Peltzman’s NBA Playbook: Awards and All-NBA Predictions

MVP Trophy Graphic. - Multimedia Editor / Drew Peltzman

For this column, I decided to pick who I believe is deserving of the ALL-NBA and postseason Award selections as if I were an official voter. Two rule changes have made it harder than ever to pick the players for these honors.

First, the NBA implemented an eligibility requirement of 65 games played, to prevent players who are either injured or resting consistently from winning. This removes players like Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell, and Jimmy Butler. Second, the NBA made the All-NBA teams positionless, in response to Joel Embiid making second-team All-NBA two of the last three seasons, despite being the second-best player in the NBA, because there was only one spot for a center on each team. Now, hypothetically, five centers could make the first team, as positions are no longer structuring the three All-NBA teams.

This has drawn pushback, as it removes the sense of it actually being a “team” that a coach would put on the court at any level. Either way, voting for these awards has become a little bit more difficult with these two added layers.

All stats via Statmuse or ESPN

Most Valuable Player – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Although being a toss-up between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nikola Jokic for MVP this season, SGA gets my nod, as the rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder was never expected to be this quick. Thanks to Gilgeous-Alexander’s ability on both ends, the Thunder finished with the first seed in the Western Conference.

He has been impossible to guard. His dribble finesse, post-play, and improved three-point shooting have made him effective from every single spot on the floor. He leads the league in drives per game and 30-point games, and is third in points per game (30.1), illustrating just how effective his offensive strategy is.

SGA is 6’6″ but has a wingspan of 6’11”, opening up unique angles for layups and ensuring a high release point that lets him work close to the rim, with mid-range jumpers amongst taller defenders. When he has everything working offensively, which is often, SGA looks like a smaller prime Kevin Durant.

Most importantly, the length has converted to SGA’s best defensive season of his career. He is leading the league in steals per game (2.0) and is 10th in the league in defensive win shares, or how impactful a player’s defense is to the whole team’s defense. Despite having quite the supporting cast, the team is 2-5 when Gilgeous-Alexander does not play this season. Jokic’s supporting cast is a bit better and more experienced and went 2-1 without Jokic this season.

Close But No Cigar – Luka Doncic: Doncic is neck and neck, or leading SGA in offensive stats this season, and has pulled the Mavericks to the fifth seed in the west. There is no shame in picking him, but I do value the defensive side of the ball for this award. He has just two steals in April, coinciding with his offensive improvement during their run.

Rookie of the Year – Victor Wembanyama

Perhaps the easiest of the awards to pick, Wembanyama has been the best rookie since the year turned even. He led all rookies in points per game (21.4), rebounds per game (10.6), and free throws made per game (4.1).

It took a little bit of time for the San Antonio Spurs to get used to the alien, but once they did, he started producing stat lines we had never seen before. On Feb. 29, he became the first player in NBA history to record 25-plus points, 10-plus rebounds, five-plus assists, five-plus blocks, and five made three-pointers. He has the skills of a guard trapped in a 7’4″ frame.

Where Wembanyama shines is his defensive prowess, which has already catapulted him to one of, if not the best rim defenders in the league. He leads the NBA in blocks per game (3.6) and is likely to finish second in Defensive Player of The Year voting behind fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert.

As an opposing team, you have to know where he is at all times, or else he will likely reject your shot. In just five games in April, Wembanyama averaged 5.6 blocks a contest.

Chet Holmgren (OKC) and Brandon Miller (CHA) both had respectable rookie seasons and this award would have had one hell of a campaign season if Wembanyama did not exist.

Defensive Player of the Year – Rudy Gobert

The best defensive player on the best defensive team, Gobert has locked down opponents in the paint. If they are shooting with him towering over them, they are making only 48.8% of them, which ranks best with the number of contests he had this season.

He leads all eligible players in the league in defensive win shares and has the Timberwolves defensive rating two points better than anyone else. Gobert should enjoy this one more than most, as it could be his last with Wembanyama lurking next season.

“I know that Rudy (Gobert) has a very good chance of winning it this year, and it would be deserved. Let him win it now because after that it’s no longer his turn,” Wembanyama said.

Sixth Man of the Year – Naz Reid

This was Malik Monk’s award to lose, but going down with an MCL sprain in his right knee on March 29 against the Mavericks might have just done exactly that. Timberwolves sixth-man Naz Reid has been a crucial part of their success this season.

Off the bench, he ranks top five in points (5th), rebounding (3rd), blocks (3rd), and plus/minus (4th). In the 17 games since Karl Anthony-Towns tore his meniscus in his left knee, Reid has provided 17.6 points per game on 42% shooting from deep and has done everything he can to keep the Timberwolves at the top of the Western Conference standings.

He is built like a power forward or small-ball center, but has the skillset of a wing, blessing him with a tremendous shooting ability and touch at the rim. He is bound to get a steal and a block every game. Monk could very well still win this award but do not be surprised if Reid garners some voters’ attention in the last few days of the regular season.

Most Improved Player of the Year – Tyrese Maxey

Tyrese Maxey entered the season as one of the biggest question marks in the NBA.

Could he be the facilitator on a contending level offense?

Not only did he answer the call as the lead ball-handler by averaging almost three more assists per game than in 2022-23, but he also scored over five more points than he did last year. He is tied with Joel Embiid and Devin Booker for the most 50+ point games this season with three.

His defensive ability has been a glaring improvement, consistently poking the ball free and staying alive on drives from similarly sized guards, which reflects in a jump in both steals and blocks year over year. He was voted into his first all-star game this year and could very well be rewarded for his rapid improvement since being the 21st pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

Coach of the Year – Joe Mazzulla

Since the Boston Celtics have not seen the awards table yet, coach Mazzulla should be rewarded for the seamless buy-in he received from his players, and the effectiveness in which they executed night in and night out.

Their league-best 64-18 record was 14 games better than any other team in the Eastern Conference and seven games better than any team in the league. They finished first in offensive rating and second in defensive rating, they are the definition of a juggernaut.

All-NBA First Team

Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luka Doncic.

All-NBA Second Team

Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson.

All-NBA Third Team

Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, Jaylen Brown, Tyrese Maxey.

All-Defensive First Team

Rudy Gobert, Victor Wembanyama, Anthony Davis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Derrick White.

All-Defensive Second Team

Bam Adebayo, Chet Holmgren, Alex Caruso, Jalen Suggs, Anthony Edwards.

All-Rookie First Team

Victor Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren, Brandon Miller, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Keyonte George.

All-Rookie Second Team

Brandin Podziemski, Trayce Jackson-Davis, G.G. Jackson, Scoot Henderson, Cason Wallace.

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