Come summer, the NBA will hand out its shiny regular-season trophies for the first time at an NBA Awards Show — sure to be a glossy televised production — at New York City’s Pier 36, three days before the NBA draft. Here’s a look at how one ballot for those major awards might go:
MVP: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
It still says here San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard currently is, by the thinnest of hairs, the NBA’s best player at both ends. But that’s not the name of the award, and is there anybody more valuable than the nightly triple-double machine who has led a Thunder team without Kevin Durant to the West’s No. 6 seed? Not Leonard, not even Houston’s James Harden and not after Westbrook’s relentless statistical push to season’s finish. True, a triple-double is such an arbitrary thing, but nobody has approached — let alone surpassed — Oscar Robertson’s 41 in a season, until now.
Runners-up: Harden; Leonard; LeBron James, Cleveland; Isaiah Thomas, Boston; John Wall, Washington.
Rookie of the Year: Dario Saric, Philadelphia
Joel Embiid was good in his rookie season two injury-filled years after Philadelphia drafted him, so good he almost should get this despite playing limited minutes in only 31 games. Almost … Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon has helped lead his Bucks to the playoffs, but Saric, in his first season over from Europe, has flourished to the finish. He also has helped the 76ers nearly triple their 10 victories from a season ago even though Embiid played just those 31 games and No. 1 pick Ben Simmons didn’t play at all.
Runners-up: Brogdon; Embiid; Buddy Hield, Sacramento; Marquese Chriss, Phoenix.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
This award’s definition is open to as much interpretation as MVP. Sometimes, it is given because of increased opportunity. Others, it is given to somone who worked himself from the NBA fringe into a legit place. Seldom is it given to a player who makes the leap from star to superstar. But that’s the case with a first-time All-Star who has lifted his team to the playoffs.
Runners-up: Nikola Jokic, Denver; Bradley Beal, Washington; Myles Turner, Indiana; Jimmy Butler, Chicago; Rudy Gobert, Utah; Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves.
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni, Houston
Miami’s Erik Spoelstra resurrected the Heat from an 11-30 start to the playoffs’ verge and is worthy of this award. So, too, is Boston’s Brad Stevens for his Celtics’ 50-victory season. But D’Antoni gathered a once-promising team that had reached the verge of collapse and brought the Rockets back from the precipice. He put his trust — and the ball — in the hands of Harden, who has led the free-shooting Rockets to the West’s third playoff spot.
Runners-up: Spoelstra; Stevens; Scott Brooks, Washington; Quin Snyder, Utah.
Sixth Man: Eric Gordon, Houston
Oft-injured throughout his career, Gordon has stayed healthy all season and with a 17-point scoring average has proven himself to be a wise if unlikely free-agent investment. Along with Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams, Gordon is one big reason why the Rockets don’t go only as Harden goes. His main competition might be teammate Williams, acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline.
Runners-up: Andre Iguodala, Golden State; Williams; Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City; Zach Randolph, Memphis.
Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard, San Antonio
Advanced statistics don’t support Leonard’s cause for a third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award. What does? Wolves young star Andrew Wiggins’ bewilderment does every time he faces the game’s fiercest perimeter defender. Golden State’s Draymond Green can guard just about every position and has won games outright with his defense, enough so that this probably is a pick-em.
Runners-up: Green; Rudy Gobert, Utah; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; Hassan Whiteside, Miami; Jae Crowder, Boston; Paul Millsap, Atlanta.
Executive of the Year: Pat Riley, Miami
He cobbled together with chewing gum and baling wire a roster that lost Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, pushing forward after he himself helped drive D-Wade home to Chicago. He moved ahead with a series of seemingly innocuous free-agent signings — Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington — and the matching of Tyler Johnson’s offer sheet that just might get the Heat back to the playoffs after that 11-30 start.
Runners-up: David Griffin, Cleveland; Neil Olshey, Portland.
All-NBA first team
LeBron James, Cleveland
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
Marc Gasol, Memphis
Russell Westbrook, Okla. City
James Harden, Houston
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 8:30 p.m. at L.A. Lakers
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Okla. City
Wednesday: 7 p.m. at Houston
TV: FSN; Sun. and Tue. also on NBA TV
Players to watch: Russell Westbrook, Thunder, and James Harden, Rockets
Wolves fans get one last look in the final two regular-season games at the top two contenders for league MVP: Westbrook is averaging a triple-double for the season and Harden has taken over point guard and led his team to third place in the West.
“I don’t want him to have empty statistics. I want them to reflect on winning.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, asking more than near nightly double-double games from young star Karl-Anthony Towns.