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“Seeding Games” were fun, seemingly exceeding expectations that most had with NBA basketball returning mid-pandemic. And now come the playoffs. What will happen? Will LeBron get his fourth championship? Will the Raptors repeat? If you want to see predictions, check out the rest of the basketball team break that down. However, during the postseason, the NBA will also reveal the winners of their yearly awards and teams composed of some of the best performers this season. So let’s talk about that before the action of the playoffs distracts us from what happened before the regular season was shut down on March 11: who wins each award, and who gets All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie honors. Let’s talk about it.
*KEEP IN MIND: “SEEDING GAMES” PERFORMANCES DON’T MATTER WHEN IT COMES TO THESE AWARDS*
Most Improved Player
I have no idea what Luka Doncic is doing among the finalists of this award. Judging by past MIP winners, Luka doesn’t really belong among these finalists. Devonte’ Graham and Domantas Sabonis were snubbed.
So let’s look at the real finalists: Brandon Ingram and Bam Adebayo. Brandon Ingram bounced back this year after a scary injury last season and shined. He averaged 24+ points during the first half of the season, earning an all-star nod. He was cast aside, for the most part, after Zion Williamson made his debut, and his numbers took a considerable dip after the fact. Also, his increase in production wasn’t nearly as big as Adebayo’s.
Winner: Bam Adebayo
Bam Adebayo went from being a backup big with promising potential to being an all-star and, quite frankly, one of the best bigs in the NBA. From 8.9pts/7.3reb/2.2ast/0.9stl/0.8blk last year to 15.9pts/10.2reb/5.1ast/1.1stl/1.3blk, Adebayo became the second most important player on a Miami Heat team that has a top five record in the Eastern Conference. He turned into one of the best passing bigs in the NBA this year, one of the most versatile defenders, and has an argument to be an All-NBA/All-Defense player this season. Bam’s rise to stardom, which hasn’t even reached it’s ceiling, has been a beautiful sight to see. As great as Ingram was this season, there shouldn’t be much of an argument against Bam winning MIP. He was consistent all season, played as a top player at his position on both sides of the floor, and saw massive improvements across the board.
Sixth Man of the Year
If there could be a fourth finalist, Goran Dragic would be here. He was a key to the Miami Heat’s success as one of their reliable scorers. The fact that he played less games and did not have the numbers that these three have are understandable reasons for him to be left out. All three finalists are impressive in their own right: Lou Williams has won the last two of these (three overall), Montrezl Harrell is the energy guy of the second best team in the West, and Schroder was a main piece in the Thunder’s surprising success this season. I wouldn’t be mad at whoever wins it, but since I have to make a pick:
Winner: Dennis Schroder
If there isn’t voter fatigue involved here, there’s no way Lou Williams doesn’t win his third consecutive Sixth Man of the Year award. He’s, arguably, the third best player on a championship contender and he’s consistently been one of the best players on his teams as the sixth man. Nevertheless, for this year, you could make the case that Harrell has been more important to their success, being the glue guy and the active big that served as a contrast to what Ivica Zubac brings, doing the dirty work on both sides of the ball. But Williams has started in eight games (Schroder and Harrell have each started in two), and the Clippers haven’t lost that big of a step without either of them. On the other hand, there’s an argument to be made for Dennis Schroder being the second most important player on the Thunder. He led all bench players in points per game, and was a vital part in a surprise team. It’s the annual feel good story, and it should be rewarded.
Defensive Player of the Year
Another award race that features three amazing candidates, each having a legitimate argument to be the winner at the end of the day. Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible to not mention Marcus Smart as a snub.
Anthony Davis is as great and talented as two-way players can be, possessing one of the greatest offensive skill sets for any big in NBA history. He has this, all while being a great perimeter defender, and being able to defend the pick-and-roll and the paint effectively. Rudy Gobert isn’t great on the perimeter, but he alters every single shot attempted near the rim when he’s in the paint, and is the anchor of one of the best defenses in the NBA, year in and year out. Both have had sensational campaigns, but the winner has been on a mission all season long
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
While I’m sure there are many stats that point to why Giannis should be the DPOY, I’d much rather use the ol’ reliable “Eye Test”. Giannis has had the biggest defensive impact out of all candidates. That’s no disrespect to Gobert or AD, but rather a complement to how great Antetokounmpo has been. Throughout the season, he’s been able to effectively defend 1-5, has been lockdown at all three levels, is as versatile as they come, and has been the best defender on a top three defense in the league. Robbery if he doesn’t get it.
Rookie of the Year
ROY winner is usually a fun debate to have, considering all the young talent that comes into the league nowadays. But this year? It’s not close. There isn’t the need to have a debate about this.
Winner: Ja Morant
Kendrick Nunn came out of nowhere and played well on a winning team, but he’s not on the level of Ja or Zion. And when it comes to Zion, he played in less than half of the regular season, while Morant balled out nearly all season. Zion put up historic numbers for a player his age, but he didn’t play enough games. The 2016-17 ROY race had the same scenario: Joel Embiid put up better numbers than Malcolm Brogdon, but Brogdon played more games and ultimately won ROY. Next!
Most Valuable Player
I’m going to be 100% honest with you all: this one isn’t even close. Harden had another all-time great season. He deserves all the praise in the world for his continued success and the ability to keep improving after putting up extraordinary offensive numbers. While he has the “stats” part of the MVP argument, there’s more to the MVP than that.
I look at it this way: 25% of the MVP comes down to stats, 25% goes to being on a team that’s high in the standings (a team with a top four record), and the other 50% comes down to the narrative. The order of appreciation on this varies year to year: sometimes the narrative carries a player (Russell Westbrook in 2017 and Derrick Rose in 2011), sometimes the standings help out (Stephen Curry in 2015), and sometimes a player simply has everything on their side (Stephen Curry in 2016). It really does vary, and it’s subjective from person to person. This year’s MVP is between Giannis of the Bucks and LeBron of the Lakers, the best players on the best teams in the league. And taking everything into consideration, the MVP is…
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
In terms of narrative and numbers, LeBron has had this remarkable year in his 17th season in the NBA, leading the league in assists for the first time in his career, playing point guard full-time and leading the Lakers to the postseason for the first time in seven years. Sensational season, no doubt about it. And you look at Giannis, and maybe his narrative isn’t as strong. But look at it this way: Giannis Antetokounmpo replicated his numbers from last season while improving his jump shot to a somewhat respectable level. He’s the first player in NBA history to average 29+pts, 10+reb, 5+ast on 55%+ from the field, and is the best player on one of the best single-season teams in NBA history. The narrative isn’t anything fancy that only a storyteller can craft. The narrative for Giannis is “he dominated on both sides of the ball”. Any other year LeBron would be the clear-cut winner, but not this year. He is not more deserving than Giannis Antetokounmpo. I’ll go as far as to say that the Greak Freak should be the unanimous MVP. That likely won’t happen, so I’ll settle with the conservative version where Giannis wins it convincingly.
Agree with my picks? Disagree and want to talk about it? Tweet at me and let me know!