If The NBA Gave Out Midseason Awards, The Winners Would Be..
The NBA doesn’t give out its annual awards until June and that’s still a full five months away. But with the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend nearing, we’re already halfway done with the NBA 2017-18 season. That said, if the NBA were to hand out mid-season award, these would be the winners.
Coach Of The Year
Mike D’Antoni won Coach of the Year last year for transforming the Houston Rockets into serious title contenders behind a new offensive philosophy. Under that ideology, D’Antoni tweaked James Harden’s game and successfully turned the Beard into the Rockets starting point guard. The result? Harden not only posted a personal best 29.1 points per game last season, he also recorded a career best 11.2 assists per game. But it wasn’t about Harden. D’Antoni also led the Rockets to 55 wins and a trip to the Western Conference semifinals.
Enter the 2017-18 season. The Rockets added Chris Paul and while many believed that the addition of a second All-Star would make the Rockets a deadlier contender, some felt it would be a challenge to add a second ball-demanding player to the team. Not only would ball-sharing be a problem but Paul, being the king of mid range, isn’t the three point shooting player that would fit perfectly in D’Antoni’s system. But all’s well that ends well as D’Antoni’s second mad experiment has put Houston 2nd in the West at the middle of the season. Houston’s 30-11 record is right next to the Warriors’ in the team standings.
That said, the third best team in the Western Conference right now is the San Antonio Spurs. This despite the fact that Kawhi Leonard has played just 8 games this season and Tony Parker just 17. Not to mention that Jonathan Simmons left in free agency and free agent addition Rudy Gay has missed more than 10 games. At 28-15, coach Gregg Popovich is as usual excellent with making the most of whatever he has on his plate. This time, Pop has turned to defense to keep the Spurs afloat.
The Spurs have the second best defense in the league, next to the Boston Celtics. Sure, the Spurs have been in the Top 3 in Defensive Efficiency since 2013 but without Kawhi Leonard much of the way, they don’t have much defensively this season. Not to disrespect them, but the Spurs’ primary frontline of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol aren’t the best big man combo out there, defensively speaking. And yes, don’t forget that Popovich has resurrected LaMarucs Aldridge after a disappointing 2016-17 season. Didn’t the two have a heart to heart talk in the offseason that changed LA’s fortunes for the better? Good job on Aldridge and good job on the Spurs again, Gregg Popovich.
The other Coach of the Year candidate should be Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics. Not only did Stevens become the difference maker in Boston landing Gordon Hayward ( because of the Butler connection ), he has kept the Celtics as contenders despite Hayward getting hurt in the first game of the season. The Celtics lost most of their 2016-17 faces in an offseason makeover but Stevens has managed to glue together his new pieces and assemble the current best team in the Eastern Conference at 34-10 ( also second best in the NBA ).
Stevens has successfully transformed Kyrie Irving into a deadly franchise player and he has integrated #3 pick Jayson Tatum into his system, making the rookie his 2nd option. Not only has Tatum risen to the occasion, he has blended perfectly with the team. With residents Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier doing their share, Stevens is making it appear like Hayward will be a bonus when he returns next season.
Consideration should be given to Dwane Casey for getting the Toronto Raptors right behind the Celtics in the standings. But the mid-season Coach of the Year should be Brad Stevens. The Celtics lost too many pieces from last season plus they lost Hayward on opening night. To have a very young team and put them on top of the Eastern Conference is no fluke.
Sixth Man of The Year
Unlike Coach of the Year, this category has plenty of names worth of consideration. Let’s start off with the more logical choices. Eric Gordon was the 2017 Sixth Man of the Year and he’s even playing better this year with averages of 19.7 points per game, including 3.2 three pointers per night. But because of the injuries suffered by Chris Paul ( and recently James Harden ), Gordon has had to start in 22 of 39 games which should disqualify him for winning the award again ( at least from our point of view ).
Then there is Rodney Hood of the Utah Jazz who is averaging a career high 16.7 points per game and shooting a career best 2.7 three pointers per outing. This despite playing with virtually the same minutes as last season and starting just 11 of Utah’s 33 games played so far this year.
Aside from Hood, Tyreke Evans over at Memphis should be worthy of this conversation too. Given up for dead after leaving Sacramento in 2013, Evans has reinvented himself in Memphis ( just forget the fact that they are among the worst teams in the league ). Evans’ is scoring just a shade under 20 points per game at 19.8 points per contest and is having his best scoring year since his rookie season in 2010. Evans though has started in 21 of Memphis’ 40 games this season.
Special mention has to be given to the Rockets’ Gerald Green for having a remarkable return to the NBA. The former 18th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics came over to the Rockets on a free agent deal last week due to James Harden’s injury. But instead of getting veteran minutes from Green, Houston has found yet another three point weapon.
