The NBA season is exactly one month old. (They grow up so fast, don’t they?) We asked our #squad of NBA writers to hand in their ballots for the best so far (minus Rookie of the Year and Most Improved, because we sort of did that last week. Also, not Sixth Man, because that’s arbitrary. And not Defensive Player of the Year, because that’s tough after one month. Just don’t worry about it. This is good content.) And the awards go to …
Who is the MVP of the first month of the season?
Kevin O’Connor: James Harden has kept the Rockets at the top of the league standings by averaging 31.8 points and 10.1 assists per game on a ludicrous 55.3 effective field goal percentage. The only players in NBA history to average at least 30 points and 10 assists with an eFG over 50 is … nobody. Oscar Robertson, Russell Westbrook, and Tiny Archibald all fell in the 47.5 to 49.5 percent range. If this continues after Chris Paul returns, Harden will have swished and dished unlike anyone before him.
Paolo Uggetti: LeBron James. Were I a Cavs fan, I would shudder at the thought of what the team would look like without James logging a league-high 38.1 minutes a night. LeBron’s 28.3 points a game is his highest since the 2009–10 season. He’s already had a 50-point game and six games of 30 points or more, and he’s adding 7.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists while he’s at it. James’s value is undeniable, even as the worry over whether the almost-33-year-old can keep this up for an entire season grows exponentially. But until something (a.k.a., a midseason rehab vacation) gives, LeBron is the true MVP.
Jonathan Tjarks: Harden. He was arguably the MVP last season, and he’s playing even better in Year 2 under Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets haven’t even needed Paul. They responded to losing their new point guard by just plugging Harden back into that role, and he’s averaging 31.8 points and 10.1 assists a game. Houston has the second-best record in the NBA, with a net rating of plus-10.3 when he’s on the floor. Harden’s ability to dominate the ball and put up massive stats every night allows Houston to put more defensive-minded players with offensive limitations around him without missing a beat.
Jason Concepcion: Kristaps Porzingis. Yes, this is a slightly homer pick. I don’t care. The Knicks are 8–6 purely because KP decided to take a mighty leap out of Melo’s shadow into the upper echelons of the league. Is he a top-10 player? Just the fact that that is an arguable position is incredible. I’m not sure the Knicks would have a single win without him.
Justin Verrier: Porzingis. Harden may have the best statistical argument (again), but he’s also the only player among the likely candidates with the benefit of a functioning NBA roster, even without Paul for all but two games. General Zing has not only taken The Leap into full-blown superstardom (top five in points, PER, and blocks), but, in one month, he’s almost single-handedly carried a roster built to bottom out to eight wins, which is almost a third of what Vegas set as the Knicks’ win total for the entire season. Watch Tim Hardaway Jr. play for a full game and tell me what Porzingis is doing with this team isn’t a miracle.
John Gonzalez: James Harden. The early Giannis hype was fun, but Harden has passed the Freak and everyone else. He’s averaging a double-double with more than 30 points and 10 assists per game. His PER is somehow up from last season. He’s hoisting 11 3-point attempts per game (and making 39.8 percent). And he has a killer 62.5 true shooting percentage. He could have been the MVP last season. He’s the clear favorite this season.
Haley O’Shaughnessy: My MVP is Enes Kanter’s King of New York, Kristaps Porzingis. Maybe it’s the fact we didn’t have many positive expectations for the Knicks, or maybe it’s because teams of so many MVP candidates are struggling, but Zingis is the (well-deserved) headline every time the Knicks play. (Except against LeBron. Then it was LeBron.)
Who is the best sophomore of the first month of the season?
Gonzalez: With apologies to Jaylen Brown (who has filled the Gordon Hayward void nicely), and Domantas Sabonis (who looked like a throw-in in the Paul George deal and now looks like a quality contributor), it’s obviously fourth-year redshirt sophomore Joel Embiid. Did you see what he did to the Lakers? The man put up 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and seven blocks. That’s the first time since the league started recording blocks that anyone has posted that line. (Meanwhile, poor Julius Randle probably has to go into hiding now.)
Embiid is going to post a quadruple-double before his career is over (and maybe before this season is over). He’s also the best trash talker this side of Draymond Green, and he leads the league in lovable moments.
