2018-19 Regular Season NBA Awards Picks

Most Valuable Player

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  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  2. James Harden
  3. Paul George
  4. Steph Curry
  5. Nikola Jokic

What a crazy season! LeBron James missed the playoffs and is outside the top 5 in my (and likely the league’s) MVP picks for the first time in more than a decade. This is partially due to missing games, getting a bit older and less active on defense, and his oddball assortment of teammates that don’t fit his style. But it also speaks to the amount of stars in the league. I put together a top 5 and had to leave out LeBron, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, and Kawhi Leonard. All of whom scored at least 25.8 ppg and led their teams to 50-win seasons (with the obvious exception of LeBron, as the Lakers won just 37 games). Kawhi was the hardest to leave off this list, but he played only 60 games, and he didn’t look fully engaged on the defensive end the entire season. Part of that is just remembering how dominant he was in 2016-17 (when he should have won the MVP) and not seeing the same player for the Raptors every night. Durant showed off his usual greatness, but the Warriors continue to dominate when he sits, and crater (relatively – the Warriors are always great) when Steph sits. Durant is the better player, but Curry had the better season. He gets the spot. I’m already ready for the “how could you pick Curry over Lillard this season!?” takes. They aren’t wrong. Lillard was damn near as good as Curry and played 11 more games. He dragged a worse team to the 3 seed (within 4 games of the Warriors). But Lillard played 80 games and went 51-29. Curry played 69 games (nice) and went 52-17. He played the same role on a good team, but Curry just played it better. Embiid was great, but he missed significant time and struggled in certain lineups. His best is on par with anyone in the league, I just didn’t see enough of it.

James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo were the two frontrunners for the MVP this season, but the decision wasn’t all that difficult to make. Giannis is better at every basketball skill than Harden, except jumpshooting (an important skill!) and drawing fouls on those jumpshots (a valuable – if visually displeasing – skill). Harden scored 36.1 points per game, the most in more than 30 years since Michael Jordan scored 37.1 in 1986-87. Harden scored more than the 2nd highest scorer in the league (Paul George) by an incredible 8 points per game. That’s the same points per game difference as between Paul George and the 31st in the league (Lou Williams). With that being said, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the no-brainer MVP this season. He scored significantly more efficiently than James Harden (59.9% eFG% compared to 54.1%), and is one of the best defensive players in the league, whereas Harden – despite his marked improvement over the past 3 seasons – is still a defensive liability that needs to be hidden. Giannis does everything on the floor at high level, except shoot from deep, but because he is so adept at getting to the basket, there is no way to make him pay for his lack of shooting. He’ll just eurostep around you and dunk it. If you double him, he’s a capable passer, and Milwaukee did a great job surrounding him with shooters. He’s the reason the Bucks led the NBA with 60 wins.

Paul George would have been second on this list if he was at his peak the entire season. When he was at full strength, he was better than Harden (and even Giannis for a good portion of the season). Unfortunately, he looked like he was playing injured for a long stretch of time (reports say that he hurt his shoulder) and wasn’t able to continue his dominance. Curry was the most important player for the Warriors who finished first in the loaded West. The Warriors changed the way the game is played across the NBA, and Curry is the reason the Warriors play the way they do. He’s the best shooter in the league, and the Warriors are the best team in the league when he plays. Nikola Jokic is unique. He’s already the best passing center of all time (shout out Draymond Green as a center in small ball, but you don’t count). His scoring efficiency slightly dipped, but he scored more, rebounded more, and assisted more, and he’s still an efficient shooter. People will point to his defensive improvements, but they weren’t as big as the narrative would suggest. He’s surrounded by all high-level defenders (except Jamal Murray), and he’s always been a smart defensive player. He doesn’t make mental mistakes, but he’s still not quick enough to be a great defender. That being said, He’s runs one of the best offenses in the league, and does enough on defense for the Nuggets to be a top 10 defensive team. Plus, the Nuggets improved from 9th in the West to 2nd in the West. Even though that jump was only 8 games, it’s enough for the Joker to get a top-5 MVP finish.

Defensive Player of the Year

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  1. Paul George
  2. Rudy Gobert
  3. Myles Turner

Paul George was an absolute terror on the defensive end this season. He was perennially one of the most overlooked players until this season, and I’m happy he’s getting his due from the national media. He was far and away the best wing defender in the league for all but the few stretches from an engaged Kawhi. The Thunder were absolutely abysmal when George sat, going from a net rating of +7.6 when he’s on the court to a -8.4 when he’s off the court. He led the league in steals per game (2.2) and even though Turner and Gobert went 1-2 in most blocks (Gobert was 3rd in blocks per game behind Mitchell Robinson, who had an awesome rookie year, but only played 66 games, and only cracked the starting lineup for 19), wing defenders are harder to find than solid rim protectors.

