NBA awards race: Predictions for MVP, Rookie of the Year and others through first quarter of 2021-22 season

Just like that, in the blink of an eye, the first quarter of the 2021-22 NBA season has passed us by.

With every team in the league hitting the 20-game mark, we’re officially entering the part of the season where small sample sizes aren’t so small anymore. At this point, trends – both the good and the bad – may be what they present themselves as.

Players and teams who are still thriving or experiencing success just might keep things going the rest of the year. The same could be said for the ones who are still struggling.

And while 60-ish games are remaining to alter the trajectory of the season, let’s assess what we’ve seen so far and take the temperature on some end-of-season awards.

Eight members of our Sporting News staff were asked to vote for their top three rankings for each major NBA award. A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote was worth three points and a third-place vote was worth one point.

To be explicitly clear: the voting was based on performances to this point in the season, not who we believe will win the award at the end of the season.

If you’d like to see how our opinions have changed since before the start of the season, check out our preseason awards ballot here.

Without further ado… who are the frontrunners for each NBA award so far?

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NBA First-Quarter Awards Race

Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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Out of the six awards surveyed, Curry for MVP was the only unanimous decision, earning eight first-place votes for a total of 40 points. And rightfully so.

The only unanimous MVP in NBA history is back at it again, tied for the league-lead in scoring while knocking down 3s at a historic rate. He has the Warriors positioned with the best record in the NBA, looking like a true title contender even though Klay Thompson and James Wiseman have yet to touch the floor this season.

Nets star Kevin Durant earned all eight second-place votes (24 points), tied with Curry for the most points per game in the league while shooting with jaw-dropping efficiency of 54.8 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from 3.

Bucks’ reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished third in the voting despite being the only player in the league to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one block and one steal per game.

Others receiving votes: Chris Paul, Nikola Jokic, DeMar DeRozan

Rookie of the Year: Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

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Rookie of the Year was by far the closest award race, with Barnes (34 points) just edging out Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley (30 points) for the first-quarter honor. Barnes earned five out of eight first-place votes to Mobley’s three, giving him the edge.

Both rookies are out to extremely impressive starts to their careers, acting as jacks-of-all-trades for their teams.

Barnes and Mobley have far exceeded expectations as scorers and creators on offense while living up to the hype as tough and versatile defenders. To this point, Barnes leads Mobley in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game, but the No. 3 overall pick isn’t far behind in any of those categories.

While No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham is creeping his way into the award race after missing the first couple games of the season, it was Thunder rookie Josh Giddey who finished third, tallying five third-place votes. Giddey made headlines recently, joining LeBron James and LaMelo Ball as the only teenagers in NBA history to have 100 assists and rebounds in the first 20 games of their careers.

Others receiving votes: Cade Cunningham

Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

Green has anchored the Warriors’ defense for years and that still hasn’t changed. Through the first quarter of the season, Golden State has by far the best defense in the NBA, owning a defensive rating of 99.4, and Green’s vocal leadership deserves a ton of credit for that.

Just ask the former Defensive Player of the Year, himself, who the best defender in the NBA is:

Green (38 points) received seven out of eight first-place votes, with Bam Adebayo (14 points) stealing the only other vote. Adebayo finished second on the ballot while the previous two DPOYs, Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo, tied for third (9 points each).

Others receiving votes: Mikal Bridges, Alex Caruso

Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

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Another award that was one vote away from being unanimous.

Herro earned seven of eight first-place votes (38 points), nearly making a clean sweep for the honor. After an explosion in the NBA Bubble during his rookie season, Herro struggled to meet expectations during his sophomore year. The 21-year-old has responded in Year 3 by averaging career-highs in every major statistical category, including his shooting splits.

And while he’s making his impact felt off the bench, he’s also stepping up late in games, ranking sixth in the league in fourth-quarter points, trailing a list of five former All-Stars.

Second to Herro was Montrezl Harrell (17 points), who swiped the one first-place vote. Harrell is back to looking like the player who won Sixth Man of the Year in 2019, playing a huge role in the early-season success of the Wizards. Bulls’ Alex Caruso (7 points) just edged the Nets’ Patty Mills (5 points) for third place.

Others receiving votes: Patty Mills, Jalen Brunson, Carmelo Anthony

Most Improved Player of the Year: Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

Most Improved Player of the Year had the most diversity between first-place votes compared to any other award. Five (!) different players received a first-place vote among the eight experts polled: Bridges, Herro, Ja Morant, Dejounte Murray and Jordan Poole.

Bridges’ three first-place votes and two second-place votes (23 points) gave him the advantage over the field, though.

The Hornets forward got out to such a hot start to the season that he even cracked the top five on our first MVP Ladder of the year. He was that good. He hasn’t cooled off much since then, still averaging career-highs across the board while helping Charlotte out to its better-than-expected start.

Morant (16 points) finished second in the voting, but for full transparency, some voters felt it wasn’t right to give this particular award to a player who was selected No. 2 overall in his draft class. Poole’s breakout season for Golden State was recognized, finishing third in the voting (13 points).

Others receiving votes: Dejounte Murray, Tyler Herro, Tyrese Maxey

Coach of the Year: Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

It’s hard to argue for anyone other than Kerr for Coach of the Year to this point, even though some other coaches have a strong case so far.

The Warriors are exceeding all expectations, getting out to one of the best starts in NBA history at 18-2. Kerr has been pushing all the right buttons, getting the most out of role players like Poole, Gary Payton II and Juan Toscano-Anderson, as well as maximizing Andrew Wiggins’ potential.

The Warriors have the second-best offense, best defense and best net rating in the NBA, and Kerr deserves some praise for that.

He received seven out of eight first-place votes (35 points), with Bulls head coach Billy Donovan taking the other first-place vote.

Donovan has done a tremendous job with Chicago’s new-look roster, but despite receiving the other first-place vote, he finished third (8 points) in the voting. Second place went to Suns head coach Monty Williams (22 points), who earned all but one second-place vote.

Others receiving votes: Steve Nash, Wes Unseld Jr., Erik Spoelstra

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