Who will win the NBA’s MVP award this season? The choices are aplenty.
There is no shortage of candidates for most improved player of the year, and some players have emerged as the favorite to win some of the other awards.
Thankfully, the NBA has a second half of the season to complete.
Not only is this necessary for the NBA to maximize its television revenue, but it will give teams more opportunities to bolster their playoff chances and award considerations after completing a first half that was filled with some impressive performances under difficult circumstances.
At the halfway point of the season, USA TODAY’s Mark Medina and Jeff Zillgitt look at the favorites to take home the hardware.
Medina: Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry
Following a slow start, Curry has led a Warriors team that is likely playoff bound with impeccable shooting and leadership. He might face some stiff competition, but Curry has proven the most consistent. LeBron James squandered an opportunity to stake his claim during Anthony Davis’ absence. Nikola Jokic is the NBA’s best big man, but the Denver Nuggets are wildly inconsistent. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has missed too many games. Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has done all he can to lead an injury-riddled team, but it still is not enough. As for Curry? His slow start aside, Curry has torched opponents with his outside shooting, complemented Draymond Green’s playmaking and has empowered rookie center James Wiseman.
Zillgitt: Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid
The Sixers center is having the best season of his career, and it’s no coincidence the Sixers are atop the Eastern Conference standings. He is averaging a career-high 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals and shooting career-bests from the field (52.1%), on 3-pointers (41.6%) and from the foul line (85.6%). New Sixers coach Doc Rivers is raising Embiid’s ceiling. With Embiid on the court, the Sixers score 117.6 points and allow 106.5 points per 100 possessions, and Embiid’s player efficiency rating (the measure of a player’s per-minute productivity) is No. 2 in the league.
Also considered: Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn’s James Harden, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Dallas Luka Doncic
Defensive Player of the Year
Medina: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert
Gobert is on pace to win his third DPOY award for reasons beyond ranking second in blocks (2.7) and third in rebounds (13.1). He has given the Jazz consistent rim protection and has helped the team compensate for lacking a definitive wing defender. No wonder Gobert leads the league in defensive rating (103.8), which are the number of points allowed per 100 possessions any time he is on the floor.
Zillgitt: Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert
When Gobert is on the court, opponents shoot 43.6% from the field, he has the fifth-best defensive rebounding percentage in the league, shares the league lead in defensive rebounds per game (9.8) and the Jazz are fourth in field goal percentage allowed on shots six feet or closer to the basket.
Also considered: Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Indiana’s Myles Turner, Miami’s Jimmy Butler, Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James
Sixth Man of the Year
Medina: Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson
Clarkson remains on pace both to lead the NBA in bench scoring and to finish with a career-high in points per game (17.9). Through his seven-year NBA career, Clarkson always was an aggressive scorer. But he often showed tunnel vision and forced too many shots. Because of Clarkson’s quest to improve and help the team, he has refined his game a bit. He still scores at a high clip, while reading the game more decisively.
Zillgitt: Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson
What Mark said.
Others considered: Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis, Phoenix’s Cam Johnson, San Antonio’s Rudy Gay, Denver’s Monte Morris, Los Angeles Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell, Portland’s Carmelo Anthony, Toronto’s Chris Boucher
Coach of the Year
Medina: Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau certainly deserves consideration for ensuring the Knicks are no longer a punchline. But I’m giving the edge to Snyder simply because he has found a way to maximize continuity on a talented roster at a time when a coaches’ voice may lose its impact. Though Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are deserving All-Stars, they are not among the NBA’s superstars. Yet, the Jazz have the NBA’s best record because of that dynamic duo and a blend of dependable players, including Mike Conley, Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson. Plenty of credit should go back to Snyder for getting all of those players to buy well enough into their roles to become both a top five offensive and defensive team.
Zillgitt: Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
Certainly, Snyder deserves credit for what he has done with the Jazz this season (No. 3 in defensive rating and No. 4 in offensive rating and the only team in the top five in both), but he helped hold the team together last season during difficult circumstances.
Others considered: Thibodeau, Phoenix’s Monty Williams, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers, Brooklyn’s Steve Nash, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich
Rookie of the Year
Medina: Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball
For once, LaVar Ball’s boasting words finally match reality. LaMelo has become the NBA’s best rookie and already has surpassed his older brother, Lonzo, as the better player. After the Hornets selected him at No. 3, LaMelo has provided the hype that his father craves, and has backed it up with substance that coaches want. LaMelo has become a dynamic scorer and passer by offering highlight-reels plays and making fundamentally sound decisions. He became just the eighth rookie in NBA history to average at least 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals through his first 30 games. LaMelo also joined LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Jimmy Butler and Pascal Siakam as the only players this year to average those same numbers through at least five games in February.
Zillgitt: Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball
Ball is the rare rookie who averages at least 15 points, six rebounds and six assists. And for the concerns about his shooting, he’s at 44.9% from the field and 37.8% on 3s. Not bad at all.
Others considered: Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton, New York’s Immanuel Quickley, Golden State’s James Wiseman, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards
Most Improved Player
Medina: New York Knicks forward Julius Randle
For the first six years of his NBA career, Randle impressed talent evaluators with his bruising presence, his playmaking and his work ethic. But those in NBA circles wondered if Randle could ever show those qualities consistently without unintentionally getting in his own way. This season, Randle has further perfected his physical play and his passing while minimizing his mistakes that had previously included turnovers, fouls and forced shots. Not only does Randle deserve his first All-Star nod, he also deserves the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Zillgitt: Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine
Always the most difficult award for me because you have to discern increased opportunities from true improvement. There are quality options, including Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. LaVine is the answer. In just a fraction more playing time than last season, LaVine is averaging three more points (28.7 vs. 25.5) and his shooting stats are an improvement that can’t be overlooked. His shooting percentage is 52.5% (seven points higher than last season) and his 3-ball shooting is at 43.5% (five points higher than last season). It takes serious work to increase shooting percentages that much season over season.
Others considered: Detroit’s Jerami Grant, Cleveland’s Collin Sexton, Toronto’s Chris Boucher, Gilgeous-Alexander, Boston’s Jaylen Brown