Who is winning the awards race?

Originally Published: December 26, 2013
ESPN.com

LeBron jamesJesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMiami's LeBron James appears headed toward another MVP award.

With the season a third of the way complete, our writers and editors provide their leading candidates for the individual awards. Let's take a look.


1. Who's the East rookie of the year so far?

Jim Cavan, KnickerBlogger: Michael Carter-Williams. The 3-0 start and anti-tanking coup might've been put into the rearview mirror, but with MCW at the helm, the road ahead looks more than promising. At 6-foot-6 and with a wingspan that could hug the Liberty Bell, Carter-Williams has quickly recast the position of point guard in his own image.

Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Michael Carter-Williams, but the competition is gaining ground in his rearview mirror in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Carter-Williams has benefited from playing time and touches out of the gate, and is a far more polished prospect, so he gets the nod ... for now.

James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: Michael Carter-Williams. While Victor Oladipo has had some nice performances, no rookie has been as consistently impactful as Carter-Williams. He's usually the best player in Philly's wins and the Sixers are a miserable 1-10 without him. You could say his stats are inflated in Philadelphia, but he's putting up huge numbers against defenses geared toward stopping him. Not easy.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Michael Carter-Williams' numbers are inflated by that super fast Philadelphia pace, but he's also the best pick here. He'll be an All-Star if he ever develops a merely competent jumper. Not only does he possess excellent vision, but he has more defensive potential than any other rookie this year.

Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Michael Carter-Williams. He's doing the most with the most opportunities, and his opening-season surge is the type of signature moment I can't see any Plumlee matching. His games-missed total (11) is starting to creep up near that games-played one (17), but leeway abounds in a rookie class in which Matthew Dellavedova is in the top 10 in PER.


2. Who's the West rookie of the year so far?


Cavan: Not even surgery on his shooting hand was enough to keep Trey Burke from going gangbusters out of the gate. Many questioned how the diminutive college great would stand up to the size of the NBA's brand of ball, but Burke's rare combination of speed, quickness and floor savvy have convinced just about everyone in Utah that their next great point guard has arrived.

Elhassan: Steven Adams. There is going to be a strong case made for Trey Burke, but Adams has played at a consistently high level for a team that is vying for a championship, and that deserves to be recognized, particularly as "ready-to-play" bigs are a lot harder to come by than their guard counterparts.

Herbert: Trey Burke. Much like Carter-Williams and the Sixers, the Jazz were absolutely dreadful with Burke injured. His return hasn't helped their disastrous defense, but Utah is at least a functional offensive team with the ball in his hands. He's poised, skilled and fearless, and he's had a few monster games, with a 30-point, seven-rebound, eight-assist performance against Orlando standing out.

Strauss: Trey Burke, as this rookie list is short on guys who put up a 30-8-7 in a game. Burke has been uneven, slightly inefficient as a scorer, but he's shown some serious flashes in December. An example: the play he had against Orlando wherein he faked a behind-the-back pass only to sink a reverse layup instead, all while going full speed. He just boasts a command and confidence out there that the vast majority of rookies can't touch.

Verrier: Trey Burke. It takes a special kind of player to make this Utah team competitive, and the Jazz are much more tolerable with Burke (7-12) than without him (1-10). We'll give him some more buffer time post-hand surgery to correct his stroke (39 percent from the field), but at this point he'll keep lapping the field simply by logging starter's minutes.


3. Who's the East MVP so far?


Cavan: You already know. Look away from the PER and marvel for a moment at LBJ's new plane of statistical brilliance: a true shooting percentage of 67 percent. That's absurd. Even at 31,000 career minutes and counting, LeBron is showing no signs of slowing down. He might, however, need to think about adding a second floor to his living-room trophy mantle.

Elhassan: LeBron James. Next question.

Herbert: LeBron James. It's just about impossible to make an argument for anybody else at this point. As great as Paul George has been in Indiana, James has been better across the board and has his Heat only a game back of the Pacers in the standings. James' efficiency is as mind-melting as the off-the-glass alley-oop he gave us for Christmas.

Strauss: LeBron James is submitting his most efficient scoring season yet and the Heat are a game out of first place in the East while operating on cruise control. Beyond the well-detailed on-court contributions, LeBron deserves some credit for recruiting free agents. The Heat have little money to spend, but have been massively helped by getting guys like Ray Allen and Chris Andersen on discounts.

Verrier: LeBron James. He's shooting from 2-point range like Shaq and from 3-point range like Ray Allen. His per-game numbers are a little lower than usual, but James and the Heat are on a quest to make each shot as valuable as possible, gaudy stats be damned, and succeeding wildly thus far: LeBron is one of two non-big men in the top 10 in field goal percentage. (The other? Dwyane Wade.)


4. Who's the West MVP so far?


Cavan: Poor Kevin Durant. Had he just been born five years earlier or later, we'd be talking about KD being MVP in perpetuity. It's like trying to win employee of the month at a landscaping company when your coworker is the Incredible Hulk. The big, bold silver lining: The way the Thunder are playing, it might well be their star who's having the last laugh come June.

Elhassan: Kevin Durant has been nothing short of phenomenal thus far, and he was my preseason pick for non-LeBron James MVP of the league. His stats at this point look like a typo, and he has the Thunder back in the mix for best record in the league. Ethan Sherwood Strauss said it best: We've become so desensitized to Durant's greatness that we entertain arguments about "better" wings.

Herbert: Kevin Durant, who makes me wish the NBA actually gave out an award for West MVP. LeBron will likely win MVP, but Durant is deserving of more than an All-NBA selection. In December he's averaged 28.3 points, shooting 53.9 percent from the field, 50.8 percent from three and 89.8 percent from the line. Ridiculous.

Strauss: What does Kevin Durant have to do to get some credit? He's such a reliably dominant offensive force that we tend to take his game for granted. In any event, he's submitting yet another superb season. Yet again, he'd be the clear MVP if LeBron James decided to leave the league and play football. Durant also has an outside shot of winning MVP outright this year. In my opinion, the Thunder have been the NBA's best team so far this season.

Verrier: Kevin Durant. Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Anthony Davis are playing the best in their careers, and Chris Paul is at his best since he's been in L.A. But none can touch the high bar Durant has set through his consistent brilliance. Being continually great is a bit mundane, particularly in a LeBron-driven world, but KD is checking all the MVP boxes yet again.


5. Who's the NBA MVP so far?


Cavan: LeBron James. It's fair to wonder, where does LeBron go statistically from here? A 70 percent true shooting percentage? Fifty percent from 3-point range? Eighty-two win shares? That we're witnessing with LeBron the rarest of basketball greatness has become something of a truism. The hope now is that the more who repeat it, the more eyes and minds will heed the mantra.

Elhassan: See Question 3.

Herbert: It has to be LeBron. Even if everyone's sick of choosing him, there's still a fairly substantial gap between him and Durant and then guys like Chris Paul and Paul George. James is somehow managing to improve every year and he might go down as the greatest to ever play. Can't penalize him for being a boring pick.

Strauss: LeBron James is the NBA's MVP so long as he even vaguely resembles what we've come to expect. Nobody else combines his complete offensive game with the ability to guard every position. As an added bonus, he's dunking on opponents oh so viciously this year.

Verrier: LeBron. It's like he's a higher basketball-playing life-form. While Durant, his closest competition, rules the scoring charts, James has already moved on to conquering the realm of efficiency. What on-court controversy can we drum up for this guy? At this point, he's ahead of all the challenges anyone can cobble together. The silence is deafening.

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