Photo Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
As the NBA season draws to a close, that can mean only one thing: AWARDS SEASON!
I always love awards season, but primarily the end of awards season.
Why? Because it means we can stop having silly debates about Chris Paul over Nikola Jokic for MVP or Julius Randle over Giannis Antetokounmpo for All-NBA First Team (yes, that was a real thing that happened).
But since we here at Raptors Insider don’t have official votes on the NBA awards, I decided our team should still have their opinions known.
So conducting our first-ever Raptors Insider NBA Awards, we have six voters: writers Shane Zilberberg, Kai Francois, Max Ciarmela, and Hugh McLarty, Head of Operations Jacob Fogel, and Owner Zvi Katan. What a treat!
Each voter has cast their ballot and a brief explanation as to why they selected who they did.
Uh, except Zvi, who decided his picks were unquestionable and needed no explanation.
Shane Zilberberg (SZ): Nets 4-1 Suns
When healthy, it’s impossible to deny the Nets’ star power, and barring any additional injuries to Kevin Durant or James Harden, I don’t see anybody standing in their way. I do believe that the champion is coming from the East this season, and if Brooklyn does falter, the Philadelphia 76ers will be victorious.
In the West, I am all in on Phoenix; they are deep at every position, elite on both ends, well-coached, and have a good mix of veterans and youngsters who are hungry to prove themselves. Any team unfortunate enough to face them in the playoffs should be scared.
Kai Francois (KF): Nets 4-2 Clippers
Assuming James Harden comes back fully recovered from his current hamstring injury, there is simply no team that can match the Brooklyn Nets offensive fire power. The three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are too dominant offensively.
Max Ciarmela (MC): Lakers 4-2 Nets
A lot has to happen between now and the NBA Finals for these two teams to get there. Health is most important, but talent is surely one of the most important factors as well. The Nets and the Lakers are the two most talented teams in the league, watching this finals matchup would be like watching an all-star game. I’m giving the slight edge to LeBron and the Lakers.
Hugh McLarty (HM): Lakers 4-2 Sixers
I am not buying whatever LeBron James is trying to sell heading towards this year’s playoffs. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be 100 percent again.” “We haven’t played enough together.” LeBron James and Anthony Davis will dominate this year’s playoffs, that is that.
Jacob Fogel (JF): Lakers 4-3 Sixers
This might be one of the hardest finals predictions to make in years. The amount of talent on the Brooklyn Nets roster is absurd but their big three have only played seven games together all year and their lack of defence is a huge area of concern. Similarly, the Lakers have looked like an absolute shell of themselves since the injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and they’ll likely have a much tougher path to the finals than usual given that they’ll be a low seed. Due to these concerns, I’m tempted to reluctantly pick the 76ers, but since I know that LeBron is definitely reading this right now, I’m sure I just gave the king all the motivation he needs to prove me wrong and get his 5th ring. I’ll take the Lakers in 7 over the 76ers.
Zvi Katan (ZK): Nets 4-2 Lakers
Votes: Nets 3, Lakers 3
Most Improved Player
SZ: Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Julius Randle has not only transformed himself into a walking triple-double and elite playmaker, but he’s become a plus defender under Tom Thibodeau as well. Jerami Grant has statistically had a bigger jump, but Randle has the Knicks in the thick of a playoff race and has had a bigger impact overall. His improved shooting has made him a complete offensive player, he’s leading the league in minutes played, and he is firmly putting the Knicks in the conversation of teams that are on the rise.
KF: Julius Randle
Randle is having a career season this year and is looked at as one of the best all-around bigs in the league. He has made an impactful jump in many offensive categories, including his 3PT shooting that climbed from 27.7% in 2020 to now 42.7%. His scoring, facilitating and rebounding have helped give the New York Knicks their first solid playoff position since 2013.
MC: Julius Randle
The Knicks are finally not an embarrassment and that’s thanks to several factors. Tom Thibodeau has done a great job as the new head coach and RJ Barrett has had a stellar sophomore season. But Julius Randle has been spectacular averaging nearly 24 points 10 rebounds and 6 assists this season.
