With (more than, as of this posting) a quarter of the NBA season in the books, let’s take a look around the league and hand out awards to those that deserve them to this point.
Winner: James Harden, Rockets
Any argument that someone else is the MVP won’t have anything to do with what Harden has accomplished so far. The only possible contrarian talking points are either LeBron’s greatness or Giannis being surrounded by less talent. You can call me biased, but I think the MVP thus far is clearly Harden.
In 14 games without Chris Paul and 1 game with Chris Paul dragging his leg around against the Warriors, Harden guided the Rockets to an 11-4 record, which tied them with Golden State at the time atop the West standings. Through those 15 games Harden’s numbers were:
To date, Harden’s PER has risen to 30.8, which ranks 3rd in the NBA, and is doing so as the leader in usage. He is leading the NBA in RPM. He is also leading the league in: Offensive Win Shares, Wins Shares, Win Shares/48 Minutes, Box Plus/Minus, Offensive Box Plus/Minus, VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), Assist %, Points Per Game (31.7), and Assists Per Game (Tied) (9.7). The Rockets are currently first in the West and trail only Boston for the best record in the NBA.
Runner Up: LeBron James, Cavaliers
After starting 5-7, the Cavs have rattled off 12 straight wins. IT has yet to play, Tristan Thompson has missed 16/24 games, Derrick Rose took a personal leave of absence, and Jae Crowder has not found his niche within this team. The glue keeping everything together (with all due respect to Kevin Love’s performance this year) has been LeBron, who is 4th in RPM, 2nd in PER, 2nd in Offensive Win Shares, 2nd in Win Shares, 3rd in Win Shares/48 Minutes, 2nd in Box Plus/Minus, 2nd in Offensive Box Plus/Minus and 2nd in VORP. He is also 4th in Assist %, 3rd in Assists Per Game, 3rd in Points Per Game, and 6th in True Shooting %.
Contender: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
The Bucks are sitting 6th in the East largely on the back of The Greek. The Bucks have a 4.3 Net Rating with Giannis on the court and a -12.5 Net Rating when he sits.
Giannis is leading the league in Minutes Per Game and PER while ranking 3rd in Usage. The Greek sits 4th in Offensive Win Shares, 17th in Defensive Win shares, 4th in Win Shares, 5th in Win Shares/48 Minutes, 3rd in Box Plus/Minus, and 3rd in VORP.
6th Man Award
This award, to this point in the season, is very weird to me as the leading contenders, Tyreke Evans and Lou Williams, have been thrust into the starting lineup for extended periods of time due to injuries. They have all primarily come off the bench and have done a wonderful job while on the court, but each has spent time in the starting lineup, and could continue to do so with some extended absences from the regular starters.
Winner: Tyreke Evans, Grizzlies
Out of 23 games played Evans has started 4. I suspect this number will continue to rise in the absence of Conley, but to this point in the season Tyreke Evans is the clear 6th Man of the Year.
Evans is averaging 17.8 Points Per Game, 5.0 Rebounds Per Game, 4.1 Assists Per Game, and is shooting 43% from three on over 4 attempts per game. His PER, TS% and Points/40 minutes are all at career bests, and I believe Evans also deserves consideration for Most Improved Player.
Runner Up: Lou Williams, Clippers
Williams has only started 5 out of 22 games played to date, but with Beverly out for the season and Milos out for the foreseeable future I imagine his starting role will continue. Although, I could be wrong since after five straight starts Doc Rivers moved Williams back to the bench in the Clippers’ most recent game.
Williams is averaging 18.9 Points Per Game, shooting 39% from three on 6 attempts per game, and is posting a 20.29 PER along with a 59.4 TS% on the highest usage rate of his career. He is also posting 24 Points/40 minutes, the second best mark of his career.
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Despite his recent injury, Anthony Davis gets the nod from me for Defensive Player of the Year. Allowing him to play the 4, virtue of Boogie manning the 5, has really unleashed Davis this year and he would rank 4th on my MVP ballot.
The Pelicans’ defensive rating with Davis on the floor is 101.7, which would rank 7th in the NBA. Making that all the more impressive is the fact the 80% of Rajon Rondo’s minutes come while Davis is on the court, and Rondo is perhaps the single worst defender in the league. The Pelicans’ defensive rating when Davis sits is an abysmal 115.0, which would rank dead last in the NBA by a mile.
FiveThirtyEight recently looked at who the best defensive players are this season, given injuries to Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert and some slippage in performance from Draymond Green. What Anthony Davis has done to date in terms of how much worse opponents are shooting when he defends the shot versus the expected success rate of those rates has been incredible.
