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Posted: Tuesday February 21, 2012 12:00PM ; Updated: Tuesday February 21, 2012 3:26PM
NBA Midseason Awards
With the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season at the halfway mark, SI.com's NBA writers make their picks for the league's top performers. (All stats and records are through Feb. 20.)
MVP
Top 5
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
Kobe Bryant
Tony Parker
Chris Paul
Ian Thomsen
James is unsurpassed statistically (27.9 points per game with a league-best 32.9 Player Efficiency Rating), and he isn't just showing off -- his audacious numbers have kept the Heat within range of the No. 1 seed despite the absences of Dwyane Wade in January. Durant isn't as versatile, but he's driven the Thunder to the top of the West. Bryant's ability to uphold the highest level of play despite the pain and difficulty of a torn ligament in his shooting wrist is phenomenal. Parker has kept the elderly Spurs in contention despite the absence of Manu Ginobili and the limited minutes of Tim Duncan. Paul has turned the Clippers into one of the league's most competitive teams.

James
Top 5
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
Derrick Rose
Kobe Bryant
Dwight Howard
Lee Jenkins
James is nitpicked like no one in sports, but it's nearly impossible to find fault with any aspect of his game this season. Relying less on his perimeter jumper, and more on his head-long drives, he is posting the highest field-goal percentage of his career (54.8) and also the highest three-point shooting percentage (39.3). Finally at home in Miami, James carried the Heat when Wade was injured, a scoring-passing-rebounding-defending dynamo on track for his long-awaited first title.

James
Top 5
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
Chris Paul
LaMarcus Aldridge
Kobe Bryant
Zach Lowe
The top spot is no contest, but good luck filling out the rest of the five-man ballot. There are at least nine strong MVP candidates, and a few of the high-profile ones carry red flags. Derrick Rose missed a quarter of the Bulls' season, Dwight Howard has been fabulous but the endless trade speculation is straining the Magic locker room, and Kevin Love's defense remains shaky. As for Aldridge, he's dependable on both ends, sports some of the league's best plus/minus numbers and the Trail Blazers simply collapse without him. Durant gets the nod over Paul only because of the five games the Clippers' point guard has missed. Otherwise, you could easily argue that Paul -- No. 2 in PER and the owner of nearly as many crunch-time makes this season as Durant -- should be right behind LeBron.

James
Top 5
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
Chris Paul
Kobe Bryant
Dwight Howard
Sam Amick
There's only so much LeBron can do during the regular season to quiet his critics, but he's been phenomenal. Beyond the scoring, rebounding (career-high 8.2, first among small forwards), typical playmaking skills (team-leading 6.8 assists) and his defensive prowess is this telling fact: The Heat are 8-1 without Wade. Durant is posting career highs in field-goal percentage (51.6), rebounds (8.2), assists (3.3) and blocks (1.3). Reigning MVP Rose slides out of the discussion because of injuries and because the Bulls are 7-3 without him, while Paul, Bryant and Howard have all dominated in their own ways.

James
Top 5
LeBron James
Kevin Durant
Kobe Bryant
Derrick Rose
Dwight Howard
Chris Mannix
James is the runaway leader at the midway point, posting gaudy numbers and actually making people question whether the Heat needed Wade with a superior stretch during his nine-game absence last month. Durant's expanded offensive game and efficient scoring (51.6 percent shooting) combined with the Thunder's not-so-startling success has him firmly entrenched behind LeBron. Everyone else is just playing for ribbons.

James
Top 5
LeBron James
Chris Paul
Kevin Durant
Dwight Howard
Derrick Rose
Britt Robson
James is having a career year for the team many people predict will win it all. Paul has changed the Clippers' culture and is the player in L.A. I most want with the ball when the game is on the line. Durant has steadily improved the non-scoring aspects of his game while becoming a more assertive leader. Howard gets less help from his teammates than anyone on this list, yet has battled that and the distractions over his lame-duck status to keep the Magic in contention. Rose is docked for time lost to injury and his lesser role in Chicago's dominant defensive identity. Honorable mention to Kobe Bryant and Parker.

