[ESPN] Lowe:谁将获得 NBA 最有价值球员、最佳新秀和最佳防守球员奖?

由Gemini Pro人工智能翻译,译文内容可能不准确或不完整,以原文为准。

Zack Lowe, ESPN资深撰稿人四月的第 18 天,2024 年,美东时间上午 08:00

又到了那个时候!这个赛季我没有选票,但我会这样为 NBA 个人荣誉投票。星期五,敬请关注全 NBA、全新秀和全防守球队。最有价值球员

  1. 丹佛掘金队的尼古拉·约基奇

  2. 达拉斯独行侠队的卢卡·东契奇

  3. 俄克拉荷马雷霆队的谢伊·吉尔杰斯-亚历山大

  4. 密尔沃基雄鹿队的扬尼斯·阿德托昆博

  5. 纽约尼克斯队的贾伦·布伦森

如果约基奇最终获得他的第三个奖杯,吉尔杰斯-亚历山大,尤其是东契奇让这场争夺赛变得势均力敌。

他们在投票中的相对选票(大概在第 2 顺位)应该接近。高级数字在他们之间产生分歧,尽管它们可能会略微偏向吉尔杰斯-亚历山大。他比东契奇更擅长防守。他的投篮命中率较高,但当你考虑东契奇尝试的 3 分球更多时,命中率差距接近于 0;他们的 2 分球命中率几乎相同。

吉尔杰斯-亚历山大开局更强劲。他在处理腿部伤势时结束得有点慢。东契奇在独行侠队上升时已经持续两个多月势不可挡。雷霆队从头到尾都非常靠前。

如果一支年轻的球队没有一位资深超级巨星来稳定局势——在比赛变得狂热时夺取进攻权,然后从零开始创造一个好机会,那将是无法想象的。吉尔杰斯-亚历山大难以捉摸,就像一个旋转的幻影。他升级为一名组织者。在温室时刻,他给了这个年轻的球队一种沉着冷静的大胆态度:我们有他,所以我们很好。

雷霆队在吉尔杰斯-亚历山大在场时,每 100 次控球得分比对手高 11.3 分,而当他保持静止时,他们 تقری乎不相上下——减去 5 总分!——在许多赛季,吉尔杰斯-亚历山大都会获胜。在这里,他排在第三位——阿德托昆博排名第四,场均 30.5 分,11.5 个篮板和 6.5 次助攻,投篮命中率为 61%——证明了联盟顶尖的伟大历史性。

让东契奇在第 2 顺位优势最薄弱的是他体型和组织的结合。他传出 9.8 次助攻,而吉尔杰斯-亚历山大有 6.2 次。东契奇掌控球的风格导致了这一差异,但这并不是说吉尔杰斯-亚历山大像斯蒂芬·库里一样打球。

东契奇可以从更多的地方进行更多的传球,并且设想出几乎没有人想象得到的方法。这使他难以预测、更危险、更可怕。这是否应该胜过吉尔杰斯-亚历山大在防守和避免失误方面的优势——他每场比赛仅失误两次,是东契奇失误率的一半——取决于每位选民。在这里,它做到了。

东契奇做得足够好,他、独行侠队和他们的球迷有权获得一个真实的、合乎逻辑的解释,说明为什么约基奇应该获胜。可不能说,好吧,每个人都同意约基奇是最好的球员。(大多数人同意,但仍然是。)可不能止步于,好吧,丹佛在西部排名第二,而独行侠排名第五。掘金队比达拉斯多赢七场比赛。他们有更大的得分差异:每场比赛多 5.3 分,而独行侠队为多 2.3 分。约基奇是第二种子球队的最佳球员。这一点很重要,但不是决定性的。

不能只是说,好吧,约基奇打起来更有趣,因为他手里不拿着球。这是真的,并且约基奇的传球-接球-再传球风格的力量中有一些催化剂和难以用数字捕捉到的东西。它有魔力。它塑造一种文化。它激励队友更努力地比赛。它让对手猜不透。每个赛季都会为约基奇大呼小叫的高级数字在其中发现了一些东西。