Last year I wrote: “Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert look very similar when they play defense. Other teams scheme around their presence, and you can tell players try to avoid them before they even arrive on the help side. It warps offenses and makes the entire game look different.” Nothing about that statement has changed, but Rudy has somehow gotten even better while Embiid regressed a bit. I think he’s still the better rim protector when he plays his best, but as I mentioned before, he struggled in certain lineups, and we didn’t see him play his best the whole season. Rudy Gobert is still a force of nature, but his most meaningful strides came on the other side of the ball as he became a bigger part of the Jazz offense. He’s great at baiting drivers into difficult floaters or trying to win at the rim (a bad prospect). Overall he just affects the game more than Myles Turner.

Turner has been a solid defender from the time he stepped into the league. But this year was by the far the best version of that player. Not only did he lead the league in blocks, but he kept the identity of a defense that lost an elite wing defender early in the season. His ability to transform a defense and make offenses game plan for him isn’t the same as Gobert, but he’s getting close, and he’s able to extend his defense to the perimeter better than expected. He deserves a spot.

Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard are probably the 2 best defenders in the league, but neither seemed to be giving full effort every game throughout the season, and they just barely miss for the others.

Rookie of the Year

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  1. Luka Doncic
  2. Trae Young
  3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

This award seemed like a runaway a few months into the season, but Trae Young turned on the gas at the end of the season to make it a close race. Still, it was Doncic’s award to lose. He tallied 21.2 points per game (1st among rookies), 7.8 rebounds per game (2nd), and 6.0 assists per game (2nd), including 8 triple doubles. He was the most complete rookie by far, and he looks to be a star in the league for years to come.

Doncic was so good that after a little over a month, people were already considering the Hawks losers in the trade that got them Young and the 10th pick in the 2019 draft in exchange for Doncic. Well, Young finished the season so well that people were starting to think the Hawks actually won the trade. I think it’s too soon to tell, but I’d be willing to wager both will be All-Stars in short order. Young started making 30-point games look routine, and it may be a bit lazy of a comparison, but he really does play like a young Steph Curry. He’s obviously not the shooter Curry is or was, but then again, nobody is. Young did plenty to get Hawks fans excited for the future.

The third spot was really tough. Of the rest of the rookies, DeAndre Ayton was the best in the final month-plus of the season. But the Suns won just 19 games, and he started the season so badly I can’t in good conscience put him in the top 3. Jaren Jackson Jr. has what it takes to be one of the best young two-way players in the league. His defense isn’t good yet (it will be), and he thrived offensively in his limited role. He and Marvin Bagley III – who had a sneaky good season, but never seemed to make as big of an impact as the number suggested – deserve consideration, but neither played more than 62 games. Ultimately, Gilgeous-Alexander played the most impactful minutes of the group. He was the lone rookie (of any in the top 10) to make the playoffs. He gets the nod.

Coach of the Year

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  1. Gregg Popovich
  2. Mike Budenholzer
  3. Terry Stotts

Gregg Popovich is the GOAT. He has an oddball assortment of players who don’t really work in the modern NBA, loses his starting PG Dejounte Murray for the entire season weeks before it starts, and proceeds to rattle off 48 wins to tie the NBA-record with 22 consecutive playoff appearances. Mike Budenholzer was a great hire for the Bucks (yes, he had the benefit of replacing Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty) and they improved by a staggering 16 games from last season. He implemented a modern offense that spaces the floor, encourages ball movement, and plays to his players strengths. The Bucks are going to be good for quite a while.

The final spot on this list was a huge pain. Doc Rivers was excellent, steering a team without even a whiff of an all-star (after trading Tobias Harris) to a playoff spot. Nate McMillan lost Victor Oladipo, and somehow managed to keep the Pacers near the top of the East. Nick Nurse led Toronto throughout a variety of changes to the roster and consistently had them ready to play at a high level. The toughest omission might be Mike Malone. With the injuries the Nuggets had, they had no business being the 2nd seed. He was exceptional, but I think that he has a solid group around him as well. Malone deserves credit, but I’d take his roster over Portland’s every day, and they finished just one game ahead of them. Both coaches did well, but I watched Portland a ton this season, and still have no idea how Stotts got them to win 53 games.

Most Improved Player

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  1. Buddy Hield
  2. Pascal Siakam
  3. Nikola Vucevic

This is one of the most fun categories every season because there are so many options to choose from. The list of players who get votes for this award is usually the longest, and could be even longer than normal this year. There’s not really any wrong answer. Hield was one of my favorite players to watch in the league this season. He was honestly a bit overshadowed by D’Aaron Fox (who also has a case for Most Improved) in the Sacramento offense, but Fox is a second year player and expected to make a leap. Hield increased his scoring substantially, from 13.5 points per game to 20.7 while shooting 42.7% from deep on an absurd eight 3-pointers a game. He’s a legitimate stud, and as insane as it sounds, with DeMarcus Cousins bolting in free agency, the Sacramento Kings were the clear winners of a trade. Yes, you read that correctly: the Sacramento Kings were the clear winners of a trade.

