Time sure does fly when you're having fun, doesn't it NBA fans?
The most open season for many years has given supporters of just about every NBA team something to cheer for. The Clippers are a genuine title contender for the first time in....well, it's the first time. Their cross corridor rivals have risen to former glories. The Bucks are in line for their first title in almost 50 years. Toronto are resolute in the defense of their crown, despite a harrowing injury list. Even Warriors fans have watched potential rotation pieces in Eric Paschall and Ky Bowman evolve before their very eyes.
This week marked the official half way point of NBA season 2019/20. It's time to reflect on what we've seen so far and what better way to do that, than go back to my pre-season predictions and see just how much of an 'expert' I really am.
If you'll recall, my predictions were for the main end of season awards: MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, 6th Man of the Year and Most Improved Player.
Let's see who are our provisional award winners at the season's mid point.
Most Valuable Player
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Pre-season prediction: Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Well, that prediction hasn't gone quite as expected.
Even before he broke his hand, Curry was looking merely very good – a sharp decline from his usual transcendence. This is a lost season for the Warriors and the 31 year old appears to have approached it as such. Here's to next seasons Golden State Revenge tour.
But onto the man of the moment, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is putting up his now customary big numbers: 30.1 points, 12.9 rebounds, 1.7 made 3's (all are career highs), 5.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per contest. He's led his club to a commanding 38-6 record, with the Bucks heading towards the NBA's 3rd ever 70 win campaign.
Just as it was last season, the sheer weight of James Harden's offensive contributions make an enticing case, but if you dig a little deeper, Harden only scores 2.6 points more that Giannis per 100 possessions. Does that mean that Harden is more valuable to his team? Perhaps – and I'd happily listen to an argument in The Beard's favour. But the Bucks team success and Antetokounmpo's vast defensive advantages give him the nod here.
But frankly, it's not even as close between the pair as last season. Giannis is posting the best PER of all time at 33.18 so far this season. That says it all, really.
Rookie of the Year
Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
Pre-season prediction: Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
This pre-season prediction came with an caveat: Ja to win, unless Zion played more than 50 games. Given #1 pick Williamson is still yet to suit up, there is no contest. Ja Morant has been head and shoulders above every other rookie in this class.
Rookie point guards in the NBA are an interesting case study. There are 1st year players that put up eye opening counting stats. Some youngsters show flashes of brilliance mixed in with the usual rookie mistakes. Some play solid, winning basketball right away. Few manage to combine all of these. Morant does.
The 20 year old out of Murray State is posting nightly averages of 17.9 points, 7 assists, 1.1 steals and shooting 40.9% from beyond the arc. He's frighteningly athletic – if a little reckless – and possesses a preternatural ability to create a passing lane, then execute the pass. He's basically John Wall with a jump shot.
Memphis have an absolute gem of a player on their hands.
Defensive Player of the Year
Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Pre-season prediction: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
Embiid's defense has been as advertised, in leading the frankly enormous 76ers to an elite defense. Philadelphia are 4th in the league in defensive rating at 105.6. Embiid himself is putting up 12.3 boards, 0.8 steals and 1.4 blocks.
However, the man that has stepped up as the best defender in the NBA – yet again – is the Stifle Tower. A lot of attention has been given to Utah's ascent into an elite offensive unit, and to Gobert's role in that. It's worth remembering that the offensive improvement has cost Utah Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio – both defensive mavens. Gobert has more defensive responsibility than ever, and he has responded. Since the Jazz got through their tough early schedule, Gobert has averaged 15.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per night, as well as the countless other possessions he short circuits by his mere presence.
slowing this down for the casuals.. either the nets are literally allergic to the paint or RUDY GOBERT is the most intimidating player in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/bAH1GFkp6i— Jake Lee (@jacobrexlee) January 15, 2020
Utah's overall defense has dropped away statistically, but with Gobert on the floor, they're still ranked 3rd in the NBA. In a tight race and with sincere apologies to Embiid and Anthony Davis, Gobert is the man.