The shortened 72 game NBA season has officially wrapped up, meaning it’s time to hand out some awards. With playoffs not factoring into who will win these six major awards, it seems like a good time to reminisce on the regular season before we head into the postseason. Each award has already been narrowed down to three finalists, so our basketball writers will take a look at each award and pick their winner with the regular season in the books. (Click here to check our midseason predictions.)
Coach of the Year
Bret Nascimento: Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns – The Suns took a huge jump this season and were able to establish themselves as one of the top teams in a dominant Western Conference. A big part of their jump has been because of Monty Williams leadership. He helped lead the Suns on a dominant bubble run last season, and then was rejoined by old friend Chris Paul this season to help turn Phoenix into one of the more underrated teams in the league. The quick turnaround Phoenix has undergone has been impressive, and Williams deserves credit for orchestrating Phoenix’s rise from lottery team to title contender.
Nate Crisafulli: Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns – Although Monty Williams may not be the favorite for this award, what he has done with the Suns this year can’t go unnoticed. Last year Phoenix was a young and inexperienced team that had missed the playoffs yet again. This year, the Suns have jumped all the way up to the two seed in the West and are legitimate title contenders for the first time since they had Steve Nash running point. Although Chris Paul has received a lot of credit for making this team better, and deservedly so, Williams had this team make an 8-0 run in the bubble last year, and deserves just as much credit for the Suns success this season.
Owen Crisafulli: Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks – Utah’s first half demolition of the NBA made it seem like this award was all but locked up for Quin Snyder. And despite him having an equally impressive second half managing a number of injuries to key players, it’s clear that this award has to go to Tom Thibodeau. The Knicks weren’t expected to be anywhere near playoff contention at the start of the season, and not only did they make the playoffs, they climbed all the way up to the 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Thibodeau managed to get the best out of a ragtag group of players, and has watched Julius Randle develop into a star right before his eyes. Making this even more remarkable is the fact that this is Thibodeau’s first season in charge of the Knicks, and he basically just turned a surefire rebuilding team into a playoff contender in the blink of an eye. The Knicks have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, and Thibodeau should get his credit for leading the charge.
Ryan Whitley: Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks – This was the toughest one to pick for me, but in the end, I had to go with Thibs. Guiding the New York Knicks to the playoffs is no easy feat, and to do it with a roster that not many thought would even be competitive is more impressive than anything any other coach did this year. Thibodeau deserves a lot of credit for Julius Randle’s jump to stardom this season, and obviously for the hard-nosed way that the Knicks played this year. While Monty Williams deserves credit for the great season the Suns put together, having a proven veteran like Chris Paul takes away a little for me. So in the end, Thibodeau wins for leading a lesser roster to the playoffs in New York.
Rookie of the Year
Bret: LaMelo Ball, Point Guard, Charlotte Hornets – This award is closer than it would have been if Ball never missed time due to injury, but when he was on the court he managed to live up to the hype he’s had since his high school days. Although he can score at every level of the floor, Ball’s highlight reel isn’t limited to just scoring, as he had some of the flashiest assists on the season. Ball’s passing ability from the point is certainly a more old-school type approach, but he’s managed to blend those aspects of his game with his scoring ability, making him one of the most tantalizing young players in the game, and a deserving winner of the Rookie of the Year.
Nate: LaMelo Ball, Point Guard, Charlotte Hornets – The Rookie of the Year race this season has been one of the closest races in recent memory as both Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball have very convincing cases. In my opinion Ball has the slight edge for the way that he was able to make Charlotte relevant this year, as they were in the playoff picture for most of the season, and were able to qualify for the play-in tournament, which is something Edwards’ team was not able to do. Ball was also well ahead of Edwards in the race for the award before going down with an injury that made the race more competitive. Both Edwards and Ball are deserving of the award, however Ball should just barely edge out Edwards.
Owen: Anthony Edwards, Shooting Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves – In our midseason predictions, I said something catastrophic would have to happen to prevent LaMelo Ball from winning this award. That catastrophe occurred when Ball ended up suffering a wrist injury that kept him out for most of the second half of the season. While Ball was on the sideline, Anthony Edwards began to show everyone why Minnesota took him first overall in last year’s draft. Edwards broke out during the second half of the season, and had some absolutely monster performances, including a pair of 42 point games. Edwards played in all 72 games this season, and that can’t be understated, especially considering Minnesota was never in playoff contention. It’ll be a close race, but Edwards big second half is enough to put him ahead of Ball.