Tjarks: Jaylen Brown. If we are classifying Ben Simmons as a rookie, the only two players in the running for this are the no. 2 and 3 picks in the 2016 draft. Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown have both taken big steps forward in their second seasons, but Brown is doing it on a team with the best record in the NBA. With Gordon Hayward out, Brown is the best two-way wing on the Celtics roster, and he’s a foundational part of what they do on both sides of the ball. He’s averaging 14.7 points and 6.7 rebounds a game, and he’s sliding among three positions on defense, often guarding the best scorer in the opposing starting lineup.
O’Connor: Embiid, who is more than three years removed from being drafted, is far and away the best sophomore in the same way that Simmons, more than one year removed from going no. 1 overall, is far and away the best rookie. Embiid is a dominant force of nature and his conditioning is, he says, still only at 69 percent. This is the first time in his life he’s regularly played close to 30 minutes per game. He played at least 30 minutes only six times in 28 games at Kansas, then only once last season. He’s already done it four times this month. If he stays healthy and he’s in great shape, watch out.
Verrier: Are we counting 23-year-olds who have already signed their second contracts? If so, it’s Embiid. Who is guarding this dude? Put a center on him and he will use unfair athleticism and skill to dance past you in the post or drill a 3-pointer from the top of the key. (Although, my guy, please stop it with the slow-motion ball fake. No one is falling for it, and you waste at least three seconds each time.) Stick anyone other than a center on him and he will body said averaged-sized human. A healthy Embiid is a top-10 NBA player. Don’t @ me.
Concepcion: Embiid. He’s averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and two blocks in just 29 minutes per game. He’s 7 feet of post moves, floor-spacing, and social media spiciness, and recently got done wearing the last shreds of DeAndre Jordan’s pride like a party hat. I pray for his health every night before going to sleep.
O’Shaughnessy: With the caveat that Simmons doesn’t count, it’s Brown. The 6-foot-7 forward had a lesser role last season, but Brown, who is still only 21 years old, has become one of the key factors in turning the Celtics, sans Hayward, into a conceivable NBA Finals team.
Uggetti: Domantas Sabonis. If Sabonis were on the Knicks or the Lakers, the hype around him would be thick. Sabonis, who was traded to the Pacers along with Victor Oladipo this offseason for George, never got a chance to prove his worth with the Thunder. But in Indy, he’s averaging 13.3 points and 9.5 rebounds with a 66.2 true shooting percentage in 26.3 minutes a game for a surprisingly competent Pacers squad. Sabonis’s game is a delight, whether he’s in the pick-and-roll (or pop) with the Pacers’ guards or utilizing his 6-foot-11 frame in the paint.
Who is the best coach of the first month of the season?
Tjarks: Brad Stevens. The boy genius is all grown up. The Celtics were supposed to have a huge adjustment process even before Hayward went down in the opening minutes of the season. They were bringing in 11 new players, and they were returning only one guy (Al Horford) from last season’s starting lineup. Stevens had to change the identity of his team on the fly, and he was able to adjust roles for everyone in his rotation and find a new mix that worked for everyone within a matter of days. That process can take months for a lot of coaches.
Gonzalez: Stevens. The Celtics lost their biggest free-agent signing in the first quarter of the first game and immediately pivoted to relying on heavy minutes from Brown and Jayson Tatum, who have played like vets so far. Horford looks like the guy who used to play in Atlanta and not the watered-down version we saw last season in Boston. Kyrie Irving is killing it. The Celtics have the best defensive rating in the NBA. And they lead the Eastern Conference. This isn’t hard.
O’Shaughnessy: Who other than Stevens? The President has somehow produced the league’s top defense after losing Avery Bradley (and gaining Irving, who has transformed both as a defender and playmaker under Stevens’s tutelage). Boston tops the Eastern Conference even without Hayward, and with temporary losses of both Horford and Irving.
Verrier: Stevens. The Celtics lost arguably their best player (I said it) after five minutes of game action and somehow have the league’s best record, the best defense, a top-three turnover ratio, and an effective offense despite a reliance on a 21-year-old, a 19-year-old, and a player who just one month ago was giving off strong Kobe vibes. The only thing Stevens hasn’t done is make Irving a sufferable human.
Concepcion: It’s Brad Stevens. The Celtics play an 11-man rotation that leans heavily on young players (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown) a second-round pick (Semi Ojeleye), an undrafted free agent from Germany (Daniel Theis), and Shane Larkin. They have the best defensive rating in the league (97.2) and are on a 14-game winning streak. All this despite adding Kyrie Irving, whose defense is anywhere from incompetent and apathetic to passable.
