If the NBA regular season is a mile-long race, we just completed our first lap. With every team having played around 20 games, we've officially reached the quarter mark of what's been an incredibly exciting year. We weren't sure how things would play out because of all the player movement this offseason, but teams like the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks have been as good as advertised, while the Raptors, Mavericks and Heat have gotten out of the gates hotter than expected.
With that in mind, we decided to hand out quarter-season awards. This isn't a prediction of who will win the awards at the end of the year, but rather who would take them home if the season abruptly ended today. For simplicity's sake, we stuck with the traditional categories of MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year.
Yes, Luka Doncic is nearly averaging a 30-point triple-double. Yes, James Harden is scoring close to 40 points per game. Yes, LeBron James leads the league in assists. But when you're talking about "most valuable," the reigning MVP is once again in the lead at the quarter-season mark. The stats are just as mind-boggling -- only Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor have averaged over 30 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in an NBA season -- but Giannis' defense truly separates him from his peers in terms of overall impact. It's hard to imagine where the Bucks would be without their focal point on both ends of the floor (perhaps lottery bound), but with him, they're the best team in the East.
Rookie of the Year
It's a shame to have to write this as Morant sits on the injured list with a back injury, but he absolutely dazzled in 17 games before that, leading all rookies in scoring and assists per game, while shooting an impressive 41 percent from 3-point range. But anyone who has watched Morant realizes that his impact goes well beyond statistics. His speed and athletic ability put constant pressure on the defense as he attacks the rim with reckless abandon. He also has Grizzlies fans excited as they commence their rebuild. With Zion Williamson yet to make his debut, Morant is the runaway Rookie of the Year at the quarter-season mark.
Defensive Player of the Year
It's hard to imagine that a player who shoulders as much offensive responsibility as Giannis could also be the best defensive player in the league ... but here we are. This isn't unprecedented territory -- Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) won both the MVP and DPOY in the same season -- and Giannis is making a strong case to join them after the first quarter of the year. With Giannis on the court, the Bucks allow a ridiculously stingy 97.3 points per 100 possessions. When he's off the court, that balloons to 105.4. He can guard literally any position and is allowing just 0.742 points per possession as a primary defender, according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Sixth Man of the Year
If Lou Williams is going to lose his Sixth Man of the Year trophy at the end of the season, it coincidentally enough might go to his good friend, teammate and pick-and-roll partner. Williams has put up his normal prolific bench production but, after a quarter of the season, Harrell has edged him just slightly. The main discrepancy so far is the Clippers' net rating when the two players are on the court. When Harrell is playing, the Clippers' net rating is plus-7.8. When Williams is on the court, it's minus-5.6. This isn't a perfect statistic, but it was so close between the two after 20 or so games that it seemed like a good determining factor. Charlotte's Devonte' Graham and Brooklyn's Spencer Dinwiddie also would have been in the mix were they not thrust into the starting lineup early in the season.
Most Improved Player
No player has ever won the Most Improved Player award in consecutive years, but Pascal Siakam is making a pretty good bid. That being said, at least you could project Siakam's improvement based on previous years. VanVleet, on the other hand, was pretty much considered a known commodity as a solid rotation player capable of filling in at both guard spots. This year, with added offensive responsibility due to the departure of Kawhi Leonard and an injury to Kyle Lowry, VanVleet has been a primary scorer and playmaker on one of the league's best teams. VanVleet has increased his scoring average by over seven points and nearly doubled his assists while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range on seven attempts per game.
Runners-up: Pascal Siakam (Raptors), Devonte' Graham (Hornets), Bam Adebayo (Heat), Luke Kennard (Pistons)
Coach of the Year
Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
Most expected the defending champions to remain competitive despite the departure of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but not many expected to see them among the NBA's elite a quarter of the way into the season. They've been around the top-five in both offensive and defensive rating all season long, no easy task after losing a player of Leonard's quality on both ends and replacing him with role players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Terence Davis. It's a crowded field for Coach of the Year, but after 20 games the award is Nurse's to lose.
Runners-up: Rick Carlisle (Mavericks), Frank Vogel (Lakers), Brad Stevens (Celtics), Erik Spoelstra (Heat)