Ahead of the NBA Awards show in June, Sean Carroll gives his prediction for all the awards.
Most Valuable Player
"I've never given my name up before, but I'm giving it to him. He's the new Superman. You heard it here first," Shaquille O'Neal told The Stephen A. Smith Show.
Shaq was talking about Giannis Antetokounmpo and he was more than right. Giannis continues to grow and it's hard to really step back and see.
Out of all players in the shock-clock era, only five have averaged at least 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. That list includes Wilt (twice), Kareem, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor and Giannis.
The new superman is the only player to do it on less than forty minutes a game (just under 33 minutes per game).
Of all players that played at least 20 minutes a game, he's the only non-centre in the top-ten in rebounds per game (6th), top-twenty in assists per game (5.9), first in two-point field goals per game, seventh in two-point field goal percentage (the first non-centre).
You get the point.
But Giannis' greatness goes beyond basic counting stats, he's leading the league this season in single-season Player Efficiency Rating (PER) at 30.9 which is 13th all-time behind only Wilt, LeBron, Michael Jordan, Steph Curry and David Robinson.
The Harden argument will bombard you with similar numbers that fly off the page. But the reason why Harden isn't the winner is that Giannis can do it all on the defensive end too.
When Giannis is on the court, he holds opponents to 99 points per 100 possessions. For reference, the lowest amount of points per game per 100 possessions a team allowed this season that wasn't the Bucks was Utah at 105.7. He is also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Harden isn't in the same galaxy on that end, let alone conversation.
To simplify, when Giannis was on the court, they held opponents to six points less than the best defence in the league.
His statistical resume definitely goes on, but Milwaukee are the best team in the league both on offence and on defence per 100 possessions and in many other categories and Giannis is the best player on that team.
That in itself is a good enough reason why Giannis Antetokounmpo is the 2019 NBA Most Valuable Player.
Rookie of the Year
While Trae Young finished the season extremely hot, Luka Doncic has kept up the pace all season and has played at an All-NBA level. Kudos to Young for making it more of a discussion than it was at the start of the season, but this is Luka's award.
Ending the season averaging 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists, Doncic is the fifth rookie to join the 20-5-5 club, a group only occupied by Luka, MJ, LeBron, Oscar Robertson and Tyreke Evans (single tear runs down cheek for the Kings).
Doncic has proven that he can carry a team and be a go-to scoring option.
If Young had played to his post-All Star level all season, this debate might be different. In that time frame, Young averaged 24 points and nine assists and pulled a tanking Atlanta Hawks team to a 10-13 record after the All-Star break.
Sadly, for a player whose game rests so much on three-point shooting to hit less than 20 percent of his attempts off 5.4 attempts in the month of November was too big a hole to dig out of in the ROY race.
But how lucky are we, as fans, that these two were traded for each other, play on teams with similar development curves and look to be rivals for years to come.
Defensive Player of the Year
This years Defensive Player of the Year debate is close, wide and most candidates would win it on any given year. But only one can win and I'm not going to bore you with defensive stats for every candidate. I see two clear front-runners in Giannis and Rudy Gobert. Let's discuss:
The Bucks led the league defensive rating per Basketball Reference and have absolutely put the clamps down on the entire league this year. Allowing the lowest percentage of shots at the rim according to Cleaning the Glass.
Giannis can take a lions share of the credit for the Bucks success. As said in the MVP discussion, when Giannis is on the court, the Bucks have a defensive rating of 99 points per 100 possessions, behind only Joe Ingles of players that have played at least 25 minutes a game, per NBA.com/stats.
He's an advanced stats darling ranking high in Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Box Plus-Minus, third and second respectively.
And his huge wingspan and defensive tools force opponents to shoot 2.2 percent less shots at the rim and 2.5 percent worse when they do. We've all seen the highlight blocks and demoralising plays he can create.
Where Giannis was ranked highly in advanced defensive stats, Gobert is either ahead of Giannis or first in the league, including defensive win shares (2nd) and defensive box plus minus (1st).
Gobert's defensive on-off rating is only one point behind Giannis (100 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the Bucks and Jazz are close enough on overall defensive rating, so neither wins out on that category.
Where Gobert pulls away is that he forces the opposition out and away from the rim (within four feet of the basket) and into less-effective mid-range shots. Per Cleaning the Glass, opponents take 5.4 percent less shots in the paint and 4 percent more mid-ranges against him just because of his defensive threat, the highest number in the league of players that played at least 800 minutes.
He is also in the top-six percentile for his position in block percentage and defensive rebounding percentage, finishing the teams defensive possession at a top-eight percentile mark.
Noting that both players have similar defensive numbers and both succeed in different aspects of defense, it was his ability to deter players from shooting at the rim and force them into less valuable shots that made me go with Rudy Gobert as the winner.
PS: Giannis already has an award in my books, share the other one, spread the love.
