A center-centric MVP race and other NBA midseason awards
The NBA all-star break happened at roughly the midway point of the 72-game season, so let's take a look at the leaders for the major awards with the season halfway done:
Look, the season LeBron James is putting up at age 36 is amazing. His numbers have slipped a tiny bit from the previous five years or so, but at 25.8 points, 8 rebounds and 7.8 assists, he's still above his career averages in the last two categories.
But for MVP, this looks like a center-centric race between Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Denver's Nikola Jokic. Now that Embiid is shooting 42 percent from 3-point range, there may be literally no human in world history who could stop his extraordinary combination of size and speed. Jokic ranks 10th in the league in scoring, 12th in rebounds and seventh in assists. Team success might be the determining factor and right now, that's Embiid.
Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo is right there stat-wise with Embiid and Jokic, but since the Bucks are not running away with the best record, it feels like a third-straight MVP isn't in the cards. James Harden and Damian Lillard are the two best guard candidates right now.
1. Joel Embiid, Sixers; 2. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets; 3. LeBron James, Lakers; 4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks; 5. Damian Lillard, Blazers.
Coach of the year
If the standings remain the same, Utah's Quin Snyder has this one locked up. Tom Thibodeau is a candidate as long as he keeps working miracles with the Knicks. Monty Williams has turned the Suns into winners, with a big assist from Chris Paul. And Doc Rivers deserves credit for pushing the Sixers to another level.
1. Quin Snyder, Jazz; 2. Tom Thibodeau, Knicks; 3. Doc Rivers, Sixers.
Rookie of the year
This race is basically over. Charlotte's LaMelo Ball leads all rookies in points, rebounds and assists. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards is getting better, but he'll never make up this spread. Bulls forward Patrick Williams has a chance to make the all-rookie team with a good second half. Sacramento's Tyrese Haliburton looks like a lock to make that list, but after that it's up for grabs, with lower draft picks like New York's Immanuel Quickly and Orlando's Cole Anthony in contention.
1. LaMelo Ball, Hornets; 2. Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves; 3. Tyrese Haliburton, Kings.
Sixth man award
Utah's Jordan Clarkson is definitely the man to beat. He's averaging 17.9 points and the way he's settled down into a consistent contributor has been a big part of the Jazz fast start. For his all-around contributions, Bulls forward Thad Young should get some votes. Orlando's Terrence Ross is mostly just a scorer. Rookies Ball and Haliburton could make a case for getting some votes, though Ball will likely stay in the starting lineup for the second half.
1. Jordan Clarkson, Jazz; 2. Thad Young, Bulls; 3. Chris Boucher, Raptors.
If you went with the best defensive rating on the league's best team, the winner would be Utah guard Mike Conley. Would he actually win this award over teammate Rudy Gobert, already a two-time DPOY winner? Unlikely, but the numbers speak for themselves.
1. Mike Conley, Jazz; 2. LeBron James, Lakers; 3. Rudy Gobert, Jazz.
As far as making nice improvements across the board, including team success, I'd say it's tough to top Knicks forward Julius Randle. The same could be said about Bulls guard Zach LaVine as well, though his statistical improvement hasn't been quite as big. But Randle and LaVine were good players last season.
If you're looking at guys who made huge jumps, start with Detroit's Jerami Grant, who went from a role player in Denver to averaging 23.4 points for the Pistons. Former Pistons center Christian Wood is another one, now averaging 22 points and 10.2 rebounds in Houston. Wood has played in just 17 games due to injuries, which hurts his cause based on playing time. But the Rockets have absolutely stunk without him, so maybe that also helps his campaign.
1. Julius Randle, Knicks; 2. Jerami Grant, Pistons; 3. Christian Wood, Rockets
All-NBA first team: Damian Lillard, Blazers; James Harden, Nets; LeBron James, Lakers; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks; Joel Embiid, Sixers.
All-NBA second team: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz; Luka Doncic, Mavs; Kawhi Leonard, Clippers; Kevin Durant, Nets; Nikola Jokic, Nuggets.
All-NBA third team: Steph Curry, Warriors; Bradley Beal, Wizards; Jimmy Butler, Heat; Julius Randle, Knicks; Nikola Vucevic, Magic.