Halfway through the NBA season, who deserves to take home some hardware thus far?
As the NBA is nearing the halfway point of the season, conversations over the various awards throughout the association begin to take place. For most awards there are multiple deserving candidates, but at this point in the season, these are my picks for Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and Most Improved Player.
Most Valuable Player
My pick: James Harden
My vote goes to Houston’s James Harden thus far. Harden is averaging 28.4 PPG, 11.9 APG, and 8.2 RPG for a Houston Rockets team that has surprised many with its fast start. Harden is leading the league in APG while effortlessly leading a potent offensive attack under head coach Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets are averaging 114.6 PPG and have a +7.9 scoring differential, both second in the league only to the Golden State Warriors’ historic offense. While the statistics are all there, the real reason Harden gets the nod is because of the Rockets’ record of 27-9, good for third in the Western Conference.
Honorable Mention: Russell Westbrook
Halfway through the regular season, the MVP looks like a two man race between Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden. While Harden is my MVP pick, Westbrook is averaging a triple double to this point (30.9 PPG, 10.5 APG, 10.5 RPG), something that hasn’t been done in a full season since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. After losing Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City was bound to take a big step back, but thanks to Westbrook’s super human play the Thunder sit at 21-16 and 7th in the Western Conference.
Defensive Player of the Year
My pick: Draymond Green
After coming off back-to-back runner up finishes for this award, Golden State’s Draymond Green has made it his personal mission to not let it pass him by a third time. While Green’s scoring has taken a dip with the arrival of Kevin Durant, he is still able to totally impact a game on the defensive end of the floor. Green is averaging 1.2 blocks and a career best 2.1 steals per contest. Green is the anchor for a Warriors defense who is first in the league in opponent FG% (43%) and 3P% (32.6%). Aside from the statistics, however, Green impacts the Warriors’ success with his ability to be an on ball defender as well as a help defender and has sealed a number of victories with steals, deflections, or blocks in crunch time. In this sequence against Atlanta, Green seals the victory with two blocks in crunch time:
Honorable Mention: Rudy Gobert
Utah’s Rudy Gobert is the prototypical rim protector at 7’ 1” with a 7’ 8.5” wingspan, one of the longest ever recorded. Gobert is averaging 2.6 blocks per game and has been the catalyst for a top ranked Jazz defense allowing just 95.3 PPG and their opponents to shoot just 43.1% from the field. There is no better security blanket on the back end than “The Stifle Tower.”
Sixth Man of the Year
My pick: Lou Williams
No stranger to the award, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lou Williams is my Sixth Man of the Year. At 18.2 PPG, Williams leads the team in scoring while coming off the bench. New head coach Luke Walton has allowed his young guys to start and learn from their mistakes while tasking Williams with leading the bench unit and he has thrived. With timely threes and 1.3 steals per game, Williams is a thorn in the opponents side time and time again. With D’Angelo Russell out in early December, Williams stepped up with four huge games in which he scored 40, 38, 24, and 35 points, the first two of which kept the Lakers competitive with some of the best defenses in the league (Memphis and Utah). Quite simply, when called upon, Lou Williams delivers.
Honorable Mention: Eric Gordon
Aside from James Harden, Eric Gordon is another perfect fit in Houston’s offense. Averaging 17.8 PPG off the bench and leading the league in three pointers made, Gordon is fitting in seamlessly on a team where they are encouraged to pull from deep. Gordon scoring output off the bench has helped fuel the Rockets when James Harden sits and they have greatly benefitted from his efficient play. His shooting efficiently is at a career high of 57.1%.
Most Improved Player
My pick: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The most improved player thus far this season is Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. “The Greek Freak” has raised his averages in every major statistical category. Now averaging 23.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.0 BPG, and 1.9 SPG (up from 16.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.4 BPG, and 1.2 SPG), Giannis is as well rounded as they come. He is the only player in the NBA to lead his team in all five of these statistical categories and has a wingspan as long as his name. Antetokounmpo is an irritant on the defensive end and gets to the basket with ease, as his strides cover much more distance than most. Milwaukee has found themselves a household name, if only people could pronounce it correctly. In the video below, Antetokounmpo showcases his long strides on a breakaway dunk (1:05) and on a step back jumper (1:48) to create space for the game winner:
Honorable Mention: Myles Turner
Coming off a respectable rookie season in which he was voted onto the All-Rookie Second Team, Turner spent time with the USA Select Team this summer in Las Vegas. After playing well against Team USA players and receiving coaching from Gregg Popovich and Mike Krzyzewski, Turner has played well in his sophomore season. His averages are up in every statistical category and he is already less than 100 points away from his total for all of last season. After taking 14 threes last season and making just 3 of them (21.4%), he is now 22-54 from deep this season (40.7%). Combining his newfound ability to stretch the floor with his increased rim protection (1.4 to 2.4 blocks per game), Turner has improved on both sides of the ball.
I can’t wait to see if the second half of the season brings new deserving recipients!
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