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Taking a look at the NBA’s season award finalists

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While the NBA postseason is rapidly hurtling toward its ultimate crescendo, the league isn’t quite done considering the regular season accomplishments of its players and coaches.

The league has announced the finalists for its six primary regular season awards – MVP, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year – with the ultimate winners set to be announced on June 24.

Considering that the playoffs tend to feature a lot more space between contests than we see during the season, a discussion of these finalists is a welcome way to keep talking basketball even if you aren’t particularly invested in any of the teams still standing.

And so we’re going to do just that, offering up a basic look at a few of the award races and the contenders for each particular crown. Then, just for fun, I’ll pick a winner, though considering the casualness of my NBA fandom, we should be sure to call it what it is – a moderately underinformed prediction.

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MVP

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (27.7 ppg/12.5 rpg/5.9 apg)

Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder (28 ppg/8.2 rpg/4.1 apg)

James Harden, Houston Rockets (36.1 ppg/6.6 rpg/7.5 apg)

Some years, there’s a runaway favorite, an obvious choice for MVP. That isn’t the case this year. Well, not entirely – while there’s no disputing the admirable performance put up by Paul George, he’s still a distant third in this race. He justified the massive extension to which OKC was overjoyed to sign him and then some. However, he had the misfortune to have that year during the same season that Giannis and Harden decided to impose their respective wills on the game of basketball. Giannis was a legitimate force of nature this season, coming into his own in a way that only the most optimistic pundits predicted. He was third in scoring, sixth in rebounds and top-20 in assists. He also blocked 1.5 shots per game to go with his league-leading efficiency and Defensive Player of the Year-caliber defense. Meanwhile, Harden led the league in scoring – fewer than 10 players have averaged 35-plus points per game – and his 7.5 assists were good for seventh. In addition, he was second in the league in steals, though the rest of his defensive game left something to be desired. Either one of the two warrants consideration – Giannis led the Bucks to a top-tier regular season, while Harden essentially put the team on his back for six weeks midseason to keep the Rockets in contention. Harden did win last year, though, which might well lead to a few difference-making votes for Giannis.

Underinformed prediction: Giannis Antetokpunmpo

Rookie of the Year

Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (16.3 ppg/10.3 rpg/1.8 apg)

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks (21.2 ppg/7.8 rpg/6 apg)

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks (19.1 ppg/3.7 rpg/8.1 apg)

This is another one where the third-place contender is a fairly distant third. Trae Young looked like an out-and-out bust after his initial stretch of games, but he just took a little longer to adjust to the different pace of the NBA. Again, a great year – but not quite as great as the other two. Deandre Ayton had a lot to live up to, coming in as the first overall pick. The Suns had their struggles this year, which gave Ayton a chance to take his lumps and get his minutes. He put up solid numbers, including a top-15 rebounding season. But Doncic gives the impression of being a generational talent. He was easily the best scorer among rookies, averaging over 21 per game. His all-around game – six assists and nearly eight boards per contest – puts him even farther ahead of his peers. Yes, the Mavericks were terrible and Doncic pulled some bad-team numbers, but even taking that into account, it’s tough to imagine anyone other than Doncic winning this award.

Underinformed prediction: Luka Doncic

Sixth Man of the Year

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers (16.6 ppg/6.5 rpg/2 apg)

Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers (14.1 ppg/9.3 rpg/2.9 apg)

Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers (20 ppg/3 rpg/5.4 apg)

I’ll be honest – I’m not entirely sure how we got to a place where two players from the same team are finalists for the Sixth Man award. Like … only one of them can be sixth. The other one has to be seventh? Right? Anyway – there are two Clippers on this list of finalists. Harrell has been a huge part of the Clippers offensive attack and put forth some solid numbers – his work on the boards was particularly vital. On the other hand, we have Lou Williams, scoring 20 a game and vying for his second Sixth Man award in a row and third overall. In the non-Clipper division, we have Sabonis, an NBA legacy (his father was Lithuanian hoops legend Arvydas Sabonis) who turned himself into a key component for a Pacers team that was a surprise contender following a season-ending injury to Victor Oladipo. My gut says that Harrell and Williams do some vote splitting and Sabonis vaults to victory, but don’t be shocked if Williams repeats.

Underinformed prediction: Domantas Sabonis

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As for the other three awards, here are the finalists and underinformed predictions as to the winners. Consider these picks to be even shakier than the ones that came before; while I feel pretty good about my Defensive Player of the Year pick, the other two might as well be a monkey throwing darts – I’m just throwing out guesses.

Defensive Player of the Year

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Underinformed prediction: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Most Improved Player

De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings

D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

Underinformed prediction: D’Angelo Russell

Coach of the Year

Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Michael Malone, Denver Nuggets

Doc Rivers, LA Clippers

Underinformed prediction: Mike Budenholzer

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