Now that each NBA franchise has played at least 25 games, it’s time for my favorite exercise: based on the season so far, I’ll name the favorites for each of the NBA’s major awards. Included are Most-valuable player, Defensive Player of the year, Rookie of the year, Sixth man of the year, Most improved player, and Coach of the year. I’ll also round out the top-five of each award.
25 games isn’t the worst sample size; it is a little over one-fourth of a season. That being said, it’s important to remember that all of these awards could have very different winners by the end of the season. I’m not aiming to predict the winners of the awards, I’m merely naming the winners if the season ended today. Without further ado…
Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry is on his way to another MVP award. He won the award last season, on his way to a championship, and this season’s Curry has been even better. Curry is cementing himself as the best player in the league, surpassing other MVP’s like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Curry, who I wrote about earlier this season, has continued to post video-game-like numbers on a daily basis.
Look no further than his three-point shooting, because that’s Curry’s best skill and that’s what may make him an all-time great in the end. In 27 games this season, Curry has knocked down 131 three-pointers. For comparison, Larry Bird’s 82 was the most in a season in 1985-86, and that was the most in the league.
Don’t think that Curry is the only player having an MVP-caliber season. Four other players have distinguished themselves as top-tier players: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs).
How do these players compare to Curry? Let’s take a look:
As you can see, Curry has separated himself from the rest of the pack, especially considering position. Curry is a point guard, yet he still hauls in more than five rebounds a game, and shoots the ball better than every point-guard except Tony Parker. In another year, any of the other four here could win the MVP handily. But Curry is making history right now.
My top-5 for MVP in order: Curry, Durant, George, James, Leonard
Defensive Player of the Year:
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
Having been out of the league for more than two seasons, Hassan Whiteside was one of last season’s touching comeback stories. Through the first quarter of games this season, he has proved that his resurgence was not a fluke. Whiteside is one of those rare guys that is supported by both traditional and advanced statistics.
Whiteside leads the NBA in blocks per game by a wide margin, with 4.0. The next closest is Anthony Davis, with 2.7. Maybe most impressive however, is Whiteside’s defensive rating (DRtg), which determines how many points an individual player allows per 100 team possessions. Whiteside carries a DRtg of 91.3, which is second-best in the NBA.
This is a decidedly great year for defense though. Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), and Draymond Green (Warriors) have all made their mark as excellent defenders. Let’s take a look at how they compare:
Each of these players makes a strong case, particularly Leonard, who won the award last season. But in the end, Whiteside’s impact cannot be ignored.
My top-5 for DPOY in order: Whiteside, Leonard, Drummond, Green, Jordan
Rookie of the Year:
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Despite fan disapproval on draft night, Kristaps Porzingis has emerged as a shot-in-the-arm to the New York Knicks, bringing exciting basketball to Madison Square Garden. Listed at 7 feet and 3 inches, and hailing from Latvia, there is nothing normal about Porzingis. He thrives on that unconventional style though.
It starts with outside shooting, something Porzingis does better than most big men. At his height, you simply don’t see many players knocking down better than 31% of his three-pointers. Porzingis’ best attribute might be his offensive rebounding though. Of the 226 rebounds he has pulled in this season, a whopping 61 of them have come at the offensive end of the floor.
This draft class has a lot of potential to be a great one, but only Porzingis and fellow big-men Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Jahlil Okafor (Philadelphia 76ers) have separated themselves as legitimate starters so far. Still, both Justise Winslow (Miami Heat) and D’Angelo Russell (Los Angeles Lakers) have shown enough flashes to be in consideration. Let’s see how they compare:
Both Towns and Okafor have played well enough to win the award, but Porzingis has the edge in this case because of his team’s record. Porzingis’ Knicks are 14-14 and on the brink of the playoffs, while Towns’ Timberwolves (11-16) and Okafor’s 76ers (1-28) are still struggling.
My top-5 for ROTY in order: Porzingis, Towns, Okafor, Winslow, Russell
Sixth Man of the Year:
Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans
This award was more difficult. It was Isaiah Thomas’ award to lose, but the Boston Celtics decided to make him a starter just three games into the season, so he isn’t eligible. To be eligible, a player must come off the bench in more games than he starts.
Though Ryan Anderson’s Pelicans are off to a rough start, he has done his best to help them win. What sets Anderson apart from the average bench power-forward is his shooting. Anderson is one of the league’s premier shooters, knocking down a whopping 38% of his three-point attempts.
Anderson is also efficient for a shooter. He doesn’t take a high volume of shots like other bench-scorers, but he still knocks down 44% of his total field goals. Even more telling is his eFG%, which favors three-point shooting. His mark of 51.1% is much more accurate: Anderson is a lights-out shooter.
Besides Anderson, there are a few others who have had excellent seasons off the bench. Players like Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors), Will Barton (Denver Nuggets), Lou Williams (Los Angeles Lakers), and Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers). Let’s see how they stack up:
As we can see, Anderson is the most complete player of the group, although both Barton and Williams are taking the mantle of “scoring machine off the bench” from older guards like Jamal Crawford and J.R. Smith.
My top-5 for SMOTY: Anderson, Thompson, Barton, Iguodala, Williams
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
When I wrote about Andre Drummond earlier this season, I wondered whether he could sustain his high level of play. Although Drummond’s per-game averages have dipped, he’s still having an amazing season. No center has had a season like Drummond’s since Dwight Howard back in the early 2010’s, and coincidentally they have the same coach (Stan Van Gundy).
Most impressive is Drummond’s rebounding ability. Most players would be happy to average 10 total rebounds per game, but Drummond grabs 10.7 defensive rebounds per game alone. Add in his 5.7 offensive rebounds per game and it’s good for a truly Dennis Rodman-esque season.
Along with Drummond, a few other players have taken a tremendous leap: Ryan Anderson (New Orleans Pelicans), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves), and Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards). Let’s compare:
It’s been a “changing of the guard” year in the NBA, with so many new stars emerging. Drummond, however, has shone the brightest.
My top-5 for MIP in order: Drummond, Leonard, Wiggins, Beal, Anderson
Coach of the Year:
Luke Walton, Golden State Warriors
It would be foolish to give the award to anybody besides the (interim) coach who has helped his Golden State Warriors team reach an unprecedented 26-1 record. The Warriors started the season with 24 straight victories, and going back to the NBA Finals, their streak extended to 27 games in a row.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is still technically getting credit for these wins (and loss), but it’s time to give credit where it’s due. Walton’s Warriors have the highest-scoring offense, at 116 PPG, and boast the best point-differential, outscoring opponents on average by 14.7 PPG.
It really is unfortunate that Walton has his Warriors playing at a historic pace, because there are quite a few other head coaches that have their teams doing better than expected. Most notably: Steve Clifford (Charlotte Hornets), Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics), Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs), and Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks).
Let’s try to compare them, but remember, it’s difficult to quantify how “good” a coach is. For this comparison, we’ll look at: ESPN projected winning percentage, actual team winning percentage, and team point differential:
|Coach||Team||Predicted %||Actual %||DIFF|
The clear front-runners are Walton and Popovich, and Walton gets the edge because of his team’s almost unbelievable start to the season.
My top-5 for COTY in order: Walton, Popovich, Clifford, Stevens, Carlisle
Statistics provided by: ESPN.com and basketball-reference.com
Images from: Triangle Offense, Fox Sports, Cavs Nation, Pro Basketball Talk, and YouTube