94 Midseason NBA Awards
If you are going to read through this whole thing, which I humbly recommend doing, you don’t have much time for an intro. Besides, figuring things out as you go is fun. Enjoy.
1. №11 Performance of the Year
2. Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, Spurs. Kawhi Leonard was a popular MVP pick last year because he was the only star on a 61-win team. Without him this year, the Spurs are 22–8. That’s a 60-win pace. I’m not one of these “it’s always Pop” guys, but this year, it’s Pop.
3. Worst Coaching Performance: Erik Spoelstra, Heat. Before you call this sacriligeous, do two things: First, try and remove the LeBron years from your idea of who Spoelstra is as a coach. Then, try to think of a coach that has done a worse job than Spoelstra this year. The only other option is Billy Donovan, but his team is starting to roll.
4. Comeback Player of the Year: Tyreke Evans, Grizzlies. A landslide. Evans got legitimately worse for four consecutive seasons following his Rookie of the Year win. He briefly bounced back in Year 6, before a slew of injuries threatened to end his career. Now, suddenly in Year 9, he’s better than ever.
5. Most Disastrous Comeback Attempt: Danilo Gallinari/Patrick Beverley, Clippers. Both were prime Comeback Player of the Year candidates entering the season. The only problem is that the reason guys are CPOTY candidates is usually because of injuries, and those injuries often reoccur. Such is especially the case in Los Angeles.
6. №10 Performance of the Year
7. Defensive Player of the Year: Joel Embiid, Sixers. With Embiid on the court, Philly’s defense is as good as Golden State’s (the №1 unit overall) with Draymond Green. With Embiid off, it falls to a bottom-10 unit. Green has only played three more games than Embiid, but Green will surpass him for this award if that gap grows, which it will should Green remain healthy.
8. Defensive Liability of the Year: Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves. Towns’ physical tools and Tom Thibodeau’s guidance were supposed to coalesce into KAT becoming the best defensive big man in the NBA some day. Right now, he might be the worst. Despite fellow starters Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and even Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague posting positive on/off defensive ratings, the Wolves’ №25 defense is still better when Towns sits.
9. Executive of the Year: Masai Ujiri, Raptors. Toronto was at a difficult crossroads last summer, and Ujiri was in an unenviable position. So what did he do? Ujiri found a way to simultaneously get better and deeper while also getting younger, shedding salary, and improving his future flexibility.
10. Executive of Last Year: Daryl Morey, Rockets. He’d be a fine choice this year, except that trading for a superstar who wants to play for you is kind of a no-brainer. But having the roster to attract that superstar, and the positive contracts to be able to trade for him, that takes incredible preparation.
11. Worst Executive Performance: Doc Rivers, Clippers. Rivers was relieved of his GM duties before the offseason ended, but the damage was done. Even a healthy Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari would not change this. The serious long-term money he gave to two post-prime, high injury-risk guys and his inability to supplement them with proper backups and depth was always going to be consequential.
12. №9 Performance of the Year
13. Most Improved Player: Andre Drummond, Pistons. This may be unfair to Victor Oladipo, but here’s my rationale: It is possible that Oladipo has been improving every year, and finally landed in the right situation to showcase his talent. Drummond’s growth, meanwhile, has occurred in a static situation. His vastly improved free-throw shooting and passing have instantly changed him from offensive liability to offensive force.
14. Most Troubling Decline (the Roy Hibbert Award): Goran Dragic, Heat. While it’s possible a nagging elbow issue is playing a role, Dragic’s slippage has had little to do with jump-shooting. Dragic, who has been the NBA’s best guard finishing at the rim over the last seven years, is down to the 44th percentile this season. He’s also struggling mightily as a playmaker and defender.
15. Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Rockets. Remember when last year’s MVP Russell Westbrook put up historic numbers on historic usage? Imagine if he was actually efficient, and if his historic this-and-that actually made his team’s offense better than Golden State’s. That’s Harden this year.
16. Most Detrimental Player: Harrison Barnes, Mavericks. Think of this as “player who plays the biggest role the least effectively.” There are hundreds of NBA players not as good as Barnes, but few combine his high usage (25.1 percent), low efficiency (53.5 percent true shooting), and limited playmaking (10.4 percent assist rate). Compounding this issue is that, as a primary 4 now, Barnes is incapable of rebounding or protecting the rim at an average rate. He’s the best player on the Mavs, which is the Mavs’ biggest problem.
17. №8 Performance of the Year
18. Owner of the Year: Paul Allen, Trail Blazers. What more can a fan base ask for than an owner who is willing to pay the luxury tax in a small market for an average team? Oh, he also doesn’t meddle in personnel or coaching decisions.
19. Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons, 76ers. There are statistical arguments to be made for others, but Simmons already looks like a superstar. I’m not voting for Tatum just because he’s more efficient.
