As one of the more memorable regular seasons in Association history winds down, I take a look back at individual performances and hand out my pretty meaningless end-of-season awards.
– M.V.P. –
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Statistically speaking, The Beard and The King are both ever deserving of a Podoloff Trophy, but Harden gets the edge due to team performance. In his first year with backcourt-mate Chris Paul, Harden and the Rockets have put together a wildly impressive 65-win season — a mark that has only been hit by 20 other teams in NBA history.
It usually takes some time for superstars to mesh on the court — especially two that dominate the ball so much — but Harden and CP3 wasted no time acclimating to each others play style.
Harden and the Rockets blitzed through the league, dominating from start to finish and instilling new doubt to who the favorites really are to come out of the wildest Western Conference in recent memory.
His improved defense and 30.4ppg/8.8apg/5.4rpg/29.9PER splits would’ve been enough to run away with the league MVP in any other NBA season, but in 2018, it narrowly earns him the nod over LBJ.
– Defensive Player of the Year –
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
No player has ever won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award while playing less than 64 games, but the impact that the Stifle Tower has had this season overshadows the time he missed.
Very tough to win a season-long award after missing 1/4 of the season, but Rudy Gobert might break that mold…
He’s unequivocally been the best defender on the planet while on the floor. #DPOY
— Porter Larsen (@Larsen_ESPN) March 18, 2018
Since Rudy returned from a 15-game hiatus on Jan. 15, the Jazz are 30-7 and have the top defense in the league by a wide margin.
Gobert’s impact is put in perspective when you look at his advanced statistics. He leads the entire NBA in Defensive Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus-Minus and Defensive Real Plus-Minus among many other metrics. It doesn’t take a statistician to see his defensive value, though. Whether he gets a hand on the ball or not, the 7-foot-1 behemoth effects every drive and opposing shot near the rim.
When on the floor, Rudy Gobert has been the most impactful defensive player in the NBA. That is an empirical fact.
– Rookie of the Year (Co) –
Ben Simmons(76ers) + Donovan Mitchell(Jazz)
In the most intensely debated R.O.Y. race., maybe ever, choosing both guys isn’t exactly a ‘hot take.’ Both players, however, have had transcendent and record-breaking rookie campaigns. Both players led reeling franchises to the playoffs and both broke numerous rookie records along the way. Both ARE rookies and both deserve the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award.
Donovan Mitchell exploded onto the scene, scoring at a high level and making game-changing plays from day one. The Louisville guard took the league by storm, winning the All-Star Dunk Contest and electrifying a Utah Jazz fanbase that was still recovering from the departure of Gordon Hayward.
Ben Simmons is often criticized for his jumpshot – or lack thereof. But in reality, his LeBron-like size and physicality make his perimeter weaknesses null-and-void. The fact of the matter is that the 76ers haven’t needed him to hit from deep, so that argument against him doesn’t really work for me. Simmons also has the edge defensively, his versatility on that end of the floor is special. His court-vision and ability to make passes is invaluable. If Ben can develop a jumper, we could be looking at the next great generational talent.
– Sixth Man of the Year –
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
Another guy who gets the nod due to team performance, Gordon had a similar statistical season as Clippers guard Lou Williams. The difference? Gordon’s team won 65 games and Sweet Lou’s team is on summer vacation.
Gordon is also a better defender, often taking pressure off Harden and CP3 while also being the second units first option offensively.
In the 148 minutes that the three man lineup of Gordon-Harden-Paul shared the floor, they outscored opponents by a staggering 71 points. It was a close race, but with his highest scoring output since 2011 and vital role on a contending team, Eric Gordon should be the Sixth Man of the Year.
– Coach of the Year –
Dwayne Casey, Toronto Raptors
What Casey has done this year has been remarkable, but has been mostly overshadowed by bigger storylines. Casey has reinvented a Toronto offense that couldn’t seem to get over the hump in years past. The results speak for themselves. Getting veteran guys who have already been All-Stars to buy in to a whole new system is tough. To do it so seamlessly en route to the East’s first seed is almost unimaginable.
There was a long list of qualified candidates in Brad Stevens, Nate McMillan, Mike D’Antoni, Quin Snyder, Brett Brown and Alvin Gentry, but what Casey has done is undeniable.
– Most Improved Player –
Usually one of the most difficult awards to pick, the 2018 M.I.P. is a no brainer. In his first year as a Pacer, Oladipo upped his averages across the board: he scored 15.9 points a game in 2017 to 23.1 in 2018, doubled his steals to 2.4 a game, his 4.3 assists are nearly two more than a season ago and his 47.7 field goal percentage is a career best. His improvement is nearly inexplicable and his meteoric rise from role player to superstar is awe-inspiring. There are some other players around the league that had good improvements, but none quite like Oladipo’s.