SLAM PH Picks: 2018 NBA Awards Winners

For the second straight year, the NBA will be giving out their annual awards in a postseason awards show. There are six key awards that the league will be handing out on June 25, 2018. Based on their performance during the regular season, the NBA will hand out the Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the year, Coach of the year, Sixth Man of the year and the Most Improved Player.

Before the names are officially called out, the SLAM PH staff teamed up to pick their winners for each award.

Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

Aljo Dolores: Brad Stevens should be the Coach of the Year. It doesn’t matter if the coaches don’t think of him as the best this season. The narrative and the stats point towards Stevens winning the COY.

He pushed the Celtics to a 55-27 card (4th best in the NBA), and coached them all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to LeBron James in seven games. Boston achieved this without Gordon Hayward for all but five minutes last season, and without Kyrie Irving throughout the end of the regular season and the rest of the playoffs. Not to mention a lot of other injuries along the way.

Boston was able to sustain that level of success because of excellent team defense. The Celtics limited their opponents to league’s second-best 44 percent field goal shooting, and league-best 33.9 percent three-point shooting. Boston’s defensive rating during the regular season was also the second-best in the NBA (103.9), even if no player averaged more than six defensive rebounds, 1.5 blocks or 1.5 steals per game.

Defense wins championships. And although Boston fell one game short of reaching the NBA Finals, the C’s defense was enough to give Stevens the first of many COY awards in his young NBA career.

Sixth Man of the Year – Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Alex Estoesta: James Harden and Chris Paul may have been the main protagonists, but Eric Gordon was just as important in the Rocket’s campaign this season. They were the team that almost dethroned the mighty Golden State Warriors in a Western Finals classic.

Not only did Gordon erase doubts whether Paul’s entry to the Houston backcourt would significantly drop his production, he proved himself to be as efficient an offensive weapon as Harden and Paul is. One such showing is when Houston met the Chicago Bulls last March. Gordon would proceed to have one of his best games this season, firing a season-best 31 as well as matching a career-best 8 three pointers.

In a run-and-gun game plan which Mike D’Antoni installed, Gordon has been thriving. This is significant for Houston’s cause in a conference, no, make that a league dominated by Golden State for several seasons counting.

It is only by duplicating the Warriors’ system can the Rockets make themselves contenders to the throne. And Gordon is an integral piece of the Rockets given his ability to compliment Harden and Paul’s play in the backcourt coming off the bench, sometimes even joining the duo in closing out games. It is not important who starts, but rather the one who finishes. Gordon powered the Houston bench a season ago, and he only improved on that role a year later.

Most Improved Player – Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

Jon Carlos Rodriguez: There’s always that one band that you adore simply because you heard one of their songs at the perfect moment. The lyrics speak to you and the beat moves you in a way you can’t quite explain. It just sticks. You read up on the band and consume the most intimate details of their songwriting process, their influences, their quirks. You tell your friends about your discovery. You flaunt their merch.

Finding Spencer Dinwiddie was like that for me. I watched him, for the first time, hit a game-winner against the Detroit Pistons, the team that I later found out drafted him at No. 38, yet never used his services. He served his revenge via a cold, calm one-hander inside the paint, falling down after outsmarting two defenders. I didn’t know who he was, but he was too good I essentially had to Shazam him.

Dinwiddie wasn’t the designated closer for the Brooklyn Nets, but injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell thrusted him into the starting spot. Without Lin and Russell, he took the lead, putting up 14 points and 7 assists per game. He started and finished games for the Nets. His brave drives to the basket and clutch shots fueled by the days of rotting on the bench, getting traded, and being shipped to the G-League. His improvement goes beyond this season.

Time to get Dinwiddie merch.

Defensive Player of the Year – Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Paolo Del Rosario: Despite playing in only 56 games in this year’s regular season, Utah Jazz resident skyscraper Rudy Gobert will probably cop the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award.

How could he win it? He missed so many games!

