With a handful of games left before the NBA begins the postseason, it’s time to re-evaluate several of the major individual award races. For the second straight year, Most Valuable Player seems to already be decided but the same can’t be said for the both Rookie of the Year and Most Improved Player.
Sports writers and members of the media around the country will cast their ballots soon, and we already have a good idea of the choices.
Here’s an updated list of candidates for MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Most Improved Player as well as predictions for each.
Candidates: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
After denying King James and Cleveland its first title in more than 50 years in last season’s Finals, it’s fitting that Curry will be the first player since James to win the MVP in consecutive seasons. Curry's all-around superior play has put the Warriors on pace for the most regular-season wins in NBA history. And even if they don’t claim 73 victories, Curry’s a lock.
As for James, while continuing to hit every major category and keeping the Cavs as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, discontent in the locker room and his attitude on the court might keep him from garnering a number of first-place votes.
Leonard’s improved his scoring, overall shooting percentage, three-point shooting, and he’s clearly taken over the Spurs. If Golden State wasn’t threatening for 73 wins, he’d be MVP for sure.
Prediction: Curry in a landslide.
Rookie of the Year
Candidates: Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves; Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers
Now here’s a race that appeared to be another lock like MVP. That is until Porzinigis and the Knicks faded out of the playoff picture. The Latvian burst out of the gate with put-back dunk highlights, scorching three-point shooting, and seemed like a perfect complement to leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. But he faded like many rookies do in an 82-game schedule and dealt with some minor injuries.
Okafor has steadily remained the second-highest scoring rookie, but his candidacy takes a hit due to Philadelphia’s continuing struggles to put together any kind of a winning culture.
Towns should and will be the ROY. He’s been tops among all rookies in scoring and rebounding all season, and is currently tied for third in the league with 49 double-doubles. Compared to last season, the Timberwolves improved by 10 wins, a total that could climb even higher, and it’s largely due to Towns holding down the middle and the glass.
Prediction: Towns by maybe a few first-place votes.
Most Improved Player
Candidates: C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers; Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons; Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
This might be the toughest race to call with each candidate helping their respective teams all but secure a postseason berth. The Pistons and Jackson haven’t quite done so yet, but if they do, voters will be torn.
McCollum and the Blazers were written off after losing LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio in free agency last summer. But he responded to the new role as No. 2 scorer next to Damian Lillard by more than tripling his scoring average and rebounding from last season, and he quadrupled his assists. He’s also a 42 percent long range shooter, helping Portland rank No. 3 in the league behind only Golden State and San Antonio.
Jackson showed he was buried behind Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City for far too long, setting new career-highs in points, assists, and three-point shooting. Should he stay on pace, Detroit could snap its seven-year postseason drought.
And like McCollum, Crowder’s numbers have increased exponentially to 14.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, compared to 7.7 points and 3.6 rebounds last season. He’s Boston’s third-leading scorer and a huge reason why it’s threatening for the the East’s No. 3 spot.
Prediction: In a very tight vote tally, McCollum takes it.