Tony Jones’ NBA awards ballot: Donovan Mitchell should be Rookie of the Year

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) had 22 points and 3 rebounds. The Utah Jazz defeated the Golden State Warriors 119-79 during their game, Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at the Vivant Smart Home Arena.

The NBA’s annual awards show will reveal individual winners in June, but media ballots were due this week. In a season that produced a playoff race that went down to the final day of the regular season, there were some difficult choices. Below is The Tribune’s ballot in six categories.

Rookie of the Year: Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Ben Simmons has been phenomenal as a rookie and a leader for Philadelphia. In a perfect world, he and Mitchell would share the award. But, the world isn’t perfect, and someone has to win. I chose Mitchell. Why? Denver’s 46 wins would have been sixth-best in the East, but only ninth in the West. For Mitchell to be the top offensive option on a Jazz team that lost an All-Star and still made the playoffs in the an historically tough Western Conference, well, there’s almost nothing Simmons could do to top that achievement.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Gobert was so good in the second half of the season, and the Jazz were so dramatically a better team with him, that Gobert should honestly receive a smattering of MVP votes as well. Last season, Gobert barely lost out on the award. This time around, he should win it in a landslide.

Coach of the Year: Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors

By my count, there are at least six coaches who honestly deserve to win it — but only one can. Casey is the narrow choice here over Quin Snyder and Brad Stevens and Nate McMillan. Casey took Toronto to the best regular season in franchise history by eschewing free agent signings and focusing on developing the homegrown talent it’s stockpiled for years. The Raptors are the deepest team in the league and the favorite to win the Eastern Conference.

Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Houston Rockets

There were worthy challengers, such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. But Harden stood out among the challengers from game one to game 82. He led the Rockets to the best record in the league while having a career season, and will take home well deserved hardware as a result.

Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo went from Russell Westbrook’s caddy in Oklahoma City to All-Star for the Indiana Pacers. He’s a better shooter, better defender, better passer now than ever in his career. He saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.

Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Lou Williams had a terrific season for the Los Angeles Clippers. But, Gordon was so good in his role that it’s impossible to ignore. And, winning matters — Gordon and Williams were almost identical in production, but one played for a 65-win team and another played for a team that didn’t make the playoffs.

All-NBA First Team

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

James Harden, Houston Rockets

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

All-Rookie First Team

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls

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