Most Historic Scoring Run: James Harden
What an incredible season it’s been for James Harden. There are tons of crazy stats that put this historic run into perspective, but I think this is the best: Players to average 36+? Wilt, MJ, and James Harden. That’s unbelievable. And Jordan only did it once, so this is the 2nd highest since the merger. He dropped thirty-two straight 30-pt games, which is just absurd. When most NBA players drop 30 once, it’s a notable accomplishment. He did it 32 times in a row! There have been eight 57+ games this year, and 6/8 are Harden’s. He absolutely carried their team through injuries to Paul and Capela. Arguably even crazier than the numbers themselves is the way he’s doing it. Harden has turned the step-back three into his bread and butter. He took a historically low-percentage shot and turned it into a good look. When you can take an un-guardable shot like that and make it a good look, you become unstoppable, i.e. Kobe fadeaway, Kareem skyhook, etc. This season, only 13% of Harden’s shots have been assisted. Incredible.
The Literally Young Shaq Award: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Speaking of incredible seasons, how about Giannis? Whichever one of these two you have for MVP, it’s your basketball fan obligation to appreciate both of their seasons. Honestly, I’m personally torn when it comes to the MVP this season, but either way, each deserves recognition for their ridiculous season. Giannis is averaging 27, 13, and 6……… yeah. And he’s shooting 64% from two-point range. When Shaq was this age (24), he averaged 26, 13, and 3, shooting 56%. As The Big Diesel said himself, “Yeah, he’s better. And that’s why I gave my Superman title to him.” Of course, Giannis is doing it from the perimeter, but he’s really the modern version of a dominant center. Meanwhile, he’s dominating on the defensive end, too. He leads the league in defensive rating, defensive box +/-, and defensive win shares. Not bad. What a season for Giannis.
Forgotten Storyline of the Year: Jimmy Butler in Minnesota
Doesn’t this seem like forever ago? There was the infamous practice where Jimmy and the third stringers defeated the starters as Butler kindly informed GM Scott Layden “You f—— need me”. He wasn’t wrong, the Wolves aren’t doing too hot without him. It was early November when Jimmy was sent to Philadelphia, who has since acquired another All-Star caliber forward, Tobias Harris. The Jimmy/Minnesota drama sure doesn’t feel like it was this season.
The Wait, He Played This Season? Award: Carmelo Anthony
How about this one? As I was going through award ideas I was blown away to recall the fact that Carmelo registered ten games played this year for Houston. He averaged 13 and 5 in those games. Anthony’s short tenure in Houston wasn’t a disaster by any means, but in the end, he wasn’t satisfied with his role, and the two went their separate ways. It’s really a sad end to Carmelo’s career if it is the end. A part of me really wants Carmelo to get a mini-retirement tour next season so he can get the goodbye he deserves, but at the same time, he probably can’t contribute on a contender, so it would be sad to see him struggle through a season as a benchwarmer. He’ll finish his career as a 10x All-Star, 6x All-NBA, and 1x Scoring Champ. Based off his resume, Basketball Reference gives Melo a 98% chance to make the Hall of Fame.
Easiest Team to Root For: Brooklyn Nets (and LA Clippers)
Brooklyn had such a fun season, I had to come up with an award like this one. Isn’t it incredible how quickly they turned around from that Boston trade? It just goes to show how a smart front office can be so huge. The person holding the cards is more important than the cards he has, in many cases. There are so many great clips of their bench celebrations, and I love the video of the team reacting to Theo Pinson’s game-winner in the G-League playoffs. When I created this category, I had to throw in the Clippers, too. Have you seen the video of Doc running into the locker room after they clinched the playoffs? “ESPN predicted 33 wins. Charles Barkley said 33 wins. Vegas? 33 wins. Now we’re going to the damn playoffs!” They’re a lovable group too, with hard-working chip-on-their shoulder guys like Pat Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell. No one on this team is a true star, but they play for each other, and it works.
Most Disappointing Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Oof. Not a great season for the LABron and the LakeShow. At 35-43, they’ve clinched their sixth straight losing season. Right now, they have the same number of wins as last year’s team, which didn’t include LeBron James. They’ve now missed the playoffs six straight years. Before that, they missed it only 4 times in 51 years. Yes, there were some injuries that hurt their case, but a losing season, missing the playoffs, this season is an absolute failure. A huge part of the blame has to go to the front office, some goes to Luke Walton, sure, but fair or not, this season will really hurt LeBron’s case to be considered the greatest player of all time. For many, these last couple months have cemented Jordan at #1. Check out my recent article about the Lakers‘ recent front office gaffs to realize just how much they’ve thrown away in the last three or four years.
