2016-2017 Midseason NBA Awards
Most Valuable Player
Preseason Favorite: Russell Westbrook
Current Favorite: Russell Westbrook
I will admit, I was not sold on Westbrook being the absolute favorite when the season started. I cited the loss of Durant and Ibaka, a decrease in field goal percentage, and a lot of weight on his shoulders to keep his team in most games. Night in and night out Westbrook continues to prove me wrong. He is having a season for the record books with an incredible 26 triple doubles so far and averaging a triple double on the season. At the midway point, Westbrook has totals of 30.9 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 10.1 APG. He would only be the second player in NBA history along with Oscar Robertson to average a triple double for a season. As I predicted, his overall field goal percentage has dropped from previous years as he is taking about six more field goal attempts per game. Westbrook has increased his three point percentage and free throw percentage to near career high levels to compensate and keep him in contention for the scoring title. If Westbrook is able to keep up this torrid pace, there is nothing anyone else can do to take away his well deserved MVP award.
Preseason Dark Horse: Anthony Davis
Current Dark Horse: Kawhi Leonard
Anthony Davis is having an incredible season. He has been able to stay healthy relative to the rest of his career and is putting up some very impressive numbers. He is averaging a career best 27.9 points per game, 12.1 rebounds per game, and 2.5 blocks per game. However, his team has been largely non-competitive this season. Even though Davis is having arguably the best season for a big man in the league this year, his team’s win total will ultimately crush any chances at bringing home some hardware.
Kawhi Leonard on the other hand has been quietly one of the best players in the league. Arguably the best 2-way player in the game, Leonard is shooting 49% from the floor, 90% from the free throw line, and 40% from 3-point range. He is able to play so efficiently on the offensive side of the ball while playing lockdown defense on the best guard or perimeter player on the opposing team every single night. If you take Most Valuable Player for its literal meaning, I would contend that Kawhi Leonard is as deserving as any other player this year.
The Guy I Missed: James Harden
James Harden has emerged in recent years as one of the best guards in the game. With the switch to point guard this year, he is leading the league in assists at 11.3 per game, which is something I would have never predicted from The Beard. He has expanded his offensive game while staying true to his impressive scoring at the rim and 3-point shooting abilities. Harden has also elevated his team from a .500 record last year to a 40-17 record thus far, better than the defending champion Cavaliers and only 4 wins shy of the superteam from Golden State. The one knock on his contention for MVP will be his defense. If you don’t believe me, check out these clips https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eKEhKfsIjo
Rookie of the Year
Preseason Favorite: Buddy Hield
Midseason Favorite: Joel Embiid
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, Buddy Hield is looking more like young JJ Reddick instead of young Ray Allen. Shooting under 40% is far from getting it done and his team is struggling as a result. If Hield was able to play at the same level as his counterparts Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans would be a much better team and the pressure would be taken off Anthony Davis’s shoulders. Hield still is probably a top five Rookie of the Year candidate given a pretty weak display from this year’s rookie class.
Embiid was drafted injured and had several setbacks delaying the start of his career. It was announced early on he was to be put on a minutes limit and would not play back to back games. He fell into my Ben Simmons category to start the season, I wasn’t going to list him as a favorite or dark horse if he possibly wouldn’t even be eligible for the award with the amount of games played. He has made the most of his minutes limit playing about 25 minutes per game, averaging over 20 points per game, 8 boards a night, and 2.5 blocks. With some recent injury struggles to start February, he will need to be healthy for the remainder of the season to remain on the top spot for Rookie of the Year.
Preseason Dark Horse: Jamal Murray
Midseason Dark Horse: Malcolm Brogdon
To be in contention for Rookie of the Year, a player is going to need to play significant minutes. Getting playing time comes at a premium for most young players, so the more minutes played the better their chances of getting into a rhythm for the season. So far, Jamal Murray just has not seen the playing time to make an impact on the court. It is always going to be hard to produce when a player averages under 20 minutes per game, but Murray has underperformed in his limited time shooting under 40% from the field and not showing much of an expanded overall game.
Conversely, Malcolm Brogdon from the Milwaukee Bucks should see even more playing time going forward with the devastating injury to Jabari Parker. Filling in as a starter should boost his points per game to around 15 if he keeps shooting at a 44% clip from the field and 41% from deep. Alongside superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brogdon should be able to flourish as a combo guard in the Bucks’ backcourt.
The Guy I Missed: Dario Saric
The highly touted foreign prospect finally made his league debut this year after being signed by the Sixers this past off season. Formerly an Orlando Magic lottery pick in 2014, Saric was widely considered to be one of two ends of the spectrum. He could be the next foreign superstar joining the likes of Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki, or he could be added to the long list of draft busts from overseas. The Sixers took a chance on him and added the Saric Project to their already stacked young frontcourt. Coming off of the bench for most of the season, Saric is averaging over 10 points per game but will need to improve on his shooting percentages and defense if he wants to be a starting forward. Trade rumors involving Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor have emerged recently and surprisingly Saric’s name has not come up. The Sixers are heavily invested in Joel Embiid with his outstanding play so far, but his recent injury may pave the way into Saric getting much more playing time and fill into a starting role.