James
Top 5
LeBron James
Chris Paul
Kobe Bryant
Derrick Rose
Dwight Howard
Paul Forrester
Despite his desire to leave, Howard has kept the Magic afloat as a contender but his subtle jabs at his team will sink them. Rose has more help this year, but has had trouble staying healthy. Kobe started the season hurt but that hasn't stopped him from keeping an aging, less-talented Lakers team playoff-relevant. Paul deserves consideration for willingly joining the Clippers as well as turning around a team that lost 50 games last season. No one, though, has been better than LeBron. He has pulled back on the threes and settled down more in the low post, a decision that has him shooting more accurately than ever while notching a career best in rebounding.
Rookie of the Year

Irving
Top 3
Kyrie Irving
Ricky Rubio
Iman Shumpert
Ian Thomsen
Irving has proved to be the best of the 2011 draft: He's had big fourth quarters while leading the surprising Cavaliers in scoring (18.3 points) on 48.5 percent shooting. He and Rubio both look like future stars, the latter having pulled the Timberwolves together with his court awareness and 8.4 assists (fifth in the league), and he's a better defender than advertised. The versatile Shumpert is fifth in the NBA in steals (2.0) and has joined Jeremy Lin to form an explosive young backcourt for New York.

Irving
Top 3
Kyrie Irving
Ricky Rubio
Kemba Walker
Lee Jenkins
Last season was supposed to be the Year of the Point Guard, but it never seems to end. Rubio has made the biggest splash with his no-look passes and half-court alley-oops, but at 19, Irving is already one of the most complete point guards in the NBA. A shooter who drives and a scorer who passes, Irving is just the floor general to lead a comeback in Cleveland and show the Cavs that there is life after James.

Irving
Top 3
Kyrie Irving
Ricky Rubio
Kawhi Leonard
Zach Lowe
The top two spots are no-brainers, and Irving's nearly unprecedented (for a rookie guard) combination of efficient scoring and solid passing barely trumps Rubio's franchise-altering creativity -- especially because Irving has no Love-type to lean on when Cleveland has the ball. As for Rubio, ask Nikola Pekovic, putting up nightly double-doubles and bruising every opponent in sight, how much Rubio's passing matters. His falling shooting percentage is worrisome, but no other rookie is close to that No. 2 spot. We'll go with the steady, multi-positional Leonard in the rotating No. 3 slot, which could feature Markieff Morris, Shumpert, MarShon Brooks (pending injuries), Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and a couple others on any random NBA night.

Irving
Top 3
Kyrie Irving
Ricky Rubio
Kawhi Leonard
Sam Amick
Irving is running the Cavs like a seasoned vet and future All-Star, already proving to be one of the game's better scorers and showcasing a flair for the late-game dramatics that Cavs fans who suffered through last season are loving. He gets the nod for now over Rubio, who has led the Wolves to an eight-game improvement thus far while becoming a regular on the highlight reels. Leonard's ability to become an important two-way player for the Spurs is no small feat, either.

Irving
Top 3
Kyrie Irving
Ricky Rubio
Kawhi Leonard
Chris Mannix
Considered the 2011 draft's lone franchise player, Irving has played like exactly that, shrugging off a limited college résumé to become a dynamic point guard. Playing in NBA obscurity -- no ESPN, ABC or TNT games -- Irving has given Cleveland hope for a post-James future. Rubio has done the same for Minnesota, making the bounce pass cool again and reviving a flagging franchise. Leonard has been a godsend for the aging Spurs; he has brought back memories of Bruce Bowen with his lockdown defense.
Top 3
Ricky Rubio
Kyrie Irving
Iman Shumpert
Britt Robson
A competitive race features two point guards who have been vital to their teams' improvement. Irving is by far the better scorer, with shooting percentages reminiscent of Steve Nash. Rubio is clearly the better passer and floor general. But Rubio gets the nod because of his superior defense, ranking among the league leaders in both steals and drawing charges, the yin and yang of good guarding. When the top players are this close in value, you go to advanced numbers, and Basketball Value confirms that Rubio helps his team more than Irving because of that defense.

