2017-18 NBA First-Quarter Awards: The MVP Race Is Already Insane

Thanks to a pushed-up start to a 2017-18 season, each NBA group enters Dec with during slightest 20 games underneath a belt. With that in mind, let’s palm out some first-quarter awards. These selections are dictated usually as a thoughtfulness of games played by Thursday, rather than as a projection of a final year-end results.

(Note: All stats and rankings by Nov. 30.)

Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Rockets

Runners-up: 2. LeBron James (Cavs), 3. Kyrie Irving (Celtics), 4. Stephen Curry (Warriors), 5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Will 2017-18 finally be a year that James Harden (31.5 PPG, 9.8 APG, 5.2 RPG) claims his initial MVP trophy? For a third time in 4 seasons, Houston’s All-Star ensure is putting together a well-rounded discuss stoical of standout particular statistics, critical group success, and a constrained storyline to interest to voters.

On a numbers front, Harden now leads a joining in scoring, assists, and use rate while also ranking initial in Win Shares, initial in Real Plus-Minus and third in Player Efficiency Rating. His finish descent diversion has helped Houston post a NBA’s No. 2 offense while portion as a substructure for a Rockets’ latest record-setting three-point sharpened barrage. Like final season, Harden’s numbers are scarcely singular in a complicated NBA: The usually other actor to compare his stream 31 PPG/9 APG averages during a three-point epoch is 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook.    

The Rockets, whose offense again ranks second usually to a Warriors, aren’t usually violence teams in shootouts. They’re violation wills on a unchanging basis. Houston’s +10.8 indicate differential is a league’s best—topping even Golden State—and they have already racked adult 7 victories by 20 or some-more points. At 17–4, a Rockets are now on lane for 66 wins, giving them a clever probability to secure a initial 60–win deteriorate of Harden’s career and to transcend their authorization record of 58 wins (set in 1994).

Harden’s unchanging excellence, bundled within Mike D’Antoni’s super-spread, stands as a tip reason a Rockets were means to journey along during Chris Paul’s damage absence. One competence assume that a group that launches an eye-popping 44.4 threes per diversion would be disposed to vital volatility, nonetheless Harden, prolonged famous for his bomb potential, has been steadying too. His misfortune night all season? Twenty points and 8 assists. At this point, Harden could run D’Antoni’s offense blindfolded.

The genuine pivotal to Harden’s 2018 MVP box could infer to be this: He gets to have his account cake and eat it too.  First, electorate should credit him for his care and peculiarity play nonetheless Paul. Injuries to pivotal players have reason behind a Cavaliers, Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Jazz and a horde of other teams. Harden pulled a Rockets by Paul’s deficiency with a 10-4 record, even nonetheless Houston split with countless revolution players to acquire Paul over a summer.

On a flip side, though, electorate contingency also acknowledge how good he has played with Paul, generally given a “two stars, one ball” hand-wringing that emerged during a off-season. When a dual guards have common a probity this season, Houston has posted an wretched 118.4 descent rating. For years, Harden has done interrelated teammates softened with his ability to beget high-efficiency looks during a edge and over a arc. Now, he’s display that his executive participation can advantage an determined star too. In fact, Paul, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, has smartly blending his diversion and character to fit with Harden, rather than clamp versa. That says a lot, during max volume. If Houston sustains this turn of play, a long-held, and justified, criticisms of Harden for his difference with Dwight Howard should be transposed with regard for his cultivatable new star partnership.

Like new MVPs LeBron James and Stephen Curry, Harden has grown into an chosen descent complement unto himself, one with a proven lane record for winning large and for pulling peculiarity contributions from his ancillary cast. After losing a quarrelsome foe with Westbrook in 2017, Harden deserves to be noticed as 2018’s transparent early favorite.

James (28 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 8.5 APG) is lurking, as always, if Harden or a Rockets falter. Like Harden, James ranks in a tip 5 in Win Shares, Real Plus Minus and PER. Like Harden, James has carried his group by early-season damage issues (Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose, etc.). Like Harden, James is posting an pornographic stat line frequency seen in a complicated era. Remarkably, if he maintains his stream numbers, James would post his initial career 28/8/8 line during his age-33 season. And like Harden’s Rockets, a Cavaliers are a top-five offense interjection roughly wholly to James’ presence. When a four-time MVP leaves a court, Cleveland’s descent rating plummets from 113.3 (top-two league-wide) to 101.1 (bottom-six league-wide).

