Trending Topics: State of NBA Awards races with 1 month left –

A wide variety of players and coaches are in the mix for NBA awards in 2021-22.

With one month left in the regular season, some of the NBA’s top awards are seemingly up for grabs. We asked our stable of senior NBA analysts to predict who they think will emerge as the winners of the Kia Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year awards as well as who they think will be the 2021-22 Coach of the Year. Here’s how they responded:

Steve Aschburner

Most Valuable Player — Joel Embiid: Embiid emerges from the three-way competition with Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jokic has the most compelling stats but any repeat Kia MVP has to show us more in W-L. Antetokounmpo’s team might snag the best playoff seed, but he does have prime Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Embiid is having his best year, dealt with the Ben Simmons drama and, for now, wins on “narrative” factor.

Joel Embiid has been a dominant force all season long for the 76ers.

Rookie of the Year — Evan Mobley: Look, Detroit’s Cade Cunningham is now showing the world the skills that got him drafted No. 1 overall. But Cleveland’s Mobley (and to a slightly lesser extent, Toronto’s Scottie Barnes) is having the best rookie season. He is thriving, showing poise, excelling at both ends and helping the Cavaliers to their first non-LeBron playoff appearance since 1998.

Defensive Player of the Year — Rudy Gobert: To heck with voter fatigue. That alleged monkey wrench in three-time winner Gobert’s ongoing candidacy for Kia DPOY didn’t stop Ben Wallace or Dikembe Mutombo from winning this award four times. Too many people look for reasons not to vote for this guy who makes All-Star teams on his defense alone.

Coach of the Year — Taylor Jenkins: Funky award, this one, because it often goes to the coach of the team voters most underestimated. That’s not a great reason to not vote for Phoenix’s Monty Williams. But c’mon, the Grizzlies with the second-best winning percentage in the league as I write this — including a 12-2 mark when MVP long shot Ja Morant does not play?

Mark Medina

Most Valuable Player — Joel Embiid: It will be a tight race between Embiid and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, both of whom demonstrated big-man dominance in the small-ball era. Jokic might have the edge with making more with less. Yet, Embiid deserves kudos for ensuring the Sixers remained a title contender without Ben Simmons all season before the franchise dealt him before the trade deadline to Brooklyn as a centerpiece for James Harden.

Rookie of the Year — Evan Mobley: It did not take long into his rookie season before Mobley sparked comparisons to Anthony Davis. Just like Davis, Mobley has an imposing presence on both ends of the floor with his length, strong decision making and competitive spirit. The scary part: it does not appear Mobley will have the same checkered injury history as Davis has experienced.

Defensive Player of the Year — Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Milwaukee Bucks’ superstar appears on track to win his second DPOY in two years for mostly similar reasons with his stellar athleticism, length and strength. Antetokounmpo has still shown an improved version of himself with consistent effort on help, individual and team defense.

Chris Miles, Steve Smith, and Sam Mitchell discuss why Giannis would be effective in any era.

Coach of the Year — J.B. Bickerstaff: First, he convinced both his young and veteran players to buy into their roles. Then, Bickerstaff helped empower his team to transform from a rebuilder into a playoff contender into an Eastern Conference threat. Even with the Cavs nursing varying injuries all season, Bickerstaff’s steady albeit demanding presence has helped Cleveland stay in the mix.

Shaun Powell

Most Valuable Player — Joel Embiid: Pure, relentless and consistent dominance has been the bar set by Embiid, who is a force at both ends (29.7 ppg, 1.4 bpg) and is almost singlehandedly elevating the Sixers near the top of the Eastern Conference. Admittedly, though, this is a tight contest with the reigning Kia MVP, Nikola Jokic, who’d also be a worthy winner. In a perfect world, one would win MVP, the other would get the Finals MVP, and we’d call it square.

Rookie of the Year — Cade Cunningham: Much like the MVP, this one is seemingly headed to a photo finish at the tape between Cunningham and Cleveland’s Evan Mobley (and perhaps Toronto’s Scottie Barnes). The Cavs’ lanky forward shot out of the gate and displayed a delicate touch at the rim and a heavy-handed one at the defensive rim for much of the season. That said, Cunningham has flourished since an early injury and, with his passing, outside shooting and leadership, impacts his club as well or slightly better than Mobley, who’s simply surrounded by better teammates.

Cade Cunningham was Eastern Conference Rookie of the month for January.

Defensive Player of the Year — Rudy Gobert: It does seem boring to pencil in his name every year, but if it’s deserving, what’s the crime here? Utah’s defensive efficiency falls off a cliff in games he misses, mainly because he’s the core. No, Draymond Green isn’t going to like this, but opposing teams think twice before going at Gobert more than they do Draymond. No disrespect to Draymond.

Check out 2021-22 NBA All-Star Rudy Gobert’s midseason highlights.

Coach of the Year — J.B. Bickerstaff: Once again, a major award is up for grabs, because Taylor Jenkins, if you haven’t noticed, is stealthily directing a rather young Memphis team into a prime position out West. In that sense, the Grizzlies are perhaps ahead of pace … much like the Cavs, where the son of Bernie Bickerstaff has a once-laughingstock team in the hunt as well. Cleveland should more than double last year’s 22 wins. Because the East is a bit more competitive than the West, JB’s work seems a smidge more impressive.

John Schuhmann

Most Valuable Player — Nikola Jokic: I’m rooting for one of the three top candidates — Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid (doesn’t matter which one) — to lead their team (averaging a 30-point triple-double) to a season-closing, 15-game winning streak, so that this will be an easier decision come April 10. For now, Jokic is the leader, because of his combination of standard numbers (26, 14 and eight), efficiency (highest true shooting percentage among high-usage players) and value to his team on both ends of the floor (huge on-off differential). Yes, both ends of the floor.