Most Surprising Team: Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks
Before the season, Vegas predicted the Nuggets to finish 6th in the West and the Bucks to finish 5th in the East. Denver was projected around 47.5 wins, they’re on pace for 54. Milwaukee was projected at 46.5, they’re on pace for 61. What a season by both of these, as the Bucks are sitting comfortably atop the East and the Nuggets are likely going to finish 2nd in the West. Most believe more in Milwaukee when it comes to playoff contention, but I personally was more surprised by Denver’s season. Both teams’ coaches deserve all kinds of credit, and so do their stars, Giannis and Jokic, but role players have been stepping up for each throughout the season too. Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, and more.
The How are they still in the 5 seed without Oladipo? Award: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers didn’t quite qualify for the most surprising award, so I invented one for them. Victor Oladipo is the only real star on the Pacers’ roster. He’s the only player with team-leading experience, even role players like Sabonis and Turner really can’t be #1 options. Lots of the credit here goes to Bojan Bogdanovic. On the season, Bojan is averaging 23 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists, while shooting 51% from the field and 42% from three. He’s been incredibly efficient considering his increased load. Still, the Pacers’ calling card has been tough defense, and “winning ugly” (although I would argue winning is never ugly). Myles Turner has been playing incredible defense. This season he’s blocked as many shots as the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ entire team. Indiana is 24th in pace, 1st in points allowed and 3rd in defensive rating. They’ve been grinding out wins and doing it against tough teams.
The Weirdest Chemistry Team: Boston Celtics
What is going on in Boston? In October, Kyrie was telling the fans he planned to re-sign. By January, he didn’t “owe anybody s—“, and he told the media to “ask him July 1st”. The Celtics’ fit has been off all season, on and off the court. They’re nowhere close to expectations, on pace to win 48 games, far beneath the 57.5 they were projected. I’m starting to think we simply overrated their players. Jayson Tatum has averaged under 15 points in his career. Here are some players averaging more than that this year: T.J. Warren, Jonas Valanciunas, Dennis Schroder, Kelly Oubre, Jeremy Lamb. Meanwhile, Gordon Hayward just isn’t the same guy night to night. Not that it’s necessarily his fault, but we projected both Hayward and Tatum to make bigger jumps than they did. Hayward’s averaging 11, 4, and 3 this year. 45% FG, 33% 3P. What an odd season for Boston.
Team-on-his-back Award: Kemba Walker
How many Hornets players can you name? Do you know who their starting five is? The most common lineup is Kemba, Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller. Also receiving starts: Bismack Biyombo, Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Willy Hernangomez, and Devonte Graham. That’s not ideal. Kemba has almost no help around him, and it’s incredible that that roster has won 35 games with 7 still to go. I don’t think anyone would blame Walker for leaving Charlotte this summer. He’s done all he can there.
Breakout Star of the Year: Pascal Siakam
Siakam is the likely winner of Most Improved Player this season, as he’s basically taken on a whole new role for Toronto. Unleashed by Nick Nurse’s offense, Siakam has become somewhat of a ballhandler and playmaker, often grabbing rebounds and darting up the court as a point forward. He’s averaging 17, 7, and 3 this season, up from 7, 4, and 2 in 2017-18. He’s also been more efficient, shooting 55% from the field instead of 51%, and 36% from three instead of 22%. In fact, that three-point percentage has been improving throughout the season, at 39% since the All-Star break. Pascal is well deserving of MIP, and can even be categorized as a breakout star.
Most Disastrous Trade Request: Anthony Davis
Whew. This backfired like crazy. In late January, Anthony Davis requested a trade out of New Orleans. The Pelicans’ response was simply “No.” They had him under team control for another season and a half and simply didn’t trade him. Since, their GM has been fired, and as the offseason approaches, we still don’t know if AD will be moved. It made sense to wait till the summer when the draft order would be set and the Celtics would be allowed to enter the bidding. But with the uncertainty looming around Kyrie Irving’s free agency, who knows what Boston will want to do. This saga is far from over.
Highway Robbery Trade of the Year: Zubac for… nothing???
I’m sorry, I just wanted to add this one in here because it’s crazy in hindsight. Per 36 minutes, Zubac averages 18, 13, and 2, shooting 56% from the field. He’s 21, with a bright future, and the Lakers traded him for Mike Muscula. His per 36 numbers? 12, 5, and 2, shooting 35%! According to those numbers, Zubac is better than Muscala right now, not to mention Zubac is six years younger, and under team control for many more years, while Muscala expires in, like, a week and a half. What an awful trade.
The Retirement Tour Award: Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki
One of the defining storylines of this season has been the league-wide celebration of two legends, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade. D-Wade is absolutely soaking up the attention, and although Dirk hasn’t officially announced his retirement, he doesn’t seem to be minding it either. From the jersey swaps to the All-Star game, these two greats have been rightfully celebrated by everyone around the NBA. Both are surefire Hall of Famers, and their retirement will be one of the things we remember about the 2018-19 season.