20. Worst Lottery Pick: Josh Jackson, Suns. None of the candidates—Jackson, Zach Collins, and Malik Monk—have been all that bad for 20 year olds. The 2017 class looks like a historic one.
21. Best Second-Round Pick: Jordan Bell, Warriors. It is not uncommon for a limited-upside big man to slip to Round 2 and produce right away. That isn’t what’s happening here. Bell had both the floor and upside to go in the teens, and he’s making a lot more teams than just the Bulls regret passing on him.
22. №7 Performance of the Year
23. Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Clippers. Tyreke Evans would be the pick here, but he has played his way into Memphis’ starting lineup. Even as the best offensive player on the injury-riddled Clippers, he’s as efficient as ever — and more efficient than Eric Gordon, who is playing with Harden and Chris Paul.
24. Fifth Man of the Year: Taj Gibson, Wolves. Why do we reward guys who get to have the ball all the time and play against second units, but not guys who never get the ball and play against starters? No one embodies that difficulty more than Gibson, who plays on a poorly spaced floor with four ball-dominant guys, three of whom do not defend, and has still been absolutely brilliant on both ends.
25. First Man of the Year: LeBron James, Cavaliers. Harden is the MVP because his team is better and his numbers are better. James is the best №1 guy because he has to be the №1 guy every minute he’s on the floor. And because he’s a better player.
26. Second Man of the Year: Anthony Davis, Pelicans. Paul might have gotten this if he’d been healthier, but AD has given the offensive reins to Boogie Cousins while still being the behind-the-scenes best player on his team in a way that most 24-year-old superstars (as if there’s a lot of them) simply could not do.
27. Third Man of the Year: Klay Thompson, Warriors. After a disastrous shooting display (by his standards) in last year’s playoffs, there was concern that Thompson was feeling the squeeze of a reduced role. He’s responded with career highs in just about every category, including 45.0 percent from deep.
28. Fourth Man of the Year: Draymond Green, Warriors. Yes, he’s wildly overqualified to be a fourth man, but name me another overqualified player so willing to fill that role. You could argue Thompson is the actual fourth guy, but then you could also argue that he is just as simultaneously overqualified and willing as Green.
29. №6 Performance of the Year
30. Seventh Man of the Year: Domantas Sabonis, Pacers. After struggling to shoot the ball, score in the post, and rebound as a rookie (I wonder if someone stole boards from him), Sabonis has done all of those things extremely well in Year 2. Cory Joseph edges him in minutes, so he qualifies as a seventh man.
31. Eighth Man of the Year: Wayne Ellington, Heat. It is impossible to discern a rotational hierarchy in Miami. Ellington is seventh on the team in minutes, but 12th in starts, and is clearly second guard off the bench after Tyler Johnson. We’re calling him an eighth man, and he’s shooting 43.3 percent on 2.9 made 3s per game.
32. Ninth Man of the Year: Alec Burks, Jazz. The quintessential example of both Utah’s excellent depth and terrible health over the last few years, Burks is arguably having a career year. Young guards Rodney Hood and Donovan Mitchell have been drafted and surpassed him since his last healthy season (2013–14), but he is making the most of his 19.1 minutes.
33. Tenth Man of the Year: Ed Davis, Blazers. You’d think picking the best 10th man would allow me to go a million different directions, but any choice other than Davis would have been dishonest. He’s a clear 10th man—№10 on Portland in minutes, well above №11 and with no starts to speak of—and is also clearly the best 10th man, leading the Blazers in net rating and a major factor in their surprising №5 defense.
34. №5 Performance of the Year
35. Eleventh Man of the Year: David West, Warriors. This is where it gets arbitrary. West is 12th on the Warriors in minutes per game, 10th in minutes overall and could be as high as sixth come playoff time. As with Ellington, we had to get him on here somehow. The two-time All-Star is having by far the best year of his career on a per-minute basis. All at age 37.
36. Twelfth Man of the Year: Davis Bertans, Spurs. If not for spectacular seasons from LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, Bertans would be playing more. Instead, he’s a way-better Matt Bonner playing the Matt Bonner role.
37. Thirteenth Man of the Year: Boban Marjanovic, Pistons. Also known as the best guy getting nightly DNPs award. When he does play (11 games), Boban is fourth in the league in per-minute scoring, nestling comfortably below Harden, Curry, and Antetokounmpo (just above Porzingis, Irving, Embiid, Durant, and James). He also edges Harden and Embiid for most free throws per minute.
38. The “Sum > Parts” Award: Indiana Pacers. Obviously it’s really the Spurs, but that’s more about guys playing hard and smart under Pop. The Pacers are a better example of a team with below average talent fitting together in a way that masks guys’ weaknesses and enhances their strengths.
