This first appeared in the June 25 edition of The Washington Post’s NBA newsletter, the Monday Morning Post Up. You can subscribe by clicking here.
The NBA’s second annual awards show — the final event of the 2017-18 season — will take place Monday night in Santa Monica, Calif.
Two months after the votes were tallied, and a little more than three weeks after the Golden State Warriors won a second straight NBA title, the league will descend on Barker Hangar to see who comes away with this year’s hardware.
We will be in attendance to find out who won the league’s major awards — MVP, defensive player of the year, rookie of the year, sixth man of the year, most improved player and coach of the year — for the 2017-18 season. But before the official announcements, here’s a rundown of the finalists for each of the six awards and our predictions for the winners.
Finalists: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans; James Harden, Houston Rockets; LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
This one has been over since January, when James disappeared, the Cavaliers went off a cliff and Harden came back after missing two weeks with a hamstring strain to lift Houston to the NBA’s best record.
Is James the NBA’s best player? Yes. Was Davis incredible in leading the Pelicans to the second round of the playoffs, including a sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers? Of course. But Harden was the best player on the best team and has been runner-up for this award two of the last three years. He’s due, he’s deserving, and he will win.
Defensive player of the year
Finalists: Davis; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
While Davis was incredible this season — and was quite deservedly the only player to be a finalist for multiple awards — this one should come down to Embiid and Gobert.
Gobert was the most impactful defensive player this season. But because he missed 25 games due to injury, Embiid, who was a major part of the 76ers’ turnaround this season, seemed to be in front for much of the season.
That was before Utah’s scorching finish to the regular season and a facial fracture suffered by Embiid forced him to miss the final 10 games. That seemingly pushed Gobert ahead, but this one is less clear-cut than the MVP race.
Rookie of the year
Finalists: Donovan Mitchell, Jazz; Ben Simmons, 76ers; Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
It would be nice if we could give last year’s award to Simmons, who was injured and missed the entire season, for a season in which there was no clear winner (sorry, Malcolm Brogdon), and then give Mitchell this year’s award.
It also would have been nice to make my flight yesterday to Los Angeles, instead of spending the night in Atlanta due to a broken air conditioner on a flight from Dulles. In short: What’s nice isn’t always what happens.
Therefore, Simmons should get the votes to win this award. Mitchell was incredible and had plenty of supporters. But Philadelphia’s strong finish without Embiid erased one of the biggest arguments against Simmons (that his numbers were subpar without the star center on the court) and seemed to tip public opinion in his favor.
This could be the closest of all the vote totals, and it wouldn’t be shocking — or undeserved — if Mitchell comes out on top. But given how the season ended, Simmons should win.
(Note: Tatum would have won in just about any other season. This was truly a remarkable rookie class).
Sixth man of the year
Finalists: Eric Gordon, Rockets; Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
This should be like the MVP race. Gordon had a terrific year for the Rockets, and VanVleet was the best player on the best bench unit in the league, but Williams was a near all-star coming off the bench for the Clippers, and helped keep them in the playoff race even after Blake Griffin was traded.
It will be a stunner if Williams, who won this award three years ago, doesn’t walk away with it for a second time.
Most improved player
Finalists: Clint Capela, Rockets; Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets; Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Another open-and-shut case. Capela was an absolute monster for Houston, nearly helping the Rockets take down the Warriors in the Western Conference finals and outplaying both Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert earlier in the playoffs. Dinwiddie, meanwhile, put himself on the map with a terrific season in Brooklyn after bouncing from Detroit to Chicago early in his career.
But Oladipo will almost certainly be the unanimous winner, having exploded into an all-star after the Pacers were mocked for taking him on in the Paul George trade last summer. That deal wound up working out splendidly for Indiana, as Oladipo established himself as a bona fide star.
Coach of the year
Finalists: Dwane Casey, Raptors; Quin Snyder, Jazz; Brad Stevens, Celtics
This one could go to any of the three. Casey has changed jobs since being named a finalist for piloting the Raptors to 59 wins and the best record in the East. Getting swept by James and the Cavaliers led Toronto to make a change, and Casey resurfaced in Detroit.
Snyder and Stevens both were terrific in molding together teams that underwent seismic changes last offseason — including Gordon Hayward leaving Utah for Boston, only to suffer a season-ending injury six minutes into Boston’s opener — and having the confidence to empower Mitchell and Tatum to become go-to scorers on deep playoff teams as rookies.
The guess here is that Stevens got just enough of a push — from Boston finishing second in the East despite so many injuries and leaning on so many young guys — to win the award. But there isn’t a result that would surprise anyone.
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