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NBA Awards Selections for the 2018-2019 Season

I went deep on every NBA award with my completely fake ballot.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA season almost over, it’s awards time. As I like to do at the end of the each season, I went through each award and gave my picks along with some explanation. This is a lengthy article, so prepare a snack and get ready for a long read.

Most Valuable Player

Discussion: I strongly disagree with anyone who says this year’s MVP is an easy choice. James Harden is putting up historic scoring numbers, with his 36.1 point per game average being a higher tally than anyone has reached since Michael Jordan over 30 years ago. He’s doing so on exceptional efficiency as well due to his game-changing stepback three, ability to get to the line, and finishing around the basket. His assists are somewhat down this year as he’s taken on more of the scoring load, but that doesn’t take away from what he’s done. He single-handedly carried the Rockets for over a month early in the season, keeping them afloat when Clint Capela and Chris Paul were injured, and put together a streak of 30 point games which was incredible to watch. On the other hand, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists are equally as historic. No player has put up those kinds of numbers since Wilt Chamberlain. Giannis’ development since coming into the NBA has been inspiring, and his ability to get from the three-point line to the basket in a couple dribbles is simply absurd. The simple fact is that both players are having once-in-a-lifetime type seasons, and each would be incredibly deserving of the award. In my personal opinion, Giannis’ defense (read the next section for more on that) and his status as the best player on the best team gives him the narrowest advantage.

Side note: Nikola Jokic has had an awesome season. He’s one of the league leaders in assists despite being a slow-footed 7 footer who does most of his passing from the post or top of the key, and has, like Harden, carried his team to a top seed despite injuries to other key players. Jokic is a unique offensive weapon who’s better defensively than given credit for. He’s certainly not quite on the level of players like Steph, Kevin Durant, or LeBron, but he’s not far below, and this season, he’s been more valuable to his team.

3rd: Nikola Jokic

4th: Paul George

5th: Steph Curry

Defensive Player of the Year

Discussion: This was also really, really tough. Rudy Gobert and Giannis have been the backbones of the two toughest defenses in the NBA, and each is the best in the NBA at what they do. Gobert is a traditional, rim protecting center, and is already one of the best to ever lace them up on defense. He’s also a rebound vacuum who prevents opponents from getting any second-chance opportunities. Giannis is like an octopus, seemingly possessing eight arms that extend all over the court. No pass is safe with Giannis patrolling the lanes: he combines incredible length and athleticism with next-level instincts. As he’s put on muscle in recent years, he’s also become a better rim protector himself, and is capable of bodying up most big men without much problem. I think Giannis’ versatility gives him the slightest edge over Gobert — Gobert can still be played off the court against certain offenses (read: Warriors or Rockets) that spread the floor and can draw him out of the paint. There is no offense that can really attack Giannis, or at least, we haven’t seen it yet. Joel Embiid is superb defensively as well, but his missed games hurt him here.

2nd: Rudy Gobert

3rd: Joel Embiid

Coach of the Year

Discussion: There’s no real wrong answer here. A number of coaches have turned in exceptional performances this season, and I wouldn’t mind this award going to any of them. Doc Rivers and Nate McMillan have powered their teams to the playoffs despite midseason upheaval and a seeming lack of talent with a top-down approach that has their teams playing hard and together every night. Greg Popovich has worked miracles with a Spurs team that still doesn’t seem like it has the firepower to win 40 games, much less 47. Terry Stotts, Mike Malone, and Quin Snyder have all done strong work as well. Above them all, however, is Mike Budenholzer. Coach Bud has transformed the Bucks from an Eastern Conference lower-seed also-ran into a 60-win powerhouse in one season. The Bucks have been the best NBA team throughout the regular season, thrashing opponents regularly and pulling off wins against other marquee teams. The front office in Milwaukee has done a great job in upgrading the roster as well, but Bud has put it all together, and has developed his young guys as well. He’s a well-deserving winner in a very strong class.

2nd: Doc Rivers

3rd: Greg Popovich

Rookie of the Year

Discussion: This was another one that I expected to be easy but turned out to be rather close. Trae Young has exploded over the second half of the season, powering the Hawks to a not-embarrassing record and creating one of the best NBA League Pass teams in the process. His shooting, playmaking, and overall shotmaking are truly special, and there’s no doubt he’s going to be a force in this league for years and years to come. However… Luka Doncic took the NBA by storm in the early months of the season, while Trae stumbled badly, and the start counts as much as the finish. There’s also the matter of defense: Luka is merely bad, while Trae is abysmal. Ultimately, Luka put up 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on at least solid efficiency (due to free throws), and those numbers are just absurd for a team that was decent for much of the season without a lot of talent. It’s close, but Luka wins this round.

2nd: Trae Young

3rd: Jaren Jackson Jr.

Sixth Man of the Year

Discussion: I’ve been on the record about this virtually all season. It’s Lou Williams. Lou averages the most points and assists per game of any player off the bench this season, and does so at good efficiency and with a fairly low turnover rate. The Clippers’ on/off numbers give an estimate as to how valuable he’s been (read: the most important player on the team), and he’s been incredibly clutch as well. Sabonis has been great for the Pacers, but he’s probably the 3rd or 4th most important player on that team, and his raw stats aren’t quite as impressive. Montrezl Harrell has had a wonderful season, but a lot of his production depends on Lou, and he hasn’t been quite as consistent on a game-to-game basis.

