NBA awards race: Predictions for MVP, Rookie of the Year and others at midway point of 2021-22 season

We’re past the midway point of the 2021-22 season and we’ve now gotten a clear understanding of who’s who in the NBA.

The contenders have separated themselves from the pretenders, while a number of teams that have fallen in early holes are in desperate search of ways to salvage their respective seasons before it becomes too late.

The same goes for individuals around the league.

The Sporting News has made end-of-season awards predictions ahead of the 2021-22 season and through the first quarter of games played. Based on what we’d seen through the first 20 games of action. Now that players have submitted roughly 40 games’ worth of work, the vision has become even clearer.

This time around, several members of TSN’s staff submitted their winner for each of the six main end-of-season awards, a few expounding on their selections by providing an explanation below.

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Most Valuable Player

McGregor:  Somehow Embiid, who was a finalist for MVP in the 2020-21 season, has gotten even better this season.

Despite the drama surrounding him due to the Ben Simmons saga in Philadelphia, Embiid has the Sixers within three games of the East’s No. 1 seed at 26-18. To take it a step further, the Sixers are 23-10 when Embiid suits up and 3-8 without him.

While durability has been an issue for Embiid in years past, the chunk of time he missed this season was due to a rough bout with COVID-19, making his return to an MVP level of play all the more impressive.

With averages of 28.0 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists on efficient shooting splits, Embiid screams MVP to me.

Metallinos : As great as Embiid and Jokic have been over the course of this season, and they’ve both been great, I just don’t see either Denver or Philadelphia finishing in the top four of their respective conferences.

Aside from a historical season like Westbrook’s triple-double MVP season, I can’t see this award being handed to someone outside the top four. 

Giannis is putting up 28.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists in just over 32 minutes a night.

The Bucks haven’t been healthy for the better part of this season, and it’s a testament to the Greek Freak that they’re still one of the championship favorites. 

Defensive Player of the Year

Matange:  This one wasn’t difficult. Draymond Green is the best defensive player on the league’s best defense .

Yes, the Warriors have multiple rotation players who make a positive impact on defense, especially the likes of Gary Payton II and Andrew Wiggins but there’s certainly no debating the fact that Green is the team’s leader and backbone on the defensive end of the floor.

Metallinos : I’m with Yash here. This one is easy. Draymond is the best — and most versatile — defensive player on the league’s best defensive team. 

He is literally the straw that stirs that drink. Enough said.

Sixth Man of the Year

Matange: Tough to look past Tyler Herro for this award at the midway point. In 28 games off the bench, he’s averaging a league-leading 20.8 points on shooting splits of 45.2/42.7/88.2 in just 31.5 minutes of action. All four of his 30-point games this season, as of Jan. 20, have come as a reserve.

Unlike past seasons, the 6-foot-5 guard really seemed to have taken ownership of his role of being the spark off the bench for the Heat. And so far, he’s doing that perfectly. 

Most Improved Player

McGregor:  The Hornets have looked like a legitimate playoff team this year, and plenty of it has to do with Bridges’ play.

After averaging 12.7 points last season, Bridges has increased his scoring average to 20.0 points per game and while his 3-point efficiency has taken a dip, he’s still shooting at roughly the same clip as he did from inside the arc. Bridges was never  just  a dunker, but now he shows it on a nightly basis, using his athleticism for crafty finishes around the rim with either hand.

Adams : The hardest jump to make is from good to great. Even harder? From great to bonafide MVP-worthy.

That’s the leap Ja Morant is taking in his third season. Although he teased us with an otherwordly performance over the last month of last season which included a spellbinding performance in the first round loss to the top-seeded Jazz. Morant’s electric play has catapulted the Grizzlies into the thick of contention in the Western Conference far sooner than anyone anticipated. His per game scoring increase is more than double that of Garland and unlike Bridges whose improvement coincides with a significantly heavier load, Morant is essentially playing the exact same amount as he did a year ago.

Morant entered this year as a likely first-time All-Star. But a potential MVP? Already? Nobody saw this coming in 2022.

Rookie of the Year

McGregor:  What once was a three-man race is Mobley’s award to lose. What the 20-year-old does on a nightly basis goes beyond the typical counting stats, but the young man is making his presence felt in the box score, too.

Averages of 15.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game are certainly Rookie of the Year-worthy and his 1.7 blocks per game show that it didn’t take long for him to arrive as a staunch rim protector.

Coach of the Year

McGregor:  The Grizzlies are having a lot of fun playing basketball and much of the credit is owed to their head coach.

Jenkins’ usage of newcomer Steven Adams and reliance on draft gem Desmond Bane has cleared the runway for Ja Morant to make his leap towards being an All-Star, budding superstar and MVP candidate. In growing under Jenkins every year, Memphis has built an identity that it lives by.

Adams:  Like the Grizzlies, the Bulls are smashing preseason expectations and they’re doing it while losing more minutes due to COVID than any other team. After over-delivering in Oklahoma City following the departures of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Donovan is now doing the same in Chicago.

He’s managed to find the perfect balance between DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. He’s regularly deployed four-guard lineups. He’s molded a respectable defensive unit despite no half-decent rim protector, a season-long injury to primary wing stopper Patrick Williams just five games into the season, and extended absences for both Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball, the latter of whom is now out for 6-8 weeks with a torn meniscus. Donovan is squeezing every ounce from every corner of his roster and his Bulls still cling to first place in an uber-competitive Eastern Conference.

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