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Wrapping it Up: NBA End of Season Awards

Can someone beat out James Harden for MVP? Who should win coach of the year? How about All-NBA teams? All that and more are discussed below!

Milwaukee Bucks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images


This award isn’t all that close to me. James Harden is averaging over 30 points per game on incredible efficiency, adding on bunches of rebounds and assists for good measure. He puts forth effort on defense more consistently than he used to, although that defense is still pretty bad (outside of the post). Harden is the engine behind one of the best offenses in NBA history, and his shotmaking and playmaking have turned him into a deadly force even when he’s not getting to the free throw line or making his outside shots. Harden is the best player on the best team in the NBA this season, with advanced stats that dwarf what anyone else in the NBA is doing. He’s the MVP.

Down ballot, the award gets a lot murkier. LeBron James is still the best player in the league when he wants to be, and has dragged a ragtag Cavaliers’ roster to a probable homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo are doing similar jobs with their respective teams, although the Pelicans and Bucks might actually have more talent than the Cavaliers this season. Those players are also far more effective on defense than James is, but lack his ability to take over a game on command. Damian Lillard is the other player in the top five, though he fell off a bit towards the end of March after a sizzling February.

1st: James Harden

2nd: LeBron James

3rd: Anthony Davis

4th: Giannis Antetokounmpo

5th: Damian Lillard

Coach of the Year:

This award, on the other hand, is a tangled morass. There are as many as 10 worthy candidates, as many coaches have done wonderful jobs this season in managing teams with an abundance of injuries, or in guiding teams to the playoffs that weren’t expected to make the postseason. Ultimately, sorting coaches based on how far they exceeded expectations is probably a bit unfair—the players have a lot to do with that too. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other ways to measure coaches’ abilities (scoring on out of timeout plays is one, but isn’t that important to me). Stuff like finding the right rotations and getting the most out of players is hard to quantify, especially since players’ improvement is oftentimes because of the players themselves working on their own games. In the end, this comes down to who seemingly helped their team win the most, and that’s largely subjective.

1st: Brad Stevens

2nd: Dwane Casey

3rd: Nate McMillan

Rookie of the Year:

The rookie of the year race has gone through three different incarnations this season. There was the first stretch, where Ben Simmons looked like one of the best rookies in years, starting for the surprising Philadelphia 76ers and doing positive things all over the court. Then there was the surge by shooting guard Donovan Mitchell in Utah, a perfect fit as a modern guard in the NBA. He can nail deep three pointers off the dribble, attack the basket, and make plays for his teammates. His clutch scoring and ability to drop over 20 points a game easily got him into the conversation with Simmons. Then, a few weeks ago, Simmons started stringing together triple-doubles like candy, and has been the best player for the Sixers during their incredible 15 game win streak. The Sixers look like a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs this season and a scary threat in the East for years to come, and Simmons is a huge reason why. This has been an incredible season for rookies, but Ben Simmons has been the standout.

1st: Ben Simmons

2nd: Donovan Mitchell

3rd: Jayson Tatum

Defensive Player:

This is another hotly contested award between several worthy candidates. Rudy Gobert is the most traditional of the contestants, a rim-protecting big man who eats up shots around the basket like a kid let loose in an ice cream shop. The Jazz have gone on an absurd 28-5 run since his return to the court in late January, and he’s clearly the best overall player on a team that has looked like one of the toughest in the league in the second half of the season. Joel Embiid has a virtually identical case for the Sixers—he’s the anchor on a top 3 defense, and is a dominant presence within five feet of the hoop. Finally, there’s Al Horford, who is a big man that doesn’t provide much in the way of rim protection. Instead, he plays a lot out on the perimeter, where his quick feet and smarts enable him to defend much smaller players on the switches that the Boston Celtics so love. He doesn’t possess the length of Gobert, or the physical presence of Embiid. Yet he might be just as effective as either of the younger players, a lynchpin on the best defense in the NBA, and one that has relied heavily on younger players to boot. It’s an exceedingly difficult choice. Games played (Gobert with the least, Horford with the most), and context (who they play with) ended up making the decision.

1st: Joel Embiid

2nd: Al Horford

3rd: Rudy Gobert

Sixth Man of the Year:

It’s Lou Williams. It isn’t even a discussion. No sixth man has meant more to their team, or put up better stats, or been the go-to scorer in crunch time. Other players have perhaps been better defensively, or been more “versatile” for their teams. One could argue that Lou has been so good, and so important, that he actually violates the “intent” of the award as a true bench player who receives a corresponding number of minutes. None of those hold water. Sweet Lou is having perhaps the greatest season of any bench player in the history of the NBA, and the least he deserves is the Sixth Man Award. He will lead the Clippers in scoring and assists per game, the first time any player has done that off the bench since the 1984-1985 season, when advanced stats began being kept. Lou has been phenomenal and has provided leadership in the locker room as well as on the court. This season of his will be remembered a long, long time.

1st: Lou Williams

2nd: Fred Van Vleet

3rd: Montrezl Harrell

Note: Eric Gordon and Will Barton have both been terrific, but have started too many games (Gordon 30, Barton 38) for me to regard them as bench players this season.

Most Improved Player:

Another award that has just one real candidate: Victor Oladipo. Sloughed aside by the Thunder to acquire Paul George, Oladipo has fulfilled the promise that drove the Magic to draft him 2nd overall in 2013. Oladipo has improved across the board—as a shooter, as a passer, as a defensive player. He went from a solid, overpaid player to a full-on star, and has clearly been one of the 10 best guards in the NBA, at the very least. He’s the driving force behind the Pacers’ surge to the Eastern Conference Playoffs, and has carried that team all season, particularly in crunch time late in games. Nobody saw this coming for Oladipo after his previous season in Oklahoma City, and he’s proven all the doubters wrong. The other two are more traditional candidates in that they are young players who have never received a consistent role until this season, and have thrived in that expanded function. Reggie Bullock became a lights-out three-point shooter for the Pistons, while Spencer Dinwiddie worked his way into a starting spot for the Brooklyn Nets. Both have been fun to watch this year, and should have significant roles for NBA teams going forward.

1st: Victor Oladipo

2nd: Spencer Dinwiddie

3rd: Reggie Bullock

All-NBA First Team:

G- James Harden

G- Damian Lillard

F- Giannis Antetokounmpo

F- LeBron James

C- Anthony Davis

All-NBA Second Team:

G- Steph Curry

G- Chris Paul

F- Kevin Durant

F- LaMarcus Aldridge

C- Joel Embiid

All-NBA Third Team:

G- Russell Westbrook

G- Victor Oladipo

F- Jimmy Butler

F- Al Horford

C- Rudy Gobert

All-Rookie First Team:

G- Donovan Mitchell

G- Lonzo Ball

G- Ben Simmons

F- Jayson Tatum

F- Kyle Kuzma

All-Rookie Second Team:

G- Dennis Smith Jr

G- Josh Jackson

F- Dillon Brooks

F- John Collins

C- Lauri Markkanen

All-Defense First Team:

G- Jrue Holiday

G- Ben Simmons

F- Giannis Antetokounmpo

F- Al Horford

C- Joel Embiid

All-Defense Second Team:

G- Victor Oladipo

G- Dejounte Murray

F- Robert Covington

F- Draymond Green

C- Rudy Gobert