NBA Regular Season Awards: Why the Nominees Might Or Might Not Win [PREDICTIONS]
The NBA announced their nominees for their regular season awards on Wednesday, and, as always, there’s plenty of speculation that can go into why each candidate can win, and why they might not. While some may view certain players as locks for their respective awards, there’s a lot of thought that goes into voters’ choices that extends farther than who had the best season from an objective point of view. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how each award nominee could take home the victory, and what might stop them from doing so.
most valuable player
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Why He Could Win: Harden has consistently been in the MVP race in each of the past few seasons, but this looks to be his first real chance of winning the award. He was absolutely electric this past season, averaging 30.4 points per game (a career high) and 8.8 assists per game, both of which were good for first and third in the NBA respectively. The offseason addition of point guard Chris Paul and the improvement of young center Clint Capela gave Harden his best supporting cast since he went to Houston in 2012, which allowed him to put them over the top and claim the top seed in the incredibly competitive Western Conference by the end of the regular season. He has always been an elite scorer and excellent ball-handler, but Harden’s 2017-18 season was something special, and it will be tough for anyone to edge him out for the award.
Why He Might Not: While Harden is easily one of the best players in the NBA on offense, he is seriously lackluster when it comes to defense. His 1.8 steals per game this year is solid from a statistical point of view, when you watch him actually play defense, you can tell he doesn’t care. He’s known for just letting opposing players fly by him for easy finishes without so much as a sidestep. Harden’s defense was better this season than in the past, but it still wasn’t good.
lebron james, cleveland cavaliers
Why He Could Win: Another year, another chance for LeBron to win the MVP. He already owns four of them, and at 33-years-old, it doesn’t seem like he’s gonna stop being in the run for them any time soon. Still most likely the best player in the NBA, LeBron had what was arguably the most statistically effective season of his career, scoring 27.5 points per game (third-best in the NBA), dishing out 9.1 per game (second only to Russell Westbrook‘s 10.3), and grabbing 8.6 rebounds per game (more than any other player who isn’t a center or power forward and isn’t named Russell Westbrook). Any player with numbers like that is all but guaranteed to be the best on their team, but that’s putting it lightly for the LeBron James of 2017-18, as he was basically the entire Cavaliers franchise. With no Kyrie Irving at point guard, an almost inept Kevin Love in the front court, and a virtual whirlwind of players flying in and out of the Cleveland locker room, LeBron took every game into his own hands, not missing a single matchup for the first time in his career and being the focal point of every facet of the Cavs’ game plan whenever he was on the court.
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Why He Might Not: The Cavs finished the regular season as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, the worst final placement of a LeBron-centric team since 2007-08. While he himself was phenomenal, voters take team results into account as well, and it could be tough for LeBron’s individual success on the court to surpass that of James Harden and the success Harden’s Rockets had as a whole.
anthony davis, new orleans pelicans
Why He Could Win: Anthony Davis just keeps getting better each and every year he spends in the NBA, having already established himself as arguably the best big man in the league at 25-years-old. He continues to develop himself physically and fundamentally, and is right on the verge of being unstoppable. After fellow all-star teammate DeMarcus Cousins went down in the middle of the season with an Achilles injury, Davis took the Pelicans into his own hands and led them into the 6 seed in the Western Conference. What’s more, he was also the only player in the NBA to finish the regular season in the top five in three of the major basketball statistical categories, with 28.1 points per game (second behind James Harden), 11.1 rebounds per game (good for fifth in the league, and a league-leading 2.57 blocks per game.
Why He Might Not: Much like LeBron, the biggest concern when it comes to Davis’s potential to win this year’s MVP is his team’s final outcome. Unless a player has a historically good season from a stats perspective, it’s tough to give the MVP to someone whose team finished sixth in their conference. Now, if voters took into account the Pelicans sweeping of the Trailblazers in the first round of the playoffs, things might be different, but that’s unfortunately not the case. It’s only a matter of time before Anthony Davis does finally win the MVP, but it won’t be this year.
predicted winner: James Harden
rookie of the year
ben simmons, philadelphia 76ers
Why He Could Win: After being drafted first overall out of LSU in the 2016 draft, Simmons sat out his entire first year with the 76ers with a foot injury. This obviously led to some concern regarding his health going into the 2017-18 season, but Simmons came out and not only showed us that he was fully recovered, but also that he was well worth the prestige that comes with being drafted first overall. He proved to be an absolute game changer on the court, with phenomenal court vision and a seamless feel for the game of basketball, averaging 15.8 points per game, 8.2 assists (fifth in the NBA), and 8.1 rebounds. At 6’10” and 230 pounds, Simmons is massive relative to most other point guards in the game, but still manages to handle and dish out the ball with the rest of them. He’s going to be a star in this league for a long, long time.
