NBA Awards: Mid-Season Frontrunners

Orlando Magic guard Paolo Banchero is the mid-season front-runner for the NBA Rookie of the Year Award
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As January comes to a close and February begins, the NBA season starts to really come into form. The All-Star break is approaching fast, and most teams have already played about 50 games. The playoff races are beginning to figure themselves out, as well as many other aspects from around the league. With this in mind, many NBA awards races are beginning to take shape. Let’s take a look at some front-runners for these awards.

MVP: Joel Embiid

This race is very tight. Nikola Jokic won the award last year, and he has been a favorite to win it again for a large portion of this season. However, the 76ers have begun to rise up the standings, and with that, so has the play of Joel Embiid.

Embiid is averaging over 33 points per game, with 9.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists, as well. He’s scored more than eight points more per game than Jokic, is about even in rebounds, and only falls behind Jokic in assists. Jokic has the upper hand in the standings, as the Nuggets are currently first in the West. Philadelphia is third in a very competitive East though, and Embiid’s incredible performance to beat Denver just days ago has vaulted him into the lead in this race.

Rookie of the Year: Paolo Banchero

For the entire season the No. 1 pick, Paolo Banchero, has led this race. Banchero has simply been fantastic this season, and is proving himself worthy of his draft selection.

Orlando’s star is averaging over 20 points per game, along with 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Keegan Murray, Benedict Mathurin and Jalen Williams have all been impressive, but none of them can compare to Banchero, and his candidacy for this NBA awards race.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Despite a Reddit-fueled conspiracy theory regarding Jackson’s insane stat-lines at home, JJJ has largely ran away with this award. That theory claims that the Memphis Grizzlies’ scorekeeper has been inflating stats, like blocks and steals. At first glance, there may have seemed to be some merit to it. Jackson does have a significant amount more blocks or steals in home games than on the road.

Turns out, not even conspiracy theorists can explain Jackson’s incredible performance this season. The NBA has come out and stated there is no merit to these claims, so it’s time to give Jackson the respect he deserves. The 23 year-old has 4.2 combined steals and blocks per game this season, deserving of the award.

Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Poole

Having Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole on the same roster should be illegal. With Curry and Klay starting in the backcourt, the only role Poole is able to have is to come off the bench. Fortunately for him, and Golden State as a whole, he’s filled this role exceptionally well.

Jordan is averaging 20.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game. His assists and rebounds numbers shouldn’t be expected to be too high, since he’s coming off the bench. His role is to provide scoring for the second unit, and he’s done exactly that.

Most Improved Player: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

This race is a tight one. There are a ton of good candidates for this award, but it has developed into a two-headed race. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lauri Markkanen have turned this into a battle between themselves, and each is a worthy choice.

Gilgeous-Alexander should have the edge. Both have been stunning this season. Utah and Oklahoma City were both expected to be bottom-five teams in the league, and yet they’re currently battling it out for a play-in spot. SGA’s 30.9 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists have vaulted him to an All-NBA level, which is easily deserving of this award.

Coach of the Year: Mike Brown

Finally, we have yet another NBA awards race that could go to a variety of coaches. The most note-worthy that isn’t Mike Brown would be Jacque Vaughn from Brooklyn, who has overseen an amazing turnaround.

Still, Brown deserves this award. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs in 16 years, and just last season finished 12th in the Western Conference. At the time of this writing, Sacramento is third in the west at 28-21, and has the highest scoring offense in the league. Talk about a turn-around.

Could Joel Embiid Really Join The Heat?

The other day, Sixers center Joel Embiid sent out this tweet that led to a whirlwind of speculation.

It immediately begs the question,  when Embiid says, “Miami needs another star,” is he referring to himself? If so, could Joel Embiid to the Heat be in our future?

Embiid Isn’t Wrong

First, let’s be clear that Embiid does have a point here. At the moment, Jimmy Butler is Miami’s best player, and the team’s only true “star.” Bam Adebayo is probably the next closest to that designation, but he is not quite there yet. Looking at the rest of the roster, they have some great role players and veterans who were once stars, but their best days are behind them. One thing is obvious, if Embiid joined the Heat tomorrow, he would immediately become the best player on the roster. What team wouldn’t want to add him?

Could Embiid Want Out?

The big question here is whether or not Embiid would actually leave Philly. He has established himself as the undisputed leader of the team and is beloved by that city. However, frustration could be mounting for the Sixers big man after a fifth consecutive postseason exit without making the conference finals. Philly’s front office has failed to put a star alongside Embiid. They had Butler for the 2018-19 season, which ended in a heartbreaking game seven loss to the eventual champions in Toronto. Rather than trying to run it back, Butler was sent to Miami.

The latest attempt at finding a running mate for Embiid was a trade for James Harden. Unfortunately, Harden is a shell of his former self. Worse yet, he has an irresistible player option for next season that would pay him over $47 million, making him virtually untradeable. Is Embiid willing to risk wasting another year of his prime on a team that will likely struggle to contend for a title? He might decide that the Sixers have had enough chances and that it is time to move on.

If he does, Miami would be a near-perfect fit. Embiid and Butler already have a great relationship and their playing styles mesh together well. Both are playmakers with and without the ball. Also, Embiid already plays with the tenacity that Heat coach, Erik Spoelstra, demands. Most importantly, the addition of Embiid would transform a Miami team that is currently a contender into a juggernaut.

How Would a Joel Embiid to the Heat Move Work?

Given that Embiid is under contract for next season, any move would require a trade. Also, he cannot be traded until July 17. So, what would a potential trade look like? After using ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, and then adding in some draft picks, here is one possibility:

Miami receives: Joel Embiid

Philadelphia receives: Bam Adebayo, Max Strus, Miami 2023 1st round pick, Miami 2024 1st round pick.

For Miami, Embiid would be a significant upgrade over Adebayo. Giving up Strus and two firsts is the price of doing business, one that they would happily pay. On the other side, any trade in which Philly gives up Embiid would feel like a loss. The compensation is not terrible, but it is hard to see how the Sixers get better in this trade. It is important to note that this trade would only happen if Embiid demanded it. This would give Philly little leverage.

Will it Happen?

At the end of the day, it is hard to picture Embiid being anywhere but Philly next season. I think it is more likely that Daryl Morey finds a way to either trade Harden or add another shooter. Still, this situation is something to keep an eye on. Embiid is heading into the final year of his contract. If the Sixers are not looking like contenders when next year’s trade deadline rolls around, all bets are off.