We’ve surpassed the halfway point in the NBA season with the All Star game coming up in two weeks. It’s only fitting that when one half ends, we reflect on it. In this case, I’ll be going through each NBA Award, and naming who’d be the winner and the runner up if the season ended right now. Let’s get started.
Winner: James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
We all need to appreciate what James Harden is doing right now because he is in the midst of one of the greatest offensive stretches in NBA history. You’re starting to hear Harden’s name mentioned with Wilt Chamberlain, which is absolutely ridiculous considering Chamberlain averaged over 50 points per game in a single season. Harden is averaging 36.3 points per game on only 24.2 field goal attempts per game. According to Mike Zavagno, NBA writer for Fear The Sword and DIMEUproxx, in the two consecutive 57+ point performances Harden had, none of his made shots were assisted. This stat alone shows why he’s the MVP. James Harden has willed his team to the 5-seed in the Western Conference, playing around guys like Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Daniel House, Nene Hilario, Gary Clark, and James Ennis. He averaged 43.6 points per game in January. As long as James Harden continues to put up numbers even remotely close to this, he’s the clear MVP.
Runner-Up: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Up until James Harden’s historic offensive tear, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the MVP. The Greek Freak has been out of this world this season, averaging 26.5 points per game to go along with 12.6 rebounds per game, and 5.9 assists per game. In addition, his defensive metrics rank among the top in the league, and the Bucks have the best record in the NBA. Any player on the team with the best record in the NBA always has a shot to win MVP, but especially so with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s truly as unique of a talent as we’ve seen in the NBA. Expect him to make a late season push to potentially steal the award from James Harden.
Rookie of the Year:
Winner: Luka Doncic, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic may be the best rookie we’ve seen in the past decade. I’ve written about Doncic every other week in my rookie ranking articles, and he’s been in the number one slot all season. The kid is ridiculous, as his 20.4 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, and 5.4 assists per game, making him a potential all-star this season. Doncic is also shooting 43.3% from the field and 35.2% from downtown. Dallas got a franchise player by trading up to the third pick to get Luka Doncic, and he’s a mortal lock to win Rookie of the Year.
Runner Up: Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix Suns
Although he was the first overall pick, Deandre Ayton has completely flown under the radar this season. Part of that can be attributed to the Suns being among the worst teams in the NBA, and part of that can be attributed to all the media coverage that Luka Doncic is getting. However, Deandre Ayton has been extremely solid in his rookie season. He’s averaging a double-double with 16.4 points per game and 10.6 rebounds per game. His defense will need to improve as he’s only averaging a block per game, but Ayton has definitely been the second best rookie in the NBA.
Winner: Spencer Dinwiddie, PG, Brooklyn Nets
What a pickup Spencer Dinwiddie has been for the Nets. A random midseason free agent pickup last season has now turned into a foundational piece that you now have long term on a team-friendly contract. Dinwiddie has been incredible this season averaging 17.2 points per game on 46.1% from the field and 36.6% from 3. The separating factor for me between Dinwiddie and anyone else is that he’s single handedly won the Nets games this season. Yes, games plural. The performance Dinwiddie had against the Rockets was absolutely insane, as he scored 33 points and 10 assists to go along with a game-tying three-pointer to force OT. Despite a thumb injury, and subesquent surgery that has him on the shelf for an undetermined length of time, with the Brooklyn Nets a 6 seed right now, the Sixth Man of the Year Award has to go to Spencer Dinwiddie.
Runner Up: Lou Williams, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
Another Sixth Man of the Year Award race, another Lou Williams appearance. Lou Williams is arguably the greatest sixth man of all-time, and he’s lived up to his reputation with another season averaging 18.7 points per game, shooting 41.3% from the field and 35.1% from downtown. Williams has been a main piece of the Clippers playoff caliber team this season, and as long as he’s putting up these numbers, he’ll always be in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Winner: Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert has to be one of the most underrated players in the NBA. You never hear anyone talk about him, but he continues to be one of the most valuable players in the NBA solely for his defense, which is off the charts. Gobert’s defensive metrics are off the charts this season. Gobert ranks second in the NBA in defensive win shares with 3.6. He also ranks third in the NBA in defensive rating, in addition to averaging 2.2 blocks per game and 0.9 steals per game. Gobert’s defense has also led to the Utah Jazz allowing the third least opponent points per game in the NBA with 104.9. As long as the Jazz can make the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rudy Gobert repeats as Defensive Player of the Year.
Runner Up: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo gets all the praise for his freak athleticism, and ridiculous play in the paint, but his defense is what’s flown under the radar. Antetokounmpo is averaging 1.4 steals per game, and 1.4 blocks per game. Furthermore, he’s first in the NBA in defensive win shares with 3.7, and first in the NBA in defensive rating. Milwaukee’s team defense is also great, as they allow opponents to score 107.6 points per game, good for seventh best in the NBA. If Giannis doesn’t win the MVP award, I could see him winning Defensive Player of the Year. It’ll be tough to beat Gobert, who has the reputation as a better defender, but all of Giannis’s metrics are phenomenal as well.
Most Improved Player
Winner: Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors
When looking at candidates for the Most Improved Player award, I look at the difference in number from one year to the next rather than how good a player is compared to another. If you look at the statistical differential between Pascal Siakam in 2017-2018, and Pascal Siakam in 2018-2019, he’s taken a massive step forward. Siakam is averaging 15.2 points per game this season, up from 7.3 points per game last season. He’s also averaging 7 rebounds per game, compared to 4.5 last year. Add that in with Siakam’s defensive play, and he’s turned into a top-3 most valuable player for he Raptors. With the Raptors having the second-best record in the NBA, I think it’s Siakam’s award to lose.
Runner-Up: De’Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings
De’Aaron Fox has been absolutely incredible this year, and is a main reason why the Kings are competing for a playoff spot. Fox is averaging 17.4 points per game, shooting 46.2% from the field and 36.2% from 3. Last year, Fox only averaged 11.6 points per game on 41.2% from the field and 30.7% from 3. In addition, Fox has 3.5 win shares this year compared to -0.6 last season. There’s no doubt that Fox has significantly improved, and he definitely has a shot to win Most Improved Player.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
The Coach of the Year in the NBA is usually rewarded to the teams that win the most (obviously Steve Kerr is the exception with the insane team he has). In terms of the Denver Nuggets, the fact that Malone has that team as the second seed in the toughest Western Conference we’ve seen in years is insane. Most people expected the Nuggets to make the playoffs, but most people didn’t expect them to be a top-3 seed. That difference between expectation and reality for the Denver Nuggets is what has Malone as coach of the year.
Runner-Up: Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
Think about the Milwaukee Bucks roster right now. How has it changed? The answer is that it’s barely changed, and the fact that Budenholzer has been able to unlock this team’s full potential is impressive. The Bucks were a 7-seed last season under Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty last season, and are currently a 1-seed in the East, with the best record in the NBA at 36-13. In addition, Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken his game to another level, largely due Budenholzer. I don’t think the race between Malone and Buzenholzer is that far apart. It’ll depend on how the Bucks and Nuggets finish.