The 2021-2022 NBA Season has officially come to an end, and for the first time in years the basketball community is in disaccord. In the past two years, the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award and the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) were pretty straightforward for most fans, reporters and voters alike. This season, however, the parity is at an all-time high. Multiple people have a legitimate claim to virtually every single award, and the playoffs are almost certain to be legendary.
In what was easily the toughest awards ballot I’ve had to complete, here are my selections for each award.
Rookie of the Year: Cade Cunningham (Detroit Pistons)
Cunningham has been one of the most exciting players — not just rookies, but players — to watch this season. His versatility on the offense and his phenomenal vision make him one of the most promising young players in the league today. Since the All-Star break, Cunningham has averaged 21.1 points, 6.5 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game. Cunningham became the first rookie since Michael Jordan to average at least 22 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a month. Any time your name is mentioned next to Michael Jordan, you are doing something right.
Coach of the Year: Taylor Jenkins (Memphis Grizzlies)
The Memphis Grizzlies saw a dramatic improvement from last season that warrants head coach Taylor Jenkins winning this award. With essentially the same roster, the Grizzlies went from 38 wins last year (ninth seed in the conference) to 56 wins (second seed in the conference). Perhaps the most impressive feat about this season is that the Grizzlies went 20-5 this season without MVP candidate Ja Morant. Jaren Jackson Jr. has emerged as a DPOY candidate and Desmond Bane as a Most Improved Player candidate for the Grizzlies. The player development of this team over the past year has been remarkable and Jenkins deserves his recognition.
Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro (Miami Heat)
This award was Herro’s to lose. From the beginning of the season he separated himself from the rest of the bench players in the league, averaging 20/5/4 before the All-Star break and 22/5/4 after the break. The Miami Heat finished the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and Herro was the best offensive player for the team.
Most Improved Player: Darius Garland (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Darius Garland has been one of the bright spots for the Cavaliers this season. He earned his first All-Star appearance this season, averaging close to 22 points and eight assists. Last month he joined LeBron James as the first Cavs player with 40 points and 10 assists in a game since James in 2010. Garland has led the Cavaliers through uncharted waters as this is the team’s first season making the playoffs without James since 1997-98.
DPOY: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Once again, Gobert is in the conversation for this award. Fans have a huge issue with Gobert’s lack of defensive versatility; however, I feel that is a very underrated part of his game. Gobert has great footspeed and recovery time on the perimeter, and his wing span makes him one of the best rim protectors in NBA history. The Utah Jazz have a 110 defensive rating (Def RTG) with Gobert on the court and a 117 (Def RTG) with him off the court. Words cannot describe his impact on the Utah Jazz.
MVP: Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets)
If I were to tell you in September that the Nuggets would win 48 games in the Western Conference without two max-contract players, no one would believe me. The advanced stats support Jokić as having one of the best statistical seasons ever, but the NBA community doesn’t acknowledge any stats besides points, rebounds and assists, so here’s a basic box score stat that any casual fan can understand. Jokić became the first player with a 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound, 500-assist season ever and is the first player in the top 10 in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game and field goal percentage in the last 50 seasons.
How’s that for advanced statistics?
All-NBA first team: Luka Doncic, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Jokić
All-NBA second team: Steph Curry, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, James, Kevin Durant
All-NBA third team: Trae Young, Donovan Mitchell, DeMar DeRozan, Pascal Siakam, Karl-Anthony Towns
All-Defensive first team: Marcus Smart, Gobert, Jackson, Mikal Bridges, Bam Adebayo
All Defensive second team: Jrue Holiday, Dejounte Murray, Herb Jones, Al Horford, Robert Williams III