NBA Awards Ballot Predictions

The NBA Playoffs are set to begin this weekend, and the Play-in Tournament is already in full swing. With this time of year also comes award discussions. Is Jokic the unanimous MVP? Which 15 guys will earn All-NBA nods? Does Ben Simmons have a case for DPOY? So on and so forth.

Filling out these awards and teams is admittedly more difficult than it seems, and it’s almost impossible to “get it right” given the many compelling arguments that can be made, but I took a crack anyway. Here’s my “ballot” for each award and All-NBA team.


  1. Nikola Jokic
  2. Joel Embiid
  3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  4. Steph Curry
  5. Rudy Gobert

This should probably be unanimous, but knowing the voters it likely won’t be. You could make a case that 2 through 5 are interchangeable—I wouldn’t disagree with any ranking of those names—but I’m fairly confident in saying those are the only four players deserving of votes behind Jokic.

Defensive Player of the Year:

  1. Rudy Gobert
  2. Ben Simmons
  3. Draymond Green

As much as I’d love to give Ben the nod here I just can’t ignore Gobert’s historical dominance. They don’t make bigs like him anymore, and he’s without a doubt the most valuable piece of the puzzle for Utah. It really doesn’t matter which impact metric you use, the gap between Gobert and the second most impactful defender (shown below) applies across the board. While these “grab all” numbers obviously have a degree of unreliability, we can comfortably draw conclusions from the sizable gap between him and everyone else along the Y-axis (defensive impact)—he’s in a league of his own.

LEBRON - Scatter

I hope this isn’t too controversial given the fan base’s ire for Gobert, but it’s the right vote. Simmons is going to be one of the league’s top defenders for another decade—I’m pretty sure his time will come for DPOY.

Rookie of the Year:

  1. Lamelo Ball
  2. Tyrese Haliburton
  3. Anthony Edwards

Ball has been incredible for Charlotte in his rookie season, and he has a multiple All-Star floor with a ceiling as high as anyone in recent memory (Zion aside). There seems to be lingering chatter around Anthony Edwards, who spent the early portion of the season as the favorite for this award, but this ultimately shouldn’t be a close race. As for Haliburton, he’s been steadily excellent for the Kings, and while he’s clearly deserving of the ranking over Edwards, this feels like a toss-up based off the votes I’ve seen so far.

Sixth Man of the Year:

  1. Joe Ingles
  2. Jordan Clarkson
  3. Derrick Rose

Clarkson is the betting favorite for this award but you can’t convince me he’s better than Ingles, nor can you convince me that he’s more valuable to Utah’s success. Not to be curt, but if you think otherwise then I’d advise you to watch a basketball game once or twice. Shooting 59% on twos, 45.1% on threes, and 84.4% from the line for a gob-smacking True Shooting percentage of 67.2% is the sort of efficiency fit for a video game. Add in the far superior playmaking and defense compared to Clarkson and this shouldn’t be a debate.

As for Rose, there were a number of names who could get this vote, but it’s hard to imagine the Knicks success without him as a sparkplug off the bench. Since the trade to New York he’s posting some of the most efficient numbers of his career in terms of scoring efficiency and protecting the basketball, and if you take him off that team they’re probably a 6 or 7-seed—Rose 100% deserves recognition here.

Now the fun stuff:

1st Team All-NBA

  • G Steph Curry
  • G Luka Doncic
  • F Giannis Antetokounpo
  • F Joel Embiid
  • C Nikola Jokic

This five is obvious and any other mix of players is plainly incorrect. Efforts to keep Embiid off first-team are transparently agenda-driven given that he and Jokic blur the line between center and forward/guard more than anyone in league history.

If you chose to leave Embiid off then I think it’s as simple as bumping Luka to forward and sliding Lilliard to 1st team guard. Either way, I don’t see a name more deserving than those six.

2nd Team All-NBA

  • G Damian Lilliard
  • G Chris Paul
  • F Julius Randle
  • F Kawhi Leonard
  • C Rudy Gobert

Lilliard is a lock here if he’s not on 1st team. Gobert is also a lock at center, and he would make my 1st team if the league took away position restrictions (which they should). Disrespect these two all you want for what they lack on the other end of the floor, but Lilliard’s offense and Gobert’s defense are historically dominant, and I rank them 6th and 5th respectively in MVP voting.

If people want to disagree with CP3 I won’t blame them, but the two-seed in the West deserves some representation, and there’s no doubt Paul played a massive role in their success this year. People might bump Randle because his per-possession numbers aren’t on par with the rest of these names, but his consistency in minutes/games played, and lead role in the Knicks turnaround should outweigh that. There are a handful of tough decisions to be made here, but leaving Randle off this list would be criminal. As for Leonard, he’s light on minutes but heavy on impact; if he had either finished the year strong or played more games overall he’d be a shoo-in for 1st team.

