The NBA has officially reached the halfway point of the 2019-20 season. Most teams have played at least 41 games, All-Star starters have been announced and the trade deadline is less than a week away. What better time to evaluate players most likely to win awards for individual performances at the end of the season than right now.
Most Valuable Player
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)- 30.0 PTS, 12.9 REB, 5.6 AST, 1.0 BLK, 1.1 STL
The MVP race is more wide open than it has been in recent years. Giannis still holds a slight advantage. The reigning MVP picked up right where he left off a season ago and continues to find ways to improve his game. His point and rebound averages have both increased, while his averages in the other major categories have stayed near their 2018-19 marks. He ranks second in scoring (30.0 ppg), fifth in rebounding (12.9 rpg) and leads the league in PER at 32.76. Although his field goal percentage dropped off slightly, Giannis has improved his outside shooting and appears much more confident with his shot. He is averaging almost three more 3-point attempts per game while hitting them at a 32.2% clip (last season was 25.6%). The Greek Freak has continued to be a force on the defensive end as well, entering his name the DPOY conversation. The Bucks have bolstered Giannis’ MVP chances as they have the best record in the NBA at 40-6. If Giannis continues to improve his outside game and keep dominating the paint, he could easily win his second straight MVP and lead Milwaukee to 70 games and into a deep postseason run.
Honorable Mentions: LeBron James (LAL), Luka Doncic (DAL), Kawhi Leonard (LAC), James Harden (HOU)
Defensive Player of the Year
Rudy Gobert (UTH)- 15.6 PTS, 14.5 REB, 1.9 BLK, 0.7 STL
After the Jazz got off to a slow to start the season, Gobert and company have played extremely well over the last two months. Utah is now second place in the Western Conference with a record of 18-2 since December 11. A big reason for that is the Jazz’s stifling defense, led by the Stifle Tower. Gobert is second in the league in rebounds, (14.5 rbg) and top 10 in blocks (2.0 bpg). The Jazz are ranked fourth in total defense. Gobert is an intimidating presence in the paint and makes even the best players think twice before driving to the basket. Utah historically plays better in the second half of the season, which should only help Gobert’s chances at a third straight DPOY award.
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Davis (LAL), Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), Jimmy Butler (MIA)
Most Improved Player
Devonte’ Graham (CHA)- 18.6 PTS, 7.7 AST, 3.6 REB, 38.6% 3PT
Unless you are a die-hard Charlotte Hornets fan, chances are you had not heard of Devonte’ Graham until this season. Graham played just 46 games during his 2018-19 rookie campaign, averaging 4.7 points, 2.6 assists, and 1.4 rebounds. Due to Charlotte failing to re-sign Kemba Walker and Tony Parker retiring, Graham moved up the depth chart heading into this season. He began as the second string point guard behind Charlotte’s marquee offseason acquisition in Terry Rozier. Graham has seamlessly transitioned into his expanded role. Graham played so well in the opening stretch of the season that he earned the starting point guard spot and moved Rozier to shooting guard. Although Graham has cooled off a little, he is still averaging 18.6 points per game and ranks sixth in the league with 7.6 assists per game. Graham has had many clutch moments this season. A year ago he was not on anyone’s radar. But now, he’ll go down as an MIP award winner.
Honorable Mentions: Brandon Ingram (NO), Bam Adebayo (MIA), Jaylen Brown (BOS), Duncan Robinson (MIA)
Rookie of the Year
Ja Morant (MEM)- 17.5 PTS, 7.0 AST, 3.4 REB, 1.0 STL, 40.0% 3PT
Of all the awards, ROY is the easiest to pick. Ja Morant has been the best rookie in this year’s class by a large margin. He plays with poise and confidence that exceeds his rookie experience. Morant continues to be a highlight machine every single night when he steps out on the floor. He has incredible court vision, makes stellar passes, can shoot the three and is an athletic freak capable of throwing down massive dunks. He has already generated some All-Star buzz and will hopefully compete in the Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend. What makes Morant truly special is how he has impacted the Memphis Grizzlies. Ja has turned the Grizzlies from a mundane, lottery bound team into a must-watch playoff contender in just half a season. Even if Memphis does not remain in the playoff picture, it is impossible not to be excited for what Morant and the team will do in the future. The return of Zion Williamson has made experts doubt if Morant will secure win the award. It would take Zion to immediately become the next LeBron James and an injury to Morant to erase his massive lead in the ROY race.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Herro (MIA), RJ Barrett (NY), Michael Porter Jr. (DEN), Kendrick Nunn (MIA)
Sixth Man of the Year
Derrick Rose (DET)- 18.5 PTS, 5.9 AST, 2.5 REB
During a lost season for the Detroit Pistons, Rose has been the lone bright spot. Over Detroit’s last 10 games, Rose is averaging 23.6 points, 6.2 assists, and 3.5 rebounds. This stretch is the closest Rose has gotten back to playing at an MVP-level since he won the award in Chicago. He provides instant offense coming off the bench. The Pistons would be lost without his elite playmaking ability. Rose also has come through in the clutch on several occasions to help Detroit remain in the playoff hunt, even with Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson missing most of the season. Due to the bevy of Pistons’ injuries, he may end up starting too many games to qualify for the award. But hopefully, the return of Jackson and the likelihood of Rose being dealt at the trade deadline can eliminate this issue. Although injuries are always a concern with Rose, he has been more durable the past two seasons and should remain healthy to become the third MVP to win SMOTY.
Honorable Mentions: Montrezl Harrell (LAC), Lou Williams (LAC), Dennis Schroder (OKC), Norman Powell (TOR)
Coach of the Year
Erik Spoelstra (MIA)- 31-13 record
The Heat missed the playoffs last year and were predicted to be solid and return to the playoffs this year. Admittedly, they have greatly surpassed those limited expectations. Miami is currently second in the Eastern Conference and tied for the third best record in the league. Most of the credit for the turnaround goes to coach Erik Spoelstra. Even as a two-time NBA Champion, Spoelstra rarely gets the credit he deserves. He has turned unknown names like Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn into impactful NBA players, while developing Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro into potential stars. Notorious diva Jimmy Butler is having fun again as the on-court leader of this young ball club. To go along with his player management skills, Spoelstra has coached Miami into the 12th best defense and the 13th best offense in the league. He also is one of the best in-game managers in the NBA and has developed a strong culture of hard work and accountability in Miami. Spoelstra excels in every aspect of coaching, which makes him the favorite to win COTY in a loaded field of worthy candidates.
Honorable Mentions: Frank Vogel (LAL), Nate McMillan (IND), Nick Nurse (TOR), Brad Stevens (BOS)