Runner Up: Joel Embiid, 76ers
That same FiveThirtyEight article mentions Embiid at the end, saying he has been outstanding but doesn’t quite posses the same track record as the others in the article. Well, he has been outstanding. Opponents are shooting 33.3% against Embiid when he is the closest defender and contests the shot, per ESPN Stats & Information. The 6ers defensive rating with Embiid on the court is 100.5, which would rank 5th in the NBA, and Embiid is 4th in Blocks Per Game.
Winner: Victor Oladipo, Pacers
I really struggled deciding between Oladipo and his former teammate Aaron Gordon, but I am giving Oladipo the nod. Oladipo is currently posting career bests in Points Per Game, Rebounds Per Game, 3P% (44%), FG%, PER, Usage and True Shooting%. A large factor in choosing Oladipo over Gordon is his (slightly) superior PER (22.58 to 20.35) on a much larger Usage rate (28.8% to 20.1%), while keeping True Shooting % close (59% to 61.5% in favor of Gordon) despite the substantially larger workload.
Prior to this season Oladipo posted an average PER of 15.0 throughout his career, and as of this writing sits at 22.58 this season. Compare that to Gordon, who in previous seasons averaged a PER of 14.35 and currently sits at 20.35. I am not saying PER is the end-all be-all, but it shows that Oladipo’s jump has been larger and is doing so on a higher usage.
Both Oladipo and Gordon face the question of whether or not their current 3P% is sustainable. Entering the season Oladipo was a career 34.5% three-point shooter who is so far shooting 44% from three this season. Gordon entered this season shooting 28.8% from three for his career and is now shooting 41.9% from three on the season. I heard an interesting tidbit on the Dunc’d On Podcast that Aaron Gordon changed a component to his shooting form, which is evidence there is a fundamental difference in Gordon’s shooting as opposed to the first quarter of the season being a statistical outlier due to regress. Further evidence of this new found stroke is that Gordon entered the season shooting 69.9% from the line and to date has been a 77.4% free throw shooter this season.
Runner Up: Aaron Gordon, Magic
Thanks in part to Gordon’s early season shooting success, Gordon is posting career highs in Points Per Game, FG%, 3P%, FT%, Rebounds Per Game, Assists Per Game, Blocks Per Game, Steals Per Game, PER, Usage %, and True Shooting %.
Contender: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
It may seem weird to see Giannis here considering he was already a top fifteen player in the NBA before the season started. Perhaps that estimation is even too low. Last season Giannis finished 18th in RPM, 10th in PER, 10th in Win Shares, 14th in Win Shares/48 Minutes, and 4th in VORP. Prior to the season ESPN ranked him as the 9th best player in the NBA.
But I am going to steal borrow a concept that Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight used last season when making the argument that Kawhi Leonard should win MVP. In a nutshell, Paine argued that Kawhi Leonard making the Spurs a legitimate title contender capable of winning 61 games without another true star is more difficult to do than Westbrook dragging a team that, from the eye test, looked like a 10 win team without him to 47 wins and the 6 seed in the West.
So I am applying that logic to Giannis. While he was a top fifteen (or perhaps top ten) player already before the season started, he has now thrown his name into the ring to be considered amongst the top five in the league. As of this second, right now, the top five players in the NBA so far this season are most likely (in some order) LeBron, Harden, Giannis, AD and Durant. So while quantitative measure of the leap from prior performance to current performance is larger amongst both Oladipo and Gordon, cracking into the NBA top five (maybe even top three) is inherently a more difficult task.
Rookie of the Year
Winner: Ben Simmons, 76ers
Uhhhh, what Simmons is doing is nuts. In raw stats he is averaging 18.0 Points Per Game, 9.3 Rebounds Per Game and 7.1 Assists Per Game, which all rank first among rookies. Additionally, among rookies, he is 2nd in Win Shares, 2nd in Box Plus/Minus and 1st in VORP. Furthermore, he is 29th in the NBA in RPM, 9th among Point Guards, 14th in the NBA in Rebounds Per Game, 5th in the NBA in Assists Per Game and 2nd in the NBA in Steals Per Game.
Runner Up: Jayson Tatum, Celtics
Tatum is shooting 51% both from the field and from three. He is 6th in rookie scoring despite playing on the the Celtics. He is first among rookies in Win Shares and second among rookies in TS%, behind only Jordan Bell, and I think we all understand the idea of sample size there.
Contender: Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
Kuzma is 2nd in rookie Points Per Game at 16.8 and is doing so on 59% True Shooting. He is 5th among rookies in Rebounds, 4th in Win Shares, 7th in FG%, 8th in Effective Field Goal % and 6th in True Shooting %.
Contender: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
Mitchell has really come on strong in recent games and is up to 6th in rookie Win Shares, 5th in VORP, 3rd in Points Per Game, and 6th in Assists Per Game. He has scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games.
