The NBA regular season may be over however players and fans still eagerly await the results of the awards that will be given out. Today, I will make predictions on who I believe will end up winning each award, and who will be the runner-up.
MVP – James Harden
I know Rockets fans have been waiting for Harden to finally be recognized as the most valuable player, after he’s been the runner-up in back-to-back seasons. If Harden were to once again come in second place, he would be the first player in NBA history to do so in three consecutive seasons. He doesn’t have to worry about adding that to his list of league records though because he left no doubt this year. Harden finished the season as the NBA’s scoring champion, as well as finishing third in assists and ninth in steals. Offensively, he was unstoppable from anywhere on the floor leading the NBA in made three pointers, and leading the Rockets to the best record in the league. We shouldn’t take what Harden is doing for granted; we’re watching one of the best offensive players to ever lace them up. On top of being a dominant scoring force we’ve seen Harden fill the stat sheet in unprecedented ways throughout his career. Not only is he the owner of the only 60-point triple double, he also owns the NBA’s only 50-15-15 game. This kind of eye popping production should not fly under the radar, and for Harden, this award would begin to validate his greatness.
Runner Up – LeBron James
LeBron has once again been a bright spot during a turbulent season for the Cavs. Now in year 15, he is showing no signs of slowing down, and keeping his play at an all-time great level. Let’s face it, this Cavs roster stinks, and has no business being in the conversation to reach an NBA finals if not for LeBron. After the Kyrie trade, LeBron was left without a player to defer to when teams keyed in on him. To make things worse, Isaiah Thomas was a complete disaster once he returned, and Kevin Love missed 23 games on top of playing less minutes than he’s accustomed to. The Cavs front office tried to shake things up with a flurry of trades at the deadline, one of which shipped his good buddy Dwayne Wade back to Miami, but the players they got in return look more like the Cavs preparing for life without LeBron. In the midst of all of this, LeBron did something he had never done before in his all his years as a pro, play all 82 games. What we saw from him this year to keep his teams head well above water and giving them a chance against anyone night in and night out was truly special.
Defensive Player of the Year – Rudy Gobert
Winning any kind of award is difficult to do when you miss a significant amount of time like Gobert did this season (26 games). Its possible though when you have a season as dominant as he did on the defensive end. The missed games showed how much the Jazz needed Gobert to be successful, and this sentiment was not only echoed by his teammates and coaches, but is also obvious statistically. The most simple way to look at it is the Jazz were 11-15 without Gobert, and 31-17 with him. However, when we look deeper into the numbers past 2.4 blocks per game, we see his true value. With Gobert on the floor, Utah’s defensive rating jumps from 12th best in the league, all the way up to 2nd in the league. One of his best abilities is to block and alter shots at the rim without getting into foul trouble. With the longest recorded wingspan of all time Gobert can go from being out of position to getting a hand in your face with ease. Since the end of January, the Jazz have ranked first or second in every major defensive category, and at the center of that is Rudy Gobert.
Runner Up – Joel Embiid
Embiid took some huge steps this season, most of them being with his ability to stay healthy and be on the court most nights. One of the knocks against him as a rookie was the belief that he could give more effort on the defensive end because of his limited minutes. This season should silence any of that criticism as Embiid played without any minute restrictions, and was even more dominant. The Sixers were consistently a top 3 team in defensive rating all season because of their anchor in the middle. Teams came into games against the Sixers knowing how difficult it is to shoot from deep because of their ability to switch on any screen and feel comfortable with the matchup. Naturally, their next plan of attack was to penetrate and get shots near the basket. That also proved to be a challenge as Embiid helped make the Sixers the #1 defense in the NBA when it came to shots in the paint. When he’s on the court you can feel his presence whether you’re a big man or a guard, and it would not surprise me at all if the voters make this a close one.
Rookie of the Year – Ben Simmons
Last year, the Sixers lost out on this award to Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks. This year, Ben Simmons would not be denied, saying that he feels like he’s winning the award for Dario Saric and Joel Embiid. The race may be close in the eyes of some, but excuses like “Simmons isn’t really a rookie” don’t change that we are watching a transcendent player. Simmons is having a rookie year for the ages, even the 12 triple doubles don’t show just how much of a two-way star he has already become. Showing the poise of a ten year veteran, Simmons is responsible for orchestrating a Sixers offense that led the NBA with a whopping 116 ppg over the teams 16 game win streak to end the season. Offensively and defensively Simmons has established himself as a top tier player and this award is just the first of many for his trophy case.
