Justin Norris | Staff Writer
For the first time in recent memory, most of the NBA awards lack a clear frontrunner. The MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year races are all tightly contested, and depending on who you ask, there are multiple deserving candidates.
The MVP award is a two-man race between Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Antetokounmpo is a two-way, positionless force, averaging 27.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6 assists per game on the NBA-leading Bucks. The Greek Freak’s stat line is something the league has not seen since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season.
James Harden is vying for his second consecutive MVP.
The Beard averages 36.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game for the injury-depleted Rockets. Harden’s streak of 32 straight games with 30 or more points is the second-most of all time, and he is averaging the most points per game since Michael Jordan in the 1986-87 season.
MVP voters usually side with the candidate that is the best player on the best team, giving Antetokounmpo the slightest of edges over Harden’s scorching season.
Ron Sanders, a Hampton University junior chemical engineering major from Atlanta, Georgia, thinks that despite Harden’s statistically dominant season, Antetokounmpo should win the 2018-19 MVP award.
“Giannis is dominating in the paint like a big man, but he handles the ball and facilitates like a point guard,” Sanders said. “He also does way more than Harden on the other side of the ball, which has to count for something if voters are measuring which player is more valuable to their team.”
The Defensive Player of the Year race might be the hardest race to predict. It figures to be a three-man race between Antetokounmpo, Paul George and Rudy Gobert. The Greek Freak’s biggest selling point is his unique versatility. He averages 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game and helps anchor the team with the best defensive rating in the NBA. On any given possession, he can guard any position on the floor and switch assignments seamlessly.
George has been leading a strong Oklahoma City defense that has played without lockdown defender Andre Roberson all season. As a result, George, in addition to being the primary option on offense, has had to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player and has been doing so remarkably well. His 2.1 steals per game lead the league, and the Thunder lead the league in steals as well.
Gobert, like Harden, finds himself trying to be an award repeat winner against deserving and notable competition. He anchors the league’s second-best defense by controlling the paint. The Jazz’s defensive scheme is to simply funnel the action to their stalwart big man. The Stifle Tower’s incredible wingspan and strong instincts allow him to block more than 2 shots per game and alter countless others. Giannis’ positionless versatility, coupled with the Thunder struggling to defend lately and Gobert having to compete against his award-winning dominance from last season, gives the Greek Freak a razor-thin advantage in this category.
The Rookie of the Year Award comes down to Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks. It is fitting that Doncic and Young are battling for the Rookie of the Year hardware because they were traded for one another on draft night. Doncic has enjoyed a strong all around season, posting 21.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game for a Mavericks squad in need of a new star as Dirk Nowitzki nears retirement. Doncic started off the season strong, displaying a preternatural passing ability to go with clutch shot-making.
Young had a slower start to the season but has picked up the slack lately as he has produced a slew of 30-point, 10-assist games. Young averages 19 points, 3.6 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game, and he continues to dazzle with his rare combination of shooting and passing ability. Doncic’s slightly superior stats on a better team will likely sway voters away from Young in what should be a tightly contested vote.
All of these players are having very tough seasons, and it speaks to the deep, expanding talent pool of the NBA that there is not a clear-cut favorite in any of these races.