With the NBA regular season wrapping up and the playoffs beginning this Saturday, players across the league are making their final cases for awards. Here are my predictions for this season’s MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man, Defensive Player and Most Improved Player.
MVP: James Harden
The battle for MVP between Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Miluake Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has been one of the most exciting storylines of the season. While the “Greek Freak” has a strong case for the award with two-way dominance and averages of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, while leading the Bucks to the best record in the NBA, Harden’s offensive dominance this season has been historic. The only players to average more than Harden’s 36.17 points per game in a season are Michael Jordan once and Wilt Chamberlain five times. Harden scored at least 50 points in a game nine different times this year; that number alone would place him top ten in most 50 point games in an entire career. His step back three point shot has become the most unstoppable move in basketball, and his strength and quickness allows him to create opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic
This is the most interesting award race since the two front-runners, Doncic and Trae Young, were traded for each other the night of the NBA Draft. While Young has made a strong push toward the end of the season, Doncic has been well rounded as a scorer and playmaker all season. His average of 21.2 points leads all rookies, and his rebounding and assists are both second among rookies. He is already the face of the Mavericks, and Dallas fans are hoping he can lead them to postseason success in the future.
Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers
The Clippers became the forgotten team in Los Angeles when LeBron James joined the Lakers, but now they are going to the playoffs while the Lakers are not. They have found success in spite of trading their best player, Tobias Harris, to Philadelphia. Rivers has gotten the most out of players like Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell. The Clippers have outperformed their preseason Vegas projection of 35.5 wins. Other notable candidates: Mike Budenholzer, Steve Clifford, Mike Malone, Kenny Atkinson.
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Some players excel as rim protectors, others are skilled at defending the perimeter, but Giannis can do both and at a very high level. He averages over a steal and block per game, and has the best defensive rating in the league. His ability to defend guards in pick-and-roll and play center in smaller lineups makes him a defensive Swiss-army knife. Other candidates: Paul George, Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams
Williams has put together another outstanding season for the Clippers, leading them in scoring off the bench. While his scoring numbers are once again high, he is averaging a career high of 5.4 assists per game this season. His ability to come off the bench and provide instant offense to a team that lacks star-power is invaluable, and it is an opposing team’s worst nightmare whenever he sparks a quick run for the Clippers. Other candidates: Domantas Sabonis, Derrick Rose, Montrezl Harrell, Spencer Dinwiddie.
Most Improved Player: D’Angelo Russell
In 2017, Lakers President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson, gave up on Russell after two seasons and traded him to Brooklyn as part of a salary dump, citing Russell’s lack of leadership. Two years later, Russell is a first-time NBA All-Star and has become the best player on a Nets team that has its sights set on the playoffs, which few predicted before the season. He is averaging career highs in scoring, three-point percentage,and assists, and has had a knack for knocking down clutch shots all season long. Russell has proven to players, coaches and fans that he can be a star player in this league. Other Candidates: Pascal Siakam, De’Aaron Fox.
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