HM: Julius Randle
Finally, the Knicks have a good team! Randle deserves a ton of credit for his team’s success, almost all of the credit. It is great to see Randle find his place in the league.
JF: Julius Randle
I have to give this one to Randle. Team success is always a big factor in how awards are determined, and the way Randle has elevated his game to carry the Knicks to a four seed this year gives him an edge over other candidates like Jerami Grant and Christian Wood.
ZK: Julius Randle
Votes: Julius Randle (unanimous)
Coach of the Year
SZ: Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns
Williams has taken his team from the tenth seed in the Western Conference all the way to the top two, leading Phoenix back to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. The way Williams has maximized the talent of the supporting cast around Chris Paul and Devin Booker is remarkable, particularly the breakout season of Mikal Bridges. Monty Williams has always been renowned around the league for his incredible character, and with the undeniable arrival of the Suns, this award absolutely has to be his.
KF: Tom Thibodeau, New York Knicks
Thibodeau in his first season as head coach of the New York Knicks has helped them improve tremendously. His defensive focus has turned the Knicks into a great defensive team, currently ranked fourth in the league. His reunion with Derrick Rose, who he formerly coached in Chicago, has also helped Rose improve into a great bench option for the Knicks offense.
MC: Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies
How are the Memphis Grizzlies still in playoff contention when Jaren Jackson Jr. missed nearly the whole season due to injury, and Ja Morant also missed significant time with an ankle injury? Partly because Jenkins is a very good coach and he has had this team running like a well-oiled machine even when his star players have been out. He has done an outstanding job since joining the Grizzlies last season, leading them to the playoff play-in game in the bubble. The future looks bright for this young group.
HM: Tom Thibodeau
If you look at the team Thibodeau inherited, the fact that they are in a playoff position is nothing short of a miracle. Didn’t the Knicks sign like 15 Power Forwards over the course of two years? Even his players have noted the difference Thibs has made for the Knicks this year.
JF: Tom Thibodeau
The Knicks are a four seed… something I never thought I’d say, certainly not going into this season. While Randle has played great, I believe the true reason for the team’s shocking success this season has to be Tom Thibodeau. New York has been the laughingstock of the league for most of the last decade and went through six different head coaches in the last eight years before hiring Thibs prior to this season. The fact that he has turned them into a winning franchise in his first year with the team is truly remarkable.
ZK: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Votes: Tom Thibodeau 3, Monty Williams 1, Taylor Jenkins 1, Quin Snyder 1
Sixth Man of the Year
SZ: Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz
Not only is Clarkson scoring at the highest clip of his career, but he is also averaging career-highs in rebounding and steals, and leads the league in free throw percentage. Clarkson has always had a natural scoring ability, but he’s bringing more to the table and leading what has been one of the best benches in the NBA this season.
KF: Jordan Clarkson
Clarkson is a great scoring spark off the bench for the Utah Jazz. After coming to the Jazz via trade from the Cavaliers, Clarkson’s scoring numbers have continued to improve as he has helped contribute to the Jazz scoring success, carrying over from last season.
MC: Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson has found the perfect role for himself in Utah this season and it’s translating to lots of wins for the Jazz. As the league’s leading scorer off the bench this season with over 17 points per game, Clarkson enters the game with the ultragreen light and he has been answering the call on a nightly basis.
HM: Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz
Ingles has a chance to become just the eighth player in NBA history to shoot 45 plus percent from 3 while making 180 triples on the season. If he can do that, give him the award.
JF: Jordan Clarkson
That’s it. No explanation required.
ZK: Jordan Clarkson
Votes: Jordan Clarkson 5, Joe Ingles 1
Defensive Player of the Year
SZ: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Two-time winner Rudy Gobert will undoubtedly be a frontrunner once again, but Simmons is anchoring the #2 ranked defence in the league and is guarding everybody on the floor, as opposed to just the bigs. His instincts are elite, and combined with a monstrous wingspan and tons of strength, he is an absolute beast who really doesn’t get enough credit for the work he does on this end. That should change this season.