Well had he missed more, then the Jazz probably don’t make it to the Playoffs. That’s was how impactful Gobert was for Utah. After Gobert’s return from his second knee injury, the Jazz posted a stifling defensive rating of 97.5. To put that in perspective, the Boston Celtics hold the best defensive rating for the entire regular season at 101.5. Could you imagine what that rating could be had Gobert been healthy the entire year?

Should we riot if Gobert doesn’t win the DPOY?

Yes, especially if you base it on the candidates’ impact on their respective teams on defensively. It is no coincidence that the Jazz went from 18-26 in January to finish the regular season with a 48-34 slate with the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

Utah’s calling card in the league has always been it’s defense, and having it’s most impactful defender back for that stretch was key for them.

Does the rest of the league fear him?

Gobert was picked as the National Basketball Players Association’s ‘The Locksmith’, which is their own version of the DPOY.

Clearly, the league fears him on defense. If the players themselves name Gobert the best defender, the league itself should follow suit.

Rookie of the Year – Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Toby Amigo: Thank God, I don’t have an NBA Awards vote—I would vote Donovan Mitchell 100 times out of 100 and get my credentials revoked immediately.

To be clear, Ben Simmons is a phenomenal, franchise-altering player and he’s taking home the trophy tomorrow. But the heart wants what it wants.

It wants Mitchell to have the ball in the last possession with the game on the line. It wants Mitchell to sink daggers from the logo. It wants Mitchell to takeover and erupt for 50. (We didn’t get this this year, but he totally could’ve when he torched my Suns for 40 points on 19 shots.)

Sure, Simmons has his strengths too—basically every other skill aside from scoring outside of three feet (which seems important but hey what do I know). But remind me again… isn’t basketball a game about scoring more than the other guys? And isn’t the rookie of the year traditionally an award given to the rookie who scores the most points? It’s a flawed, derivative argument, but it makes sense.

Scoring is the ultimate gauge for your overall value and potential in the league. And choosing between Simmons and Mitchell is like choosing between apples and oranges that could spin the crap out of defenders while nailing an impossible lay-up. In his rookie year Mitchell has:

· Joined MJ, AI, and Blake Griffin as the only rookies to score 40 twice in a season
· Third most 25-point games in a season by a rookie (27, behind Carmelo Anthony and Griffin)
· Most 3-pointers made by a rookie (187, surpassed Damian Lillard)
· Won the NBPA Rookie of the Year

That list would be twice as long if I were allowed to involve Playoff stats by the way. And at the end of the day, I have to give it to someone who at the very least was the #1 guy on his team. Love it or hate it, that’s Mitchell.

Most Valuable Player – James Harden, Houston Rockets

Karlo Lovenia: Being the best player on the best team is often the criteria used when trying to choose the winner of the MVP award. But James Harden’s case shouldn’t be centered around such simple details. What makes The Beard’s run for the top award of the regular season truly captivating was his evolution as a basketball player.

There were plenty of questions surrounding the Houston Rockets and the fit of the pieces on their roster as a basketball team. At worst, they would blow up because of the possible friction between two ball dominant players in Harden and Chris Paul. At best, they’re a historic team that has a legitimate shot at beating the Golden State Warriors. We now know them as the latter, and a big part of that was how Harden adjusted to the new talent surrounding him.

His isolation wizardry was a constant, but welcome additions were better play off the ball — quite similar to his OKC days — as well as improved defense. He wasn’t an elite defender, but he was able to stick to his man enough to not be a liability. Any defense from Harden is a huge plus.

But more than anything, his sheer hunger and determination was what swayed fans and analysts. He no longer looked as frozen as Game 5 of the 2017 Western Conference Semifinals when the clutch came. There were issues, sure, but for the most part, he was always a tiger ready to pounce, one stepback at a time.

No amount of triple-doubles can stop Harden from from getting his MVP.

Photos from Getty Images