Heading into the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend, several players have separated themselves as the best of the season, thus far. While perennial All-Stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony continue to put up big numbers when healthy, a few up-and-coming players have emerged as potential award winners.
It’s been an unpredictable season, as seven of the eight teams that currently have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs didn’t even reach the second round last year. The two runners-up from last season’s conference finals aren’t even in the playoffs, at the All-Star break.
With the 2014-2015 season about two-thirds of the way completed, below are predicted winners for the major NBA awards.
MVP: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
As long as the Warriors maintain a comfortable lead atop the Western Conference standings, it might be difficult for anyone else to win the award. Curry is the best player on the best team, ranking in the top 10 in scoring with a high shooting percentage, adding nearly eight assists per game. His biggest competition might come in the form of James Harden, who leads the league in scoring, and is helping the banged-up Houston Rockets fight for a top playoff seed. LeBron James and Anthony Davis might be the NBA’s top two players, but their teams need to significantly improve their records if they want to get enough votes. It's hard to envision Curry having a poor second half, so it's award to lose at this point.
Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
It can be argued that a few coaches are deserving of the award. Steve Kerr will certainly get his share of votes, leading the Warriors to the NBA’s best record in his first year as a head coach. David Joerger has the Memphis Grizzlies in second place in the West, and he can win the award if the team finds its way into the No.1 seed. Milwaukee’s Jason Kidd is also a deserving candidate, helping the Bucks double last year’s entire win total by the All-Star break. However, Budenholzer seems to have it wrapped up, since the Hawks have a sizeable lead atop the East without a superstar, and many experts didn’t even expect Atlanta to make the playoffs. The former Gregg Popovich assistant has worked wonders this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
The small forward only averaged 21.9 minutes per game in 2013-2014, but he’s seen his playing time increase, becoming a defensive stopper. Green leads all players with a defensive rating of 96.3, playing on the best defensive team in basketball, with the ability to guard multiple positions at an elite level. It’s not a given that Green will win the award, and he has some serious competition from Tim Duncan. Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan will also get votes, leading the league in blocks. This award may come down to which player steps up in the final stretch of games.
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Through the first half of the year, Wiggins has proven that he was the correct choice at No.1 in the 2014 NBA Draft. His 15.2 points per game lead all rookies in scoring, and K.J. McDaniels’ 9.2 points is the closest of any first-year player that’s played more than 25 games. Wiggins was terrific in January, averaging 19.8 points on 47.1 percent shooting, and it looks like he’ll only continue to get better. Nerlens Noel, Nikola Mirotic and Elfrid Payton might be Wiggins’ biggest competition, but it became pretty clear he’d win the award once Jabari Parker went down for the season.
Most Improved Player: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
This might be one of the awards that draws the least amount of debate. In less than a year, Butler has gone from a solid two-way player to an All-Star and the best player on a potential title contender. He’s increased his scoring average (13.1 to 20.4), rebounds per game (4.9 to 5.8) and shooting percentage (39.7 to 46.1), while barely getting an increase in playing time. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has nearly doubled his scoring average from 6.8 to 12 points per game, and Golden State’s Klay Thompson has emerged as an All-Star, but Butler is the clear frontrunner.
Sixth Man: Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors
The combo guard has played an important role in giving the Raptors the second-best record in the East. Williams is third on the team, scoring 15.2 points per game, and though he’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field, he manages to be efficient by getting to the free throw line and making three-pointers. Williams also helped Toronto remain one of the best teams in the East, while DeMar DeRozan sat out with an injury. Isaiah Thomas, Marreese Speights and Jamal Crawford should be in the running for the award until the end of the year.