2021–22 Regular Season Awards
An NBA fan’s perspective on how the awards should go
The regular season NBA awards are often a way to look back on seasons quickly to be reminded of some of the big stories of the year. Each award has a traditional way it typically gets awarded. This awards ballot is my perspective on who should win each award based on the traditional metrics for decision-making. I won’t spend too much time on any particular award because I don’t have that much time to write it, and nobody wants to spend that much time reading it. The MVP discussion was done separately because there was just too much to say on that topic.
Most Improved Player: Jordan Poole
Let me start off right away by saying that I changed my mind on this more than a few times. For me, the debate came down to Jordan Poole vs Darius Garland vs Ja Morant. The only reason that Ja Morant did not win this award is because of how good he already was last season and the way this is typically awarded, it is not for making the leap when you are already of this caliber. Without the context of how it was previously awarded, I would Ja Morant would rightfully win this award. Darius Garland and Jordan Poole both have very intriguing cases. The separating factor for me essentially came down to how much Jordan Poole was relied upon given the injuries to Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. He showed a tremendous amount of growth despite his role changing constantly throughout the season and deserves credit for managing to help this team stay afloat as the 3rd seed in the Western Conference through all the injuries. Early in the year, he was just a knock-down scorer but now he has shown just how crafty he can be with the ball in his hands and rounded out his entire offensive repertoire. He now is capable of making space to get off his shot in such a creative manner and has translated that into getting more open looks for his teammates as well. There are too many awards here, so I won’t dwell too long. All 3 are great candidates and I would not be opposed to any of the other choices.
Rookie of the Year: Scottie Barnes
For the majority of the season, I had this award going to Evan Mobley. His offensive creativity, combined with the immediate defensive impact he was able to have, is rare for any rookie to accomplish. As the season went along and the Cavaliers continued playing well, his case continued to build. However, the freefall that Cleveland had in the standings hurts his case a bit. This is another situation in which nobody LOST the award, one player just rose up and snatched it. A quick aside on Cade Cunningham is deserved as well before I talk about Scottie Barnes. Cade showed by the end of the year why exactly he was the 1st overall pick. In the years to come, he will undoubtedly make people question why he wasn’t the ROTY. Unfortunately for him, his statistics on a losing team are just not enough for the types of performances both Mobley and Barnes had on much better teams.
Scottie Barnes to me is the ROTY. Right from the start of the season, he was thrown into the fire, being asked to be a jack of all trades. He answered the call on all fronts. Offensively he continued to grow, with improvement in his shooting as the year progressed. Eventually, the Raptors began to utilize him as a vessel to run their offense through. Timely cuts to the basket, intelligent passing, and solid screen setting helped keep this offensive unit afloat. On the other side of the ball, Barnes has proven to be a high IQ and high motor defender. He picks his spots well and knows where to be at all times. What was so impressive about Mobley defensively is also seen for Barnes. At the end of the day, the fact that Toronto climbed all the way up to the 4th seed while Cleveland fell to 8th was the tie-breaker for me. All 3 of these rookies should be proud of what they accomplished. Now let’s see what the top-2 candidates can show us in the playoffs.
Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro
I absolutely will not dwell on this award. Tyler Herro may be the 6th man for Miami, but he is arguably becoming one of their most important players. The significant offensive output he provides from the bench, igniting a squad that other times can struggle to create and make shots has this award locked up.
Defensive Player of the Year: Marcus Smart
This was another difficult award for me, but this is exactly why I get paid absolutely nothing to make the big choices. I debated between Giannis, Rudy Gobert, Mikal Bridges, and Marcus Smart. Ultimately I went with Marcus Smart for a few different reasons. Smart has managed to be a defensive anchor on a team that turned their entire season around on the basis of their defense. The Boston Celtics ended up leading the league in Defensive Rating. When you watch Marcus Smart play, you immediately notice how much it changes the opposition’s game plan. He’s a pest on and off the ball. He will stand up a drive to the lane and then find his way into the passing lane to start/lead a fast break. The eye test really sells it for me and I’ll admit that this time around there isn’t as good of statistical backing for the choice, and for that reason, I’ll just leave you this video of his defensive highlights:
1st Team All-NBA
G: Luka Doncic
G: Devin Booker
F: Jayson Tatum
F: Giannis Antetokuonmpo
C: Nikola Jokic
2nd Team All-NBA
G: Ja Morant
G: Stephen Curry
F: DeMar DeRozan
F: Kevin Durant
C: Joel Embiid
3rd Team All-NBA
G: Trae Young
G: Chris Paul
F: LeBron James
F: Pascal Siakam
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
The All-NBA teams honestly were not too difficult to decide on this year. The 1st and 2nd teams will likely look this way on most ballots. 3rd team is often where most of the discussion happens, particularly in deciding who to leave off. Even on that front, the only real discussion was at forward. LeBron James, Pascal Siakam, and Jimmy Butler all vied for this honor. While instinct would say that putting any player on All-NBA, whose team lost 49 games should not happen, there just were not many forwards that were deserving this season. I am all for leaving someone off the ballot if a truly better option presents itself, but this season nobody proved that that spot should be theirs over LeBron James. Even this discussion/thought was a brief one. All-NBA was easy overall. I would like to personally apologize to Zach Lavine for leaving him off the roster, but unfortunately, by the end of the season, the only way I could really put him on the list would be succumbing to my bias and not with any level of true logic.