Defensive Player of the Year
Preseason Favorite: Rudy Gobert
Midseason Favorite: Rudy Gobert
The Stifle Tower remains at the top of my DPOY rankings at the midseason point. Gobert is averaging an incredible 8.8 defensive rebounds per game, 2.5 blocks, and only 3 fouls per game indicating he has been a pretty efficient rim-stopper. Gobert is almost ready to eclipse the 61 games he played in last year as we pass the All-Star break, a true testament to his health this season. The deciding factor in DPOY voting may be the advanced stat Defensive Win Shares which is a measure of how many wins a player contributes to his team with his defense. Right now, Gobert is leading the league in Defensive Win Shares with 4.4. To put this stat in perspective, Kawhi Leonard won DPOY the last 2 seasons with a Defensive Win Shares total of 4.4 and 5.5 respectively.
Preseason Dark Horse: Hassan Whiteside
Midseason Dark Horse: Giannis Antetokuonmpo
It has been a peculiar season so far for the Miami Heat. Starting the season with a 11-30 record, they looked to be relegated to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Going back to the pre-LeBron days must have not seemed tolerable for the team and they decided to win 13 straight games including a win over the Warriors. At the center of it all has been Hassan Whiteside. A force down low and the rock of the Heat defense, Whiteside has averaged 11.5 defensive rebounds per game and 2.1 blocks since the streak began. Whiteside’s scoring and rebounding have improved this year, but his block totals are down and his fouls and turnovers are up from last year. He will need a stellar second half to compete for DPOY.
Known as the “Greek Freak” for his rare athleticism, size, and nearly un-spellable last name, Giannis has stuffed the stat sheet yet again this season. He already has a tremendous offensive game improved scoring ability and a knack for passing the ball like a point guard, but couple that with his defense and it is easy to see why he is considered a superstar. Giannis is averaging 1.8 steals and 2 blocks per game this season with a very respectable 2.9 defensive win shares. 2 steals and 2 blocks per game would put Antetokounmpo in elite company since it has only been done by 3 players in 5 seasons in NBA history.
The Guy I Missed: Draymond Green
Draymond has had to take a back seat to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and now newcomer Kevin Durant on the offensive side of the ball. This has taken a noticeable bite out of his offensive stats, but he has not let up on his defensive intensity. Green has similar numbers to Giannis averaging 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Green currently is best in the league in deflections per game at 4.3, which is a true indicator at how active he is on defense. At 3.8 defensive win shares, Green is not far behind some of his counterparts and will make it a race for defensive player of the year down the stretch.
Coach of the Year
Preseason Favorite: Steve Kerr
Midseason Favorite: Steve Kerr
The Warriors are not going to reach 73 wins this year. Even with the addition of superstar Kevin Durant, they will most likely not reach 70 wins. However, they still have the best record in the league and are a favorite to win the NBA Championship. The argument against Steve Kerr is that anyone could coach the likes of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson. But the fact is there are only a few coaches that could even come close to success Kerr has had with this team. He knows basketball, and more importantly, he knows championship basketball. The Warriors have led the league so far in field goal percentage, blocks, steals, and the largest margin of victory. Kerr has rested his starters at crucial times this season where they could afford to take a loss. This team is focused on one goal and losing in the Finals last year still resonates in all of Oakland. Kerr has effectively integrated Kevin Durant into the offense while keeping Curry, Thompson, and Green playing at high levels. The Warriors are an extremely efficient team and not much is lost when they go to their bench. Kerr deserves Coach of the Year for simply bringing out the best in his team en route to another championship season.
Preseason Dark Horse: Tom Thibodeau
Midseason Dark Horse: Greg Popovich
Unfortunately, the Timberwolves are not ready to compete. Their promising young core of players such as Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Kris Dunn just have not had enough experience at the pro level to be a force yet in the league. The season ending injury to Zach Lavine and trade rumors of Ricky Rubio definitely have not helped the team this year. Going forward, I believe they will be a perennial playoff team in the tough Western Conference when their young players mature into a cohesive unit.
Greg Popovich continues to be one of the best coaches in the NBA every year. No matter what players he has on his roster, he has been able to find success by having his squad play efficient, defensive minded basketball. Veteran Spurs legends Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili continue to play at a high level despite their age which has really helped star young players Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge elevate their game. The team has suffered some injuries this year, most notably Pau Gasol going down with a knee injury but Pop continues to put the right lineups out on the floor that give the team the best chance to win.
The Guy I Missed: Brad Stevens
The Celtics have quietly amassed a full roster of talent over the last several years. Starting with the trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for a collection of draft picks, the Celtics have been drafting and acquiring a lot of talented youth as part of their rebuilding process. The one thing lacking from the Celtics making noise in the playoffs was the presence of a superstar. With the signing of Al Horford and the superstar play of Isaiah Thomas this season, the Celtics now have 2 star players surrounded by many other talented role players. Brad Stevens has been under-appreciated for bringing a team of role players to compete amongst the best in the East. It is not easy to have players check their egos at the door and buy into playing for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the back. Brad Stevens has done just that and created a winning attitude once again in Boston.
Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to Keith Allison for the shot of Westbrook.
Statistics from BasketballReference.com.