NBA Award Watch: Fiz is rocking in Memphis

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in the United States of America. Here are the front-runners for the NBA end of season awards at Thanksgiving.

The 2016-17 NBA season is roughly a month in the books. We’ve seen some things that validate the things we thought we knew. Then there have been some things we still can’t quite get our heads around. These sort of conundrums have more to do with teams rather than individuals.

That is in part because we have seen some players and coaches elevate their teams to new heights in the early part of the season. Entering Thanksgiving, here are the front-runners for the six major NBA awards on the week’s NBA Award Watch.

November 21, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) controls the ball against the Toronto Raptors during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

November 21, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) controls the ball against the Toronto Raptors during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Most Valuable Player: Chris Paul

The Los Angeles Clippers have the best record in the NBA at 13-2. They also have the best player of the 2016-17 NBA season in perennial All-NBA point guard Chris Paul. He’s been elite for a long time, but we are seeing the best that Paul has to offer with the 2016-17 Clippers.

He is averaging 18.4 points per game, 8.8 assists per game, and a league-best 2.9 steals per game. Paul is shooting .465 from the field, .436 from three, and .875 from the charity stripe.

He is leading in the NBA in Win Shares (3.5) and Win Shares per 48 (.360). Paul’s Offensive Box Plus-Minus of 10.1 is ridiculous and so is his Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 3.6, giving him a Box Plus/Minus of 13.7 and a Value Over Replacement Player of 1.8.

In short, Paul is the floor general on the team in the NBA with the best record at Thanksgiving. The Golden State Warriors’ stars will likely split their votes. Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Anthony Davis won’t win 50 games this season to honestly enter the MVP conversation.

Giving it to LeBron James is too easy. Paul is earning his chance to be an NBA MVP for the first time with his ply during the first month of the NBA season.

Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) looses controls of the ball in front of Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) looses controls of the ball in front of Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Player of the Year: Hassan Whiteside

There have been a ton of great defensive players this year, but three centers standout: Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons, Dwight Howard of the Atlanta Hawks, and Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat.

Howard and the Hawks will make the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Drummond and the Pistons probably will. Whiteside and the Heat won’t come anywhere close to sniffing the 2017 Eastern Conference Playoffs, but he is the front-runner for NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

Whiteside is leading the NBA in rebounding with 15.9 boards per game, 10.8 of those are coming on the defensive glass. He is averaging 2.7 blocks per game and 0.9 steals per game. 3.6 turnovers forced per game by a 7-footer is terrifying for any opposing offense going up against Whiteside.

Whiteside is leading the NBA in Defensive Win Shares at 1.1 and has a Defensive Box Plus-Minus of 2.5. The Heat are inept on offense and Whiteside isn’t all that efficient on that end of the floor. That being said, his defensive prowess can’t go unnoticed despite playing on a terrible Heat team.

Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts as time winds down on a victory against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts as time winds down on a victory against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid

It’s only Thanksgiving, but we might as well give the 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Award to Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. Not only has Embiid been by far and away the best rookie in the NBA through the first month, but the 76ers aren’t the worst team in basketball.

Yes, 4-10 through its first 14 games is good enough for last place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, but the 76ers have won three of their last four games against the dreck of the NBA. They are better than the Phoenix Suns (4-11) and the Dallas Mavericks (2-11).

Embiid has played in 10 games as a professional basketball player for the 76ers. He is averaging 18.4 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game in the 22.2 minutes per contest he plays. Philadelphia is a better and more interesting when he is on the floor.

To think that the 76ers would have four wins before Thanksgiving without seeing No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons play a single second for Philadelphia is just remarkable. Trust the Process because The Process is playing outstanding basketball in his rookie season for the 76ers.

Nov 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) reacts after hitting a three point shot in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Hawks 100-96. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 18, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) reacts after hitting a three point shot in the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Spectrum Center. The Hornets defeated the Hawks 100-96. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Most Improved Player: Kemba Walker

This is one of the tightest award races in the NBA. The Most Improved Player is probably going to a first-time All-Star in the Eastern Conference. Its two most qualified candidates are Milwaukee Bucks point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker.

Either one of these emerging stars can be Most Improved, but Walker edges out Antetokounmpo for another week. Walker is averaging 24.7 points per game, 5.2 assists per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and has a PER of 26.5.

Walker is shooting .468 from the field, .413 from distance, and .808 from the line, leading to an effective field goal percentage of .549. He has garnered 2.1 Win Shares playing well on both ends of the floor.

What has really helped catapult Walker into being a certain 2016-17 NBA All-Star has been his improved shooting stroke. It has opened up things offensively for the Hornets and they are now probably one of the five best teams in the Eastern Conference. Walker’s improved as a player is a direct correlation to the Hornets’ overall improvement as a basketball team.

Nov 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams (23) drives the ball defended by Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the fourth quarter at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Lakers won 117-97. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 4, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Lou Williams (23) drives the ball defended by Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) during the fourth quarter at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Lakers won 117-97. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams

One of the most surprising stories in the NBA so far this season has been that the Los Angeles Lakers have hovered around .500 and playoff contention in the deep Western Conference. This was a team that won 17 games last year. How are the Lakers doing this?

They don’t have a star player on its roster, but it has the right mix of young talent and savvy NBA veterans that new head coach Luke Walton can mess appropriately. The Lakers likely won’t have an NBA All-Star, but have a legitimate candidate to win Sixth Man of the Year: shooting guard Lou Williams.

Williams won the award playing for the 2014-15 Toronto Raptors as a reliable jump shooter from distance. In 15 games for the 2016-17 Lakers with no starts, Williams is averaging 16.6 points per game, 3.5 assists per game, and 1.5 steals per game.

He is shooting a career best .469 from the field, a career best .431 from three, and .839 at the free throw line. Williams’ overall great game off the Lakers’ bench has given a 24.3 PER, best among non-starters, and 1.3 Win Shares on the year. He has been a major reason that the Lakers have had so much early season success. Williams is an easy choice for Sixth Man of the Year at Thanksgiving.

Nov 14, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale attempts to get a referee

Nov 14, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale attempts to get a referee

Coach of the Year: David Fizdale

There has been a lot great coaching across the NBA the first month of the season. So naturally, 2016-17 NBA Coach of the Year is going to exchange hands multiple times on the NBA Award Watch.

One guy that has to be commended for the fine job he is doing this season is first-year head coach David Fizdale for the Memphis Grizzlies. Fizdale was brought in to Memphis to do two things: 1.) Teach the Grizzlies how to use the three-point shot to enter modern basketball offensively. 2.) Keep it tight defensively.

Fizdale comes for the Erik Spoelstra tree with the Miami Heat of three-and-d. Memphis is 9-5 through its first 14 games by playing great defense and introducing the three-point shot to the Mississippi River Delta.

The Grizzlies are second in points allowed per game at 96.5 and fourth in defensive efficiency at 102.8. Memphis isn’t terrible at the three ball (.343), despite missing small forward Chandler Parsons for most of the season.

Parting ways with former head coach Dave Joerger was controversial, but Fizdale is rocking in Memphis. If this veteran team isn’t wrecked by injuries, the new-look Grizzlies could make some serious noise in the Western Conference Playoffs.

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