Why He Might Not: While Simmons managed to hit 54.5% of his field goals, he simply cannot shoot threes…yet. In today’s NBA, three-point shooting is almost a must for any back court player, and it’s something Simmons will likely need to improve as time goes on. Also, if you subscribe to the Donovan Mitchell school of thought, you might not even consider Simmons an actual rookie, thanks to this past season technically being his second as an NBA player.
Donovan mitchell, utah jazz
Why He Could Win: We all had an idea that Ben Simmons would be great, but most of us can’t say the same for Donovan Mitchell. Nonetheless, the 13th overall pick certainly made the Denver Nuggets regret shipping off to Utah, as he led all rookies in scoring with 20.5 points per game in 2017-18. Mitchell quickly established himself as Utah’s most potent scoring threat, able to put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the court. Not only that, but he has also shown himself to be a fantastic leader on the court for such a young player, helping to propel the Jazz into the fifth seed in the West by the season’s end.
Why He Might Not: Unlike Simmons, who showed an impressive amount of versatility this season, Mitchell was excellent in one facet of the game, and not so much in many others. He has elite scorer potential and will likely put up around 25 points per game throughout most of his career, but passing and defense leave a little to be desired. Granted, is Ricky Rubio more than a good enough passer to garner most of Utah’s assists, but today’s NBA values players with multiple ways to affect the game, something which Mitchell didn’t necessarily exhibit over the course of his rookie year.
jayson tatum, boston celtics
Why He Could Win: The biggest thing that sets Tatum apart from Mitchell and Simmons is the fact that his team finished with a better record and in a higher seed than both the 76ers and the Jazz. Boston took a major hit in losing Gordon Hayward for the season just minutes into his first game as a Celtic and an even bigger hit when they lost Kyrie Irving for the year. However, Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier have heeded their call and not only finished out the regular in excellent fashion, but are also two wins away from being Eastern Conference champions. Sure, his numbers (13.9 points, 1.6 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game) aren’t as exciting as Simmons’s or Mitchell’s, but you can’t ignore the role Tatum has played on a team that was so easy to count out after losing their stars.
Why He Might Not: I used Tatum’s less impressive numbers as a point of praise before, but they will likely hold him back from actually winning Rookie of the Year. RotY is usually based on numbers and the impact that particular player had on their team, and Tatum’s stats don’t live up to those of his competition, and a lot of his success can at least partially be attributed to a great supporting cast.
predicted winner: Ben Simmons
defensive player of the year
anthony davis, new orleans pelicans
Why He Could Win: When you’re in the running for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, you know you had a spectacular season. I covered plenty of Davis’s success already, but his defensive prowess cannot be understated. Those 11.1 rebounds per game were great, but look at those 2.57 blocks he averaged per night. Not only were they enough to give him the most in the NBA among qualified players, but it’s by a huge margin of almost a block per game over Clint Capela’s average of 1.85. While this in and of itself is impressive, what makes this even more fantastic is the fact that a good amount of Davis’s blocks stay inbounds after he swats them away, while most other players tend to send them past the sidelines more often than not. It might not seem like a big deal, but it is.
Why He Might Not: Honestly, there isn’t much stopping Davis from taking home DPotY. Maybe the fact that his team finished at a lower seed than those of his competition or that New Orleans had a lower defensive efficiency rating than Philly or Utah? I’m grasping, I know, but there isn’t much else to say here.
joel embiid, philadelphia 76ers
Why He Could Win: The Process was trusted, and it finally came to fruition. In his first season fully healthy, Embiid proved just why he was worth the wait, putting up 22.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, along with averaging 1.8 blocks each night. His 8.7 defensive rebounds per game were the most among his DPotY competitors, as he has already developed a strong feel for where the ball is heading after it hits the rim at just 24-years-old, a skill which tends to develop when players have more than just 94 NBA regular season games under their belts. Standing at 7’0″ and weighing 250 pounds, Embiid is also nigh impossible to box out, which also helps his chances at taking home the award.
Why He Might Not: Embiid’s 0.6 steals per game leaves a little to be desired and he hasn’t shown the ability to defend the perimeter that Anthony Davis has just yet. It will likely come in time, but that’s likely going to hold him back a bit this year.
rudy gobert, utah jazz
Why He Could Win: Rudy Gobert is, simply put, a monster in the paint. He is consistently among the league leaders in field goal percentage, rebounds, and blocks, and is a constant reminder to opponents of why they should think twice about driving toward the rim when he’s on the court. Although he only played in 56 games this season, less than Davis or Embiid, he made those games count on the defensive side of the ball, grabbing 10.7 rebounds per game and averaging 2.3 blocked shots. Utah also ranked behind only Boston in terms of defensive efficiency over the course of the season, due in no small part to Gobert’s massive presence inside.
Why He Might Not: Missing those 26 games is almost sure to hurt Gobert’s chances at winning this year’s DPotY. When he was on the court, he was just as effective a defender as anybody, but I just don’t think he played enough to secure an award win. Don’t worry, though, he’ll be back in this conversation next year.
predicted winner: Anthony davis
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