is without its previous best player, Danny Granger.
LEAST IMPROVED PLAYER - JAN VESELY, Washington Wizards.
Vesely was the sixth pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and he hasn't cracked a Wizards lineup that desperately could've used anyone to help it. He's played in 30 of Washington's 40 games and 12 of those 30 were for less than 10 minutes.