但是,指出一个堆砌着行话的数字,然后说,“结案!”有什么乐趣?东契奇在至少一项备受尊敬的全面统计数据中处于领先地位:估计正负值。

东契奇在得分方面领跑联盟。他放开球权以适应凯里·欧文。他投出了联盟一些最漂亮的击中——一些几乎是约基奇式的——并加快了他的速度。他在助攻方面超过了约基奇。他在 2 分球上命中 57%,在 3 分球上命中 38%。当东契奇在场时,独行侠队每 100 次控球得分比对手高 5.8 分,而当他保持静止时则为负 4.3 分——这一差异很大。

掘金队和约基奇做得更好:加成 11.8 分。当他保持静止时,他们的成绩为负 8.6 分,尽管丹佛的常规赛轮换休闲模式——替补黑手党——扭曲了他不在场时的实际表现有多糟糕。

约基奇每季度的惊人表现是掘金队在他的带领下如此出色——以如此巨大的正利润率——你实际上不需要考虑他在休息期间的萎靡不振。你可以在不解决掘金队阵容中的弱点的情况下,为约基奇提出无懈可击的论据。

那么,那些高级数字还捕捉到了什么?约基奇实际上怎样才能证明自己是最好的?我怀疑很大一部分原因是两个球员具有相近的篮球技巧和灵感,而其中一个比另一个更大、更高。

这听起来很愚蠢,但约基奇的体型让他更容易进入最有价值的区域——禁区和篮筐。他可以通过不同的方式带着球到达那里,并从打开更多传球和扣篮的不同角度开始工作。这使丹佛的进攻更加多样化。

这也是约基奇成为更高效得分手的原因。约基奇的 2 分球命中率为 62.6%。这对于一个很少扣篮的人来说是荒谬的。经常扣篮的字母哥的 2 分球命中率为 64.5%。

(字母哥表现得很棒。他的持球防守不太一样,而且雄鹿队根本没有找到自己。这不是字母哥的错,尽管据报道他同意聘用现在的被解雇的主教练阿德里安·格里芬为球队的混乱赛季做出了贡献。公平地说,该组织内的其他人也支持格里芬。受伤和阵容的轮换使雄鹿队的每一次尝试都无法取得节奏。)

约基奇的体型也让他几乎默认比东契奇成为更好的防守者。差距并不小。约基奇已经成为一名非常出色的防守者。他解读对方进攻,就像你期望的是他读取对手进攻一样。他总在正确的时间出现在正确的地方,并且占据了很大一部分空间。他积累了抢断和偏转。

然后是篮板。约基奇可能是联盟中最好的防守篮板手。他双手有磁性。他获得了大量的争抢篮板,如果你为这些篮板比拼的人是你的中锋,那你就陷入了一片苦海。约基奇抢球,转身上场,而你的中锋在他身后挥舞,这可能是这项运动中最可怕的景象——五对四死亡。

约基奇在防守上的最强势直接渗透到了丹佛的进攻中。高级指标一定看到了这一点。

这个距离很接近——比民意调查和拉斯维加斯的赔率要近——但约基奇再次成为 MVP。他是世界上最好的球员,而且本赛季在成为最好的球员和最有价值的球员之间差别不大。

整个赛季,我几乎将杰森·塔图姆排在第五位——向他的个人才华以及凯尔特人的横扫行动致敬。(科怀·伦纳德、凯文·杜兰特和安东尼·戴维斯有时也徘徊在附近。)考虑到体型和防守,他是一个比布伦森更好的球员。在选择围绕一支球队建设的人时,我会选择塔图姆。

但布伦森至少在赛季中也有不错的表现,即使考虑到塔图姆在防守方面的优势。布伦森得分更多,助攻更多,3 分球命中率更高。大多数高级统计数据——包括考虑防守在内的——给布伦森一个微小的优势。

在类似平局的情况下,我给那个无定形词“宝贵”赋予更多权重。塔图姆是一支大多保持健康且拥有 50 强球员的球队的最佳球员。布伦森带领尼克斯队度过了多名关键球员受伤的难关,其中包括他们的第二位进攻引擎——朱利叶斯·兰德尔。兰德

原文如下:

Lowe: Who takes home the hardware for NBA MVP, ROY and DPOY awards?