39. The “Parts > Sum” Award: Milwaukee Bucks. The Thunder have more talent, but also more holes, and still have the net rating of a really good team. Milwaukee is truly average, which is troublesome considering they have an MVP-level talent and the most quality wings this side of Golden State.
40. Worst All-Star from 2016–17: Kemba Walker, Hornets. Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, and Paul Millsap are disqualified due to injury, and Carmelo Anthony is disqualified because he was an absurd replacement selection. It is not Walker’s fault that Charlotte is 12–22, but he’s fallen back to earth as a shooter, exposing the faults in his game (namely, a lack of quality shot creation ability for himself and others).
41. №4 Performance of the Year
42–46. All-NBA 1st Team
G: James Harden
G: Stephen Curry
F: LeBron James
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: DeMarcus Cousins
Curry has missed 12 of 35 games, but it doesn’t matter. He’s been the second best guard in the league by a mile; any other guard on the first team would be out of place.
The only difficult decision was Antetokounmpo over Kevin Durant. Durant is playing better than Giannis right now, but Giannis was much better up until about three weeks ago.
47–51. All-NBA 2nd Team
G: Kyrie Irving
G: Victor Oladipo
F: Kevin Durant
F: Anthony Davis
C: Joel Embiid
Irving is almost single-handedly carrying Boston’s offense, while Oladipo edges DeMar DeRozan and Bradley Beal due to what he is doing without a Kyle Lowry/John Wall next to him. Embiid’s inability to play back-to-backs is a hindrance, but he’s still impacted his team more in 25 games than any other center has in 35.
52–56. All-NBA 3rd Team
G: Bradley Beal
G: DeMar DeRozan
F: Jimmy Butler
F: Kristaps Porzingis
C: LaMarcus Aldridge
Excluding one of DeRozan, Beal, and Damian Lillard is agonizing. All three are efficient high-volume scorers that make everyone around them better. Beal gets the first nod because of his defense, while DeRozan beats out Lillard because of their teams’ offenses. DeRozan is crucial to Toronto’s №4 attack, while Lillard has not been able to elevate Portland above №25.
57-61. All-NBA 4th Team
G: Damian Lillard
G: Russell Westbrook
F: Draymond Green
F: Al Horford
C: Nikola Jokic
We’re way short of 94 awards, and all these guys were tough All-NBA omissions. Even still, Klay Thompson, Andre Drummond, and Paul George were brutal exclusions — but they’ll get some love soon.
62. №3 Performance of the Year
63–67. All-Defensive 1st Team
G: Marcus Smart
G: Andre Roberson
F: Paul George
F: Draymond Green
C: Joel Embiid
George is a popular Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but he might not be the best defender on his own team. Whatever you prefer (the all-around, consistent defensive brilliance of Roberson or the turnover forcing and late-game D of George), both are first teamers.
68–72. All-Defensive 2nd Team
G: Danny Green
G: Klay Thompson
F: Robert Covington
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Anthony Davis
Davis and Antetokounmpo are on bottom-10 defenses, making them hard to pick over guys like Horford, Drummond, and Durant. But if you swap Horford and AD, New Orleans suffers while Boston improves. The same is true for Milwaukee and Golden State if you swap KD and Giannis.
73–77. All-Defensive 3rd Team
G: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
G: Victor Oladipo
F: Kevin Durant
F: Al Horford
C: Andre Drummond
Again, we’re short on awards, and long on elite defenders. This would be the first team in most eras.
78. №2 Performance of the Year
79–83. All-Rookie 1st Team
G: Donovan Mitchell
G: Jayson Tatum
F: Ben Simmons
F: Kyle Kuzma
C: John Collins
I’m breaking my own rule, which is not a real rule, by putting Tatum in a guard spot. I always try to honor rookies at different positions, but I also know there’s no way to make an All-Rookie team without Simmons, Mitchell, Kuzma, and Tatum all being part of it.
84–88. All-Rookie 2nd Team
G: Dennis Smith Jr.
G: Lonzo Ball
F: O.G. Anunoby
F: Lauri Markkanen
C: Jordan Bell
Ball is being labeled an early bust and Smith Jr. a future superstar, but their efficiency has been similar and Ball’s all-around production has been better. Both are clearly below Mitchell and Tatum, though.
89–93. All-Rookie 3rd Team
G: De’Aaron Fox
G: Luke Kennard
F: Bogdan Bogdanovic
F: Dillon Brooks
C: Bam Adebayo
This is a tremendous rookie class, so why not extend a few more roster spots? Adebayo is the only guy here who was strongly considered for the second team, but Bell’s game is more well-rounded on both ends at this time.
94. №1 Performance of the Year
Happy New Year.