First-month MVP: Giannis Antetekounmpo
James Harden is averaging an astronomical 36.5 points on an even-more-astronomical usage rate (41%) for the 5-3 Rockets, but it’s Antetekounmpo sporting the NBA’s best player efficiency (33.9) rating across his absurd 29.1 PPG/14.1 RPG/7.2 APG stat line. The Bucks are 6-3 and should be able to cruise to a top-two seed in the East when the Raptors and Heat likely cool off, and the Greek Freak is just a cut above the rest these days.
He may never be an outstanding free-throw shooter (64.5%) or a threat from beyond the arc (30.8%), but nobody in the league brings the total package that Giannis does on both ends due to his otherworldly combination of length and athleticism. He’s only come on stronger of late, going for 30-plus points in each of his last four times out. With Harden’s poor efficiency numbers and the struggles of Damian Lillard’s Blazers despite his excellence, Giannis was an easy choice here.
Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant
After some expected regression for the likes of PJ Washington, Rui Hachimura, and especially the undrafted breakout Kendrick Nunn, it’s Morant who has emerged as the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year with Zion Williamson still sidelined. We knew the Grizzlies weren’t likely going to amount to much this year, but it’s been exciting to see Morant get his feet under him after needing the necessary time to adjust from playing Murray State’s lesser opposition to squaring off against the League. And adjust Morant has done, going over 20 points in three of his last four games despite still having played over thirty minutes once this season. The Grizzlies’ brass can try to take it slow with Morant if they want, but he gives them the best chance to win games not just down the road, but in the present.
Morant still isn’t shooting from beyond the arc much, but his playmaking abilities in the lane are undeniable. A 48.4% field goal percentage is exceptional for a point guard, and Morant is also dishing out six assists per game. RJ Barrett has also impressed and Zion’s return is looming, but the #2 overall pick in the Draft is the leader in the clubhouse right now.
Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Drummond
Drummond is averaging almost four rebounds per game more than his nearest competitor (18.0 against 14.1 from Kevin Love and Giannis). That should tell you all you need to know about the Defensive Player of the Year race right now, but Drummond is also averaging 2.1 blocks per game, good for sixth in the league, and is stealing 1.5 balls per contest as well. No player comes particularly close to matching those traditional stats, while Drummond has also played the most minutes in the league to this point, has a top-10 player efficiency rating and a 3.9 defensive box plus-minus, which would be the second-highest rate of his career.
It hasn’t always been easy for the former UConn standout in Detroit, and the Pistons are outside of a playoff spot right now at 4-6. It hasn’t been for the efforts of Drummond, however. Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis are next in line at this point in the season.
6th Man of the Year: Lou Williams
At the risk of being repetitive, it’s got to be Lou-Will for Sixth Man of the Year at this point. He hasn’t missed a beat with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in town, averaging 22.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.7 rebounds to this point in 31.4 minutes per game. Those are a starter’s numbers in every regard, but Williams might be more interested in taking home a record fourth 6th Man award in 2019-20, which would mark three straight seasons taking home the hardware.
The Clippers are cruising at 6-3, and with the load management offered to Leonard and George, Williams could be the team’s secondary offensive option on plenty of nights, keeping his stats high. For what it’s worth, FanDuel Sportsbook also gives Lou the best odds of winning 6MOTY right now. His closest competition? Why, that’d be his teammate Montrezl Harrell, who’s averaging an extremely impressive 20.4 points off the bench in his own right. The Clippers could have a monopoly on this award this year.
Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse
What’s not to love? The Coach of the Year is traditionally given to a coach who doesn’t have a bona fide superteam but can still put up plenty of wins in the regular season. For example, Mike Budenholzer’s 60-win campaign with the Bucks last year and Dwayne Casey’s pre-Kawhi excellence with the Raptors in 2017-18. Losing face-of-the-franchise Leonard in the offseason made Nurse’s job in the eyes of the media much more difficult, though he still has a strong roster at his disposal. And Toronto is flying out of the gates in the post-Kawhi era, at 6-2 with only one of their wins by single-digits and their only losses to powerhouses Boston and Milwaukee.
There’s no reason why the Raptors can’t earn the 3-seed in the East or better if the Celtics and Bucks really focus on gearing up for the playoffs. And since COTY is awarded based on regular-season performance and tends to favor perceived overachievers, I think Nurse is a perfect fit here. Yes, the award went to a Raptors coach just two years ago, but this is a new coach under vastly different circumstances.