We are now past the All-Star break and headed down the stretch. Most teams have about 25 games remaining and it’s worth taking a look at the year end awards. Which player is worthy of MVP and Defensive Player of the Year? Here are the favorites for the NBA individual awards.
Coach of the Year (Pre-season pick: Brad Stevens)
Stevens is still a great pick for the 37-21 Celtics and will likely finish in the top two or three in the COY voting, but I have to go with Mike D’Antoni for the job he’s done with Houston. He has James Harden bought-in to a play making role and Harden and the rest of the Rockets are shooting more threes that any team ever has. At 41-18, the Rockets have already matched last year’s 41 wins and unless they lose their next 23 games, they stand to improve from last year. Don’t be surprised if the Rockets win 55 games this year.
Rookie of the Year (Pre-season pick: Brandon Ingram)
Ingram was not the NBA-ready scorer he was advertised to be, averaging only 8.1 points on 36.2% shooting. The talent is there, but Ingram is a ways away. The Rookie of the Year looks to be a run away race this year and nobody has been nearly as good as Joel Embiid. His numbers are solid at 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, but they become eye-popping when you consider that he’s posting those numbers in just 25.4 minutes per game. He’s played in just 31 games, but no other rookie is close to Embiid’s impact.
6th Man (Pre-season pick: Rodney Hood/Joe Johnson)
The Jazz bench has been good as expected, but Hood and Johnson aren’t in the running for this award. The only pick here is Eric Gordon for the Rockets. He’s averaging 17.3 points and has made 188 three pointers already this season. Gordon will now be competing for this award with his new teammate, recently acquired Lou Williams, who averaged 18.6 points for the struggling Lakers. It is clear, a Rocket will win the 6th Man Award this year.
Most Improved Player (Pre-season pick: Jabari Parker)
Jabari Parker was a great pick here and Parker was pacing to be right in the discussion before he suffered his third ACL tear (some people forget he experienced his first ACL tear while in high school). Parker averaged 20.1 points this year, a 6 point improvement from last season. With Parker out, the Most Improved Player should go to Parker’s teammate, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is averaging 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and just under two steals and two blocks. He leads the Bucks in all five categories. He went from being a “freak” with great potential, to being a dominant force on both sides of the floor and an All-Star Game starter. This will be the first of many awards for this kid.
Defensive Player of the Year (Pre-season pick: Kawhi Leonard)
It’s hard to go against Kawhi Leonard as the DPOY, but it’s not going to happen this year even though the Spurs are the league most efficient defense. This year’s race is between Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert. Green’s Defensive Rating per 100 Possessions is 99 and he’s averaging 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks for the 2nd most efficient defense. Gobert’s Defensive Rating is 98 and he leads the NBA in blocks with 2.5 per game and 0.7 steals. Gobert anchors the league’s 3rd most efficient defense. After being the runner-up the last two seasons, it looks like this is Draymond’s year.
Most Valuable Player (Pre-season pick: Kevin Durant)
Durant is having a phenomenal year, but sharing stats with Curry will rob him of the MVP vote, especially in a year where Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, James Harden has been freakish, Lebron James is mounting his best of any non-MVP season, and Kawhi Leonard is leading the most underrated 44-13 team I remember. Westbrook’s numbers are a freakish 30/10/10, but he’s also shooting 42 percent from the floor and averaging 5.5 turnovers. Harden’s leading the league in assists and scoring almost 29 points per game, but is also inefficient from the floor (43.9 percent) and averaging 5.8 turnovers. This might be the season that Lebron takes home his fifth MVP trophy. He is averaging 25.7 points, a career-high 8.9 assists, 7.8 rebounds on 54 percent shooting. More importantly, the King has shown just how much he does for the Cavs. In his absence this season, the Cavs are 0-4, with an average margin of -13.0. With James, the Cavs are 41-13 with an average margin of +6.5. That’s almost a 20 point swing with him versus without him. The only thing that would stop Lebron is a lack-luster team record compared to the others (41-17) and voter fatigue. Voters love stats, don’t don’t be surprised if Westbrook or Harden score the MVP or split it.