NBA Awards Show 2018: Predicting the award winners

The 2017-18 NBA season will be looked back once more as the 2018 NBA Awards Show is on tonight at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif., on TNT at 9 p.m. ET. This is the second annual awards show after the NBA decided to move away from handing out the awards upon conclusion of the regular season but instead to hand them out live during a televised event. This year's host is actor, producer, and comedian Anthony Anderson with musical guest hip-hop artist Travis Scott

Before the awards show commences, Vavel USA writers Hunter Carroll, Christopher Jeter, and Raj Sawhney predict the league's Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year award winner with a case to why they will win the award.

Most Valuable Player - James Harden

Hunter: Harden is the undoubted MVP this season. Following up his best season ever in 2016-17, The Beard came back with another impressive campaign averaging 30.4 points per game and 8.8 assists per game while going back to playing the off-guard position with the addition of Chris Paul. Harden now has another year under his belt in head coach Mike D'Antoni's system and helped Houston clinch the number one seed in the tough Western Conference before the bottom three teams even clinched a playoff spot. Harden may have solidified his MVP case with the NBA's first ever 60-point triple-double.

Christopher: Without question, it’s James Harden. He probably would’ve won the award last year if it weren’t for Russell Westbrook’s historic triple-double season. In addition to leading the league in scoring, Harden also ranks first in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and both overall and offensive win shares. He’s been the most efficient player in isolation this year (1.24 points per possession), even though his production dips as the pick and roll ball handler (0.89 PPP). When Harden isn’t sending defenders to the hospital with broken ankles, he uses his skills to contract the defense and sling the rock out to one of Houston’s bevy of three-point shooters. While the addition of Chris Paul helped the Rockets exceed most people’s lofty expectations, Harden proved he was still the go-to guy and arguably the most unstoppable offensive player in the NBA. This year, he’ll have the hardware to show for it.

Raj: Everything seems to be falling into place for the Houston Rockets' James Harden to finally win his MVP. Although he fell short to players like Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook in previous seasons, Harden has constantly had supporters fought for their lives to give Harden this most prestigious individual basketball honor.

The argument could be made for LeBron James to be Harden’s biggest competition. James is having a monstrous season averaging just about 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists per game, but his Cleveland Cavaliers hit stumbled midway through the season, and while he still seemed to be on Harden’s tail, that slide appeared to have been just enough to give Harden the separation. Also, while many would even argue that Chris Paul’s addition to the Rockets helped propel them into this upper stratosphere, it is hard to push back against the best player on the best team in the league, especially when he has come so close in previous season. Now is Harden’s time, and he finally has the momentum to push him over the edge and earn the distinction of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.

Rookie of the Year - Ben Simmons

Hunter: Ben Simmons averages for this season were remarkable, putting up 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game. Numbers like that even the great Magic Johnson didn't put up. Coming off a season in which he played no games at all, Simmons has come out and set the league on fire. With Joel Embiid playing some parts of the season on a minute restriction, the load had been on Simmons. He also had them finish the season as the three seed in the Eastern Conference, which is a great accomplish for his first season in the NBA. 

Christopher: In a normal year, I would say Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz. However, this isn’t a normal year. Ben Simmons will take the Rookie of the Year trophy home. While a lot of the media focussed on other rookie’s unusual shot mechanics (Simmons’ teammate Markelle Fultz or Lakers' Lonzo Ball), Simmons produced jaw-dropping numbers (for a rookie) and we still aren’t sure which hand he shoots with. Simmons led all rookies in assists and rebounds, while ranking third in scoring and field goal percentage.

While he can’t hit jumpers -- or free throws for that matter -- Simmons uses his elite athleticism and high basketball I.Q. to either finish around the rim (71 percent from the restricted area) or kick it out to an open teammate (fourth in the league in potential assists). His importance to the Sixers shows in their performance when he doesn’t play; Philadelphia has a +6.8 net rating when Simmons is on the floor and are -1.7 when he sits. He, along with Joel Embiid, have transformed the Sixers from a tanking laughingstock to a budding NBA powerhouse. For that, Simmons deserves recognition as the leagues top rookie, even if Mitchell believes otherwise.

Raj: This is a tricky one. While there is no particular rule against players in their second season who missed their rookie year due to injury winning this award (in fact, it has happened quite a few times recently), that does seem to be causing problems for the favorite to win Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons. Additionally, all-star Joel Embiid loves to have the spotlight in Philadelphia, keeping some of the shine off of the 21-year-old Australian. Pair that with the emergence of the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, who will undoubtedly be a star in this league, and you have enough data to make the case that Mitchell could sneak into the running and steal this award from under Simmons’ nose.

That all said, while I am on the Mitchell train, this one will more than likely go to Simmons, and he is very deserving in the way he has played. While Embiid is the Sixers’ star, he and his team would not be where they are without the on-the-floor leadership of Simmons. In his rookie campaign, Simmons has averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists per game, shadowing The King out in Cleveland that many have compared him to. His ability to lead the charge and set up his teammates is impeccable, especially so early in his career, and when Simmons is firing on all cylinders, Philadelphia is one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA. Donovan Mitchell will have his time to shine, there is no question about that, but at this point in time, Ben Simmons has done just enough to make himself the favorite in this race.