Zach Lowe, ESPN Senior WriterApr 18, 2024, 08:00 AM ET

It’s that time of year! I didn’t have a ballot this season, but this is how I would have voted on the NBA’s individual honors. Stay tuned for the All-NBA, All-Rookie and All-Defensive teams Friday.MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

  1. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

  2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

  3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

  4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

  5. Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

Gilgeous-Alexander and especially Doncic made this a real debate, even if Jokic will likely end up winning his third trophy.

Their relative voting totals (presumably for No. 2) should be close. The advanced numbers are split between them, although they might lean slightly toward Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s a much better defender than Doncic. He shot a higher percentage, but the gap shrinks toward zero when you account for how many more 3s Doncic attempted; they hit 2s at an almost identical rate.

Gilgeous-Alexander had the stronger start. He finished a bit slowly while dealing with a leg injury. Doncic has been an inferno for two-plus months as the Mavericks surged up the standings. The Thunder were near the very top from wire to wire.

It is impossible to imagine a team so young being this good without a veteran superstar to steady it – to seize the offense when the game gets frenzied and create a good shot from scratch. Gilgeous-Alexander is ungraspable, a pivoting phantom. He leveled up as a playmaker. He imbued this young team with a calm swagger in hothouse moments: We have him, so we are good.

The Thunder outscored opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions with Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor and were about dead-even – minus-5 total points! – when he sat. In a lot of seasons, Gilgeous-Alexander would win this. That he comes third here – that Antetokounmpo comes fourth while averaging 30.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists on 61% shooting – is a testament to the historic greatness atop the league.

What gives Doncic the thinnest of edges for No. 2 is his combination of size and playmaking. He dished 9.8 dimes, compared with 6.2 for Gilgeous-Alexander. Doncic’s ball-dominant style contributed to that difference, but it’s not as if Gilgeous-Alexander plays like Stephen Curry.

Doncic can make more passes from more places and envisions reads almost no one else imagines. It makes him unpredictable, more dangerous, scarier. Whether that should trump Gilgeous-Alexander’s advantages in defense and turnover avoidance – he coughed it up only twice per game, half Doncic’s rate – is up to each voter. Here, it does.

Doncic did enough that he, the Mavericks and their fans are owed a real, logical explanation for why Jokic should win. It can’t be, Well, everyone agrees Jokic is the best player. (Most do, but still.) It can’t stop at, Well, Denver finished second in the West and the Mavs finished fifth. The Nuggets finished seven games ahead of Dallas. They have a fatter point differential: plus-5.3 per game, compared with plus-2.3 for the Mavs. Jokic is the best player on the No. 2 seed. That matters, but it is not dispositive.

It can’t be just, Well, Jokic is more fun to play with because he doesn’t hold the ball. That’s true too, and there is something catalytic and hard to capture in numbers about the power of Jokic’s pass-receive-pass again style. There is magic in it. It molds a culture. It motivates teammates to play harder. It keeps defenses guessing. The advanced numbers that scream for Jokic every season are finding something in there.

But where’s the fun in pointing to a pile of jargony numbers and saying, “Case closed!”? Doncic does lead in at least one well-respected catch-all stat: estimated plus-minus.

Doncic led the league in scoring. He loosened his grip on the ball to adapt to Kyrie Irving. He tossed some of the league’s snazziest hit-aheads – some almost Jokic-ian – and sped up his pace. He edged Jokic in assists. He hit 57% on 2s and 38% on 3s. The Mavs were plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions with Doncic on the floor and minus-4.3 when he sat – a sizable difference.

The Nuggets were even better with Jokic on the floor: plus-11.8. They were an ugly minus-8.6 when he sat, although Denver’s chill mode regular-season rotations – bench mobs – distort how bad the non-Jokic minutes really are.

The incredible thing about Jokic’s splits every season is that the Nuggets are so good with him – with such a massive positive margin – you don’t really need to take into account their cratering during his rest periods. You can make an airtight case for Jokic without addressing the weak spots on the Nuggets roster.

So what else are those advanced numbers capturing? How else is Jokic actually, provably, the best? I suspect a lot of it comes down to the two players having something like equal basketball skill and genius, with one being much larger and taller than the other.

That sounds dumb, but Jokic’s size gives him easier access to the most profitable real estate – the paint and the rim. He can arrive there with the ball in different ways and work from different angles that open up more passes and cuts. It makes the Denver offense more diverse.