3rd Team All-NBA

  • G Kyrie Irving
  • G Jimmy Butler
  • F Zion Williamson
  • F Paul George
  • C Bam Adebayo

Butler has quietly been phenomenal this season, and if he hadn’t missed so much time (20 games) or wasn’t on a team with the 13th best record in the NBA he’d be slotted higher. Some voters will understandably place him on the second team, but it ultimately comes down to the positional math (voters who list Embiid as a forward don’t have room for Butler on 2nd team). Outside of Butler and the 10 names previously listed, I think this list is up in the air.

At forward I was between Zion, George, Lebron, and Tatum; I opted for the former two for various reasons. For starters, I made the controversial decision to disqualify Bron for having under 1,500 minutes and just 45 games played (I had to draw the line somewhere). If his team was in first place (or even remotely close) like Embiid’s Sixers are (Joel only has 89 more minutes and six more game played) then I’d ink Lebron in here, but the 7-seed is the nail in the coffin.

Ultimately, I chose George over Tatum mostly because of Boston’s struggles; and Zion earned the final nod over Tatum because of the historic numbers he put up (first player to average 25 ppg on 60%+ shooting since Kevin Mchale in 1987… first player to average 20+ ppg in the paint since Shaq in 2001) and at just 20 years old no less.

I wish I didn’t have to pick another center here and instead include LeBron, Beal, or Tatum, but here we are. As much as I wanted to mix it up with Sabonis or Capela, I can’t make a compelling argument for anyone but Adebayo here. He’s everything Sabonis was and more this season, and you can’t tell me Capela means more to Atlanta than Bam to Miami. Despite preferring to have a few wings plugged in this spot instead, there’s no denying Adebayo had an All-NBA caliber season.

1st Team All-Defense

  • G Jrue Holiday
  • G Ben Simmons
  • F Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • F Draymond Green
  • C Rudy Gobert

Gobert and Ben are locks, and Draymond isn’t far behind as the head of a Golden State defense ranked fifth in basketball. Holiday is deserving of this selection almost every year, and now that he’s atop Milwaukee’s defense he’s getting his due recognition. Some people might nit-pick his numbers to knock him down a peg, but there isn’t a perimeter player in this league that he can’t guard at a high level.

I had some difficulty with the final spot, but I ultimately couldn’t find a player with a stronger case than Giannis. Sometimes we downgrade players simply because their dominance becomes routine, and I think that applies here to Giannis. I wouldn’t disagree if you swapped out a player or two from this first team, but I think these five make the most sense from a value, impact, and consistency standpoint.

2nd Team All-Defense

  • G Jimmy Butler
  • G Matisse Thybulle
  • F OG Anunoby
  • F Bam Adebayo
  • C Joel Embiid

Anunoby is the ultimate Swiss army knife on the wing, capable of defending 1-5 at a high level; Adebayo is the best “modern big” this league has to offer, switching and defending the perimeter as well as any center in the NBA; and Embiid is the anchor of the Sixers second-ranked defense, providing every bit the rim protection that Gobert does. I debated whether or not to include Butler or Kawhi for a while, but ultimately decided that when push comes to shove Jimmy was the more consistent defender this season (though this may be an instance where I’m downgrading Kawhi because his dominance feels routine).

As for Thybulle, he’s arguably the best defender in basketball per possession, and the myriad of ways that he impacts the game on that end are truly one of a kind. Any whining over him only playing 20 minutes per game simply misses the full extent of his defensive prowess.

1st Team Rookie

  • G Lamelo Ball
  • G Anthony Edwards
  • G Tyrese Halliburton
  • G Immanuel Quickley
  • F Jae’Sean Tate

Ball, Edwards, Haliburton, and Tate are locks; and the fifth spot is a true toss-up between Quickley and Bey depending on your flavor. Quickley is the better overall player/prospect than Bey, which is what this list should be striving for, but if you want to give Bey the first team nod because he’s NBA-ready and was given an opportunity in Detroit to play 30+ minutes per night (and thus fill the stat sheet) then by all means go with him (it just won’t age well when we look back at these teams in five years).

2nd Team Rookie

  • G Desmond Bane
  • G Tyrese Maxey
  • F Saddiq Bey
  • F Xavier Tillman
  • C Isaiah Stewart

Bane feels like a strong bet for second team, as he came in and delivered on first year expectations; Tillman isn’t getting much love from the national media, but his defense was incredible for a rookie; and Stewart gives this list a true center who flashed a desirable modern-big skillset with Detroit. As for Maxey, I understand that feels like a homer pick, but he’s absolutely deserving of that spot for every reason I claimed about Quickley—there may be other rookies who put up a higher volume of stats on bad teams, but these guys were head and shoulders better than them per possession, and in rotations for high-seeded playoff teams no less. I’ll save the full case on Maxey for another day, but he’s every bit as deserving of this spot as the other names you hear mentioned.

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