Defensive Player of the Year - Rudy Gobert

Hunter: This year's Defensive Player of the Year will go to Rudy Gobert. His presence on the floor made teams change alter their offensive game plan, which says a lot of about him. However, when teams made the daring move to drive inside, Gobert made them instantly regret it as he averaged 2.3 blocks per game. To add, he was instrumental during the Jazz's comeback from their early season woes. Utah was 19-28 at one point because of the absence of their bigman, who was injured, but finished the season 29-6. With Gobert likely to take home the award, Utah's future seems bright on the defensive end.

Christopher: In a toss-up between big men Andre Drummond, who should have been the next favorite to win the award, and Rudy Gobert, I think that the Jazz center has the advantage. While Drummond leads the league in defensive win shares, defensive rating, and defensive box plus/minus, Gobert isn’t too far behind. “The Stifle Tower” ranks right behind Drummond in defensive rating and defensive BPM. Gobert is only 14th in defensive win shares, but that’s because he missed some games due to knee injuries (win shares is a cumulative stat).

Furthermore, Gobert’s production actually translates to his team’s success on the defensive end. Utah allows 6.9 more points per 100 possessions when Gobert sits and opponent’s effective field goal percentage jumps from .492 to .522. On the other hand, the Pistons are actually better defensively when Drummond is off the floor, allowing five fewer points per 100 possessions when he sits (opponents eFG% drops from .533 to .507 as well). Gobert was also better at protecting the rim; opponents shot 59 percent in the restricted area against Gobert compared to 64.7 percent against Drummond. Plus, Gobert is a much better shot blocker; he ranked second in block rate while Drummond ranked 11th.

Raj: In my opinion, this is the most competitive category this season. With the other two finalists in Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis, other names like Paul George and Draymond Green each made strong cases for why they should win Defensive Player of the Year too. However, a lot needed to be done to be considered a frontrunner here. And while it is difficult to call this player even close to a “sure thing,” the one man who stood just a step above these talented stars was Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz.

Gobert has been teetering at the top of this category with the likes of Green and Kawhi Leonard for a few seasons and now this year, with Utah second overall in defensive rating, he could very likely earn his first (of many) Defensive Player of the Year honors. When you consider the fact that after Gordon Hayward’s departure from Utah, many considered the Jazz a non-factor in the west, it is even more astounding when you realize that they could be a top-four team in the conference. It speaks volumes to what head coach Quin Snyder has done there, and while Donovan Mitchell has burst onto the scene in an exciting way, this is still Gobert’s team.

Most Improved Player - Victor Oladipo

Hunter: Coming off only averaging 15 points last year as the backcourt mate of Russell Westbrook, the general opinion on Victor Oladipo before this year was that he was part of the deal in which OKC stole Paul George from the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo changed that narrative quickly. Being voted to his first all-star game, and getting Indiana to a higher seed than they were last year, Oladipo has almost all but locked up this award.

Christopher: I can’t imagine anyone else winning this other than Victor Oladipo of the Pacers. Many fans and analysts thought the Pacers would struggle after trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not only did Indiana thrive, they have as many wins as the star-studded Thunder, mainly due to Oladipo’s breakout season. The 2013 second overall pick finally lived up to his selection this year, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, PER and true shooting percentage. The Pacers are a different team with Oladipo on the floor, as Indiana’s net rating goes from +6.6 to -6.9 when he sits. I can’t think of any other player who deserves this award more than Oladipo.

Raj: Victor Oladipo shocked the basketball world this season, finding motivation in his being traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Indiana Pacers. He took the move as motivation, and stepped onto the court more fit, more athletic, and ready to be a leader. While he had a solid showing last season in OKC, putting up 16 points on 44 percent shooting from the field, he upped his numbers significantly this year. Not only did he increase his field goal attempts from 14 to 17, but he made efficient use of his extra possessions, upping his point average to 23 a game on 48 percent shooting.

In addition to the improved numbers, Oladipo made his first all-star game this season, a feat that few would have predicted when he was traded for Paul George. Oladipo’s confidence and dedication to being the anchor of this Indiana team was exciting to watch, and he has been greatly rewarded by his hard work. Oladipo kept the Pacers afloat in a period of perceived turbulence, and his elevation from role player to all-star leader is a true testament to why he deserves the Most Improved Player award.

Sixth Man of the Year - Lou Williams

Hunter: Lou Williams made many peoples all-star ballot this year. Averaging 33 minutes per game, he really plays starter minutes, but he does come off the bench which makes him a deadly sixth man in the league. Lou is the only person to ever lead his team in points and assists while not being a starter. He was traded this offseason from the Rockets to the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, then the Clippers preceded to trade Blake Griffin and gut the whole roster leaving Lou with just DeAndre Jordan. With Blake gone, the offense was setup for Lou to takeover which ultimately will make him the Sixth Man of the Year.

