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Most Deserving Candidates for Major NBA Awards at All-Star Break

The NBA will take a well-deserved breather from regular-season action this weekend as players from all around the league travel to New York City for the annual All-Star festivities.

Around the two-thirds mark of the season, several of those players (as well as coaches) have set themselves apart from their peers in a variety of different categories. So let’s look at each major end-of-season NBA award and decide which player (and coach) is most deserving of the accolade so far this season.

Keep in mind, this isn’t who will win the awards at the end of the season, but rather, who is most deserving of them at the moment.

 

Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Key per-game stats: 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks, 12.8 PER, 0.028 win shares per 48 minutes

This has been one of the most disappointing rookie classes in recent memory. Although the 2014 NBA Draft was hyped up to no end, we’ve seen limited impact from players drafted last summer. In fact, only two rookie are averaging more than 10 points per game. That is the fewest number of first-year players to achieve double digits in the past 15 years, per ESPN.

One rookie has lived up to the hype, and his name is Andrew Wiggins. The 19-year-old swingman is stuck on the Western Conference’s worst team, but he’s made the best of tough circumstances after his trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer.

The athletic Wiggins has gotten very little competition for this award, although the Milwaukee Bucks’ Jabari Parker surely would’ve challenged him if it weren’t for a torn ACL.

Honorable mentions: Nerlens Noel (Philadelphia 76ers), Nikola Mirotic (Chicago Bulls), K.J. McDaniels (Philadelphia 76ers)

NBA: DEC 18 Knicks at Bulls

Most Improved Player: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

Key per-game stats: 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 21.3 PER, 0.213 win shares per 48 minutes

Coming into the season, many people had cooled their jets on Jimmy Butler. After a breakout sophomore season in 2012-13, the 25-year-old shooting guard’s field-goal percentage dipped to 39.7, his three-point stroke left him and he didn’t really improve last year. He was still a shutdown perimeter defender, but he was never going to be a force on the offensive end, people thought.

Boy, has Butler turned things around this season.

Thanks to a summer of refining pretty much every part of his offensive game, Butler is now in a dead heat with Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson for the title of best two-way shooting guard in the NBA. His points per game have shot up 7.3 from last year, despite only earning 0.6 more minutes of playing time. His efficiency went from “meh” (1.27 points per shot) to “wow” (1.43 points per shot) despite drastically increasing his attempts.

Few players make Butler’s improvement on one end of the floor throughout their entire career, much less one season.

Honorable mentions: Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)

NBA: JAN 14 Heat at Warriors

Sixth Man of the Year: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

Key per-game stats: 10.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 2.4 blocks, 28.4 PER, 0.236 win shares per 48 minutes

There’s a caveat here: Hassan Whiteside probably won’t qualify for this award at the end of the season. A player needs to play the majority of his games as a reserve player, and Whiteside fits those requirements, only starting 10 of his 25 contests. He’s now a staple in the Heat’s opening lineup, so his aforementioned credentials will soon change.

For now, though, let’s bask in the amazingness that is “Hassanity.”

The 25-year-old center has length, athleticism and great timing, three important attributes for a dominant big man. Per 36 minutes, Whiteside puts up preposterous numbers of 15.8 rebounds and 4.3 blocks. He would lead the league in both statistics if he had played in enough games to qualify, per ESPN.

But the real question is, “how was he out of the league for two whole seasons?”

Honorable mentions: Isaiah Thomas (Phoenix Suns), Marreese Speights (Golden State Warriors) Jamal Crawford (Los Angeles Clippers)

 

Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

The Coach of the Year features three very deserving candidates: Mike Budenholzer, Steve Kerr and Jason Kidd. Let’s look at what each three has done, shall we?

Budenholzer has taken a team many expect to be a low-end playoff team to a spot all alone in the Eastern Conference penthouse, Kerr transformed a good team into the NBA’s best in his first season as a head coach and Kidd made the league’s worst team last season a No. 6 seed in the East.

All things considered, you just have to go with Budenholzer. The former San Antonio Spurs assistant has squeezed every ounce of production out of his Hawks roster, a group of players that doesn’t look all that impressive on paper.

The other two candidates have also performed better than what their rosters might indicate, but not to the extent of Coach Bud.

Honorable mentions: Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Jason Kidd (Milwaukee Bucks), Dave Joerger (Memphis Grizzlies)

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Key per-game stats: 1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks, 96.3 defensive rating, 3.6 defensive win shares

Who would’ve thought a second-round pick would be the NBA’s best defender in just his third season?

Draymond Green has done just that, bringing a hyper-versatile approach to the less glamorous end of the court. He defends the perimeter and interior equally well, allowing the Warriors to effectively switch on picks. Overall, his defensive rating and win shares both rank No. 1 in the NBA.

Add in that Golden State is tops in the league in defensive rating (100.5), and Green has a pretty compelling case for the NBA’s second-most prestigious award for players.

Honorable mentions: Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs), Tony Allen (Memphis Grizzlies), Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors)

NBA: NOV 17 Pelicans at Trail Blazers

MVP: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Key per-game stats: 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.7 blocks, 31.7 PER, 0.290 win shares per 48 minutes

There is a stigma in the NBA that the Most Valuable Player has to come from an elite team. But  I prefer to look at how much a player actually impacts his team.

And no one makes more of an impact than “The Brow,” Anthony Davis.

Yes, his team is only 27-26, but let’s look at how different it plays with Davis on and off the court: with the 21-year-old power forward playing, the Pelicans outscore their opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions. That number is on par with the 36-17 Portland Trail Blazers. Meanwhile, when Davis is on the bench, New Orleans gets outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions, a number similar to the 10-43 New York Knicks.

Just think about that: one player turns his team from the Knicks to the Trail Blazers just by being on the court.

If he keeps it up, Davis will also have the second-best player efficiency rating of all time (31.7), behind only Wilt Chamberlain in the 1962-63 season. Hopefully he can come back strong from his shoulder strain after the All-Star break.

MVP, King of the World, whatever—give “The Brow” whatever award he wants.

Apologies to: James Harden (Houston Rockets), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)

 

Note: All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com and updated through Feb. 13, unless otherwise indicated.

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