Siakam is probably the favorite to win the award, and for good reason. He’s become one of the most important players on a 58-win team. He shouldered a heavy load with Kyle Lowry and Kahwi Leonard missing significant time. He’s developed into an above-average deep threat, which opens the lane for his herky-jerky drive game. Siakam on the fast break almost seems out of control, but he’s proven he has the playmaking chops to be an All-Star. I’ve seen people suggest he’s the 2nd most important player on the Raptors, and while I think that goes too far (Lowry at his best made the Raptors better than Siakam at his best this season), but it’s not far off.

There are many ways to look at most improved, and usually the most impressive is a player who is already proven make big strides in their game. You could include Brook Lopez, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Paul George, or a number of others who clearly added elements to their game. I had Nikola Vucevic as the most notable improvement of this bunch. He made his first All-Star appearance with career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, eFG%, and a career low in turnovers per game. Not bad for a player who averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds a game over his prior 6 seasons.

Sixth Man of the Year

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  1. Domantas Sabonis
  2. Monte Morris
  3. Lou Williams

Sabonis was arguably the most important player on the Pacers after Victor Oladipo went down, and the Pacers weathered losing their star guard by a solid group effort from the rest of their role players. Sabonis did the most in his role. His numbers don’t jump off the page (advanced stats love him) but you can’t really understand his impact without watching the Pacers play. He does all the little things that are hard to quantify and was a steadying hand throughout the season.

Monte Morris was the biggest surprise of the season for me. A second round pick out of Iowa State, Morris played just 3 games last season, and I had honestly never even heard of him before this season. Due to the Nuggets variety of injuries, he got his opportunity – and boy did he not disappoint. He was a spark off the bench, and provided their bench unit with a scoring kick. He struggled defensively, but considering he’s basically a rookie, I expect he’s going to greatly improve on that end. This spot could have gone to Malik Beasley (who was essentially the same player as Morris, with slightly better defense) but while the Nuggets were good with Beasley on the floor, they absolutely dominated teams with Morris. He gets the nod.

Lou Williams will probably win this award, and deservedly so. He was the leading scorer and a huge spark off the bench for a team that went to the playoffs in the West. I think I’d probably have him at one, but I can’t get it out of my head that I think Montrezl Harrell was more important to the team. I tend to go with the unsung heroes who do the dirty work rather than with shooters who light it up, but Williams also scored 27.1 points per 36 minutes. Williams over Harrell, but just barely.

All-NBA Teams

1st Team

G. James Harden
G. Steph Curry
F. Paul George
F. Giannis Antetokounmpo
C. Nikola Jokic

2nd Team

G. Bradley Beal
G. Damian Lillard
F. Kevin Durant
F. Kawhi Leonard
C. Joel Embiid

3rd Team

G. Kyrie Irving
G. Mike Conley
F. Blake Griffin
F. Karl-Anthony Towns
C. Rudy Gobert

The top 9 players in the NBA this season were pretty easy to fill in. For the first 5, they line up with my MVP section above. Then I included Leonard, Embiid, Durant, and Lillard to round out the clear top-tier in the NBA this season. Leonard is a better player than Paul George at his best, but as I mentioned before, he’s taken too many games and possessions off throughout the season to make it to the first team. Embiid was a monster that held the 76ers together throughout their turmoil all season, but he’s got more help in an easier conference than Jokic and won 3 less games, and played significantly less time. He was still solidly the 2nd best center in the league this season. Kevin Durant might be the best player in the league, but the Warriors minimize his value and he missed too many games to get into the top 5. The final spot on the 2nd team could probably go to Kyrie Irving, but he’s been such a cancer to Boston that I’m keeping him on the 3rd team and instead taking Bradley Beal. Beal averaged career highs in points (25.6), rebounds (5.0), assists (5.5), steals (1.7), and blocks (0.7) while basically playing 1 vs. 5 every night after they traded Otto Porter away. Seriously, he scored more than 1000 points more than any other Wizard! Take a look at that roster. Woof. Playing on that team, he definitely earned his spot.