Irving
Top 3
Kyrie Irving
Ricky Rubio
MarShon Brooks
Paul Forrester
Brooks has shown the potential with his scoring (14.2 points) and board work (4.3 rebounds) to be a key cog at off-guard for a Nets team whose future won't be settled until the summer. Rubio hasn't shot well, but his passing has made for some easy hoops and his defense has been effective at a position that isn't easy to limit. But Irving has helped the Cavs not only play feistier than expected (with wins over the Celtics, Mavs and Clippers), but he also has helped the team get past the crippling loss of James, competitively and mentally.
Sixth Man Award
Top 3
Lou Williams
James Harden
Andre Miller
Ian Thomsen
Williams is the Sixers' go-to scorer (team-high 15.9 points), coming off the bench to drive them to a huge early lead in the Atlantic Division. Harden's role has grown more important since the injury to backup point guard Eric Maynor, enabling Harden to serve as a blending point guard as well as versatile scorer. Though Miller would rather start, he has nonetheless provided a major impact in production and leadership as the Nuggets reach for the playoffs.

Harden
Top 3
James Harden
Lou Williams
Al Harrington
Lee Jenkins
With Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder did not need Harden to make an immediate impact, and they developed him slowly. In his third year, he has helped make them the best team in the Western Conference, anchoring a bench that thrives even without Maynor. Harden is not the tallest or quickest perimeter threat, but he has a crafty ability to create his own shot, and the touch to convert.

Harden
Top 3
James Harden
Williams/T. Young
Harrington/A. Miller
Zach Lowe
Harden is inconsistent defensively, but so is almost everyone else in contention for this award. His ability to score (16.8 points), draw free throws (9.6 attempts) and dish assists (3.5) puts him in rare company. He might already be one of the half-dozen best pick-and-roll ball-handlers in the league. As for the other two spots, we'll go with duos from two of the most potent benches, though all are crucial to their teams' identities. Thaddeus Young and Al Harrington can go small and hold their own defensively and on the glass. Lou Williams brings pick-and-roll scoring and underrated passing, and Denver wouldn't be able to push the pedal every night without two capable point guards in Andre Miller and Ty Lawson. Omitting Jason Terry and Mo Williams kills me, but one of them will likely make the official ballot by season's end.

Harden
Top 3
James Harden
Lou Williams
Al Harrington
Sam Amick
The much-improved Harden leads a second unit that is thriving despite the season-ending injury to Maynor. He gets it done against starting units, too, playing most or all of the fourth quarter on most nights. Williams has headed the Sixers' dynamic "Night Shift" group by leading the balanced team in scoring, and Harrington deserves mention for his starter-like contributions (14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds). Don't forget about Mo Williams or Terry here, either.

Harden
Top 3
James Harden
Lou Williams
Mo Williams
Chris Mannix
Harden could start for more than half the teams in the league, including Oklahoma City. Instead, the Thunder guard provides instant offense (and playmaking) off the bench and a reliable shooter in the fourth quarter. Lou Williams has been Mr. Fourth Quarter for Philadelphia lately, while Mo Williams adjusted to an abrupt change in his role before the season -- he expected to be the Clippers' starting point guard, remember -- to become a crucial member of L.A.'s backcourt rotation.

Harden
Top 3
James Harden
Al Harrington
Lou Williams
Britt Robson
Harden, the clear choice, is the best distributor on the West's top team and also has a gift for getting to the foul line. Harrington is a key cog in Denver's best lineup, filling in the cracks created by Nene's inconsistent season. Lou Williams beats out Terry at his own game of providing an offensive lift that becomes more pronounced at crunch time. Others worth noting are Williams' Sixers teammate Young, Portland's Nicolas Batum and Chicago's Taj Gibson.

Harden
Top 3
James Harden
Lou Williams
Andre Miller
Paul Forrester
Miller is a big reason the Nuggets have been winning with depth more than elite talent. He leads the Nuggets in assists (6.8) and has been a crucial sounding board for George Karl. Lou Williams is another leader of the win-by-numbers approach, leading the Sixers in scoring off the bench while playing the role of closer. Harden, however, has brought a starter's quality to the Thunder bench. He's averaging more points per shot than either Durant or Westbrook and is sly enough to know how to pickup fouls by the bushel, averaging almost as many free-throw attempts as Durant in seven fewer minutes per game.
Coach of the Year
Top 3
Tom Thibodeau
Gregg Popovich
Doug Collins
Ian Thomsen
Starters Rose, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton have been sidelined extensively and yet you'd never know it by the Bulls' record. Regardless of their troubled circumstances, Chicago is the league's toughest and most competent team. Popovich, as usual, has blended in new young talent while keeping the Spurs in contention without Ginobili. Collins has maintained balance on a team that lacks a traditional star. If there were room for a fourth candidate it would be Stan Van Gundy, who has kept Orlando in contention despite the uncertainty surrounding Howard.