Rookie of the Year — Evan Mobley: The top of this class has been so good that Josh Giddey, Herbert Jones or Franz Wagner is going to miss out on All-Rookie First Team honors. But Mobley is the clearest leader of the four awards races we’re addressing today, having made a real impact (especially on defense) for what has been the league’s most improved team on both ends of the floor. Helping your team win games does matter.

Will Evan Mobley finish as the Kia ROY winner in 2021-22?

Defensive Player of the Year — Rudy Gobert: This wasn’t as obvious a pick as it’s been in previous years. But with Draymond Green having missed 32 games and Bam Adebayo having missed 25, Gobert is the candidate with the best combination of availability and defensive impact. The Jazz haven’t been as good a defensive team as they were last season, but they climbed back into the top 10 on that end with their destruction of the Blazers on Wednesday, and they’ve been much better defensively with Gobert on the floor. He ranks as one of the league’s best rim protectors (opponents have shot less than 50% at the rim when he’s been there), and opponents have taken a much lower percentage of their shots from the restricted area when he’s been on the floor (23%) than when he’s been off the floor (29%). (Embiid’s differential, for context, is 29% vs. 31%.)

Coach of the Year — Monty Williams: There are no reasons to pick against J.B. Bickerstaff, Taylor Jenkins, Ty Lue or Erik Spoelstra. In fact, all four have done fantastic jobs and deserve recognition. But Williams gets the edge here because the Suns have executed on both ends of the floor at such a high level and so consistently. It’s probably been six years since we’ve seen as good a team as Phoenix take care of business so well from night to night.

Michael C. Wright

Most Valuable Player — Nikola Jokic:  That’s my pick for right now, but tomorrow it could just as easily be Joel Embiid. That’s how close this race is right now, and I can’t remember one recently that was so neck-and-neck this late in the season. Nobody’s ignoring Embiid’s production. He’s the league’s leading scorer, dropping 43 points to go with 14 rebounds and three blocks in a win over Chicago on Monday to push Philadelphia into the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference. Embiid straight up dominates opponents on most nights. But he’s also anchoring a better team than Jokic, who has almost singlehandedly kept Denver afloat this season despite missing two important starters in Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. We keep hearing talk about all the adversity Embiid overcame with the Ben Simmons drama. O.K. … well, the Sixers replaced Simmons with a former MVP and a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team in James Harden. Meanwhile, Jokic keeps chugging along, generating triple-doubles (18, which leads the NBA this season) with no help. On the same night Embiid dropped 43 against Chicago, Jokic reeled off a 32-point triple-double on the second leg of a back-to-back after producing a 46-point triple-double the night before with four blocks and three steals in 42 minutes on the floor. So, right now, I’m riding with Jokic, who has helped Denver win nine of its last 10.

Consistent playmaking and on-court smarts have Nikola Jokic looking like a Kia MVP contender again.

Rookie of the Year — Evan Mobley:  This year’s class of rookies is so talented that a lot of folks won’t be wrong when they complain about their favorite rookie being snubbed. Both Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes are deserving, but they just haven’t been as impactful as Mobley, who has put together a pair of 20-point double-doubles in his last two outings to help the Cavaliers climb out of a three-game losing streak and stay in the thick of postseason contention. Mobley put together a strong performance Sunday against Barnes and the Raptors with 20 points on 60% shooting to go with 17 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. With Jarrett Allen out for a while with a fractured left middle finger, Mobley should be able to separate himself from the rest of the rookie pack by churning out even more production on both ends of the floor. Cleveland will certainly need it.

Defensive Player of the Year — Giannis Antetokounmpo: For me, Draymond Green was probably the guy I would’ve picked back in January. But it appears he’s missed too much time to get back into the race even though he’s targeting March 14 for a return (the Warriors are 28-6 with Green in the lineup). Until this question arose, I was so focused on Antetokounmpo as an MVP candidate that I didn’t truly dig into how special this man is on the defensive end. He’s pulled down double-digits in defensive rebounds in six of his last eight games, averaging 1.4 blocks and 1.8 steals over that same span with Milwaukee winning six of those outings. Antetokounmpo can guard pretty much anybody on the floor, which gives Milwaukee a ton of flexibility with lineups and schemes. His elite athleticism, physicality and intensity only add to the package.

Coach of the Year — Monty Williams: You could make a case for a bunch of coaches doing great jobs. So, I want to make sure to mention J.B. Bickerstaff, Erik Spoelstra, Taylor Jenkins, Billy Donovan, Michael Malone, Ime Udoka, Ty Lue, and Jason Kidd because they’re all deserving of recognition here. But only one can win this award, and that’s got to be Williams. If you’ve spent any time watching the Suns, you notice almost immediately how they play virtually the same on both ends of the floor without their best players, Chris Paul and Devin Booker, in the lineup. That’s a testament to great coaching. Like every other team, Phoenix has dealt with COVID-19 while maintaining the NBA’s best record. But that’s not even getting into Paul’s injury or Booker’s bouts with COVID-19, not to mention the controversy surrounding the team’s owner, and Deandre Ayton’s contract situation. The last two are distractions that can dominate the headlines, but we haven’t heard very much about either. That’s because of Williams’ steadying influence and the culture he’s created in Phoenix, which has continually improved every year since his arrival. It’s natural to expect somewhat of a letdown after Phoenix’s 2021 ride to The Finals. Instead, we’ve seen the Suns push the pedal to the metal even harder in 2022. Their current winning percentage is even better than last season’s. So, my vote goes to Williams in a race that doesn’t seem to be very close from this vantage point.

At NBA All-Star 2022, Suns coach Monty Williams reflects on his team’s success this season.

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