Green is currently averaging 3.7 three point makes per game at an accuracy of .446. Not to mention that he is dropping 16.1 points per game in just 27.0 minutes of game action. That’s really great but he’s played just nine games so it may be too early to give him the award. But if he keeps up his pace, then he is one guy to watch out for.
Hands down though, the winner of the Sixth Man of the Year is Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers. No, we’re not saying this just because Sweet Lou recently dropped 50 points on the Golden State Warriors ( he started that game though ). But given the injuries that have struck the Clippers and the departure of Chris Paul, Lou Williams has helped keep them within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Williams has been known as a classic gunner off the bench all throughout his NBA career and he’s been very effective in that role ever since. But this is the first time that Lou is doing it meaningfully. He’s been in the playoffs seven times before but this year, he’s one of the guys who’s keeping the Clippers playoff hopes alive. Williams is averaging a career high 23.1 points per game.
He’s never shot the ball better in his career at .449 from the field and .413 from beyond the three point line. Damn it, he’s never averaged 3.0 three pointers made per game and shot 90% from the foul line before. He’s doing it all this year on offense. No question, Lou Williams gets the award, having started just 10 of 40 games this year. The 50 point night against the Dubs was icing on the cake.
Most Improved Player
The NBA’s unicorns started the season on fire and were in the early conversations for MVP honors. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis are having incredible seasons for the Bucks and the Knicks, respectively. And they have served notice that the future belongs to them.
If things continue this way, this will be Antetokounmpo’s second straight 20 point season and his best year so far. At 28.5 points per game, the Greek Freak is second in the league in scoring, just behind James Harden. Antetokounmpo has also shown a noticeable improvement in his jumper and has upped his free throw shooting to .777 and near the 80% mark which should be key given that he goes to the foul line 9.1 times per game, second best in the NBA and next to Harden again. But if we were to classify Giannis, we’d rather put him in MVP talk rather than MIP conversation. Hid Bucks are currently holding the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference right now at 22-19.
If not for the injury to Tim Hardaway Jr. earlier this season, Kristaps Porzingis’ New York Knicks would’ve been right there with Antetokounmpo’s Bucks, batting for the final two playoff spots in the East. But as it is now, the Knicks are only 19-23 and are a full three games behind the Indiana Pacers for the final playoff ticket in the East. But with Hardaway returning, New York’s fortunes could change for the better.
Without Hardaway, Kristaps Porzingis struggled to keep the Knicks afloat. But that didn’t stop him from having a breakout season. Porzingis is having his first 20 point season in three years. Kristaps’ average of 23.6 points per game is his best ever and 14th best in the entire NBA. What makes Porzingis even more special this season is despite the fact that he is averaging just 6.8 rebounds per game ( pretty low given he is 7-3 ), Porzingis leads the NBA in blocks at 2.28 per game. Porzingis’ emergence on both ends of the floor has been key for the Knicks. If they figure it out again in the second half of the season and make the playoffs somehow, Porzingis should be a shoo-in for this award in June.
Don’t forget too that Aaron Gordon is making a very noticeable improvement in Orlando. The 4th year forward is averaging 18.8 points per game this season, his best so far in the pro ranks. Gordon is also posting career best numbers in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. But what’s striking this year is that Gordon has added a three point shot to his arsenal, making him an even more difficult cover for defenders.
However, when you talk about Most Improved Player of 2018, you have no choice but to select Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers. Traded for Paul George, Oladipo has shined like a diamond in Indiana. The former Indiana Hoosier is posting a dramatic 8.5 points per game increase in scoring this year. At 24.4 points per contest, Oladipo is one of the NBA’s premier scorers and best three point threats. But not only has he found a leading role in Indiana, he’s become a leader for the Pacers.
Indiana is surprising experts with their 22-20 record. Not only did they lose Paul George but Myles Turner hasn’t really developed into what most expected. But Oladipo isn’t just surprising Pacers’ fans. He’s shocking the world with his all-star level performance. He deserves to be an All-Star this year but even if he won’t make it, he will be on the All-Star team in years to come. Most Improved Player? No doubt, 100% it’s Victor Oladipo.
Defensive Player of The Year
Unlike the previous awards we mentioned, this one has no clear cut winner. At least not yet. That’s because the usual suspects, Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert have missed plenty of games due to injury. You can make a case for a former DPOY winner in Draymond Green, who’s healthy and continues to do his thing in Golden State. But with the emergence of Kevin Durant as a force on defense this year, we’d rather go with KD on this, if the winner were to come from Golden State, which has the third best defense in the league right now.
We know how great an offensive weapon the former MVP is. We know he’s not just a good shooter, he’s also an excellent three point shooter and a proven clutch performer. But this season, Durant has taken a different pride in his defense. We saw glimpses of this in last year’s playoffs, especially in the Finals against the Cavs. But Durant’s defense this season has been very exceptional. KD is third in the league in blocks at 2.17 per game, the first time he’s averaged at least two blocks per game. For that alone, KD deserves to be in this conversation.
