NBA Awards Ballot
We have officially reached playoff basketball in one of the most unpredictable regular seasons of all-time. The Suns are legitimate Finals contenders for the first time in over a decade, the Knicks have home-court advantage over the Hawks in a 4-5 match-up, and a rookie class that was supposed to be disappointing has been one of the most exciting in recent memory. This year’s playoffs will (thankfully) not have the novelty of the bubble, every stadium in the league will be allowing at least some fans into the seats, and if playoff hockey is any inclination the inclusion of fans makes the product so much better. However, before the play-in games begin tonight, it is only fair that we recognize the excellent regular season performers and I share my would-be awards ballot (if anyone at the NBA is reading, hook your boy up with a vote next season).
Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets We may be seeing the second unanimous MVP this season in Nikola Jokic, who has been by far the best and most consistent player in the league this year. Averaging an insane 26.4ppg/10.8rpg/8.3apg on 57/39/87 splits is just stupid, and he has played in every game for the Nuggets, which ended up being quite the feat as nearly all other superstars missed at least a little time. After Jamal Murray went down for the season, Jokic’s workload only increased, and he has answered the call every night. He hasn’t had a truly bad game all season, Denver is the 3-seed in arguably the toughest Western Conference ever, and without him on the floor the Nuggets look lost. Jokic will run away with the MVP, but only time will tell if Denver’s playoff struggles continue.
Steph Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors This is a classic case of “by definition should win, but won’t” for Steph, who is having the best season of his career since his last MVP win in 2016. Golden State is not the abysmal team they were last season without Curry on the floor, but they are SO much better with him. 32ppg/5.5rpg/5.8apg on 48/42/92 splits is a line that speaks for itself, but anyone who has watched any Warriors basketball knows just how much deeper Steph’s impact goes. Unfortunately, he missed nine games and the Warriors are in the play-in tournament, and the Joker exists, so he will not win, but I’d vote him second with absolutely no regrets.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trailblazers This spot could go to so many guys around the league, including Joel Embiid (my mid-season pick), Giannis Antetokounmpo (still incredible), Luka Doncic (next year?), Julius Randle (different award for him), Chris Paul (weighed down by Devin Booker), and Devin Booker (weighed down by Chris Paul), but Dame is my guy. Even with a mid-season slump coming off an injury, Lillard put up 28.8ppg/4.2rpg/7.5apg on 45/39/93 splits, and went absolutely ballistic in the last ten games of the season to keep Portland out of the play-in. It sadly will not be enough to win him the award (he’ll probably end up in the 5th-7th range), however, the Blazers are red-hot coming into the playoffs. If we know anything about Damian Lillard, it is that a deep playoff run would mean a lot more to him than any individual award ever could.
Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz In case you haven’t noticed, the Utah Jazz are really good at basketball. Quin Snyder has put together rotations that are damn near impossible to guard on the perimeter, and are incredibly stingy on defense, and Gobert is the main reason for both of those qualities. The Stifle Tower (best nickname in basketball) is already well-known as one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA, but his team has the pedigree this season to back up his performance. 2.7 blocks per game is an eye-popping number, and the advanced metrics look even better. Opposing players shoot nearly 15% worse at the rim when Gobert is in the paint. FIFTEEN! He’s the anchor for the best team in the West, but DPOY will not be a landslide by any account…
Ben Simmons, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers ... because of this man. It has been a long-time dream of mine to see a wing-player win DPOY, and this may be the best chance we have. Simmons is a menace on the defensive end, guarding the opposing team's best player night in and night out. He deflects everything in sight, shooting over him is almost impossible for smaller guards, and he can switch on pick and rolls across all five positions. His numbers aren’t as gaudy as Gobert’s, and history tells us he’s fighting an uphill battle, but I would be shocked if he doesn’t get at least a few first place votes. If he can replicate this performance next season, I think he locks it up, but right now he’s still behind Gobert.
Bam Adebayo, C, Miami Heat In a somewhat distant third, my preseason pick for DPOY should be a finalist at least. I wrote about why Bam most likely won’t win here, and even though many of those points still stand, Jimmy Butler’s return and the Heat beginning to find their stride has moved Bam back into contention. Even though the stats are solid, I (and most of the voters) have him behind the two front-runners.
LaMelo Ball I am typically a “more games played = better chance to win” faux-voter, as evidenced by my vote for Ja Morant over Zion Williamson in last year’s ROY race, but I have to make an exception for LaMelo. Despite missing over twenty games due to injury, Ball has been the best rookie this season. 15.7ppg/5.9rpg/6.1apg on 44/35/76 splits is impressive for a rookie, and when given the keys to the Hornets’ offense Melo absolutely shines. He throws passes to every part of the court, has a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio (it’ll get better), and is willing to take risks that most rookie guards simply are not. More than anything, the Hornets are a play-in team who were made exponentially better by their rookie guard, which is more than enough to put him at number one for me.
Anthony Edwards, G/F, Minnesota Timberwolves Another close race, Ant falls just into number two. Quickly becoming a media darling and a legitimate three-level scoring threat, Edwards put up 19.3ppg/4.7rpg/2.9apg on 42/33/78 splits on a Minnesota team that trudged their way through another lost season. As Edwards got better, and KAT and D’Angelo Russell healed up, the TWolves won more games, but it was too little, too late. Admittedly, Edwards surprised me this season, and he could absolutely be the third piece Minnesota needs to begin the uphill climb out of the NBA basement. He’ll attract a few first place votes, but he’s sufficiently the runner-up in my eyes.
