NBA Awards: Staff Picks at the Midseason Mark
For the past three months, Bleacher Report's NBA staff has been fastidiously studying the goings-on of the 2016-17 season.
Every Russell Westbrook triple-double, every game of hot potato between the Golden State Warriors, every point guard plea from LeBron James, every savvy social media move from Joel Embiid—we've had it all covered from tip to buzzer. With all that's been happening and our best basketball minds scattered across the landscape, we couldn't help but form our own opinions about who's better and who's best in the Association these days.
There's no better time than the halfway point of the campaign to bring all those thoughts together. And now that each conference's All-Star starting lineup has been sussed out, what better way to connect B/R's hoops gurus than over hardware that will be handed out after the regular season wraps up in mid-April.
To get a sense of where things stand in the races for the NBA's seven signature individual awards—Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Executive of the Year, Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player—we consulted our top 15 pro hoops writers and editors for their midseason picks. Here's what we came up with.
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
Others Receiving Votes: None
Spoiler alert—Joel Embiid for Rookie of the Year was our only unanimous choice.
That's partly due to a slow start overall from this season's crop of newbies. Embiid's the only one averaging more than 10 points, six rebounds or one block per game, let alone all three at once.
But the former Kansas Jayhawk has done so much more than that for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Need defense? By some measures, Embiid might already be the best rim protector around. According to NBA.com, he's posted the league's lowest defensive field-goal percentage at the rim (39.6 percent).
Want offense? At 7'2", Embiid's inside-out game puts him on par with some of the game's best young bigs. He's hit a respectable 34.8 percent of his threes and scored 28.3 points per 36 minutes—the second-best mark among rookies in NBA history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain's (29.2), per Basketball-Reference.
The most accurate measure of Embiid's impact, though, is the Sixers' 16-27 record. They've long since surpassed last season's win total (10) and are well on their way to setting a new high for victories since Sam Hinkie got The Process rolling during the summer of 2013. Embiid hasn't been on hand for all of this season's victories, though he's almost single-handedly transformed his team's outlook into a consistently competitive one.
Those credentials make Embiid a rock-solid choice to be the sixth unanimous Rookie of the Year in league history and the second in a row after Karl-Anthony Towns cleaned up at the ballot box last season.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Guard/Forward, Milwaukee Bucks
Others Receiving Votes: Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden
The Greek Freak has officially arrived. Come All-Star Sunday, the world will see Giannis Antetokounmpo suiting up as a starter for the Eastern Conference in New Orleans—and likely dunking all over the West like he has on the league at large this season.
That he'll be the first Milwaukee Bucks player to set foot in the All-Star Game since 2004 (Michael Redd) and the first to start since 1986 (Sidney Moncrief) only begins to describe what a rocket ride Antetokounmpo has been on.
The Bucks plucked him out of Greece's second-tier league as a spindly 18-year-old with the No. 15 pick in 2013. Last season, head coach Jason Kidd handed Antetokounmpo the keys to the offense after the All-Star break and watched him average 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists with five triple-doubles from that point forward.
This season, Antetokounmpo has been brilliant on the ball from the outset. He leads the Bucks in points (23.7), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.4), steals (1.8) and blocks (2.0), making him the only player in the NBA to pace his club in all five major statistical categories.
Where most small-market teams might fret about losing a star like Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee can look forward to four more years with its 22-year-old phenom after signing him to a $100 million extension this past summer.
Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon, Shooting Guard, Houston Rockets
Others Receiving Votes: Patty Mills, Lou Williams
Joel Embiid aside, nobody came as close to being a unanimous midseason award winner within B/R's NBA community as Eric Gordon—and for good reason. Until Stephen Curry's January hot streak, Gordon had led the league in three-point makes.
That says plenty about the Houston Rockets' reckless abandon from beyond the arc but even more about Gordon's fit within Mike D'Antoni's spread pick-and-roll bonanza. The 28-year-old ranks second among reserves in scoring at 17.4 points per game, behind only Lou Williams at 17.8 points per game for the Los Angeles Lakers.
But unlike Williams, Gordon is a key cog on a likely playoff contender. According to NBA.com, the bench unit that the Indiana product captains in Houston owns the league's sixth-best net rating (plus-22.7 points per 100 possessions) among five-man units that have logged at least 100 minutes this season.
Gordon's put up better individual numbers before, but never has he enjoyed anything close to the health and fit that he's found in Space City.
