NBA Midseason Awards: Should Giannis be near-unanimous MVP over LeBron? Ja Morant best rookie by a landslide

The season's slate of NBA awards is going to be really interesting. Whereas most seasons you have at least a few runaway candidates, at least by way of narrative, 2019-20 offers very few obvious choices in the categories. 

You say Giannis Antetokounmpo is the MVP? I agree with you, as of now, but have you seen the Lakers' numbers when LeBron James isn't on the court? You'll see below that Giannis garnered all but one first-place vote among our panel of CBS writers, but does that mean the conversation wasn't, or isn't, close? 

Remember when Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell were battling for Rookie of the Year in 2018? Simmons wound up winning that award by a pretty wide margin, but I would submit that race was much closer than the final vote would indicate, and that a lot of voters were waffling right up to the end. One-sided votes and two-sided conversations aren't mutually exclusive. 

The last time a guard won Defensive Player of the Year was Gary Payton in 1996, but this year Marcus Smart and Ben Simmons (hey, he's a point guard!) are legit candidates, and nobody is a clear favorite. Anthony Davis could win, Rudy Gobert could repeat, or Giannis could become the first player since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994 to win MVP and DPOY in the same season (and the third player in history) and nobody would be all that surprised by any of them. 

Most Improved? Tough to argue against Devonte' Graham. Then again, it's equally tough to go against Bam Adebayo, and I personally think Brandon Ingram deserves the award, just as I think Erik Spoelstra deserves Coach of the Year. 

But then you look at the smooth waters Frank Vogel is allowing the suddenly drama-less Lakers to navigate, and the way Nick Nurse has the Raptors looking like conference-finals contenders when everyone wrote them off the very second Kawhi Leonard left, and they both look pretty darn good, too. 

Again, go down the list -- aside from what could very well be a landslide at Rookie of the Year for Ja Morant, thanks to Zion Williamson's extended absence -- and try to find anything that even resembles an open-and-shut winner. Heck, we're not even sure who the best sixth man is on the Clippers, let alone in the whole league. These races are neck and neck, and they're all very interesting for a lot of different reasons. 

With that said, here are our CBS Sports staff picks for all the major awards at the midway point of the season. Feel free to tell us we're idiots. We welcome all worthy arguments.

2019-20 NBA Awards Predictions

2019-20 NBA Coach/Executive of the Year Predictions

ExpertCoach of the YearExecutive of the Year

Raja Bell

Erik Spoelstra, Heat

Pat Riley, Heat

Bill Reiter

Erik Spoelstra, Heat

Jon Horst, Bucks

James Herbert

Nick Nurse, Raptors

Sam Presti, Thunder

Brad Botkin

Erik Spoelstra, Heat

Pat Riley, Heat

Colin Ward-Henninger

Nick Nurse, Raptors

Rob Pelinka, Lakers

Jack Maloney

Nick Nurse, Raptors

Lawrence Frank, Clippers

Sam Quinn

Nick Nurse, Raptors

Kevin Pritchard, Pacers

Michael Kaskey-Blomain

Erik Spoelstra, Heat

Jon Horst, Bucks

Jasmyn Wimbish

Nick Nurse, Raptors

Pat Riley, Heat

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Ja Morant, A.D. and Giannis are popular picks to win hardware. Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith (CBS Sports)

Most Valuable Player

Why Giannis Antetokounmpo should win the award: He's the best player in the game. On the best team in the league. He's led the Bucks to the most first-half wins in the NBA and has turned them into a legitimate front-runner to win the NBA championship. Unlike LeBron James, Antetokounmpo doesn't benefit from having another true superstar to help. Giannis, who won MVP last season, is having a markedly better campaign this time around. He's going to make it two in a row.  -- Bill Reiter

Why LeBron James should win the award: This one is close. Giannis has been as good, if not better, this season than he was last year when he won the award and has led the Bucks to the best record in the league at the midway point. LeBron's Lakers aren't far behind the Bucks, though. They are the only other team in the league with a winning percentage above .800, and James has been great, especially when you consider the fact that he's in his 17th season in the league. He's still the complete package, and the most impactful player on the floor on any given night. There are no holes in his game, whereas Giannis still needs to improve his long distance shooting. Plus, James' leadership and ability to get the most out of his teammates remains unparalleled in the league today. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain

Rookie of the Year

Why Ja Morant should win the award: The consensus for this award before the season was Zion Williamson, but when he went down with a knee injury, almost everyone changed their pick to Morant, and he's making us look smart. Morant is just electric. He plays with an energy and creativity that few players can match, and is leading all rookies in scoring (17.8 points per game) and assists (6.9 per game). Perhaps most impressive is that he's already scored 53 points in "clutch time" minutes this season, which ranks 20th in the entire league. -- Jack Maloney

Defensive Player of the Year

Why Anthony Davis should win the award: This is really close between Davis and Giannis, but at this point A.D. has edged out the reigning MVP. The numbers back up the eye test, as Davis is allowing just 0.786 points per possession as the primary defender, according to Synergy, and anchors the Lakers' top-five defense with elite rim protection. If you want to give it to Giannis I've got no qualms, but at the midseason point my vote is for Davis. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

