Who's leading NBA's award races?

Can Kyrie Irving, Jeremy Lin and James Harden count on some hardware? Envelopes, please ... US Presswire, Getty Images

Players still have a few weeks of regular-season play to make their cases for the NBA's end-of-season awards, but our panel can't wait that long. We sent in our MVP ballots earlier this week. Now our team tackles the five other major honors:

1. Who's the Most Improved Player of the Year if the season ended today?

Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Jeremy Lin. In terms of production, Lin made one of the biggest jumps in NBA history. He should also satisfy the purists who want to give the award to someone who actually improved, not someone who has just received more minutes. A year ago, Lin couldn't run an offense like he did for the Knicks this season.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Nikola Pekovic. Why in the world shouldn't we give it to Pek? Thanks to a chronic need to foul everyone in sight, this guy was a borderline NBA player last season. This season? He became a double-double machine while posting the fifth-best true shooting percentage in the NBA. Jeremy Lin's story may be more captivating but it's time we gave in to Pek-sanity.

James Herbert, HoopSpeak: Jeremy Lin. While I can see valid cases for Nikola Pekovic and Ersan Ilyasova, and it would be neat to see Kevin Durant change the way we look at the award, it's in all likelihood going to Lin. And it should. Last year, he couldn't perform adequately in garbage time. This year, well, you already know. And that's the point.

Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Danny Green. After playing a total of 207 minutes in his first two seasons, Green has played over 1,000 more this season. Last season, he couldn't crack the rotation on the worst team in the league. This year, he's started 24 games for the second-best team in the West. His 3-point percentage of .394 would put him safely in the top 10 of starting shooting guards who average more than 3.5 attempts per game.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Greg Monroe. Jeremy Lin certainly is the breakout player of the year, but I don't think you can hand an award to a guy that played only 35 games. In terms of who improved the most, I think it's Monroe, who has quietly evolved into one of the most dynamic, versatile bigs in the league.

2. Who's the Defensive Player of the Year if the season ended today?

Feldman: Dwight Howard. Howard's defense has probably slipped a bit, but so what? That's not the bar. He should be competing against other NBA players, not himself. Howard might be closer to his peers this season, but his ability to protect the rim and defend the pick-and-roll is still unmatched.

Haberstroh: Tyson Chandler. For some reason, the national audience seems to think that the Knicks' problems this season were defensive-oriented. That couldn't be further from the truth. The Knicks jumped from the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency ranks last season to top-five this season and they've been among the best all season. The reason for the meteoric rise? Chandler.

Herbert: LeBron James. This is Dwight Howard's award to lose every year and, this year, I'm afraid he has lost it. James gets it for guarding all five positions and dominating games defensively whenever he feels like it.

Jackson: Dwight Howard. It may seem like old hat at this point, but no one affects the game defensively as much as Howard.

Young: Tony Allen. While Serge Ibaka leads the league in blocked shots -- the most widely recognized defensive stat -- he's most definitely not the Defensive Player of the Year. Maybe the Defensive Player Most Out of Position of the Year. Allen changes games with his handsy, aggressive, physical defense. Even the fastest players -- Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Tony Parker -- can't get around him.

3. Who's the Rookie of the Year if the season ended today?

Feldman: Kyrie Irving. What was shaping up to be a fascinating race ended with Ricky Rubio's injury. Irving has taken the edge since, simply by playing. Irving's game is extremely polished for a rookie point guard, and that's why he's way ahead of his other first-year peers, who've shown many more rough edges.

Haberstroh: Kyrie Irving. How good has he been this season? By PER, this is the second-best rookie season by a point guard in the modern era. Only Chris Paul's rookie campaign has been better. Everything about this youngster (who just turned 20 two weeks ago) screams future superstar.

Herbert: Kyrie Irving and it isn't close. He's putting up numbers on par with what superstars like Chris Paul and Derrick Rose did as rookies. It didn't take him long to figure out he can get wherever he wants on the floor. What's more interesting to me is who finishes second — how much do we penalize Ricky Rubio for his injury?

Jackson: There have been some awesome rookies this season: Kenneth Faried, Chandler Parsons, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard. But no one has been a better go-to player than Kyrie Irving. He's the youngest player on the Cavaliers but also far and away the best and most talented.

Young: It's all Kyrie Irving's. Ricky Rubio was putting up a good fight for a while and dark horses like Chandler Parsons and Kenneth Faried are fun choices if you want to be the guy not to make the obvious pick, but Irving's rookie season isn't far off from what Chris Paul did in his first season. That pretty much sums it up.

4. Who's the Coach of the Year if the season ended today?

Feldman: Gregg Popovich. The Spurs have a weaker group of players than in recent years, but they are still second in the West. Tim Duncan's age is showing and Manu Ginobili was injured, but, as usual, Popovich has cultivated and plugged in the right pieces behind those two and Tony Parker.

Haberstroh: Tom Thibodeau. I have no problem with Gregg Popovich getting this award; it's a crime he has only one to his name. But Thibodeau lost his best player (and arguably a top-10 player league-wide) for half the season and what happened? The team improved its offense and continued to asphyxiate opponents on the other end. Now that, my friends, is coaching.

Herbert: Tom Thibodeau. Again. Last year, he took the Bulls from 11th in defense to first. This year, he took them from 11th in offense to fourth. And you already know about the injuries. This team shouldn't have the record it has. You have to credit Thibodeau. His guys play relentless, intelligent basketball on both ends.

Jackson: Doug Collins. Two seasons ago, Collins inherited a young and talented but unfocused group of youngsters that didn't play any defense. He has transformed the 76ers into the league's most efficient defensive team. Keep in mind that Collins has also done this without a single significant free-agent pickup.

Young: Gregg Popovich. He's managed an aged roster masterfully, kept minutes down and figured out how to maximize the talents of players like Matt Bonner, Gary Neal and Danny Green. He's also put the Spurs in position to steal the top West seed from Oklahoma City. Nobody controls all facets of the coaching game better than Pop. Media, locker room, in-game control, scouting -- he's the best.

5. Who's the Sixth Man of the Year if the season ended today?

Feldman: James Harden. Although he plays starter's minutes, Harden comes off the bench for the Thunder, making him a shoo-in for the award despite not really embodying its spirit. His offensive playmaking has really helped Oklahoma City, but his defense has been just as important.

Haberstroh: This one's easy: James Harden. The beardiest player in the league just keeps getting better. Scary thought: he's already the NBA's most efficient wing player and he hasn't even turned 23 yet. In fact, his true shooting percentage (which incorporates free throws and 3-pointers) of 65.5 is the best we've ever seen among active wing players.

Herbert: James Harden. Too easy. Harden always resembled Manu Ginobili in style; this season the two have had extremely similar production. Harden's ridiculous efficiency and ability to run the offense make Oklahoma City a terrifying matchup. It's unfair that he's eligible for this. Should've been the Thunder's third All-Star.

Jackson: James Harden. At times this season, Harden has been the Thunder's No. 1 option and No. 1 playmaker. That notion is just absurd given the team has Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on its roster. Harden was getting consideration last year, and his numbers are up across the board this season including a career high in 3-point percentage (38.9).

Young: It's a really close race between James Harden and James Harden's beard. Both have good cases. Harden's play off the OKC bench has been revelatory, giving the Thunder an incredibly efficient scoring punch as well as an absolutely perfect complement to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Harden's beard has mutated to become self-aware and has a PER of 26.5 on its own. It's going to go down to the wire.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Tom Haberstroh covers the NBA for ESPN Insider and Heat Index. Dan Feldman, James Herbert, Brendan Jackson and Royce Young write for the TrueHoop Network.

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