NBA beyond-midseason awards: Looks like another Milwaukee MVP
These used to be called the midseason awards. But the NBA All-Star Game happens well past the midpoint of the season, and things won't change much from now until April.
So let's go ahead and pass out the NBA awards and call it a done deal, in honor of All-Star Weekend in Chicago.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
James Harden got off to a fast start, Damian Lillard tossed in an all-time hot streak. But Antetokounmpo has the best stats and the best team, so this looks like a no-brainer repeat for Greek Freak. He's currently at 30 points, 13.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists. His 3-point shot is getting better and the only downside is a career-low 61.4 percent from the foul line.
For second place, LeBron James makes sense, since he's leading the league with 10.8 assists. Let's go with Harden third, Luka Doncic fourth and Kawhi Leonard fifth. Lillard, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic are sold contenders for the runner-up spots.
Rookie of the year: Ja Morant, Grizzlies
Zion Williamson (22.1 points) has been really good, but it's hard to recover from 44 games missed due to a knee injury. So then, Morant becomes the easy winner. He's averaging 17.6 points, 7.1 assists and, as a bonus, has Memphis in surprising playoff contention.
If Williamson avoids another major injury, he should finish second. Third place goes to undrafted Chicago native Kendrick Nunn, who is averaging 15.3 points for Miami.
Coach of the year: Nick Nurse, Raptors
This is another easy one. Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard in free agency, has endured injuries to several key players, and is still one-game better than last year's pace after 55 games.
Second place goes to the Lakers' Frank Vogel for making things work when few people thought he could. Miami's Eric Spoelstra is third.
Sixth man award: Dennis Schroder, Thunder
This looks like a three-player race between Schroder and two Clippers. Lou Williams, last year's winner, hasn't been as good since the Clippers upgraded the roster. Clippers center Motrezl Harrell (18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds) might be a stronger candidate.
Derrick Rose (17.9 points) is close to joining the top echelon, but has missed 22 games. Let's go with Harrell second and Williams third.
Defensive player of year: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
This is always a tough one to measure, unless you sit down and watch extensive film of everyone. Portland center Hassan Whiteside leads the league in blocks and Philadelphia's Ben Simmons in steals, but that doesn't always translate into good overall defenders.
The thing is, Milwaukee easily leads the league in defensive rating and Antetokounmpo is the best defensive player on the Bucks. OK, technically Donte DiVincenzo has a slightly better defensive rating than Giannis, but I don't think voters are ready to go there.
If people don't want to give Antetokounmpo two major awards, they should probably go with Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe. The guys from other teams that can make the best case are Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Boston's Jayson Tatum. Lets go with Giannis first, Embiid second and DiVincenzo third, just in case he is for real.
Most Improved Player: Jaylen Brown, Celtics
This is always the most wide-open award, and I firmly believe in not giving it to second-year players, who are supposed to get better. Brown's playing time has increased this season, which helped his scoring average rise from 13.0 points to 20.2 for a good Celtics team.
There are some good second-year candidates, like Oklahoma City's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10.8 points to 19.5) and Charlotte's Devonte Graham (4.7 to 18.1). Among veterans, ninth-year guard Marcus Morris soared beyond his previous career-high with the Knicks, averaging 19.6 points before being traded to the Clippers. Indiana's Domantas Sabonis made a big jump after moving into the starting lineup and a case could be made for Zach LaVine.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden
- Associated Press
James Harden, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic.
Luka Doncic, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Anthony Davis
Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid.