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Early NBA Award Races

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Who’s the MVP right now? Most improved player? Rookie of the year?

Believe it or not, the NBA season is already a quarter of the way through. If you haven’t been following, there are some big seasons in the works for a few guys. Below are my thoughts on where things are going. Weigh in with a comment on what you think.

Most Valuable Player:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks:

26.8 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 5.9 apg, 57.2 FG% 1.5 spg, 1.3 bpg

Giannis Antetokounmpo came into the season with very high expectations and he has not disappointed. Over the past few seasons, Antetokounmpo has been known as an MVP caliber player, and the perfect guy to build a team around. After the Bucks were slightly underwhelming last season, only getting the seventh seed, the Greek Freak has carried Milwaukee to the second in the east as of November 29th. Under first year coach, Mike Budenholzer, Antetokounmpo is averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage, all on a high usage rate of 32.0%, seventh in the NBA. His only weakness is that he is a career 27.1% shooter from deep and just 6 for 51 (11.8%) from three this season. Giannis came in among the favorites to win MVP and he has proven that confidence right so far.

2. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers:

27.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.4 spg, 51.4%

Four time MVP and one of the greatest players of all time, Lebron has not disappointed in his first season with the Lakers. After finishing with a subpar record and eleventh in the west last season, the Lakers have been carried by Lebron to playoff position in a talented Western Conference. At 27.6 ppg, Lebron is fifth in the NBA in scoring and he has a much improved three point shot, averaging career highs in both three point attempts and makes per game this season. However, as has been the case over the past few seasons, Lebron will have to be a lot better than everyone else in the NBA for him to win a fifth MVP. Last season, James Harden won the MVP despite it being widely considered that Lebron was still the best player in the NBA. When someone has been so good for so long like Lebron, it makes their standards higher than someone like Antetokounmpo who is only 23 years old and on the rise.

3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

28.0 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.0 bpg, 47.4 FG%

After finally having a healthy offseason, Joel Embiid has taken his game to an even higher level in his third healthy season. During the offseason, he said his goal for this season was to win both Defensive Player of the Year and MVP in the same year, something only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon have accomplished. Even with the trade for Jimmy Butler, Embiid’s play has not dropped off at all. The Sixers are sitting at 15-8, third in the East and Embiid has been the main contributor as he ranks fourth in the NBA with 3.3 win shares. The process has turned to progress and with the help of Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons, Embiid may be able to lead the Sixers to the finals.

Honorable mentions:

*Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

27.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.0 apg, 44.3 FG%, 36.3 3PT%

Lillard has carried the Trail Blazers to the fifth position in the west and is one of the hardest players to defend in the NBA.

*Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

29.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.1 apg, 50.8 FG%, 93.1 FT%

Despite all the drama surrounding him and Draymond Green, Kevin Durant has led the Warriors without Stephen Curry for much of the season and he leads the NBA in win shares with 3.5.

Other Contenders:

-Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors

24.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 47.4 FG%, 1.8 spg

-Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

27.1 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, 48.3 FG%, 2.7 bpg

Poll

Who is the MVP so far?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Giannis Antetokounmpo
    (178 votes)
  • 13%
    Lebron James
    (45 votes)
  • 4%
    Joel Embiid
    (17 votes)
  • 30%
    Someone else
    (106 votes)
346 votes total Vote Now

Most Improved Player:

1.Zach Lavine, Chicago Bulls

2017-18: 16.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.0 apg, 38.3 FG% 27.3 mpg

2018-19: 25.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 43.5 FG% 36.1 mpg

With little to no expectations for the Bulls coming into the season, Lavine has been Chicago’s bright spot. Lavine returned in January of last season after suffering a torn ACL in 2016, and played most of last season as a role player on a minutes restriction once he got back. Finally at full health now, Lavine has reached his full potential for a young Bulls team as his minutes have increased by nearly 9 per game. Chicago has given Lavine every opportunity to be the leader of the team and the offense tends to run through him as his 32.3% usage rate is second in the NBA, only behind James Harden. The Bulls are an extremely young team and while they likely won’t make the playoffs this year, Lavine’s performance should give Chicago hope for the future.

2. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

2017-18: 11.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.8 rpg, 41.2 FG%, 30.7 3PT%

2018-19: 17.5 ppg, 7.5 apg, 4.0 rpg, 47.1 FG%, 38.1 3PT%

Following a solid rookie season, De’Aaron Fox has taken big strides towards becoming a perennial all star in year two. Fox is a freakish athlete and one of the fastest players in the NBA. Last season he was often hesitant. This season, however, his shooting percentage from within 3 feet has improved from 64.7% to 73.9% as Fox has played with more aggression. This makes him tough to defend since opponents can’t let him drive in for layups due to his speed, while his improved three pointer prevents defenders from being able to play off of him. Both Fox and Willie Cauley-Stein have improved this season, and the Sacramento Kings surprisingly have a chance to the make the playoffs with their 10-10 record.

3. Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers

2017-18:11.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 17.0 mpg

2018-19:15.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.8 bpg, 25.8 mpg

A part of the Rockets-Clippers Chris Paul trade back in the 2017 offseason, Montrezl Harrell has improved a great deal in his fourth NBA season, especially on defense. Harrell played during 2017-2018 as a rotational backup who mostly appeared in games to give Deandre Jordan a rest. When Jordan signed with Dallas during the offseason, Harrell had the opportunity for more playing time and has taken advantage of it so far. His block percentage, a metric that shows the percentage of shots a player blocks when he is on the court, has increased from 3.4% to 5.3% of possessions. He ranks tenth in the NBA in that category. While he comes off the bench, Harrell is a closer for the Clippers and has helped them to position themselves atop western conference despite low expectations coming into the season.

Honorable Mentions:

*Caris Levert, Brooklyn Nets

2017-18: 12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 43.5 FG%, 10/71 games started

2018-19: 18.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 47.5 FG%, 14/14 games started

Levert was arguably the top candidate for the award until he suffered a dislocated foot injury that will keep him out for a while. Hopefully Levert will be able to return and play at the same high level later this season.

*Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

2017-18: 11.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 51.4 FG%

2018-19: 14.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 66.7 FG%

A third year man out of Gonzaga, Sabonis has played a key bench role for Indiana, averaging a double-double with his much improved shooting. Maybe OKC actually lost the Paul George trade, given Sabonis and Oladipo’s performances. Also he had one of the best posters this season, annihilating Joel Embiid.

Poll

Who is the Most Improved player?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Zach Lavine
    (102 votes)
  • 27%
    De’Aaron Fox
    (79 votes)
  • 5%
    Montrezl Harrell
    (16 votes)
  • 31%
    Someone else
    (90 votes)
287 votes total Vote Now

Rookie of the Year:

1.Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

19.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.2 apg, 45.7 FG%, 39.8 3PT%, 1.0 spg

Easily the most developed offensive player in the draft, Doncic leads all rookies in points per game, and three pointers made with 47. Only four other rookies [Landry Shamet (42), Trae Young (33), Kevin Huerter (25), Mikal Bridges (21)], have made 20 or more shots from deep. Doncic also leads all rookies at 33.2 minutes per game. Doncic does commit a lot of turnovers, with a high turnover rate of 18.6%; but to be fair, last year’s winner, Ben Simmons, had his turnover rate all the way up at 19.5%. Doncic compares to Simmons in many ways: a position-less player who can drive, and play defense very well. Also, Doncic is a much better three point shooter, with Ben Simmons at 0-11 from deep in his career. To be fair, Simmons is a better defender and a better passer, but Mavericks fans should be very excited by what they’ve seen from Luka.

2.Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

16.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 61.5 FG%, 0.9 bpg,

The first overall pick in the 2018 NBA, Deandre Ayton has not disappointed for the rather underwhelming Phoenix Suns. For a bad team in a talent-heavy western conference, Ayton and fellow rookie, Mikal Bridges have given the organization hope for the future. Deandre is averaging a double-double per game and has been very consistent, with a double-double in 12 of 21 games so far. He has the potential to become a much better defender and while he is just 0-2 from deep on the season, with where the NBA is headed, it’s very likely the Suns will want to see Ayton working on his shot. For now, Ayton is a two-way post player with a lot of room to grow.

3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers

10.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.1 apg, 45.6 FG%, 32.3 3PT%, 1.0 spg

After debating who to put at this spot, between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jaren Jackson Jr., I decided to go with SGA, the eleventh pick in the 2018 draft. While his stats don’t necessarily jump out at you, SGA has been a huge piece to the Clippers’ early season success. Coming off the bench to start the season, Gilgeous-Alexander has improved his scoring from 8.2 ppg to 12.5 ppg after cracking a spot in the starting lineup. Shai is one of the best athletes in the entire draft class and he can just explode to the rim off the dribble. While he is still very raw as a player and a shooter, he has room to improve, and the Clippers should be excited by what they’ve seen from him.

Honorable mentions:

*Jaren Jackson Jr.

12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 1.0 spg, 51.3 FG%

Jaren Jackson Jr., and Gilgeous Alexander are very different and this placement is not to take away from what Jaren has done so far. Jackson is a great rim protector and he leads all rookies with 2.1 blocks per game. The Grizzlies have been surprisingly good so far and that is due in large part to the performance of Jackson.

*Trae Young

15.9 ppg, 7.6 apg, 3.0 rpg, 38.3 FG%, 25.4 3PT%

After a great start, Young’s shooting numbers have fallen off and he has shot just 10/49 (20.4%) from deep over his past nine games. He has the potential to be a better offensive player but his shot needs to be more consistent.

Poll

Who is the Rookie of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Luka Doncic
    (243 votes)
  • 3%
    Deandre Ayton
    (11 votes)
  • 1%
    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    Jaren Jackson Jr.
    (7 votes)
  • 7%
    Someone else
    (22 votes)
288 votes total Vote Now

Comment your thoughts below!