It’s also why Jokic is a more efficient scorer. Jokic hit 62.6% on 2s. That’s preposterous for someone who rarely dunks. Antetokounmpo, who dunks a lot, shot 64.5% on 2s.

(Antetokounmpo was fantastic. His on-ball defense wasn’t quite the same, and the Bucks never really found themselves. That’s not Antetokounmpo’s fault, although his reported sign-off on the hiring of since-deposed head coach Adrian Griffin contributed to the team’s chaotic season. In fairness, others within the organization endorsed Griffin too. Injuries and roster churn undid all the Bucks’ attempts to catch a rhythm.)

Jokic’s size also makes him a better defender than Doncic almost by default. The gap is not small. Jokic has become a pretty solid defender. He reads opposing offenses as well as you’d expect given how well he reads opposing defenses. He’s in the right spaces at the right times, and he takes up a ton of that space. He piles up steals and deflections.

And then there is the rebounding. Jokic might be the league’s best defensive rebounder. He has magnet hands. He gets a ton of contested rebounds, and if the man he outfights for those boards is your center, you are in for a world of pain. Jokic snatching the ball and turning up court as your center flails behind him is maybe the most terrifying sight in the sport – death by 5-on-4.

Jokic’s best strengths on defense bleed right into Denver’s offense. The advanced metrics must be seeing that.

It’s close – closer than the straw polls and Vegas odds – but Jokic is the MVP again. He is the best player in the world, and there was not much difference this season between being the best and being most valuable.

I had Jayson Tatum penciled in fifth for much of the season – a nod to his individual brilliance and the Celtics’ rampaging campaign. (Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Davis hovered nearby too at times.) Factoring in size and defense, he is a better player than Brunson. Given the choice of one to build a team around, I’d take Tatum.

But Brunson had at least as good of a season, even factoring in Tatum’s advantage on defense. Brunson scored more, recorded more assists and shot better on 3s. Most of the advanced stats – which factor in defense – give Brunson a teensy edge.

In the case of something like a tie, I give a little more weight to that amorphous word “valuable.” Tatum is the best player on a team that mostly stayed healthy and is loaded with top-50 guys. Brunson carried the Knicks through injuries to several key players, including their second offensive engine – Julius Randle. With Randle gone, what other players do you trust to create high-volume offense? The Knicks find ways – Josh Hart roaring in transition, Donte DiVincenzo flying around screens, Isaiah Hartenstein’s buttery floater – but it all flows from Brunson solving every defense.

The Knicks outscored opponents by 8.6 points per 100 possessions with Brunson on the floor – and were minus-4.8 when he sat. They obliterated teams when Brunson played without Randle.

He gets the nod and has a real shot at cracking first-team All-NBA. What a season.ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

  1. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs

  2. Chet Holmgren, Oklahoma City Thunder

  3. Brandon Miller, Charlotte Hornets

Wembanyama is on his own level. His edge on Holmgren in counting stats might shrink if you put them on equivalent rosters, though I suspect he would maintain his lead in assists; Wembanyama is a very good passer. But Holmgren’s edges in shooting efficiency and turnover rate would shrink too, and the net effect would be Wembanyama looking superior.

The notion of stakes – of Wembanyama’s games having little consequence because his team is bad – matters less for me in considering rookie awards, since the lottery consigns the best rookies to the worst teams.

Miller passed Holmgren in scoring over the last 20-plus games, but Holmgren is ahead everywhere else; his two-way work on an elite team is enough for him to coast into No. 2.

Once Jaime Jaquez Jr.'s minutes and production dropped – he’s down to 32% on 3s – there was no major competition for Miller at No. 3. Advanced numbers don’t love Miller, but they don’t love any rookie who played real minutes in a consistent rotation role. The closest to an exception is Dereck Lively II, but injuries and the introduction of Daniel Gafford depressed his playing time; Miller logged 1,100 more minutes than Lively.

Amen Thompson and Brandin Podziemski have solid numbers, but what Miller managed as the sometimes No. 1 option on a terrible team trumps everyone. It took 25 games for Thompson to bust the crowded Houston Rockets rotation. Podziemski has veteran talent all around him, and his shooting numbers are almost identical to Miller’s.

