Culture of Hoops

NBA Award Races: Early Edition

The NBA season is underway and it already has become one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory. Aside from the fact that COVID-19 can set off a chain of reactions unprecedented to the sport, of course. It’s more so the fact that the standings are not what people expected three weeks in and players leading the awards are not who you might think they would be going into the season.

The general theme of this season is anything can happen, really, and this appears especially prevalent to the award races. Usually each award would get it’s own post, but since the season just started, we’ll put all the awards under one roof for the month of December and leading into early January! Each award will be categorized into two parts: Top Three (players leading the pack) and Dark Horse (the player who can come out of nowhere and win).

Most Valuable Player

Top Three: Nikola Jokić, James Harden, Kevin Durant

  • Nikola Jokić might not be the first name to come to mind, but he’s been an absolute beast. He’s averaging a triple-double, and the center leads all players in assists, averaging 12.8 assists on the year. 
  • Even with all the drama surrounding him in Houston, James Harden has been a dominant force early on. Harden leads the league with 37 PPG. 
  • Coming off over 500 days of not playing in an NBA game, Kevin Durant hasn’t missed a single beat. Durant’s great play has elevated the Brooklyn Nets to one of the most dangerous offensive juggernauts in the league.

Dark Horse: Trae Young

  • In year three, Trae Young has helped elevate the Atlanta Hawks to be one of the top teams in the East. Can I see Young winning the MVP award with ease in the future? Absolutely. Can he do it this year? Young would certainly need to kick it into hyperdrive in the upcoming months in order for that to happen. 

Rookie of the Year

Top Three: James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball

  • Out of the three, James Wiseman is the only one starting for his team. Out of all rookies, Wiseman is second in points and leads in rebounds and blocks. Oh, and he can also shoot from deep. 
  • The No. 1 pick hasn’t started a game yet, but has made his impact known off the bench. Anthony Edwards leads all rookies in points and has shot the ball the most, meaning the Minnesota Timberwolves have full faith in him. 
  • After going scoreless in his NBA Debut, LaMelo Ball turned it around and is top three in scoring and assists. 

Dark Horse: Tyrese Haliburton

  • Besides the top three, Tyrese Haliburton is the only other rookie to average double-digit points. Not only that, but he also leads all rookies in assists and has better shooting percentages than the top three. 

Defensive Player of the Year

Top Three: Andre Drummond, Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner

  • Andre Drummond leads the league in rebounding, averaging 14.2 per game, and is top five in blocks and steals. 
  • The former two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert sits right behind Drummond in rebounds, but is just ahead of him in blocks.
  • Myles Turner might not have the rebounds to support his case, but he sits atop of the leaderboard in blocks with 3.7 BPG. Turner is also averaging just under two steals per game. 

Dark Horse: Ben Simmons

  • The last time a guard won the award was when Gary Payton won during the 1995-96 season. Ben Simmons is the perfect guard to win it, averaging 1.5 blocks and steals per game while also pulling in just under ten rebounds per game. 

Sixth Man of the Year

Top Three: Terrence Ross, Jarrett Allen, Derrick Rose

  • Terrence Ross leads all bench players (and the Orlando Magic) in points, averaging 22 per game. Ross is also very close to the 50-40-90 threshold, only 0.6 percent away in field goal percentage. 
  • Jarrett Allen is very close to being the only bench player to average a double-double (9.6 PPG & 10.7 RPG). Not only that, Allen is outperforming his starting counterpart, DeAndre Jordan, in almost every statistical category. 
  • Leading all bench players and his team in assists, Derrick Rose has become one of the more valuable veterans to come off the bench in the past couple of years. 

Dark Horse: Goran Dragić

  • After starting for most of the Miami Heat’s run to the Finals, Goran Dragić is top three in points and assists for bench players while also leading the Heat in assists. 

Most Improved Player

Top Three: Christian Wood, Michael Porter Jr., Darius Bazley

  • Christian Wood has proved absolutely vital to the Houston Rockets, jumping up over ten points from last year (13.1 PPG to 23.8 PPG). Not only that, Wood leads the Rockets in rebounding and blocks, all major improvements. 
  • Injury hindered Michael Porter Jr. last season, forcing the Denver Nuggets to play more on the cautious side. Now, the Nuggets seem to have unleashed MPJ, as his points and minutes per game nearly doubled from last year.
  • Doubling almost all of his stats, Darius Bazley has jumped into the starting role for the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s clear Bazley hasn’t heard of the sophomore slump. 

Dark Horse: Lonnie Walker IV

  • Having a rough start to his career, Lonnie Walker IV has solidified himself as the starter for the San Antonio Spurs. Walker has improved all facets of his game, taking more shots with confidence and is more explosive since his injury two years ago. 

Coach of the Year

Top Three: Doc Rivers, Frank Vogel, Monty Williams

  • Following an untimely exit from the playoffs last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers was let go. Now, Rivers has the Philadelphia 76ers at the top of the Eastern Conference with the best record in the league. 
  • After winning the NBA Finals last year, the Los Angeles Lakers upgraded their roster and sit atop of the league as one of the best teams. Frank Vogel has the talent to go deep in the playoffs again, but his coaching is what can put the Lakers over the edge in order to repeat as champs. 
  • The Phoenix Suns went undefeated in the bubble last year and just missed the playoffs. Now, Monty Williams has the Suns tied for the top seed in the Western Conference and one of the best defensive teams in the league.

Dark Horse: J.B. Bickerstaff

  • J.B. Bickerstaff took over for the Cleveland Cavaliers towards the end of the season as the Cavaliers finished with one of the worst records in the league. Predicted to do similarly, Bickerstaff has shut the haters up as Cleveland sports a 4-2 record and gave the 76ers their one loss on the year.


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