The season is nearly one-sixth of the way over, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start predicting who you think is going to win the major awards this season. After one game, you have fans calling out for players to win the MVP, so why not start debating now? Among the major awards, which include, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and MVP, we have some solid early contenders.
Will this production keep up all season? That is an interesting question that nobody knows the answer to. With that said, we have new names, old names, and some Cinderella underdogs that some fans will likely cheer for as the season progresses. These are the top five favorites to win each NBA award right now.
Sixth Man Of The Year
5. Jordan Clarkson
Stats: 15.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Clarkson gets the benefit of the doubt given that he won the award last year. With that said, Clarkson is a fringe candidate because his points, rebounds, assists, shooting percentage, and three-point field goal percentage are all worse than last year. The biggest ding to this year’s season is his three-point shooting, which is hovering around 24%.
With that said, the Jazz are playing like one of the best teams in the league and Clarkson is still contributing 15 points each night. If the Jazz were playing like a lottery team, it would be one thing, but they are in a position to contend for a top spot in the West. If the team can land a top-2 seed, Clarkson will get votes purely out of team finish.
4. Buddy Hield
Stats: 17.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Hield is playing well enough to potentially get his way out of Sacramento. Hield has been subjected to trade rumors for about two years now. Hield is playing well off the bench, which includes one of the best three-point shooting percentages among all bench players. His 40.8% from beyond the arc will catch the eyes of many teams who are contending for a playoff spot.
Hield’s stats are nearly replicant of last year’s season. If it wasn’t for his large salary, Hield would probably be on another team by now. If Hield can stretch this total to the 20-point mark, he will get more love among the voters. For now, he should finish in the top-5 for voting.
3. Montrezl Harrell
Stats: 18.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.6 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Harrell is experienced with this award. After all, he won the 2020 Sixth Man of the Year before he was misused with the Lakers. Harrell has redefined himself with the Wizards. Harrell is one of four players averaging at least 17.0 points while coming off the bench. Harrell reigns supreme among big men off the bench as he leads all bench players in rebounds per game.
Harrell is also shooting over 64% from the field, which ranks the best among bench players too. Harrell is looking like his 2020 version of himself when he won the award with the Clippers. What helps his case is that the Wizards are flirting around the top of the Eastern Conference. Imagine a world where the Wizards have a top-3 seed in the East, Harrell could win his second career award.
2. Carmelo Anthony
Stats: 15.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG
How would Carmelo Anthony’s legacy shoot up if he goes from scoring leader to Sixth Man of the Year? The man that was written off from the league a few years ago is a leading contender to win Sixth Man of the Year. All the analysts believed he could do it, but it all came down to ego. As Anthony pushes the Lakers to compete for a title as a top option off the bench, he is competing like the best option off the bench.
Anthony trails just Buddy Hield for the most three-point baskets made per game. He trails Eric Gordan by one percent in three-point field goal percentage, where he is just one of two players that are hovering near 50% from behind the arc. This is a reinvented player in some ways and it is a lot of fun to watch.
1. Tyler Herro
Stats: 21.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG
It’s hard to go against the man that leads all players in scoring and points. Herro is the only player among bench players that are averaging over 20.0 points per game. Last year, Herro was seen as a distraction. Now, he is focused and putting on a show and helping the Heat contend for a top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Herro is narrowly beating out Anthony for total points, but that looks like to be a back-and-forth battle all year. We haven’t seen Anthony in a “scoring race” in quite some time. The only difference is bench points. It’s new versus old. For now, Herro has the edge, but this could be a fun battle all season long.
Most Improved Player Of The Year
5. OG Anunoby
Stats: 20.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG
This is a case of injury-plagued players finishing healthy. Last year, Anunoby played in just 43 games but showed signs of being a productive player in the league with a stat line of 15.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. This year, Anunoby is averaging 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists with a fairly high steal count too.
