Now that we’re at the quarter-ish mark of the NBA season, I think we’re ready for some awards! Twenty games is hardly a significant sample size, but I think we already have a sense of how guys are looking and what we can expect over the rest of the season. At the very least, lists like these give you something you can disagree with and ridicule me for on Twitter. And I think we can all do with letting off a little steam by bullying someone online. You’re welcome.
Alright, and now for the Crow Worthy Quarter Season NBA Awards.
Most Improved Player – Jaylen Brown
I don’t like that I’m doing this. There have been quite a few breakout performers this season, but instead, I go with someone who almost made the All-Star team last season. Who wants to reward a player for getting better when he was already really good? I’d rather give this to Julius Randle or Christian Wood.
Randle went scorched earth for his first 10 games and had the Knicks looking respectable. Of course, he’s now back on his high-usage, low-efficiency bullshit, but hey, he’s got the Knicks in the playoff hunt! The Rockets aren’t headed to the Promised Land, either, but Wood’s proving that his tear in the second half of last season was no fluke.
There’s also Jerami Grant, who went from “oh yeah, he’s solid” to “holy shit, since when could he put up 24 a game?” But that happens when you get the ball every possession on one of the worst teams in the league. Shout out Malcolm Brogdon, too. He’d be a great second or third option for a title contender like—just throwing a random name out here—the Milwaukee Bucks.
But no, this has to be Brown. Randle, Wood, Grant, and Brogdon went from quality players to All-Stars. Brown went from All-Star to superstar. The numbers say the former four took a bigger step forward than Brown, but improved play comes with diminishing returns. Becoming a top-10 or -15 player from the top-30 or -40 guy takes a massive jump. And to do it for a team with championship aspirations? I may not like it, but I can’t compromise my integrity in handing out fake NBA awards.
Sorry Julius Randle, Christian Wood, Malcolm Brogdon, and Jerami Grant
Sixth Man of the Year – Jordan Clarkson
I don’t like that Sixth Man of the Year has effectively become “which non-starter can score the most points regardless of whether they do it efficiently or contribute in any other meaningful way?” With all due respect to Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford, you can be a good bench player without scoring 18 a game on 42% shooting.
Ok, I’m done going Grandpa Simpson. This is about recognizing Jordan Clarkson, the league’s highest-scoring bench player, as the Sixth Man of the (Quarter) Year.
Why is this different? Well, Clarkson’s scoring with efficiency and purpose. As of writing, Clarkson’s 20th in points per 36 minutes (slightly ahead of teammate Donovan Mitchell) and top-20 among guards in true shooting percentage. The Jazz have the second-best record in the NBA, and they’re doing it without a bonafide superstar. Mitchell’s good, but Utah doesn’t have a top-5 offense (something they’ve never done under Quin Snyder) without Clarkson.
Chris Boucher’s not a bad choice, either. He’s averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks per 36 with a 61.5 effective field goal percentage. Toronto’s a playoff-caliber team when he’s on the floor and very much not one when he sits. That’s partly why I’m giving the edge to Clarkson. There’s no way Nick Nurse watches Boucher every night and thinks “giving him 22.5 minutes a game off the bench is in the best interest of this team.” Boucher will get a starting spot soon and fall out of contention by the time the real NBA awards come around.
Barring unforeseen events, Clarkson’s going to stay in his role, because it actually is in the Jazz’s best interest. The West’s two seed wouldn’t be where they are without his output. This isn’t filling up the box score. This is elite offensive play.
Sorry Chris Boucher
Coach of the Year – Frank Vogel
I know. In the real NBA awards, this one goes to the coach of the team that improved the most, even if he’s not necessarily the best coach. This is my list though. So, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to anoint the best coach in the NBA so far as the Coach of the Year. Oh, J.B. Bickerstaff has the Cavs in seventh place in the conference? Anyone who thinks he’s COY right now was also probably the kid who failed everything in elementary school, and so when you finally got a C on your spelling test the teacher gave you a pizza party.
Yes, Vogel has LeBron and AD, but the Lakers are third in the West after the shortest offseason in NBA history. They’re also doing it while in cruise control. Do you think they needed to beat the Thunder by 29 in Oklahoma City on the second leg of a back-to-back in mid-January? Of course not. But if it’s going to be that easy for you, you might as well.
And fuck that “it’s LeBron who’s really coaching that team” schtick. The Lakers are second in net rating. The last time one of LeBron’s teams finished the regular season in the top two in that category, it was the 2012-2013 Heat, who won 66 games en route to a title. Are you saying that Eric Spoelstra, who’s a top-five coach in the league, had no part of that?
Quin Snyder’s a good choice, too, but I want to give the Jazz more time to see if they really are a top-five team now. Winning 11 in a row early in the season can distort things. I know for a fact that Vogel and the Lakers are legit.
