Most years, NBA front office folks, coaching staffs, players and just about everybody else in the league would be packing for their August vacations right about now.
Free agency would be mostly finished. The draft picks would be done with summer league. And the barstool talk about who got jobbed for MVP or most-improved-player would have long since died down.
At this point, we’d all just like to be able to get back to that barstool.
But, with the season restarting this week and the NBA playing games in the heat of summer, it’s time to dish out the hardware. The NBA has decreed that the awards will be based solely on what happened before the March 11 shutdown because of the coronavirus crisis.
So, following is Sefko’s annual awards smorgasbord. We don’t get a vote here at the home office (literally) anymore. But if we did, here’s the way it would look. And if these picks don’t take home the bling, then something surely went haywire with the voting.
MVP: 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee. 2. LeBron James, LA Lakers. 3. James Harden, Houston. 4. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers. 5. Luka Doncic, Dallas.
The top three seem to be pretty clear. And in that particular order. The Greek Freak has too many pluses on his side to be denied and James again is defying age and putting up the sort of numbers that deserve MVP consideration. Harden’s scoring is nearly four points more than the next-nearest player (and kudos to you if you knew Bradley Beal was No. 2 on the scoring list this season). Leonard and Doncic probably could go either way, but they rate a clear fourth and fifth over Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. Doncic’s time will come, possibly as soon as next season. Remember, coach Rick Carlisle has said he wouldn’t trade the second-year point guard for anybody. That is a very smart approach to Doncic.
ROY: 1. Ja Morant, Memphis. 2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami. 3. Brandon Clarke, Memphis.
OK, we threw out Zion Williamson because he only played 19 games. We’ll account for him when it comes to the all-rookie team. Morant has been very solid all season long for a team that is solidly in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. He and Clarke give the Grizzlies a pair of young, rising stars around which to build. Nunn has been terrific for the Heat, starting every game he’s played and putting up consistent numbers as one of the top young shooters in the league. Just missing out on the top three: New York’s R.J. Barrett, Washington’s Rui Hachimura, Chicago’s Coby White and Golden State’s Eric Paschall.
Most-improved player: 1. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana. 2. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans. 3. Bam Adebayo, Miami.
Adebayo gets hurt simply because he had his playing time go up so much that he was bound to bump up his stats. Bottom line is he was too good a year ago to win this award. Ingram and Sabonis are basically interchangeable. Wouldn’t argue either way. But the Pacers’ big man upped his rebounding significantly and nearly doubled his assist total from the previous year. Too much to ignore.
But the interesting part of this award for Mavericks’ fans is that Luka Doncic isn’t on my top three. Like Adebayo, he was really good when he won rookie of the year in 2018-19. So it’s hard to get most improved when you had that much success in the previous year. However, as coach Rick Carlisle said, it’s not that farfetched. Just an overall refinement of his game,” Carlisle said about Doncic’s improvement from year one to year two. “He’s become the leader of the team on the floor, that’s pretty clear. And (he’s got) a greater overall understanding of what we need from him, which is basically that he needs to do a little bit of everything. He’s got to create for himself, create for teammates, guard good players and we need him to attack the rim, make 3-point shots, direct traffic. It’s everything. I saw somebody had him as most-improved player. It’s not a stretch.”
Defensive POY: 1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee. 2. Anthony Davis, LA Lakers. 3. Rudy Gobert, Utah.
The most interesting part of this award is that the top two guys are also top offensive threats. There’s a reason why they both show up on most of the MVP ballots.
Sixth man: 1. Montrezl Harrell, LA Clippers. 2. Lou Williams, LA Clippers. Dennis Shroder, Oklahoma City.
Flip a coin on the two Clippers. Harrell and Williams are virtually identical in their production, but Harrell does it in slightly fewer minutes per game, so the nod goes there.
And by the way, Seth Curry would most certainly make the top five, if the voting went that deep.
COY: 1. Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City. Nick Nurse, Toronto. Nate McMillan, Indiana.
Once upon a time, Donovan had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on a conference finalist team. Management has changed over the team and while some really nice pieces were obtained in return (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul, Dennis Shroder), it’s taken some duct tape and baling wire to keep this thing together.
All-NBA: First team: G LeBron James, G Luka Doncic, F Giannis Antetokounmpo, F Kawhi Leonard, C Anthony Davis.
Second team: G James Harden, G Damian Lillard, F Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, C Nikola Jokic.
Third team: G Russell Westbrook, G Chris Paul, F Pascal Siakim, F Khris Middleton, C Joel Embiid.
Argue among yourselves. Kristaps Porzingis could have been a consideration as the third-team center, but hard to argue with Embiid’s production. Guards were absolutely tough to peg. Forwards, tough to find enough of.
All-rookie: First team: Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Kendrick Nunn, Brandon Clarke, Coby White.
Second team: R.J. Barrett, Rui Hachimura, Eric Paschall, Tyler Herro, De’Andre Hunter.