It’s been 75 days since the last game of the regular season, and tonight we’ll finally learn who gets to raise the hardware.
The NBA decided to do things differently this year. Rather than sending out a random press release in the middle of the playoffs, the league wants to do it big.
Televise the event. Bigger. Roll out the red carpet. Even bigger. Have Drake host it. Dang, that’s pretty big.
The MVP, Sixth Man, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and Most Improved Player will be named tonight on TNT at 9 p.m. ET. Here are our picks to win.
1. Most Improved Player
Candidates: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Rudy Gobert (Utah) and Nikola Jokic (Denver)
There’s only a difference of two inches in height between Antetokounmpo (6’11”) and Gobert (7’1″), but the difference in skill is off the charts.
The Greek Freak handles the ball like a point guard and explodes to the rim like Kevin Durant. And although the shot isn’t quite there yet, the 22-year old prodigy has time to improve.
Antetokounmpo showed us just how high his ceiling is this year, averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 blocks – all of which were career highs. The breakout year earned him his first all-star appearance. He made the most of it, leading the East with 30 points.
Antetokounmpo is a top-10 player in the NBA right now, and neither Rudy Gobert nor Nikola Jokic can say that.
Prediction: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Update: Giannis Antetokounmpo has been named the Most Improved Player.
2. Coach of the Year
Candidates: Mike D’Antoni (Houston), Greg Popovich (San Antonio) and Erik Spoelstra (Miami)
Greg Popovich is the greatest NBA coach of all time. I just want to throw that out there. His Spurs clobbered the Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals. That’s also worth mentioning.
But forget about all of that. The Rockets’ success this year caught everyone off guard, and newly-appointed head coach Mike D’Antoni deserves a world of credit for it.
When Houston parted ways with Kevin McHale and ultimately J.B. Bickerstaff as well, Rockets fans thought they needed to find a coach who placed an emphasis on defense. D’Antoni set that notion aside and drew up a game plan that’s as simple as it gets: shoot the lights out.
D’Antoni got James Harden to buy in, plugging him in at the point guard spot where he averaged a league-best 11.2 assists. D’Antoni gave the green light from behind the arc to new players like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, resulting in a team that broke the all-time record for most made threes in a single season (1181).
But most importantly, D’Antoni led his team to wins. The Rockets finished the season with a record of 55-27, the third-best in the league.
Cheers to you, Mike D’Antoni. Who needs defense, right?
Prediction: Mike D’Antoni
Update: Mike D’Antoni has been named the Coach of the Year.
3. Rookie of the Year
Candidates: Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia) and Dario Saris (Philadelphia)
Nobody is arguing that Malcolm Brogdon is better than Joel Embiid. A simple eye test will show you that Embiid wins that debate in every way. The one weak spot in his seemingly bullet proof case for Rookie of the Year is the number of games played.
Embiid only took the court for 31 games this season. The supposed Philadelphia savior suffered a torn meniscus in late February that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. But it was an all-star caliber 31-game stretch.
Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks when he was healthy. Brogdon wasn’t nearly as dominant, averaging 10.2 points, 4.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds. The fact that Brogdon played 75 games and contributed to a playoff team is what makes him the favorite, but the madness needs to stop here.
The best rookie this past year was Joel Embiid. Show The Process some love.
Prediction: Joel Embiid
Update: Malcolm Brogdon has been named the Rookie of the Year.
4. Sixth Man
Candidates: Andre Iguodala (Golden State), Eric Gordon (Houston) and Lou Williams (Houston)
There can only be one sixth man in Houston.
The two front-runners for the entire season seemed to be Houston’s Eric Gordon and Los Angeles’ Lou Williams.
Gordon torched defenses form behind the arc, draining the fourth-most threes in the regular season (246). He did that while coming off the bench.
Lou Williams led the Lakers in scoring with 18.6 points. He also did that while coming off the bench.
Gordon seemed to have a slight edge over Williams considering he played for a much better team, but that edge vanished when the two spark plugs joined forces in Houston.
You can make a case for either player, and also Iguodala deserves a massive amount of credit for his role in the Bay Area, but I’m giving Gordon the nod for being the original sixth man in Clutch City.
Prediction: Eric Gordon
Update: Eric Gordon has been named the Sixth Man.
5. Defensive Player of the Year
Candidates: Rudy Gobert (Utah), Draymond Green (Golden State) and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)
Rudy Gobert was the defensive anchor for the Utah Jazz this year. The Stifle Tower averaged a league-best 2.6 blocks and tied for the best defensive rating, a metric that calculates the expected amount of points that an individual player will allow on defense over 100 possessions.
With that being said, he isn’t the defensive player of the year. No, Kawhi won’t win this award for the third consecutive time either. After finishing in second for the past two seasons, this is finally Draymond Green’s year.
Green epitomizes what it means to be a tenacious defender. The undersized power forward makes up for his lack of height with a level of intensity that causes problems for even the best of scorers. In terms of advanced metrics, Green is in the upper-echelon. The Michigan State alum tied with Gobert for first in defensive rating (98.9). Kawhi finished in ninth place with a rating of 102.
Green’s ability to defend virtually anyone on the court gives him the edge over Gobert as well. This was on full display during the playoffs when Green guarded the likes of Gordon Hayward, LaMarcus Aldridge and LeBron James.
He already has two championship rings, but now it’s time to give him the hardware that’s eluded him for the past two seasons.
Prediction: Draymond Green
Update: Draymond Green has been named the Defensive Player of the Year.
6. Most Valuable Player
Candidates: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio) and James Harden (Houston)
Russell Westbrook started this season on a mission. With Kevin Durant leaving his side for a super team out in Oakland, the pressure to keep the Thunder relevant fell squarely on Westbrook’s shoulders.
And he was fine with that.
Critics will say that the stats were inflated, and they’re right, but what do you expect from a player who HAD to be the guy on every possession? The last man standing in OKC treated each game like it was a grudge match, willing his team to a 47-35 record.
And it wasn’t just the league-best 31.6 points per game that made it an incredible season. Westbrook did it all, averaging 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists as well. The historic performance marked the first time a player averaged a triple double in a single season since Oscar Robertson did it in 1962.
The achievement was thought to be impossible in the modern era of basketball, much like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. But Westbrook did it.
In 20 years nobody will remember his usage rating. People will forget the number of shots taken and the amount of turnovers per game. But that triple double stat will last forever, much like the MVP trophy that he’ll be hoisting Monday night.
Prediction: Russell Westbrook
Update: Russell Westbrrok has been named the Most Valuable Player.