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