Ryan: LaMelo Ball, Point Guard, Charlotte Hornets – At long last, it seems like LaVar Ball was right: LaMelo is a stud. His passing skills are just simply insane, with his court vision being among the best in the league, if not already the best. He gets bonus points for helping lead a team that was not very good last year to the play-in tournament, while his biggest competition, Timberwolves rookie Anthony Edwards, cannot say the same as the Wolves were still really bad. Both are going to be great players for a long time, but Ball gets a boost for me because of his team’s higher level of success.
Sixth Man of the Year
Bret: Jordan Clarkson, Shooting Guard/Point Guard, Utah Jazz – The Jazz were one of the best teams in the league this season and the leader of their bench is a big reason why. Clarkson has finally reached the potential he displayed early in his career and found a consistent role with the Jazz. His steady presence in the lineup helped the Jazz hold onto the 1 seed out West despite Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley both missing time during the second half. Aside from his own teammate Joe Ingles, there wasn’t really anyone who challenged Clarkson for this one, making him the easy choice.
Nate: Jordan Clarkson, Shooting Guard/Point Guard, Utah Jazz – Clarkson was the front runner for this award at the All Star break, and no one else outside of his teammate Joe Ingles has really made a push to try and steal this award from him. Clarkson has been the offensive spark plug off the bench for the Jazz this season averaging 18.4 points per game for the year. He fits the generic mold for the sixth man of the year award and his scoring ability coupled with the fact that Jazz have the best record in the league should help him get the award.
Owen: Jordan Clarkson, Shooting Guard/Point Guard, Utah Jazz – With Donovan Mitchell missing most of the second half of the season, Jordan Clarkson was expected to step up in a big way and fill his role. While that didn’t necessarily happen, in part to it being a team effort, Clarkson is still the easy choice for this award. Part of the reason for Utah’s season long success was that they had Clarkson in their back pocket whenever they needed. If their starters failed to get anything going to start a game, they could just call on Clarkson to come off the bench and shore things up. Clarkson averaged a career high in points and rebounds per game, and while his shooting percentages dropped in the second half, someone needed to shoot the ball with Mitchell out of the lineup, and Clarkson was that guy. The stat that should fully put this to rest for Clarkson; despite Mitchell missing time, Clarkson only started one game this season. He’s the definition of a sixth man, and a deserving recipient of this award.
Ryan: Jordan Clarkson, Shooting Guard/Point Guard, Utah Jazz – Like many of these awards, this was an easy one. Clarkson led the league in bench scoring with 18.4 points per game, doing so in only 26 minutes a night. His scoring output was a game changer for a Utah team that exceeded everyone’s expectations, and Clarkson was a huge reason why. Coming off the bench allowed Clarkson to reach his full potential as an offensive spark plug, who just comes in and shoots. A well deserved award for a player who has taken a lot of criticism over the years for his inefficiency, who found his niche big time this year.
Most Improved Player
Bret: Julius Randle, Power Forward/Center, New York Knicks – Julius Randle stepped up significantly this season for the Knicks and carried them to the playoffs. After earning his first All Star appearance earlier this season, Randle upped the ante, and led New York on a furious charge up the Eastern Conference standings. He’s the main reason this team went from a lottery team to one of the top teams in the East, which is something none of his competitors for this award can say, making him the clear cut choice here.
Nate: Julius Randle, Power Forward/Center, New York Knicks – Julius Randle launched himself into this race with a fantastic second half of the season. Randle averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6 assists per game as he led the New York Knicks to the four seed in the East. Randle already received his first All Star selection, and should be a lock for one of the three All-NBA teams this season. Randle has gone from one of the most hated players in New York, to one of the most loved, as he has been a major key in making New York basketball relevant again. Because of this, he is almost a lock for this award.
Owen: Julius Randle, Power Forward/Center, New York Knicks – Jerami Grant seemed like a shoe in for this award for much of the season, but while he was missing time with injury for much of the second half, Julius Randle was leading the New York Knicks on a furious playoff charge. Randle had put his name on the map by earning an All Star berth earlier this season, but seems to have run away with this award after his second half of the season. Randle averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game, as he was simply a completely different player this season. The biggest improvement Randle made was his three point shooting, as he went from a liability behind the arc (28 percent last season) to a stepback weapon who couldn’t be left alone (41 percent this season.) The improvement from three opened up the rest of the court for Randle, as he could get to the rim easier, and when he drew more attention, he was able to find open teammates for easy points. This was one of the closest awards halfway through the season, and now it probably isn’t even a contest.
