The NBA's regular season is just about ten games from wrapping up, and barring some bizarre contests, I think it's safe to start seriously locking down candidates for the postseason awards. I originally wrote one of these pieces at the 1/4 mark of the season regarding coaches, and unsurprisingly, that list looks pretty different now (I had the Grizzlies' J.B. Bickerstaff at 2!).
I'll rank the top five nominees for each award, and explain my logic after each ranking. Hopefully my lists look reasonable, but I welcome debate for players and coaches I missed or overrated! Unfortunately, given the underwhelming season, Celtics are hard to spot in this post, so I included the Celtic who was closest to making each ranking.
Most Valuable Player
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Why: At this point, Giannis and Harden are essentially tied. Last week I was on Team Harden, but the monster performance by Giannis against the Sixers flipped me over. I think either one is a worthy MVP, and the race is the closest we've seen in years. As for the rest, Paul George is a fairly obvious third choice, averaging 28 PPG and tied for the league lead in steals (with Harden). Stephen Curry is quietly putting together one of his best seasons, and the Warriors are 5-6 when he's not playing. Nikola Jokic is the hipster pick of this list, but he's been the offensive focal point for a breakout Nuggets team and is already one of the best passing centers ever.
Closest Celtic: Kyrie Irving
Rookie of the Year
1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
2. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
3. DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
4. Marvin Bagley, Sacramento Kings
5. Landry Shamet, Los Angeles Clippers
Why: Luka Doncic is falling apart this month, as evidenced by his 22% three-point rate and his +/- of -17.8. However, I'm willing to let that go because he's essentially been playing pro basketball for two straight years with about a month of rest. Luka's still averaging 21 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5 assists (one of two rookies ever), and that should get him the award despite an admirable push from Trae Young. Ayton and Bagley have both posted inspiring rookie years as well. Bless the 76ers, who dealt the lights-out shooter they need off the bench to LA, where Shamet has been dialed in since arriving.
Closest Celtic: Robert Williams III (by default)
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
5. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Why: If Giannis wasn't my MVP candidate, he'd be ranked highest here, as the Greek Freak leads the league in Defensive Rating and Defensive Box +/-. He's also averaging 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. But only two players (Hakeem and MJ) have won MVP and DPOY in the same year, and I don't think people are ready to anoint Giannis with such status yet. Gobert has been his usual dominating self on defense, so he locks up the award otherwise. Shoutout to the Pacers' Myles Turner, who leads the league in blocks and ranks third in DBPM.
Closest Celtic: Marcus Smart
Sixth Man of the Year
1. Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
2. Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
3. Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic
4. Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
5. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Why: Yes, the Clippers kind of cheat the system here, as both Williams and Harrell are bench players that have starter-type roles. But they still technically fit here, which makes Lou Williams the easy top choice. Spencer Dinwiddie is everyone's "sleeper" player, but Terrence Ross deserves more recognition as a critical clutch scorer for the Magic, who have surged back into the playoff race. Of course, most Celtics fans don't think Jaylen Brown should be a bench player, but his numbers are on the higher end among backups.
Most Improved Player
1. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
2. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
3. Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
4. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
5. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Why: Siakam runs away with this award, and if he had started his spring performances earlier, the 24-year-old could have been an All-Star. Fox, Hield and Collins are all fairly obvious choices too, though I don't really like placing sophomores on this list in the case of Fox and Collins. Fifth was a tough slot for me, but I gave it to Smart because of his remarkable shooting improvement, which means he's finally becoming a real two-way threat. He beat out Bojan Bogdanovic and Zach LaVine.
Coach of the Year
1. Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks
2. Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
3. Nate McMillan, Indiana Pacers
4. Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
5. Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
Why: The Bucks have been a remarkable example of team basketball so far, but this is the one award that I think could change hands in these last few games. If Denver can snatch the top seed from the Warriors, they will have improved so tremendously without major additions that I think Malone has to receive recognition. Both Nate McMillan and Doc Rivers have also done amazing jobs leading their teams after losing stars, albeit in different ways. While the Raptors may have a lot of talent, Nick Nurse has also seamlessly managed the potential drama and chemistry issues regarding Kawhi Leonard.
Closest Celtic: Brad Stevens (by default)