NBA Midseason Awards, But Better

Each of the teams, players, and storylines is taking shape, and the race for each of these awards is becoming more and more competitive. Here’s where things stand with the performances we have witnessed so far.

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With the halfway point of the season officially behind us, it has become easier to distinguish which teams are pulling ahead and which players are just not having an impressive season. Before we know it, the trade deadline will be past us, as will the all-star break. Teams will go into full gear to push for the playoffs. Each of the teams, players, and storylines is taking shape, and the race for each of these awards is becoming more and more competitive. Here’s where things stand based on the performances we have witnessed so far.

Most Valuable Player: James Harden

Back in November, the Houston Rockets started the season with an 11-14 record and had turned from expected title contenders to one of the worse teams. Two months later, the Rockets got past the Carmelo Anthony debacle and played impressive basketball without Chris Paul to get to a 29-21 record, good for fifth in a tight Western Conference. This is all thanks to one man: James Harden. Harden is playing some of the best offensive basketball the league has seen in years. He has saved the Rockets’ season by averaging 40.2 points, 9.6 assists, and 6.9 rebounds, with a 63.3 percent true shooting percentage and a jaw-dropping 41 percent usage rate. At the time of writing this article, Harden has had 30 or more points in 25 straight games. He has been single-handedly winning games for the Rockets, while Paul and Eric Gordon have missed a combined 26 games with an efficiency that can be compared to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan in their primes. It is true that as his injured teammates return, his usage rate and statistics will go down. But when thinking about which player has been most valuable to his team so far, there is no question about it. It’s Chef Harden.

Runner up: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Defensive Player of the Year: Paul George

Paul George is having his best offensive year so far, making his stellar defensive play far more remarkable. He has been the go-to option on offense for the Oklahoma City Thunder, as his partner in crime, Russell Westbrook, endures a woeful shooting season. But after running the attack, he has been able to get back on defense and lock down the best player on the opposing team. He leads the NBA in steals, and he is third in defensive win shares, behind Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, neither the Steiffel Tower nor the Greek Freak has the assignment of guarding the other team’s perimeter player every night like George has. His Thunder has had the best defensive rating for the entire start of the season, and much of it is due to George’s effort.

Runner up: Rudy Gobert

Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic

This is the one award that there can be little debate about. Luka Doncic is a 19-year-old who is averaging both 20 points and five assists. He has already logged two triple-doubles. He is playing with a maturity that stars like Draymond Green and LeBron James have praised. This can be attributed to his playing time for Real Madrid in the European basketball scene before his NBA debut. Though fellow rookie DeAndre Ayton is scoring more efficiently and averaging a double-double, his team has the second worst record in the league (second to only the Knicks, of course). Doncic, on the other hand, has managed to carry his Dallas Mavericks to a 22-27 record. Last year, the Mavs only had 24 wins, so 22 wins halfway through the season represent a marked improvement. Along with his amazing stats, he has shown us some of his flashiest moves. This may have helped with his popularity in the all-star voting, as he placed fifth in a competitive Western Conference. So, barring injury, Doncic is going to run away with this one.

Runner up: DeAndre Ayton

Sixth Man of the Year: Domantas Sabonis

The list of candidates for this award is very long this season. Last year’s winner, Lou Williams, former MVP Derrick Rose, and breakout Brooklyn Nets star Spencer Dinwiddie all have very good chances of winning the the title of “Best Bench Player.” However, Domantas Sabonis has had the most impact with his production, as his Indiana Pacers have become one of the top teams in the east. Sabonis is almost averaging a double-double with 15 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game in only 25 minutes a night. He is shooting 61 percent from the field, almost 20 percent higher than his rookie season. He leads all Pacers with a +7.3 net rating. His per-36 minute numbers—22 points and 14 rebounds—indicate that if given more playing time, he could become a seriously feared player in this league. Still, with his role as the lead bench player for the Pacers, he has produced points for them night in and night out, and his consistency is the biggest reason why he should win Sixth Man of the Year.

