NBA Midseason Awards
As we get closer to All-Star weekend, and the NBA season surpasses its introductory stages, it is time to analyze the most deserving recipients of the league’s most prestigious individual honors.
MVP: James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
James Harden has had a very interesting last couple of seasons. Two years ago, the former Arizona State guard led Houston to the number two seed in an extremely competitive Western Conference, and Harden finished second in voting for 2014-15’s Most Valuable Player. However, his reputation changed drastically during the ‘15-16 campaign, as the Rockets fell out of the playoffs and the 6’5” superstar was not delegated to any of the three All-NBA teams. This year, the perception of Harden has reversed once more, and nearly all of it has to do with team success.
Yes, James Harden’s eye-popping stats (28.9 PPG, 11.4 APG, and 8.2 RPG) must be credited for some of the recognition, but those numbers are largely a result of the departure of Dwight Howard and Harden’s switch to point guard this season. The true reason that “The Beard” sits atop the league’s MVP list halfway through the year, quite contrary to the 2015-16 season, is because he has found a way to turn a Rockets unit that few thought would be a contender into a legitimate title threat.
James Harden’s biggest competition will likely reside in his former playing town of Oklahoma City, where Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double following Kevin Durant’s flee to Golden State. But the Thunder sit just 7th in the playoff standings, far below the sight of Harden and company who stand at number three in the conference. Thus, this award is the Houston superstar’s to lose, and hopefully this time his strong reputation will remain with him for years to come.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
There are many great candidates for this honor, most notably the two-time defending DPOY Kawhi Leonard and two-time runner-up Draymond Green. But I’m going to go in the opposite direction and hand this trophy to a newcomer: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
Gobert was selected 27th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, and has been a defensive beast since day one. However, it is this year where the French product has really broken through, averaging a double-double (13 PPG, 12.5 RPG) for the first time in his career while leading the Jazz to a 33-19 record that would give Utah a first-round bye if the season ended today. Not only that, but the 7’1” mammoth currently leads the NBA in Defensive Real Plus-Minus in addition to blocks (2.54 BPG).
Both Leonard and Green have been fantastic to start the 2015-16 season, and are both essential to their respective teams’ successes. But Gobert has been imperative to his roster as well, anchoring the third best defense in the NBA. Although it will be Gordon Hayward who represents the team in New Orleans for the All-Star Game, Utah’s surprising prosperity has mostly been riding the back of its 24-year-old big man, a star whose name will surely be involved in these discussions for a long time.
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Well guess what Sixers’ fans, as well as the NBA as a whole: the wait was worth it. After foot injuries sidelined him for the entirety of his first two professional seasons, Joel Embiid is finally on the court, and he’s been absolutely fantastic. In just 25.4 minutes per game, the Kansas product is averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per contest. Per 36 minutes, that would be 28.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, and an astounding 3.5 BPG. Furthermore, the native of Cameroon is leading Philadelphia to long-awaited respect. Though they still remain near the cellar of the East, a 10-5 January record has provided hope for a franchise that has been under a cloud of gloom in recent years.
“The Process”, as Embiid has been dubbed, doesn’t really have any true competition for this honor either, as the second-leading rookie scorer this year is his own teammate Dario Saric at just 9.8 points per game. The NBA should probably just save some time and hand over the award to Embiid now, so then he’ll have time to make some room in the trophy case for the future accolades that are sure to accompany Philly’s newfound savior.
Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon, SG, Houston Rockets
Eric Gordon has also been a huge part of Houston’s climb in the standings this season. Following some rough campaigns down in New Orleans, the 8th year guard has finally found his niche as an elite outside shooter for the Rockets. Gordon is currently second in the NBA in three-pointers made, only behind the great Stephen Curry. Although he has started in only eight games thus far, the former Clipper’s 17.3 PPG this year puts him as Houston’s second-leading scorer, and is his highest output since 2011-2012.
Eric Gordon has quietly become one of the NBA’s most deadly three-point specialists, a gargantuan weapon for a Rockets squad that relies heavily on spreading the floor around James Harden. And if Gordon can continue to excel in his new role, there will be rewards to be given other than a deep postseason run, and that prize will most likely be in the form of Sixth Man of the Year.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either) has been screaming potential ever since entering The Association in 2013. And this year, the 6’11” small forward-turned-point guard has broken through in the grandest way possible. The third year commodity out of Greece has become an instant superstar, and if his stats-23.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2 BPG, 1.7 SPG- don’t tell the whole story, just take a look at some of his vicious dunks.
The 22-year-old is setting career highs in virtually every category imaginable. His points have increased by seven, rebounds by one, and assists by one, while his minutes per game have actually decreased from 35.3 to 35.2. These numbers shriek Most Improved Player, and this is without even mentioning the Bucks’ near 40 point jump in win percentage.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has developed from a project, to a starter, and into a superstar in a matter of three short seasons. He’s the scariest player in basketball: a near seven-footer who can handle the ball, drive to the rim, and dish out to open teammates around the floor. But the freakiest thing about the man they call the “Greek Freak” isn’t his current skill level; it’s the fact that he’s probably still evolving, ready to play the game in a way that nobody else has before, and nobody ever will.
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking: What? Another member of the Houston Rockets?But when you jump five places in the playoff picture after losing a future Hall-of-Fame center, the constant attention is well-deserved. And perhaps the most credit should be given to the new coach in town, the man who transferred James Harden over to the point and whose offense has transformed the Rockets’ identity.
Mike D’Antoni’s Suns in the mid-2000’s were all about floor spacing and three point shooting, and that tactic has proved successful as well once moved to the state of Texas. Fans can gift James Harden’s improved selflessness as the reason for Houston’s unexpected achievements, or even Eric Gordon’s deadeye shot, but the real praise should be directed at Mike D’Antoni. His system of surrounding Harden with three-point shooters-from Ryan Anderson to Gordon- has proved to be the backbone of this Rockets unit, despite the familiar names that make up the team’s lineup. Thus, there is no better option for Coach of the Year than D’Antoni: a man whose hiring was immensely questioned by analysts across the NBA, and a man who has proved every single one of those doubters wrong.