This long game known as the 2016-17 NBA season has reached the end of the first quarter and it’s time to acknowledge the leading candidates at this point of the year for the end of season awards.
MVP: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
It’s a two-horse race at the moment between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but Westbrook’s historic numbers puts him on top of Harden, despite the Rockets having a better record than the Thunder. Westbrook is averaging 30.9 PPG, 10.9 APG and 10.5 RPG and has recorded a whopping 13 triple doubles in 28 games. The real test is whether Westbrook can keep this pace up, as well as keep the Thunder in playoff contention and so far, he’s done everything he can.
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
Joel Embiid’s rookie year is one of the top comeback stories of the year. From being drafted #3 overall in 2014 to sitting out his first two seasons, Embiid has shown why he was considered a top pick along with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. But the Rookie of the Year Award going to a player from the 76ers says a lot about how bad this rookie class has been. Ben Simmons has been out with injury, Brandon Ingram has struggled to get going and Dragan Bender has been non-existent. At this point, the gap between Embiid and guys like Jamal Murray, Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis is getting bigger and bigger.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Utah Jazz are currently 18-11 and in 5th position on the Western Conference standings. A huge reason for this is Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting Frenchman. He’s 2nd in the NBA in blocks (2.69) and 5th in the league in rebounds (11.8). He’s been able to shutdown Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins and Hassan Whiteside in match-ups this season. If Gobert can stay healthy and lead the Jazz to the playoffs, he deserves to be DPOY.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Lakers)
The Lakers are currently 11-20, but they had a start to the year when they flirted with a .500 record. This has come as a result of their strong bench and the leader of the pack, Lou Williams, deserves to be Sixth Man of the Year. He’s averaging 18.8 PPG off the bench and is among the Lakers’ leading scorers every night.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
It’s no contest here. How can you take this award away from someone who leads their team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals? He could also be a contender for Defensive Player of the Year, as he’s currently 5th in the NBA in blocks and steals.
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni (Houston Rockets)
The Houston Rockets had a disappointing 2015-16 season, when they missed the playoffs with a 41-41 record. In the offseason, they introduced Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach and his 7 second or less offense has helped lead Houston to become one of the top offensive sides in the NBA. His decision to put James Harden at the point guard position has become a stroke of genius, as Harden has become an MVP candidate with his multiple triple-doubles. Although their defense isn’t up to scratch, as long as the Rockets can outscore their opponents every night, D’Antoni deserves to be the Coach of the Year.