2nd: Domantas Sabonis

3rd: Montrezl Harrell

Most Improved Player

Discussion: This was a super easy decision for me. Pascal Siakam has improved across the board, going from a solid rotation player on a deep bench to the third-best player on one of the best teams in the NBA. He’s stepped up as a shooter, defender, ballhandler, playmaker, and iso scorer. Really, there’s not all that much that he doesn’t do, and he should have been an All-Star in February. There are other solid candidates here, but none has made nearly the leap that Siakam has. De’Aaron Fox had an argument early this season; I just don’t like MIP going to second-year players, especially lottery players, who are expected to improve a lot anyway. His falling off made this decision even easier. D’Angelo Russell will get some buzz, but he hasn’t taken nearly as big a step forward as Siakam as a complete player.

2nd: Malik Beasley

3rd: D’Angelo Russell

1st Team All-NBA

G – James Harden

G – Steph Curry

F – Giannis Antetokounmpo

F – Kevin Durant

C – Nikola Jokic

2nd Team All-NBA

G – Damian Lillard

G – Kyrie Irving

F – Paul George

F – Blake Griffin

C – Joel Embiid

3rd Team All-NBA

G – Bradley Beal

G – Eric Bledsoe

F – Kawhi Leonard

F – Danilo Gallinari

C – Rudy Gobert

All-NBA notes: The only tough decision in the first two teams was KD or PG for the second forward spot on the first two teams. Ultimately, PG’s slump down the stretch and KD’s incredible overall offensive firepower put KD on top for me. On a per game basis, Embiid is better than Jokic, but Jokic was the absolute rock for the Nuggets in a season where they missed a lot of guys with injuries, and his durability and consistency gave him the edge over Joel. Blake Griffin might not be as good as Kawhi, but similarly to Jokic, he played in way more games, and carried his team all season. That matters.

The third team was legitimately challenging at almost every spot but the fifth forward, which was an easy call for Kawhi. LeBron James put up huge numbers, and is undoubtedly still a top 5 NBA player at worst. But he only played 55 games this season, his defense, as usual the past few years, left much to be desired, and his trade machinations and odd leadership choices helped tank team morale. He doesn’t deserve an All-NBA spot this year, in my humble opinion. Gallinari is my biased pick to replace him, but his numbers (both impact, regular advanced, and box score) are exceptional, and he’s the best player on one of the most surprising teams of the year. The third team center came down to Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, and the two are rather mirror images of each other. Gobert is one of the best defensive centers of all time, and Towns is already one of the greatest offensive centers to ever play the game. Ultimately, Gobert being on a winning team and his improved offensive game gave him the slightest edge over Towns, but I’m fine either way.

The third team guards could have gone to as many as six or seven guys. Ultimately, Bledsoe has been the second best/most important player on the team with the best record in the NBA, and an absolute force defensively. Beal, on the other hand, has put up monstrous numbers for a trainwreck Wizards squad, but it’s all the more impressive that his efficiency stats are so good when looking at the garbage that he plays with. He’s also been an iron man, playing every single game and logging the highest minute and miles run count in the NBA, which I think puts him above guys who have been more impactful on a per minute game/minute basis, but have missed a lot of time, like Jrue Holiday and Kyle Lowry. Russell Westbrook missed out because the Thunder don’t deserve two All-NBA guys, and because of his awful shooting splits. Kemba Walker is making a late push with the Hornets, but Beal is just a bit better in terms of efficiency, rebounding, and defense, and has played with even worse teammates, ruling out that argument.

Honorable mentions: Towns, Russ, Kemba, Lowry, Holiday, Mike Conley, LeBron, Pascal Siakam

1st Team All-Rookie

G – Trae Young

G – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

G/F – Luka Doncic

F – Jaren Jackson Jr.

C – Mitchell Robinson

2nd Team All-Rookie

G – Landry Shamet

G – Kevin Huerter

F – Mikal Bridges

F – Marvin Bagley

C – DeAndre Ayton

Rookie team notes: Trae and Luka were the only 1st team locks for me. Jaren Jackson Jr. was the second most impressive rookie to me when he was healthy, and probably had the highest ceiling games of any rookie, so I had to put him on the first team despite his missing the second half of the season with an injury. SGA has had an up and down season, but has come on super strong lately, and he’s been at least ok (in general NBA player terms) for most of the season, which is great for a rookie. The most debated call will probably be Robinson over Ayton, but Ayton’s stats, while mostly more impressive than Robinson’s, seem like the definition of empty calories. Robinson played on a Knicks team that was every bit as awful as the Suns, but his remarkably fierce/terrifying defense pushes him ahead. He was just more impactful than Ayton this season, even in more limited minutes.

Not many other players really challenged that hard to be on the second team. Miles Bridges had a solid season for the Hornets, but he didn’t get quite as many minutes as the other guys. Josh Okogie was great defensively, but his horrid offensive play pushed him out. On the other end, Collin Sexton scored and shot the ball well, but he might be the worst defensive player in basketball. Wendell Carter Jr. remains one of my favorite prospects from this class, but he was not utilized correctly in Chicago, and didn’t play all that many minutes due to injury and coaching idiocy.

Honorable mentions: Wendell, Bridges, Okogie, Sexton, Jalen Brunson

1st Team All-Defense

G – Marcus Smart

G – Danny Green

F – Giannis Antetokounmpo

F – Paul George

C – Rudy Gobert

2nd Team All-Defense

G – Derrick White

G – Eric Bledsoe

F – Pascal Siakam

F – Myles Turner

C – Joel Embiid

All Defense notes: I think most of these guys are pretty well-regarded, so I’m not sure much explanation is needed. I don’t know if Myles Turner counts as a forward (he usually plays center), but he’s so good I tried to fudge him on here. If he doesn’t qualify as a forward, I’d go with Draymond Green instead. In my personal opinion, all four of these guards are locks – you can sort them by either team, but they’ve been the four best, most impactful guard defenders in the NBA this season.

Honorable mentions: Draymond, Thad Young, Pat Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Jerami Grant

Well, that was certainly a lot. Let me know what you think! Did I leave someone out? Was there someone I ranked too highly?