The track race is underway in the NBA.
Aside from the obvious battle for the playoff position this time of year, this is also the part of the season where the cases for the various annual awards are treated seriously.
Here is a look at the leaders in each of the six main awards, of which around three quarters of the season are currently on the books.
Trainer of the Year – Nick Nurse
A Homer election? Sure, but that doesn't make it any less correct.
Nick Nurse, coach of Toronto Raptors, is the coach of the year and it really is not even short.
The Raptors are the top 5 in the entire league in lost man games and have injured the following players this season: Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred Van Vleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Patrick McCaw, Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson and Dewan Hernandez.
Not only are 12 of the 15 players on the squad overall, but also the team's top 7 core players – most of whom have missed a significant amount of time this season due to injuries, as opposed to just one game here or there
The only player who didn't miss a game – be it due to injuries or tasks in the G League – is rookie Terence Davis, who incidentally has an outstanding rookie season with an average of 8.2 points per game with a scorching 41 , 5 points per game enjoy cents shooting from the three-point range with 3.6 attempts from a distance in 17.6 minutes per game.
Despite all of this, the Raptors set the third best record in the league with 42:16, completed a Canadian winning streak with 15 best games and are on the verge of reaching another final of the Eastern Conference – or beyond.
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Yes, it turns out the Raptors are probably much more talented than many thought they would be without Kawhi Leonard – Siakam in particular made a big leap this season – but the most consistent factor for the Raptors. Success this season was the steady hand of the nurse at the helm, who managed the good ship Raptors just as skillfully through skilful weather as through light breeze.
The hallmark of the Raptors this season – and according to Deputy Nurse – was the team's defense. Toronto's buy-in and dedication to this end of the floor are ubiquitous – even though the team's trainer has experimented with some crazy looks by using multiple zones like Standard Two-Three, Box One-One, and Triangle-Two College basketball style full and half court presses to use.
This is something you don't see in the NBA, and you would normally hear players grumble about such craziness. But that doesn't happen with the Raptors and the biggest reason is that mostly a positive result follows when the nurse decides to push a button.
No other coach in the league has the leeway or the results to support everything as the nurse does. This award should be in his pocket.
MVP – Giannis Antetokounmpo
We see a good fight in the old alley for the MVP race. Giannis and Bron are neck to neck and after the last night it doesn't look like someone is retreating !!
– Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) February 26, 2020
Look, it's not difficult, Giannis Antetokounmpo will win the MVP again.
His team, which had the best record in the league last season, will be at the top of the league this season with an even better record, and the man himself – who last season MVP with an average of 27, 7 points, 12.5 rebounds and won 5.9 assists – has improved statistically at almost all levels this season and averages 29.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
There is usually some controversy regarding MVP, as it is usually awarded to the best player in the best team, but not necessarily to the best player in the league. Antetkounmpo is the best player in the best team in the league who also happens to be the best player in the world.
There is no room for argument here.
Rookie of the Year – Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson (1), striker of the New Orleans Pelicans, hits the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. (Rusty Costanza / AP)
This may seem insane since most games that New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson phenomenon can play this season are 37 while its super rookie counterpart, Ja Morant by Memphis Grizzlies, is already 51 played.
But there is definitely a chance, because on the one hand Williamson's counting statistics are slightly better than Morant's, but also because they know where the respective teams are going.
As unfair as it is, the grizzlies, who have now lost three times in a row, also have the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to the Tankathon, while the pelicans have only the second lightest.
If things go as expected, the pelicans will put together the 3.5 games they currently get back from number 8 grizzlies and sneak into the playoffs, largely thanks to the buoyancy Williamson offers them.
It will still be difficult to measure how much work an entire season from Morant to an explosive half season from Williamson will cost, which means that it will likely be critical where the grizzlies and pelicans are in the season Overall rating finish factor.
Defensive Player of the Year – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Dennis Schroder (17), Thunder Guard of Oklahoma City, dribbles in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers. (Alonzo Adams / AP)
One of the best stories of the season was the surprisingly strong game played by Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that was declared dead after Paul George and Russell Westbrook left.
Instead, the Thunder, led by aspiring Canadian star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and seasoned superstar Chris Paul, is comfortably in the playoffs and could push for a home advantage.
While Gilgeous-Alexander and Paul focused most on the success of the thunder this season, reserve guard Dennis Schroder is the player on the team who is most likely to get away with a brilliant recognition for the year.
The Thunders third leading scorer, Schroder, enjoys one of his best seasons as a professional – and certainly his best of the bank – with an average of 19 points and four assists per game at 47.5 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from deep.
Among players who have played at least 41 games from the bank, Schroders' 19-point average leads the field, including bankers Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams of Los Angeles Clippers, who are probably the leaders in many people's minds are
But they shouldn't be.
The clippers were expected to belong to the league's elite, and probably even if one of Harrell or Williams had a low season. The Thunder are a team that feels like it's bigger than the sum of its parts. If you remove a piece like Schroder from the equation, it is unclear where you would be now.
Most Improved Player – Luka Doncic
Dallas Mavericks striker Luka Doncic (77) dribbles in the first half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Saturday, December 28, 2019, against the Golden State Warriors. (Jeff Chiu / AP)
Before saying anything else it is important to know that the author of this post does not personally like this award. Not because rewarding improvements is bad, but the idea of the "most improved" just seems so arbitrary. Improvement can mean almost anything, and as such, the goal posts for this award often shift from year to year. Overall, it is only frustratingly undefined which criteria are used to award this award.
According to at least one estimate, Dallas Maverick's superstar Luka Doncic is the best-improved player to date.
Why? Just look at the descriptor in front of its name. Superstar.
In terms of levels of improvement, it is the most difficult to develop from a very good star-level player to a real blue superstar. Doncic made this jump in just his second NBA season.
However, this does not only have to do with numbers – which, incidentally, have improved in almost every statistical category compared to its rookie season.
Being an NBA superstar means that you have to produce on the ground and probably have to be the best player on the ground when you are on the ground, but it's also about being marketable and a good ambassador for league and being sport as a whole, the NBA superstars double their faces.
Doncic is perhaps the most exciting player in the league, has a million-watt smile and represents the global game that is basketball that the NBA has become.
Superstars are rarer than you think, but you definitely know you can see one. Doncic is a superstar.