It’s that time of year: NBA writers are casting ballots for regular-season awards and while none of us here at Brew Hoop have (or should have!) votes in these races, we’re gonna tell you what we think anyway!
Editor’s note: there is a strong pro-Milwaukee Bucks bias from this segment of voters. If you find yourself compelled to call that out in the comments, take a moment to think about where you are before clicking the ‘Post’ button.
Most Valuable Player
Van: No candidate’s team was a world-beater in the regular season and their records are similar (the Nuggets finished three games behind the Bucks and Sixers, who tied at 51 wins), so seedings be damned. I can’t in good faith ignore Jokic’s amazing season, though if Giannis kept up his production from the season’s penultimate week into the following one, I’d have given it to him.
Adam: I respect Giannis Antetokounmpo as the greatest player in the world, but neither he nor the Bucks, seemed to take the regular season all that seriously. The fact he still found himself smack dab in the MVP race is a testament to his unbelievable skill. I’ll give the nod to Jokic who carried a team of bench players to an almost 50-win season.
Riley: Looking back on his season, Giannis absolutely reached new heights as a force, especially offensively. However, I discount a little bit the idea of his being a plus traditional center all year with Bobby Portis/DeMarcus Cousins there to absorb punishment defensively. The team meandering their way to the East’s three seed didn’t help his case. Regarding Embiid, I’m petty.
Mitchell: It’s Giannis. It just is. He did everything that people would have prescribed after missing out on the award last year, both in-scope for the award (somehow improving further as a passer, a scorer, and on-ball defender in the regular season, while maintaining everything else) and out-of-scope (Not 49, not 51, 50.) I don’t care that Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid had seasons worthy of the award (they did). We’re going to look back in 15 years and say “man, that really should have been Giannis instead.” Because that’s what we did with LeBron, with Jordan. Giannis is like that.
Kyle: Giannis went out and took his game to another level while making clutch plays late down the stretch. We are getting to the people who won’t hand him the award cause it’s too boring. I also will cite bias but Jokic winning would completely be fair.
Defensive Player of the Year
Van: The advanced numbers of Gobert and Giannis are hard to ignore. While statistically speaking, both teams were more mediocre than good defensively, it’s how they fared while their candidates were on the floor. Giannis gets the edge based on his impact both inside and out: both an elite on-ball defender and rim protector.
Adam: I can’t say I felt too strongly about this particular award going to Giannis, but I’m not sure Jaren Jackson Jr. is as impactful as the Bucks star, Marcus Smart does lots of stuff but can’t impact the way the game Giannis can inside, Rudy Gobert has won it a bunch, so I’ll give Antetokounmpo the nod. Milwaukee’s defense was a jumble of schemes all year, and he plus Jrue Holiday are the main reasons they even sniffed top ten status.
Riley: When Giannis is in his traditional role, he’s frightening. There are very few occasions where I watch how he plays on the defensive end and say “this just isn’t sustainable”. Gobert is a great traditional center, Smart is a great perimeter defender, but Giannis blends the two pretty well. If he won't get MVP due to voter fatigue, we can nab DPOY off Gobert for the same reason.
Mitchell: I’ll admit that this vote is probably the most suspect on my ballot. Gobert has the stats for the award and Mikal Bridges is probably one of the most deserving non-bigs in the running (he’s not just a great defender, the dude played the most minutes in the league this year!) If this award were “Best Defensive Player” or “Best Defender,” then Giannis would have a higher likelihood of actually winning, even if his case is just as deserving as it was in the past.
Can we just take a moment to recognize how silly the manufactured narrative around Marcus Smart (and Bridges, to a lesser extent) is? “A guard should be able to win the award” is a preposterous rationale for anything, much less DPOY. If a guard wants to win the award, then fine! Go do it! Go be a better defender than Giannis or Gobert! Don’t use the chip on your shoulder to try and bend the wet-cardboard-strong will of a certain Worldwide Leader networks by force-feeding millions of people a puff piece about just how hard Marcus Smart works on defense. You missed the Oscars if you think this award is for your acting; I’m sorry the mechanics of the modern game decided bigs are more important as defensive fixtures than smalls.