Sorry Quin Snyder and Ty Lue
Rookie of the Year – Tyrese Haliburton
The Rookie of the Year is probably the easiest of the NBA awards to give out: It doesn’t matter if they’re winning or playing lockdown defense, just give it to the guy putting up the best stats. We don’t have a Luka Doncic putting up 21/8/6 this season, so it’s a three-man race right now between James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball, and Tyrese Haliburton.
Wiseman looks like he can be a franchise cornerstone, but he’s not playing enough right now to put up gaudy enough numbers. Meanwhile, Ball and Haliburton are quality minutes as ball-handlers and looking pretty damn good while doing it. I know I just said this is award is for the stat sheet stuffer, which means Ball should the pick here, but I’ve already changed my mind on that in the last 90 words.
I just can’t get over how good Haliburton looks. He plays like a veteran. He does things that 20-year-olds shouldn’t be able to do:
Hesitation moves that get a good defender in Fred Van Vleet (sorry I keep picking on you) to bite.
Cross-court passes right in the shooter’s pocket.
And that was just in his last two games. The kid has truly been in a class of his own this season.
Side note: What the fuck Anthony Edwards?
I’m not sure what the long-term plan is for Haliburton. The Kings just gave De’Aaron Fox a max contract and the two have overlapping skill sets. I get it though. When great point guards fall to you in the draft, you grab them. Someone tell that to the Knicks.
Sorry LaMelo Ball and James Wiseman
Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Turner
You have a lot of the usual suspects jostling for DPOY.
Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert are once again spearheading top defenses. Ben Simmons was designed in a lab to lay waste to opponents’ game plans. How often does a guy come around who can truly defend all five positions?
But no one is doing what Myles Turner has been his season.
The sixth-year pro is inviting all challengers to come at him in his paint so that he can chew them up and spit them out. According to NBA Advanced Stats, Turner is contesting a league-high 10.5 field goal attempts within six feet of the rim. On such shots, opponents are shooting 41.3%. That’s the best mark in the league by over two percentage points.
The best part is that he’s doing it in a demoralizing fashion. Turner has blocked 10.4% of opponents’ two-pointers when he’s been on the floor. Manute Bol’s the only guy to break 10% over a full season. If the absurdity of that didn’t sink in, let me put it another way: Myles Turner has been as good at blocking shots this season as one of the tallest human beings to ever live.
Poor Fred Van Vleet. He decided that if Turner can bully him out on the perimeter, then he wanted absolutely NONE of that smoke in the paint.
The Pacers are a middle-of-the-road defense, but they’re only that good because of Turner. Indiana allows 107 points per 100 when he’s on the floor and 116.5 when he sits. That’s the difference between ranking 4th and 29th in defensive rating.
If the backcourt can stop opponents from shooting 39% from three, maybe Turner will actually win this at the real NBA awards.
Sorry Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, and Ben Simmons
MVP: Joel Embiid
Being the MVP involves a lot of moving parts—there’s more to it than being really, really good at basketball.
You could have an MVP-caliber teammate who takes votes away from you (Kawhi Leonard/Paul George, LeBron James/Anthony Davis, Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown [I can’t wait to see the Celtics at full health], Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving/James Harden).
Your team could be trash despite your best efforts (Luka Doncic).
The NBA voters could be tired of giving you more awards (Giannis Antetokounmpo).
Once we take all that into account, that leaves us with Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. Jokic has been a destroyer of hopes and dreams this season, and he put up 47 points on Sunday as the Nuggets ended the Jazz’s 11-game winning streak. Still, Denver’s 3.5 games out of first in the West, and I’m not convinced the Nuggets are in the same class as the two L.A. teams. The Sixers, on the other hand, lead the East by 2.5 games. A lot of that has to do with Embiid.
No disrespect to Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, but Joel “Do-a-180” Embiid is the straw that stirs the drink. He was already an efficient, high-volume scorer, but now that he’s added a three-point shot, it’s curtains for the league. He scores at will now. He’s putting up 28.3 a game on a 54/40/84 slash line for a 66.9 true shooting percentage. Embiid’s on pace to join Steph Curry and Charles Barkley as the only players to ever score more than 28 PPG on a 66+ TS%. And unlike those guys, Embiid’s doing it while also playing elite defense.
Remember when draft pundits said back in 2014 that Embiid had the potential to become the next Hakeem Olajuwon? Well, this is what they meant.
He’s sat out five games of Philly’s 21 games, and if the DNPs pile up, that will be a big knock against him. As of right now though, he’s in that sweet spot where he’s played enough games to justify being considered for awards, while missing enough to show just how much worse his team is without him. The Sixers are +13.5 per 100 possessions when Embiid is on the floor and -4.9 when he sits. For all you non-math people, that’s a +/- net of +18.4 per 100. Seventh among guys who’ve played at least 500 minutes. They’re 14-2 when he plays and 1-4 when he’s out. They only go so far as he takes them. And with the way he’s playing, he’s going to take them far. That’s what it means to be an MVP.
Sorry Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard/Paul George