Mid-season polls: Al Horford and Brad Stevens lead the pack

The NBA season is officially halfway over, and NBA All-Star weekend is quickly approaching. It's about that time of the season when the higher playoff seeds become cemented, the playoff bubble begins to be blown, and personal accolades are handed out across the league to the deserving players. The process has already begun. All-Star starters were announced late last week, with the remaining roster spots being released tonight. Hopefully, the players selected will be a bit more modest than LeBron James is, about reaching a personal milestone. 
Granted, this is an enormous accomplishment for LeBron. 30,000 points gives him a seat at the table with the very best, but still, his constant need to pat himself on the back is teeth-grindingly annoying, especially during a time of dysfunction for his team. He'll blame anyone but himself for the Cleveland Cavaliers struggles, but shows no hesitation in pointing out his successes. We get it LeBron, you really like yourself.

Anyways, with the halfway point of the NBA season comes some projected NBA Award winners, and the Boston Celtics have two candidates leading the way for their respective categories. Neither are real surprises, but both are very exciting. This post is based off of Sports Illustrated's picks, and guesses from other sporting news platforms are sure to come soon.

Al Horford is the front-runner to win Defensive Player of the Year, and most voters agreed on the reasoning: he is the best defensive player on the best defensive team in the NBA. The Celtics have five players who rank in the top 10 in defensive win share, and sweep the top 3 spots:

1. Jaylen Brown: .061
2. Marcus Smart: .059
3. Jayson Tatum: .058
T-4: Al Horford: .056
T-8: Kyrie Irving: .052

He's the backbone on the Celtics' defense, and things wouldn't run as smoothly without him. Horford is an expert at surveying the opponent's offense, predicting the scheme, and calling it out to inform his teammates of the play. His versatility allows him to help players when they get beaten defensively, both inside the paint and on the perimeter, which is a rarity in this league. Without him, the complexities of the Celtics' defense would be simplified, and opponents would find more open shots and lanes to the basket.

Nadkarni: Al Horfod, Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is average at best. Their defense is best in the league. That’s what is winning them games, and that starts with Horford. Boston’s starting center is adept at both defending the paint and switching onto smaller players on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 57.4% within five feet of the hoop with Horford defending, which is worse than what opponents shoot against DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and many more. Draymond Green may have a chance to catch up in the second half, but for now, this is Horford’s award to lose. 

Of the six writers, five of them chose Horford as their pick to win DPOY. The other player to get a vote was Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, who was last year's top defensive player. His stock has dropped from last season because the Warriors as a team have lessened their defensive presence since last year. In the 2016-2017 season, the Warriors were the second best defensively rated team in the league with their rating of 101.1 points per 100 possessions . This year, they're rated with a score of 103.1 per.

Also to be considered is that Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert, two of the league's top defenders, have been inactive for the majority of the year because of injury.

For Coach of the Year, Brad Stevens came out as the favorite by receiving half of SI's votes. Boston's Eastern Conference leading record was surely a factor in their decision making, as was their pace-setting defense, and consistency among both star and role players.

The age of this team surely adds to Stevens' candidacy, and his ability to teach both the rookies and vets is something to cherish. Many vets don't expect to learn from their coaches, or aren't willing to try. After all, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. These players are simply running the motions that they've been doing their entire careers, in various schematic formats. Brad has the special ability to communicate his vision to players of all ages and roles, and the way that he does it, so clearly and collaboratively, convinces players to buy in. We're seeing this now with Kyrie Irving. One who was once a defensive liability, is now one of the best defenders in the league. How? From just a few pointers from Brad. I particularly enjoyed this simplistic write-up from the article:

Sharp: Brad Stevens, Celtics. The Celtics are still in first place, the defense is still elite, and a season that looked lost on opening night has instead left Celtics haters extremely upset for months. Brad Stevens has been the coach of the year for many reasons, but mostly because his pedagogy is dope.
Even in critical situations at the end of games, Stevens can be found at the end of the pine, pointing at the 10th or 11th guy on the bench to check-in. The amount of trust that he puts in these inexperienced guys must translate to confidence while on the court. Kyrie expressed the thought not too long ago:
Something else that was echoed among writers was the team's ability to stay successful after losing one of their star players: Gordon Hayward. Most expected the Celtics to struggle after the gruesome loss, but they have been thriving, even in Hayward's absence. That can only be attributed a coach who has the ability to make major adjustments to his team's entire season strategy...oh yea, or a nineteen year old who plays like he's 30 and just reaching his prime.

Celtics versus Lakers in just a few hours! Go Cs!

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Photo: USA Today