Kyle: I think Bridges does deserve some merit for being a very great defender in a league with high-level perimeter players. Considering Giannis was operating on a no-tactics-just-vibes approach to defense, he did pretty damn well.
Most Improved Player
Van: People have different eligibility criteria when it comes to Most Improved Player, usually based on their draft pedigree or on how many seasons of experience they have, for some reason. To me, the leap from borderline All-Star to surefire All-NBA candidate (sound a bit like a certain Greek player?) is bigger than what anyone else did, regardless of years served.
Adam: Garland has gone from a negative win-impact player to someone that is fleet of foot, can dance inside and shoot from outside plus navigates the pick-and-roll. It’s notable that the only plus-defender on these lists is Robert Williams.
Riley: Going from nominal bench guy to big minute starter is a leap that has proven too large for plenty of young players. Maxey stuck the landing and took advantage of the Ben Simmons chaos to prove himself as more than just someone with pure speed.
Mitchell: No disrespect to Ja, but he was too good before to reasonably be in the MIP running this time around. If Giannis can’t win it, neither can Morant. Maxey, on the other hand, was the key backcourt piece that the Sixers needed while Ben Simmons sat out, and they didn’t just survive with him, they thrived. Similarly, Robert Williams turned into a keystone of a Celtics defense that set the league afire over the last few months, and Garland went from “not an All-Star” to “an All-Star.”
Kyle: Garland was “the other guy” in Cleveland’s backcourt with Collin Sexton and took a big step to being the guy! Maxey was always talented and with Ben Simmons’ absence got to take on a bigger role. I get that a second overall pick shouldn’t be considered but Ja Morant really went from a young promising guard to All-NBA potential.
Sixth Man of the Year
Van: Herro seemingly received this award before the season even began—he always topped the Vegas odds—since so many pundits picked him. While I bristle at that kind of thing (and I bristle at Herro in general), he led the East’s top seed in scoring for much of the year. Johnson is a deserving runner-up: no players impact the game more off the bench than these two.
Adam: I just love rewarding a hometown kid who was born in the Bradley Center basement... Herro was a bench player who doubled as the Heat’s best crunch-time option, no other sixth man could sniff that.
Riley: 6MOY is always a weird award to give out. Usually scoring in heaps helps a ton, and Herro did that (whether it's sustainable into the playoffs, we’ll have to see). Love went from a guy who wanted nothing more than to leave to a reliable veteran bench forward, and Beasley gave the Wolves some punch from the bench. Scoring 20+ from the bench is quite the feat, though, so Herro gets the nod here.
Mitchell: I don’t like playing “Yay, Points!” (h/t Seth Partnow) for the Sixth Man award, but Herro was one of the Miami Heat’s most important players, and the Heat are the top seed in the East. Even I, a noted Herro Hater, can’t ignore that. Cam Johnson would have been a great pick for the award in any other year; he pulled a Pat Connaughton by extending his stellar NBA Finals performance through the regular season (thus making it a new normal).
Kyle: I’m petty and a hater and I’m not sorry.
Rookie of the Year
Van: Mirroring their teams' places in the standings, Barnes made a late charge up many ballots as the year wore on and Mobley’s late injury may hurt him, but ultimately only 5 games played separate the two. Their stats are remarkably similar and both are already great two-way players, but I’ll give it to Mobley. He barely missed my cut for an All-Defense team, playing mostly out of position at the 4 in deference to the similarly-elite Jarrett Allen.
Adam: I don’t really like the Raptors, and I’m already annoyed at the years of Scottie Barnes buzz ahead of us and the inevitable comparisons to similar long-armed freaks who can guard everyone. Anyway, it’s harder to be good on defense as a rookie, and Mobley was all that and then some, surrounded by far more negative defenders than Barnes. Barnes still takes second over Cunningham because he contributed to winning, although I think Cunningham will be better in the long run.
