We are only about a month away from the season wrapping up, and awards to be voted on and passed to their respective winners. Let’s take a look at each award, and which players are the frontrunners for each award. Let’s start out with the Rookie of the Year candidates, in no particular order.

Andrew Wiggins

 

This is the guy everyone is expecting to win. Averaging 16pts, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal a game on 35 minutes a game is solid numbers for a rookie. My problem with voting him ROTY is the fact that he’s putting up these numbers because he’s a number one option on a struggling team, and he’s averaging at least 5 minutes more then the others in consideration, up to a whopping 15 minutes more then fellow rookie Dante Exum.

This isn’t to take away from his skill-set, or the fact that he has a  real chance at becoming a star in the league. Like when he puts the moves on LeBron for an easy basket here:
 


 

But I count more then stats when I evaluate players. I look at the context of the situation they’re in, and how much of a load they’re being asked to carry. Wiggins is a great player, and I wouldn’t disrespect him by calling him a “good stats on a bad team” type of player, because I think he would be a valuable wing player on many teams rotation. It’s just that his stats aren’t so eye-popping to me, considering the freedom he is given to operate.
 

Dante Exum
 

Unlike most people, I never was expecting him to come and light the scoreboard on fire from day one. Even at his height, it takes time to adjust to driving and scoring among the behemoths that are NBA big men; angles that you were used to exploiting are suddenly closed off, and you have to incorporate more fakes and counters into your repertoire, which takes time. I thought he’d be a distributor for his first season; but with him only averaging 4.8pts and 2.3assists per game, it looks like we were both wrong.

However, his defensive prowess has taken even me by surprise. Of course, as a 6’6″ point guard, it should be expected that he’d be a defensive nightmare for many guards in the league, and allows him to switch on pick and rolls without giving up much, if any, height. He’s been a big part, along with Rudy Gobert, of helping the Jazz rank #1 in defensive efficiency since the All-Star break. Not a serious contender for ROTY to me, but it will be interested to see his offense evolve around his already solid defense.
 
Elfrid Payton
 
This guy feels like Victor Oladipo did last year; great player and student of the game, someone I expect to be an All-Star multiple times, but who gets overlooked in the race for ROTY.  He leads all rookies in assists, with 6.8 per game; second in steals, at 1.54 per game, and leads all rookie guards at rebounding, pulling down a solid 4 boards per game at the point guard position. He’s got height for a PG, clocking in at 6’4″, and is putting up a decent 8.5 points per game.

But this last week or so he’s hit another gear. He got a triple-double against the Dallas Mavericks, putting up 15pts, 10rbs, 12ast, and 2 steals, then almost got another one playing against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he had 13pts, 9rbs, and 10ast! He even had his offense going when he played the Boston Celtics, where he made 20 points to go with 5 boards, 9 assists, a block, and a steal. The Magic have a good young crew developing out East.
 
Nikola Mirotic
 
The rookie who has had the biggest role on a team awards goes to Mirotic. Unlike everyone else on this list, he has actually playing for a top-seeded team in the Chicago Bulls, who are currently No. 2 in the East. He’s been putting up double digit scoring numbers lately like Wiggins; the difference is, he’s under pressure to win games by a team who has had championship expectations all year, and is leaned on to kick-start an offense that is anemic at times. For the month of March, he is averaging the most points over everyone in the league in the fourth quarter, with 10 per 4th; for a top-seeded team to lean on a rookie so much in the clutch shows how much pressure he’s been under already, which is great steeling for the post-season ahead.   Watch him throw the spin cycle on the Grizzlies:
 

 

If he keeps this type of production up through the rest of the year, I may have to give the second place edge to him over Wiggins. Sorry, but a player putting up 20 points on a team that has no winning expectations, whose fans are just happy to see him play, and has no chance of being benched, is not nearly the same as putting up those same numbers on a championship contender, in a role where if he didn’t produce, they would bench him, and where if he starts bricking shots, the fans will be quick to throw him under the bus.
 
Nerlens Noel
 
Here is my pick for Rookie of the Year. I’m admittedly biased towards defense, but simply put, these are the types of guys that the NBA values over any other. The running joke about big men in the NBA is that all you have to do is be seven feet tall and be able to  walk and breath, and you’ll get interest by a front office. But a big man who can move with agility all the way to the three-point line, defend the paint, and wreak havoc on anyone driving to the rim? I guess that’s why the old adage goes, “You can’t teach height”.

Plus, he can do things like this to Nene of the Washington Wizards:
 

 
Noel is currently leading all rookies in rebounding, blocks AND steals! Not only that, but despite this being his rookie year, he is 6th in blocks and 9th in steals among the LEAGUE! This guy is the real deal; a franchise changing player, who turns only 21 next month, and who already has cornered the niche as a defensive big man, one of the most coveted and overpaid positions in the league.

Here’s my rational for Noel over Wiggins; which one would you rather have right now coming off the bench for a championship contender in this years post-season? In pretty much case I can think of, a front office right now would much rather have an already dominate defensive center, someone who can make an opposing team have to change it’s whole offensive plan just by being such a huge threat at the rim, over an athletic small forward who is exciting, but isn’t going to make opposing defenses make drastic changes to try and contain him.

Simply put, you can replace Wiggins scoring with plenty of other players in the NBA; it’s really hard to find an equal to Noel’s defense.

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