By this point of the season, we’re starting to get a pretty good idea of who the major contenders are, who the busts are and which players have their teams primed for a playoff push. It’s the time of the year when everyone starts getting over that regular-season hump and begins looking ahead to the postseason.
But one thing that’s always on everybody’s mind is the award races, and this year’s candidates have been red hot. Career years, record performances, highlight reel material and just general stat sheet stuffing have been on full display. So for the moment, I’m going to put a halt on looking ahead and take a minute to look back on the first four months of the NBA season. Here are my 2016-17 in-season awards.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden (Houston Rockets)
This is one of the closest MVP races I can remember. Russell Westbrook and Harden are each having historically great years and both have been one-man wrecking crews all season long, but Harden gets the slight edge for MVP.
He’s been moved to point guard, away from his natural position at the two, and has responded by having the best season of his life. He’s leading the league in assists, he’s averaging a shade under 29 points, adding 8.1 rebounds a night and shooting 43.9 percent from the field. He’s done all of this while taking a team that finished eighth in the Western Conference last year and turning it into a legitimate contender to challenge Golden State. Not to mention that he accounted for a ridiculous 49.3 percent of the Rockets’ total points through their first 59 games if you combine his scoring and his assist points created. The reigns have been put in Harden’s hands and the Beard has been cooking every single night.
Honourable mention: Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard
James Harden pulling up from near-halfcourt with a full shotclock pic.twitter.com/PBh78YyxQd
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) February 12, 2017
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)
Green missed out on this award last year as Kawhi Leonard was given the honour, but this year it seems fitting that Draymond will take it home. He’s the best defensive player on the best team in the league. As it stands now, the Warriors are the second ranked defence and are first in both steals and blocks per game.
Green is a huge part of what the Dubs do on the defensive end. His ability to guard any position on the floor allows Golden State to switch on screens, cover pick-and-rolls and rotate with ease. His versatility, leadership and toughness is the backbone for the league’s most dominant squad. What Green does on defence goes beyond stats. This is his year.
Honourable mention: Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
This year’s rookie class has been somewhat disappointing, with some of the higher picks underperforming or dealing with serious injury issues. One fresh face who has been far from underwhelming, however, is the Process. After missing his first two years to injury, Embiid has burst onto the scene this year, finally giving Philly fans something to be excited about.
In limited minutes, the seven-footer is clocking 20.2 points, 7.8 boards and 2.5 blocks a night. Not only that, but he’s put the basketball world on notice that he has the talent and skillset to develop into one of the most dominant big men in the game. He’s currently dealing with a torn meniscus, so we’ll have to see how things play out come the end of the regular season. But four months in, Embiid has clearly been the best rookie.
Honourable mention: Malcolm Brogdon, Dario Saric
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Lakers/Houston Rockets)
Williams was recently traded from L.A. to Houston to help form perhaps the league’s best one-two punch off the bench with Eric Gordon and give the Rockets even more offensive firepower.
Prior to the move, Lou did work as part of the second unit for the Lakers, leading the Lake Show in scoring despite playing just 24.2 minutes a night. Williams is a true modern-day microwave scorer. He heats up quick, and he can drop buckets in bunches. He took home Sixth Man honours as a member of the Raptors back in 2015, and now, in the midst of a career year, he seems primed to take it a second time.
Honourable mention: Eric Gordon, Wilson Chandler, Enes Kanter
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
In his fourth season, Antetokounmpo has transformed himself from a raw talent with loads of potential into an All-Star starter and a legitimate franchise cornerstone for the Bucks. He’s upped his scoring to 23.5 points a night, nearly seven more than last year, as well as increasing his assists, rebounds, steals, blocks and field goal percentage.
The 6-foot-11 athletic marvel known as the Greek Freak has started to show the world what kind of player he can be, and has given Bucks fans a star to rally behind.
Honourable mention: Rudy Gobert, Harrison Barnes, Myles Turner
— NBA (@NBA) February 12, 2017
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
The popular pick here is Mike D’Antoni, and with good reason. He’s come in and helped turn the Rockets around from a disappointing season into the third seed in the Western Conference. But what Stevens has been doing in Boston is nothing to sneeze at either.
The Celtics have been dealing with injuries to key players all season long and Stevens has had to mix and match starting lineups and rotations on a regular basis. Not only have the Celtics stayed afloat, they currently sit second in the East, just three and a half games behind the heavily favoured Cavaliers. Despite having just one star player in Isaiah Thomas, compared to other squads with three or four, the Celtics look to be a legitimate threat to Cleveland. That speaks to their depth and to their coaching.
Stevens gets constantly overlooked for the work he does in Boston. Not this year.
Honourable mention: Mike D’Antoni, Quin Snyder, Gregg Popovich