Riley: Toronto’s ideal player type stands somewhere between 6’7” and 6’9”, weighs 220+ pounds, and has a huge wingspan. That Barnes was able to stand out from the nearly 10 dudes of that profile they’ve had on the roster this year is a testament to how well he could execute within Nick Nurse’s demanding system. Good on him.
Mitchell: There’s a slight chance that Barnes is a guy that tops out as a rookie; the ROY award has a number of examples of that happening (see: Carter-Williams, Michael; see: Evans, Tyreke) but if I’m being honest, Cade Cunningham has a lot more of those two dudes in him than Scottie Barnes does. Wedged between them is Mobley, who was a core piece of the resurgent Cavaliers…I just think Barnes was better.
Kyle: It was such a toss-up that I legit just pulled names out of a hat. I’m not going to act like I followed any of these guys other than when they played the Bucks.
Coach of the Year
Van: This is an easy one for me, with Bud’s former assistant and guy-who-held-back-the-bench Jenkins taking a play-in team to the league’s second-best record. Williams should have won it in 2021 for doing the same thing, but it foolishly went to Tom Thibodeau in his first year with New York (who unsurprisingly and quickly regressed). I usually disagree with giving the award to someone in their first season with a team over coaches with at least one year at the helm who improved their squad’s record drastically from one year to the next. That’s both why I think Williams got robbed a year ago and why I’m not voting for Udoka.
Adam: I gave it to Tom Thibodeau last year and screwed up. Jenkins is the prototypical candidate for this in terms of exceeding expectations, but Monty deserves to win this award at least once. If it’s not this year, and the Suns win the Finals, he likely wouldn’t win it ever.
Riley: I really like how Jenkins has shown an ability to adjust to whatever his roster’s nightly strengths are. He took a guy like Steven Adams and carved out positive roles on both ends for him. He took a young roster with plenty of athleticism and gave them the all-clear to outrun and outjump opponents as often as possible. They went from middle of the pack ratings-wise last season to top-five in most categories. Not bad.
Mitchell: The Grizzlies were 20-5 without their best player this season. No, really. Even if the Suns are a superior regular-season team, Taylor Jenkins did more impressive things by getting Memphis where they’re at than Monty Williams simply keeping Phoenix where they already were. Ime Udoka, who I strongly considered for second place here, pushed Boston all the way to the 2 seed after they were left for dead, which is pretty notable.
Kyle: The Grizzlies made the jump and a lot of that has to do with Jenkins. I also think we are underrating the job that Chris Finch has done in Minnesota, taking a sad downtrodden team that had some cool guys to a seven seed in the west. Doing that with a solid roster truly is impressive for a guy that has only been in the job a little over a year while there was turmoil within the front office and ownership. I like Monty Williams and he should have won it last year but he did have basically the same roster as a team that played in the finals and once again are the favorite.
Executive of the Year
Van: Even though they fell to the 8 seed, Cleveland is still one of the league’s biggest surprises relative to expectations, and was in the East’s top four much of the season. Altman deserves major props for constructing this team. Over the past few years, he snatched up an All-Star in Allen by inserting himself into the James Harden trade and drafted another All-Star in Garland. This year he drafted a possible future All-Star in Mobley, signed Lauri Markkanen to a nice contract, overcame injuries to his leading scorer from last season (Collin Sexton) and backup point guard (Ricky Rubio), traded for Caris LeVert, traded for Rajon Rondo... Altman hit on every move.
Adam: Karnitsovas saw something none of us did, and that was the key to crafting a team that would just barely avoid the play-in. I jest, but I thought none of the Bulls' moves would hit, and they were pretty swell, tampering for Lonzo aside. The Wizards weren’t great but Sheppard made the trade of the year with the Westbrook move. Nico Harrison helped hire Kidd, but he also brought in Reggie Bullock, made the move for Dinwiddie midseason, and locked up Dorian Finney-Smith to a decent deal. Nothing flashy, but better than most GMs.