KF: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Gobert continues to have a dominant defensive presence in the league. Currently averaging 2.8 blocks, 0.6 steals and 10.1 defensive rebounds this year, Gobert remains one of the best defensive and most feared bigs in the league. His elite paint presence for the Jazz this year will help him win his third DPOY award in the last four years.
MC: Ben Simmons
Philadelphia has improved a lot this season especially on the defensive end. Someone from the Sixers should be on the NBA regular season awards list and Ben Simmons is one the league’s most elite defenders on one of the best defensive teams.
HM: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
In a not very diplomatic answer I want Bam to win simply because, with all this talk coming from Ben Simmons and Rudy Gobert, I would like to see neither of those dudes get the award at the end of the year.
JF: Ben Simmons (but OG Anunoby in my heart)
I would love nothing more than to see this award given to OG Anunoby. He is truly in a league of his own in terms of defensive versatility, and his ability to shut down some of the best scorers in the world is remarkable. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, winning is always a factor when it comes to awards, so I don’t expect the 12th place Raptors to be coming home with any sort of hardware. I’ll give this one to Ben Simmons, but mark my words: OG is a future defensive player of the year.
ZK: Ben Simmons
Votes: Ben Simmons 4, Rudy Gobert 1, Bam Adebayo 1
Rookie of the Year
SZ: LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
Even despite missing a month, it would be disingenuous to not still award this to Ball given his impact with the Hornets. In his first season, he has been a high-impact player on both ends, provided countless dazzling highlights, and put Charlotte in a position to potentially make the playoffs for the first time in five years. Anthony Edwards is a (very) close runner up with an incredible run of his own as of late, but Ball’s overall body of work cannot be overlooked.
KF: LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball is a front offices’ dream at just 19 years old. He has surpassed all expectations and was the clear frontrunner for ROY before his wrist injury. At one point he was leading the way among rookies in scoring, assists and rebounds and now returning from his injury, can hopefully help the Charlotte Hornets secure a playoff spot.
MC: Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
It seemed like this was LaMelo Ball’s award to lose, but missing significant time with a wrist injury might have cost him Rookie of the Year honours. Anthony Edwards had a rough start to the season but he has really picked it up since around the midway point of the season. He’s given us lots of entertainment on the floor with some crazy athletic plays and also off the court with some hilarious post-game interviews.
HM: Anthony Edwards
If we were basing this on popularity, no doubt it’s LaMelo Ball. He’s played well too but I’m afraid the injuries will prevent him from winning the award. In that case, Anthony Edwards should get this one. Great stats, great personality and great confidence – tough not to like this guy.
JF: Anthony Edwards
The fewest games ever played by a rookie of the year is 50 (Patrick Ewing in 1985-86 and Vince Carter in 1998-99). If LaMelo Ball plays in every remaining game for the Hornets this season, he’ll finish at a total of 51, so it’s not unheard of, but certainly very rare to win the award on such few games played. On the other hand, Anthony Edwards has played in every game this season for the Timberwolves and has put together a terrific rookie season. Pre-injury LaMelo was the obvious choice, but at this point I think Edwards has built a strong enough case to deserve the award.
ZK: LaMelo Ball
Votes: LaMelo Ball 3, Anthony Edwards 3
All-Rookie First Team
SZ: Tyrese Haliburton (SAC), LaMelo Ball (CHA), Anthony Edwards (MIN), Jae’Sean Tate (HOU), James Wiseman (GSW)
The one thing this speaks to is how great the rookie class has been this year. Haliburton has taken the league by surprise with his maturity and poise, leading the Kings without De’Aaron Fox late in the year. Tate has been a terrific find for an undrafted player, too. Wiseman has been a bit inconsistent, but has still shown dominant flashes at times. Regardless of who makes it, the future of the NBA is in good hands.
KF: Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Jae’Sean Tate, James Wiseman
This year’s rookie class has really impressed everyone. These rookies have had solid foundational seasons all-around and have established themselves as future stars in the league.