Runner up: Derrick Rose

Most Improved Player: Pascal Siakam

Becoming an important player for one of the best teams in the east, the Toronto Raptors, Pascal Siakam has become the most obvious choice for MIP. He jumped from a score of 1.53 in ESPN’s real plus/minus last season (#73 in league) to 3.54 (#20). Averaging 15 points (eight more than last season) and seven rebounds, he has been a great asset for the Raptors when he is on the floor playing alongside stars Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard. However, even when they are off the floor, Siakam holds his own and is able to run the Raptors’ offense, averaging 19 points per 36 minutes in situations like this. He is creating more shots for himself than ever and has been able to maintain his defensive versatility, turning him from a role player into a fierce opponent.

Runner-up: De'Aaron Fox

Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer

“Coach of the Year” has been one of the most competitive titles in the past, and this year is no different. The evergreen Gregg Popovich has kept the San Antonio Spurs relevant, Mike Malone has his Denver Nuggets competing for first seed in the west, and Kenny Atkinson is leading the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs. However, Coach Mike Budenholzer has turned the Milwaukee Bucks into a completely different team with many of the same players from last year. Their only notable offseason pickup was Brook Lopez, and though he has provided some valuable scoring, the way that Budenholzer has recreated the Bucks offense and managed their depth has turned Milwaukee from a sixth to eighth seed team into one of the top two teams in the east. This season, nearly 80 percent of their shots are coming from the rim and beyond the arc, a significant improvement from the 65 percent last season. And though Giannis continues his amazing season, Buldenholzer’s wise use of his role players, like Sterling Brown and D.J. Wilson, has helped the Bucks remain as the only team in the top five regarding both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Runner-up: Mike Malone

Most Underrated Player: Tobias Harris

The Western Conference has never been more competitive. Even against the teams with 2 or more superstars, the less stacked teams have put up a fight for a spot in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers are one of these overlooked teams, clinging onto the eighth spot. It’s a team with no true superstars, a history of bad teammate relationships, and a controversial coach, Doc Rivers. However, they surprisingly stand five games above a .500 win percentage. How? Well, much of their success can be attributed to Tobias Harris’s impressive play. Averaging 21 points and almost eight rebounds per game, he is a monster on offense who can take care of the ball, attack the closeout, and finish with both hands. Not to mention his off-the-chart shooting, as he toys with a 50-40-90 this season. Take the fact that they outscore opponents by more than eight points per 100 possessions when Harris plays or that his big frame and long hands allow him to be a force on the defense as well. Harris is underrated in the most basic sense of the term because he is too good for what he is given credit for.

Runner up: Jrue Holiday

Bust of the Year: The New Orleans Pelicans

Nothing is going right for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. The Pelicans should be good. They have one of the league’s superstars, Anthony Davis, who is an amazing point guard, Jrue Holiday, and good role players like Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic, all of whom are averaging at least 15 points per game. However, they have fallen far below expectations. They ended last regular season 14 games above .500, finishing sixth in their conference. This season has told a different story, as they have started off 23-30, 13th in their conference. While the Pelicans have been able to beat decent teams at home, they have struggled to beat even the worst teams in the league on the road. And now with Davis demanding a trade and the Pelicans GM not answering his phone, things aren’t looking so bright.

Runner up: The Memphis Grizzlies

Surprise of the Year: The Denver Nuggets

What’s there to say? The Denver Nuggets didn’t even make the playoffs last season, yet they have managed to hold the first seed over the Golden State Warriors for most of the year. They have only one all-star in Nikola Jokic, while the Warriors have four. Most of their team is younger than 24 years old, and they haven’t had a lottery draft pick in years. So it is understandable that nobody predicted their incredible performance this year. It truly is a team effort, with Nikola Jokic leading them. Jokic is having his best shooting season, while being able to maintain his superb passing skills. Meanwhile, their coach, Mike Malone, has continued to develop his young players, such as Jamal Murray. It doesn’t matter what seed the Nuggets end at. The fact that they have been able to blossom in their fierce division for this first half alone has made them the surprise of the year.

Runner up: The Indiana Pacers

So will James Harden win his second consecutive MVP? Will Paul George be able to keep the Thunder a force to be reckoned with? Are the Denver Nuggets going to be able to stay atop of the west for the rest of the season? There are still miles to go before anything is decided. A lot can change in the 30 games left—both in the standings and these award races—so there is nothing to do but wait and see.