ESPN.com's John Hollinger gives out his midseason awards (Insider required) and two Cavs players were named to his list. To start with the obvious one, LeBron James was named midseason MVP. Hollinger says this about LeBron's domination this season:
Calling this a one-horse race no longer does justice to the lead James has over the competition; he's making Secretariat's win at the Belmont seem like a cliffhanger. James is the best player in the league and nobody else is close right now, with LeBron's league-leading 31.51 mark nearly matching his Jordanesque performance of a season ago.
James is hitting a career-high 50.9 percent and averaging 29.9-7.9-7.2 per contest, helping Cleveland stay atop the Eastern Conference standings despite the team's struggles to incorporate Shaquille O'Neal. So thoroughly is he dusting the competition that he has more than a third more estimated wins added than any other player.
LeBron had an outstanding season last year (when he also won the MVP) and led Hollinger's player rankings but Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade were close behind and Kobe Bryant also had a great season and led his team to a title. But all three of those players have taken a small step backwards, either because of injury or underperfomance, while LeBron has continued to improve his game so the gap has grown even further between LeBron and everyone else in the league.
The other player to receive a midseason award by Hollinger is Anderson Varejao, who was named his Defensive Player of the Year. Varejao has always been a great defensive player but this year he has really improved beyond just taking charges and hustle plays. It's good to see that he's finally receiving credit for more parts of his game than just flopping. Here is Hollinger's quote on him:
Varejao has always been among the game's best frontcourt defenders, but have you seen the guy this season? He's moved beyond the Raggedy Andy flopfest of recent years to become a court-roving defensive monster. The shift in the game toward stretch 4s and pick-and-roll guards has only increased his value, as his freakish mobility for his size makes him one of the few players capable of both defending the post and smothering quick guards on switches.
Besides being the leader (or among the leaders) in plus/minus, Hollinger says Varejao leads the NBA is defensive plus/minus numbers:
According to basketballvalue.com, Varejao has the best adjusted defensive plus/minus in the league at minus-11.5 points per 100 possessions, which in rough terms means the Cavs are below average without him on the court and the best in the league when he's on it. And unlike a lot of the Cavs' plus/minus differences, this one wasn't built on LeBron James' coattails; Varejao spends much of his playing time with the second unit.
It's not really news that LeBron is the favorite for MVP at this point of the season, and it would be a major upset if anyone but him ended up winning the award, but it's nice to see Varejao getting recognized for his contribution to the team. His contract extenstion was questioned by some this offseason, but he's proved this year that he's an integral part of this team and is so much more than a long-haired guy who only flops and annoys opposing players. He's an integral part of the Cavs' defense because of his ability to guard both big and small players and provides a big lift coming off the bench.