Christopher: I’ll take Lou Williams to become the fourth player in league history to win the award twice. His production more than backs it up. Williams leads all bench players in scoring and is second among reserves in assists. The journeyman guard was particularly a beast running the pick and roll. His 0.91 points per possession in pick-and-roll situations was better than the likes of Harden, Westbrook, John Wall and Simmons. Depending on which metric you use, he’s either aided (1.2 defensive win shares) or hindered (-2.8 defensive box plus-minus) the Clippers defense, but his heat check ability on offense mitigates any shortcomings on the other end. Williams’ play has already earned him a three-year extension with the Clippers, and it will also net him another Sixth Man trophy.

Raj: Lou Williams may not have locked up that all-star vote that he wanted, but that doesn’t mean his play will go unrecognized this season. Although the other finalists in Eric Gordon and Fred VanVleet, as well as another strong candidate in Will Barton, have all had strong showings this year but it seems unlikely that anyone will win it other than Sweet Lou. A lot of this award comes down to scoring off the bench (a large reason why Jamal Crawford has locked up so many), and when you consider that trend, Williams is doing it better than anyone else. At nearly 23 points per game, Williams is the spark that ignites the Los Angeles Clippers.

His play off the bench was the steady, and often spectacular, pacemaker that gave the Clippers a chance to compete in the competitive Western Conference. When Blake Griffin was shipped off to the Detroit Pistons in a mid-season trade, the organization was basically giving the keys to Williams to gun for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Williams took full advantage of that offering, attempting just under 17 field goals a game. And with his 43.5 percent from the field and 36 percent shooting from beyond the arch, Williams was able to stack up enough points to make him the easy favorite in this category.

Coach of the Year - Dwane Casey

Hunter: Many people viewed the Toronto Raptors as just another Eastern Conference middle-of-the-pack team. But with the change in style from the typical iso-ball they played in years past, Casey tweaked his game plan to include more pace-and-space and ball movement in the offense for Toronto, which has allowed them to have one of the best benches in the league and allowed for DeMar DeRozan to have one of his best seasons and put Toronto as the number one seed in the East. Recording his third straight 50-win season and franchise-best 59-win season, the award should go to Casey.

Christopher: Before the season ended, many people would have picked Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to win the award back-to-back years (becoming the first coach to do so). Now that the three finalists have been revealed, I’m actually going with Raptors coach Dwane Casey. Under Casey, the Raptors had a chance to win 60 games for the first time in franchise history but still ended up with 59 wins. With pretty much the same roster as last year, Toronto ranked in the top five in offensive and defensive rating this year. The team moved away from their iso-heavy offense to a more modern, pace-and-space style of play. D’Antoni had a great year as well as Quin Snyder and Brad Stevens but Casey deserves some props for what Toronto has done this year.

Raj: Dwane Casey has consistently kept his Toronto Raptors in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, and while they have struggled to break through a certain ceiling, there feels like no better time than now to reward Casey for his work. The Raptors finished this season atop the East and could have won 60 games for the first time in franchise history. This season was a remarkable feat for this organization and even though the playoffs didn't go according to plan, their regular season play must be commended so Casey should be honored.

I will say that if the Boston Celtics did not suffer so many injuries this season, I think we would be seeing Brad Stevens win this award. His remarkable coaching has shifted the Celtics in an unexpected and exciting way, and with Kyrie Irving leading his team and with Gordon Hayward hopefully back healthy next season, Stevens will once again make the Celtics a force to be reckoned with. But for now, we must praise Casey for his ability to stay patient with his core in Toronto, helping them grow into an elite team.

Executive of the Year - Daryl Morey

Hunter: Daryl Morey continues to somehow make big splashes in the offseason for superstars. In 2012, he acquired James Harden, then one season later signed Dwight Howard. This past offseason, he traded basically his entire team to get All-NBA point guard Chris Paul from the Clippers. Adding 3-and-D guys such as P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute and signing Gerald Green with the surge of Clint Capela, the Rockets locked up the number one seed along with the best record in the NBA.

Christopher: It’s time for the Billy Beane of the NBA, Daryl Morey, to claim top executive honors this year. In addition to swinging the trade for Chris Paul, Morey brought in P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Green to basically uphold the team’s “threes, layups, and free throws” philosophy. Morey was the only executive whose big moves translated to big on-court success. For that, he deserves recognition as the league’s top executive.

Raj: To say that many basketball fans were confused when Daryl Morey traded half of his team for Chris Paul would be an understatement. “He won’t work with Harden.” “They both demand the ball too much.” “Neither will forfeit a leadership role for the other’s benefit.” Well, Morey and the Houston Rockets organization proved us wrong. They finished with the best record in the NBA and are playing incredible basketball behind two incredible superstars who have managed to blend beautifully, to the surprise of many.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge could have competed in this category, completely reshaping Boston’s roster, but again the Celtics were plagued by injuries, giving us an incomplete picture of what they could have been. Morey has managed to make moves and signings that gave last year’s Coach of the Year, Mike D’Antoni, a whole lot to work with, and the Rockets have shined extremely bright this season.

That concludes our NBA Awards Show roundtable predictions! Tune in live right now as we will be bringing you live stream commentary when the NBA Awards Show begin at 9 p.m. ET.