Why Giannis Antetokounmpo should win the award: Brook Lopez anchors the Bucks' league-best defense, but Antetokounmpo is a different kind of stopper. He roves all over the court, disrupting opponents' rhythm and discouraging them from even attempting to get to the rim. Last season there was a case for him joining Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to win MVP and DPOY in the same year, and it is even stronger now that Milwaukee is playing him at center more than ever before. Good luck running pick-and-rolls at Antetokounmpo or attacking him one-on-one. -- James Herbert

Why Rudy Gobert should win the award: Davis will get the votes because he plays on the Lakers, therefore any time he has a standout game the whole world props his performance up. Giannis will get attention because he's the reigning MVP and has improved his game once again to make a run at winning both the MVP and DPOY. However, no one means more to their team on the defensive side of the ball than Gobert does to the Jazz. When he's on the floor, opponents have an offensive rating of 104.6, and when he's off that number jumps to 112.6. Neither Giannis nor Davis impacts the game as much as Gobert on defense as they are surrounded by other quality defenders. Among the three, Gobert is the only one who ranks top 10 in the league in rebounds per game (second), blocks (seventh) and defensive win shares (third). He's relied upon so much on defense in comparison to the other two players, that he should be ahead of them for this award. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    

Sixth Man of the Year

Why Lou Williams should win the award: They might as well just name the award after him at this point after already winning it three times, including two years in a row. Williams may come off the bench for the Clippers, but the savvy veteran plays starter minutes (30.3 per game) and he's integral to their success. Williams leads the Clippers in assists per game (6.4) and is third in scoring (19.6). He also provides them with a third go-to guy and clutch option behind star forwards Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. His ability to carry the offense virtually single-handedly for periods of time is invaluable for the Clippers. -- Michael Kaskey-Blomain     

Why Montrezl Harrell should win the award: Remember back in grade school when teams were being picked on the playground and you wanted to play with your friend so you declared yourself a package deal? That's Harrell and his backcourt partner Lou Williams. They play about 80 percent of their minutes together, and are joined, if not at the hip, then through their pick-and-roll partnership. Together they're the main reason the Clippers have the highest scoring bench in the league, and it's hard to separate their achievements. However, it does feel like Harrell has been more important to the Clippers this season. He's much more of a two-way player than Lou Will, and his impact in the paint is vital to a team that's short on true big men. -- Jack Maloney  

Most Improved Player

Why Devonte' Graham should win the award: His numbers speak for themselves. Graham is averaging 18.8 points per game a year after failing to average 18.8 minutes. He averages 7.8 assists on a team that lost its top two scorers this offseason and did little to replace them. He wasn't even a starter to open the season. When it ends, he could easily be an All-Star. But what truly sets Graham apart is circumstance. Every other candidate came into this season positioned to improve. But the Hornets had almost nothing invested in Graham. They gave Terry Rozier $57 million specifically because they didn't expect him to improve this much. He lacked the circumstantial advantage other candidates had, and that makes his development that much more impressive. -- Sam Quinn

Why Brandon Ingram should win the award: Ingram, who spent most of his Lakers tenure falling way short of expectations, should be an All-Star this season. He's averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and 3-point percentage. He has gotten better at every facet of the game, a credit to both his own work and a more conducive opportunity in New Orleans. -- Brad Botkin   

Coach of the Year

Why Nick Nurse should win the award: Nurse's coaching staff has been nothing if not adaptable. The Raptors lost two of the league's best wing defenders in the summer and have dealt with an absurd amount of injuries, but there they are, second in defensive rating, thanks to a nimble, unconventional approach. Toronto will trap superstars behind the 3-point line and zone up behind them. It will use a press, a box-and-one and a triangle-and-two. It will switch up schemes and pick-and-roll coverages simply to cause confusion. Just like in its championship season, Nurse's team has been defined by creativity and resilience. -- James Herbert   

Why Erik Spoelstra should win the award: Spoelstra always gets the most out of the talent he has to work with, but this year's been perhaps his most impressive campaign. Nobody had the Heat being this good. Whether it's employing an inverted zone defense with the length up top and the guards closer to the blocks, starting a pair of undrafted players in Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson and relying heavily upon a third in Derrick Jones Jr., or having the faith to run crunch-time offense through rookie Tyler Herro with Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic both on the court, Spoelstra continues to think creatively and put his good players in position to be great on any given night. -- Brad Botkin  

Executive of the Year

Why Pat Riley should win the award: There have been many surprising teams across the league this season, but none more than the Miami Heat. As of Tuesday, they rank third in the Eastern Conference at 27-12. The team that's been assembled down in Miami is a master class of Pat Riley's front-office skills. It is a perfect mix of veterans and younger players, nearly everyone can shoot from anywhere on the floor and there is no one fighting for the spotlight or failing to play in a specific role. Every puzzle piece is assembled perfectly with this Heat team, and not only has Riley made this team a contender this season, especially with the addition of Jimmy Butler, he's also made it a place that free agents are going to want to come to in the future. -- Jasmyn Wimbish    

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