We’ve reached the halfway point of the NBA season, which means it’s time to break off some awards.
MVP: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook racked up 20 triple-doubles, so he’s earned this award. The Thunder would be lost without him. I’ll go on record as saying that when I’m doing these come April, I expect to have Houston’s James Harden in this space, but you can’t deny Westbrook’s greatness through 41.
He’s played so hard that it appears inevitable he’ll run out of gas and fall short of joining Oscar Robertson as the only players in league history to average a triple-double, but through 42, he was at 30.9-10.5-10.7. OKC is on the heels of a superior Utah team and in the hunt for a top-four seed in the Western Conference despite losing a top-five player in Kevin Durant. Harden has been fantastic and has led the Rockets to the third-best winning percentage in the NBA, delivering in the clutch while becoming more of a distributor. He should be a co-winner, but splitting an award is lame. For now, he’s waiting in the wings and would be who I’d invest in at this point. Just giving his Westbrook his well-deserved props.
Coach of the Year: This looks to be Houston's Mike D’Antoni in a runaway. The first-year Rockets coach came in with a plan and has executed it brilliantly. GM Daryl Morey gets the assist and would be the current Executive of the Year favorite too, signing Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, the top two shooters on the market, to equip the team’s vision with top tools.
D’Antoni’s work turning Harden into a point guard is what makes him a lock to win this come season’s end barring some unforeseen collapse. He’s established a connection and gotten through to his star. He’s also made the best of Patrick Beverley’s unique tools, allowing him to contribute despite not fitting the ideal profile of someone who would excel in his system. D’Antoni has found ways to win despite using top big man Clint Capela and has helped young athletes Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker become key contributors. Utah’s Quin Snyder deserves a mention for his great work, but this award belongs to D’Antoni. Morey should win his first Executive of the Year award too.
Rookie of the Year: Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has been prohibited from playing in back-to-backs and been limited by a minutes restriction that has allowed him to play as many as 30 minutes only once, but the impact he’s made makes this award a runaway too. Entering Monday’s game at Milwaukee, he’d scored 20 or more points eight straight times and had the 76ers up in the minutes where he was on the floor alongside them. Without him, they were -243. He’ll be a unanimous winner.
Most Improved: There are many ways this can go. Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan were All-Stars last season, but have taken a noticeable step forward in terms of consistency and explosiveness. Indiana’s Myles Turner, Washington’s Otto Porter and Denver’s Nikola Jokic embody what the winner of this award normally displays, taking a big leap in a larger role than they were in last year. All have had eye-opening games and been consistent.
But it’s impossible to go against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” has to win something. Averaging 23.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists, the Bucks star has been fantastic, overshadowing the tremendous improvement of standout teammate Jabari Parker, who is also a quality candidate for this. The 6-foot-11 point guard has been that special. He must be rewarded.
Defensive Player of the Year: Utah’s Rudy Gobert is the key to the entire operation for the Northwest Division leaders, putting his 7-foot-7 wingspan to work night in and night out. He’ll get the slight edge over Golden State’s Draymond Green, who has helped the Warriors win games thanks to his stops multiple times already and makes their superteam concept work by doing all the little things.
Top Sixth Man: Houston’s Gordon has a substantial lead on the field at the midway point, coming off the bench to lead the league in 3-pointers made. Both LA teams have terrific volume scorers in former winners Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams, but they’re currently behind Gordon here.
Best Cover Team: The Rockets and Raptors have been the most reliable teams to back thus far, amassing the top winning percentages against the number throughout most of the first 40 games. To break the tie, you have to take into account that Houston has gone 17-6 away from home, giving them the edge for biggest lock.
Most Consistent Fade: The books have done a nice job making it difficult to pick a team to bully on a nightly basis, but the Lakers and Timberwolves have fared the worst. Considering they’ve dealt with injuries and have been on the receiving end of some pretty big blowouts, L.A. gets the nod after opening 19-25-1.
Most reliable Over team: The Nuggets moved to 28-10-1 in delivering the over coming out of their Martin Luther King Day date with Orlando, following up dropping 140 points on the Pacers in London with a 125-112 victory over the Magic. They’re an easy call here.
Most deliberate Under team: The Bulls lack of consistent shooting has helped them come in under the posted total 27 times over the first 42, including a pretty reliable 15 of 21 times on the road.