Updated: Jan 21, 2021
28 days of NBA basketball have been played, 4 weeks, so let's take a look at the major awards and see who's deserving of what. MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, 6th Man of the Year, Most Improved Player, and I'll also make a 1st Team for All-NBA and All-Defence at the end. These are my own personal picks, not at all how I predict the media would vote, as I know they're biased to highlights, legacy, and big markets.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER Nikola Jokic - 25.1 PPG/11.4 RPG/10.0 APG/(57.3/35.4/85.2)/31.8 PER/14 GP/35.0 MPG/(+14.6 On/Off) Damian Lillard - 28.1 PPG/4.7 RPG/6.7 APG/(44.1/36.9/94.5)/24.5 PER/14 GP/36.2 MPG/(+20.3 On/Off) Kawhi Leonard - 24.3 PPG/5.1 RPG/5.9 APG/(49.1/43.4/87.7)/26.3 PER/12 GP/34.1 MPG/(+20.5 On/Off) Jokic has been putting up monstrous numbers that are fairly undeniable, but currently the Nuggets are 7-7 and the 9th seed in the west, so he's not winning it with that record. However, the Nuggets also have the 6th best net rating in the NBA and would be 9-5 based on that point differential normally. If they start converting some of those close games then he's a shoe-in, but a 50% record won't cut it. Similarly the Blazers are only 8-6 and the 5th seed. Now, the 5th seed is probably good enough, but concerningly for the Blazers is that they have a negative net rating so they're actually over-performing. 4 of their 6 losses (and 2 of their wins) have been more than 20 points. More than half their games have had extended garbage time, and it may be leading to an over-inflated on/off rating for Lillard. But on the positive, Lillard's shooting averages are below what is standard for him, so if he can pick that up it's reasonable to see him averaging 30 points per game like he did last season. If he can get them to a higher seed I think he has a better chance than I gave him at the beginning of the season, but their 27th ranked defence and an injured Jusuf Nurkic will make things tough for him. Leonard was my pre-season pick, and Jokic was my backup pick, so I'm happy with how things are looking, but that's looking at how I look at things, maybe the rest of the world has a completely different field at the top. Regardless, Clippers are part of the 3 teams in the west that have started to separate them self from the herd (along with Lakers and Jazz), so in terms of team record, Kawhi's got his team right there. The starting 5 of the Clippers are doing fantastic, right now they're 2nd in the NBA in net points (behind the Lakers starting 5) but with Leonard having missed a couple games with his injured lip, they've also spent a little less time on the court together than the #1 Lakers. The media hates Paul George, and the other three of Beverley, Ibaka, and Batum are all seen as role players, so I think Leonard has strong voting bias on his side. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Tyrese Haliburton - 11.1 PPG/2.8 RPG/5.3 APG/(51.6/51.0/81.8)/18.3 PER/12 GP/28.0 MPG/(-1.8 On/Off) LaMelo Ball - 11.8 PPG/6.8 RPG/6.1 APG/(40.3/33.3/67.9)/17.8 PER/14 GP/25.2 MPG/(-12.0 On/Off) Payton Pritchard - 8.8 PPG/2.8 RPG/2.8 APG/(50.0/43.2/90.0)/13.9 PER/12 GP/22.7 MPG/(+18.7 On/Off) Haliburton has been maybe the best all-around rookie, and has worked excellent as a secondary guard next to Fox, but he has been secondary. The Kings aren't running a ton through him, he currently has a 14.6 USG, which is the lowest in the NBA among guards scoring over 10 points per game, but when he does get the ball he's been super efficient both in scoring (.666 TS) and not turning the ball over (4.33 AST:TO). He is also a solid defender to go with it. There's going to be no clear-cut rookie of the year, no one has 20 point per game potential this year. Edwards might get there, but he's currently averaging 12.5 PPG in 25.2 MPG off the bench, so it's still fairly unlikely. The only player who is getting a lot of burn to do what he wants is LaMelo Ball, and he's putting up good stats, recently becoming the youngest player to ever record a triple-double, but he is also posting a team-low on/off number of -12.0 while on the court. He might look good, but right now it isn't translating to winning basketball. I do think he'll figure it out, but right now the efficiency isn't there and his defence is better, but still not average, despite posting the 5th highest Steal% in the entire NBA at the moment. His shooting is poor, but it