It's become common practice for those of us in the amorphous blob referred to monolithically as the "sports media"—or, in the parlance of our times, the "sports blogosphere"—to cover and follow the NBA's litany of awards as if the players pursuing them are embroiled in a tunnel-visioned horse race.
From game to game, week to week and month to month, we track who's leading the MVP pack, who's hanging tough in the push for Defensive Player of the Year honors and which surprising rookies are gaining quickly among their incoming class.
As such, I've decided to take all this equestrian talk to heart and incorporate it into my regularly scheduled NBA awards odds. Also, I figured it'd be an appropriate tribute to Hollywood Park—the famous Inglewood racetrack located a mere stones throw from the Great Western Forum—which is due to shutter its gates for good this December.
For those of you unfamiliar with horse racing jargon, I'll list the odds-on favorites in each of six awards categories (Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player) next to "Win," those currently running second as "Place" and all others worth mentioning under "Show."
Now that we've got all the technical talk out of the way, let's see how the awards races are shaping up after a week of regular-season action.
Win: Michael Carter-Williams (PHI)
Place: Victor Oladipo (ORL)
Show: Vitor Faverani (BOS), Nate Wolters (MIL)
I'm pretty sure there's a rule somewhere that says you have to be the front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors if your first week in the NBA yields anything like what we saw from Michael Carter-Williams.
The No. 11 pick in the 2013 NBA draft was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 20.7 points, nine assists, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 steals and leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a shocking 3-0 start. MCW fell off a bit in Game No. 4 against the Golden State Warriors (18 points, six rebounds, four assists, six turnovers, 4-of-17 from the field).
For now, though, he's comfortably ahead of Oladipo, who turned in a line of 14-5-4 with 2.6 combined blocks and steals through his first four games coming off the bench with the Orlando Magic. Expect him to mount a serious challenge if/when the Magic make room for him in the starting lineup and the Sixers slip into the basement, as they're expected to do any day now.
Wolters (10 points, 6.7 assists) may not be able to hang around for long, depending on what kind of playing time he gets with the Milwaukee Bucks once the rest of their point guards heal up. Faverani, though, should have ample opportunity to put up solid numbers (9.5 points, 7.3 rebounds) as the starting center for the Boston Celtics.
And who knows? Maybe the 25-year-old Brazilian will catch fire from deep and shoot his way into the lead...
Win: Anthony Davis (NOP)
Place: Eric Bledsoe (PHX)
Show: Evan Turner (PHI), Enes Kanter (UTA)
Lost in all the hoopla over MCW's opening-week explosion for the Sixers is the improved play of Evan Turner. The No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft is finally hitting shots—from two-point range, anyway (.586)—and just in time, too. His attempts (16.3 per game) and usage rate (26.9 percent) have both skyrocketed in the absence of Jrue Holiday.
So, too, have his scoring (21.8 points) and turnover (3.5 per game) numbers.
Like Turner in Philly, Enes Kanter is making the most of the chance to strut his stuff for a terrible team. His numbers have more than doubled nearly across the board, thanks in no small part to the shift in his role for the Utah Jazz: from a 15-minute change of pace in the frontcourt to a 34-minute starter at center.
Bledsoe, too, has seen a nice bump in his production as a result of switching from a strong squad's super sixth man to a rebuilding club's star of the future. He's turning the ball over a ton (5.5 per game) and has only hit a quarter of his threes, but it's tough to be too hard on him for those shortcomings. After all, he's all of 23 years old, transitioning into a new role on a new team and has already asserted himself as a reliable scorer (22.8 points), particularly in crunch time.
Still, if this award were handed out today, it'd have to go to Davis. The 'Brow tore up the floor during the preseason and has kept his roll going through the first week of meaningful action. To date, Davis is averaging 22 points, 12 rebounds, 4.3 blocks, two steals and 1.3 assists in 38 minutes.
Those aren't just MIP numbers; those are budding superstar numbers!
Win: Isaiah Thomas (SAC)
Place: Jamal Crawford (LAC)
Show: Ramon Sessions (CHA), Rodney Stuckey (DET), Ray Allen (MIA)
The Sixth Man of the Year might be the toughest award of all to project right now, for a number of reasons.
Harrison Barnes (left toe) played for the first time Wednesday. Reigning Sixth Man J.R. Smith (suspension) has yet to play. Andrei Kirilenko is building up his minutes for the Brooklyn Nets in the wake of a preseason injury.
Tyreke Evans is still finding his way in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform. Jeremy Lin figures to slide into a role as the Houston Rockets' spark plug once Patrick Beverley has worked his way back into Kevin McHale's "fave five."
For the moment, then, Isaiah Thomas takes the cake as the NBA's best sub, though it's tough to imagine Mike Malone keeping him tethered to the Sacramento Kings bench if he continues to average 21-3-5 and shoot 46.7 percent from three.
If/when that change is made, Jamal Crawford will be in prime position to snag his second Sixth Man trophy. He was the early favorite in 2012-13 and, thanks to yet another scorching-hot start (17.8 points, .519 from three), is back in the fold this season.