Sixth Man Award
Yuck, what do you do here apart from give it to Lou Williams?
Domantas Sabonis mounted an early case as he was on fire shooting over 70 percent in October and then high sixties for the next few months before returning to Earth with the rest of us mortals and cooling off.
Spencer Dinwiddie plays a similar role to Lou Will off the bench but Lou has him covered there with sheer quantity of numbers and even more games played for good measure.
Derrick Rose wasn't the healthiest despite having a small resurgence this year carving himself out a role on the Timberwolves and a cheeky little 18 points per game.
Montrezl Harrell was extremely efficient off the bench and provided another perspective for the Clippers but it's hard to argue when he wasn't even the best bench player on his own team.
Dennis Schroeder? Bobby Portis? Jordan Clarkson? Bueller? Anyone?
I'm a big fan of Sixth Man awards being not just guards who get a lot of shots up, but Lou is just too sweet. With 20 points and just over five assists and a per Cleaning the Glass, adds 16 wins to an average team.
The combination of he and Harrell off the bench has given the Clippers another dimension as well as being the keys to the highest scoring bench in the league at 55.7 points per game.
Most Improved Player
The two and a half men race. This race is between Pascal Siakam and D'Angelo Russell with a sprinkle of D'Aaron Fox for flavour.
Russell has had the most coveted rise as he grew from a under-performing high draft pick that was traded to sweeten a salary to a player orchestrating Brooklyn's offence, (barely) a playoff team.
But as a 22-year-old, Russell is expected to improve, he was a teenager when he came into the league. Siakam was 24 this season, not typically an age for strong development.
Siakam came into the league as a late-first round pick who could bring intensity and run in transition. The selection looked good, Siakam played hard and had an NBA-ready body.
But this season he has completely evolved. Partly due to Head Coach Nick Nurse trusting in him and giving him the starting nod, he has evolved in almost every aspect of his game: seven points to 17, 4.5 rebounds to seven, 22 percent to a league average 36 and improved his overall shooting.
He played at such a high level that if Kawhi Leonard leaves the North this off-season, they aren't in as bad hands as you might've thought. Jumping from six field goals attempted to twelve this last season, had boded well, why not more?
Yes, a counter argument is that Russell jumped to a higher level, averaging 21 points a game, but it was on much lower shooting splits as he shot less than ten percentage points lower from the field than Pascal.
I'm choosing Siakam, Spicy P, as the Most Improved Player of 2019.
Coach of the Year
Usually this award goes to the best coach of the best team, or a new coach along the veins of a Steve Kerr, someone who revitalised an old team and made them exciting.
However, I won't pick Mike Budenholzer. Yes, he fits the mould. He injected life into a stagnant Milwaukee offence, put the clamps down on defence, hypnotised Brook Lopez into thinking he was Klay Thompson and let Giannis loose on the poor 29 other teams.
But, I've gone with Mike Malone of the Denver Nuggets.
This Nuggets team had expectations going into the season that they would improve upon last season, maybe sneak into the playoffs. If they didn't, Malone would likely loose his job.
With no real roster upgrades; the rookies didn't play and Isaiah Thomas wasn't himself, Mike Malone coached this team into 54 wins and the second seed in the competitive West.
He did this despite suffering injuries to Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap, all starters and crucial players.
He coached what people believed was an offence-only team to the tenth-best defensive rating, sixth-best opponents points per game and held opponents to the worst three-point shooting in the league.
Enduring the injuries by trusting young players like Malik Beasley and Monte Morris. He notably supported his back-up guard in Morris after the Isaiah Thomas experiment by shutting Thomas down, not giving him the benefit of the doubt because of his name value, something other coaches might not have done.
Coach Mike Malone coached his ass off and now has himself a role in Denver for the foreseeable future, something some critics didn't believe was possible.
Executive of the Year
Masai Ujiri of the Toronto Raptors is my pick for Executive of the Year after the daylight robbery of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as well as the mid-season acquisition of Marc Gasol.
Ujiri completely revamped his roster and system by trading away Demar DeRozan and firing former head coach and awkwardly Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. It was a bold move that paid off, the Raptors infamously couldn't get past LeBron in the playoffs and needed a new look.
While other offers were on the table for Kawhi included many 'blue-chip' young players and plenty of draft picks, it was Ujiri who got the deal done with just DeRozan, young big Jakob Poetl and a future first.
Ujiri wasn't done. As his new team blossomed together, he went out and traded for Marc Gasol in exchange for defensive sieve and long-time Raptor Jonas Valanciunas, only having to give up a second-round pick alongside the players.
What Ujiri demonstrated was his ability to see his team as a business and not get attached to players. Some argued that it was inhumane trading away the franchise star just after he took a pay cut to stay with the team.
But he did make the moves, fired the coach and built around Kawhi and they're better off for it with a better shot at a title now and in the future (assume Kawhi stays).