The Times' midseason NBA awards

Houston's James Harden is the most valuable player at the midpoint of the NBA season

The NBA All-Star break starts this week, yet the halfway point of the regular season has already slipped by.

But the All-Star game has long been regarded as the unofficial halfway point of the season.

So it's time for this reporter to hand out some unofficial midseason awards.


It's mostly been a two-player race between Houston shooting guard James Harden and Golden State point guard Stephen Curry.

However, the pick here for the MVP of the first half is Harden.

Entering Friday night's games, Harden was ranked only sixth in the player efficiency ratings. New Orleans' Anthony Davis was first (31.74), followed by Miami's Hassan Whiteside (28.97), Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (27.93), Curry (27.78), Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (27.76), Harden (27.27) and Cleveland's LeBron James (26.34.).

But sometimes numbers lie.

The Warriors are off to a torrid start, in part, because Curry and his All-Star teammate Klay Thompson have been healthy all season.

Meanwhile, Harden has carried the Rockets all season. The second-best player on his team, center Dwight Howard, has sat out 17 of Houston's first 49 games because of various injuries, and a knee injury might keep him sidelined a couple more weeks.

Harden, though, has kept the Rockets near the top of the West standings. And for the first time he's actually trying to play defense, instead of just trying to outscore his opponent.

His stat sheet is loaded with career bests. Entering this weekend, Harden led the NBA in scoring (27.0), and had personal bests in rebounding (5.6), assists (6.8), steals (2.0) and blocks (0.8). Harden, in his sixth season, has fully matured on the court.


Andrew Wiggins posted up James next to the free-throw line, his back to the basket, his dribble still alive while he looked at his Minnesota teammates. Slowly and confidently, Wiggins took three dribbles toward the lane, then did a little stutter step and pivoted around James for a runner inside the lane for another basket.

Meet your 2014-15 NBA rookie of the year. Wiggins' career-high 33 points against James and the Cavaliers last weekend showed he stands atop this season's first-year class.

Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland who was traded to Minnesota as a part of the Kevin Love deal, has improved all season. He averaged 12.3 points on 39.9% shooting in November, 14.6 points on 40.7% shooting in December and 19.8 points on 47.1% shooting last month.

Milwaukee's Jabari Parker (No. 2 overall pick) had the upper hand earlier in the season, but he went down with a season-ending torn ligament in his left knee on Dec. 15.

The 6-foot-8 Wiggins has been impressive on offense and defense. He leads the team in scoring (15.3) and minutes played (34.3), and is averaging 4.2 rebounds per game.

Chicago's rookie Nikola Mirotic has been solid, demonstrating the skills to play power and small forward. Philadelphia's rookie center Nerlens Noel is very good on defense but has to improve his skills on offense.

Neither of them, at this stage, has the talent to match Wiggins.


Milwaukee's Jason Kidd deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done with his young Bucks; almost no one expected Milwaukee to be over .500.

But Mike Budenholzer, in his second season as coach in Atlanta, is the easy winner. Budenholzer has squeezed every possible thing he could out of his team.

The Hawks (42-9) have the best record in the league and Atlanta already has a better record than last season when the Hawks finished 38-44 and were the eighth-seeded team in the playoffs.

Now, if only Budenholzer would smile. "You can never put a smile on his face," Hawks guard Jeff Teague said.


Milwaukee point guard Brandon Knight edges out his teammate, small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Knight, 23, has played at an All-Star level all year. He is a big reason the Bucks are holding onto a playoff spot.

Before Friday's games, Knight was averaging 17.9 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds, while shooting an impressive 41% from three-point range and 89.6% from the free-throw line.


The Hawks.

No one saw this coming. Many observers picked Atlanta to finish second in the Southeast Division behind Washington.

The Hawks had a 19-game win streak, the longest of the season in the NBA. They went 17-0 in January, the best undefeated record in a calendar month in league history. And during their streak they won 10 games against teams with records that were .500 or better.

The Hawks' starting lineup of Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll were named the Eastern Conference players of the month for January. Teague, Millsap and Horford made the East All-Star team as reserves.


Oklahoma City.

Injuries to the team's two best players have hurt.

Durant sat out the first seven weeks of the season because of a broken right foot and now is dealing with a sprained left big toe, while Westbrook was sidelined the first four weeks because of a fractured right hand.

Durant and Westbrook have played together in only 22 games, with the Thunder going just 14-8.

With two months left in the regular season, the Thunder still is looking on the outside of the playoffs in the super-tough Western Conference.

Before the season, betting site Bovada listed the Thunder as a 6/1 favorite to win the NBA championship, right behind Cleveland (4/1) and San Antonio (5/1).

There still is time for the Thunder to make a move, but it better start soon.

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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