At the half-point of the season, I would like to use my analytics to make some conjectures about the major NBA awards. I'll start with a couple of thoughts on the MVP race.
The likely MVP at the mid-point is LeBron James.
James has put together another spectacular season, averaging 29.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and a would-be career-high 7.7 assists. While his defensive stats are down slightly, he is still averaging over a steal and a block per game (for the third straight season), while committing just 1.7 fouls per contest. He has also continued to improve his offensive efficiency, posting would-be career-highs in field goal percentage (51.1%) and 3-point percentage (37.2%), while holding steady at a respectable 78% from the free throw line.
It is the standings, though, that show LeBron's true greatness. After posting the NBA's best record a season ago, the Cavaliers got off to a 0-2 start before reeling off 31 wins in their next 40 games to take a 2.5 game lead in the Easter Conference. James has been the unquestioned catalyst, posting by my count the best and most consistent first half of any player in the league.
The Dark Horse MVP at the mid-point, however, is Tim Duncan.
Duncan is arguably on the backside of his career at age 33, but his game looks perfectly fine. Through 37 games, Duncan is averaging an even 20 points per game, along with 10.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.9 blocks. He is on pace to set a career-high in field goal percentage at 55.2% and hasn't shot this well from the line (73.8%) since 2001-2002, when he shot a aberrant 79.9% from the charity stripe.
Duncan has also keyed a huge turnaround for the perennially successful Spurs. Due to a lack of cohesion and rampant injury issues, San Antonio limped out of the gate to the tune of a 4-6 start. However, they've won 21 of their last 30 and find themselves as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, just a game and a half behind second-seeded Dallas for the Southwest Division lead. Duncan also finds himself among the top five most consistent players of the season's first half, along with James, Steve Nash, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, and Dwyane Wade.
(Pre-Season Choice: James)
Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans
Evans got off to an under-the-radar start due to his playing largely out of position, and the huge hype created by Brandon Jennings' hot start. However, after Kevin Martin was injured and Evans assumed the role of go-to perimeter scorer and ball-handler, the Kings really took off.
Sacramento has stumbled as of late, and looked truly awful since Martin's return (which leads me to believe that Evans is, in fact, better suited to play off the ball), but their struggles can't be blamed on Evans. The rookie has averaged 20.8 points, five rebounds, and five assists in his first 36 professional games. He has also been relatively efficient, shooting 45.9% from the field and 78.8% from the free throw line.
(Pre-Season Choice: Evans)
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson
Woodson has done an absolutely fantastic job in Atlanta and is one of the best coaches in the NBA that no one has ever heard of. The University of Indiana product and Larry Brown disciple has quelled displeasure over contract disputes (Josh Childress and Josh Smith), seamlessly integrated new talent (Al Horford, Mike Bibby, and Jamal Crawford), and erased a long-standing tradition of losing. When Woodson took over in 2004-2005, the Hawks won just 13 games. In the four seasons since, they've won 26, 30, 37, and 47 games, respectively. This season, Atlanta is off to a 26-14 start, which leads the Southeast, the Eastern Conference's toughest division. Their hot first half also has them on pace to win 53 games, which would be a Woodson-led increase for the fifth straight year.
(Pre-Season Choice: Flip Saunders [OUCH!])
Defensive Player of the Year: Gerald Wallace
Wallace is having a career year at the age of 27. He has always been a good defender and an efficient scorer, but the 6'7" small forward is currently sixth in the NBA with 11.3 rebounds per game, while also gathering 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. He is also the unquestioned leader of a Bobcats' team that has been one of the hottest in the league as of late. (The Bobcats are quietly 8-1 since the start of the New Year.)
(Pre-Season Choice: Dwyane Wade)
Most Improved Player: Rajon Rondo
Rondo has parlayed his overwhelming success in last year's playoffs into a very strong 2009-2010 season. Through 38 games, Rondo has averaged 13.8 points, 9.7 assists, and four rebounds per game. He also leads the league with 2.5 steals per contest, and has shot a remarkable 52.8% from the floor. He is yet to develop an outside shot (just 18.9% on the season) and still struggles from the free throw line (58.4%), but he has been a consistent leader for a championship-caliber team that has seen its "Big 3" miss 16 games already this season.
Gerald Wallace, Zach Randolph, and Joakim Noah will also be strong contenders for this award by the end of the season.
(Pre-Season Choice: Rodney Stuckey)
6th Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford
Award season could well become the Atlanta Hawks' show if things progress in the second half as they did in the first. I've already picked Mike Woodson as coach of the year and now Crawford, who at this point is the runaway choice for 6th Man of the Year. (Josh Smith has a real shot at Defensive Player, as well.) Crawford has provided a huge infusion of energy and fearless scoring for a bench that badly needed just that. He also provides Woodson with leadership and the flexibility to play either backcourt position. Through 40 games, Crawford is averaging 17 points, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 rebounds in just 30.6 minutes per game.
(Pre-Season Choice: Jason Terry)
Executive of the Year: Rick Sund
Another award and another win for the Hawks. (I think I mentioned something about that.) Sund has done a great job of acquiring talent through the draft (Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams) and the trade market (Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby). He also hired an unknown commodity in Mike Woodson, who turned out to be an elite head coach. This year, though, he uncovered an absolute gem in Jamal Crawford. Crawford had never been around a winning group in his career and has really flourished in Atlanta, allowing the Hawks to take the next step from playoff team to legitimate championship contender.
(Pre-Season Choice: Danny Ferry)
Finally, using ESPN's formula for player efficiency and my own analytics, I constructed a team of players on the rise; I call it the "Finally Getting It Together" Team.
THE ALL-FINALLY-GETTING-IT-TOGETHER TEAM:
PG-Raymond Felton (Charlotte)
SG-Randy Foye (Washington)
SF-Wilson Chandler (New York)
PF- Kris Humphries (New Jersey)
C-Samuel Dalembert (Philadelphia)
PG-Derrick Rose (Chicago)
SG-Devin Brown (New Orleans)
SF-Martell Webster (Portland)
SF-Omri Casspi (Sacramento)
C-Mehmet Okur (Utah)
Kyle Lowry-PG (Houston)
Damien Wilkins-SF (Minnesota)
Sonny Weems- SG (Toronto)
Robin Lopez-C (Phoenix)