The week between Christmas and New Year’s is kinda strange. What do you call it? Is it Tuesday or Friday? And do you even have a job anymore?
Disoriented and confused, you suddenly learn we’ve reached the midway point of the NBA season. Each team prepares to play their 41st game this week, meaning we’re officially halfway with the All-Star break right around the corner.
It also means it’s time to reflect on what we’ve seen so far. One week a team like the Spurs are in the 12th seed, the next they’re in the 6th, but more importantly, the awards race continues to provide a fascinating backdrop to what has been one of the most unpredictable seasons so far. Here’s a look at our top nominees:
MVP: James Harden – Houston Rockets
We’ve witnessed something pretty special over the last fortnight from the reigning MVP. Entering December the Rockets, let alone Harden, looked very unlikely to earn any silverware this season, but after winning eight of their last 10, Houston find themselves just 3.5 games behind the Western Conference leading Nuggets.
Harden will tell you it’s a team effort, but his overtime buzzer beater against the Warriors last week says otherwise. So do his numbers, in particular a five-game stretch that saw him put up 40-points or more against top rank defensive sides like the Thunder, Celtics and Pelicans.
Haters will say Harden earns the majority of his points at the free-throw line, and while he does rank first in attempts at the charity stripe, what they won’t tell you is he’s hitting an extraordinary amount of threes. In his last 15-games, Harden has shot 40.4% on average from three-point land, but it gets better. He’s also averaging 14.5 attempted three’s per-game, which to put into perspective, outranks Steph Curry, who is shooting 42% from beyond the arc on just 12.3 attempted shots per-game.
The scary thing is Harden also ranks first in missed field-goals, meaning he could be even better. Of course, numbers are nice, but you win the MVP trophy by creating moments, and that’s exactly what Harden has done. It’s more than enough to dethrone Giannis Antetokounmpo from favourtism, and just like Russell Westbrook’s historic 2016/17 season which included a multitude of buzzer beaters and points, Harden is well on his way to back-to-back glory.
In Contention: Giannis Antetokounmpo ($3.00), Anthony Davis ($7.00), Kawhi Leonard ($8.00).
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
As it was a year ago, the Rookie of the Year race isn’t even close – it’s just a lot less controversial.
Luka Doncic has been a joy to watch all season, currently leading the 80-or-so rookie class in points-per-game and three-point field goals. The European dynamite was tasked with turning the Mavericks’ dreadful 24-58 record a season ago into something more promising, and while Dallas have tumbled from the Top 8 in the Western Conference all the way down to 14th, there’s no doubt Doncic has made an impact.
While guys like DeAndre Ayton, who currently leads all rookies in field-goals, would also be a worthy winner, Doncic is a class above. Simply put, he’s been fun to watch all season, showcasing a careless and ballsy step-back three and even a block or two against LeBron James at the rim.
Worth a Mention: DeAndre Ayton ($10.00), Collin Sexton ($21.00), Jaren Jackson Jr. ($21.00).
Defensive Player of the Year: Paul George – Oklahoma City Thunder
You don’t get to be the number one ranked defensive team in the league without a little individual help from one of your stars.
Paul George has been on a tear since the New Year began, banking in a huge 37-point effort against the Lakers, much to the chagrin of the LA crowd. George’s defensive numbers have certainly flown under the radar however, and even though the odds tell a different story, with half a season to go, the 28-year-old is still a huge chance to claim top defensive honors this season.
As of Wednesday’s game against the Timberwolves, George has recorded at least one steal in eight straight games. It’s a category he currently leads the league in, as well as having the eighth highest overall defensive rating (99.5).
It’s the little things George does that often don’t make the stat sheet, though. On a nightly basis he’s guarding the top perimeter players in the league, but he’s also blocking guys like Kevin Durant at the rim and intercepting passes in transition. It’s a right place at the right time kinda thing, and it just so happens to be a right price at the right time kinda thing if you can see past Anthony Davis.
In Contention: Anthony Davis ($3.50), Rudy Gobert ($5.00), Kawhi Leonard ($5.50).
Most Improved Player: De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings
Hard to argue with this one given the step, or should we say leap, DeAaron Fox has made from his rookie season in 2017 to now.
The Kings’ second-year sophomore could be a once in a generation talent, we just don’t know it yet. At 6-3 and around 80kg’s, Fox possesses the speed and agility to become one of the NBA’s elite point-guards over the next few years. He’s an dexterous ball threat capable of exploiting wide open space, and when he’s not cutting to the rim on a single step, he’s dishing the ball out to his teammates with pinpoint bounce passes in the lane.
The pick’n’roll is Fox’s bread and butter, and while you can focus on his points, his lovely lob passes, or his newfound ability to read the defence, he’s also helped the Kings be competitive this season. Sacramento are well in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, and if Fox can tidy up his turnovers a little, he’s a shoo-in for Most Improved Player and perhaps a debut in the postseason.
In Contention: Zach LaVine ($4.50), Pascal Siakam ($6.00)
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams – Los Angeles Clippers
A hamstring injury derailed Lou Williams’ season for all of four games, and since then, he’s been almost unstoppable.
Playing in only 25.3 minutes a game, Williams is somehow averaging 18.3 points-per-game. Since returning from injury in late December, the veteran point-guard has also chipped in with six 20-plus point games in which the Clippers have lost in only once.
Williams is always in the sixth man conversation as he looks to claim the award for the second straight year. He faces stiff competition this year alongside Derrick Rose, Spencer Dinwiddie and Domantas Sobonis, but a good bench player is brought on to score points and lead, and that’s exactly what Williams has accomplished by keeping the Clippers in the fourth seed out West.
In Contention: Derrick Rose ($1.90), Spencer Dinwiddie ($4.50), Domantas Sabonis ($6.00).