We’ve officially reached the first quarter mark for this unprecedented 72-game season. Play has been up and down for most teams, players have been in and out of the line up for virus and close-contact tracings, nonetheless the ball has continued to bounce nightly.
These instances have made the race for each respective season award intriguing, to the extent that after roughly six weeks we’re finally starting to see the potential contenders for each award surface.
Here are my award winners from this season’s early returns.
Most Valuable Player: Nikola Jokic 🃏
26.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 8.6 APG, a shooting slash of 57.4/38.4/83.6 with an eFG% of 61.3, and a 31.4 PER. Career-highs across the board.
The Joker, currently third in the NBA in assists per game, in peak Jokic fashion, he is enjoying an MVP caliber season through six weeks.
Already widely acknowledged as the best passing big-man of all-time, and one of the best passers ever in general, he’s been on another level.
The Nuggets have endured some tough occurrences starting with an overhaul in ancillary players, integrating new bodies in JaMychal Green and Isaiah Hartenstein. Then they had Michael Porter Jr miss a handful of games (which after losing Grant and Craig was extremely impactful), while seeing some inconsistent play from Jamal Murray.
All of this to say, the demand on Jokic has been higher than ever before, and he’s been beyond up to the task. They are a completely different team with him on the court versus him off, indicated by his league-high +10.6 in BPM.
He’s also shooting the life out of the ball. His well known hotspots are of course inside the paint, but especially from deep and in the midrange. I like to call the area of the court where the paint extends laterally from one side to the next the “channel,” that goes from baseline to baseline 94 ft. That entire area from the 3pt line to the basket is essentially his office. Mike Malone’s offense positions him at the top of the key and in the high post/low post for playmaking purposes frequently, but those spots also are where he thrives in scoring, evident by his shot chart below
Where they are positioned in the ranks as the season progresses will have implications on his status, but expect for him to exude MVP production independent of the successes his team may or may not enjoy.
His most recent outing where he enjoyed a career-high 47 points had his full array of skill on display.
Sidenote, currently tied for the highest APG average for a season by a center (currently held by Wilt Chamberlain, 8.6), the Serbian point center could very well break this record.
Honorable Mentions: Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard/Paul George.
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Turner 🔒
Quiet because of the market he’s in, Myles Turner’s impact defensively has been LOUD.
He’s averaging an unreal 3.9 blocks per game, including TWO 8 block performances and TWELVE 3+ block outings. This is a testament to his gifts that most bigs don’t have, in range as well as reach and recovery speed. Combine that with his ability to stick with fleet-footed guards on switches, and you have the quintessential defensive anchor for the modern NBA.
He’s third in the league in DBPM, and sixth in DWS with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Honorable Mentions: Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert.
Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball 👀
Set to make the first start of his career tonight versus the Miami Heat, Lamelo Ball has been the Rookie of the Year to me.
As his counterparts for this race have, he’s done all of his work off the bench up until tonight. Averaging 12.2 PPG, 6.1 APG, And 4.5 RPG he’s been replicating a lot of what garnered attention for him before being selected third overall by Charlotte.
As his flair and prowess in playmaking become more adjust to the speed of the NBA, so will his overall impactful. He’ll surely garner that starting role by the seasons end.
Honorable Mentions: Tyrese Haliburton, James Wiseman.
Most Improved Player: Christian Wood 📈
This is certainly the most contentious award so far, as I predicted it would be.
A plus 10.5 jump in scoring, plus 4.4 on the boards, 1 more block, and a relatively similar percentage from deep on almost 3 more attempts a game, Wood has been unreal!
Averages of 23.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, and 1.6 BPG speak to the consistency in activity he exudes. He’s been a menace at the cup as well, scoring at an insanely high clip of 84.4%.
As he continues to ingratiate himself in Houston, and the team continues to establish new habits in Hardens absence, expect for Woods grasp on the MIP award to tighten.
Honorable Mentions: Jaylen Brown, Jerami Grant, Julius Randle.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Clarkson 🔥
The least contentious of all awards to this point, Jordan Clarkson has picked up where he left off after the Jazz acquired him ahead of the 2020 deadline.
In 42 games played with the Jazz in 2020 he posted a statline of 15.6 PPG with a 46.2/36.6/78.5 shooting slash, and in the playoffs 16.7 PPG on 46.4/34.7/100.
This season, he’s at 17.7 PPG on 46.1/38.4/97.2, including 40% on non-corner three’s. Take a glance at his shot chart below.
His spark off the bench has been beyond profound, it’s been pyrotechnic-like. Through 20 games he has five where he’s scored over 20, and has helped to make for potentially the toughest 3-guard tandem in the NBA by scoring.
He’s my preseason pick for Sixth Man of the Year, and he’s separating himself from the pack already.
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder 🧠
With the second best record in the NBA heading into play tonight, coach Snyder has his team operating at a pace exceeding expectations. Before their loss Sunday to the Nuggets on the road to the Nuggets, they’d ran off 10 straight games where they were shooting the three at an insanely high clip and they were also getting stops at an elite level as well.
Residing in second in the West and NBA at the moment, should they keep this pace coach Snyder will be able to snatch the award in a race he came runner up in in 2018.
Honorable Mention: J.B. Bickerstaff.
Let’s see how these races develops as the season progresses, and if any new names surface within each.
All stats are via NBA.com or basketball-reference.com unless stated otherwise.