We’re done with the All-Star activities and as fun as the NBA All-Star game was this year, the rest of the regular season will be even more entertaining. Teams are jockeying for playoff positions or to simply qualify for them.
The Golden State Warriors are winning the NBA title again, but the NBA Regular Season awards are still up for grabs. With the exception of Most Improved Player, which will surely go to 1st time All-Star Victor Oladipo. Some favorites have emerged in the other categories, but a lot could happen in the last 21-27 games.
Can Anyone Make James Harden the MVP Runner-Up Yet Again?
James Harden has made a solid case for being the MVP for a third time in four seasons. Both of the previous times, he has come up just short, but it’s starting to look like the third time’s the charm. But the season isn’t over yet, so there is a possibility that someone else could once again make Daryl Morey salty and knock James Harden down from 1st place.
It’s not a huge possibility though, as most of the pre-season favorites have faltered. My own pre-season pick Kawhi Leonard has barely played, while Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will steal each others votes. Russell Westbrook has taken a step back statistically with better teammates and Kyrie Irving’s Boston are on a downward trajectory.
That leaves us with two candidates. Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. This is reflected in the MVP odds. James Harden is the clear favorite at 1/4, while LeBron and Giannis are 7/2 and 9/1 respectively.
LeBron has been a monster ever since right before the trade deadline when the Cavs traded away half their team. If he keeps up his current pace, he’s gonna win the MVP. The last 4 games he has averaged 30PPG, 13APG, 9,5RPG on 55% shooting in 4 tough wins. Right up until Christmas, LeBron was gaining steam as an MVP candidate and he might do it again.
Giannis was the favorite for MVP after the 1st week of action in the NBA this season, but along with his Milwaukee Bucks, he dropped off a bit. The Bucks are now 32-25 however and with a little run of wins, people might start to pay attention. The Greek Freak is sporting similar numbers to LeBron except with fewer assists, but with more rebounds.
Still, this is James Harden’s award to lose. He’s gonna get some sympathy votes rolling over from last year and the Rockets currently have the best record in the NBA. Chris Paul won’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves for that, but Harden does deserve the MVP if he keeps this up.
Prediction: James Harden
Did Donovan Mitchell’s NBA Dunk Contest Win Help Him?
I admit it. I got a little carried away when I wrote about the two Rookie of the Year contenders possibly duking it out at the Rising Stars game. It did write a whole lot more about their ROTY candidacies though, so if you want something more in-depth about that, check out this link.
Mitchell might not have given much effort to win the Rising Stars challenge, but he came prepared for the Dunk Contest. His dunks were impressive, showing off his freaky athleticism, but it was his showmanship that probably won him the contest. Donovan Mitchell is a star and now, the rest of the league will have to #TakeNote.
He might be the favorite to become Rookie of the Year right now and while I’m hopeful, I still think Ben Simmons ultimately wins it.
The Philadelphia 76ers are on a 5 game win streak and that might become even longer. No NBA teams have a schedule easier than the 76ers. Seriously, just look at it. 17 out of 27 games against lottery teams. No more games against the Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, OKC, Celtics or the Raptors! I’m expecting home court advantage in the playoffs before it’s all set and done.
Prediction: Ben Simmons (not a reverse jinx.. no Sir)
Will Anyone Emerge Out of The Crowded Defensive Player of the Year Race?
Who even is the favorite right now? When The Ringer had their staff pick their Defensive Player of the Year, 6 different names were chosen. Only teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green got 2 votes. Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Rudy Gobert and Paul George are all credible winners as well. So who’s gonna come out on top?
It’s easy to pick a 76ers player again considering their schedule. Embiid is a force, on both ends and he plays on the team with the 3rd best defensive rating. Make that the best defensive rating whenever Embiid plays. Check out this chart from about a month ago. The 76ers are the top ranked defense with Embiid on the floor, 25th ranked when he’s off it. It’s not really all that surprising if you watch a 76ers game. He’s a 7’2 giant with long arms who moves like a wing. If he doesn’t win the award this year, he surely will in the future.
Paul George has been a beast on defense, as evidenced when he dominated the Warriors with 6 steals only 2 weeks ago. OKC have had a severe drop-off defensively since Andre Roberson went down with an injury though. Roberson might have been the DPOY in his own right, had he been healthy all year.
Horford plays on the best defensive team in the league, but in a team littered with good to great defenders, so that might not say as much. Rudy Gobert would normally be favored in a year where Kawhi Leonard has been out with injury, but Gobert was hit with the injury bug himself. If he plays the rest of the games this season, he’ll end up at 56. Ish. 56? I don’t think that’s enough to win Defensive Player of the Year.
Then there’s the two pen pals in Golden State, Draymond and Durant. They both have reasons to think they are the best defensive players in the league. Draymond won the award last season and still has a shot even though he has regressed a bit. As for Kevin Durant, you can read Jonathan Tjarks piece on his candidacy here. I think the fact that the Warriors are better defensively without him needs to be highlighted though. That narrative early on in the season ruined Kawhi’s candidacy last season.
I think The Process is going to be the story going forward in the NBA. Both the 76ers finally realizing their true potential after years of tanking and “The Process” Joel Embiid’s first award, with many more to come.
Prediction: Joel Embiid
6th Man of the Year
Prediction: Lou Williams
That wasn’t so hard, was it?
When Will Brad Stevens Become Coach of the Year?
The whole season it has looked like Brad Stevens had this award locked up. Even after seeing his big summer acquisition Gordon Hayward go down with season ending(?) injury in the very first game, Stevens’ Celtics exploded out of the gate. 16 straight wins after their opening two losses made the Celtics the favorites out East and Stevens the favorite for Coach of the Year.
But now, it’s all eyes north. (Technically south in this article)
Dwane Casey’s Toronto Raptors are on top of the Eastern Conference now and they likely stay there for the end of the season. While the Celtics are 10-9 the last 19 games, the Raptors are surging, thanks to a more fast paced and free flowing style. DeMar DeRozan is draining 3’s, the team has gone from 30th to 10th in assists per game and using their whole rotation allows them to stay fresh. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has done a great job again assembling this roster, and could be Executive of the Year again. He deserves even more credit for sticking by Casey who has been close to fired a couple of times.
It’s so refreshing to see a coach who is not stuck in his ways and is ready to evolve with the times. Especially up north…
Prediction: Dwane Casey