Now that the NBA has plans in place to finish the season, we can go back to talking about awards! This year it really seemed like no award had a clear cut leader. There was so much competition all throughout the season which is why this season was one of the most fun seasons to watch in recent years. Some awards this year had as many as 3-4 potential winners and it seemed like no matter what, each award race was going to go down to the wire.
Rookie of the Year- The Rookie of the Year race was a landslide until Zion Williamson came back into the picture. Ja Morant was having a stellar rookie year averaging 17.6 points and 7 assists per game on 49% shooting from the field which itself was amazing considering how much he had the ball in his hands. On those numbers alone combined with the fact that the Grizzlies are in the playoffs, Ja Morant should have the award in the bag. The argument for Zion is valid though. He averaged 23.6 points and 7 rebounds on 58% shooting and showed in the small sample size we got, that he was just as dominant and athletic as hyped up to be. But the small sample size is the problem. Williamson only played in 19 games due to injury and his team did not make the playoffs. So while Zion was more dominant and put up better numbers, Ja Morant playing in most of his team’s games and having his squad in the playoffs wins him this year’s ROTY award.
Winner: Ja Morant
Coach of the Year- This year, the Coach of the Year award is competitive. Like very competitive. There are about 4 coaches who have a great case and 2 who are dark horse candidates. Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat and Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder deserve recognition because both teams have exceeded expectations but have not performed at the top of their respective conferences. The race is between Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaulkee Bucks as they have the best record in the NBA and coach Budenholzer has done a phenomenal job of creating the perfect system around star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers has done a great job of managing both Anthony Davis and Lebron James and creating a system that plays through them. Nick Nurse deserves a lot of recognition for proving that the Raptors do not need Kawhi Leonard to be a threat and playing with toughness, chemistry, and defense you can still be very successful. Finally, Brad Stevens of the Celtics has done a fantastic job of using Kemba Walker as a leader after the whole Kyrie Irving fiasco and developing Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown into two way stars. All 4 of these coaches have strong cases for the COTY award but I believe that the award should go to Nick Nurse of the Raptors. After losing a top 3 player in Kawhi and a great role player in Danny Green, Nurse has somehow made the team better and they are on pace for more wins than last year’s championship season.
Winner: Nick Nurse
Sixth man of the Year- In the past 6 years the 6th man award has been won by three different players. Jamal Crawford won twice, Louis Williuams won thrice, and Eric Gordon won once. This year there is no consensus top choice. The candidates this year are Montrezl Harrell of the Los Angeles Clippers (18.6 points 7 rebounds on 58% shooting), Dennis Schroder of the Oklahoma City Thunder ( 19 points 4 rebounds 4 assist on 46% from the field and 38% from 3 which are both career highs), and surprise surprise, Louis Williams (19 points 6 assists). All three of these players have been extremely crucial for their team’s success but due to the fact that the Thunder had a 0.2% chance to make the playoffs before the season started and now they are a top 5 seed, Dennis Scroder sneaks away with this award. He has been a great leader of the second unit and in the locker room for the Thunder team that has barely any experience playing together.
Winner: Dennis Schroder
Most Improved Player of the Year- The candidates for this award vary from person to person. For me there are 4 candidates who are interchangeable but are the 3 who should be the clear candidates. In my opinion most improved does not only mean an increase in stats. It also means an improvement in skill level, efficiency, and team impact. My 3 contenders are Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, and Brandon Ingram of the New Orleans Pelicans. Luka Doncic saw all of his stats go up by a large amount but also saw an increase in efficiency from the field and more team success while cementing himself as a top 10 NBA player in only his second year. Brandon Ingram went from being just a skinny scorer who had not lived up to his hype to the focal point of the Pelicans offense and a first time all star averaging 24 points 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Bam Adebayo might be the most impressive as coming out of college, Adebayo was seen to be just an athletic big with some rim protecting potential but no one ever saw him being as versatile as he is besides Pat Riley and the Miami Heat. Bam was averaging 9 points 7 rebounds and 2 assists as the backup to Hassan Whiteside and after he was given the starting center spot, his averages have gone up to 16 points 10 rebounds and 5 assists showing that he can do it all and has really helped propel the Miami Heat way past expectations.
Winner: Bam Adebayo
Defensive Player of the Year- Defensive Player of the Year is one of my favorite awards because of how underappreciated defense is in the league now. Defense will always have a place in the league but now players who are strictly fantastic defenders and who don’t offer much on offense are losing their spots in the league. For that reason, I value this award a lot more because it has lost meaning when it should be worth a lot more. This year there are two main players who should be considered. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaulke Bucks and Anthony Davis of the LA Lakers both have been exceptional defenders whose teams have to change their gameplan around. Giannis (13.7 Rebounds 1.0 steals 1.0 blocks) can defend all 5 positions, has an absurdly long wingspan, is one of the most athletic players in the league, and has an unstoppable motor. On the other hand, Anthony Davis (9.4 rebounds 1.5 steals 2.4 blocks) is single handedly dominating on defense and is the clear leader on that end. I think Davis wins this one based on stats and leadership.
Winner: Anthony Davis
Most Valuable Player- The most prestigious individual award an NBA player could win is the MVP award. Most of the greatest players of all time have won at least one MVP. This year the three top candidates are all familiar faces in the MVP conversation. Lebron James of the LA Lakers, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaulkee Bucks, and James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Harden and Antetokounmpo are the last two winners of the MVP award while Lebron has won 4 times in his career but none since 2013. Giannis is averaging 30 points 14 rebounds and 6 assists on 55% shooting and has led his team to the best record in the league. James Harden is averaging 34.5 points 6.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists when everyone expected his playstyle to not work out playing alongside Russell Westbrook. Lebron James is 35 years old and averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 10.5 assists on 50% shooting and the Lakers have the best record in the Western Conference and second best overall in the NBA. I think Giannis will win the actual award because of the best player on the best team narrative but my pick is Lebron James because he is 35 years old, in his 17th season, played in 60 out of his teams 65 games so far, is averaging a double double almost a triple double, is STILL one of the most athletic players in the league and has the best record in his conference. Lebron has made up for lost athleticism and scoring with playmaking and rebounding and its helping the Lakers play much better as a team
Winner: Lebron James