Coach of The Year
Winner: Brad Stevens, Celtics
The Celtics had a 15 game win streak in the 20 games that dictate these awards. That basically seals it for you there. However, enough cannot be said about how well Stevens has adjusted to losing Hayward in season. More so, Stevens has once again proven to be a wizard as Kyrie has bought into trying on defense and passing for the first 43 minutes of the game. Those two changes in Kyrie’s approach to basketball may actually be the most impressive accomplishments in coaching history.
Runner Up: Greg Popovich, Spurs
The Spurs are 16-8 without Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge is playing at an All NBA level. Any questions?
Contender: Stan Van Gundy, Pistons
The Pistons to me are the biggest shock of the season. Obviously my prediction for Detroit this year was horribly wrong. The Pistons are 14-9, 5th in the Eastern Conference, Reggie Jackson is enjoying a career year and Andre Drummond’s free throw improvement is remarkable.
Speaking of Andre Drummond, he is leading the league in Defensive Rebound %, Rebound %, Defensive Win Shares, and Defensive Box Plus/Minus (maybe I should have considered him for Defensive Player of the Year). These rankings are perhaps overstating his defensive impact as the Pistons are defending 5.3 Points Per 100 Possessions better with Drummond off the court. However, I am sure there is noise and there is context that would clarify why that is the case, and the truth regarding Drummond’s defensive impact most likely lies somewhere in the middle of all these facts.
All-NBA First Team
Guard – Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Guard – James Harden, Rockets
Forward – LeBron James, Cavaliers
Forward – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Center – Joel Embiid, 76ers
We have our three MVP finalists flanked by Kyrie Irving and Joel Embiid. The Celtics have the NBA’s best record and a large reason is because of how Kyrie has performed in clutch situations this season. Those numbers are admittedly a little outdated but they still illustrate the point. However, Kyrie currently has the highest offensive rating among any player in the NBA that has played in at least 12 games that had clutch time minutes, and played at least 3.0 Minutes Per Game in clutch situations. Given those same parameters, Irving ranks second in the NBA in Usage, second in True Shooting %, second in Assist %, and second in Effective Field Goal %.
Embiid has not been only a defensive force this season. He is scoring 36.3 Points Per 100 Possessions, shooting 69.7% within three feet of the basket, and the net difference in Embiid’s on-court/off-court split for the 76ers is +13.6.
All-NBA Second Team
Guard – Steph Curry, Warriors
Guard – Damian Lillard, Blazers
Forward – Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Forward – LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Center – DeMarcus Cousins, Pelicans
Dame is killing it this year as he is averaging better than 25-6-5 while sitting 5th in RPM among Point Guards. He is 6th in Win Shares, 6th in Offensive Win Shares, and 19th in Defensive Win Shares, which means he is contributing to the league’s 4th best defense.
I understand that Aldridge plays 51% of his time at Center but until that lasts for a full season (and maybe not even then) I am considering him a Power Forward. Aldridge deserves all the credit we can give him for how he has led the Spurs during Kawhi’s absence. He is 7th in the NBA in PER at 25.63 which would be a career high, with a 57.9% TS, which would also be a career high. He is 7th in Win Shares, 7th in Offensive Win Shares and 15th in Defensive Win Shares.
We also have to give credit to Boogie for how well he has played this year. He is averaging better than 25-12-5 and actually ranks 4th in Defensive Win Shares and 6th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus.
All-NBA Third Team
Guard – Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Guard – Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Forward – Kevin Durant, Warriors
Forward – Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks
Center – Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
After a rocky start, Kyle Lowry has really turned it on. He is sitting at 62.5% TS and for the second straight season is shooting 41.2% from three. He is averaging his normal 7.0 assists and a career high 6.3 rebounds. He ranks 12th in RPM, 17th in Win Shares, 11th in Box Plus/Minus, 8th in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, and 8th in VORP.
But I would like to use this space to talk about how well Lowry and the Raptors have transitioned into playing a completely different brand of basketball. Behold:
|Category||Toronto ‘16-‘17 Rank||Toronto ’17-‘18 Rank|
|Shots Within 5 Feet||28th||5th|
Toronto has done this seamlessly as they possess the 4th highest Offensive Rating and 3rd highest Net Rating.
Durant finds himself on the third team on account of missing 5 games thus far.
The Unicorn sadly sprained the crap out of his ankle, derailing his breakout season for the time being. He is averaging better than 25 Points Per Game and ranks 14th in PER. His TS% is at a career high and he is canning 40% of his threes while sitting 5th in the NBA in usage.
I could write about why Jokic deserves this spot, or I could just leave you with this.