After long season, NBA standouts emerge
Our offerings for the NBA's individual preseason awards ...
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
5. Damian Lillard, Portland
Without Lillard's leadership, scoring and clutch shot-making ability, the Blazers wouldn't be in the playoffs.
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans
Ditto the Pelicans without Davis, who has carried them since DeMarcus Cousins was injured in late January.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee
Somewhat hidden in Brew City, he is averaging 27.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists while keeping the Bucks afloat in the East playoff race.
2. LeBron James, Cleveland
We take his brilliance for granted, but the Cavaliers would be nowhere without his 27.7 points, 9.2 assists, 8.7 rebounds and leadership skills.
The winner: James Harden, Houston
He's the best offensive player in the NBA, averaging a league-best 30.6 points. He's the leader of the best team. And it's his turn. It's the Year of the Beard.
COACH OF THE YEAR
5. Quin Snyder, Utah
After losing Gordon Hayward to free agency in the offseason, Snyder has taken a middling roster and turned it into the league's best second-half team with a 28-5 run.
4. Terry Stotts, Portland
Stotts made a weakness (defense) a strength, and his staff did as good a job developing players (Jusuf Nurkic, Moe Harkless, Pat Connaughton) as any in the league.
3. Mike D'Antoni, Houston
We tend to overlook the coach with the best team, but D'Antoni's mellow demeanor worked in managing the egos in the Rockets' locker room. He proved he can coach defense, too.
2. Brad Stevens, Boston
The Celtics would have won 60 games if not for Kyrie Irving's injury, which is a credit to Stevens' maneuvering of a good but not great roster. And what would they have accomplished with a healthy Hayward?
The winner: Dwane Casey, Toronto
It's part career achievement award, but Casey has done a marvelous job in his seventh season at the Raptor helm, building toward a legitimate shot at the NBA Finals this spring.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
5. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
Who would have guessed that Kuzma, averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds, would be the Lakers' best rookie this season?
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston
A starter all year on one of the league's best teams, with excellent stats: 13.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, .475 from the field, .429 from 3-point range, .828 from the line.
3. Dennis Smith, Dallas
An electric player who has averaged 15.1 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds and has been the Mavericks' second-best player.
2. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia
The 6-10 point guard has been running neck-and-neck with Donovan Mitchell for this award all season, and what a versatile talent, averaging 16.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists. For a kid who can't shoot, he's smart enough to get his points around the rim and in transition.
The winner: Donovan Mitchell, Utah
No player has been more important to the rise of the Jazz than Mitchell, who is averaging a team-high 20.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He wins over Simmons by an eyelash.
5. Al Horford, Boston
The veteran isn't a shot-blocker, but he's a great team defender. Watch him orchestrate one of the NBA's best defenses.
4. Paul George, Oklahoma City
Second in the league in steals, a versatile defender who uses his length wisely.
3. Rudy Gobert, Utah
He missed 26 games due to injury, but the Jazz center was the league's best rim protector, swatting 2.36 shots a game.
2. Draymond Green, Golden State
A guy you can use to defend three positions, and he does it as well as anybody.
The winner: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia
Blocks only 1.76 shots a game, but hurries several more and is an imposing a defender as there is in the league. If he stays healthy, the best is yet to come.
5. Jamaal Crawford, Minnesota
At 38, J. Crossover can still get it done.
4. Marcus Morris, Boston
Very solid player off bench in his first season with Celtics.
3. Will Barton, Denver
Former Blazer split time between bench and starting, but was effective in both roles.
2. Eric Gordon, Houston
Tremendous scoring weapon in backcourt for Rockets.
The winner: Lou Williams, L.A. Clippers
Near All-Star averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists as reserve and was the best thing Doc Rivers had going.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
5. Julius Randle, L.A. Lakers
Much more of a scoring threat than a year ago, and a .558 shooter.
4. Will Barton, Denver
A more developed all-around player for Nuggets this season.
3. Aaron Gordon, Orlando
Increased scoring from 12.7 points to 17.9 and rebounds from 5.1 to 8.1.
2. Clint Capela, Houston
Improved in every area for the Rockets this season, league leader in field-goal percentage (.654).
The winner: Victor Oladipo, Indiana
A change of scenery from OKC meant everything for Oladipo, who averages 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
Serous candidates: Indiana's Kevin Pritchard took heat for giving away Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, but Oladipo has been the biggest acquisition in the NBA this season. … Boston's Danny Ainge traded for Kyrie Irving, signed Gordon Hayward, drafted Jayson Tatum and acquired Greg Monroe at midseason. Irving and Hayward are injured, but the Celtics are set up well for the future.
The winner: Daryl Morey, Houston
Mr. Money Ball signed Chris Paul, Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker before the season and picked up Gerald Green in late December. Paul has partnered with James Harden to lead the Rockets to the NBA's best record, Tucker has been a part-time starter and big contributor at small forward while Mbah a Moute and Green have been key members of the rotation.
Front line: LeBron James, Cleveland; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; Giannis Antetekoumpo, Milwaukee. Backcourt: James Harden, Houston; Damian Lillard, Portland.
Front line: Kevin Durant, Golden State; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia; LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio. Backcourt: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City; Demar DeRozan, Toronto.
Front line: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota; Paul George, Oklahoma City; Nikola Jokic, Denver. Backcourt: Victor Oladipo, Indiana; Bradley Beal, Washington.