Stating the case for every NBA Awards 2018 finalist

On Tuesday, the NBA will hand out end of season awards for the Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Coach of the Year.

We already know who the finalists are, so let’s take a look at each of their cases before the NBA crowns its winners.

Most Valuable Player

James Harden, Houston Rockets

A two-time runner-up for MVP, Harden averaged 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game for the NBA’s best regular season team. The Rockets set a franchise-record by winning 65 games in 2017-18, distancing themselves from the defending champion Warriors in the Western Conference standings by seven games.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury on Jan. 26, Davis put the Pelicans on his back to the tune of 30.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.0 steals per game. New Orleans went 21-12 in those games and made a push for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. Davis is also a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

At age 33, LeBron came the closest he’s ever been to averaging a triple-double for an entire season, with 27.5 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game. He finished behind only Russell Westbrook with 18 triple-doubles, the most the Cavaliers superstar has recorded in a single season in his career. Cleveland won 50 games and entered the playoffs with the No. 4 seed.

Rookie of the Year

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Mitchell led all rookies in scoring with 20.5 points per game on 43.7 percent shooting from the field and 34.0 percent shooting from the 3-point line, and he broke Damian Lillard’s rookie record for most 3-pointers made by a first-year player. Mitchell helped the Jazz win 48 games and return to the playoffs despite the fact that the franchise lost its two leading scorers in free agency last summer.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Simmons put up numbers as a rookie that we haven’t seen in nearly 60 years on one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. He finished the season with 12 triple-doubles, the third most in the entire league behind Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. It was the second-most triple-doubles by a rookie in a single season, too, besting Magic Johnson (7) and trailing only Oscar Robertson (26).

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Tatum made an immediate impact on a Celtics team that finished the season with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. He averaged 13.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game on an efficient 47.5 percent shooting from the field and 43.4 percent shooting from the 3-point line. Tatum then proved himself to be a star in the making with an impressive run in the postseason.

Sixth Man of the Year

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors

VanVleet was the leader of the most dominant bench unit in the league and was a difference-maker on the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed. The Raptors outscored opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions when the undrafted point guard was on the floor, putting him behind only Stephen Curry, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul in net rating on the season.

Read more about VanVleet’s Sixth Man of the Year case here.

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Last season’s Sixth Man of the Year, Gordon increased his scoring to 18.0 points per game this season. With his volume shooting from the 3-point line, Houston’s offense improved by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. Even though his efficiency dropped slightly, Gordon continues to impact the game in a way few bench players can.

Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers

Williams led all reserves in scoring with 22.6 points per game and almost carried the Clippers into the postseason without the one-two punch of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He scored 40 or more points on four occasions in 2017-18, including a 50 point outburst against the Warriors on Jan. 10.

Defensive Player of the Year

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

In addition to his 2.3 blocks per game, Gobert contested the second-most shots around the rim on a per-game basis. Opponents made only 51.9 percent of their attempts within six feet of the basket, a whopping 10.0 percent worse than their average. Gobert’s rim protection is the backbone for the second-best defensive team in the league – and the best when he’s healthy.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

An imposing rim protector himself, Embiid averaged 1.8 blocks per game and held opponents to an equally impressive 50.1 percent shooting at the rim. The 76ers went from giving up 99.7 points per 100 possessions with their All-Star center on the court to 104.0 with him on the bench, the difference between a team like the Celtics and the Wizards in defensive efficiency.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Davis is only the 14th player in NBA history to finish top three in Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year voting, joining the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Michael Jordan. The Pelicans big man appeared in more games and played more minutes than Gobert and Embiid, all while leading the league with 2.6 blocks per game and finishing in the top 25 with 1.5 steals per game.

Most Improved Player

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

Capela started every game he appeared in with the Rockets this season and posted career-highs across the board. While James Harden and Chris Paul are the leaders in Houston, Capela is the glue that holds them together with his athleticism on offense and his versatility on defense. Similar to Eric Gordon, the Rockets were a different team with him on the bench.

Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

A second round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Dinwiddie has developed into a starting point guard in the NBA. He replaced the injured D’Angelo Russell in the starting lineup for the Nets early in the season and ran away with the opportunity. Not only did he average 13.1 points, 6.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game from Nov. 14 onwards, Dinwiddie made a Brooklyn team that finished the season with a 28-54 record competitive when he was on the court.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

Oladipo went from averaging 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game with the Thunder last season to 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game with the Pacers this season. He blossomed into an All-Star as the No. 1 option on a Pacers team that exceeded expectations by winning 48 games in the regular season and pushing the Cavaliers to the brink of elimination in the first round of the playoffs.

