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Karnes: Oscar season hits NBA

| Friday, February 21, 2014

With the All Star break just behind us, the NBA season has reached its midpoint, and that’s more than enough time to assess the league’s performances thus far. Since the 2014 Academy Awards are right around the corner, it seems appropriate to conduct this midseason review using the Oscar’s traditional methods. Each category will examine the merits of five nominees, before awarding the winner an Oscar, which maintains its name in honor of NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. So now, the first annual NBA Midseason Oscars.

Best Coach
Nominees: Tom Thibodeau, Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Frank Vogel, Terry Stotts

It seems inevitable that Popovich will be in consideration for this award every season, since his Spurs keep playing ruthlessly efficient basketball despite their advancing age. This year is no different, as the Spurs once again have a top-two record in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Carlisle and Thibodeau earn their nominations for installing systems that allow the Dallas and Chicago, respectively, to contend for playoff spots without overwhelming talent. The Bulls have Thibodeau’s defensive strategy to thank for their post-Derrick Rose success, and Carlisle’s ability to pull quality performances out of aging veterans like Vince Carter and Shawn Marion is nothing short of impressive. Indiana’s Frank Vogel gets nominated for masterfully running a Pacers defense allowing just 90.7 points per game. Finally, Terry Stotts has taken Portland from a 33-49 record last season to a 36-18 mark at this season’s halfway point. Despite some defensive concerns, Stotts has the Trail Blazers offense scores a league-leading 107.9 points per game behind forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.

And the Oscar goes to … Stotts. No one expected the Trail Blazers to be a playoff team this season, much less a top-four team in the West at midseason.

Best Player
Nominees: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul George, Aldridge, Stephen Curry
As the MVP winner three of the last four years, James’ nomination needs no explanation, but he somehow continues to improve. His 57.4 field goal percentage is a career high. Durant, meanwhile, has played well enough this season to challenge James’ crown as the preeminent player in the NBA. He once again leads the league in points with 31.5 points per game, and has Oklahoma City in first place in the West despite Russell Westbrook’s injuries. Back in the East, George, the league’s newest superstar, has led Indiana to the NBA’s best record with stellar play on both sides of the ball. George routinely hounds the opposing team’s best player on defense, and is averaging a career-high 22.5 point per game. The final two nominees, Golden State’s Curry and Portland’s Aldridge, act as the lynchpins of two of the NBA’s most intimidating offenses. Curry can comfortably claim the title of the league’s best shooter, while Aldridge has been nearly unstoppable in his career season, averaging 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

And the Oscar goes to … Durant. His 12-game streak of 30-plus points was one of the greatest stretches for a player in NBA history, and that gives Durant the slight edge over James at midseason.

Best Supporting Player
Nominees: Lance Stephenson, Klay Thompson, Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert, Lillard
The nominees in the supporting category also play essential roles, but without the same fanfare or recognition as their peers in the leading category. The biggest name in this group is Bosh, who, while once a top-tier player with the Raptors, has settled into a complementary role with the Heat. His ability to stretch the floor all the way to the 3-point line draws opposing centers out of the paint and creates huge driving lanes for Wade and James to exploit. The Heat’s main rival, Indiana, has two nominees in guard Stephenson and center Hibbert, both of whom perfectly demonstrate the Pacer’s grind-it-out identity. Stephenson leads the league in triple-doubles with four, while also playing relentless defense on the perimeter. Hibbert anchors Indiana’s league-best defense with 2.5 blocks per game, and his 7-foot-2 frame provides matchup problems against undersized teams like Miami. Golden State’s Thompson and Portland’s Lillard are two of the league’s top sharpshooters with 3-point percentages over 40 percent, and punish any teams foolish enough to sag off them on defense.

And the Oscar goes to … Hibbert. A leading candidate for defensive player of the year, Hibbert’s steady play in the middle has allowed the Pacers to jump from good to great.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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