The season is winding down, and it’s time to talk NBA awards
Take a look at the five highest-scoring seasons in NBA history.
— Wilt Chamberlain scored 4,029 points in 1961-62.
— Chamberlain scored 3,586 in 1962-63.
— Michael Jordan scored 3,041 points in 1986-87.
— Chamberlain scored 3,033 in 1960-61.
— Chamberlain scored 2,948 points in 1963-64.
There they are. The five best seasons in terms of points that the NBA has ever seen. And those five seasons all have something in common — when they were over, someone not named Chamberlain or Jordan was the MVP.
What James Harden did this season for the Houston Rockets was scintillating. He scored 50 or more points nine times. He scored 61 twice. He scored at least 30 points in 32 consecutive games, a stretch that lasted more than two months. He will finish this season with the seventh-highest scoring average in NBA history and win the scoring title by more than 8 points per game — a ridiculous margin.
He wins Most Voluminous Points.
But maybe not the Most Valuable Player.
There are some tremendous individual races in the NBA this season, with a slew of deserving candidates for coach of the year, a rather unexpected two-person race for rookie of the year, and the annual befuddlement about who should win defensive player of the year. The ballot that voters will agonize over most, in some cases, will be the one for MVP.
Is it Harden, for the second straight year?
Or is it Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo?
Compelling cases can be made either way. Harden carried the Rockets and became the most unguardable player in the league. Antetokounmpo took a team that finished seventh in the East last year and lifted it to the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA, continuing his meteoric rise toward total superstardom.
Harden is the better scorer, Antetokounmpo the more accurate shooter. Harden is the better ballhandler and passer, Antetokounmpo the better rebounder and defender. Take Antetokounmpo off the Bucks, and they’d be lucky to make the playoffs. Take Harden off the Rockets, and they’d be lucky to make the playoffs.
The biggest argument for Harden is the scoring. It has been sensational, without question.
But there is precedent, as Chamberlain and Jordan learned. Even a gazillion points doesn’t guarantee anyone the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
When these playoffs are over and the trophy is finally handed out in late June, Harden will find out if scoring was enough to win the vote this time.
It is tradition in this space to end the regular season by having AP Basketball Writers Brian Mahoney and Tim Reynolds reveal their choices for certain awards and predict what will happen in the playoffs.
Mahoney: Antetokounmpo. Tough to demote Harden when he was even more valuable this season than last, but can’t ignore a guy with the Greek Freak’s stats on the surprise winningest team in the league.
Reynolds: Antetokounmpo. He gets the nod over Harden because the Bucks enjoyed a level of success that few expected, and he’s why.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Mahoney: D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn. Didn’t just have a great season. He saved one for a Nets team that was going nowhere.
Reynolds: Pascal Siakam, Toronto. The Raptors were 14-3 when he had a double-double, and he more than doubled his scoring average.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Mahoney: Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee. Oversaw improvements across the board to turn a team with playoff aspirations into one with championship aspirations.
Reynolds: Doc Rivers, LA Clippers. Hard call over Budenholzer. Steve Kerr, Nick Nurse, Steve Clifford, Michael Malone and Kenny Atkinson also deserving.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Mahoney: Luka Doncic, Dallas. Not many players become must-see TV before they even turn 20.
Reynolds: Luka Doncic, Dallas. Trae Young came on like gangbusters at the end of the year, but Doncic was better from start to finish.
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION
Mahoney: Milwaukee. The Bucks do so many things well that they can find a way even when things get tougher.
Reynolds: Toronto. Milwaukee is built for the long haul and might not be ready — yet. But for the Raptors, if not now, then when?
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION
Mahoney: Golden State. Still by far the best combination of talent and experience in the league.
Reynolds: Golden State. If healthy, the Warriors are still the one to beat. And they want to send Oracle Arena out the right way.
Mahoney: Warriors in 6.
Reynolds: Warriors in 5.
BOLD OFFSEASON PREDICTION
Mahoney: The July 4 fireworks boom brightest in New York, where Kevin Durant is the centerpiece of a transformed Knicks team.
Reynolds: If the Warriors win this title, and they should, expect the core to all come back and try to four-peat. Yes, including Durant.
Brian Mahoney is the AP Basketball Writer based in New York. Tim Reynolds is the AP Basketball Writer based in Miami.