Uggetti: For the sake of non-Stevens diversity, I am going to say Stan Van Gundy, who has the surprisingly spry Detroit Pistons sitting at 10–4 and third place in the East. Van Gundy’s vision finally looks to be coming into place. Andre Drummond is improving (especially on free throws), Reggie Jackson is getting along with his teammates on and off the court, Tobias Harris is suddenly a scoring machine, Avery Bradley is predictably making a difference on both ends, and Luke Kennard is starting to make 3s.
O’Connor: To think, y’all made fun of me for picking Stevens before the season.
Who is the best team of the first month of the season?
Uggetti: The Warriors. You get the sense that they’re not even trying hard, and somehow, someway, they’ve been producing blowout wins. Steph Curry isn’t scorching hot from 3 (37.7 percent), but he’s providing so much else. Draymond is Draymond, and we haven’t even had the “Kevin Durant is the MVP” game or the “Klay Thompson is Unconscious” game.
Gonzalez: Warriors. Thursday night was fun. But the best team still plays on the left coast, not the right.
O’Connor: The Warriors. After the team’s up-and-down start in October — or extended training camp, as Steve Kerr called it — Golden State eased into a run of dominance. The Warriors had won seven straight games before Thursday’s close loss in Boston. Forget about their 5–3 start, or even Thursday’s four-point road loss. In the month of November, Golden State has the NBA’s best net rating, at plus-17.1.
Tjarks: Boston. I was going to say the Warriors, but it's impossible to argue with the Celtics after Thursday’s win over the reigning champs. They have gotten every decision right over the past six months, and they are apparently never going to lose again. It's actually pretty horrifying.
Concepcion: Thursday night’s loss aside, the Golden State Warriors. They’re 11–4 with a 13.5 net rating (the best mark in the league by several light-years) and a team assist percentage over 70 percent. The Warriors can call on Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, three of the best 10-12 players in the league.
O’Shaughnessy: I’m awarding this to Boston, which has reeled off 14 straight wins with the help of a deep bench. Being 11-deep isn’t quite the same advantage as being able to start four All-Stars, but having a band of clutch role players has helped them to an impressive start.
Verrier: The Warriors are so good they’ve managed to make a team of four (maybe five?) Hall of Famers who play a stunning brand of basketball and obliterate the competition at a historic level seem pretty boring. Don’t get too caught up in Thursday’s slip-up. The Warriors are the UConn women’s basketball team of the NBA.
What is the best moment of the first month of the season?
Gonzalez: So many options. The other night, Austin Rivers fell down and tried three different times to get a teammate to help him up. No one did. That was pretty great. Also, John Henson is probably still on the court in Milwaukee waiting for Mirza Teletovic to give him some love. And a crazed Sixers fan (which is redundant) recently went to the Clippers game in L.A. dressed as Our Lord and Savior Sam Hinkie. All wonderful.
But for degree of difficulty, style points, and sheer entertainment value, there can be only one winner.
O’Connor: Embiid and Simmons thoroughly dismantling the Lakers was an early glimpse at the future. Simmons, 21, and Embiid, 23, are already forces of nature. Simmons had 18 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, and five steals. Embiid had 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and seven blocks — the first time in history anyone has posted a stat line like that. They still have a long way to go in their respective development. Simmons shoots with the wrong hand. Embiid needs to stay healthy. But the path to greatness is there. It’ll take time to see how far they go, but the Process is working beautifully. Deal with it.
Tjarks: The next generation of superstars is here. The Warriors are still the best team and LeBron is still the best player, but the first month of the season has been about the way the league is going to look for the next decade. Embiid, Giannis, and Porzingis are suddenly making the Eastern Conference watchable again. They are already unguardable, and they are starting to figure out how to use their talents to take over games on the defensive end of the floor. Now let’s just hope they can all stay healthy.
Verrier: LOOK AT THIS LARGE HUMAN.
This is what I wish my euro step looked like. Joel Embiid like. pic.twitter.com/ROr9N1wUi8— Stanley Omolo (@StanleyOmolo) November 16, 2017
Concepcion: Joel Embiid Eurostep-teleporting around Brook Lopez on his way to 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and seven blocks.
Well that didn't take long ... pic.twitter.com/bIruU6NIZL— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 14, 2017
Knicks-Cavs. Madison Square Garden. Pregame trash talk, in-game hype, a fearless rookie shoving LeBron, Porzingis’s continued ascension, Kanter being Kanter, and a thrilling game that finished with LeBron sealing the comeback win with a 3 before dunking on New York via Instagram.
It was everything we love about the NBA in the span of a night.