With the basketball world no longer focused on March Madness, it’s time to center our attention back to the professionals. As the NBA regular season nears its end, its time to look back on many of the exciting storylines and who is in the running for the NBA’s highest awards.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
LeBron James is currently in his 15th season and still regarded as the best basketball player in the world. The 33-year-old leads the League in minutes played and has yet to show any signs of slowing down.
He continues to put up his usual incredible numbers, despite having to deal with several changes to his supporting cast due to trades and injuries. Even though LeBron has done almost everything he can this season, his Cleveland Cavaliers only have 46 wins.
Consequently, it will be the Houston Rockets’ James Harden who will take home this year’s MVP award. With six games left to play, the Rockets have already clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and a No. 1 seed in the Western Conference over the Golden State Warriors.
Even though the Warriors have dealt with many injuries, Houston has hands down been the best team in the NBA this season, led by superstar James Harden.
After losing the award last year to Russell Westbrook and his record-setting 42 triple-doubles, Harden came back this year with a vengeance: improving his scoring, taking better care of the basketball and stepping up his defense.
Of course, he’s no Kawhi Leonard on defense, but his continued ability to run through every defense in the League while holding his own on the defensive end is undeniable and warrants the point guard his first MVP award.
Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)
As much as basketball fans wish that Kawhi, already a two-time DPOY recipient, could be part of this conversation, neither of my top two candidates have won the award before.
When the New Orleans Pelicans lost DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, already one of the best defenders in the League, needed to step up his game. And that’s exactly what he’s done.
Before Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Davis had been a disruptive defensive presence in the paint, as he usually is. In 27 games since Cousins’ injury, Davis has averaged 3.1 blocks and 2.0 steals. Not to mention that he has done this while also taking on an even bigger load offensively.
Davis has done it all for a Pelicans team that is filled with role players, and his defense has been crucial for them, as they currently hang onto a No. 8 seed in the West.
Competing with Davis for the DPOY is another one of the top two-way players in the world: Kevin Durant. The forward has led the Warriors’ defense this season, one that features last year’s DPOY, Draymond Green.
Durant’s defense is constantly improving from year to year, and both his on-ball defense and his presence in the paint are among the best in the League. He is one of the only players in the world who can effectively guard all five positions.
His main drawback is that when the Warriors are healthy, Durant is accompanied by four very competent two-way players, on a team that is guaranteed to be at the top of the League given their star-studded roster.
Since Davis’ defensive efforts are more important to his team’s success than Durant’s (to no fault of Durant), I have to give the nod to Anthony Davis as this year’s DPOY.
Rookie of the Year
Jayson Tatum had some big shoes to fill when Gordon Hayward got injured, and he could not have pulled through more for the Celtics. Lonzo Ball is having a rookie season comparable to that of Jason Kidd, who won the 1995 award along with Grant Hill. Donovan Mitchell has been nothing short of magnificent and will likely lead the Utah Jazz playoff run.
Unfortunately for all of these players, Ben Simmons is in a world of his own amongst the rookie class. He plays like an experienced veteran, already one of the most well-rounded athletes in the game.
In terms of his statistics, among qualified rookies, Simmons is third in points, first in rebounds, first in assists, first in steals and fourth in blocks.
On top of that, he has 11 triple-doubles. Only two other rookies have at least one, and none have more than two.
The maturity Simmons displays on the court and his role in leading the 76ers to the playoffs following a 28-win season are unmatched. Simmons is the clear choice for Rookie of the Year, and frankly, I don’t even think it’s close.
Sixth Man of the Year (SMOY)
For SMOY, there is an easy answer and a right answer.
The easy answer is Eric Gordon. He has done exactly what the Rockets have needed him to do, just as he did last season when he won the award.
The difference between this year and last is that he’s scoring more and playing more efficiently. Night in and night out, he provides an offensive spark off the bench, helping lead the Rockets to the NBA’s best record.
The right answer, however, is Lou Williams.
His statistics per 36 minutes are very similar to his numbers from last year, when he finished third in the SMOY voting. The noticeable difference is that this season, Williams is averaging almost two and a half more assists per game.
He has been one of the most impactful players in the League for his team, and he has done so for a Clippers team that had to learn how to play without their former superstars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. As a result, Williams is my SMOY.
Most Improved Player (MIP)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won the award last year, improves drastically from year-to-year and has done so every year since his rookie season. If he keeps this up, he could be a serious part of next year’s MVP conversation.
But, despite the Greek Freak’s tremendous efforts, he will not beat out the man carrying the Indiana Pacers, Victor Oladipo.
The former Indiana University star led his team both offensively and defensively, boasting career bests in four of the five major categories.
Last year, when the Pacers had both Paul George and Jeff Teague, they finished seventh in the East. Now, even without those two, Oladipo has the team sitting comfortably as the East’s No. 5 seed.
It’s safe to say that getting out of Oklahoma City was the best thing that has happened to Oladipo’s career, and he will win the MIP because of it.
Coach of the Year (COY)
This final award has no clear-cut winner.
Mike D’Antoni, last year’s recipient, has led his Houston Rockets to the League’s best record, as they currently sit seven games ahead of the Warriors.
Brad Stevens, the best coach of his generation, has been able to get the Celtics through numerous injuries and, somehow, only two games out of first place in the East. His coaching has helped several players successfully embrace much larger roles than were expected of them.
But Dwane Casey, my pick for COY, has guided his Toronto Raptors to the No. 1 seed in the East.
It’s hard to believe that, in a time of superteams, the first-place team in an NBA conference has no superstars, but Casey’s Raptors play beautiful team basketball, which has led them to establish the best offense and fifth-best defense in their conference.
Casey has not received the respect he has deserved since coming to Toronto, and I believe this is the year that will change.
With the regular season coming to a close and teams getting ready for the playoffs, these players and coaches all seek to achieve one common goal: a championship ring.