Now that the games have real meaning, we take a look at who’s playing the biggest part in their team's success. These awards will disregard regular season stats and focus on players who might not have a chance to win a full season award.
Best Rookie: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Honorable Mentions: Rodions Kurucs, Landry Shamet
The Clippers (somehow) took two games from the Warriors in the first round, thanks in part to rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. There wasn’t much competition for this award, and most of the nominees for Rookie of the Year missed the playoffs. This doesn’t mean that SGA didn’t earn this honor.
Averaging 13.7/2.7/3.2 with 1.0 steals and shooting 46.7% from the field, he played a large part in the Clippers' 31-point comeback with 4 steals and 5 assists. His numbers will not jump off the page, and that’s to be expected for a rookie starting in his first playoff appearance.
The 11th overall pick of the 2018 draft was one of only 20 rookies to get minutes in the playoffs, and was one of 4 to get more than 10 minutes per game. If anything, it’s important for Gilgeous-Alexander to gain playoff experience, as the Clippers plan to add a star in free agency this offseason.
Best Coach: Brett Brown
Honorable Mentions: Brad Stevens, Terry Stotts, Nick Nurse
As Cam said in “Who’s Coaching for Their Job This NBA Postseason?”, Brett Brown is on the "hot seat”. After losing Game 1 to Brooklyn, ‘here we go again’ ran through the minds of 76ers fans everywhere. The Nets were in control for the majority of the game, and Brown never made the necessary adjustments in what was a winnable game.
All of that talk changed, however, in Game 2, when the 76ers took care of business 145-123. He made adjustments when necessary, he didn’t try to force the offense through two specific players, he let his five elite scorers share the ball and play to their strengths.
All of the sudden, it was Kenny Atkinson being out-coached throughout the rest of the series. Yes, the 76ers have a much better roster, but this series was no guarantee for them. Brown silenced the critics in a quick turn around, and a good performance in round 2 could secure his job in Philly for a long time.
Best Bench Player: Lou Williams
Honorable Mentions: Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell, Gordon Hayward
Just name the award after Lou at this point. He’s going to take home the 6th man award for the 3rd time in his career this year. Averaging almost 30 minutes per game with 21.7/2.8/7.7 and shooting 43%, Williams is next level off the bench.
He put up 36 points and 11 assists in the Clippers' 31-point comeback. When he’s hot he can hit from anywhere of the floor, we’ve seen it this postseason. Without Lou Williams, the Clippers would have been an easy first round sweep, but he was able to take two games from the best team in the NBA.
I’d love for someone to find a way not to give this award to Williams, I’m convinced it’s impossible. This was the easiest award to give, as the other nominees didn’t even come close to matching what Williams means to this Clippers team.
Best Defensive Player: Kawhi Leonard
Honorable Mentions: Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol
Kawhi Leonard turns into Michael Jordan during the playoffs, he’s just a different player. He’s great during the regular season, don’t get me wrong, but during the playoffs, Kawhi a different animal.
He lead the NBA in defensive win shares in the first round, was third in defensive rating and averaged 1.3 steals. The Raptors probably could have moved passed the Magic without him, that’s how good their team is, but Kawhi’s defense is always will always be a key difference in why his team wins.
It’s not often we see players keep up, let alone improve, their game in the playoffs, just look at Leonard’s teammate Kyle Lowry. Kawhi is one of the few that do turn it up when the games really matter, and his defense benefits from that.
Most Valuable Player: Damian Lillard
Honorable Mentions: Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Nikola Jokic
There are some things that just do not show up on the stat sheet, and being clutch is one of them. After getting swept out of the first round last year, Dame had something to prove to the NBA, that he can lead a team in the playoffs.
These playoffs are a huge test for Lillard, as he will be without his starting center in Jusuf Nurkic. Many people, including myself, picked the Thunder to win this series, but he silenced all the haters.
In the first round, Lillard put up 33 points and 6 assists per game, leading the Blazers to a 4-1 series win. As stated earlier, the advanced stats don’t show up in Lillard’s favor, only 6th in win shares in the first round, and he did average 4.4 turnovers. However, Lillard had his mind set on ending this series as soon as possible.
Up 3-1 heading back to Portland, Dame was ready to move onto the second round. Lillard put up 50 points in a series ending Game 5, including a game-winning, 40-ft pull up shot to send OKC home.
Facing Denver in the second round, Lillard could find his way to the Western Conference Finals if he keeps up this play.