Miller scoring 17 points on even decent efficiency – 50% on 2s, 37% on 3s – is a borderline miracle given the injuries and overall talent dearth in Charlotte. Miller looks like a future two-way star.DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  1. Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves

  2. Victor Wembanyama, San Antonio Spurs

  3. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

For my money, the four best defenders in the league were these three and Bam Adebayo. With the new positionless ballot, all four will appear on my All-Defensive first team. It is hard for smaller guards and wings to have the same all-encompassing impact on defense as bigs this skilled.

Right behind them, though, comes a cadre of incredible guards and wings: Derrick White, Herbert Jones, Alex Caruso, Jaden McDaniels, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kawhi Leonard and Jalen Suggs. One of them will get my final All-Defensive first-team spot. Some others will appear on my second team. At least four other bigs merited a close look: Antetokounmpo, Aaron Gordon, Isaiah Hartenstein and especially Brook Lopez, who became a shot-blocking menace again the second Milwaukee shifted him back into the paint.

Lopez is the best Bucks candidate. The Bucks allowed 111.9 points per 100 possessions with Lopez on the court and a hideous 116.6 when he sat. Milwaukee’s defense wilted when Antetokounmpo played without Lopez and held steady in the opposite scenarios, per Cleaning The Glass data. Fluky opponent 3-point shooting drove some of that, but Antetokounmpo wasn’t quite as impenetrable this season. Lopez was able to douse only so many of the fires that ignited on the perimeter.

Gobert is a better version of Lopez – the (mostly) paint-bound rim-protector. Davis is elite there too, with more speed and schematic versatility. He was outstanding all season – fearsome, propping up average and below-average defenders all around him.

Dig deep enough and you can find some wobble in every player’s case – every player but Gobert. The Lakers’ defense performed at the same level with Davis on the bench. Opponents shot about as expected – based on shot distance and the identity of shooters – when Davis was the closest defender, per Second Spectrum research. The other main candidates depressed that expected percentage by a lot. Do those numbers really mean anything? It’s hard to say, but in Davis’ case, some combination of randomness and roster context probably explains a lot of them.

Wembanyama is a different player now than he was in November and December – as you’d expect. He logged 500 fewer minutes than Gobert and 600 fewer than Davis. A few post-up brutes – notably Alperen Sengun – bullied him.

Adebayo – my pick two years ago, when Marcus Smart won – is 6-foot-9 without crazy verticality or length; opponents shot 59% at the rim against him compared with about 52% against Gobert and Wembanyama and 54% against Davis. Adebayo averages one block per game.

Opponents don’t U-turn when they spy Adebayo near the rim the way they recoil at the sight of these other three.

The trade-off, of course, is that Adebayo is the switchiest among them, capable of keeping just about any ball handler in front of him. (The Heat had Adebayo switch less often this season to keep him closer to the basket.) Miami can play any style with Adebayo. That flexibility is invaluable in the postseason. Opponents tried Adebayo in isolation more than 150 times and produced a paltry 0.888 points per possession, according to Second Spectrum data.

They went at Gobert even more – 200-plus times – and did even worse: a laughable 0.811 points per possession. Gobert is not as fast or coordinated as Adebayo; teams with elite pull-up shooters can drag Gobert outside his comfort zone. But that effect has always been overstated. Gobert is nimbler than you might think. The numbers and the eye test scream that he does fine out there – at least over an 82-game sample.

There is no weak spot in Gobert’s dossier. He is the best defensive player on by far the best defensive team. He has already won this award three times, and this might be his best defensive season. The beefed-up support around him helps – including McDaniels and Anthony Edwards. He never had such rangy, mean perimeter tag team partners in Utah. Gobert doesn’t have to plug as many holes or scramble back and forth as often. Make his job 10% easier and he is an absolute force field.

Wembanyama’s radius of pain extends further and will eventually blot out damn near the entire court. There are a handful of players who alter the spatial geometry of the game. They warp the sport. Wembanyama is one but has very little support around him now. Even in that environment, the Spurs allowed 111 points per 100 possessions with Wembanyama on the floor – equivalent to a top-five defense. That number ballooned to 117.3 when he rested.

He has a case to win this thing. He should make an All-Defensive team – ultrarare for a rookie. The big award feels premature. Wembanyama went through his version of rookie growing pains before finding his footing.

