Mid-season award watch

Because of the lockout this year, each NBA team will only play a total of 66 games. After yesterday’s games, 24 of the league’s teams have played at least 33 games — or half of their regular season schedules. That means it’s a good time to see which players are in the running for the various awards that will be handed out at the end of the year.

Mid-season MVP: LeBron James

LeBron is absolutely running away with the MVP this year. According to Wins Produced, James has produced 9.4 wins for the Heat this season; the next closest player in the league is Tyson Chandler, who has produced 7.9 wins. Beyond that, there are only five players in the entire league who have managed to produce six or more wins: Dwight Howard (6.6), Kevin Love (6.5), Kevin Durant (6.3), Andre Iguodala (6.1), and Ryan Anderson (6.0). That means that LeBron has produced almost 50% more wins than the fourth-most productive player in the league, which is insane (Editor’s Note: Don’t you mean LINsane?). And it’s not just because he plays a lot of minutes — James has posted the highest WP48 of any player who has played significant minutes, so he’s the most productive player on a per-minute basis as well.

Don’t “believe” in Wins Produced? Then simply check out his numbers. Here’s how LeBron’s season stacks up against the years where he won the MVP (with last year thrown in for fun):

08-09** 09-10** 10-11 11-12 Average SF
PTS 36.2 36.5 33.1 36.2 19.1
FGA 25.4 24.7 23.3 23.8 16.4
FTA 12 12.5 10.4 11.9 4.3
TS% 59.1% 60.4% 59.4% 62.6% 52.3%
REB 9.6 9.0 9.2 10.6 7.3
STL 2.2 2.0 1.9 2.2 1.6
TO 3.8 4.2 4.5 4.8 2.6
Net Poss 8.0 6.8 6.6 8.0 6.3
AST 9.2 10.5 8.7 8.9 3.4
BLK 1.5 1.2 0.8 0.9 0.8
PF 2.2 1.9 2.6 2.2 3.4
WP48 0.362 0.350 0.283 0.387 0.100
Wins* 23.0 21.6 18.0 23.6 3.8

*Wins for the 2011-12 season pro-rated for an 82 game season for comparison’s sake

**Won MVP

LeBron is shooting fewer shots than he did during his MVP seasons, yet he is scoring about as much due to increased efficiency. His rebounding is also better, his steals and fouls remain unchanged, and his blocks, assists, and turnovers have taken a small downward turn. Once you put it all together, James is having a better year than he did when had 97% and 98% of the MVP votes.

LeBron is also the best player on the team that has the best record in the league. Failing that, LeBron is ranked second in the league in terms of points per game, trailing only the notoriously shot-happy Kobe Bryant. Some in the media may be tempted to give this award to Kevin Durant, who is the third leading scorer on the team with the second best record. While Durant has played exceptionally well, James has been even better. The big question is this: will these kind of numbers be enough to make those in the media forget their anti-LeBron bias?

Mid-season DPOY: Dwight Howard?

Usually this award goes to a rebounding and shot-blocking big man — the past winners of this award are a who’s who of defensive big men. Very few guards or small forwards have won this award; since 1990, Gary Payton and Ron Artest are the only “non-bigs” to win. This year’s top contenders seem to be Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, LeBron James, and Andre Iguodala. In order to help us make up our minds, I’ve included the defensive stats of the best defensive players on the best defensive teams (as measured by team defensive rating):

Tyson Chandler 9.1 2.0 1.4 99.2
Marcus Camby 13.4 3.0 1.7 99.6
Andrew Bynum 13.0 2.8 0.7 100.7
Dwight Howard 14.7 2.7 1.8 101.2
Average Centre 9.3 2.0 1.3 103.1
Josh Smith 10.3 2.9 2.2 100.5
Serge Ibaka 7.7 5.6 0.9 102.4
Average PF 8.0 1.6 1.4 103.1
Andre Iguodala 7.4 0.7 2.5 97.0
Shawn Marion 6.1 0.8 1.6 98.3
LeBron James 8.9 0.9 2.2 100.2
Kawhi Leonard 6.6 0.8 2.6 103.2
Average SF 5.7 0.8 1.6 103.1
Dwyane Wade 4.5 2.2 2.5 100.2
Average SG 4.4 0.4 1.6 103.1
Tony Allen 3.9 1.1 3.5 100.5
Ricky Rubio 5.4 0.3 3.2 101.9
Kyle Lowry 5.8 0.5 2.7 103.3
Average PG 3.9 0.4 1.9 103.1

The guard/forwards with the best chance of nabbing this award are probably Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen; both are good defensive players with good defensive stats and on good defensive teams. Of the power forwards, Ibaka is only good (albeit very good) at shot blocking. Josh Smith posts numbers that would be impressive even if he was a centre. Of the centres, while Chandler’s individual defensive stats are not very impressive, Chandler has managed to help turn around the Knicks defense, which has gone from being the 22nd best defense to the 6th best defense. Camby’s per-minute stats are very good, but he just doesn’t play enough minutes. Likewise, Andrew Bynum posts Howard-esque numbers in fewer minutes. Dwight Howard looks to be the best of the centres, and personally, I tend to agree that the DPOY should be awarded to a big man. For this reason, my pick is Dwight Howard, but the award is far from wrapped up as far as I’m concerned. If the voters get tired of picking Dwight Howard year after year, I would expect Josh Smith to have a good chance of winning instead.