And if he catches fire from deep over the second half of 2016-17, Gordon could finish as the second sixth man ever to pace the Association in triples, after Dee Brown pulled it off for the Toronto Raptors during the lockout-shortened 1999 season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Forward, Golden State Warriors
Others Receiving Votes: Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard
If the starting point for any Defensive Player of the Year discussion is the best defender on the stingiest defense, Draymond Green is the obvious choice.
His Golden State Warriors, for all their lapses, own the league's most efficient defense, allowing just 101.0 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Kevin Durant's activation as an arachnoid terror on that end has helped, but Green is still the glue holding it all together.
The All-Star forward paces Golden State in rebounds (8.6) and steals (1.9) and ranks second in blocks (1.4) behind Durant (1.7). Dig deeper, and Green comes up with the second-best defensive real plus/minus in basketball (4.3), per ESPN.com. According to NBA.com, he's dragged down his opponents' field-goal percentages from every range.
|> 15 Feet||34.5||37.3||minus-2.8|
However you slice it, Green remains a monster on that end for the Warriors in 2016-17. And after knocking on the DPOY door in each of the past two seasons, he's well on his way to finally kicking it down this time around.
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers, Golden State Warriors
Others Receiving Votes: Daryl Morey, Dennis Lindsey, R.C. Buford
Bob Myers didn't convince Kevin Durant to join the Golden State Warriors all on his own, though he was as close to that process as any Executive of the Year candidate could possibly come. That alone makes him the odds-on favorite to claim that honor for the second time in three seasons.
But there's more to Myers' case here than landing a single signature. The task of building a functional team with a cap sheet stuffed by Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green required as much careful planning as plain luck. Myers managed to unload Andrew Bogut and part ways with Harrison Barnes—both of whom wound up with the Dallas Mavericks—while snagging David West and Zaza Pachulia on the cheap.
Executive of the Year boils down to belated recognition of whichever team won the previous offseason. Myers' Warriors ran away with that distinction this past summer and could do the same with the Larry O'Brien Trophy come June, all thanks to the work it took to lure KD to the Bay.
Coach of the Year: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
Others Receiving Votes: Gregg Popovich, Quin Snyder, Dwane Casey
Last season, the Houston Rockets were a tire fire of tired talent. So far through 2016-17, they've been one of the league's best watches—and one of its most successful in terms of wins and losses.
Mike D'Antoni isn't solely responsible for that turnaround. He wasn't in charge of reshaping the roster around James Harden's unique talents.
What D'Antoni has done—and brilliantly, at that—is retool his signature spread pick-and-roll scheme to suit Harden's skills as a scorer, driver and distributor and deploy the Rockets' rollers and shooters to pitch-perfect effect. He turned Harden loose as the squad's full-time point guard, and Clutch City has reaped the rewards.
With D'Antoni on the dais, Houston has constructed a top-three offense (per NBA.com) built on the back of a historic three-point output. The defense, while merely average, has been plenty good enough to let the Rockets' rip-roaring scoring machine pile up wins and keep the team entrenched among the West's top four.
The full package has the Rockets looking like a dark horse among title contenders and D'Antoni like the genius he was when he had Steve Nash wheeling and dealing in Phoenix.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Guard, Houston Rockets
Others Receiving Votes: Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant
Nowhere is the Houston Rockets' newfound organizational synergy more evident than on the court, with the ball in James Harden's hands. Head coach Mike D'Antoni enlisted Harden as his new-age Steve Nash, and the L.A. native has responded by leading the league in assists and challenging for the scoring crown.
Should Harden finish on top in both categories at season's end, he'd be the first player since Nate Archibald in 1972-73 to pace the Association in points and assists. He might also be the first guard ever to lead the league in double-doubles; the NBA's available data only goes back to 1996-97, and no backcourt player has had the most double-doubles in a season since then.
Harden's scoring and passing are the dual fuels that keep the Rockets' elite offense humming. According to NBA.com, Houston has piled up 114.4 points per 100 possessions with Harden on the floor—which would lead the league by a landslide—and just 104.1 without him, a bottom-half mark.
Russell Westbrook's triple-doubles have been one of the biggest stories of the season, and Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant both play for teams with better records than the Rockets. But no player fits more firmly in the MVP sweet spot between a single player's importance and the success of his squad than Harden has to date.
Stats up to date through games on Tuesday, Jan. 24.