NBA Awards Odds 2013-14: Pinpointing Favorites for the Early-Season Hardware
The NBA is still months away from naming the winners of its annual awards, but that doesn't mean we here at Bleacher Report can't take the opportunity to get in the giving spirit of the holiday season and take a look at the likely honorees.
The races have shifted considerably since last we handicapped the six major races around the Association. Some players have succumbed to injuries, others have stepped into new roles on their respective squads and still others have seen their fortunes rise and fall with those of their teams in the standings.
(As have some of the league's top coaches.)
You can expect to see plenty more movement on all fronts now that most of the players involved in transactions this past summer are eligible to be traded.
But before the NBA goes haywire with even more trades, let's refresh the awards races to see who's got the edge and who's coming on strong in each category.
Rookie of the Year
Win: Victor Oladipo (35 percent)
Place: Michael Carter-Williams (30 percent)
Show: Trey Burke (20 percent)
You could make an MVP-style argument for Michael Carter-Williams' Rookie of the Year candidacy by pointing to the Philadelphia 76ers' seven-game slide, which has coincided with MCW's recent knee-related absence.
But I'd prefer to ride with the positivist angle, with Victor Oladipo front and center. The Indiana product put on a show against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 13, dropping a line of 26 points, five rebounds and four assists with four steals and three blocks on the one team that passed on him in this year's draft.
Meanwhile, Anthony Bennett, the one player taken ahead of 'Dipo, topped out with six points and two rebounds in nine minutes in that same game.
Don't get it twisted, though; the Rookie of the Year will come down to more than just a two-horse race, if another Big Ten product—Trey Burke—has anything to say about it.
So far, he has. Last year's national collegiate player of the year had averaged 15 points and 7.2 assists in the five games prior to the Utah Jazz's latest shellacking at the hands of the Miami Heat. Like Carter-Williams, Burke will have every opportunity to show what he can do while working out the kinks in his game for a Jazz team that's been on its way to Tankonia since the 2013-14 season first tipped.
Most Improved Player
Win: Eric Bledsoe (33 percent)
Place: Paul George (30 percent)
Show: Lance Stephenson (15 percent), Klay Thompson (15 percent)
I encourage all of you to check out Jared Dubin's brilliant piece detailing Eric Bledsoe's impact on the Phoenix Suns this season to get a better idea as to why Chris Paul's former understudy is the league's Most Improved Player.
Better yet, if you subscribe to League Pass, watch Bledsoe play the part of basketball bulldog for yourself. The NBA's pantheon of athletic, attacking point guards is growing by the year, and Bledsoe seems set to be the newest member of that exclusive fraternity.
Paul George is still arguably the second-best two-way player in basketball right now, though his performance over the three games prior to his 25-8-6 against Miami (14.7 points, 27 percent from the field, 3.7 turnovers) has proven a drag on his candidacy across the awards board. It's a good thing, then, that Lance Stephenson (18.3 points, eight rebounds, six assists, 60.5 percent from the field in those same three games in which George struggled) has picked up the slack for the Indiana Pacers—like any good wingman would.
Speaking of wingmen, Klay Thompson has started to perform with the sort of consistency that, in time, could vault him toward All-Star status in due time. Stephen Curry's backcourt buddy has failed to score in double figures just once through his first 26 games this season, as opposed to six times over that same span to start 2012-13.
Sixth Man of the Year
Win: Jamal Crawford (35 percent)
Place: Rodney Stuckey (20 percent)
Show: Dion Waiters (15 percent), Nick Young (10 percent)
Jamal Crawford's Sixth Man candidacy hasn't gone the way of Isaiah Thomas' just yet. As well as Crawford has performed in his last two starts for the Los Angeles Clippers, head coach Doc Rivers would still prefer to bring him off the bench—and likely will once J.J. Redick returns.
For now, Crawford seems to be settling in as a starter just fine.
"I feel very comfortable," Crawford told Bleacher Report of his new role after L.A.'s 108-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. "Hopefully it can ease some burdens for some guys."
Thomas, on the other hand, seems a safe bet to start for the Sacramento Kings for the foreseeable future, now that Greivis Vasquez is no longer around to block him on the depth chart.
