Marquist Parker Sports Editor
With the first round of the NBA playoffs almost over, the league has been debating who should take home the annual awards. From the coronation of a perennial runner-up, to the yearly “Is he really a rookie?” question, the award season will be interesting. Here are my picks for the main awards:
MVP: James Harden- This season has seen some incredible players at the top of their games, Kevin Durant steadying the Warriors after losing Curry, DeMar DeRozan turning the Raptors into a powerhouse up north, and LeBron James showing why he’s still king. This NBA season produced many fun MVP candidates to consider, but they were all dark horses in comparison to Harden. The Beard shouldn’t win because “it’s his turn.” He should win because it’s his best season yet. Harden put together a staggering 30.4 points and 8.8 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to the best record in their history, and number 1 in the league. Expect Harden to take home the MVP, and maybe even do it unanimously.
Defensive player of the year: Rudy Gobert- There are two ways to look at this pick. If you believe the Gobert missing 26 games is too many to give him this award that is a credible complaint. There are other deserving people like Horford in Boston or Embid in Philadelphia. However, if you think that the fact that he has clearly been the best defender in the league should supersede his games missed than this award is an easy decision. The math is on his side. In addition to his elite rim protection numbers, the gap between Gobert’s league-leading Defensive Real Plus-Minus and the rest of the regular contributors has been significant. And while the Jazz’s record this season with him is roughly equivalent to the season-long success of the Warriors, their record without him is roughly equivalent to the Lakers. Gobert’s defense is the identity for his team, in the same way Harden’s is for his. His reward for doing so should be just as great.
Rookie of the year: Ben Simmons-The NBA rules say that he’s still a rookie, so I’m not going to rob a future star of his first award because of semantics. He’s fourth in the league in assists per game, and among rookies, he’s first in rebounds and steals per game, third in scoring, and fourth in blocks. That has helped Simmons amass the second-most triple-doubles as a rookie in NBA history. Only Oscar Robertson had more. He also passed Robertson for the longest win streak (14 games) while averaging a triple-double, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Coach of the year: Brad Stevens- The case is strong for many coaches, especially Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who, for the second season in a row, has gone overlooked. But the Celtics lost Hayward five minutes into the season and Kyrie Irving played only 60 games. Key defenders—Smart and Theis—suffered injuries that ended their regular season. Al Horford and Marcus Morris both missed extensive time. Yet the Celtics will finish with the fourth-best record and sixth-best net rating in the NBA, and a lot of the credit should go to the coaching staff. Stevens maximized and enhanced his injury-riddled roster with masterful play calling, role distribution, rotations, and leadership.
Most improved player: Victor Olidipo- One of the two 100% guarantees this Award season, Olidipo will run away with this award. Victor went from being an afterthought on the Russell Westbrook hype train to being a All-NBA contender in a year after being traded to Indiana in the offseason. This season, he has looked like an integral building block plucked from a bargain bin. He is averaging career highs in points (23.1), rebounds (5.2), assists (4.3), steals (2.4, which leads the league), field goal percentage (47.7), and 3-point percentage (37.1), and he’s second in the NBA in individual defensive rating.
Sixth man of the year: Lou Williams- The other lock this award season, with respect to Fred VanVleet for leading the Raptors bench, and to Eric Gordon for another spectacular scoring season, but this is Lou Williams’s award. Lou is averaging 22.6 points and 5.3 assists (both career highs); he’s the first player ever to lead his team in scoring off the bench; and he’s the highest-scoring bench player in 29 years. The Clippers—devoid of star power after the offseason loss of Chris Paul and the midseason trade of Blake Griffin and hobbled by injuries—remained in the playoff hunt largely because Lou regularly got hot for them.