As the NBA playoffs have tipped off, it is only fitting to look back and award the regular season standouts.
First, some ground rules. At some point in today’s tank-heavy league, winning and making the playoffs has to mean something. Thus, all of my NBA awards will be players that are on playoff teams, except for Rookie of the Year.
Here are my picks for the NBA’s regular season awards:
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo. I think a lot of times we overthink the MVP award. While, yes, James Harden has a significant case to repeat this year, the Greek Freak is the best player on the best team. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27 points, 12 rebounds and just under six assists per game. His per 36 is even more impressive, where he averages over 30 points and 13 rebounds.
Defensive Player of the Year: Paul George. George is coming off of one of his most successful offensive seasons, yet it’s his defense that is still the most elite part of his game. George leads the league in steals with 170 picked pockets this year, while also being a lock-down switchable defender on the perimeter.
Sixth-man of the Year: Lou Williams. It seems like we should just rename the sixth-man award after Sweet Uncle Lou. Williams is averaging 20 points and five assists off the bench, while also serving as the Los Angeles Clippers’ best player and leader.
Most Improved Player: D’Angelo Russell. A year ago, sports talking heads labeled Russell as a lottery bust. This year he became first-time All-Star. Russell has turned himself into one of the league’s most dynamic players. At age 23, D-Low has bloomed into a clutch scorer of the basketball with one of the games wettest jumpers. His ability to score off the dribble late in games and create his own shot is remarkable. Russell led the once laughable Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs by averaging 21 points and seven assists per game while also dropping 40 points in a game twice.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic. Doncic showed All-NBA level talent in just his first year in the NBA. He averaged 21 points, six assists and just under eight rebounds per game this season. Doncic displayed elite playmaking skills, while also showcasing the ability to come through in the clutch for his team. Doncic drained a three-pointer at the buzzer in a game early in the season against the Portland Trailblazers, and threw down a tomahawk and-one jam in the final seconds of a game against the Denver Nuggets to give his team the lead late. The Rookie of the Year award will be the first of many awards for the young man from Slovenia.
Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers. Rivers led the Clippers to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. That may not seem like that great of an accomplishment; however, the Clippers roster does not have a single All-Star on the depth chart. The team traded away their top scorer, Tobias Harris, at the trade deadline, giving every inclination that the team was going to tank for the rest of the season. Instead the Clippers played hard every single night, and secured the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Now for first, second, and third team All-NBA. Again, I feel as though you have to make the playoffs to be named All-NBA. So, as much as it pains me, I do not think LeBron James should be on an All-NBA team. Here are those in my mind deserving of the title.
First Team All-NBA: Guard: Stephen Curry Guard: James Harden Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo Forward: Paul George Center: Nikola Jokic
Second Team All-NBA: Guard: Damian Lillard Guard: Kyrie Irving Forward: Kevin Durant Forward: Kawhi Leonard Center: Joel Embiid
Third Team All-NBA: Guard: Russell Westbrook Guard: Klay Thompson Forward: Blake Griffin Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge Center: Rudy Gobert
As much as it pains me to leave LeBron off the All-NBA teams the truth is he does not deserve it. Yes, he averaged 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists per game this season, but he only played 55 games (a career low). He played on an underperforming Los Angeles Lakers team where there was dysfunction all year long. At some point regular season success has to mean something, and for these awards to truly hold their value we have to applaud the teams and players that actually played hard for all 82 games.