Riley: Like when Jon Horst won his award, I appreciate GMs that show themselves to be masters of the marginal moves. Whether it be stockpiling picks with small maneuvers or nabbing guys on value contracts, I love when a series of small moves culminate into something greater. While the Cavs fell short of the heights Milwaukee reached when Horst won the award, the ideas behind Altman’s moves were all sound. They achieved success in the short term while leaving themselves with plenty of room for growth in the future.
Mitchell: We all clowned the Bulls for their offseason moves, and they were a top-4 seed before injuries hit. Joke’s on us. We also didn’t believe in the Cavaliers, who were a top-6 seed before injuries hit. The Heat are the top team in the East (for now) because they picked the right guys to move and the right ones to keep.
Kyle: While the Bucks were the champs, Chicago made the splashy moves, Detroit was rebuilding and Indiana was a mess. The Cavs quietly went about their business and addressed issues on the team that paid dividends.
Van: Yes, Embiid and Jokic are deserving of first-team spots. Yes, as some point out, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell knocked each other back to the second team many times in the 50s and 60s. It’s not historical precedence why I’m only putting one center on the first team, though: it’s because Giannis is only eligible at forward. We know how much 5 he played this year (while this is an imperfect science, Basketball Reference says 39% of his minutes this year were at center); if he’s not eligible there, how on earth can Embiid and Jokic (Basketball Reference pegs both with 100% of their minutes at center) be eligible at forward? The NBA really needs to address these positional calamities: they cost Khris Middleton a spot on the third team two years ago.
Anyway, we’re all in lockstep with much of this. Tatum played his way up to first-team with a big finish as his team surged to the 2 seed. Booker and Morant each kept improving as the season wore on for teams who kept steamrolling opponents. Meanwhile, erstwhile MVP-candidate Curry’s performance and team faded, sending him back to the second team. The same goes for DeRozan, whose MVP candidacy and his team’s success were both always specious. Doncic is hard to leave off the first team with his stats and how well his Mavs played in the second half. For similar reasons, Siakam sneaks onto the third team. LeBron just missed qualifying for the scoring title and his team is terrible, but scoring over 30 per game warrants a spot. Durant played one fewer game but gets second-team over James thanks to actually making the play-in. Towns was sublime all season and his defense improved alongside his team’s. CP3 feels too low where he is: that’s no indictment but rather a testament to how good guard play was this year. Despite a 2.6 PPG gap in scoring, Mitchell takes my last guard spot over Trae Young thanks to his superior team record and defensive superiority, though the latter is not saying much!
Adam: I had basically the same people as everyone else here. I think it’s weird to include two centers on the first team, so I didn’t. I see I had Bam Adebayo and Trae Young while no one else did. Young ain’t great on defense, but that matters less during the regular season and he’s a more fearsome guard than Mitchell or VanVleet in my eyes. The Hawks underperformed but he’s a player that can tilt a playoff series. Bam Adebayo didn’t play a ton of games, but he’s versatile defensively and offensively, and more valuable than Siakam to me.
Riley: Third team is a crapshoot, and I admit I forgot Trae Young existed when I put in my selections. Oops. VanVleet is fun, so I’m okay with that anyways. First-team selections felt pretty natural here, as was most of the second team. You could easily swap Tatum and Kevin Durant depending on your criteria. These players should be thanking their lucky stars I’m not one of the actual media voters.
Mitchell: Van mentioned it above; Embiid and Jokic are both centers, and therefore only one of them ought to be named to the first team. But if the league is going to stay cowardly and make Jokic eligible at forward, I’m going to give him the spot over whichever forward is second to Giannis. Embiid and Jokic are legitimate MVP candidates, and as such, I am going to force them onto my First Team, damn the consequences! The only other notable detail about my list is having Tatum on the Third Team, instead of putting him higher. Let’s just say I get weird “2020-21 Julius Randle” vibes from his campaign; he’s been good, but in ways that seem unsustainable.
Kyle: I went All-Star game logic with the first team so both Embiid and Jokic make it as front-court players. The guards were pretty simple for all the teams and DeRozan deserved a second-team while Tatum would likely have made it if I did a traditional one center and not a “frontcourt” style.