Joel Embiid has emerged not just as the top NBA player on social media but one of the most dominating defensive presences in the league. On the court, the Sixers are giving up just 102.6 points per 100 possessions but they allow 111.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. That’s a huge difference of 8.4 points per 100 possessions without him. Embiid is 5th in the NBA in blocks and 7th in rebounds.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are having a rough season but the defensive brilliance of one of their Big Three cannot be ignored at this stage of the season. Paul George leads the NBA in steals at 2.23 steals per game and is one of the best one on one defenders in the league.
Let’s not forget Al Horford who is the defensive anchor of the best defense in the NBA. Boston’s excellent season has been highlighted by its defense and Horford is the man in the middle of it. Individually, Horford is 4th in the league in defensive win shares, 6th in the NBA in defensive rating and 6th in defensive box plus/minus.
But Andre Drummond is the current league leader in rebounds per game, rebounds percentage, defensive rating, defensive win shares and defensive box plus/minus. That should make him the top choice for Defensive Player of the Year awardee, although that sound unpopular. Detroit as the 8th best defensive team in the league and the 6th seed in the East clinches him the award in the first half of the season.
Rookie of The Year
Before the season began, everyone talked about the Rookie of the Year award a three way race between Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. At the midway point in the season, if the contest were between the three, it would be a no-contest.
Fultz has spent majority of the season with an injury while Ball has spent most of his first 40 games trying to find his shooting touch, not to mention consistency. On the other hand, Simmons is leading all rookies in rebounds, assists, double doubles and triple doubles while placing second in scoring.
The rookie who leads the league in scoring is Donovan Mitchell who at 18.8 points per game, is without doubt the steal of the 2017 NBA Draft. Likewise, Mitchell is Simmons’ top rival for top rookie honors along with another ‘steal’, the 27th pick of the draft Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kuzma has been a surprise for the Lakers, leading the young team in scoring at 16.7 points per game. But Kuz has been on and off, especially with him moving in and out of the starting line-up. Despite his inconsistencies, Kuzma’s maturity and his natural ability to put points into the basket has made him one of the top rookies this year.
Jayson Tatum isn’t putting up Ben Simmons numbers. Nor is he getting the same amount of shot opportunities as Simmons, Mitchell and Kuzma. But the kid is strutting his stuff for a major contender in the Celtics so his achievements aren’t as easy either. Tatum has proven to be a clutch player and is excellent on defense. He’s a dark horse to win the award come June but although we like him, we can’t deny our winner.
Without putting too much talk, Ben Simmons should be the unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year. He’s simply too good and even better than expected. He may have missed last season with an injury but he is surely worth the wait for the Sixers.
Most Valuable Player
There are a handful of player who are worthy of MVP honors this year. Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook may not have a triple double season this year but Brodie is putting up enough numbers worthy to repeat with the league’s top individual honors. Westbrook continues to be a force despite the presence of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George in OKC.
Westbrook’s former teammate Kevin Durant is also putting up MVP caliber numbers for the Golden State Warriors. When Steph Curry was sidelined for a handful of games earlier in the season, it was Durant who took charge and kept the Warriors on top of the league yet again. This year, Durant has brought a much improved defensive game, making him one of the contenders to win MVP. But like Westbrook, he’s won the award before so this was expected of him. It would take something special from both to repeat as MVP this year.
You also have to acknowledge the excellent seasons being put up by Kyrie Irving in Boston, DeMarcus Cousins for New Orleans, DeMar DeRozan for Toronto and LaMarcus Aldridge for San Antonio. These players are having a better year this year than the previous one and are a big help to their respective team’s playoff run. Of course, we go back to the two unicorns, Kristaps Porzingis and Giannis Antetokounmpo who have raised the level of their games this year. Special mention to the Greek Freak because his brilliance has been consistent all throughout the season so far.
But the MVP race has been narrowed down to a couple of James: James Harden and LeBron James. First let’s talk about King James. Despite the Cavs’ troubles, LeBron is having one of his best individual seasons ever. This despite the fact that this is James’ 15th NBA season already. James is second in the league in win shares at 7.8, just a shade behind the leader who is, well none other than James Harden.
It’s hard to say that he’s having an MVP season this year because he’s had MVP seasons since his rookie year. On the other hand, James Harden’s transformation into an MVP material began with his move to the Houston Rockets. Harden’s been in the MVP mix since arriving in Space City and he finished 2nd in the balloting last year. This year, Harden’s bucked Chris Paul’s injury to lead Houston to the 2nd best record in the West. At one time, the Rockets had the best record in the league.
That said, Harden is out with a hamstring injury and durability could play a part in determining this award if it’s that close. The Beard isn’t expected to miss too many games but with LeBron healthy ( for now ), that could be a factor at season’s end. But as for the first half MVP is concerned, it’s got to be James Harden. No one beats his unique and incredible combination of usage and efficiency.