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MVP and Rookie of the Year are typically the headliners of the NBA’s individual awards, but there are plenty of others to get excited about over the next few months:
Sixth Man of the Year: Dennis Schroder
The field for this award is packed, but the nod goes to Dennis Schroder. Beyond leading reserves in scoring at 19.0 points per game, his net rating swing is comfortably better than anyone within striking distance of his average.
The Thunder’s net rating is 8.6 points per 100 possessions better with Schroder on the floor. That’s rarified air for a bench player, especially when he’s on a team that features such good starters.
Additionally, Schroder is a mainstay in one of the league’s most effective, unusual and entertaining trios. OKC’s three-point guard attack boasts a seemingly impossible plus-31.4 net rating.
Honorable Mentions: Montrezl Harrell and Derrick Rose
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Bucks not only lead the league in defense, but their minus-8.5 relative defensive rating (meaning they allow 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than an average team) is also the third-best in NBA history. Only the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics of 1963-64 and 1964-65 posted better marks.
Giannis is the best individual defender on this historically dominant defensive team. Milwaukee allows 11.3 fewer points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. He’s averaging 2.2 combined blocks and steals per 75 possessions, and he leads the NBA in defensive box plus/minus.
Honorable Mentions: Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez
Most Improved Player: Bam Adebayo
We won’t break the unwritten rule outlawing second-year players from consideration here. Otherwise, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Devonte’ Graham would have strong cases. Others to think about include Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
But the distinction of Most Improved goes to Bam Adebayo, who not only increased his production with more minutes but also expanded his game.
Adebayo has put up solid increases in points and blocks per possession, and he’s currently doubling last season’s box plus/minus. But the most important development is likely the passing.
Adebayo is averaging 5.1 assists per game and is being trusted to run multiple possessions each contest as the de facto 1. That level of playmaking from a center makes life exponentially easier for the guards and wings on the roster. When the big pulls his defender away from the paint, driving and cutting lanes are much more open.
Honorable Mentions: Brandon Ingram and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse
The Toronto Raptors didn’t just lose Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this summer; they have lost more win shares to injury than any other team in the league to this point, per Man Games Lost.
And yet, head coach Nick Nurse has led the defending champions to the same 46-18 record they had through 64 games last season.
Nurse has managed to get the most out of seemingly every rotation player on the roster, helping Toronto emerge as perhaps the new organizational standard in the NBA.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Budenholzer and Billy Donovan
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