While some look at this as not a huge improvement, look at the team. The Raptors are contending for a playoff spot and haven’t played with Pascal Siakam for most of the season. When Kyle Lowry left the team, the Raptors were seen as a rebuilding team this year. Instead, players like Anunoby improved and Toronto could be back to being the scrappy team that gave teams hell like in 2018-2019, but without the superstars.
4. Tyler Herro
Stats: 21.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.0 BPG
For similar reasons for winning Sixth Man of the Year, Herro is a candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year. Last year, we expected to see Herro win this award, but he just went through the motions. Now, he looks like the man that led the Heat in scoring in the NBA Finals. Herro is shooting over 39% from the field and three-point range. He has made huge improvements.
Herro has never averaged over 20 points per game in a season. His previous career-high was 15.1 points last season, which also included 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists. If he can sustain this, he will win Sixth Man of the Year without a double. With that said, he could double down and win Most Improved Player of the Year as well.
3. Jordan Poole
Stats: 17.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Tell me you have a Klay Thompson without telling me you have a Klay Thompson. The Golden State Warriors have the original Klay Thompson on the team but found a way to find a lite version too as he continues to heal from injuries. Poole does not have the shooting range like Thompson in his glory days as he shoots 30.8% from three-point range but has the potential to one day accomplish this.
Poole is only 22 years old and is averaging 17.2 points per game. The Warriors thrived when Steph Curry and Thompson were the splash brothers. While Poole is not technically a splash brother, he is making a case to become an adopted member of the family. Poole averaged 12.0 points last year, so this is a true improvement, especially with the Warriors owning the best record in the NBA.
2. Miles Bridges
Stats: 21.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG
For now, Bridges is one of the leading contenders because of the jump he made from last year. The Hornets are slightly below .500, which helps his case when you compare his team against Morant. Last year, Bridges averaged 12.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. This year, those totals are 21.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. That also includes a jump in steals from 0.7 to 1.7.
When you talk about winners of the award, this is a true improvement. In every aspect of his game, Bridges got better. These aren’t garbage stats either as the Hornets are seen as a potential playoff team. The debate between Bridges and Ja Morant could come down to the higher team finish in the end though.
1. Ja Morant
Stats: 25.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG
This is honestly a coin flip, but for now, Morant has the edge. Morant averaged 19.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 0.9 steals. Those are pretty solid numbers from your starting point guard. With that said, Morant found a way to be better as he is averaging 25.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.6 steals.
The Grizzlies are hovering around .500, so we will see where the team takes off. If the Grizzlies can make it to the playoffs, it could come down to the higher seed. Either way, Morant is on pace to make the All-Star game, which will be one of many.
Defensive Player Of The Year
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Stats: 26.5 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.7 BPG
When you look at the stats, Giannis is doing things that he similarly did when he won the award in 2020. For starters, his overall rebounding total is back to around twelve per game. His blocks are nearing a career-high. He is such a big body that he does change how teams prepare.
When it comes to one-on-one situations, he remains one of the best in the league. While the Bucks team defense doesn’t show it, Giannis remains a top defender in this league. His stats are there to prove it.
4. Myles Turner
Stats: 13.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.7 SPG, 3.3 BPG
It’s hard to keep the current leader in blocks off the list. Turner is leading the league for now but is also rebounding. In the past, Turner was purely a rim protector but did not do a lot on the rebounding side. Right now, he is averaging a career-high in rebounds. If Turner can keep this shot-blocking production up, it will be the second time he has over 3.0 blocks per game.
The Pacers could see a trade package for Turner by February but are going to enjoy his length for now. Turner doesn’t do anything particularly special, but he is quick to react. Three times this season, Turner has recorded at least five or more blocks.
3. Bam Adebayo
Stats: 19.7 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.4 SPPG, 0.5 BPG
Name the assignment and Bam Adebayo has it covered. This year, we are seeing a breakout candidate for the award as he is averaging a career-high in rebounds, while his steals count is just 0.3 from teammate Jimmy Butler. If Adebayo is corralling just as many passes as Butler, you know he is doing something right.
