The NBA season has less than two months to go. Here is where The Transcript’s hypothetical award ballots stand.
1. James Harden, SG (Houston) — Finally, after two second-place finishes, it appears to be Harden’s time. An inevitable scoring title and far more would make MVP well deserved.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F (Milwaukee) — Antetokounmpo is unstoppable at the basket. He gets to the line more than anyone other than Harden. He passes. He rebounds. He defends the rim and the perimeter. And somehow, he's only 23 years old.
3. Anthony Davis, F/C (New Orleans) — There's no reason the Pelicans should still be this good following star center DeMarcus Cousins' season-ending injury. Yet, the winning streak is up to six in a row, and New Orleans is up to sixth in the West. Davis, meanwhile, has averaged 33.9 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks since Cousins went down.
4. Kevin Durant, SF (Golden State) — Durant isn’t only scoring and facilitating as well as he always has. He also currently holds the title of NBA’s Best Two-Way Player.
5. LeBron James, F (Cleveland) — If Stephen Curry hadn’t missed 15 games, he could be up in Harden’s category. Unfortunately, all that time off matters. James’ sheer play probably makes him worthy of a higher spot, as well — and his deserved moniker as “best player in the NBA” does, too — but all the chaos in Cleveland pushes him down a couple of places.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Andre Roberson, SG (Oklahoma City) — The Thunder had the NBA’s arguable best defense when Roberson, who is out for the season with a knee injury, was on the floor and forced turnovers, thanks to him, at an historic rate during that time. The defensive difference has remained extreme without him: OKC allows 96.4 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor and 108.4 when he's off. As the Thunder finish out the rest of the year, he’ll fall off the ballot. But playing 39 games is enough to acknowledge unmatched defensive contributions today.
2. Al Horford, C (Boston) — The Celtics have been No. 1 in points allowed per possession all season. Their team schemes are beautiful, and it remains remarkable that such a young roster can guard so coherently. Much of that is because of Horford’s pick-and-roll defense, communication and help, which never seems to take a night off.
3. Paul George, SF (Oklahoma City) — Philadelphia center Joel Embiid could have this spot for his help in leading a defense which ranks third in the NBA. But he’s played barely over half of the 76ers’ minutes this year. George, meanwhile, has played about a quarter of the Thunder’s and has been the NBA’s best defensive back, topping the league in steals and deflections.
Rookie of the Year
1. Donovan Mitchell, PG (Utah) — Mitchell has ascended with the season and is already a competent shooter. Consider that the tiebreaker.
2. Ben Simmons, PG (Philadelphia) — It’s clear Simmons is a mere reliable jumper away from stardom. You’ll almost never find his mix of passing, rebounding, athleticism and finishing ability in a rookie. It almost doesn’t matter if he or Mitchell wins. Both are fitting and will be perennial All-Stars.
3. Jayson Tatum, SF (Boston) — It seems wrong to leave fabulous Chicago standout Lauri Markkanen off the ballot, but Tatum has been the one of the best shooters and a contributing defender on one of the East’s best teams.
Sixth Man of the Year
1. Lou Williams, SG (L.A. Clippers) — Williams is scoring far more than any other bench player, and he's doing it efficiently.
2. Will Barton, SG (Denver) — Barton has been more than just a shooter for the Nuggets. On a team that’s spent much of the season starving for a competent backup point guard, he’s been increasingly responsible for facilitating duties, as well.
3. Eric Gordon, SG (Houston) — The reigning Sixth Man of the Year winner is in the midst of another shot-happy season. His 3-point shooting may be a tad down from last season, when he fed off a hot start to the year, but he’s still close to the top of the league in triples.
Most Improved Player
1. Victor Oladipo, SG (Indiana) — The former Thunder shooting guard’s season is the embodiment of what Most Improved Player should be. He’s not some second- or third-year performer making a natural progression. Oladipo transformed his body over the summer, improved his shooting and turned himself into a first-time All-Star during his fifth NBA season.
2. Lou Williams, SG (L.A. Clippers) — Williams has pulled off an even more exaggerated version of what Oladipo has done. He’s in year 13, and he’s better than ever.
3. Tyreke Evans, G (Memphis) — Sure, Evans has put up numbers before, but he also got to a point where he was trickling out of the league. Sinking 40 percent of his 3s on a career-high attempts has helped transform his offensive game.
Coach of the Year
1. Gregg Popovich (San Antonio) — Top-five player Kawhi Leonard has played in only nine games this year and, somehow, the Spurs could still end up with 50 wins. Besides, when is voting for the man the entire basketball world believes is the best coach in the game ever the wrong choice?
2. Dwane Casey (Toronto) — The Raptors had been one of the Eastern Conference’s most successful teams in recent years. They have multiple All-Stars. Yet, Casey completely revamped their offense this season, has received immediate buy-in from one through 15 and is now leading the squad with the best record in the East. That’s nothing short of impressive.
3. Brad Stevens (Boston) — The Celtics’ tactician lost summer signee Gordon Hayward only minutes into the season and has helped Boston maintain as one of the NBA’s best, anyway.