Why you should care
Because it’s never too early to hand out accolades.
As sports fans and hoopers can attest, the first quarter of any game is incredibly important. It’s possible for slow starters to bounce back and progress as the game (and season) goes on, but the opening frame sets the tone. With that in mind, we are handing out some premature hardware to the players and teams who wowed — and disappointed — us early. Let’s see if they can keep it up. (All stats were calculated before Thursday night’s games.)
Defensive Player of the Quarter: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Antetokounmpo didn’t finish in the top three for Defensive Player of the Year at the end of last season, but he’s leading the charge through 22 games this year. The Greek Freak only ranks 48th in “defensive win share,” according to NBA.com, but that’s mostly because Antetokounmpo is surrounded by strong defenders. Antetokounmpo is near the top of the league in defensive efficiency (104.2), is eighth in blocks per game (1.7), ninth in defensive rebounding (8.2 per game) and fifteenth in the NBA in steals per game (1.7). Considering the fact that he’s second in the league in scoring (29.6 points per game), Giannis has to be in the running for the NBA’s first-quarter MVP.
Rookie of the Quarter: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) and Kyle Kuzma (Lakers) have been excellent, but there’s no other choice here besides Simmons. Heralded as the first generation-defining prospect to be drafted since LeBron James, he’s somehow exceeded expectations after losing a year to foot injury. Think LeBron mixed with Magic Johnson, only taller. Through 22 games, the 6-foot-10 point guard is averaging 18 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game, and he has the formerly pathetic 76ers at a playoff pace.
Best Dunk of the Quarter: Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Most Improved Player of the Quarter: Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
It was difficult leaving Kristaps Porzingis off the top spot here, and it almost felt worse snubbing Victor Oladipo, but Gordon’s leap is deserving of this prestigious award as he at last looks worthy of the No. 4 overall pick slot from 2014. The 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds are impressive, but his marksmanship made the difference. After never cracking the 30 percent mark from three-point land, Gordon is now shooting nearly 41 percent from outside. With that has come more minutes in what should be an all-star season.
First-Quarter Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Houston Rockets
Runners-Up: Antetokounmpo, James, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving
Yes, we’ve seen jaw-dropping numbers from Harden — now at 31.7 points, 9.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds — in the past, but check out how well he has his team playing. The Rockets appear on the fast track to a top seed in the loaded Western Conference. With Chris Paul now in Houston, is this the year that Harden finally stops Steph Curry and the Golden State buzz saw? Doubtful. But Harden is putting in a magnificent year.
The Legitimate NBA Finals Contenders, in Order:
- Golden State Warriors
- Boston Celtics
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- San Antonio Spurs
The Spin Cycle Best Handles Award: Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
OZY’s Inaugural Big Buster Award, presented by the White House:
The Ball family
Before the season, the Balls had it all: a No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick, two UCLA basketball recruits and a family-owned business epitomizing the American Dream. But things done changed. Lonzo has looked uninterested at times and overmatched at others with the Lakers. LiAngelo has dropped out of UCLA on his father’s orders because of his indefinite suspension for shoplifting in China (this included a media spat between Lavar and President Donald Trump that was about as 2017 as it gets). Good basketball is now conspicuously absent from the Big Baller Brand — a business model that sure looks like a bust.
Best Teammate of the Quarter: Enes Kanter, New York Knicks
Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina would win “Most Fearless Rookie” or “Future Fan Favorite at the Garden” for showing up King James during a game in November — and bravo to Frank for refusing to be intimidated. But what happened next is why Kanter, who only signed with New York this summer, is included here.
When you watch the clip, keep in mind this is a man whose Turkish passport was revoked for speaking out against strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, so LeBron is a lot less intimidating. Kanter has said that his NBA teammates are the only family he has left, and he backed it up on the floor. That kind of fearlessness and emotion earn respect in a locker room. He’s also sparked the most entertaining feud of this young season. So, thanks for that, Enes.