October calls for regard over Cleveland were definitely foolish, and James valid final deteriorate that he is able of shrugging off a Cavaliers’ regular-season defensive woes and stomping by a East. His MVP case, however, could breeze adult being dimmed by his team’s biased nature, as it will expected reason behind a Cavaliers from posting a beast win total. However, James does have dual clever narratives operative in his favor: He’s a long-lived probability as a “lifetime achievement” winner, and he’s kept Cleveland nearby a tip of a standings notwithstanding a off-season depart of Kyrie Irving. For those reasons, James should reason adult as a safest possible fallback choice in a swarming race, even if Cleveland doesn’t finish as a East’s tip seed.

Meanwhile, Irving (23.4 PPG, 5.2 APG, 3.3 RPG) has emerged as a legitimate MVP claimant too, nonetheless there’s a healthy discuss to be had as to either he’s a many profitable actor on a Celtics. While Al Horford (13.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 4.9 APG) doesn’t blow adult a box score, he’s a many critical square on a league’s best defense, and he’s been a outrageous and for Boston offensively too. The Celtics’ descent potency improves by a whopping 14.3 points with a unselfish, high-IQ and spacing-friendly Horford on a court.   

Nevertheless, Irving stays Boston’s deputy on The Crossover’s list given Gordon Hayward’s opening night damage supposing him a event to answer long-standing questions about his leadership, defensive commitment, and his ability to make his teammates better. Irving has picked adult right where Thomas left off final season, portion as a focal indicate for an outside-in offense and shutting out wins with boiling play in purchase situations. The Celtics’ arguable defense, depth, and structure should assistance keep Irving in a MVP review for many of a season, even if their record fades after a impassioned start. If Cleveland roving a possess 10-game winning strain to opposite Boston’s 16-gamer, Irving would have a some-more constrained evidence to tip James on a ballot. As is, holding both players off their teams would leave Boston in important figure and send Cleveland immediately into tank mode.

 

Rookie of a Year: Ben Simmons, 76ers

Runners-up: 2. Jayson Tatum (Celtics), 3. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)

If Ben Simmons (18.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 7.2 APG) keeps adult his stream gait and maintains good health, Rookie of a Year won’t do him justice. He’ll have a clever box as Rookie of a Decade, with 2011 Blake Griffin (22.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 3.8 APG) as his tip competition.

As it stands, Philadelphia’s redshirt indicate brazen leads all rookies in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals. He’s also a class’s unaccepted (but undisputed) personality in appetizing highlight-reel plays, interjection to his improvisational ball-handling, high-level chessboard reading, and forceful finishes. Simmons and Joel Embiid not usually form a NBA’s many intriguing immature duo, nonetheless they offer as a fortitude for a starting lineup that has posted a whopping +20.4 net rating. Rookie indicate guards—even if they mount 6’10”—rarely play such a executive purpose in winning, nonetheless Simmons’ glorious feel, unusual scoring ability, and startling defensive impact have done him a resplendent difference to that rule.

Put it this way: Simmons has been so good, so fast that his play demanded a full-length profile from Lee Jenkins, finish with LeBron James comparisons, reduction than dual months after his pro debut.   

Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum (13.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 APG) has done Boston a snap-take personality of a much-discussed breeze collect trade that landed No. 1 collect Markelle Fultz in Philadelphia. While Fultz has been blank in movement amid questions about his shoulder and mental readiness, Tatum has enjoyed a well-spoken acclimation as a full-time starter. Although he competence grow into a lead scoring choice down a road, Tatum has taken easily to life as a interrelated option, drilling scarcely half of his three-point attempts and creation a many of his descent chances with a controlled, low-risk style. Defensively, his awareness, interchangeability and fit within Brad Stevens’ group context have helped him mostly equivocate a nightly struggles that many rookie wings endure.

Both Simmons and Tatum seem to have staying power, nonetheless a third symbol should see a healthy foe given that a 2017 breeze category is one of a deepest in years when it comes to instant-impact players. For now, Lakers brazen Kyle Kuzma (16.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.6 APG) gets a curtsy over a likes of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Dallas’s Dennis Smith Jr., Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen, Atlanta’s John Collins and his teammate, Lonzo Ball. The 22-year-old Kuzma is a year or dual comparison than many of his associate rookies, and his descent gloss and certainty have stood out from a crowd. Kuzma, a breeze sleeper who incited into one of a tip performers during Las Vegas Summer League, has surprisingly emerged as a Lakers’ heading scorer, even nonetheless he has shifted changeable in and out of a starting lineup. Unlike Simmons and Tatum, he is a transparent guilt on invulnerability during this point. In theory, Kuzma has a right physique form and positional flexibility to make swell on that finish going forward. 