Coach of the Year

Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors

With a revamped offense, the Raptors won a franchise-record 59 games, good enough for them to beat out the Celtics, 76ers and Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

The Jazz lost Gordon Hayward and George Hill in free agency and still won 48 games. Snyder has built an elite defense around Defensive Player of the Year finalist Rudy Gobert.

Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

One of the youngest teams in the NBA, the Celtics won 55 games without All-Stars Kyrie Irving, who missed 22 regular season games and the entire postseason, and Gordon Hayward, who suffered a season-ending injury in Game 1, at full health.

NBA Finals 2018: Warriors™ open as huge favorites over Cavaliers in Vegas™

If LeBron James thrives on proving negative pronouncements wrong, as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue says, then Las Vegas has done the Warriors no favors.

Golden State has opened as an heavy — some say historic — favorite to defeat James and Cleveland in their fourth consecutive NBA Finals matchup.

the Warriors opened as 1/10 favorites to win the title. The Cavs are listed as 6/1 to win it all.

The series starts Thursday in Oakland.

In the wake of the Warriors’ Game 7 victory Monday over the Rockets, they are the largest NBA Finals favorites in at least 16 seasons,

Moreover, the Warriors opened as 12-point favorites in Game 1, tied for the largest point spread in an NBA Finals game since 1991, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which added that James has been an underdog in seven of his nine Finals appearances. He has won three titles.

NBA Playoffs 2018: Game Times, TV Channel and More for Saturday

Saturday’s four-game slate features the first elimination game of the 2018 NBA playoffs.

It’s win-or-go-fishing for the Portland Trail Blazers, who have yet to find an answer for Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. The single-browed superstar has been predictably dominant, and his clicking-on-most-cylinders supporting cast has positioned the Pellies for perhaps their first sweep—and only second series win—in franchise history.

Elsewhere, the Houston Rockets could put the Minnesota Timberwolves on the brink of elimination with a third straight victory. The Miami Heat hope to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole against the process-trusting Philadelphia 76ers. And the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz will unknot their 1-1 tie as their series heads to Salt Lake City for the first time.

That’s a full day’s worth of hoops, all of it deserving of your attention. So, let’s lay out Saturday’s full schedule and then zero in on the pair of Game 4 collisions.

Saturday’s NBA Playoff Schedule

Game 4—Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat, 2:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 4—Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans, 5 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3—Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves, 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Game 3—Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz, 10 p.m. ET on TNT

Simmons, Embiid Have Sixers Rolling

It’s hard not be the center of attention when you’re 7’0″ tall and balling in a black mask that looks like it belongs to a supervillain. Throw in the fact Joel Embiid was making his playoff debut—finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks—after returning from a three-week absence (orbital bone fracture), and it was hard not to make him the focal point of all Game 3 coverage.

But Embiid arguably wasn’t Philly’s best player Thursday night. He wasn’t the most important statistically, at least.

That honor went to fellow postseason newbie Ben Simmons, who has been harassing the Heat all series. His plus-24 pushed his on-court ledger to plus-30 for the series, while his per-game averages went to 20 points, 10 rebounds and 9.7 assists.

That’s more points, rebounds and assists than any Heat player is averaging. They’re also a giant reason why he’s having perhaps the best postseason for a rookie in more than two decades, as Basketball-Reference.com noted:

“He’s not just a rookie-of-the-year candidate,” Dwyane Wade said, per Philly.com’s Keith Pompey. “He’s a very good basketball player. We have our work cut out for us every night because of what he brings to the table.”

This experienced, well-coached Miami team has been a good first postseason test for Philly. The Heat have held second-half leads in all three games, and they’ve relied on their balance to offset inconsistent performances from most of their players.

But there’s a sizable talent advantage for the Sixers, and it’s surfaced throughout this series.

During Philly’s lone loss, the 36-year-old Wade managed to reverse time—28 points in Game 2, 19 in the other two combined—and the Sixers’ shooters missed a ton of clean looks (16-of-53 on uncontested shots).

In the other contests, Philly has breathed fire from three and enjoyed victory margins of 27 and 20 points. The Sixers drilled 18 triples in each, shooting a mind-numbing 58.1 percent outside.

iami will have desperation and a feisty home-court crowd on its side. But the combination of Simmons, Embiid, Dario Saric (21.3 points per game) and Philly’s role players might be too much to overcome.

Pelicans Are Peaking

As much as you might think content is the key to obituary writing, nothing is more critical than timing. The deeper New Orleans travels into the postseason, the more absurd it seems this squad was written off for dead when DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles in late January.