Most NBA teams have reached the midway point of the 2019-20 regular season, and it’s clear which players are going to be in the running for prestigious NBA awards down the stretch.
Here are midseason winners for Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man Award, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, and Coach of the Year.
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak is the midseason NBA MVP.
For the second consecutive season, Antetokounmpo is putting the Milwaukee Bucks on his back and awing the NBA world with his tantalizing skill set. Ranging from his physicality, tenacious play off the dribble, knack for hitting the boards, to playing at an elite level defensively, he’s one of a kind.
This season Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.1 points — which is second in the NBA — 12.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 55.2 percent from the field. Currently 37-6, the Bucks hold the best record in the NBA and are the only powerhouse devoid of a second superstar. They’re a well-versed team led by arguably the best player in the sport at the top of his game.
Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant
Morant has been far and away the NBA’s standout rookie.
Morant is the headman of an energetic, young Grizzlies team that is the eighth seed in the Western Conference. He’s electric off the dribble, finding his teammates in the right places, and shooting well from distance. Morant is averaging 18.0 points, 6.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per game while shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc.
The Murray State product has been the driving force of head coach Taylor Jenkins’ offense and is one of the best young point guards in the game; he has helped create a buzz in Memphis both on and off the court. He’s only going to become more unstoppable with the ball in his hands. The first half of Morant’s rookie season has been a spectacle.
Sixth Man Award: Lou Williams
It would be a third consecutive season he takes home the award, but Williams is yet again the league’s best sixth man.
Williams is one of the best sixth men in NBA history. He continually comes through with big shots, takes on a heavy offensive burden, and provides instant offense off the bench from a scoring and facilitating standpoint. This season is no different. Williams is averaging 19.7 points and 6.2 assists per game.
On a Los Angeles Clippers team headlined by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, it’s pivotal to have at least one scorer off the bench who can fill the cup at a high level. With or without stars present, Williams is a stone-cold killer. His ability to make a profound impact off the bench is an integral part of the Clippers’ impressive first half (they’re 29-13).
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Hey, that name looms familiar. Yes, Giannis is the league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
His wingspan is beyond disruptive. He tips passes, consistently blocks shots and pick-pockets ball handlers, and never gives up on plays. Added onto averaging slightly over one block and steal per game, Antetokounmpo went into Thursday second in the NBA in defensive win shares (0.179).
How many times do we see players get out of the way of a freight train running at them under the rim? Far too often we see players duck out of a play so they don’t get dunked on and subsequently roasted on social media. Antetokounmpo isn’t afraid to get dunked on; he stays with plays and tries to deny players at the rim. From a production, ethical, and commitment standpoint, the Greek Freak is an elite defender.
Most Improved Player: Devonte’ Graham
The Charlotte Hornets have the most improved player and one of the best young guards in the NBA in Graham.
Back in training camp, rookie PJ Washington, the futures of Miles Bridges and Malik Monk, and free agent signee Terry Rozier were the talking points surrounding the Hornets; now it’s Graham. The second-year player has been the breakout player of the first half. He’s serving as a vital source of offense for head coach James Borrego in more ways than just scoring.
Graham leads the Hornets in points (18.7) and assists (7.7) per game and is shooting a plausible 38.7 percent from beyond the arc. Last season he averaged just 4.7 points per game. Graham has taken initiative, given the Hornets a much-needed scorer, and is providing the organization with a player to build through. If he keeps up this level of play, the sky is the limit for Graham.
Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan
Playing without their franchise player, Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers have found a way to remain a competitive foe in the Eastern Conference; head coach Nate McMillan is the NBA’s midseason Coach of the Year.
The Pacers are an elite defensive team. Whether it be their swarming perimeter defenders, ability to switch covers with ease, or their collective isolation play, the Pacers create havoc defensively. The Pacers went into Thursday sixth in the NBA in opponent three-point shooting percentage (33.9), seventh in opponent field goal percentage (44.4), and eighth in opponent points per game (106.1). Offensively, they’re a halfcourt team, but having crafty scorers such as Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, and Jeremy Lamb helps aid their shortcomings on that end of the floor.
Defensive commitment and offensive cohesiveness is on coaching. McMillan has done an exceptional job getting the most out of his players. How many teams could go 26-15 without their best player?