Now that the NBA season is restarting, it’s a good time to go through the postseason awards.
That’s right. The NBA asked its media members to submit ballots this week without considering the final eight seeding games of the regular season in their deliberations. That means there will be some players who have more games in their resume and writers will have to use the Wayback Machine to remember what happened before the NBA suspended the season on March 11.
Here’s a quick refresher: The Bucks and Lakers still are the top contenders, with the Raptors and Clippers not far behind. There are some awards that were easy to decide. Surprisingly, MVP was one of those, as was rookie of the year.
Some others were a bit convoluted because the league expanded the options for the All-NBA team, allowing LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard to be selected as guards and several big men to be considered centers.
The Pistons finished 20-46 and were excluded from the restart, but Christian Wood did merit some consideration — and a first-place vote — in one category.
As the voter for the Detroit market, here are some of my selections for the NBA postseason awards:
Most Valuable Player
Most would say that it’s a two-person race between the current MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and LeBron James, a four-time winner.
It’s really a one-person race.
Antetokounmpo has the advantage in scoring (29.6), rebounds (13.7) and usage percentage (37.4) — and the Bucks have the league’s best record (53-12). That’s a slight increase over last season, when he posted 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds. The Bucks are even better than last season and Antetokounmpo rested significantly more this season because the Bucks were in more lopsided games. He’s elevated his game, including a jump to 31%on 4.8 3-pointers per game.
That’s no slight on James, who has returned the Lakers to the NBA’s elite. James’ numbers have dropped a bit, but he’s leading the league with a career-best 10.6 assists, to go with 25.7 points and 7.9 rebounds. James and the Lakers have been buoyed by the addition of Anthony Davis as well. Many NBA fans couldn’t name the second-best player on the Bucks.
► Beard’s vote: Antetokounmpo
Most of the first-team spots were easy to figure out: Antetokounmpo and James were easy choices at the forward spots, with Davis at center and James Harden as one of the guards. The other spot was harder, with no clear-cut standout. Sliding Kawhi Leonard there feels like cheating, but if the ballot allows it, I’ll take the easy way out.
My second team has Rudy Gobert at center with Chris Paul and Damian Lillard in the backcourt. The forwards are Luka Doncic, who was on my top-five list for MVP — and the biggest surprise could be the Bucks’ second-best player, Khris Middleton. He’s on the verge of a rare statistical feat, the season of 50-40-90 (field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage), while averaging more than 20 points. Only Larry Bird, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have accomplished that feat.
The third team has Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam at the forward spots, Nikola Jokic at center and Jimmy Butler and Bradley Beal as the guards. Beal is the only player from a team with a losing record, but with the season he had — and no John Wall — he deserves the consideration.
Most improved player
Just like MVP, where voters will argue about what the definition of most valuable means, there’s some discussion about what constitutes most improved. Is it a player who goes from role player to All-Star? I contend there’s something to be said for someone who goes from 15th man to major contributor.
Enter the Pistons’ Christian Wood into the conversation. He made the roster on the last day of training camp and finished the season averaging 22.8 points and 9.9 rebounds in his last 13 games, starting 11 of those. In his last four games, he scored 29, 30, 22 and 32 points, setting a new career high three times.
Wood gets the nod for first place, ahead of Devonte Graham and Brandon Ingram.
► Beard’s vote: Wood
Rookie of the year
Ja Morant has the Grizzlies in position to make the playoffs.
Zion Williamson played in only 19 games and although he put up some impressive numbers, with 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, it’s only 19 games. The Pelicans are in the bubble mix in Orlando because people want to see Williamson, but Morant (17.6 points, 6.9 assists) had the more impressive — and more complete — season.
► Beard’s vote: Morant
Sixth man of the year
Wood got some consideration here, having started only 12 of 62 games. Derrick Rose will get some votes too, but an injury shortened his season in February and March.
The Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell will get plenty of votes, but what Dennis Schroder did for the Thunder drew my attention. The Thunder played a ton of minutes with a three-guard lineup that included Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, which caused havoc on both ends of the court.
Schroder started just one of 63 games and posted numbers near his career high: 19 points and 4.1 assists in 31 minutes per game. He was a weapon off the bench.
► Beard’s vote: Schroder