With the NBA regular season ending today, The Post weighs in on who should capture the league’s awards. You will not find any Knicks or Nets here, though there’s plenty of debate on MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
MARC BERMAN: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks—It’s a virtual tie between “The Greek Freak” and “The Serbian Sensation” (Nikola Jokic), but I’ll take the champion. Antetokounmpo’s numbers of 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists on 55.3 percent shooting (as of Friday) have the Bucks as the likely second seed in the East. He has lifted a supporting cast some have overrated.
BRIAN LEWIS: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets—Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid have strong cases, but the reigning MVP’s is stronger. On Thursday, he became the first player in NBA history to total at least 2,000 points, 1,000 boards and 500 assists in a season.
IAN O’CONNOR: Joel Embiid, 76ers—The league’s leading scorer had to deal with the Ben Simmons circus and adjust to James Harden’s arrival while carrying the Sixers. Enough said.
MIKE VACCARO: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets—The league’s reigning MVP not only backed up his status, but actually surpassed it. Without him, there’s no telling where the Nuggets would be. With him, they are the ultimate puncher’s-chance team.
Defensive Player of the Year
MARC BERMAN: Marcus Smart, Celtics—Tired of Rudy Gobert in this slot, as this NBA is won at the perimeter, and no sniper envies facing Smart, a hard-nosed physical guard who once gave Kristaps Porzingis fits. Smart has never won the award and only has been named to an All-Defensive Team twice. The Celtics are among the East’s elite partly because they have Smart.
BRIAN LEWIS: Rudy Gobert, Jazz—The Greek Freak gets edged out here too, with usual suspects Draymond Green and Ben Simmons having missed much or all of the season.
IAN O’CONNOR: Rudy Gobert, Jazz—With a nod to perimeter stoppers Marcus Smart and Mikal Bridges, Gobert remains the game’s most significant defensive force. The Jazz big man should become the third player to win this award for a fourth time.
MIKE VACCARO: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks—As great as he is on the other side of the floor, Antetokounmpo has become the most feared defensive player in the league, allowing the Bucks to survive an often undersized front line.
Rookie of the Year
MARC BERMAN: Evan Mobley, Cavaliers—Maybe I’m biased, because the Cavaliers’ power forward has crushed the Knicks. But his addition propelled perennial-loser Cleveland into the postseason with darling offensive numbers (14.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 50.6 percent shooting). He also has been a major defensive force on a team not known for D.
BRIAN LEWIS: Scottie Barnes, Raptors—Barnes’ performance while playing pressure minutes on a playoff team gives him the late bump needed to topple the Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley and the Pistons’ Cade Cunningham.
IAN O’CONNOR: Evan Mobley, Cavaliers—It’s a tight race with Scottie Barnes and Cade Cunningham, especially Barnes, but Mobley’s rim protection (top 10 in blocks) earns him the slight nod.
MIKE VACCARO: Evan Mobley, Cavaliers—Not only did he hit the ground running from Day 1, but also his impact on the team was doubly felt whenever he was out of the lineup. The essential player on the NBA’s most intriguing on-the-come team.
Coach of the Year
MARC BERMAN: Monty Williams, Suns—Tom Thibodeau captured this last season in a razor-close call against the Suns coach, and it didn’t look good after the Knicks were walloped in the first round and the Suns marched to two shy wins of the NBA championship. Part makeup call and part well-deserved, with the Suns (63-17) the No. 1 seed buoyed by an underrated defense.
BRIAN LEWIS: Monty Williams, Suns—It’s easy to be tempted by the Grizzlies’ Taylor Jenkins, and the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra always has a fighting chance. But the NBA-leading Suns are a finely tuned machine, and Williams is the mechanic.
IAN O’CONNOR: Monty Williams, Suns—Tough not to go with Taylor Jenkins, but Williams is the league’s only coach to clear 60 victories this season, and I’ve never liked excluding coaches from teams with high-end talent.
MIKE VACCARO: Monty Williams, SunsT—here were plenty who thought Williams was robbed of the award last year, and maybe they were right. There should be no such thievery this time around.
Most Improved Player
MARC BERMAN: DeMar DeRozan, Bulls—Who is going to succeed Julius Randle? I’m going to go off the standard-choice board and take the 2021 free agent whom the Knicks didn’t make an offer to because they thought he was washed up. Instead, the 32-year-old former All-Star elevated his game to new heights in lifting the Bulls from the morass (averaging 28 points, eight higher than his career average). This used to be “Comeback Player of the Year” award, so this is an old-school rare pick.
BRIAN LEWIS: Ja Morant, Grizzlies—Don’t be fooled by the Grizzlies’ impressive record without him. Morant has taken the leap into stardom as explosively as he leaps into his rim-rocking dunks.
IAN O’CONNOR: Ja Morant, Grizzlies—He’s going to win much bigger awards down the road.
MIKE VACCARO: Ja Morant, Grizzlies—As good as Morant already was, it tells you about just how electrifying he has become that this has become his to lose… and also makes it amazing to think where he might take his game next.
Sixth Man of the Year
MARC BERMAN: Tyler Herro, Heat—The scorer out of Kentucky who helped the Heat get to the bubble Finals has emerged again. He’s averaging 20.8 points, but playing starters’ minutes (32.6).
BRIAN LEWIS: Tyler Herro, Heat—He has played major minutes and has had a major role on a Heat team that’s surprisingly atop the Eastern Conference.
IAN O’CONNOR: Tyler Herro, Heat—He’s averaging more than 20 points a game for the best team in the East. A poor man’s Reggie Miller.
MIKE VACCARO: Tyler Herro, Heat—If you’d like one reason why Miami is in position to be a top seed in the East, this is a good one. Averaged 20.8 points of instant offense off the bench for a deep, dangerous team.