Most Improved Player: Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks

Runners-up: 2. Jaylen Brown (Celtics), 3. Aaron Gordon (Magic)

Kristaps Porzingis (25.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.1 BPG) is in a midst of a superstar’s ascent, many like a one that carried Giannis Antetokounmpo to final year’s Most Improved Player award. Everyone’s favorite unicorn has responded to New York’s rebuilding bid with him as a centerpiece—and Carmelo Anthony’s departure—to emerge as one of a league’s scoring and use leaders. Next stop: His initial All-Star Game and, utterly possibly, a starting nod.

Already this season, Porzingis has incited years of unfit hopes into reality. A 7’3” core jolt and baking into off-the-dribble, soft-touch jumpers? A hulk pulling adult absolutely from Stephen Curry domain and skying to finish transition alley-oops like gumby Grant Hill? Even a many artistic basketball dreamers contingency go behind to bed to order a new collection of visions for Porzingis to fulfill. The best partial about Porzingis is that his square matches his sizzle. New York’s net rating has jumped 11.3 points with Porzingis on a probity compared to when he’s off this season, a approved star’s turn of impact that can be attributed to both his alpha scoring and his interior defense.

In a best-case scenario, a Knicks will find a approach to hide into a 2018 playoffs, many like a 2017 Bucks, thereby extenuation Porzingis a postseason theatre to exam his progress. But even if a undermanned and fresh Knicks tumble off their stream 11-10 pace, Porzingis’s fast arise has accelerated a franchise’s timeline. There’s no need to patiently build by a breeze for dual or 3 some-more years; a watchful duration for Porzingis is already over.

As a top-three collect in his second season, Jaylen Brown (15 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.2 APG) was a clever claimant for estimable improvement. He’s delivered on those expectations, mostly by appearing like a antecedent for a new-age wing on a defensive end, Brown is discerning adequate to urge guards, he’s prolonged adequate to urge forwards, he’s intelligent adequate to switch facilely between defensive assignments, and he’s jaunty and committed adequate to frequently blow adult plays and perplex opponents. Offensively, his softened three-point sharpened has generated copiousness of deserved attention, nonetheless he’s done other strides too. Unlike many 21-year-olds, Brown frequently attacks with a goal of punishing his defender and a rim, and that’s paid off with some-more trips to a stripe. Like Jayson Tatum, though, Brown manages to pursue his scoring opportunities nonetheless flapping too mostly into brazen turnovers or bad shots.

Aaron Gordon (18.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.2 APG) has been value a wait. It took a 2014 lottery collect 4 seasons, 4 coaches, and mixed purpose changes to finally suffer a breakthrough, nonetheless he’s arrived as a closest thing Orlando has had to a intensity savior in years. Gordon was miscast as a tiny brazen in jumbo-sized lineups final year, and changeable him behind to a 4 was a judicious move. At a same time, though, Gordon’s softened three-point sharpened – if it binds above joining normal – creates him many some-more stretchable and easier to build around. There were times final deteriorate where Gordon seemed cursed to a destiny in that his athleticism consistently surpassed his impact. Now, his roof seems to be behind on a rise. After 6 weeks, it’s protected to contend that a active, ultra-bouncy Gordon has already turn a best reason to watch a Magic given Dwight Howard left in 2012.  

Defensive Player of a Year: Al Horford, Celtics

Runners-up: Joel Embiid (76ers), Paul George (Thunder)

New blood abounds by routine of elimination: Two-time Defensive Player of a Year Kawhi Leonard has nonetheless to fit up, 2017 runner-up Rudy Gobert is sidelined with a knee injury, and 2017 personality Draymond Green has been pacing himself in fourth rigging for a fortifying champs.

Once he cranks it up, Green is a hazard to go back-to-back. For now, though, Horford is a estimable early favorite given Boston’s No. 1 ranked invulnerability and his prolonged lane record of captaining versatile, peculiarity units. In some quarters, Horford competence be a polarizing pick: He doesn’t post outrageous resilient stats, he’s not meaningful for spiking blocks into a 200 level, and he gets bullied around a hoop by top-shelf normal centers. Nevertheless, his intelligence, mobility, and comfort fortifying pick-and-rolls provides a explain support for Boston’s smothering fringe defense. Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol both picked adult Defensive Player of a Year awards in new years for their roles heading chosen group defenses, and Horford deserves critical care for identical reasons.

In his second deteriorate after blank mixed years due to injury, Joel Embiid has determined himself as a force around a basket during both ends. One of a league’s heading shot-blockers and rebounders, a 7-footer has carried a immature Philadelphia group to a tip 10 defensive ranking. With Embiid on a court, a Sixers’ defensive potency improves 7.6 points, and they urge during a top-three level. He’s a form of commanding core who frequently creates opponents bewail their efforts to exam him. Postscript: Robert Covington, Embiid’s teammate, has also played good adequate to hoard All-Defensive consideration.