was worse in the NBL. I still think he's the favourite and leading votes right now, just because I think Haliburton is first doesn't mean that's what I think the majority thinks. The same goes with Edwards and Wiseman, they both are getting the highlights and thus the hypothetical votes, but all three have been very inefficient. In at third, maybe controversial, but Payton Pritchard. Maybe the most surprising player all year for me, I didn't think he should even be a first round pick in the draft, and here he is carrying the backcourt alongside Jeff Teague while Kemba is out. Pritchard is currently 4th in minutes played for the Celtics, and without him on the court the Celtics have been a -7.98, and a +11.43 with him on the court, which is about as big of an impact as anyone. I still have my doubts about an unathletic 6'1" SG but for now he just seems like the perfect glue guy next to Tatum/Brown/Smart trio, his ballhandling is way better than I thought and 50/40/90 shooting is always useful. 6TH MAN OF THE YEAR Chris Boucher - 16.1 PPG/7.0 RPG/1.1 APG/(60.3/46.9/78.4)/29.8 PER/13 GP/23.8 MPG/(+15.4 On/Off) Cameron Johnson - 12.1 PPG/3.3 RPG/1.6 APG/(46.8/38.5/85.7)/17.8 PER/12 GP/23.1 MPG/(+21.8 On/Off) Jordan Clarkson - 17.6 PPG/4.7 RPG/2.1 APG/(49.2/43.0/94.4)/21.3 PER/14 GP/25.4 MPG/(+7.7 On/Off) Right now there's no contest, this award is very easily Chris Boucher's. The only question is whether Toronto will start Boucher moving forward enough to disqualify him for the award, or an unfortunate injury. I was never concerned about losing Gasol and Ibaka, it's too bad, but I kind of expected this from Boucher. My only concerns were when Toronto immediately signed Baynes and Len and it meant it would cut in to Boucher's minutes, fortunately Len has already been released. But, outside of shooting at a higher percentage nothing about what he's doing is surprising to me, but he is admittedly shooting at a pretty high percentage from 3. The Suns are doing okay, 7-5, I think that's kind of expected, but how they're scoring has been pretty dysfunctional. Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and Jae Crowder have all been hugely disappointing, two of which I didn't expect that from at all, and instead the Suns are blowing teams out with a couple of Camerons and Bridges/Booker all playing together. Cam Payne hasn't played as much, so I give the nod to Johnson who is second in the league only to Richaun Holmes in on/off difference among players with at least 250 minutes played. He's not doing anything spectacular, he's just a solid defender who spaces the floor and lets the more talented players go to work, but in my mind that's an ideal sixth man candidate. But I know flashy scoring is what the people want, and that's Jordan Clarkson. Right now he's playing right up to the standard of Donovan Mitchell who starts over him, but on better efficiency. He leads bench players in points and has been shooting crazy while doing a lot of it in iso's. I debated mentioned Gobert or Conley as semi-MVP candidates, but Clarkson has probably been their third most important player, and if Boucher doesn't win I think the easy second vote goes to Clarkson. DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR Myles Turner - 6.8 RPG/1.5 SPG/4.2 BPG/12 GP/31.7 MPG/(+6.9 D-IMP) Rudy Gobert - 13.6 RPG/0.5 SPG/2.7 BPG/14 GP/30.4 MPG/(+11.4 D-IMP) Jerami Grant - 6.1 RPG/1.0 SPG/1.4 BPG/13 GP/36.3 MPG/(+9.1 D-IMP) Myles Turner had a disappointing year last year, and he's still struggling offensively with a .283 3P%, but right now he's absolutely swatting the hell out of the ball at 4.2 blocks per game, and it's leading to a net positive impact regardless of what he's doing on the other side of the ball. Gobert is 2nd in the NBA at 2.7, and the 1.5 difference between Turner and Gobert is good enough for 12th in the NBA. Gobert is having a great statistical year, currently posting his highest rebounds and blocks per game of his career, but it's also translating to super impactful defensive rating. Defensive impact is a super noisy stat, especially early on, as a lot of it can be because of how someone else on your team did defending a play or a random dude hitting a 3, but Gobert's is probably pretty legit. It might not be an 11 point difference by the end of the year, but he's currently 20th in the NBA behind guys like Devonte' Graham and Ish Smith, so he's also sure to move up and eventually end up in at least the