Tyrese Haliburton, G, Sacramento Kings Another spot that will draw a lot of different names, I’ve got Haliburton here for his efficiency. 13ppg/3.0rpg/5.3apg is solid for a rookie, but 47/41/86 splits are amazing. Had he had the freedom/confidence to shoot more, we could have seen astronomical numbers, but the Kings are still figuring a lot of things out. He does not have any real shot of winning, and other rookies such as Jae’Sean Tate, Saddiq Bey, and Immanuel Quickley will all be fighting for a finalist spot, but I’ll take Haliburton for the future over any of those names.
Jordan Clarkson, G, Utah Jazz It’s not going to be the runaway I thought it would be at the all-star break, but I still believe Clarkson has been the best bench player this season. I wrote about his campaign here which highlights all the reasons he should still win, and the 18.4ppg/4.0rpg/2.5apg on 43/35/90 splits fits the 6MOY mold, but another man in Utah is making a push. The betting odds and nearly all writers still have Clarkson at the top spot, but it was made somewhat interesting as the season went on. The one-seed Jazz will have two award winners this season.
Joe Ingles, F, Utah Jazz Arguably Clarkson’s biggest threat is his teammate, the Australian Lefty with precision aim. 12.1ppg/3.6rpg/4.7apg on 49/45/84 splits shows just how effective Ingles is when he’s on the court, and the Jazz second unit will absolutely abuse other benches in the playoffs with Clarkson and Ingles firing together. The only things working against Ingles in this award campaign are that he actually started thirty games for the Jazz this season (less than half, so he is eligible), and his lower scoring numbers, but the eye-test and analytics make this a much closer race than it would appear. He’s still my number two, and I’m sure Jazz fans are much more concerned with the fact that they could be playing the Lakers or Warriors in the first round as the one seed. Life is cruel in Salt Lake City.
Carmelo Anthony, F, Portland Trailblazers I have no strong opinions as to who should come in third for this award, so I am going to do the classic homer-vote and throw Carmelo here. Once considered, absolutely washed, Carmelo has been great for the Blazers in the season and a half he has been on the roster. Often given free reign over the second unit, Anthony has made a hobby of taking younger, smaller players to the block and showing them why he’s a top ten scorer in NBA history. 13.4ppg/3.1rpg/1.5apg is pretty standard stuff, but the 42/41/89 splits show the damage he can do. He can’t carry a team for an entire quarter any more, but he is still one of the best to ever do it, and I happily throw him this vote.
Julius Randle, F, New York Knicks The fact that I didn’t choose Julius Randle for my mid-season pick is unforgivable, but I will apologize for it. Randle has gone from an inefficient, empty stats player to an absolute beast for a surprising Knicks team, and deserves to unanimously take MIP home. Going from 19.5ppg/9.7rpg/3.1apg on 46/28/73 splits last season to 24.1ppg/10.2rpg/6.0apg on 46/41/81 splits on only 5 more minutes played per game is an enormous jump, and seeing how this New York team has responded to his leadership is genuinely inspiring. While this may be his peak, seeing a player totally turn around the perception of his career and bringing success to an organization that badly needed some is a beautiful thing, and there is no one else in the league who can even come close. Randle has this one locked up.
Jerami Grant, F, Detroit Pistons If you’re wondering who I picked over Randle at the all-star break, it was Grant, who I have in a very distant second place. His improvement can be read about here, and considering he didn’t play in the last eighteen games of the season for the Pistons due to injury, it is still relatively up-to-date. I hope he’s a finalist because he really did vastly improve this season, but he will not be any higher than second.
Michael Porter Jr., F, Denver Nuggets My pre-season pick for this award, MPJ has picked up his play significantly since Jamal Murray went down with injury. At the all-star break I mentioned he had only gotten marginally better since his rookie campaign, but that is certainly not the case any more. Averaging 19.0ppg/7.3rpg/1.1apg on 54/45/79 splits is a vast improvement over last season, and even since the all-star break. I have him in third because of his slow start to the season, but if this growth can continue, Denver will have a tough decision to make come extension time for Porter Jr.
Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns The Suns are really good, and Monty Williams deserves so much credit. A roster of all kinds of different talents has been channeled into a juggernaut team with an explosive offense and stout defense. The introduction of Chris Paul to the organization has helped, but the kind of team-wide improvements that have been seen throughout the Suns’ unit since the bubble is unprecedented, and that is why I have Williams as my COY.
Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks A pretty similar story to Williams, Thibodeau took a directionless Knicks team to the 4th seed in the East in just one season. The vast improvements in both player performance and tactical planning is a staple of Thibodeau tenures, and New York is ecstatic to have a consistent and successful face running the sidelines. Easy second place, and if the Knicks can replicate (possibly improve?) into next season, Thibs will be a frontrunner.
Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers No team had a more tumultuous season in regard to the pandemic than the 76ers, and Rivers was somehow able to keep the team focused and winning through it all. A first year head coach taking a team to a one-seed is impressive enough, but with the given circumstances Rivers has to be given extra points. I have him third, and I’m sure he is fine missing out on this award as he tries to reverse the 76ers playoff curse.