The NBA All-Star festivities are set to take place this weekend with the NBA taking a collective break from the somewhat monotonous nature of the regular season. It gives the players time to relax and recuperate for the final stretch of the season as teams vie for a spot in the postseason. Meanwhile, fans and the media have an opportunity to get a better look at the performances we’ve seen thus far, allowing us to form our own opinion on who should win certain awards up to this point.
Even though I’m calling it my “mid-season awards,” we’re beyond the halfway point in the regular season. There are only a couple of months left of regular season basketball and between now and April, we could see a close race for multiple awards. So without further ado, I give you my mid-season — more like pre-All-Star break — awards.
Note: Each choice below is who I believe deserves to win each award, not who I predict will win each award.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
It appears to be a three-man race for the NBA MVP award, with Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo all considered prime candidates to take home the hardware. All three of them have viable cases to win the award, but I believe Antetokounmpo has been the most valuable player in the NBA thus far. Even at 27 years old, it appears that the Greek Freak is getting voter’s fatigue already since he’s won two MVPs in previous seasons. Besides being arguably the best defensive player in the league, Antetokounmpo currently leads the NBA in points per game (29.4), has corralled 11.3 rebounds per game, and has dished out a career-best six assists per game. Along with those impressive numbers, Antetokounmpo owns the second-best box plus/minus, only behind Jokic. While I believe Embiid or Jokic will be crowned the MVP, Antetokounmpo deserves to be the ninth player in league history to win MVP 3+ times.
Defensive Player of the Year: Mikal Bridges
Please, for the love of basketball, I understand that Rudy Gobert’s niche in the NBA is defending the rim and grabbing every rebound possible. But there are players that are better than him on the defensive end, whether some people want to admit it or not. And yes, I know I uttered above that Antetokounmpo has arguably been the best defensive player in the league this season. However, there’s one player that doesn’t get nearly the recognition he deserves and his name is Mikal Bridges. Bridges plays on the NBA’s best team in the Phoenix Suns and he guards your favorite player’s favorite player every night. The lengthy wing defender has 70 steals (18th most in the NBA) despite teams doing everything they possibly can to get their best player away from Bridges. Bridges is basically the Darrelle Revis of the NBA with how teams attack him. With the Defensive Player of the Year race being wide open — no offense to Gobert — I hope Bridges or someone not named Gobert is named the winner.
Most Improved Player: Ja Morant
A season ago, Julius Randle ran away with the Most Improved Player of the Year award, helping lead the New York Knicks back to the playoffs for the first time since the Carmelo Anthony days. At the moment, it seems as if Ja Morant is going to win Most Improved Player with the Memphis Grizzlies possessing the third-best record in the NBA. After posting 19.1 points, four rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game in 2020-2021, Morant is recording 26.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.9 assists (nice) per game. The third-year guard also owns a career-best 53.2% effective field goal percentage and is converting a modest 33% of his shots from beyond the arc. He’s also contributing more on the defensive end with a career-high 1.2 steals per game. While Darius Garland and Dejounte Murray are both worthy of praise for their efforts this season, Morant is beginning to evolve into one of the best guards in the league.
Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro
The Sixth Man of the Year award has typically gone to the highest-scoring player that comes off of the bench. Every team loves — or would love — to have at least one player they can turn to off the bench that can contribute in multiple areas, especially in the scoring department. Just last season, Jordan Clarkson won the award as he was phenomenal off of the bench for the Utah Jazz. As for this season, Tyler Herro seems to be separating himself as the best sixth man in the league (barring injury). There are guys like Kevin Love and Kelly Oubre Jr. that have thrived in reserve roles, but Herro is the lone bench player in the NBA that is averaging at least 20 points per game. Herro gives the Miami Heat a much-needed spark on the offensive end in nearly every game, and with Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo missing time throughout this season, Herro has been asked to shoulder more on both ends. Aside from his 20 points per game, Herro also contributes a solid 4.8 rebounds and a career-high 3.9 assists per game while knocking down 37.4% of his threes. Only an injury or lengthy absence stands between Herro and the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Rookie of the Year: Evan Mobley
What an exciting class of rookies we have this year, huh? From Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham to Scottie Barnes and Josh Giddey, there are dozens of first-year players that are flashing loads of potential this season. Among this year’s group of stellar rookies, Mobley has been the most impressive thus far. While the Cleveland Cavaliers are the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, Mobley is firmly positioned as a key cog in Cleveland’s defense. Mobley has notched 1.6 blocks per game (seventh-most in the NBA) while also supplying 14.9 points and 8.1 rebounds on 50.3% shooting from the floor. The sky is truly the limit for Mobley as he’s just scratching the surface in his debut season. I believe Cunningham, Barnes, and Giddey could make late-season pushes for the award, but it’s Mobley’s hardware to lose right now.
Coach of the Year: Monty Williams
While watching the Knicks play basketball this season, it’s crazy to think that just last season Tom Thibodeau won Coach of the Year as he led New York to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. It didn’t amount to much with the Knicks being eliminated in the first round, but fans in the Big Apple finally had hope with Thibodeau at the helm. Fast forward to now and Thibodeau is having his job questioned by the New York faithful. Even though I thought Monty Williams deserved the Coach of the Year award last season, this is the voter’s chance to make things right. Williams is coaching the best team in basketball in the Suns, who currently own an outstanding 48-10 record, which is 6.5 games ahead of the next best team in the Golden State Warriors. Other coaches that could get some love is J.B Bickerstaff, Billy Donovan, Taylor Jenkins, and Erik Spoelstra. But with the Suns being by far the best team in the league, Williams should earn his first Coach of the Year trophy.