This has been one of the more compelling years for the NBA’s yearly awards.
The Rookie of the Year race is a coin flip and for yet another season we are debating the definition of “valuable” in the Most Valuable Player award to vouch for who is most deserving.
The awards themselves are valued differently depending on who you ask but it is always a fun time for me because it reminds me of just sitting around with my friends and arguing about who is the best without deep diving and going through NBA philosophy to figure it out.
Big names and big stories generally make things enjoyable.
I did not get my invitation in the mail this season to officially cast my vote (maybe it was lost) but here are my predictions for the award winners for the 2017-2018 regular season.
MVP: LeBron James
I know… I picked the wrong James.
Admittedly, this specific category is less of a prediction and more of a personal opinion.
James Harden had an incredible season (30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game) and will win, but I will continue to pick according to the operative word in the name of the award.
Valuable is described according to Merriam-Webster.com as “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.”
Harden is deserving of MVP and will win. However, it should be re-named the Most Outstanding Player award so it could then make sense. I am not sure what more LeBron James has to do to prove that in terms of his relationship with the Cavaliers as a team and organization he is second to none in terms of importance.
After getting drummed by the Golden State Warriors last season I thought the Cavs would make up for being athletically overmatched by getting younger and faster. Imagine sitting in the theaters in a few weeks to watch the Avengers attempt to take down Thanos (the greatest threat in the MCU to date).
All is lost and Captain America goes down and out comes Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy from Bikini Bottom to save the world’s greatest heroes and end the threat. That is how I felt when the Cavs signed Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in response to their Finals loss.
Despite having survived that roster to be given a new squad of young guns and George Hill, James’ season is among his three best and in a year where he played all 82 games for the first time in his career.
After losing Kyrie Irving and playing long stretches without the underappreciated Kevin Love, the fact that he has posted career-highs in assists and rebounds in year 15 is an amazing accomplishment that has the Cavaliers once again in position to make a run at a Finals appearance.
Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons
I am starting to rapidly pick up a reputation as a 76ers hater and that might be true. However, despite what Donovan Mitchell has done this year, Ben Simmons gets a comfortable nod from me for his performance this season.
The difference is simple. Mitchell has the sexier game and the big performances to place himself into the conversation. However, Simmons finds a way to lead the Philadelphia 76ers night in and night out across multiple facets of the game.
I look at the conversation similar to the beat-down LeBron/MJ debate. Mitchell is the better scorer yet Simmons is better at…everything else!
Players with at least 53 10/5/5 games this season:
— Jon Johnson (@jonjohnsonwip) April 1, 2018
Simmons led all rookies in assists, minutes, rebounds, steals, and wins. His production is especially impressive considering his lack of a consistent perimeter game. When you get a guy who can make his teammates better, still give you offense (15.8 ppg), and can also rebound the ball and play a high-quality brand of defense, you’ve got a special player.
That is superstar DNA.
Julius Erving gushed about the Australian-born point guard to ESPN after a game against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday Night:
“Once-in-a-decade, maybe once-in-a-lifetime-type player,” Erving said. “He’s able to make everybody better immediately each and every time down the floor; guys are spotting up or looking to cut or keying off of triggers that come out of his handling skills.”
The 76ers are right in the thick of the East heading into the playoffs with No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz finally seeing some action. Simmons has shown the ability to produce with the absence of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric as well. With two championships already in pocket (Eagles in the Super Bowl, Villanova in the NCAA Tournament), Philadelphia will also be home to the Rookie of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis
Without DeMarcus Cousins, The Brow went on a tear.
And no, it’s not the tear in his eyebrows:
His tear was on the court. Since the Cousins injury, Anthony Davis led the NBA in points per game (30.1), is fifth in rebounds per game (11.9), third in steals (2.0), and first in blocks (3.2). He has a legitimate case for MVP, much less the Defensive Player of the Year award.
His 193 total blocks led the league by a mile and he held opponents to a suffocating 40.7 percent defended field goal percentage while taking on the second highest average amount of shot attempts per game (16.4).
Anthony Davis was the only player in the NBA averaging 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. No other player affecting the entire floor defensively like he did this season.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams
This is one of the tighter races this year with Eric Gordon and Fred VanVleet also turning in impressive seasons in bench roles.
