I am not going to begin this piece with a cliche “It is already midseason, wow time has flown by so fast, blah blah blah…” But I can’t believe it’s already midseason (sorry). I am not trying to waste too much of your time here so I am going to get right into the awards. Here are my preseason predictions, in which my guesses were so-so as to where my opinions stand today.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden
Hey, I got one right! A few weeks ago, this pick looked like another on the long list of busts but, alas, an ember has risen from the pile of ashes. The Rockets only needed one spark to move from out of the playoffs to back in contention, winning 13 out of their last 17. All it took was their superstar guard, Austin Riv… I mean Brandon Kni… I mean Danuel Hou… “STOP! JUST SAY JAMES HARDEN ALREADY!”
Over the last month or so, El Chapo has been on an all-time great tear. Against Memphis on Monday night, Harden broke Kobe Bryant’s record of most consecutive 30+ point games, at 17. He scored 36 points in the first half, a Houston franchise record, and 57 in the game, two more points than all of his Rocket teammates combined. All of this came after a supposed “bad Harden game,” where he still managed 38 points, 12 assists, and nine rebounds. What other player is so unmeasurably great he is universally slandered on a night where he scores 38?
Harden is plasma hot in the month of January, averaging a staggering 42 points and 9.7 assists on a calm 60 true shooting. NBA fans seem to detest Harden for one reason or another, due to his excessive foul drawing and creative rule bending. His step back jumper is a weapon of mass destruction (which I wrote at length about previously here; no, it’s not a travel!) which he demoralizes opponents on a nightly basis. James Harden is the best offensive player in the NBA right now and it isn’t particularly close. Even if he can’t keep up this level of play, which he likely won’t Harden should be the favorite for MVP barring an unforeseen collapse.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic
Did I get another one right? I did! This was the easiest award to pick before the season started and to the surprise of nobody, Luka has won the rookie of the year award already. Although many viewed the Serbian sensation as a lock for the award, nobody could have predicted the level at which his stardom would grow to.
Luka is already an international phenom, as seen by his obscene All-Star vote count (more than Harden, may I add). Luka-mania is rife among the NBA community: Twitter clips of Luka Doncic explode like there are Russian bots retweeting every video with his name in it. He is a nightly highlight reel, manipulating his preternatural touch to create some of the most exciting plays in basketball, from game-winners to mind-boggling assists.
Averaging 20.2 points, 5.5 assists, and 6.7 rebounds shooting 37.3% from deep and a 56.4 true shooting mark, Doncic is on the cusp of offensive stardom. The hamster running in circles that powers the Dallas offensive machine, Luka is the man running the show and the one making the high leverage plays in crucial moments (well, most of the time.) He’s not at superstar level yet but is a clear top 40 range NBA player as a 19-year-old, and the clear best rookie in the NBA.
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Turner
Am I a homer? Yeah, probably. But hear me out on this one. This award is traditionally a big man award and Turner is the best defensive big man this season. The pacifier in a crying baby’s mouth, a fat man’s trainer, the Death Star’s force field, Myles Turner is the protector of rims and eraser of buckets for the Indiana Pacers. He has taken a leap in his fourth season, ascending to true defensive stardom for the Pacers, the league’s
Looking at all-encompassing metrics, Turner ranks third in Jacob Goldstein’s Defensive Player Impact Plus-Minus, sixth in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus, and fourth in the traditional defensive box plus-minus. Turner’s impact on the Pacers is clearer in his absence. Over the last four games where Turner has been dealing with a shoulder injury, the Pacers’ defensive rating has plummetted to an egregious 119.8, good for the third-worst mark in the NBA. The sample size is small, yes, but it is clear how much Indiana misses Turner’s rim protecting and versatility, and overall defensive goodness. An extended absence could hurt Turner’s chances at this award but as of today, my vote would be for Myles.
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Sixth Man of the Year: Spencer Dinwiddie
This award is a pretty clear two man race between Spencer Dinwiddie and Domantas Sabonis and either answer could be right but I lean Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie is in the middle of the best statistical season of his career, posting nightly splits of 16.7 points, 5.0 assists, and 2.5 rebounds, shooting 36.8% from beyond the arc with a 59.3 true shooting percentage.
Dinwiddie’s contributions became all the more necessary for Brooklyn after the loss of Caris LeVert early in the season, who was in the middle of his own metamorphosis. His scoring and playmaking contributions, along with solid defense, have been huge for a Nets team that has surprised many, residing as the current seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn’s deep guard rotation of Dinwiddie, LeVert, D’Angelo Russell, and Joe Harris is a valuable asset going forward into the next stages of their rebuild. Dinwiddie has been in a short slump over the last few games but should have his name in contention for this award, assuming his play improves.
Most Improved Player: De’Aaron Fox
Second-year players almost never win this award. With a loaded crop of most improved potential, from Domas Sabonis, Josh Richardson, Pascal Siakam, Zach LaVine, and Fox’s teammate, Buddy Hield, picking the second year speedster seems like a doubtful ask. Siakam would be my second choice but the leap Fox has made in his second year is special, from an inefficient liability on the laughing stock of professional sports to the leader of the most surprising team in the NBA, is special.
His numbers have improved across the board, jumping to 17.9 points, 7.2 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game, shooting an improbable 37.7% from three, given his past splits. Fox still has weaknesses, from his complete lack of a right hand to some defensive limitations, but Fox is truly a superstar in the making.
His speed is one of the most feared attributes of any NBA player and allows him to get to any spot he wants on the floor. This ability to be ubiquitous, combined with his soft touch and passing acumen, help to form a devastating offensive player. Playing off of the ball on defense, Fox’s cornerback-like celerity allow him to blow up plays and disrupt offensive flows. A near All-Star and the helm of a Sacramento Kings squad that COULD ACTUALLY MAKE THE FREAKING PLAYOFFS (!!!), Fox is as deserving of this award as any sophomore in recent memory.
Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer
Playing under a real, actual, competent NBA coach for his career, many expected Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks to make the leap that they had hinted at for years. Well, Giannis is an MVP frontrunner and the Bucks have one of the top records in the East. Much of this can be attributed to Giannis himself and Milwaukee’s masterful roster construction but Bud’s modern, creative offense has unleashed the offensive beast that had always been there, bucking teams out of the way.
Great spacing, creative action, and turning Brook Lopez into seven-foot Kyle Korver has turned Milwaukee’s offense into an unstoppable force of planetary proportions. Inspiring confidence on his players and realizing the Bucks’ full potential, Budenholzer is in contention with the best coaches in the NBA.
Executive of the Year: Masai Ujiri
The Kawhi Leonard trade is looking like complete thievery, as Leonard has returned to his pedestal as a top seven player in the NBA. And Danny Green, whom the Raptors got for free, has been a key shooter and defender for Toronto. Their deep bench and newfound superstardom should have Toronto competing for an NBA championship this year.
And just for fun, here are my All-Star teams. Not predictions, rather, who I would have in there if I could choose.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.
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