Collins
Top 3
Doug Collins
George Karl
Frank Vogel
Lee Jenkins
To win in the NBA, you need a premier scorer and a proven star, who takes most of the shots and closes most of the games. So goes the conventional thinking. But in Philadelphia and Denver, Collins and Karl are selling something much different. The 76ers, with their defense, and the Nuggets, with their depth, are demonstrating that you can contend even if you're still looking for a headliner. In both places, the biggest star is the coach.

Collins
Top 3
Doug Collins
Gregg Popovich
Rick Carlisle
Zach Lowe
Collins has the allegedly star-less Sixers playing not just like an interesting team, but like a juggernaut built on sharing the ball, relentless motion on offense, the elimination of turnovers and fouls, and a ferocious defense allowing the fewest points per possession in the league. Getting a full roster to commit to this sort of play is rare. Collins has devised a system, and in Year 2, he has gotten total buy-in from one of the league's deepest rosters. As for Popovich and Carlisle, raise your hands if you're surprised two of the league's smartest franchises have used every strategy and nearly every player available to position their teams near the top of the West, despite more injury and roster chaos than expected in this crazy lockout season.

Collins
Top 3
Doug Collins
Gregg Popovich
Tom Thibodeau
Sam Amick
There's no better sign of a coach convincing his players to buy in to his program than a balanced offense, especially when there's an alpha-male involved. To wit: Andre Iguodala -- who once averaged 15.6 shots per game in a season -- is taking just 10.2 this time around while continuing to defend at a high level. Collins has convinced his incumbent star and everyone else to sacrifice for the greater good, all while overseeing the significant growth of players like Jrue Holiday, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner. Only Popovich could help his Spurs keep winning without the injured Ginobili, and Thibodeau has been equally impressive while coaching without the benefit of Rose for 10 games.
Top 3
Gregg Popovich
Doug Collins
Erik Spoelstra
Chris Mannix
Ginobili goes down and Popovich wins with two journeymen (Gary Neal, Danny Green) and a rookie (Leonard) making up the difference. Popovich has also turned around Tiago Splitter while playing 12 players at least 11 minutes per game. Collins has used his NBA-best scoring bench to his advantage while convincing a group of mostly 20-somethings that running and sharing the ball is the best way to win. And it's time to give Spoelstra some props: Coaching three of the game's biggest stars isn't as easy as it looks.
Top 3
Rick Carlisle
Gregg Popovich
Rick Adelman
Britt Robson
As always, a crowded field of worthy candidates. Carlisle quickly transformed a post-lockout team that wasn't physically or mentally prepared to defend its crown into a top five defensive unit. He's also used his bench effectively to protect his aging roster and compensate for wretched starts by Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom and Jason Kidd. Popovich has guided San Antonio to the West's second-best record without Ginobili for much of the season while preserving Duncan, one of nine Spurs averaging between 20 and 30 minutes. Adelman has ushered in a more optimistic era for a Timberwolves team that won 32 games the previous two seasons, emphasizing accountability on defense and designing a system that favors Love and Rubio. Collins leads the list of worthy omissions.