top 5. Jerami Grant is a little less of a huge-impact guy than the first two, but he's still forcing a lot of turnovers and his team plays way better defensively when he's on the court, and when you consider how much of an offensive load he's carrying compared to the other guys, it's very impressive. Everything about Grant this season has really surprised me, and it's good to see him exceeding expectations as I had a very, very low expectation of how he and his contract in Detroit would look. Most Improved Player Jerami Grant - 24.9 PPG/6.1 RPG/2.5 APG/(46.7/38.9/86.3)/13 GP/36.3 MPG/(+13.9 On/Off) Chris Boucher - 16.1 PPG/7.0 RPG/1.1 APG/(60.3/46.9/78.4)/13 GP/23.8 MPG/(+15.4 On/Off) Julius Randle - 22.8 PPG/11.0 RPG/6.1 APG/(48.4/35.5/77.1)/15 GP/37.1 MPG/(+10.9 On/Off) This is a really tough one! I haven't heard anyone talk about MIP candidates and I don't know off the top of my head who is way out-performing the standards they've set in previous years, but I feel pretty confident in these three. Jerami Grant is, before this year, averaging 9.3 PPG/3.9 RPG/1.1 APG, and he's absolutely blowing those numbers out of the water. The concern is that they're empty stats as the Pistons are still 3-10 for the season and last in the east, but the on/off numbers shows that it's just the rest of the team that is an absolute mess. And I mean, maybe that's all Grant is, a floor raiser, but the Pistons are getting outscored by 15 points per game in the minutes Grant sits, and there's nothing he can really do about that. There's not even a glimmer of hope with an odd outlier of someone doing well as a duo with him in Detroit or anything, it's just everyone is bad and then there's Jerami Grant. Boucher averaged career numbers of 5.5 PPG/3.7 RPG/0.3 APG in only 10.8 MPG before this year. He's 28 now and finally getting a continued run and everything about his game has ramped up. I've already talked about him a bit, and he's still just kind of a side piece to the Raptors offence, but when he's given the opportunity he takes it and has been finishing as good as anyone in the NBA. 16.1 PPG/9.0 RPG/2.8 APG were the career averages for Randle, which are still pretty good, so he's kind of what makes picking guys for the MIP tough, but before he was kind of seen as a ball-dominant black hole that never really improved his team. His passing has taken a huge jump this year and I think that's almost entirely the reason for most of his improvements. His AST% has gone from 15.8 over the last 3 years to 29.2 and his TO% has stayed the exact same, and he's simultaneously scoring more than ever while doing it. He hasn't been a very good 3P shooter in his career, .301%, but .355% isn't a crazy number and if he can sustain that, that's just another addition he's made to his game. Right now he's basically the Knicks PG and it's fun to watch. ALL-NBA C - Nikola Jokic
F - Kawhi Leonard
F - Kevin Durant
G - Damian Lillard
G - Luka Doncic I don't want to be long winded with the all-NBA teams, but I think the top 4 are fairly easy picks to make, the 2nd G spot is where it gets a little tight. There's McCollum, but I'm hesitant to list guys from the same team, LeBron, who is LeBron, and then there's Mike Conley who I'm hesitant to say his play is sustainable so from a legacy standpoint and defensive value is always under-stated in these awards, so I have to remove him. And then there's some guys who are better than whatever 2nd guard I would pick, and Leonard's been sort of a guard for the Clippers, so I could go with Paul George who has the same issue as McCollum, or Embiid/Anthony Davis which gives you double-bigs. In the end, I go with Doncic. ALL-DEFENCE C - Myles Turner F - Jerami Grant F - Rudy Gay G - Mike Conley G - Ben Simmons
This one was a little easier for me, actually. The controversial one is probably Rudy Gay, who I think is one of the most underrated wing defenders of all time. He has been fantastic his entire career, and right now he has the lowest defensive rating of any player with at least 300 minutes played in the NBA. He is playing off the bench which hurts his odds a bit, but they're still a top 10 defence despite starting Aldridge and DeRozan. Otherwise, all these guys have strong defensive reputations and the numbers all back them up. That about does it, thanks for reading, and let's see how accurate it all comes to be. Written by Will Smith, stats are all from either pbpstats.com or basketball-reference.com.