When the OKC Thunder selected Josh Giddey with the sixth pick of the 2021 NBA draft, it was met with mixed emotions. The Australian…
We are yet to reach the quarter-mark of the NBA season, but it’s never too early to start awards speculation.
If the season ended today, here are the lucky winners.
MVP – Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Honourable Mention – Kawhi Leonard (Toronto Raptors)
The Milwaukee Bucks currently hold the second best record in the East (and the NBA overall) at 12-4. Dating back to 1988 when Jordan’s Bulls had “only” the third best record in the East, every MVP bar Russell Westbrook has come from a top two team in either conference.
Westbrook broke this precedent by averaging a triple double through the season, an extraordinarily rare statistical feat. Assuming the trend continues, Kawhi Leonard from the 14-4 Raptors stands out alongside Giannis.
Giannis gets the nod with gaudy statistical splits of 25.9/12.7/5.5 (points/rebounds/assists). He is also shooting an absurd 55.5per cent from the field, combining volume with efficiency.
Furthermore, public opinion of Kawhi is at an all-time low following his curious exit from San Antonio. The importance of narrative can never be discounted in MVP voting.
Most Improved Player – Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls)
Honourable Mention – Josh Richardson (Miami Heat)
21 months ago, Zach LaVine tore his ACL. Today he is averaging a career-high 25.3 points per game, which ranks ninth in the NBA.
This is a remarkable comeback from an injury which many players never fully recover from (example – Derrick Rose). Josh Richardson also boasts a compelling case, increasing his scoring average to 20 points per game while shooting 45 per cent from 3. Both players are on losing teams that will likely miss the playoffs in the East.
Due to his compelling injury narrative and statistical prowess however, LaVine wins by a whisker. For those suggesting De’Aaaron Fox as a candidate – while he has improved substantially, it’s hard to vote for a sophomore player in this category.
Rookie of the Year – Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
Honorable Mention – DeAndre Ayton (Phoenix Suns)
Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton couldn’t be more different. Doncic is a floor general averaging splits of 19.2 points/4.1 assists/6.8 rebounds whereas DeAndre Ayton is a 7’1 centre averaging 16.4 points/10.4 rebounds/2.7 assists per game. Both are worthy candidates, but Doncic wins by a fingernail due to team record.
Ayton’s Suns are currently 3-13 and could finish with the worst record in the league. Moreover, Doncic has played professional basketball extensively in Europe and would be less susceptible to the “rookie wall” than his peers.
Trae Young from Atlanta is also in the mix, but his dismal efficiency (24 per cent from 3!) leaves him trailing Doncic and Ayton.
Sixth Man Of The Year – Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers)
Honourable Mention – Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers)
This award is largely a two-horse race (so far). Domantas Sabonis is posting career-best averages of 14.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. He does all this in just 24.5 minutes per game, while shooting an absurd 68.5 per cent from the floor.
Montrezl Harrell from the Clippers is putting up 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds a game with similar minutes and efficiency.
Both players are on winning teams with identical records thus far, 11-6. For now, Sabonis has a narrow victory but don’t be surprised if Harrell makes a charge. Harrell has played his best in the past two weeks after a relatively slower start.
Coach Of The Year – Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks)
Honourable Mention – Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors)
Milwaukee currently rank second in the East, after finishing seventh last season. The Bucks’ core roster is much the same, with their only notable recruits being Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. The difference? Mike Budenholzer.
With a league-best point differential of +11.1 in addition to the second-best overall record, this award doesn’t require much debate.
Nick Nurse deserves to be in the discussion with the Raptors sitting on a 14-4 record, but voter fatigue comes into player after Dwane Casey won last season.
Defensive Player Of The Year – Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies)
Honourable Mention – Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
This is the most subjective award by far, largely relying on the eye-test. Giannis is definitely in the discussion as a versatile defender who covers multiple positions from the perimeter to the post.
However, Gasol gets the nod, as he is anchoring the NBA’s tightest defense. The Grizzlies allow just 100 points per game, with Gasol also posting his career-best steals average to boot.