The NBA is entering its All-Star Weekend, which is treated by most as the half-way point of the regular season despite most teams already having completed well over half of their games. It is of course too early to officially hand out end-of-season awards, but let’s take a look at who these awards would go to if the season ended today.
Defensive Player of the Year: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
This choice was very difficult, but Whiteside’s defensive numbers cannot be ignored. He is leading the league in blocks per game with four, and it’s not particularly close. He is also top five in the NBA in rebounding, hauling in over 11 per game. Most importantly, he anchors a defense for the Miami Heat that is second in scoring defense in the entire league. He makes his presence felt night in and night out, and is a major reason why the Heat currently control a playoff spot in the cluttered Eastern Conference.
Runner-Up: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Due to his team’s immense success on both ends of the court, Draymond has an inside track to winning this award. He brings elite energy on the defensive end every single night. He has the ability to guard every position on the floor and his defensive versatility is unmatched in the NBA. Green is also in contention for the Most Improved Player Award. He is averaging upwards of 14 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists per contest. Though it sometimes gets muddled by his impressive offensive output, Green’s defensive prowess is nearly unparalleled.
Rookie of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Towns has taken the league by storm. Recently he has brought his game to another level, and has proven that the Timberwolves were justified when they selected him with the first overall pick in this past summer’s draft. He is averaging 17 points per game and over 10 rebounds. In the first half of his rookie season, he has more games with 25 points and 10 rebounds than the rest of his rookie class combined. Towns has an uncanny touch on his jump shot that very few seven-footers ever possess, as shown by his 85 percent free throw percentage. Towns is unquestionably the Rookie of the Year in the NBA, and should be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Runner Up: Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
When the Knicks drafted the European back in June, he was viewed as a “project.” He was said to be a player who would take many years to acclimate to the American game. Now, he is being compared to a young Dirk Nowitzki. The 7’3” Latvian rookie is playing a key role for his team, averaging nearly 14 points per game, as he helps the Knicks compete for a playoff spot in the East.
Sixth Man of the Year: Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Oladipo had been a starter for most of the first two years of his career, but midway through this season his coach decided it would be best for the team to bring the third-year shooting guard off the bench. He has been a sparkplug since this change, elevating his play as well as that of his teammates to another level. The Magic have already nearly matched their win total from last year (23 this season vs. 25 all of last season). He is averaging 14 points a game, to go along with four rebounds and four assists. At this juncture, he is the best sixth man in basketball.
Runner-Up: Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Barton is quietly having a terrific season for the struggling Nuggets. Although they are near the bottom of the Western Conference, Barton is averaging close to 16 points per game, to go along with six rebounds. Not only is he a contender for Sixth Man of the Year, but he is worthy of consideration for Most Improved Player as well. Barton will also be taking part in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest this weekend at the All-Star festivities in Toronto. Victorious or not, Barton is a key component of the Nuggets’ young nucleus that seems likely to make some noise in the next few years.
Most Improved Player: C.J. McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
This award was a no-brainer. McCollum’s play this year has been far and away superior to any other point of his young career. After averaging just over 6 points per game during his first two seasons, the Lehigh University graduate has erupted this year, averaging close to 21 per contest. Playing in the same backcourt as star point guard Damian Lillard, McCollum has flourished and affirmed himself as one of the best young scoring guards in the league.
Runner-Up: Rajon Rondo, Sacramento Kings
Last year was nothing short of dreadful for Rondo. He was traded away from the Boston Celtics before being deemed a poison to his team in Dallas. He was quietly acquired by the Sacramento Kings this offseason and has rebounded nicely. He is averaging a double-double, highlighted by a league-leading 12 assists per game.
Coach of the Year: The Coach of the Golden State Warriors
Luke Walton was the man in charge of the best team in the NBA to start the season; however, the NBA did not officially acknowledge him as the head coach. Steve Kerr, who was out indefinitely to start the season after undergoing back surgery, is the coach who has been credited with the plethora of wins racked up under Walton during the Warriors’ historic start. The coach of the Warriors, regardless of who it is in the eyes of the NBA, is by all measure the Coach of the Year. Of course, on the heels of an NBA finals victory, the Warriors were expected to be one of the top teams in the league, but very few could have foreseen the rate at which they are winning. They are well-positioned to eclipse the historic ’96 Bulls team who set a record by going 72-10. It is barely up for debate; the NBA Coach of the year is the man roaming the sideline for the Golden State Warriors.
Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Without a doubt, the MVP this season has been Curry. After his performance during the Warriors’ championship run last year, many felt that Curry had asserted himself into the upper-echelon of ballers in the league. This year, he left no inkling of skepticism in the minds of casual basketball observers as he has proven himself to be the NBA’s premier superstar. Leading his team to a historic start, while averaging nearly 30 points per game, Curry is far and away the MVP at the All-Star Break.
Runner-Up: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Given that Leonard plays for the small-market Spurs, it should be a surprise to no one that his performance this season has flown under the radar for the casual basketball fan. He is quietly averaging 20 points per game to go along with six rebounds. He is also shooting 47 percent from three-point range while playing elite defense as he has guided the Spurs to the second best record in the NBA. Leonard has supplanted Spurs legend Tim Duncan as the team’s catalyst on both ends of the floor.