Before we could completely close the book on the 2018-19 NBA season, there was one final order of business to attend to: handing out the hardware. Months of debate and anticipation came to an end on Monday night at the 2019 NBA Awards Show, which was hosted by Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.
Many of the top players in the league were in attendance as heralded annual awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year were handed out to their rightful owners.
Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo took home MVP besting the Houston Rockets star and defending champion James Harden, as well as Oklahoma City Thunder swingman Paul George. Other winners included Luka Doncic taking home Rookie of the Year, Rudy Gobert capturing his second straight Defensive Player of the Year Award, Lou Williams going back-to-back as well for Sixth Man of the Year, Pascal Siakam earning Most Improved Player and Mike Budenholzer grabbing Coach of the Year.
It’s been a while since the regular season ended, so a brief refresher regarding all of the major awards and finalists seems appropriate. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about the awards show.
Here are six takeaways from Monday night’s NBA Awards:
The international vision for the NBA of Adam Silver — and of David Stern before him — has been fully realized. And not just because the Greek Freak won MVP. Luka Doncic of Slovenia won Rookie of the Year, Rudy Gobert of France won Defensive Player of the Year, and Pascal Siakam of Cameroon won Most Improved Player. All this came on the heels of the Toronto Raptors becoming the first Canadian team to win an NBA title. Overseas is where the NBA will see its biggest growth in coming decades, and this past season could be one more watershed moment for the league’s internationalization.
The selection of 24-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo for his first of what could be many MVP awards may mark not just his crowning as one of the best basketball players on earth. Giannis winning the MVP could herald the coming of the next face of the league. With apologies to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, it’s LeBron James who has been the face of the NBA for more than a decade now. But LeBron is getting older, and soon will be entering the twilight of his career. It behooves the NBA for the next face of the league to be a charismatic, fun-loving, down-to-earth non-American like Giannis. Durant said before last season that Giannis, if he really wanted it, could become the best basketball player to ever play the game. It’s remarkable to think that he hasn’t even scraped his ceiling during this, his first MVP season.
Hasan Minhaj is a funny, gutsy dude. I don’t know if it takes more guts to stand up in front of a room full of NBA players and make fun of them, or if it takes more guts to tear into politicians at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but the dude killed it in both venues. Please, let him host the entire NBA Awards show in 2020.
Trae Young gave it a go in Rookie of the Year voting. After the All-Star Break, Young averaged 24.7 points and 9.2 assists per game. But by then the narrative had already been written, and Luka Doncic was going to win the award. In his breakthrough rookie season, he averaged 21.2 points, 6.0 assists and 7.8 rebounds, becoming the fourth player in the past four decades to complete a 20-5-5 rookie season. The others? LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Tyreke Evans.
I’m not sure if I’ve yet to fully digest just how devastating the NBA Finals were this season. Not because of the Raptors winning it, that was an incredible run, and they deserve everything they got. But for the Golden State Warriors‘ dynasty to potentially end in such devastating fashion…I’m just not sure it has quite set in yet, at least not for me. Every time I saw a highlight of Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson during the awards show, I cringed. Life’s not fair sometimes.
I still think Rudy Gobert should have been an All-Star this season. But I suppose winning two straight Defensive Player of the Year awards justifies his accomplishments.
Below is a list of every NBA award plus the finalists for each category:
Most Valuable Player
Paul George had an excellent season in Oklahoma City, but the league’s highest individual honor is expected to go to either Harden or Antetokounmpo. The former had a historic offensive season while leading the league in scoring for the second time, while the latter was the best player on the league’s best team record-wise. If Antetokounmpo wins, it will be his first-ever MVP award. For Harden, it would be his second straight.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rookie of the Year
The 2018 NBA Draft boasted a very promising crop of rookies, and the class didn’t disappoint. Luka Doncic generated headlines almost immediately with his flashy, yet mature play, while Trae Young started slow, but came on extremely strong during the second half of the season when he often looked like a future All-Star. In Phoenix, No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton had a bit more quiet — but still solid — season. All three project to be key pieces for their respective franchises moving forward, but only one will walk away with the trophy on Monday night.
Winner: Luka Doncic
Defensive Player of the Year
Antetokounmpo, George and Gobert are all excellent defenders, and deserving candidates. Gobert is one of the league’s top rim protectors, while George is one of the top perimeter players on the defensive side of the ball. Antetokounmpo, though, is an anomaly, as he is capable of defending both post and perimeter players aptly. His versatility makes him extremely valuable on the defensive end, and should give him a leg up on the other two nominees.
Winner: Rudy Gobert
Sixth Man of the Year
If you bet that a Clipper would win this award, the odds would be in your favor. L.A. boasted one of the best benches in the entire NBA over the course of the season, and Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were the main reasons why. Harrell brought energy and tenacity off the bench, while Williams provided the Clippers with a top-tier offensive option. Williams is, of course, no stranger to the Sixth Man of the Year Award as he has won it twice before, including last year. After a solid season that saw his scoring, rebounding, and assist numbers all climb, Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers rounds out the candidates for the award.
Winner: Lou Williams
Most Improved Player
There are three candidates for the Most Improved Player award, but only one jumped from an enigmatic question mark coming off an injury to an All-Star, and that would be D’Angelo Russell. De’Aaron Fox had a solid season in Sacramento, but as only a sophomore in the league, improvement is expected. Similarly, Siakam benefited from increased opportunity as he started for the first time in his three-year career in Toronto.
Winner: Pascal Siakam
Coach of the Year
Ironically enough, Nick Nurse, the coach that led the Toronto Raptors to their first title in franchise history, isn’t an option when it comes to the league’s Coach of the Year award. Instead, we have Mike Budenholzer, whose Bucks finished with the league’s best overall record in his first season in Milwaukee, Doc Rivers, who led the Clippers to a playoff spot with a roster short on top-tier talent, and Michael Malone, who took the Nuggets from outside of the playoff picture to the second seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Winner: Mike Budenholzer