The Spurs’ bad record and overall defense factor in, but maybe not for the reasons you’d think. This is an individual award, and San Antonio’s defense was solid when Wembanyama played. But there were no stakes – no pressure – in any of Wembanyama’s games. The Wolves, meanwhile, were contenders. Gobert and his team faced intense scrutiny after an uneven first season together.

To his credit, Wembanyama never played as if his games were meaningless. He played to win, played the right way. He stared down his own kind of spotlight: global expectations. But for awards this prestigious, stakes at the team level should matter.SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

  1. Naz Reid, Minnesota Timberwolves

  2. Malik Monk, Sacramento Kings

  3. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Atlanta Hawks

The toughest omissions were Bobby Portis and Norman Powell. Portis finished strong, bumping his average to 13.8 points – about even with Reid and Powell – and nudging close to 50/40/80 shooting splits. His spot-up shooting and old-school midpost scoring were among the only reliable subsets of the Bucks’ offense during the team’s late swoon. Portis isn’t a great defender, but he grinds; he can blitz and switch in a pinch; and he battles on the glass.

Portis started slowly, but he cobbled a strong case. I wouldn’t quibble with him winning.

Powell did his main job in raining fire from deep for the LA Clippers, hitting 43.5% on 3s. His north-south speed is an essential change of pace on a team of deliberate scorers. He is the fifth cog in what might be LA’s best lineup, and a keystone of its center-less super-small groups.

But there were lots of nights when Powell’s impact felt muted around Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden. He attempted 13.9 shots per 36 minutes, down from 16.3 last season. His free throw rate fell off a cliff. If Powell isn’t scoring, he’s not doing much else to push winning – even if he has value standing around as a spot-up threat.

If this were Sixth Man of the Last Two Months, T.J. McConnell might have won. He tapped into a scoring gear no one knew he had. He changed games off the bench and can play heavy minutes alongside Tyrese Haliburton. But he opened the season on the fringes of Indiana’s rotation and lags between 581 and 1,110 minutes behind the main candidates. That’s too many.

The last truly tough omission was Caris LeVert, who leveled up his passing and functioned as something of a chameleon for a Cleveland team that seemed to be missing someone every night. But 42% shooting – 32.5% on 3s, 48.6% on 2s – wasn’t good enough. (Tim Hardaway Jr. also spent much of the season in a shooting funk.)

For most of the season, I had Monk in the lead. His supplementary playmaking – 5.1 assists, far ahead of Reid and Bogdanovic – was the single most important discrete skill among this group. The Kings are starved for off-the-bounce playmaking beyond De’Aaron Fox. Monk supplied it, helping the offense tread water when Fox rested and bringing his usual bursts of game-tilting buckets. His knee injury was a death blow for Sacramento’s hopes of finishing above the play-in.

But Monk slumped just before that injury, finishing at 44% overall and 35% on 3s. Reid brings more on defense if only due to his size and rebounding.

And what a season for Reid – what a finishing kick filling in for Karl-Anthony Towns. In the games Towns missed with a meniscus injury, Reid averaged 19 points on 48% shooting – including 44% on 3s. He provided near Towns-level spacing for Edwards and Gobert. Reid can score in almost any manner and finishes with both hands. He’s a snappy passer.

The Wolves went 12-6 without Towns, hanging in the race for No. 1 seed until the bitter end.

Some voters argue that rewarding Bogdanovic and Reid for their contributions as replacement starters cuts against the idea of an award intended for reserves. (I wrote extensively about Bogdanovic’s case here.) I have always rejected that, dating to Lamar Odom’s heyday. The ability to shape-shift – to take on whatever role the team needs – is baked into the concept of a sixth man, or “sixth starter.” Players are eligible as long as they come off the bench in more games than they start. (Josh Hart is barely ineligible for this reason.)

Both Reid and Bogdanovic should get some first-place votes.COACH OF THE YEAR

  1. Mark Daigneault, Oklahoma City Thunder

  2. Jamahl Mosley, Orlando Magic

  3. Joe Mazzulla, Boston Celtics

This was a wrenching debate between two young coaches whose even younger teams shattered expectations – with Mazzulla and Chris Finch right behind them. (Finch was a brutal unofficial No. 4. All four are deserving of the top spot.)