The Heat own a strong defensive rebounding team with Adebyao leading the way. The team is ranked fourth in defensive rebounding, as well as overall rebounding percentage. The Heat is ranked third in holding teams to just above 41.0 points per game in the paint. The only two teams above them are the Knicks and Warriors.
2. Anthony Davis
Stats: 24.2 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 2.1 BPG
This is the first time in years we have seen the Anthony Davis version that played in New Orleans. Davis looks like the player the team traded for before he took on a new role. Now that Davis has been forced to play center for the smaller Lakers, he is back to averaging double-doubles. His blocks count is back to ranking near the top. Those are vintage Anthony Davis numbers from New Orleans.
The key trait that puts Davis in the running for this ward is that Davis had to switch from playing power forward to center this year. Since the Lakers are smaller, Davis has to guard the five and he is doing it well. Davis has an advantage over other players since this isn’t his natural position and he is succeeding. After all, the Lakers as a team lead the league in blocks.
1. Rudy Gobert
Stats: 14.9 PPG, 15.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.7 BPG
Gobert is on pace to make history by winning his fourth Defensive Player of the Year Award. Gobert is the centerpiece of a Jazz defense that ranks fifth in points allowed, first in allowed rebounds, while he leads the league in overall rebounding to go with 1.8 blocks per game. Gobert’s defensive rebounding percentage and totals also lead the league.
Gobert forces players to change up their shots because he is an elite rim protector. Gobert is doing things that we saw Ben Wallace do back in the day, but he is scoring more points. If the Jazz remains near the top of the standings, we will likely see Gobert win for the fourth time.
Rookie Of The Year
5. Cade Cunningham
Stats: 13.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Cunningham missed the first part of the season due to injury. His stats don’t look like a true Rookie of the Year, but there are a few factors we need to consider. For starters, Cunningham has played just seven games this year. This is a very small sample size and his numbers should be better by the end of the year. Your definition of better will vary from others.
That is because you also need to consider that Cunningham is playing on the team that landed him as the No. 1 overall pick. Cunningham doesn’t have talent around him and he is a 20-year rookie playing in the pros. There are going to be growing pains and voters are going to consider that. Give Cunningham time before you rush to judgment.
4. Jalen Green
Stats: 13.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG
For similar reasons to Cunningham, you should proceed with Jalen Green’s numbers with caution. Green, like Cunningham, is a lottery pick that joined a terrible team. Green is 19 years old and the former No. 2 overall pick. That is a high ceiling for Green down the line, but he also does not have a lot of talent surrounding him either.
The Rockets have some better pieces in Eric Gordon and Daniel Thies, but Gordon is a candidate to be traded before the deadline. Once the firesale begins, Green is going to be the team’s go-to scorer. Green is going to do the best he can with the hand he is dealt, and voters are also going to consider that.
3. Chris Duarte
Stats: 14.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Here is a name you probably didn’t expect. Right about now, you would expect to see Green and Cunningham battling it out, but instead, you find yourselves reading about the 13th overall pick from 2021, who came out of Oregon. Durate has flown under the radar until now where he could contend for the Rookie of the Year.
Duarte is third among rookies with 14.8 points per game, leads all rookies with 2.3 three-point field goals, and is shooting a respectable 75% from the free-throw line. While the Pacers flirt with rebuilding, they found a cornerstone piece in case they decide to tear it all down at the trade deadline.
2. Evan Mobley
Stats: 14.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG
The No. 3 overall pick is a former contender for the No. 1 overall pick before he slid to the third pick. Mobley was seen as a surprise selection by the Cavaliers because the team had Jarrett Allen already on the roster. With that said, the team appears to have found a solid power forward/center combo. The Cavaliers are 9-6 on the season, which is a huge surprise. Mobley is a real contributor to that.
Mobley is shooting 49.4% from the field and 30.8% from beyond the arc. Analysts believed that there would need time for Allen and Mobley to coexist, but Allen has some pretty solid numbers himself. If the playoffs started today, the Cavaliers would have the No. 5 seed. You have to give the rookie credit on this.
