Even though we aren’t even one month into the 2018-19 NBA season, there has still been enough action, drama, and storylines for an entire year’s worth of news. We have a big *enough* sample size of roughly 13-14 games from each team that we can put together some ideas of which player stands where in an early look at the award races.
There are three players in particular who have shown out in the early stages of the season and earned the right to hear their name mentioned in the following categories.
Anthony Davis for Most Valuable Player, Willie Cauley-Stein for Most Improved Player, and Julius Randle for Sixth Man of the Year.
Let’s start with Anthony Davis.
Despite missing three games to a nagging shoulder injury, Davis is still in the early MVP conversation. He’s not a top-3 candidate at the moment. Steph Curry, Giannis Anteokounmpo, and Joel Embiid have quickly separated themselves from the pack, but Davis is right behind them.
So far this season, Davis is averaging 24.6 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.1 blocks per game. If not for the three games he missed and another other two in which he played through the injury, these numbers could be even more impressive.
But Davis has still been a monster this season, despite not being fully healthy.
He was my preseason pick for MVP and I continue to stand by it. The Pelicans got off to a hot 4-0 start before Davis’ injury aided in them losing six straight, but a quick bounce back and two straight wins have helped get them back on track.
If the shoulder pain subsides completely, we won’t see nearly as many 17-18 point games on sub-40 percent shooting from him as we have over the previous weeks. 32 points against the Chicago Bulls followed by 26 points against the Phoenix Suns is a terrific way to get both himself and the team back on track. He’s going to force himself into the MVP conversation all season, the wins column is where he’s going to have to separate himself – an enormously difficult task in the Western Conference.
Now for Willie Cauley-Stein, who has been as impressive as any former Kentucky player this season.
WCS struggled with constant inconsistency last season, especially with his overall effort.
This season has been the complete opposite.
Cauley-Stein has bumped up his overall numbers in nearly every statistic and looks like a player who wants to go out and dominate every second he’s on the court. Along with De’Aaron Fox, the two former Cats have sparked a surprising start to the Sacramento Kings season.
WCS is averaging 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 57.9 percent from the field. He’s added multiple post moves and appears much more confident at attacking the rim even if a larger defender is placed in front of him.
He made it a point in the offseason that he’s looking to get paid this summer. He had shown little in his first three seasons that proved he was worth it, now we’re wondering just how much the Kings might be willing to offer him.
There have been some excellent candidates for MIP so far this season. Caris LeVert looks like a budding star in Brooklyn. Tobias Harris is excelling as the go-to scorer for the Los Angeles Clippers. This is going to be one of the more interesting and exciting award races of the season. There are a ton of players who have taken their game to the next level this season and WCS is right there at the top.
And lastly, Julius Randle.
He’s the third piece to the Pelicans three-headed frontcourt monster that features himself, Davis, and Nikola Mirotic. One of those three had to come off the bench and it’s been Randle for most of the season. In this role, he’s playing the best basketball of his career and loving every second of it.
Randle was the Los Angeles Lakers best player last season before they let him walk in favor of Rajon Rondo and the rest of the current Meme Team in LA. I would imagine that front office is kicking themselves right now, considering Randle’s success and how little money he accepted to take on this current role.
He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 55.6 percent shooting from the field.
He’s known for his bully-ball style of play and he’s been punishing defenses all season with that mantra. Of the three players featured in this article, Randle might be the one who is leading their respective race.
There isn’t any shot Randle won’t take – and make – when he’s within five feet of the basket. There are maybe a handful of players in the entire league who can push him back when he lowers his shoulder and goes up for a shot – and none of them can keep up with his quick feet if he decides to pump fake and slip around them.
We’re seeing a fully optimized version of Randle. He’s shooting 33 percent from three. His playmaking as a forward has been unmatched. It’s impossible to stop him when he brings the ball up the court with a head of steam coupled with that vicious spin move. This award is already his to lose. The only thing preventing him from expanding on his early lead is the health of the man who starts in front of him, Mirotic, who missed the Pelicans previous game with an ankle injury.
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