The Magic finished a remarkable third in points allowed per possession. Mosley and his staff persuaded a group of young players to buy all the way into the dirty work.

The Magic are a battering ram. They are ultraphysical and don’t mind if you get to the line a lot because they’ll get there even more. They own the glass. They are huge and switchable, with zero letup.

That defense has to carry the day; Orlando ranks 22nd in points per possession, marking the 12th straight season in which the Magic have ranked 20th or worse in offense. The Thunder finished in the top four on both ends.

Oklahoma City brings more tactical variety, but that is partly the result of pure talent. The Thunder overflow with shooting around an MVP candidate; the Magic are bereft of shooting and will likely have zero players on the All-NBA teams.

Oklahoma City’s deeper tool kit allowed Daigneault to try unconventional things – tactics we notice because they are strange, and they mostly work. But someone had to think, “Hey, what if we built half our offense around weird guard-guard screens?” Then actually try it and figure out what worked and what didn’t.

Daigneault was also among the quickest with the counter to your counter. If you adjusted the defensive matchups, the Thunder downloaded it on the very first possession – and pivoted to exploit it. It was ruthless.

Daigneault also understood how to use the Thunder’s strengths on defense – the swiping hands and tireless speed of youth – to compensate for what they lack in size and rebounding. The Magic are a good team. The Thunder are a very good one.

Mosley and Daigneault are deserving. I suspect voters will agonize over this. Daigneault barely gets the nod here.

Mazzulla snags the last spot over a host of candidates: Finch, of course; Ime Udoka imposing a standard of defense and solving his roster again after Sengun’s injury; Michael Malone’s steady hand in Denver; Rick Carlisle reorienting everything about Haliburton; Tom Thibodeau searching for perfection on both ends; Tyronn Lue, the endless tinkerer; Erik Spoelstra’s MacGyver-level adaptability; and several others.

But Mazzulla deserves recognition for Boston’s utter dominance. The front office remade the roster around Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but it did so aiming at Mazzulla’s vision of shooting and defensive versatility. Mazzulla can come off as didactic, eschewing timeouts during opponent runs and pushing Boston to launch even more 3s: Oh, you think 45 3s was too many? Watch us take 55.

There is a method to all of it. It will be a surprise if you catch Boston without a timeout when it needs one late. Mazzulla is right about the shot attempt math, although the ultimate test will be how he and the Celtics respond in May and (maybe) June when the 3s go cold.

The Celtics pulled their restricted area attempts up into a more normal range – below-average, but normal below-average – after a midseason dip into alarming territory. What happens in the highest-leverage games? Do the Celtics plow to the rim or go down in a hail of 3s – determined to prove their way is the way and ready to blame the vicissitudes of “a make-or-miss league” if they fail?

But there is no denying what Mazzulla has helped build. Boston might be the league’s most creative and unpredictable defensive team. It adjusts ahead of offenses. It forces you to react. It anticipates your counter and rearranges the board again.MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

  1. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

  2. Coby White, Chicago Bulls

  3. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers

This is a deeper and murkier pool than usual, without one blow-away candidate – typically someone in his third or fourth season. That would have been Hawks forward Jalen Johnson, who checked every box: opportunity, raw production, efficiency and massive leaps in one or two swing skills – including 3-point shooting. Alas, Johnson did not meet the 65-game threshold.

Requiring that many games feels slightly counter to the spirit of this award. I’d be fine lowering it to 50 games. (The 65-game rule does not apply to Sixth Man of the Year.)

Jonathan Kuminga and Sengun come closest to the archetypal winner, and both were on my short list. They were not simply cases of maintaining production over larger minutes – which is by itself a form of improvement.

(Isaiah Hartenstein approximates that candidate type, although he reached new heights on defense. He should make some ballots. Cam Thomas fits this genre too. He could always score like gangbusters; he just got to do it more amid the rubble of the Kevin Durant/James Harden/Kyrie Irving Nets. That said, anyone who doubled his scoring average – from 10.6 points to 22.5 for Thomas – deserves real attention here, and Thomas progressed as a passer over the last half of the season. He almost cracked this ballot. I’d just like to see how his game translates to a better roster.)

