The last — and often, most controversial — piece of the NBA’s regular season is its awards season.
Rohlin: Joel Embiid. He took his game to a new level this season. He not only averaged a career-best and NBA-leading 33.1 points a game, but he was a lockdown defender who created nightmares for whomever he matched up against. After being the runner-up for the award the last two seasons, Embiid distinguished himself as the frontrunner in an extremely tight race this year.
Weitzman: Embiid. He had a better and more efficient offensive season than Antetokounmpo (including leading the league in scoring for a second-straight season) and is obviously a better defensive player than Jokic. Also, the Sixers won more games than the Denver Nuggets and Embiid’s basically played as many games and minutes as Jokic (and more than Antetokounmpo).
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Rohlin: Draymond Green. Yes, the Golden State Warriors were ranked 14th in defense this season. But when Green was on the court, they actually had the top defense in the league. When he wasn’t playing, they allowed 6.1 more points per 100 possessions. Green also played 2,297 minutes this season, compared to Jaren Jackson Jr.’s 1,787.
Bucher: Brook Lopez. While I considered Evan Mobley and Jackson Jr., and had Green on my ballot, I can’t ignore that Green’s impact was diminished by the punch and that might have been why they weren’t as good defensively overall; he didn’t have the same ability to hold guys accountable. I gave Lopez the nod over Mobley and JJJ because I saw too many games where both of them got into foul trouble by leaving their feet or reacting a second too slowly. Lopez had more blocked shots and committed fewer fouls than either of the other two.
Weitzman: Jackson Jr. He put together one of the greatest shot-blocking seasons in NBA history. He led the league in blocks per game (3.0) and block rate (an estimate of the percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts blocked by the player while they were on the floor). His latter mark (9.6%) is one only eclipsed in NBA history by Manute Bol. He’s the backbone of a Grizzlies defense that finished the season third in points surrendered per possession.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Rohlin: Paolo Banchero. He has run away with this award all season, putting up eye-popping numbers for a rookie while helping them turn around their 5-20 start. Jalen Williams and Walker Kessler were also impressive, but Banchero separated himself with both his stats and his ceiling.
Bucher: Banchero, but, man, I wanted to find a reason to give it to Kessler because he was such a revelation and has just scratched the surface of his potential. Banchero’s numbers were sure to be better than Kessler’s because the Magic ran so much of their offense through him, but they did that because he’s a multi-faceted forward.
Weitzman: Banchero. Kessler was great, but averaging 20 points and 7.4 free throws per game as a rookie is an impressive feat. Toss in an average of 3.7 assists, and you have a clear winner.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Bucher: Brogdon. If there’s a reason to believe the Celtics are better than last season and can win it all, he is it. That he embraced the role after starting every game his previous four seasons was an important factor as well.
Weitzman: Brogdon. You can’t ask for more from a sub. Lots of scoring (14.9 points per game) but also efficient scoring (48.4 FG%/44.4 3P%/ 87 FT%), all for a dominant team. Strong defense. Also, as pointed out by John Hollinger over at The Athletic, all his appearances have actually been off the bench unlike his main competition in this category, Immanuel Quickley, who started 19 regular-season games.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Rohlin: Lauri Markkanen. He went from averaging 14.8 points on 44.5% shooting and 5.7 rebounds last season, to averaging 25.6 points on 49.9% shooting and 8.6 rebounds a game this season. He transformed from a player who had underperformed into someone who exceeded everyone’s imagination, becoming an All-Star and keeping the Utah Jazz competitive for much of the season.
Bucher: Markkanen. I loathe suggesting someone has “improved” just because they play more minutes or are given a bigger role and have the subsequent boost in statistics, but Markkanen was a completely different player this year, and it had little to do with stats. He’s shot the 3-ball better and rebounded better in previous seasons than he did in this one. What was different was his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim with force. He nearly averaged two dunks a game for the Jazz after never averaging even one in his previous five seasons.
Weitzman: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I think the leap from All-Star to top-10 player is the hardest to make, but SGA has done just that. He pulled off the always-difficult task of boosting both his scoring (24.5 PPG to 31.4) and efficiency (45.3 FG% to 51), all while carrying a competitive squad. Oh, and he was also the only guard this season to average at least one block and one steal.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Rohlin: Mike Brown. He turned a franchise with the longest playoff drought in professional sports in North America (16 years) into a No. 3 seed in the incredibly loaded Western Conference. Brown put the Kings on the map again and excited a fanbase that had been starved for success.
Bucher: Brown. As much as I admired the jobs Will Hardy, JB Bickerstaff and Ty Lue did, Brown transformed the Kings’ culture and showed immense growth as an offensive coach after spending a few years with the Warriors. If there was an MIC (Most Improved Coach), he would’ve got my vote for that, too.
Weitzman: Brown. Broke the Kings’ 16-year playoff drought. Turned a hapless 30-win team into a 48-win three-seed. Case closed.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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Source: FOX Sports