Collins
Top 3
Doug Collins
Gregg Popovich
George Karl
Paul Forrester
Let's recognize some of the league's old lions, who have shown the value of planning and strategy in this sprint of a season. Karl has crafted the league's second-fastest-paced team with a volume approach through rotation and productivity; six players average double digits in scoring. Popovich has coaxed a team without Ginobili for most of the season and a declining Duncan to come within easy reach of the West's top seed. Collins, though, gets the nod for guiding a team led by sixth man Lou Williams to become one of the deep playoff contenders in the East, thanks to a supremely efficient defense that limits the damage done beyond the three-point arc.
Defensive Player of the Year
Top 3
Dwight Howard
Joakim Noah
Andre Iguodala
Ian Thomsen
Most of the best NBA defenses are built around team principles, but these three leaders stand out. The Magic remain in the top 10 in field-goal defense (allowing 43.2 percent) around Howard, who leads the league in defensive rebounding (11.8) and is fifth in blocks (2.12). Noah is the quarterback of Chicago's defense, calling out signals and roaming the paint like a younger Kevin Garnett. Iguodala guards everybody while showing leadership for Philadelphia, which ranks No. 4 in field-goal defense (41.8 percent).
Top 3
Dwight Howard
Serge Ibaka
Andre Iguodala
Lee Jenkins
Howard has spent most of his life on all-defensive lists, but this season has been startling, even by his own astronomical standards. Despite the trade turmoil around him, and the questions about his role in the Orlando offense, Howard is still performing the dirty work that distinguishes him. He is pulling down a career high in rebounds (15.3) and protecting the paint as well as anybody, except perhaps Ibaka, who is swatting 3.3 shots per game.
Top 3
Tyson Chandler
Dwight Howard
Andre Iguodala
Zach Lowe
There are snubs galore here, but a beast big-man defender is more valuable than the equivalent wing defender, so we'll go with the league's two best bigs at the top. Chandler beats out Howard for the way in which he has transformed the Knicks from one of the worst defensive teams into one of its 10 best. No player has more work to do, more switches to grind through and more ground to cover on a nightly basis. Howard's trade demand costs him here, too, and there have been rumblings that he occasionally roams at only 90 percent of his usual effort level. But he's capable of busting your pick-and-roll at the three-point line and appearing near the rim two seconds later to reject a close shot, and he's on pace for the fourth-highest defensive rebounding rate in history, trailing only Marcus Camby's 2010-11 work and two Dennis Rodman seasons. Iguodala, the best defender on the league's best defense, gets the third spot for doing what he always does: shut down almost every wing player unfortunate enough to line up across from him.
Top 3
Dwight Howard
Tony Allen
LeBron James
Sam Amick
For all of the trade drama that Howard has created off the floor, he should be lauded for his ability to continue dominating on it. He's been blocking shots and inhaling rebounds at rates on par with his three-time DPOY usual. The Magic have regressed slightly as a defensive unit, but no one affects the game on this end like Howard. Allen and James, meanwhile, force opposing coaches to alter the game plan every night to account for their presence on the perimeter.
Top 3
Dwight Howard
LeBron James
Tony Allen
Chris Mannix
The ubiquitous Howard's shot-swatting numbers are down a tick (2.1 per game) but he is still the NBA's top rebounder and would lead the league in "where is he?" looks if such a stat were tracked. James is having a typical "I can lock up any position, anytime" type of season. Allen has upped his thefts (1.9) while continuing to be a disruptive, physical defender.
Top 3
Dwight Howard
Luol Deng
Andre Iguodala
Britt Robson
Howard's impact hasn't been quite as profound as in previous years and so Orlando's defense has been less imposing. But this is a player destined to be ranked with Bill Russell and Hakeem Olajuwon among the all-time greats. Chicago's Deng and Philadelphia's Iguodala are dogged, versatile defenders who are central to their teams' schemes. The Bulls' Taj Gibson, who defends power forwards as well as anybody, would be in the top three if he averaged more than 19 minutes. The guys left off besides Gibson could be a monster defensive unit on their own: Andrew Bynum, Kevin Garnett, Paul George, Tony Allen and Avery Bradley.

