#NBA2016: Individual Awards Watch: 1st Edition

The NBA season is very near the quarter mark of the 2015-2016 season with most of the teams hovering around 21 games played as of December 6. 

This gives us the opportunity to take our first look at the players who have excelled (some expected, some unexpected) in each of the five individual categories. 

Porzingis has impressed in NY
Image from: NBA.com
Rookie Of the Year 
1. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks 
2. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
3. Jahlil Okafor, Philadephia 76ers
4. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
5. D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

The rookie from Latvia has given the New York Knicks some hope regarding the playoffs and the future of the franchise. Porzingis leads all rookies in double-doubles and rebounds. Actually, he also leads the Knicks in rebounds, blocks and double-doubles. The #1 pick, Karl-Anthony Towns is also delivering solid numbers for the T'wolves. KAT had an incredible first 2 weeks of the season but he cooled down recently and inconsistency bothered him. As for Okafor of the Sixers, he leads all rookies in points and in immaturity. His recent involvement with off-court issues (speeding, brawls) resulted in a 2-game suspension and fans are putting more stock into that compared to his on-court brilliance. Meanwhile, Mudiay is averaging double figures in points to go with 6 assists per game while Russell has been so-so in Lakerland because Coach Byron Scott has been hesitant to play him important and heavy minutes.  

Mt. Whiteside continues to be a defensive force
Defensive Player Of the Year
1. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
3. DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
4. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
5. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

Hassan Whiteside leads the NBA in blocks and is also 5th in rebounding. He is an elite rim protector who averages more blocks than 8 teams. His presence catapulted Miami into the #2 team in points allowed and #1 team in defensive FG percentage. Last year's DPOY, Kawhi Leonard continues to be a superb perimeter defender. He is big and strong enough to contain the likes of LBJ and KD while having enough quickness to bother PGs like Curry and Westbrook. Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan averages more than 11 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Jordan is somewhat becoming one of the best defensive anchors. Next, Draymond Green seems to be the most versatile defender on the Dubs. He is able to defend perimeter players up to centers. Lastly, before Paul George became a scorer, his defense was considered topnotch. This season, PG13 has placed more effort into having a more complete 2-way approach. 

Brandon Knight is the leader of the Suns
Image from: Bleacher Report
Most Improved Player
1. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns 
2. CJ McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
3. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons 
4. Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic
5. Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics

The Suns are still within striking range of a playoff berth in the West mainly due to the sparkling play of Brandon Knight. He is their best PG since Steve Nash left a few seasons ago. Knight is averaging about 22-5-4 which are all career-highs. What makes his numbers more impressive is the fact that Knight has to play against the likes of Curry, Westbrook, Paul and Conley. Next, McCollum of the Blazers has surprised a lot NBA fans with his scoring and perimeter shooting. He hardly played in his first 2 seasons and now as a starter, McCollum is scoring close to 20 ppg and his scoring increased by about 13 points more compared to last season. That difference is the highest point increase in the league. Over in Detroit, Reggie Jackson is a starter and his numbers have increased as expected. Jackson leads them in scoring and assists which are also career-highs for him. In Orlando, Fournier has been solid as a starter and he leads the Magic in scoring even if they have Harris, Vucevic and Oladipo. Lastly, Jae Crowder of the Celtics has started all their games and he rewarded Coach Brad Stevens with 11.8 points and 2.3 steals (top 5). 

Ryan Anderson is the 2nd best player of the Pelicans
Image from: NBA.com

Sixth Man of the Year
1. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Pelicans
2. Alec Burks, Utah Jazz
3. Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
4. Enes Kanter, OKC Thunder
5. Jeremy Lamb, Charlotte Hornets

Ryan Anderson started only 3 games for the Pelicans but he is their 2nd leading scorer, 3-pt shooter and rebounder. He has been a solid complement to Anthony Davis. Next, Alec Burks of the Jazz is averaging a career-high in points while playing less minutes. That is surprising because Burks is better known for his perimeter defense than offense. Moving on, the 2015 Slam Dunk champion, Zach LaVine is having a finer 2nd season coming off the bench. LaVine is scoring more and hitting more shots from beyond the arc. Anyway, I am wondering why Enes Kanter is not the starting center of the Thunder which is very confusing because this guy can legitimately average a double-double if he gets starters' minutes (30-35 minutes). In his 21 minutes of playing time coming from the bench, Kanter averages 12 points and 8 boards. Finally, the Hornets gave Jeremy Lamb a contract extension this season and his numbers coming off the bench are solid, 13 points and 5 boards. Lamb has the potential to be a starter.    

Russ vs Steph
Image from: Bleacher Report
Most Valuable Player
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
4. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

The 21-0 fiery start (and 25-game winning steak dating back to last season) has definitely bolstered Steph Curry's run towards a 2nd straight MVP plum. He leads the NBA in scoring and threes made and his overall numbers are better this year compared to last season. He leads the NBA in 20+ scoring quarters and is unofficially the #1 highlight machine out there. Next, Russell Westbrook started the season angrier than ever. He has 2 triple-doubles and 12 double-doubles (2nd in NBA) while being 3rd in scoring and 2nd in assists. RW is also 2nd to Curry in player efficiency rating (PER). Meanwhile, it is hard to believe that Paul George is just 15 months removed from a gruesome leg injury when you watch him play and see his numbers. PG13 is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, assists and PER. He has led the Pacers towards the top of the East standings as well. Moving on, LBJ will always be a perennial contender for the MVP. His Cavs are still near the top of the East even without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert due to his all-around performance. Lastly, Kawhi Leonard has quietly asserted himself as the best player on the Spurs even with the arrival of LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard leads the Spurs in points and steals.     

***Statistics used are from games until December 6, 2015***
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