Mid-season ROY: Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio leads all rookies with 4.3 wins so far. With 4.0 wins, Kawhi Leonard is currently the only one giving him a serious run for his money. Of course, there is next to zero chance that Leonard will garner enough votes from the media to have any real shot at winning, because Leonard’s per-game points average won’t impress voters. In the actual vote, Kyrie Irving is the only rookie who has a chance of taking this one away from Rubio. That is because Irving scores a lot of points, and everyone loves points. While Irving has been a good rookie — he’s bounced between the third and fourth most productive rookie all season long — he’s a far cry from Rubio and Leonard. Other pseudo-contenders — players who shouldn’t be in the discussion, but probably will be — include MarShon Brooks, Kemba Walker, and Brandon Knight.

Player WP48 Wins PPG
Ricky Rubio 0.174 4.3 11.3
Kawhi Leonard 0.244 4.0 7.1
Gustavo Ayon 0.247 2.4 5.8
Kyrie Irving 0.114 2.1 18.1
Nikola Vucevic 0.213 1.9 6.6
Chandler Parsons 0.104 1.8 7.7
MarShon Brooks 0.081 1.3 14.6
Kemba Walker 0.022 0.4 13.3
Brandon Knight 0.003 0.1 12.8

Mid-season 6th MOY: James Harden

Another James is on track to land an award: James Harden has produced 5.3 wins so far this season — good for 13th best in the league — but has only started two games this year. That means that he is the front-runner for the 6th Man award, which is given to the best player who comes off the bench more often than he starts. Voters love to vote for who they think is the best bench player on a contending team, so it doesn’t hurt Harden’s chances with the media that he is on the Thunder, who have the league’s second-best record. It also doesn’t hurt that Harden’s per-game scoring average is impressive as well. Nicholas Batum — who has produced 4.5 wins in three starts himself — is Harden’s closest competitor at the moment. Kawhi Leonard is currently in third place for this award as well, but he is dangerously close to failing the criteria (more games off the bench than starts) and — as with the ROY — isn’t likely to get many votes. The other contenders for this award either don’t have a high enough PPG to be considered by the media or play for a team with a worse record. As far as pseudo-contenders go — players who will be considered for the award, but shouldn’t be in the discussion — Jason Terry probably has the best chance of stealing Harden’s hardware.

Player Wins Start% PPG Team Winning %
James Harden 5.3 6.1% 16.8 78.8%
Nicholas Batum 4.5 8.8% 13.9 52.9%
Kawhi Leonard 4.0 48.5% 7.1 69.7%
Matt Barnes 2.9 51.6% 7.2 60.6%
Andre Miller 2.5 17.6% 10.3 52.9%
Jason Terry 2.4 0.0% 14.8 61.8%
O.J Mayo 1.4 0.0% 11.9 55.9%
Jamal Crawford 1.0 5.9% 14.2 52.9%
Al Harrington -0.2 2.9% 14.5 52.9%

Mid-season MIP: Nikola Pekovic

Last year Nikola Pekovic was not a very productive player; in fact, Pekovic played so poorly that he actually generated losses for his team. But this season Pekovic is one of the most productive players in the league, finally helping (along with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio) the Timberwolves return to relevance. Ryan Anderson shows up second on this list, largely due to an increase in playing time, although he has improved his per-minute productivity as well. Andrea Bargnani is third — he’s still well below average…just not nearly as much as he was in the past. The increased playing time and productivity of Mario Chalmers has helped the Heat with their “point guard problem” (now if only they could solve their centre problem!), and the list is rounded out by two young Thunder players, James Harden and Kevin Durant.

Player 2010-11 WP48 2010-11 Wins 2011-12 WP48 2011-12 Wins* Change (Wins)
Nikola Pekovic -0.080 -1.5 0.295 8.9 10.4
Ryan Anderson 0.224 6.6 0.279 14.5 7.9
Andrea Bargnani -0.126 -6.2 0.039 1.0 7.2
Mario Chalmers 0.072 2.4 0.188 8.7 6.3
James Harden 0.154 7.0 0.246 13.2 6.2
Kevin Durant 0.160 10.1 0.242 15.7 5.6

*Wins for the 2011-12 season pro-rated for 82 games for comparison’s sake

So there’s all you could ask for in a midseason award watch. As you’re all aware when the voters do vote it will not be all on the stats. Well, likely they will use one stat heavily, but it is unlikely it will be purely driven by player performance. That said, it is nice that this year many of the more deserving players mesh with conventional wisdom. We’ll have to see if that remains true as the season progresses.

– Devin