The conclusion of the NBA regular season is days away, which means that the regular season awards are nearing as well. Some of the races are already decided, but others, including MVP, are still up in the air. Let’s take a look at each award and my predictions who will win.
Coach of the Year
I like to think that the Coach of the Year award should go to the coach whose team exceeded their preseason expectations the most. There are a couple of solid candidates, but the most deserving coach is Mike Budenholzer. His Bucks solidified the best record in the NBA the other day, and they are playing both great offensive and defensive basketball. Lead by their star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who we will touch on later, they have a legitimate shot to dethrone the Warriors in the NBA Finals this year. Other candidates include the Clippers’ Doc Rivers, who traded away Tobias Harris, their best player, midway through the season and still led the Clippers to the playoffs while void of a star player. Quinn Snyder deserves recognition as well for how his Jazz have played this year, for he has no All Stars on his team (though Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are borderline stars), and could potentially have first round home court advantage in the playoffs. Mike Malone in Denver also had his team atop the Western Conference standings for the majority of the year, and will receive some looks as the top coach. However, my guess is it will go to Budenholzer for his efforts in Milwaukee.
Rookie of the Year
This award race is really just a two horse race at this point. At the beginning of the year, it looked like rookie sensation Luka Doncic was going to run away with the award. However, ever since the All Star break, Atlanta’s Trae Young has really proved to be a force to reckon with. Though his Hawks are near the bottom of the standings, his play has been nothing short of impressive. However, this award should still find it’s way into Doncic’s hands. Doncic has played great throughout the whole year, and his confidence level is something you don’t see from a rookie, let alone a teenager (Doncic turned 20 in the later half of the season). Doncic will win this award, and the Mavericks will have quite the future in front of them, especially after trading for Kristaps Porzingis.
Sixth Man of the Year
This award is a little trickier to predict, but there looks to be a familiar face at the top of the race. The Clippers’ Lou Williams looks to be the favorite to win his third Sixth Man of the Year award. However, he will have to fight off his own teammate Montrezl Harrell, whom both is a large part as to why the Clippers are in the playoffs this year. Other guys in the hunt include Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, and even Minnesota’s Derrick Rose, who’s had a revival year with the Timberwolves this year. I think the award will go back to Williams this year. However, Williams and Harrell may steal votes from each other since they are on the same team, making it tough to gauge who is more valuable to the team, opening the way for a guy like Sabonis to steal some votes.
Most Improved Player
Again, this is another race tough to predict. I like to pick guys who no one really talked about much at the beginning of the year, but really solidified themselves over the season as a player to take seriously. Guys like Pascal Siakam from Toronto fit that mold. But then there are guys who are already household names, but took that leap to put them into borderline stardom. That would be someone like Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell, who made his first All-Star appearance this year and has his team in the playoffs. You can even look at guys that were already stars, but took an even bigger leap to separate themselves from the majority of the league. Guys like Antetokounmpo and Paul George improved on their already strong play from last year to put themselves into MVP consideration. Personally, I think the award will go to Siakam, who the Raptors rely on a lot to play menacing defense who can also contribute on the offensive end as well.
Defensive Player of the Year
At the beginning of the year, it looked as if Paul George was the favorite to win this award. However, him getting hurt and the Thunder’s decline in the second half of the season has opened the door for Utah’s Rudy Gobert to win his second DPOY award in a row. Gobert has really improved on both ends of the floor, but will always be known for his stifling defense in the paint. George usually takes on the role of guarding the best offensive wing on the opposing team, and is an incredible defender, but again, he played a bit poorly in the second half compared to his lofty standards set at the beginning of the season, and Gobert stayed steady throughout the year. I think this award will go back to Gobert this year.
Most Valuable Player
And last but not least, the MVP race, which is down to two candidates; Antetokounmpo and James Harden. Before we go into this tight matchup, let’s breakdown some of the dark horses. We touched on George a bit before, and he was a legit candidate for the MVP at the All Star break, but then he got hurt, and when he came back, him and his team’s performance declined, ultimately pushing him out of the race. Nikola Jokic out of Denver has been stellar this year as well, having his team near the top of the standings. Joel Embiid has been terrific too, and has shown how dominant he can be when he’s healthy. Stephen Curry has been great as usual, but he did suffer an injury at the beginning of the year, which may hinder his chances at winning. Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple double again and people seem to think that’s the norm now with him, but don’t seem to give him much MVP attention. However, the fact that he may not even be the best player on his own team makes it tough to give him the award. Now, let’s jump back into the main candidates. Both players have played terrific this year, and are very deserving of the award. Giannis has his team atop the Eastern Conference, as well as the best record in the league. He is one of the most unstoppable players in the league, and is dominant on both ends of the floor. Harden isn’t known for his defensive efforts, but is masterful with the ball in his hands on the offensive end. He had the streak with 30+ point games, something we’ve never seen before. His team was near the bottom of the Western Conference when Chris Paul went down with an injury, and Harden has brought his team back to playoff contention. So who should the award go to? When a race is this tight, I usually tend to lean towards the team’s record of the respective candidate. Yes, I realize sometimes that is out of the player’s hand how good or bad his team is, but a great player should be able to make his team around him play better as well. So I’m going with Giannis taking home this award, though Harden is very deserving as well, and wouldn’t be surprised if he did win it.