NBA Awards Odds 2013-14: Predicting Winners at Season's Quarter Mark
Last time we took a look at the races for the NBA's six major awards, we were but a week into the 2013-14 season. Surely, it was too early to make any meaningful projections, regardless of the equestrian terms in which we couched them.
And yet, here we are, a month deeper into the campaign, and...well, not much has changed.
Among those in line for league honors, that is. The basketball landscape itself has shifted rather grotesquely, to the point where the Eastern Conference is scrambling just to find teams with non-losing records while the West is practically teeming with them.
As for the metaphorical horse races in which the Association's top players and coaches are embroiled, the field has held relatively steady. Four out of the six picks are the same as they were back in early November, albeit with some shuffling among the other contenders.
It's still way too early to definitively cast one man or another as the prohibitive favorite for this or that award. It's not too early, though, to update the races themselves and handicap the competition accordingly.
Rookie of the Year
Win: Michael Carter-Williams (40 percent)
Place: Victor Oladipo (35 percent)
Show: Ben McLemore (15 percent)
The dueling triple-doubles from Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo during the Philadelphia 76ers' 126-125 double-overtime thriller against the Orlando Magic—the first time in NBA history that two rookies have logged triple-doubles in the same game, by the way—merely confirmed what we'd already suspected: that these two athletic, versatile guards are head and shoulders above their first-year peers.
More importantly, though, these guys aren't gunning for stats every time they hit the floor; rather, they're focused on helping their teams succeed. "It's not me versus Oladipo," Carter-Williams said after the game, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN). "It's Sixers versus Orlando. It's a team game. I just wanted to get the win."
'Dipo has made a concerted effort to close the gap between himself and MCW of late. Over his last five games, the Indiana product has averaged a line of about 18-5-5 with two steals while filling in for Jameer Nelson at the point in the last three.
Ben McLemore isn't quite in the same category as those two just yet, though he's about as close a competitor as you'll yet find. McLemore has seized a spot in Mike Malone's starting lineup with the Sacramento Kings and parlayed that opportunity into Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for October and November.
Most Improved Player
Win: Paul George (35 percent)
Place: Anthony Davis (30 percent)
Show: Eric Bledsoe (20 percent)
I understand the absurdity of handing the MIP to the guy who won it last year, especially when said guy (Paul George) is firmly in the mix for the MVP (more on that in a bit).
But there's no denying that George has made a substantial leap from where he was last season when he cracked his first All-Star Game and led the Indiana Pacers to within a game of the NBA Finals.
He's scoring more (24.9 points), handling the ball more (29.5 percent usage rate) and shooting better (.476 from the field, .412 from three) than he ever has, all the while entrenching himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball.
In short, George has jumped from "All-Star" to "bona fide superstar"—a massive move for anyone, especially a 23-year-old. He's become the caliber of player who can practically drag his team to victory—or at least take it to the brink. "I really wanted to get this win," George said after scoring a career-high 43 points in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I was trying to will us into the game."
With Eric Bledsoe and now Anthony Davis struggling with injuries, the path back to the MIP is wide-open for Paul George if he wants it.
Sixth Man of the Year
Win: Jamal Crawford (40 percent)
Place: Isaiah Thomas (20 percent)
Show: Rodney Stuckey (15 percent)
Jamal Crawford gets the nod for his second Sixth Man of the Year trophy for now, and not just because his Los Angeles Clippers are the only winning club of the three with representatives here. With J.J. Redick out six to eight weeks on account of an injury to his right hand, Crawford's role as a playmaker off the bench will be bigger and more pivotal than ever before.
So far, so good for "Mr. Crossover." He tallied 31 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists against the Sacramento Kings, against whom Redick went down. "It's weird because I'm 33 but I feel like I'm getting better," said Crawford after the overtime win in California's capital, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I'm learning more, I have a great coach and great teammates. I'll continue to get better."
He followed that up with 20 points and two assists in a five-point loss to the Indiana Pacers and another 13 points as the Clippers fell to the Atlanta Hawks.
Isaiah Thomas and Rodney Stuckey both have scoring edges on Crawford at the moment, but neither can consider himself quite as crucial to his team's hopes in the weeks and months to come as can the Clips' best bench guy.
Defensive Player of the Year
Win: Roy Hibbert (40 percent)
Place: Paul George (20 percent)
Show: Serge Ibaka (10 percent)
The Indiana Pacers defense is still the most dominant in the league—by a long shot, no less—and Roy Hibbert remains the most important piece thereabouts. Naturally, then, the DPOY is his to lose.
So long as Hibbert doesn't lose his elbow first, that is.
But don't sleep on Paul George, who ranks sixth in steals (2.2 per game) and leads everyone in total defensive win shares, per Basketball Reference.
The DPOY shouldn't slip past those two, but if it does, don't be surprised if it winds up in the massive, shot-swatting hands of Serge Ibaka. The Congo native is well within striking distance of his third straight blocks title and is the paint-protecting anchor of the Oklahoma City Thunder's fifth-most-efficient defense.
Coach of the Year
Win: Frank Vogel (33 percent)
Place: Terry Stotts (30 percent)
Show: Scott Brooks (10 percent)
Terry Stotts is emerging as the "sexy" pick to be the 2013-14 COY, and for good reason. His Portland Trail Blazers sport the best record in the Western Conference, after finishing last season on a 13-game losing streak to free fall out of playoff contention.
He has his Blazers playing a somewhat innovative style that emphasizes three-pointers on both ends of the floor and that, more importantly, has brought the fun back to what was formerly known as the Rose Garden.
But Frank Vogel still gets the nod here, even after his Indiana Pacers suffered just their second loss of the season while in Rip City.
Don't be surprised, though, if Scott Brooks starts getting some pub for what would be his second COY.
The Oklahoma City Thunder coach, while (still) oft maligned for his lack of tactical imagination, has done a masterful job of molding a surprisingly deep bench without a James Harden or a Kevin Martin to carry the scoring load.
Instead, he's split that responsibility between Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb while empowering Nick Collison, Perry Jones III and rookie Steven Adams to hold the fort up front.
Most Valuable Player
Win: LeBron James (35 percent)
Place: Chris Paul (15 percent)
Show: Paul George (10 percent), Kevin Durant (10 percent)
Last I checked, LeBron James remains the league leader in player efficiency rating (PER) and ranks among the top three in scoring (26 points) and field-goal percentage (.595), the top 11 in three-point percentage (.474) and the top 15 in assists (6.3).
Oh, and the Miami Heat were on a 10-game winning streak before the Detroit Pistons came to town while Dwyane Wade was sitting out.
Chris Paul's MVP stock should continue to rise as the Los Angeles Clippers ask him to do even more now that J.J. Redick, his backcourt buddy, is out for six to eight weeks.
Assuming, of course, that the Clips pile up W's in the meantime. That hasn't been the case just yet, with L.A. losing to the Pacers and the Hawks.
"We've got to stop talking about it and we've got to figure out how were going to stop teams," Paul said after the loss in Atlanta, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN). "I am surprised because we know what to do. That's the tough part about it. It's not on the coaches, it's on us in the locker room."
We've already discussed Paul George's exploits ad nauseum in this bit, so I'll boil down his MVP case to this: He's the best player on the team with the best record in the NBA.
As for Kevin Durant, all he's doing is leading the league in scoring (again!) while aiming for new career highs in rebounds (8.3), assists (5.4) and steals (1.4) with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
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