James
Top 3
LeBron James
Rajon Rondo
Dwight Howard
Paul Forrester
Howard may seem a bit disinterested at times on offense, but credit Van Gundy for making defense a habit. Howard has posted his most consistent work on the boards. Even though the Celtics rank 29th in scoring (87.5 points) and 16th in rebounding (41.9), their defense ranks fourth in points per possession with a well-aged roster; much of that credit goes to Rondo. Credit, in theory, splits three ways with the Heat, but the truth is that LeBron has suffocated most all of his opponents on defense; opposing forwards are generating a Player Efficiency Rating of less than 10 against James this season.
Most Improved Player
Top 3
Jeremy Lin
Ryan Anderson
Greg Monroe
Ian Thomsen
You may not have heard much about Lin, but the Knicks have been playing better since he's become their starter at the point. He drew upon his limited experience of last season to improve his shooting and prepare himself to take advantage of the opportunity he found in New York. Monroe is averaging slightly more minutes while increasing his production across the board. Anderson has improved in a variety of areas while becoming more than a three-point shooter, though that remains his go-to strength.
Top 3
Jeremy Lin
Kyle Lowry
Ryan Anderson
Lee Jenkins
Lowry and Anderson made massive leaps in one year, with Lowry becoming one of the best pass-first point guards in the NBA and Anderson the skilled power forward whom Howard craves. But no one can match the jump made by Lin, in terms of size and speed. In a week, he went from D-League afterthought and waiver casualty to New York supernova and Knicks savior, running Mike D'Antoni's offense like a new and wholly unexpected Steve Nash.

Harden
Top 3
James Harden
Greg Monroe
DeMarcus Cousins
Zach Lowe
This ballot could change completely in two weeks, but for now, we'll tab Harden, whose improvement goes beyond the five additional minutes he's playing per game in his third season. All of his per-minute stats are up, he's shooting at career-best levels and his overall Player Efficiency Rating has jumped five full points -- a huge one-season leap. Few guards combine above-average, high-volume three-point shooting, pick-and-roll wizardry and the ability to earn a ton of free throws. Two flawed but developing big men get the second and third spots, even if both have far to go in defending away from the post and against pick-and-rolls. Cousins and Monroe have improved their efficiency while taking on a larger role in their teams' offenses, but lots of players will compete for this award as the season sorts itself out.
Top 3
Jeremy Lin
James Harden
Ryan Anderson
Sam Amick
Yes, Lin's sample size remains relatively small. But the beauty of the Knicks point guard's magical run is that both the player and the team were starting from scratch here: Lin had almost nothing on his NBA résumé but has been putting up borderline All-Star numbers, while a team that was 8-15 when he took over is planning for the playoffs again. Harden has made himself into a vital piece of the Thunder core while seeing serious spikes in his scoring, shooting and assists. Anderson has quickly developed from a role player (10.6 points and 21.6 minutes last season) to the sort of secondary scoring option the Magic need more of (16.8 points and 31.8 minutes this season).
Top 3
Andrew Bynum
Marcin Gortat
Jeff Teague
Chris Mannix
If Lin plays the next two months like he played the last two weeks, he has this award sewn up. For now, Bynum gets the edge over Gortat because Gortat showed in 55 games with Phoenix last season (13 points, 9.3 rebounds) what he could do in the Suns' system. Bynum has morphed into a double-double machine (16.3 points, 12.8 boards), albeit one that isn't always properly motivated. Teague is seemingly always about to be replaced in Atlanta but has become a solid starter.
Top 3
Ryan Anderson
Mario Chalmers
Greg Monroe
Britt Robson
Anderson is carrying the perimeter load for a Magic team that lives and dies by its three-point shooting. Chalmers has dramatically improved his shooting so that he's no longer a liability on offense, an upgrade that could have a big impact in the playoffs for Miami. Monroe is so much better than any other Piston that it is hard to know if his offense would suffer or his defense would improve under different circumstances. Toronto's Andrea Bargnani, who can suddenly play defense, would be on this list but he's played only 13 games. That dream defensive backcourt of Paul George and Avery Bradley also deserves mention here. And as for Lin: If he continues to play this way for the rest of the year, he'll top many ballots.

Lowry
Top 3
Kyle Lowry
James Harden
Ryan Anderson
Paul Forrester
Anderson's statistical rise is due, in large part, to playing nine more minutes a game this year, but his importance as Option B in the Magic's offense can't be overlooked. And shooting 44 percent from three-point range is a good way to make Option A a lot better. The decision boiled down to Lowry vs. Harden. Both not only have taken on greater roles, but they also have done more with them. Harden has provided a nearly seamless offensive transition from Oklahoma City's starters to bench, and that's impressive with the Thunder's first five. But Lowry has been the driving force for a Rockets team not loaded with elite talent, thanks to a bulldog toughness that has made him a rugged defender and a relentless offensive force.

 
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