Aside from Crawford, Stuckey is the NBA's most prolific substitute scorer at 15.2 points per game, even after his two-point no-show during the Detroit Pistons' surprising road win over the Indiana Pacers.
Dion Waiters has nearly matched Stuckey's PPG average since Mike Brown moved him to the Cleveland Cavaliers bench. The second-year swingman out of Syracuse nearly scored the Cavs an upset over the Portland Trail Blazers on his own with 25 points and five assists in relief.
And if we're going to reserve Sixth Man consideration for gunners, we should throw a bone to Nick Young, who's failed to hit double digits just once as a sub for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Win: Roy Hibbert (35 percent)
Place: Serge Ibaka (25 percent)
Show: LeBron James (15 percent), Paul George (15 percent)
The Indiana Pacers have allowed 100 points or more in five of their last nine games, after doing so just once through their first 16. That slippage, while predictable (Indy's schedule has toughened considerably in December), has nonetheless brought the Pacers back closer to the pack defensively.
Then again, Indy's still tops in defensive efficiency, with the best record in the Eastern Conference to boot. Roy Hibbert's play up front has had everything to do with that, as has Paul George's emergence as a two-way force on the wing.
But the criteria that put Hibbert at the head of the DPOY pack and George in the running are the same that make Serge Ibaka and LeBron James legitimate candidates for the award as well.
Ibaka (2.3 blocks, 9.5 rebounds) once again ranks among the league leaders in shot swats while anchoring an Oklahoma City Thunder defense that ranks among the top five in the NBA in points allowed per possession. The Miami Heat have snuck into sixth place on that same list, thanks in no small part to James' stellar play as an all-around force on that end of the floor.
Coach of the Year
Win: Jeff Hornacek (40 percent)
Place: Terry Stotts (30 percent)
Show: Frank Vogel (15 percent), Gregg Popovich (10 percent)
I'd like to take this opportunity to formally apologize to all the Phoenix Suns fans out there who took my lack of consideration of Jeff Hornacek for this award in previous editions as a slight to their favorite squad. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Hornacek's exploits at the free-throw line during his days with the back-to-back Western Conference champion Utah Jazz, I must admit, I'm rather embarrassed for myself.
His Suns are a solid 14-10 after their loss to the San Antonio Spurs behind an energetic defense and a high-octane offense, both fueled by Phoenix's fleet of young, hungry athletes. The Suns' early success has reached a point where it now seems reasonable to assume that they won't be tanking, as most expected they would prior to the season, but rather that they'll legitimately be in the hunt for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive West.
It certainly helps Hornacek's case that his club is responsible for two of the five losses suffered so far by Terry Stotts' Portland Trail Blazers, while playing Gregg Popovich's Spurs tough in both of their tilts.
As long as the Indiana Pacers are in the driver's seat in the East—which they still are, even after losing to the Heat in Miami—Frank Vogel will be in the mix for his first COY as well.
Most Valuable Player
Win: LeBron James (60 percent...because that's about what he's shooting from the field right now.)
Place: Kevin Durant (15 percent)
Show: LaMarcus Aldridge (8 percent), Chris Paul (8 percent), Paul George (8 percent)
We're nearly a quarter of the way through the 2013-14 NBA season, and LeBron James is still within striking distance of becoming the first player to shoot 60 percent from the field and better than 40 percent from three while regularly launching from beyond the arc.
Oh, and the four-time MVP still ranks third in scoring and 12th in assists, despite averaging a career low in field-goal attempts and registering the second-lowest usage rate of his illustrious career.
If not for LeBron, we might have ourselves a rather interesting MVP race.
Kevin Durant's on track to take home his fourth scoring title in five years while posting personal bests in rebounds and assists (and inching his way toward another 50-40-90 campaign). LaMarcus Aldridge's coming-of-age campaign has propelled the Portland Trail Blazers to the top of the Western Conference. Chris Paul's brilliance has been the one constant for the Los Angeles Clippers so far this season.
And Paul George, whose multi-dimensionality on the wing is second only to James nowadays, has more than held his own against his Miami Heat counterpart.
But let's not kid ourselves, folks. The NBA is as much LeBron's league as it's ever been, if not more so. Everyone else should appreciate the privilege of playing in it.
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