With the NBA Playoffs having just tipped off, there’s no better time to start discussing the regular season awards. There were a few close calls with some of these, especially the MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year, but some (such as the Sixth Man of the Year) were a runaway favorite. The actual awards will be handed out on June 24th. Let’s get to it!
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This has come down to a two-horse race between the Greek Freak and the Beard, but ultimately, the award should be given to Giannis. He’s the best player on the team with the best record. James Harden won another scoring title and etched his name in the history books by boasting the best scoring average (36.1) since Michael Jordan (37.1) in 1986-1987. Harden also averaged 7.5 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.0 steals in a phenomenal campaign. Giannis’ numbers were equally incredible and showed a more complete game despite a sizeable gap in scoring output. He averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks while propelling the Bucks to a 60-22 record. He’ll likely earn All-NBA Defense honors too — something Harden can’t claim. Nikola Jokic gets some love here, as he was the driving force behind an unthinkable 54-28 season for the Nuggets with his solid scoring, rebounding, and passing. Paul George gets into the mix after finishing second in scoring (28.0) and achieving career highs in rebounds (8.2) and assists (4.1). He led the league in steals at 2.2 and will finish on an All-NBA Defense team too.
Rookie of the year: Luka Doncic
Another two-man photo finish here, but Doncic ultimately wins this one. Trae Young came on strong after the All-Star break, averaging 24.7 points, 9.2 assists, and 4.7 rebounds over the final third of the season. He led the Hawks to some surprising wins and kept the team competitive nightly. He finished his rookie campaign with 19.1 points, 8.1 assists, and 3.7 rebounds — numbers that would easily win him the ROY most other years. He elevated his season-long production with huge games down the stretch, but Doncic’s steady play throughout the season is why he wins. He finished the season with 21.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per contest, in a rookie campaign that rivaled that of LeBron James (20.9 points, 5.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds in 2003). DeAndre Ayton should be mentioned here too after averaging a double-double on the season (16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds).
Runners up: Trae Young, DeAndre Ayton
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This one was tough, but ultimately it goes to Giannis. Of all the players I considered for this award, he led the pack in defensive win shares with 0.179. He racked up 1.5 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest and made life very difficult for opposing players. He’s long and athletic and able to guard every position on the court. His versatility on defense makes him the pick here, and he’ll join Michael Jordan (1988) as the only players to win MVP and DPOY in the same season. Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid are two of the most menacing figures in the paint, and both averaged better than 9.0 defensive rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Paul George‘s league-leading 2.2 steals and hounding defense put him into the conversation here.
Most Improved Player: Pascal Siakam
I really wanted to give this one to D’Angelo Russell after he led the Nets to their first playoff appearance in four years while achieving career highs in points and assists. He was thrilling to watch with his late-game heroics when he would simply take over a game. I couldn’t do it, though. Digging into the numbers, Siakam is the choice here. He took a major leap from his second season to his third, doubling his career high in points per game (7.3 – 16.9) while improving his rebounding (6.1) and assists (3.1). He became a much more efficient shooter this season, jumping from 50.8 to 54.9 percent from the floor, 62.1 to 78.5 percent from the charity stripe, and 22.0 to 36.9 percent from three. The shooting figures illustrate a major jump in production. Siakam deserves a ton of recognition for his stellar season and his work on both ends of the floor as he was an excellent defender who will receive All-NBA Defense honors. Siakam gets my vote, but I absolutely love Russell’s game. Buddy Hield should get some praise after increasing his scoring average by 7.2 points per game (20.7), achieving career bests in assists and boards, and shooting 42.7 percent from three despite taking nearly three more attempts from beyond the arc this season than he did in 2017-2018.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams
This one wasn’t close. Williams will win Sixth Man of the Year honors for a league-record third time this season after playing a huge role in the Clippers’ improbable playoff run. He averaged 20.0 points and career bests in assists (5.4) and rebounds (3.0). Williams came through for his team time and again with crucial buckets and big plays when the team needed them most. Domantas Sabonis comes in second here with 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 24.8 minutes per game for the Pacers. Williams’ teammate, Montrezl Harrell, racked up a solid 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 26.3 minutes per game this season and gets third place honors for this award.
Coach of the Year: Michael Malone – Denver Nuggets
Sure, Coach Bud took the Bucks to a 60-win season, but with the talent the Bucks have on the roster, another competent coach could have done the same thing. Milwaukee has been mired in poor coaching for years, so the transformation isn’t as remarkable as people would like to believe. The Nuggets, however, have dealt with injuries throughout the year and lack a clear superstar. That’s why I’ll give this one to Malone. I can’t leave out Doc Rivers, who took a team that traded its best player in Tobias Harris and still made the playoffs in the ridiculously competitive Western Conference.
|Position||First Team||Second Team||Third Team|
|G||Steph Curry||Damian Lillard||Russell Westbrook|
|G||James Harden||Kyrie Irving||Kemba Walker|
|F||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Kawhi Leonard||LeBron James|
|F||Paul George||Kevin Durant||Blake Griffin|
|C||Nikola Jokic||Joel Embiid||Rudy Gobert|
The first team shouldn’t be much of a surprise at the guard position and Giannis at one of the forward spots. I went with PG13 over Kevin Durant at the other forward spot because of his incredible defense. Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid were both considered here, but Jokic’s passing abilities and ultimate value to his team pushed him just slightly ahead of Embiid. Damian Lillard was put on the second team, but it was close between he and Steph Curry for first-team honors. The rest of the second-team wasn’t tough to put together. Third-team honors were a little trickier. For all of his leadership issues and finger-pointing, LeBron James still put up some big numbers and needed to make an All-NBA team. Rudy Gobert gets in over Karl-Anthony Towns because of his defense.
All-NBA Defense Teams
|Position||First Team||Second Team|
|G||Marcus Smart||Jrue Holiday|
|G||Danny Green||Eric Bledsoe|
|F||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Draymond Green|
|F||Paul George||Pascal Siakam|
|C||Rudy Gobert||Joel Embiid|
This group includes three DPOY candidates in Giannis, PG, and Gobert who all made strong cases to win the honor. The rest of the players on the All-NBA Defense teams are guards like Marcus Smart and Eric Bledsoe who made life extremely difficult with physical and pestering defense, especially on the perimeter. Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam were able to control the paint with size and strength and made the cut here. It was a shame to leave out Myles Turner after the impressive season he had, but there just wasn’t room for him.
All-NBA Rookie Teams
|Position||First Team||Second Team|
|G||Trae Young||Landry Shamet|
|G||Collin Sexton||Shai Gilgeous-Alexander|
|F||Luka Doncic||Miles Bridges|
|F||Marvin Bagley III||Jaren Jackson Jr.|
|C||DeAndre Ayton||Mitchell Robinson|
Young and Doncic headline this group, though DeAndre Ayton had a big year as well. Marvin Bagley came on strong down the stretch and finished with 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in a great rookie season. The first-team features four of the top five picks, and Jaren Jackson (fourth pick overall) fell into the second team only because he missed so much time due to injury. Collin Sexton scored 16.7 points per game for a struggling Cavaliers team. The second team sports some up-and-comers such as Landry Shamet who proved to be a sharpshooter from three, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who played a key role in the Clippers’ playoff berth, and Miles Bridges who contributed solid minutes for the Hornets. Mitchell Robinson finally got some run in the final two months of the season and averaged 11.4 points, 11.0 boards, and 2.5 blocks in the final 11 games of the season. He looks like a dominant center with a high ceiling.
Those are my picks. Feel free to let me know if I’m crazy and where I messed up!