James Harden earns first-half MVP in our midseason NBA awards

Jay Asser 14:03 21/02/2018
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James Harden was the best player on the best regular-season team this season.

If the NBA season ended today… well, that would be weird. But hypothetically if it did, which players (and coach) would earn the league’s individual awards?

Let’s take a look at who would walk away with what honour, with our picks solely based on the first half of the season. These aren’t projections or what we believe will happen, but rather what would happen if, again, we decided not to play the remaining schedule and instead went straight to the playoffs right now.

MVP: James Harden

The case for Harden finally winning MVP is ironclad. He’s the best player on the best team in the league (record-wise) and has the stats befitting the award – first in the league in points, player efficiency rating (PER) and value over replacement player (VORP). While he’s not the two-way force that stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo are, his offensive arsenal is second to none and he’s simply performed the best of anyone so far.

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green

It’s easy to overlook Green, even though he won the award last season. He’s not the paint protector or perimeter hawk that some of the other candidates are, but the beauty of Green is his versatility and ability to do everything well on that end of the floor. He’ll have competition from both his team-mate, Durant, and Rudy Gobert, with the latter potentially leapfrogging him with a strong second half after an injury-riddle first few months.

Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons

After being the runaway favourite for most of the first half, the gap between Simmons and the field has closed thanks to the surge of Donovan Mitchell. However, the Philadelphia 76ers phenom remains the rookie to beat due to his all-around game. Mitchell is the better scorer and undoubtedly the better shooter, but Simmons’ playmaking has been crucial to the Sixers’ current position as a playoff team.

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams

When you nearly make the All-Star team as a bench player, you’ve got this award sewn up. Regardless of how many minutes Williams play – and he does play starter-type minutes with 32.4 per game – he technically comes off the bench (only 14 starts in 55 games), and is in the midst of a career year at the age of 31. Eric Gordon has been excellent as well, but Williams has this in the bag.

Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo

Of all the individual awards, Most Improved may be the most obvious. Not only have Oladipo’s stats significantly inflated this season, but he has a narrative working in his favour as well. When the Indiana Pacers traded a star in Paul George to Oklahoma City for a package headlined by Oladipo, almost everyone thought the return was underwhelming. But Oladpio has turned into a legit All-Star and is boasting career-highs in scoring (24.4) and efficiency (48.4 per cent shooting overall, 38.1 from 3).

Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey

Brad Stevens looked like a lock to win this as recently as a couple weeks ago, but the Celtics’ skid combined with the Raptors’ jump has seen Casey take the lead. It’s not just that Toronto have been the best team in the East, it’s that they’ve done it by changing their style of play to utilise the 3-pointer more, as well as their youth and depth. What Stevens has done without Gordon Hayward has been nearly as impressive though and there’s still time for him to retake pole position.

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