Ryan: Julius Randle, Power Forward/Center, New York Knicks – Julius Randle is a great story. It’s rare for a player that’s been in the league for as long as he has to finally make the jump, but Randle did it this year. His scoring jumped to 24 points per game, while his three point shooting spiked to 41%. On top of all that, he led the Knicks (the KNICKS!!!) to the 4th seed in the East. That alone should win him an award. He improved in every area of the game, the hallmark of a Most Improved Player.
Defensive Player of the Year
Bret: Rudy Gobert, Center, Utah Jazz – Another season has gone by and Gobert’s interior defense has maintained the dominant level that has earned him previous DPOY awards in past seasons. He’s easily the best interior defender in the game, and just shuts down the paint when he is on the court. A large reason the Jazz kept up their pace in the second half of the season was their defense, with Gobert being the glue that held everything together. The best defender on the best team in the league, Gobert has blown past the competition, and should easily lock up his third DPOY award.
Nate: Rudy Gobert, Center, Utah Jazz – After weeks of Ben Simmons and the 76ers trying to push the narrative that Simmons should win the award, it seems that Gobert has come out on top. Although Gobert’s on ball defense is nothing spectacular, his rim protection is easily the best in the league. Gobert averages 2.7 blocks per game and essentially shuts down the paint when he is in the game. This allows other Utah players to be much more aggressive knowing that Gobert can save them if they do get beat. Gobert is essentially the defensive system for the Jazz, and is deserving of winning another DPOY award this season.
Owen: Rudy Gobert, Center, Utah Jazz – The Stifle Tower was in peak form this season, as he continues to prove he is one of the best modern day interior defenders the NBA has seen. Gobert is consistently one of the best rebounders on either side of the floor, and he finished his second straight season averaging 10+ defensive boards a game. Gobert also finished with a career high 2.7 blocks per game, which is just absurd. With the refs blowing their whistles more than ever, it’s mind-boggling that Gobert can consistently reject shots without fouling. Gobert led the league in defensive win shares with 5.2, and it wasn’t particularly close. Gobert locking down the paint allows his teammates to focus on guarding other players, which shows how his performance affects his whole team. While other players can claim they can guard 1-5 on the floor, Gobert’s impact on the defensive end is just simply too large to ignore.
Ryan: Rudy Gobert, Center, Utah Jazz – At this point, Rudy Gobert has pretty much secured the title of best defender in the league. This will be his third DPOY award, and by many metrics it may have been his best year yet. He set career highs in blocks per game (2.7) and rebounds (13.5), finishing second in the league in both categories. But really, this is a reflection of the season that the Utah Jazz had. As the leader of their defense, who also had an outstanding defensive year, he’s the obvious choice for Defensive Player of the Year.
Most Valuable Player
Bret: Nikola Jokic, Center, Denver Nuggets – Having a center with some of the best playmaking skills in the league and nearly averaging a triple double is unheard of. Making matters even more impressive, Jokic kept up his high level of play even after he lost his partner in crime Jamal Murray for most of the second half of the season. Posting one of the best seasons in NBA history from the center position, Jokic is well on his way to winning his first MVP award.
Nate: Nikola Jokic, Center, Denver Nuggets – Jokic has become the clear runaway favorite for the MVP award with a fantastic second half of the season. Jokic put up 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game while leading Denver to the three seed in a very competitive West without Jamal Murray. Most importantly, Jokic has been able to stay healthy for most of the season, which is the main factor for him winning over Joel Embiid. Jokic has the numbers, the winning record, and the narrative to win his first MVP award this year.
Owen: Nikola Jokic, Center, Denver Nuggets – It seemed like the MVP race was going to be one of the most exciting ones at the halfway point, but now it seems like Jokic’s award to lose. Even with Jamal Murray missing most of the second half after tearing his ACL, Jokic maintained his torrid streak to help move Denver all the way up to the 3 seed in the Western Conference. Jokic kept his stellar all around game play up (26.4 ppg/10.8 rpg, 8.3 apg) while also holding his own defensively. With most of the other candidates getting injured at some point during the second half (Joel Embiid, Stephen Curry, James Harden) that opened the path to the MVP for Jokic, putting the cherry on top of one of the most dominant all around seasons from a center.
Ryan: Nikola Jokic, Center, Denver Nuggets – Although there were certainly tough competitors, Jokic never let up his hold on the most prestigious individual award this year. He averaged 26 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, career highs across the board. The dominance of Joel Embiid and wizardry of Steph Curry gave Jokic a run, but in the end, the Serbian big man is the only correct answer for the MVP award.