With the NBA season now past its halfway point, the All-Star break, fans and voters can start to make their predictions for the NBA seasonal awards. The NBA awards consistently prove that they are nearly impossible to predict, but we all try anyway. The awards consist of Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the Year.
The NBA is filled with amazing coaches, making Coach of the Year one of the most disputed awards around the league. Indisputably though, is the coach who sits above all in getting the most out of his players. Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse appears to be the runaway candidate for the award. Even with Toronto securing their first NBA championship last year, the departure of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard had the team fearing a steep fall the following season in a weakened Eastern Conference. Even after Leonard left Toronto to play for the Clippers, Nurse has managed to coach the Raptors to the second most efficient defense in the league, while allowing the lowest average points per game at 106.1. The Raptors currently sit as the second seed in the east with a 42-16 record, sitting eight games behind the Milwaukee Bucks. Though it is unlikely that the Raptors will defeat the Bucks in the playoffs this year without Leonard, their success in the regular season is a true testament to Nurse’s coaching abilities.
In basketball, the depth of a team’s bench can often decide their fate. This makes the award for the Sixth Man of the Year an important one, as it celebrates the top bench player in the league. This year, the Los Angeles Clippers are the best team on paper, and a big part of this is due to the talent they have coming off the bench. For that reason, point guard Lou Williams is the current frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year. Williams comes off the bench to score 19.1 points per game while playing some of the best defense in the league, being able to lock down players ranging from Washington Wizards point guard John Wall to Brooklyn Nets small forward Kevin Durant. There is a reason he’s earned the nickname “Underground GOAT.”
At the start of the season, it is clear which players put in work during the offseason and severely improved their game. The Most Improved Player award goes to the player that worked their absolute hardest to improve their game from the previous season, gaining respect from their fellow competitors. This year the clear-cut top candidate is New Orleans Pelicans power forward Brandon Ingram. Ingram is scoring 24.7 points per game, averaging six more points than his best season prior. He is also scoring more efficiently, as his shooting percentages have gone up in every category, especially from beyond the arc, shooting 40% from three-point range. Ingram has also improved as a leader, making himself the head of a young Pelicans locker room, as he tries to guide the team to make a playoff push following the emergence of small-forward Zion Williamson.
In the modern NBA, many players focus on their offensive capabilities so much that they overlook the other aspect of the game: defense. Though many players overlook this important part of the game, there are a few lockdown players that make their defensive presence known. Defensive Player of the Year often goes to a deserving player, and due to the media attention from the league, players often show their respect to those who win the award. There are a lot of deserving players this year, but all of them fall under Milwaukee Bucks power forward Giannis Anetokounmpo. The Anetokounmpo-led Bucks currently have the most efficient defense in the league. Anetokounmpo currently sits as one of the top rim protectors in the league and day in and day out locks down some of the best scorers. Anetokounmpo’s freakish athleticism and frame allow him to cover anybody, from the league’s largest centers to some of it’s smallest guards, all the while controlling the paint the second he steps foot in there. With the big man eliminating the middle, teams have to respect the Bucks’ defense and shoot around the perimeter, meriting the Bucks’ young leader the award.
Every year the NBA gets some new young rookies that become stars immediately upon entry into the league. This year the race seemed clear cut, as Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant hit the hardwood running. Morant has been averaging 17.5 points per game and is twelfth in the league in assists, averaging 6.8 per game. This emergence has helped the Grizzlies hold the last playoff seed in the Western Conference for the majority of this season. Most fans thought the rookie of the year race was over, with Morant being the clear winner, until the New Orleans Pelicans’ first overall in Williamson got healthy and had his debut a little after halfway through the season. Since then, Williamson has averaged 23.3 points per game and 7.1 rebounds. When he had his debut, the Pelicans were six games behind the last playoff spot, but have gone on a tear and now sit only three games behind Morant’s Grizzlies. Whichever young player can carry their team into the playoffs will likely host the trophy at the end of the season, while giving the NBA another talented young duo to duel it out for years to come
The most sought out award in any major sports league is the Most Valuable Player. At this point it is looking like Anetokounmpo is going to take home the hardware in back to back years. It is rare for a player to win Defensive Player of the Year and MVP in the same season, but it has been done by NBA legends Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. Anetokounmpo is averaging 29.7 points per game and 13.7 rebounds per game while boasting the aforementioned impeccable defensive abilities. Some of the other superstars in the league have much more support around them, yet the Anetokounmpo-led Bucks have the best record in the league at 51-8, steamrolling the Eastern Conference with a 32-4 record. As long as he keeps leading the Bucks to victory, the MVP award will go to Anetokounmpo once more, and rightfully so.