But before we move on, let's take a moment to acknowledge the strong play of another trio of reserve scoring guards.
Ramon Sessions (13.8 points, 3.8 assists) is enjoying another pleasantly productive season behind Kemba Walker in Charlotte. Rodney Stuckey (12.7 points, 1.7 steals, .481 from the field, .400 from three) appears to have rediscovered his shooting stroke after an abysmal performance last season. And Ray Allen (12 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, .423 from three) has been the Miami Heat's steadiest sub so far.
Win: Roy Hibbert (IND)
Place: Paul George (IND)
Show: LeBron James (MIA), Chris Paul (LAC), Anthony Davis (NOP)
In all honesty, there isn't yet a single player not wearing an Indiana Pacers uniform who deserves serious consideration for the DPOY, nor should there be.
And for good reason. They've dominated at the defensive end so far—in some cases, historically so.
To start, no NBA team has ever held its opponents to an effective field-goal percentage (which accounts for the added value of three-point shots) under 42 percent. Through four games, the Pacers lead the league, and all of basketball's past, with an opponent eFG of 41.1 percent.
Likewise, no team has ever limited its foes to fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions. Indy, though, is on track to shatter that mark, with a stifling 86.1 points per 100 possessions allowed so far.
Keep in mind, too, that the Pacers do all of this without fouling (third-lowest opponent free-throw rate in the league) or gambling (21st in opponent turnover percentage).
Roy Hibbert has had the biggest hand of anyone in this effort. He's turned every Pacers game into a veritable block party, having turned away a whopping 21 shots in four games. More importantly, he's anchored a front line that's held opposing scorers to 48.2 percent shooting in the restricted area, given up the fewest points in the paint and made the Pacers the fourth-best rebounding team in the league by percentage.
If Hibbert doesn't nail it down, the award should go to Paul George, who's established himself as one of the NBA's premier perimeter defenders. Somehow, the guy's managed to average more than three steals and blocks combined and collect nearly nine rebounds per game...as a wing.
But if we really must look beyond the boundaries of the Circle City for DPOY candidates, we might as well give a nod to LeBron (versatility and reputation), Le 'Brow (12 rebounds, 6.3 combined blocks and steals) and Chris Paul (i.e. the only noteworthy member of the Los Angeles Clippers who's performed consistently on the defensive end to this point).
Win: Frank Vogel (IND)
Place: Rick Adelman (MIN)
Show: Rick Carlisle (DAL), Brett Brown (PHI), Jeff Hornacek (PHX)
Remember everything I just said about how great the Pacers defense is and how pivotal Hibbert and George have been to that historic effort? Well, Frank Vogel deserves some dap for all of that as well. His Indy squad looks like the NBA's best so far, despite the continued absence of Danny Granger and mere months removed from pushing the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
On the other side of the bracket, Rick Adelman has the Minnesota Timberwolves near the top of the Western Conference standings for the first time in forever thanks to the offensive efforts of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Kevin Martin and a defense that, surprisingly enough, ranks among the top five in points allowed per possession.
Brown and Hornacek get honorable mentions for the plucky efforts their tank-tastic teams put forward from the jump. Brown's Sixers are already tumbling into the basement, where the Suns figure to be once Eric Bledsoe runs into a rough patch and the defense slips—or when Phoenix's front office starts sending out more of its veterans in exchange for other fungible assets.
The Dallas Mavericks are doing their best not to tank. Expect Rick Carlisle to garner serious consideration for his second COY if the Mavs manage to charge their way back into the playoff picture out West behind an elite, efficient offense.
Win: LeBron James (MIA)
Place: Chris Paul (LAC)
As expected, the NBA's MVP field has already proven to be exceedingly long on strong candidates.
Kevin Durant (29.3 points) is back to leading the league in scoring, albeit without the high shooting percentages and sturdy rebounding and assist numbers to which we've become accustomed.
Speaking of superstars named Kevin, Kevin Love (26.5 points, 14.3 rebounds) has a chance to be the first player to lead the league in scoring and rebounding in the same year since Wilt Chamberlain pulled off the feat (and was named the MVP) in 1965-66.
Paul George will get an extended look for the award by virtue of being the best player on what looks for now to be the best team. Stephen Curry (22 points, 9.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds, .500 from three) is off to a scintillating start and figures to be in the running for a 50-40-90 campaign.
For now, though, it's tough to look past LeBron James and Chris Paul when considering who should take home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy this time around.
The four-time MVP is torching the twine more than ever (.580 from the field, .500 from three, .806 from the free-throw line), in addition to posting typically terrific counting stats, despite seeing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh shuffle in and out of the lineup.
Even so, James may have a difficult time fending off his close friend CP3, whose scoring (26.5 points on 51.7 percent shooting), sharing (13.3 assists) and stealing (3.3 thefts) all point to a career year for a player widely regarded as the best floor general in basketball.
What do you think of my early awards choices? Let me know on Twitter!