1. Scottie Barnes
Stats: 16.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG
When the Raptors drafted Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 overall pick, we were all shocked. What we have learned is to never question the moves made by Masai Ujiri. Barnes is leading all rookies with 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. Barnes was hailed for his defense coming out of Florida State, but he is doing everything to help the Raptors contend.
The last Rookie of the Year in Toronto was Vince Carter in 1999. Barnes is shooting above 50% from the field and is also ranked third in steals with 1.0 per game. This is currently his award to lose for now. With that said, if the Cavaliers make the playoffs and the Raptors don’t, Mobley could jump Barnes in the end.
NBA MVP Power Rankings
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Stats: 26.5 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.7 BPG
If the playoffs started today, the Bucks would be on the outside. Even so, Giannis would still be considered for the MVP given that his numbers are replicant to years where he won the MVP. Do we expect to see the Bucks outside the playoffs this year? Absolute not, which is why Giannis is in it for the long haul. If he keeps up this production, playoffs or not he will be a top-5 vote-getter in the award.
Looking at it closely, Giannis is flirting with a career-high in assists, while his blocks are the highest it’s been since 2016-2017. He is getting better despite what the team record says. Be patient and the Bucks will climb back into the standings with Giannis climbing back into the MVP conversation.
4. DeMar DeRozan
Stats: 26.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG
When the Chicago Bulls signed DeRozan, executives said that it was the worst transaction of the offseason. Right now, it looks like the best as DeMar DeRozan continues to silence his critics. DeRozan had to play as a point guard last year, which is why he averaged a career-high in assists. Now, he has Lonzo Ball to run the show. All he has to do is score and focus on the offense.
DeRozan is averaging 26.9 points, which ranks near the top of the league. His mid-range jumper is silky smooth, but his 37.1% shooting from beyond the arc is also approaching a career-high. DeRozan has closed out numerous games already this year and the Bulls are fighting for a one-seed early. We thought the Bulls were going to be better, but not this good.
3. Nikola Jokic
Stats: 26.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG
While the Nuggets are playing well with Jokic, he hovers around fourth for now. The Nuggets will need to shoot up the standings before the league considers him for a second straight MVP. With that said, Jokic is leading the league in player efficiency rating by a vast margin. He is also averaging 26.1 points and is second in rebounding with 13.8.
Jokic is also passing at a high rate, while his 1.3 steals are considerably high for a center. Jokic has redefined the position statistically, but we knew that. This award could come down to team placement where the Nuggets rank fourth. The West is wide open. Once the Nuggets go on a streak to get near the top, we could see Jokic win his second straight title.
2. Kevin Durant
Stats: 29.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 5.1 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Durant is leading the league in scoring, which is something he hasn't done since 2014, which was consequently the last time he won the MVP. Sometimes, history seems to repeat itself and we could see a scoring title, paired with a high team finish by the Nets, as reason enough for Durant to claim his second career MVP. You also have to consider that Kyrie Irving has not played this year and James Harden is struggling.
The Irving variable is probably the biggest help to Durant winning MVP. Durant is also nearly scoring 30 points each night, which helps too. Either way, the Nets are in a position to contend for a top spot in the East. A No. 1 seed in the conference would guarantee this award for Durant, especially if Irving doesn’t play.
1. Stephen Curry
Stats: 28.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Right now, the undisputed MVP of the league is Stephen Curry. Just when you thought he would slow down last year, he goes and wins the scoring title. He does things that we haven’t seen since Kobe Bryant. Curry has no plans of slowing down despite turning 34 in March. That is evident in his three 40-point games this season, including a 50-pointer against the Hawks on November 8th.
The Warriors have the best record in the NBA and have once. At one point, Curry had made 50 of 51 free throws. He is not missing any shots he puts up. On top of that, he is likely going to break the all-time three-point record this season. He is leading the league in 3-point shots made with 5.0 per game, so that record could fall any day. Another key element, the Warriors still don’t have Klay Thompson. Curry wants to run the dynasty back and he is bringing back some serious 1995-1996 Michael Jordan vibes.