Runner Up- Donovan Mitchell
Gordon Hayward’s departure left a huge hole that the Jazz weren’t sure they could fill before the season started. That was until they realized they got an absolute steal in Donovan Mitchell. He exploded this season and went from back end lottery pick to household name from winning the dunk contest, to leading a very good Jazz team in scoring. The amount of confidence he has is extremely impressive, and when in the biggest moments he wants to be the guy with the ball in his hands. There’s not too many years when a guy who had a season like Mitchell did would not come away with Rookie of the Year honors. Unfortunately for Mitchell, Ben Simmons’ season long injury last year still qualifies him to win the award, no matter what his hoodies say.
Most Improved Player – Victor Oladipo
Now on his third team in three seasons, Oladipo has finally found a home. The potential was always there for him to play at an all-star level, but after the Thunder sent him packing it was becoming hard to imagine if it was going to happen. Oladipo wasted no time proving any doubters wrong, and this was really the story of the Indiana Pacers this season. Going into the year many looked at them as a team beginning a rebuild with some decent young talent already on the roster. However, Oladipo showed to be more than just a nice young piece and his play was rewarded with an all-star game appearance. The Pacers stayed strong and consistent all year, and finishing unexpectedly as the 5th seed has to be a welcomed feeling for fans and general manager Larry Bird. With Oladipo establishing himself as high caliber player, he also opened the way for the Pacers to compete and speed up their rebuild. With the production he showed this season, Oladipo gave no one else a fair shot at this award.
Runner Up – Clint Capela
When looking at the raw stats for Capela from last season to this season, you won’t see a huge jump in any category. However, what is so impressive about the season he had was his ability to increase his numbers across the board on a team that added another superstar. He thrived in Houston’s run and gun offense showing a knack for rolling to the basket on pick and rolls and finishing strong. His ability to finish well around the basket is echoed by the fact that he led the entire NBA in FG%. Also, Capela showed improvement in his rebounding, averaging almost 11 per game, while blocking nearly two shots per contest. All season he’s done what the Rockets have asked of him, and then some showing that he still has the potential to get even better.
6th Man of the Year – Lou Williams
Although Lou Williams came off the bench for most of the season, he played starters minutes and had all-star production. For the second award in a row, the winner should be a unanimous decision, as nobody was all that close to him. For the second time in his career, Williams led his team in scoring while coming off the bench, and set a new career high scoring over 22 points a night. The Clippers are in the midst of a rebuild after trading Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, leading a lot of people to believe Williams would be next to go. Yet, although the Cippers could have gotten a nice return for his services, they opted to sign Williams to an extension instead. He’s bounced around the league lately but it’s nice to finally see him on a team that makes a commitment to him. On the court he’s a bonafide problem, and kept the rebuilding Clippers in contention for a playoff spot all year long. This won’t be his first 6th man award, and I don’t think it will be his last either.
Runner Up – Eric Gordon
Last years winner, and another guy that actually plays starters minutes, Eric Gordon had another fantastic season on the top seeded Rockets. Gordon showed us last season that he has the ability to take over a game offensively when teams begin to key in on James Harden. This season, he had less responsibility to create for himself with the addition of Chris Paul, and still had a more productive season. Gordon posted his highest scoring average since 2012, and had the most efficient season of his career shooting two point shots. A real x-factor for the Rockets, Gordon will be counted on to carry this play through the postseason.
Coach of the Year – Dwane Casey
There is some serious competition for this award, but in terms of consistency and exceeding expectations, Casey found a way to get max potential out of the Raptors. They have been a consistent force in the East for a few seasons now, but there were still some question marks about how high their ceiling is. This season, we saw a different Raptors squad that put it all together and finished with the top seed in the East. From top to bottom they recieved contributions from almost everyone on their roster, and had one of the most formidable bench units in the league. Casey was at the forefront of it all making sure his team was consistnetly more prepared than anyone they played.
Runner Up – Mike D’Antoni
Maybe the most impressive thing about D’Antoni is his ability to make any player sucessful in his system. His decision to move James Harden to the point guard spot last season was a stroke of genius that resulted in a career year for Harden. This season, he was faced with the challenenge of catering his offense to two great facilitators in Harden and Chris Paul. The transition seemed seemless when the two of them played together and it has made the Rockets a championship contender. No matter who the front office has brought into Houston, D’Antoni has found a way to make it work and help the team win games.