- Benjamin Gerstel
Here are the predictions for the 2021-2022 NBA Awards
MVP: Nikola Jokic
This season, Nikola Jokic has flown under the radar, due to a shadow casted by Embiid and his scoring prowess. Embiid’s 8 straight games with 30-points is historic (hasn’t been done by a center in 20 years since Shaq) but was also matched by DeMar Derozan this season. As we have seen with James Harden and Giannis Antetokoumpo in 2018-2019, scoring streaks don’t hold up so well by the end of the season when it comes to voting. Jokic however, is doing something that we haven’t seen in history. He is on pace to break the record set by Wilt Chamberlain, for most triple doubles ever by a center ever. With 15 on the season, he is only four short away and will likely do so shortly after the all-star break. The Serbian prodigy also leads the league in triple doubles, and is second in the NBA in rebounding. The reigning MVP has played arguably even better than last season, making him
Jokic also makes the players around him better. When you compare the rosters on paper (PHI/DEN), Denver is clearly weaker. Embiid had guys who can take some pressure off of him, whether it was Seth Curry’s shooting, Matisse Thybulle’s defense, or Tobias Harris’s play. For the second half of the season, he’ll also have an MVP-caliber point guard in James Harden. In the event that Embiid’s shots weren’t falling one night, Philadelphia has enough talent to fall back on. Denver’s star center is surrounded by much weaker options. With Jamaal Murray out and Michael Porter Jr. not quite reaching his potential yet, Jokic’s supporting cast is limited and inexperienced. Despite this, the Denver Nuggets boast an offensive rating ranked seventh in the league, while Embiid’s team sits at 14th. The fact that he can orchestrate one of the most efficient offenses in the league, without his primary weapon, strengthens the Serbians MVP case. He can pass, drain three pointers with his Nowitzki-esque arc, and lead other players to where they need to be. Nikola Jokic has been the best player in the league so far.
Defensive Player of the Year: Mikal Bridges
Aside from being one of the most likable personalities in the league, Mikal Bridges is also one of the best defensive players in the league. His 7’1 wingspan creates a lengthy body that can guard any position. Phoenix’s team defense is also one of the best in the league, with a 105.4 defensive rating (3rd) and a league-lowest 33.3% from three point. Mikal Bridges is the main reason for that. The Villanova SG/F has shut down some of the best players in the league while guarding them, such as Stephen Curry. In 17 minutes over three games, Bridges has held Stephen Curry to 2-12 from the field (16.7%), and 0- 5 from downtown. Bridges has the ability to, and is willing to shut down your best player. He’s done a phenomenal job so far this season.
Unlike Sixth Man of the Year, 2022-2022’s Defensive Player of the Year battle is a bit more condensed. Jaren Jackson leads the league in total blocks with 129 and has been rising up the ranks recently. Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green will also be back playing, and have a chance to remind everyone who they really are by the end of the season. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounpo, and rookie Evan Mobley lurk in the shadows as well. If Draymond Green has been healthy this whole time, he would’ve been my pick for this season. However, I believe your 2021-2022 Defensive Player of the Year, up until the all-star break, has been Mikal Bridges.
Most Improved Player: Dejounte Murray
After a freak preseason accident during a preseason matchup against Houston two years ago, Dejounte Murray tore his ACL. This year, Dejounte Murray has already found himself in the all star game, and is having the best season of his career. He drops nearly 20.0 points per game, 9.3 assists per game (nearly double his total last year), and a league-leading 2.0 steals per game. Murray is second in the NBA in triple doubles with 11, which is already double the triple doubles he had during the 2020-2021 season. He also has four games over 30-points, which is something he hasn’t done all year last season. Murray has overcome a horrific ACL injury, and has re-established himself as one of the premiere two-way guards in the game. I understand the argument for Ja Morant, but I believe his eyes are set on MVP (which he will win), making Dejounte Murray the most appropriate winner for the Most Improved Player.
Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro
This one is relatively unanimous. Tyler Herro has been lighting it up in Miami, scoring more points than regular starters and stars in the league off the bench. His 20.0 points per game are 26th in the league and above players like Julius Randle and Dejounte Murray. Hero also has 23 20+ point games (with 4 games over 30), compared to Coby White’s 9, Kelly Oubre’s 16, and Kevin Love’s 13. At this point, as you can see in the odds, (-1150-Herro, +2700-Oubre, and +3500-Love), the race for Sixth Man of the Year is essentially over.
Coach of the Year: J.B. Bickerstaff
I would not be surprised at all if J.B. Bickerstaff wins this award. “Small ball” has been a growing trend within the league, ever since that Houston Rockets team with P.J. Tucker. However, we have rarely seen a lineup like Cleveland’s that incorporates so many giants. They started off the season with a ton of starting-caliber bigs, including Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen, and Kevin Love. Nobody knew what to expect from them, or how successful they would be. If someone told a person before the season, that entering the all-star break, Cleveland would be ahead of Milwaukee, Boston, and Brooklyn, they probably would’ve laughed in their face.
It hasn’t been the easiest road for them either. Collin Sexton, who was the best player for them last year, will miss the remainder of this season after playing only 11 games. By trading for Caris LeVert, Cleveland has tried to fill his spot in a win now move, but few people can bring what Collin Sexton does, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Without Sexton, Rubio, and one of the most unique starting lineups in history, J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers find themselves in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Like Defensive Player of the Year or Most Improved Player, Bickerstaff does have some competition. Taylor Jenkins has rifled a very young and inexperienced Grizzlies team to the third seed in the West. Suffering a Dillon Brooks injury has made their pathway even more difficult but it’s impossible to ignore how he has brought out the best in Morant and Jackson. Monty Williams also has a case, as he and Phoenix have become the model for consistent excellence for the rest of the league. While I believe that Bickerstaff should win this award so far, I can also respect the cases made by Monty and Taylor Jenkins.