Van: While the Bucks’ defense was hardly worse by rating this season as compared to last—despite ranking four spots lower—it’s a stretch for me to have two players from the league’s 14th-best defense on the first team. Bridges and JJJ are more legit candidates for Defensive Player of the Year than Marcus Smart, plus Bridges can more credibly be called guard than Embiid/Jokic a forward. With barely over a half-season (46 games) played, I can’t put Draymond Green on, even though he was the league’s best defender in the season’s first half for the league’s top unit. So Finney-Smith, the stopper for the surprisingly sixth-ranked Mavs (let’s see if they indeed slip in year two of Kidd, as we recall fondly) gets a spot. Robert Williams’ impact on Boston’s rise defensively (they finished tied with Golden State for first) in the second half makes him an easy choice, while Adebayo had the superior defensive year to Embiid, who some voices (like Zach Lowe) feel took a step back on that end. Unlike some people here, I’m a big Pat Bev fan. He’s a significant reason behind the Wolves’ major culture shift, taking them from an awful defense to a pretty good one.
Adam: My list isn’t all that interesting, but I do wish I could’ve not included Pat Bev on there. I’d welcome suggestions in the comments.
Riley: To answer Adam, he’s forgetting the idea of Alex Caruso. Maybe Wes Matthews on his best day has Patrick Beverly beat. I had no idea Mikal Bridges was a plus defender, so seeing everyone else pick him was a bit of a shock; I immediately caved to peer pressure. Jrue is obviously an impact defender, but his role seemed pretty dialed back most of the season to me. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a Mack truck and one of the few guys in the league who can hold his own in an isolation defending Giannis. Respect to him for that.
Mitchell: I think I should have given Bam Adebayo more attention here. Also, if you doubt Jrue Holiday deserves First Team All-Defense, you’re incorrect.
Kyle: Sure he wasn’t at his best all the time, but Jrue absolutely deserves a first-team berth when dialed in and Mikal Bridges is a REALLY good defender overall. JJJ took a step that even I was surprised about and the second team is mainly guys that do deserve it but were not as good as the person in front of them.
Van: We’re almost unanimous on first-team honors, where I have to recognize an All-Defense candidate in Jones over do-it-all Giddey on a tanking team. Green really improved as the year progressed. Duarte and Mitchell are kind of weak candidates, but they finished sixth and tenth among rookies in scoring, respectively. I prefer that to guys like Alperen Şengün and Bones Hyland, who played far fewer minutes. Dosunmu is a key role player on a playoff team with extremely good efficiency for a rookie (59.6 TS%). This is a really good rookie class: Corey Kispert quietly had a solid rookie year for Washington and Jonathan Kuminga somewhat proved he was worth all the hype (which mostly came because he’s on the Dubs, it seems). Even guys like New Orleans’ two-way guard Jose Alvarado are apparently getting consideration.
Adam: I like my five guys, I didn’t want Jalen Green on the first team since his body of work included five months of pretty awful play followed by going wild for a month when the games didn’t really matter. All ten of these dudes should stick in the league for a while, which is saying something for a rookie class.
Riley: Davion Mitchell is my brother’s favorite rookie so we spent a lot of time watching Kings games together (I know, but listening to him rhapsodize about this bench rookie was fun). In fact, I’d say this was one of the stronger rookie classes I can recall lately. Giddey had that triple-double stretch, Duarte getting the green light from the jump was fun, and Cunningham found his rhythm after looking shaky to start the year. Jalen Green has the bombastic tendencies of Anthony Edwards without the self-effacing weirdness to temper it, so hopefully he works on that this offseason.
Mitchell: If there’s a list of rookies but no Bucks deserve to make that list, do I have to care about it? (Answer: No.) Herb Jones is fun, though.
Kyle: Honestly you could tell me Sandro deserves a spot and I would say sure.
That’s what we say about awards this season, but what say you? Let us know in the comments below.