Whether or not one chooses to tatter over Oklahoma City’s choppy offense, a Thunder’s invulnerability has ranked nearby a tip of a potency tables for many of 2017-18. Newcomer Paul George has been a vital motorist of that success, heading a joining in both steals and deflections. Long one of a league’s tip fringe defenders interjection to his quickness, length, hands, and instincts, George’s work has been some-more transparent than common this season, substantially given Leonard hasn’t been around to sow a adoration.    

Sixth Man of a Year: Lou Williams, Clippers

Runners-up: Rodney Hood (Jazz), Tyreke Evans (Grizzlies)

Honestly, a Sixth Man of a Year foe is a bit of a disaster right now. Lou Williams (18.7 PPG, 4.1 APG) has picked adult where he left off final season, posting career-high scoring numbers as a quintessential present offense/no-defense gunner. That doesn’t meant he’ll final in a Sixth Man conversation, however, given a towering Clippers are expected headed for a lottery and Williams will expected be forced to continue starting due to countless injuries to his teammates. Utah’s Rodney Hood (17.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.8 APG) non-stop a deteriorate as a starter, nonetheless has found larger success given changeable into a super-sub role. Minor damage issues and a probability of additional purpose changes murky his forecast. Tyreke Evans (18 PPG, 5 RPG, 3.5 APG), off a inhabitant radar for a final dual seasons due to damage issues, has been a singular splendid symbol for a Grizzlies, who are mired in an extended losing strain and dismissed manager David Fizdale this week. If Memphis can’t recover a playoff footing, his hopes will expected fade.

Meanwhile, past Sixth Man of a Year winners don’t offer many clarity to this year’s picture, during slightest not right now. After an off-season pierce to Minnesota, a 37-year-old Jamal Crawford’s scoring prolongation is during a lowest symbol in some-more than a decade. Houston’s Eric Gordon, a 2017 winner, will certainly reemerge as a 2018 favorite, nonetheless he’s spent many of this deteriorate starting due to Chris Paul’s injury. Golden State’s Andre Iguodala, a heading claimant for years due to his clever certain impact on a winning team, has jogged along with a rest of his teammates. His his per-game numbers are during career-low levels.   

If Gordon (19.2 PPG, 2.7 APG, 2.1 RPG) plays out a rest of a deteriorate from a haven role, he’s a intelligent income collect to win this endowment again, generally if his lagging three-point sharpened earnings to his career standard. Houston’s group success, Gordon’s volume scoring, and his name approval make him a judicious collect given voting function in past years. Bottom line: Check behind on this foe in March.

Coach of a Year: Brad Stevens, Celtics

Runners-up: Gregg Popovich (Spurs), Mike D’Antoni (Rockets)

Under normal circumstances, a manager overseeing a league’s winningest group and a stingiest invulnerability should be heading a Coach of a Year conversation. Brad Stevens lays explain to both of those titles, nonetheless it’s a Celtics’ ease and fortify by pell-mell resources that creates him a transparent early favorite.

The coaching hurdles confronting Stevens have been many: He had to reinstate his heading scorer (Isaiah Thomas), he had to change Kyrie Irving into a No. 1 role, he had to gaunt heavily on youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for vital minutes, he had to withstand an opening-night damage to Gordon Hayward, he had to recompense for a detriment of many pivotal contributors (Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson and others), and he had to square together a revolution stoical of many new faces (Irving, Tatum, Marcus Morris, Aaron Baynes and others). Go forward and exhale. That unequivocally was a prolonged list.  

Somehow, Stevens has done it all demeanour easy. Go right down a line, and probably all of Boston’s pivotal players – generally Irving, Horford, Tatum, and Brown – have bested expectations to start a year. Collectively, of course, Boston (19-4) has blown divided a dampened expectations that followed Hayward’s injury.

It’s a covenant to Gregg Popovich’s mass that a Spurs have hardly garnered any courtesy personification so good nonetheless Kawhi Leonard. Like LeBron James, San Antonio has been a customary of value for so prolonged that a immeasurable infancy of observers, even clever ones, usually assume it will continue on forever. Consider: How many coaches could remove a two-time Defensive Player of a Year and still manage a top-five defense? How many could remove their heading scorer and usually All-Star nonetheless their descent potency descending off a cliff? How many could remove both – in a same actor – and still lane towards 55 wins? Anyone besides Popovich? Doubtful.

Similarly, Mike D’Antoni, a 2017 Coach of a Year, deserves a good cube of a credit for how good a Rockets plugged along during Chris Paul’s injury. Hopefully, a complicated NBA is relocating towards a new existence in that a “system” and “system players” are noticed as cherished line rather than objects to dismiss. 

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