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Since joining Boston, Kyrie has been incredible. After he started playing defense last year, he’s been one of the best point guards in the league. He’s been a distraction to his team, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he’s also really fucking good at scoring the basketball. He slides into the 3rd team. The last guard spot was tricky, and basically ended up as a toss up. Kemba Walker started this season on an absolute tear, but showed some inconsistency throughout the season, and the Hornets struggled when he did. Kyle Lowry has been solid as usual, but he’s not asked to do as much now that Kawhi carries the load and Siakam has helped with the nightly burden. Klay Thompson has a shot, but he started the season in such a bad slump and doesn’t have quite good enough numbers to justify putting him over someone carrying a heavier load. Donovan Mitchell has been awesome down the stretch, but he’s not quite there yet; he’ll be a regular All-NBA guy going forward. Russell Westbrook has great counting stats, but he shot splits of .428/.290/.656 which is all-time bad for how much he shoots. Jrue Holiday was the toughest omission, and has very similar numbers as Mike Conley. I love both Conley and Holiday, and think that each is in the unfortunate spot of being not quite in the top-tier, but have been very good for many years. They’re just good enough to be snubs seemingly every year. Conley’s advanced numbers give him the edge, and Jrue Holiday has a single All-Star appearance to Conley’s zero, so I’m going for Mike Conley. Call it a lifetime achievement award if you must, I’m comfortable with it.

The final center spot should have been a difficult choice between Gobert and Towns, but the league did voters a favor and allowed Towns to be voted All-NBA as a forward. Despite this not really making any sense (per basketball-reference he played 100% of his minutes at center), I’ll take the loophole and use it. Towns was the best offensive big man for the final 40+ games of the season, and Gobert was the best defensive big man basically all season. Blake Griffin was dominant for a team that was very bad without him, scoring a career-high in points per game. It might be easy to criticize a list that doesn’t include LeBron James. But he played only 55 games and his team didn’t sniff the playoffs. If I include James, I’d also need to include Anthony Davis, who played 56 games. When they played, both were deserving of inclusion, but that’s not enough in a losing season to get you on the lists. Better luck next year.

All-Defense Teams

1st Team

G. Jrue Holiday
G. Eric Bledsoe
F. Draymond Green
F. Paul George
C. Rudy Gobert

2nd Team

G. Marcus Smart
G. Patrick Beverley
F. Kawhi Leonard
F. Giannis Antetokounmpo
C. Myles Turner

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This will probably look dumb to some people who watched Milwaukee in the playoffs, because Eric Bledsoe was brutal in the Toronto series. Kyle Lowry thoroughly outplayed him to the extent that benching him became a better option. Still, this is a regular season award, and Eric Bledsoe was damn good all season. He’s strong and quick, and Milwaukee was the best defensive team in the league. Giannis should probably be on the first team as well, but I couldn’t find a spot for him. Draymond Green can guard every position, and does everything to make his teammates better. Giannis a better defender at the point of attack, but he doesn’t have the same intuition I see when I watch Draymond. It’s honestly mesmerizing. He wasn’t as consistent as Giannis, but his affect across the Warriors was huge, even though we didn’t see his best each night. Holiday is a perennially underrated player who does everything for the Pelicans. New Orleans should have a lot of attention this season, and I can’t wait to see what Holiday can deliver.

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Marcus Smart is a snarling bulldog on the court, and he might be the player I’d least like to play against. I find myself thinking “dude take it down a notch” watching him get in players’ grills before the possession even starts. Beverley is the same type of player. They’re very effective, get in their opponents’ heads, and draw a ton of offensive fouls. Kawhi Leonard should never not be on the first team, but for the same reason he was on my 2nd Team All-NBA, he misses the first team here too.

All-Rookie Teams

1st Team

Luka Doncic
Trae Young
Shai-Gilgeous Alexander
DeAndre Ayton
Jaren Jackson Jr.

2nd Team

Collin Sexton
Josh Okogie
Landry Shamet
Marvin Bagley III
Mitchell Robinson

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This rookie class is arguably the deepest that we’ve ever had. Josh Okogie would be a 1st team All-Rookie most years, and he didn’t even get close to making either team! He doesn’t deserve a spot over some of the other guys that I left off (Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Kevin Huerter to name a few), but he was close enough, and I love him like my own son (I mean watch this) so he makes the roster in my vote. Sexton picked up steam toward the end of the season, but it wasn’t enough to catch the guys above him. Mitchell Robinson was deserving of a 1st team spot after he became a regular starter for the Knicks, but he ultimately didn’t play enough to jump over Ayton or Jackson. Shamet finished the season shooting 42.2% from deep on two different teams. Like almost all rookies, he was a bad defender, but he showed signs that he could turn into an excellent 3-and-D starter for years to come. Bagley had an under-the-radar good season, but he was overshadowed by leaps from D’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, and the addition of Nemanja Bjelica (The Kings were not-so-secretly so fun this year).

That’s it for the 2018-19 NBA regular season, folks! Tune into the NBA Awards Show to see what the other voters got wrong, because my picks are the correct ones.

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