Some reserves and younger starters wither when teams ask more of them. Kuminga and Sengun became hubs, holding up against increased attention from defenses. Both improved on defense. Kuminga honed his overall feel and passing. Both guys dropped off a bit from deep, but each would be a worthy winner.

Cade Cunningham made some version of the Year 3 leap, hitting 45% overall and 35.5% on 3s – both career highs. But those aren’t eye-popping numbers, and most of Cunningham’s jump came long after Detroit’s season was effectively over. (Jalen Green’s Year 3 leap came too late.)

Jalen Brunson went from never having made an All-Star team to a possible first-team All-NBA appearance. Anthony Edwards rounded out his game, ascending toward superstardom. Gilgeous-Alexander was already there but took that final step toward the top of the MVP conversation.

Peyton Watson heads the category of candidates who went from basically not playing at all to holding down meaningful roles. I always struggle with that group. Those players are almost more like rookies.

Derrick White has always been good at lots of skills, but they have never sung in unison like this.

Duncan Robinson remade his game in becoming an off-the-bounce threat. (Corey Kispert began the same transformation and almost doubled his assist rate. Grayson Allen belongs in this conversation too.) Herbert Jones and Jalen Suggs changed the entire trajectory of their careers by developing into dangerous 3-point shooters. Suggs was perhaps my toughest cut, along with Deni Avdija – who improved across the board and seemed to shake his occasional 3-point jitters. Avdija averaged almost 15 points – up from 9.2 last season. This was more than grabbing available numbers on a terrible team.

Suggs shot 21% on 3s as a rookie and 32% last season. To even sniff 40% on higher volume is monumental. Suggs is so good at everything else that improving this one skill means more for him than for the typical player. (3-point shooting is notoriously fickle; Suggs needs to show this is real over multiple seasons. I wouldn’t bet against him.)

On some level, I understand why voters are reluctant to honor second-year players. Rookies are overwhelmed. By Year 2, they understand the NBA – the rhythms, the competition level, the demands. They should enjoy one of their biggest year-to-year jumps. But why do third-year players so often win? Shouldn’t growth continue and even accelerate from Years 2 to 3?

What Jalen Williams just did went far beyond the typical Year 2 jump. Holy smokes. He averaged almost 20 points and shot 42.7% on 3s – up from 35% last season. He got better at literally everything. Williams emerged as a legit No. 2 option on a 57-win team that competed all season for the No. 1 seed. He shot 28-of-41 in the last five minutes of close games, using size and craft to pry space for pull-up jumpers. He defends every position; Williams will be in the All-Defensive conversation soon. If you had no prior knowledge and tuned in to a week of Thunder basketball, you would assume Williams was a 10-year veteran and multitime All-Star.

I had a dozen different guys penciled into the last two spots, but defaulted to White and Maxey. White averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists in his second season, so ratcheting up to 19.1 points and 5.1 dimes doesn’t look huge. But those old numbers never carried as much substance as White’s game does now. Opponents then never worried about White. His playmaking was unsteady and collapsed against elite defenses.

In stretches this season, White was neck and neck with DeMar DeRozan as Chicago’s best player and engine of its preposterous (again) crunch-time offense. He took over games. Every week or two, he had some defense searching for answers: Umm, we can’t stop … Coby White? He is a huge reason Chicago didn’t really miss Zach LaVine.

He is steadier as a shooter, dribbler and decision-maker. White’s defense suffered some, but he’s a more complete player now. (Ditto for his backcourt mate Ayo Dosunmu, who came on late.)

Is Maxey above this award? He was a candidate two seasons ago and averaged 20 points last season. He’s in the All-NBA discussion! His shooting percentages dropped, and the Sixers fell apart without Embiid; opponents outscored Philly by 7.8 points per 100 possessions with Maxey on the floor during Embiid’s two-month absence.

But that was not on Maxey. Philly had injuries everywhere. Tobias Harris wilted for about three weeks. And even with that two-month trough, the Sixers finished plus-1.3 points per 100 possessions when Maxey played without Embiid.

He averaged 26 points and nearly doubled his assists, proving himself a capable No. 2 and worthy All-Star who could carry the offense in stretches. He kept the Sixers humming in the wake of the Harden debacle – and all the debacles that preceded it. If Philly extends the Embiid era another half a decade, it will be because of Maxey.

via ESPN