Adams: The rightful NBA regular season award winners
Hayden Adams | Tuesday, April 9, 2019
As the NBA regular season comes to a conclusion, I feel that now is a good time to reflect on this season and name who I believe deserves this year’s major awards. Without further ado, here we go.
Defensive Player of the Year — Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George is, in my opinion, considerably underrated and arguably OKC’s best player. Yes, better than Westbrook. George is currently second in the league at 28.1 points per game and never gets enough credit for essentially changing his play style from when he was a slashing, ball-dominant player in Indiana. He is now a deadly 3-point shooter (whose percentage from downtown has not dipped below 37 percent in the last five seasons, despite increasing his shot volume from beyond the arc) and has maintained his go-to scoring ability in late game situations.
But I acquiesce. My point is that George is a great player, and he deserves recognition for it by winning his first individual award since he won Most Improved Player in 2013. George averages a league-leading 2.18 steals per game and paces an OKC defense that ranks third in the association in defensive efficiency. Also, George has the rare physical tools that necessitate he match up with the opposing team’s best scorers on any given night.
Rookie of the Year — Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic quelled any doubts about his game translating from Europe to the NBA and seemed like the surefire rookie of the year at the start of the season. However, Trae Young has had a tremendous stretch since the All-Star break, surging offensively and displaying the skills that brought about comparisons between him and Steph Curry. What makes this decision difficult is that neither the Mavericks or the Hawks fared well enough that the better success of one team factors into the race between these two. In other words, this all comes down to the numbers.
Young averages just over 19 points a game and eight assist per game, the latter of which is good for fifth in the league. Doncic averages over 21 points, seven rebounds and nearly six assists per game. Given the recent uptick in Young’s play, one might expect recency bias to be the deciding factor. However, Doncic’s consistency must be what tips the scales. While Young’s highs have been very high, his lows have been just as low. Doncic has had plenty of shining moments in his first season, arguably just as many as Young if not more, and his bad performances have not been as bad as Young’s. This is by far the most difficult award to choose, which speaks to the future both players have in the league.
Most Improved Player — Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
This one can be difficult, but when reasoned out, it makes sense. Players like Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Chicago Bulls guard Zach Lavine have had impressive years, but their teams simply didn’t perform well enough and their leaps were not extraordinary. D’Angelo Russell has had a great year and gotten the Nets back into the playoffs, but he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. However, last year at this time Siakam was coming off his second season in which he averaged just over seven points per game while shooting 62 percent from the free throw line and 22 percent from three, an improvement over his rookie effort of 14 percent from three.
This year, Siakam has been a revelation, averaging 17 points per game to go with 79 percent free throw shooting and 37 percent 3-point shooting. This has the added effect of significantly freeing up Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry to operate offensively, as opposing defenses must be aware that Siakam could go off for 30 points on any given night if left unchecked.
Sixth Man of the Year — Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
It’s not fair at this point to call Lou Williams a sixth man, as he could start on pretty much any team for his scoring ability alone. However, he’s found the same niche that Jamal Crawford has found, and he fits the role perfectly. Williams is averaging a career-best five assists per game and the second-best scoring output of his career at 20 points per game. With a solid 42.7/36/87.7 shooting slash, Williams leaves little to be desired on the offensive end. His defensive impact will never be what catches anyone’s eye or writes his checks, but at the end of the day, the modern NBA is about offense, and Williams is a major injection to any second unit’s production.
Most Valuable Player — James Harden, Houston Rockets
In all honesty, this is an easy one. All due respect to Giannis Antetokoumpo, but the simple fact of the matter is that Harden has put up more impressive numbers and is more critical to his team’s success. The Rockets currently sit third in the Western Conference, due in part to the return of Chris Paul and Clint Capela. However, while they were both out with injury, it was Harden that kept his team in playoff contention with several Herculean efforts and a record 32-game streak of 30-point performances.
Harden has led the league at 36.1 points per game, with George the next closest at eight points per game fewer. Antetokoumpo is third at 27.7, to go along with 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, all of which are career highs. However, Harden also leads the league in free throws made — with over 200 more than the next closest player — 3-pointers, win shares, box plus/minus and usage percentage, all while being eighth in the league in assists, second in steals and second in player efficiency rating. Far and away, the Beard should be the back-to-back MVP.