The NBA revealed three finalists for each of its six major individual awards:
Most Valuable Player
Finalists: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Joel Embiid (76ers), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)
My pick: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)
Most likely winner: Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)
This has stood as a three-man race for a while. So, there wasn’t much suspense surrounding this finalist announcement.
Nikola Jokic appeared to finish the regular season with momentum to repeat as MVP, but Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo have their supporters. If there’s any drama at all with this award, it’s about the winner – not the top three.
Defensive Player of the Year
Finalists: Mikal Bridges (Suns), Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Marcus Smart (Celtics)
My pick: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
Most likely winner: Marcus Smart (Celtics)
Rudy Gobert suffers from the ultimate case of voter fatigue, having won this award three of the last four years and being a center as people are tired of bigs winning. Given Utah’s repeated playoff letdowns, people especially don’t want to reward Gobert.
But voters didn’t seem to mobilize around any particular other candidate. Heck, Heat big Bam Adebayo seemed to have as good a chance of winning as Marcus Smart, Mikal Bridges and Gobert. This race is wide open, but Smart – who campaigned hard, plays guard and was the best defender on the best defensive team – has a straightforward and appealing case.
Rookie of the Year
Finalists: Scottie Barnes (Raptors), Cade Cunningham (Pistons), Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)
My pick: Scottie Barnes (Raptors)
Most likely winner: Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)
This is a two-man race between Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes. In a near-coinflip pick, Mobley appears more likely. He was viewed as the presumptive winner most of the season, Barnes coming on late.
With the hype of being the No. 1 pick and a class-high 17-point-per-game scoring average, Cade Cunningham is the completely expected third finalist.
Most Improved Player
Finalists: Darius Garland (Cavaliers), Ja Morant (Grizzlies), Dejounte Murray (Spurs)
My pick: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)
Most likely winner: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)
Ja Morant took the very difficult and very noticeable leap into stardom, maybe even superstardom. Darius Garland and Dejounte Murray continued their longer track records of growth.
Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane might have been a finalist if there weren’t such a bias against second-year players. Still, he probably got plenty of votes.
Sixth Man of the Year
Finalists: Tyler Herro (Heat), Cameron Johnson (Suns), Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
My pick: Tyler Herro (Heat)
Most likely winner: Tyler Herro (Heat)
The only reserve averaging more than 16 points per game, Tyler Herro – who scored 21 points per game – will run away with this award. And he should win it.
Kudos to voters for rounding out their ballots with Cameron Johnson and Kevin Love rather than less-efficient gunners like Jordan Clarkson, Buddy Hield and Kelly Oubre.
Coach of the Year
Finalists: Taylor Jenkins (Grizzlies), Erik Spoelstra (Heat), Monty Williams (Suns)
My pick: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)
Most likely winner: Monty Williams (Suns)
Monty Williams already won his peers’ version of Coach of the Year. He’ll likely claim the main award next. He has done a great job and is well-liked. Plus, there’s voters’ remorse after picking Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau over Williams last year.
Cavaliers followers might complain about J.B. Bickerstaff getting snubbed as a finalist. But Taylor Jenkins gets plenty of credit for Memphis’ breakthrough season, and Erik Spoelstra got the Heat humming through numerous absences. Someone worthy/near-worthy had to get left off the finalist list.