Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
Think of the following as “who will win,” rather than “who should win.” As we know, the evidence doesn’t always back up the outcome on these awards.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This one is easy, though.
With all due respect to Harden, James, Davis, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic (all over 2 percent in Basketball Reference’s MVP Tracker), last season’s MVP is running away with this.
His team may threaten 70 wins, and Giannis is averaging 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals in just 30.9 minutes per game (33.2 points, 14.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals per 75 possessions).
Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant
Zion Williamson has been every bit as dominant as advertised since he returned from a torn meniscus Jan. 22 (22.1 points in 27.4 minutes per game, with a net-rating swing that ranks in the 97th percentile), but if he doesn’t miss a single game from here, he’ll finish with just 37 appearances.
Morant is averaging 17.6 points and 7.1 assists per game (numbers matched by only five other rookies in NBA history) while piloting a young team that no one thought would compete for a playoff spot toward eighth place in the loaded West.
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Davis had the early-season narrative and the Los Angeles Lakers propaganda machine behind him for a while, but his team’s defense is dreadful when he’s on the floor without LeBron.
Rudy Gobert is the two-time reigning DPOY and is tops in the league if you sort every player by the average of their ranks in defensive catch-all metrics. But voter fatigue and a team defense that has hovered around 10th place all season might take him out of the running.
Giannis’ versatility and the fact that Milwaukee is allowing the fewest points per 100 possessions could make him the third player in NBA history to win MVP and DPOY in the same campaign. Michael Jordan (1987-88) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94) are the other two.
Sixth Man of the Year: Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell will have some stiff competition from teammate and three-time 6MOY Lou Williams, but the big man should secure the award. His net-rating swing is positive and ranks in the 64th percentile, while Williams’ ranks in the 29th percentile.
But this one is typically about points per game, and Harrell (18.8) is less than one behind Williams (19.5). And the only bench players with more wins over replacement player—Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel—are averaging under 10 points per night.
Most Improved Player: Bam Adebayo
Good luck picking this one with any degree of confidence. There are strong arguments for Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam (again), Devonte’ Graham, Luka Doncic and probably a handful of others.
It’d be hard to muster much indignation if any of the above won, but Bam Adebayo gets the nod here. The first-time All-Star took significant leaps in points (8.9 to 15.8), rebounds (7.3 to 10.4), steals (0.9 to 1.2) and blocks (0.8 to 1.2) per game.
His most impressive improvement may have happened in the passing department, though. It’s more than the bump in assists (2.2 to 4.9). The better-than-expected Heat run dozens of possessions per game through their big man, unlocking the cutting and spot-up prowess of Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic and the rest of the team.
Miami’s surprising record and Adebayo’s varied contributions on both ends of the floor give him as good a chance as anyone to win this award.