MC: Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Saddiq Bey (DET), James Wiseman
HM: Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Jae’Sean Tate, Patrick Williams (CHI)
JF: Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Jae’Sean Tate, James Wiseman
ZK: Tyrese Haliburton, LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Saddiq Bey, Immanuel Quickley
Votes: LaMelo Ball (unanimous), Tyrese Haliburton (unanimous), Anthony Edwards (unanimous), Jae’Sean Tate 4, James Wiseman 4, Saddiq Bey 2, Patrick Williams 1, Immanuel Quickley 1
Most Valuable Player
SZ: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
With almost all other candidates missing significant time due to injury, Jokic has to be the selection. He is a sorcerer with the basketball, insanely efficient, elite in almost every facet of the game, and he has Denver sitting near the top of the West despite a rash of injuries, including losing running mate Jamal Murray for the season. The big Serbian has been on another level since slimming down last summer, and he has shown no signs of slowing down to this point.
KF: Nikola Jokic
The Joker has been incredibly valuable to the Denver Nuggets and has proved himself to be one of, if not the best modern day big man in the league. Jokic is leading the way on his team without Jamal Murray, almost averaging a triple double, with an impressive 26.3 PPG, 10.9 RPG and 8.5 APG. His impact for the Nuggets cannot go unnoticed as he is the reason why they are a top seed in the Western Conference.
MC: Nikola Jokic
It’s great to see two true big men leading the MVP race, as it seems like it’s been forever since that last happened (since Shaq and Duncan). Joel Embiid and Jokic have been going at it for the MVP all season, averaging very comparable stats but I have to give a slight edge to Nikola Jokic. Mostly for the fact that Jokic hasn’t missed a game all season and also because the Nuggets have been able to stay at 3rd in the very tough western conference even after losing Jamal Murray to a season-ending knee injury.
HM: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is the front runner in my eyes. The most efficient player in the NBA, and even without Jamal Murray for the rest of the year Jokic still makes the Nuggets a playoff threat. When the ball runs through your centre on offense it means you have something special going on there.
JF: Nikola Jokic
Everyone was picking Embiid, then he got hurt. Then we all started saying LeBron, then he got hurt. Then we shifted our attention to Harden, then he got hurt. It’s been an incredibly strange MVP race this year, but I think the award has to go to Nikola Jokic. He’s been the only candidate who checks all the boxes, as he’s absolutely loaded up the stat sheet while leading his team to one of the top seeds in the Western Conference and playing in every single game this season.
ZK: Nikola Jokic
Votes: Nikola Jokic (unanimous)
All-NBA First Team
SZ: Stephen Curry (GSW), Luka Doncic (DAL), Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), Joel Embiid (PHI), Nikola Jokic (DEN)
Outside of Jokic, there have been some incredible individual performances this year. Steph Curry recently capped one of the best offensive runs in NBA history, averaging 40.8 points in the month of April and scoring 30 points or more in eleven straight. Antetokounmpo and Embiid have been bullying their opponents all season long, and Luka Doncic is doing everything he can to lift the Dallas Mavericks, nearly averaging a triple-double. The usual suspects like LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be unfortunate snubs from this list due to missed time.
KF: Steph Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic
Surprising list with nobody from the powerhouse Brooklyn Nets – Durant and Harden could have made the cut if they did not miss as much time. This list however has superstar caliber players who have all had very impressive seasons this year. All across the board, each player has individually carried their teams and done so with plenty of highlight reel entertainment.
MC: Steph Curry, Luka Doncic, Julius Randle (NYK), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic
HM: James Harden (BKN), Kawhi Leonard (LAC), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic
JF: opted out???
Honestly, I can’t do this one. Jokic and Embiid are both centers but putting either of them on the second team instead of the first team feels criminal. I also still believe that LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two best players in the world but putting them above the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo when they’ve missed so many games doesn’t feel fair. The only position that I can say with 100% confidence is Steph Curry at point guard, but trying to decide between the rest of them is affecting my health, so I will respectfully sit this one out.
ZK: Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic
Votes: Nikola Jokic (unanimous), Giannis Antetokounmpo (unanimous), Steph Curry 4, Joel Embiid 3, Luka Doncic 3, Kawhi Leonard 2, James Harden 1, LeBron James 1, Julius Randle 1