However, Lou Williams and the Los Angeles Clippers managed to make a season with low expectations wildly fun. Williams led the Clippers in both points (career high 22.5 a night) and assists per game in a campaign where there was a real push for him to be recognized as an All-Star amidst the multiple injuries to potential players for this year’s game.
Lou Williams has always been one of the more exciting players, especially for NBA nerds. He has a special place in my heart as one of the premier “green light” gunners in the NBA and will be remembered with the Jamal Crawford’s of the world when all is said and done.
Whether he stays in Los Angeles and terrorizes opposing backcourts for a rebuilding franchise or ends up back with a contender Lou Williams doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.
Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo
The lack of excitement about the Indiana Pacers this season has been confusing to me. This is a team that many wrote off as losing the blockbuster trade that sent Paul George to Oklahoma City during the yearly offseason arms race to knock off Golden State and Cleveland.
While Indiana still has some room to grow, Victor Oladipo has given the franchise everything they could have hoped for and more during the best season of his five-year career.
After an underwhelming season of playing background dancer to Russell Westbrook’s historic year, Oladipo averaged 23.1 points 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game (all career highs).
More impressive this season was his development into an All-Star level two-way threat among the league’s elite. Oladipo is a legitimate defender. His 2.4 steals per game led the NBA, and his improvement has the Pacers firmly in the thick of the East heading into playoff competition.
Philadelphia pulled off what was one of the bigger wins of the season last Friday knocking off the Cavaliers to overtake the third seed.
That being said, the Pacers are now headed towards a first-round matchup with the LeBron James and his younger-look Cavs. If the Pacers are able to extend things into a real series, it will be through the play of Oladipo, who has finally appeared to find his footing this season.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens
There is not enough hyperbole to describe the job that Brad Stevens has done with the Boston Celtics this season.
After Danny Ainge pulled off another offseason heist that turned a roster led by Isaiah Thomas into a new-look Kyrie Irving/Gordon Hayward duo, many thought the Celtics would be ready to dominate the Eastern Conference and challenge LeBron James’s decade-long vice grip.
Unfortunately, we did not get to see what this new team would look like at full strength because Hayward fractured his ankle on opening night which coincided with the fractured hopes for both Celtics fans and LeBron haters alike.
No one would have faulted the Celtics for an average season considering that they only returned four players from last year’s roster and brought in two new All-Star level players to pair with lottery pick Jayson Tatum. Despite all of the moving parts, the Celtics managed to perform beyond expectations.
Stevens has shown the rare ability to get the most out of his players regardless of their role in a short period of time.
Irving had his first successful season as the unquestioned leader of a franchise (those days pre-LeBron in Cleveland were ugly). Tatum has established himself as one of the bright young talents in the league along with Jaylen Brown and both have given the Celtics important and consistent minutes throughout the season in Hayward’s absence.
Most impressively is the ability to also get veteran role players such as Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes to provide impactful minutes in big games. The reason why the Celtics will be a tough out despite Irving’s absence for the remainder of the season is due to Stevens getting the most out of every man on the roster regardless of position.
All-NBA 1st Team:
Damian Lillard – G
James Harden – G
LeBron James – F
Giannis Antetokounmpo – F
Anthony Davis – C
All-NBA 2nd Team:
Russell Westbrook – G
Stephen Curry – G
Kevin Durant – F
DeMarcus Cousins -F
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
All-NBA 3rd Team:
Kyrie Irving – G
DeMar DeRozan – G
LaMarcus Aldridge – F
Joel Embiid – C
Nikola Jokic – C
All-Rookie 1st Team
Ben Simmons – G
Donovan Mitchell – G
Lauri Markkanen – F
Kyle Kuzma – F
Jayson Tatum – F
All-Rookie 2nd Team
Lonzo Ball – G
De’Aaron Fox – G
Bogan Bogdanovic – G
John Collins – F
Bam Adebayo – C
All-Defensive 1st Team
Jrue Holiday – G
Victor Oladipo – G
Al Horford – F
Paul George – F
Anthony Davis – C
All-Defensive 2nd Team
Jimmy Butler – G
Dejounte Murray – G
Robert Covington – F
Joel Embiid – C
Rudy Gobert – C