With the NBA regular season ending today, The Post weighs in on who should capture the league’s prize money. You won’t find the Knicks or Nets here, though there’s plenty of debate over MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
most valuable Player
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 (through Friday) have the Bucks as the likely second seed in the East. He has raised a supporting cast that some have overrated.
BRIAN LEWIS: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets—Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid have strong cases, but the reigning MVP is stronger. On Thursday he became the first player in NBA history to have at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds 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 the arrival of James Harden as he charged the Sixers. Enough talk.
MIKE VACCARO: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets—The league’s reigning MVP not only endorsed his status, he surpassed it. Without him, there’s no telling where the Nuggets would be. With him, they are the best team with chances to hit.
Defensive Player of the Year
MARC BERMAN: Marcus Smart, Celtics—Tired of Rudy Gobert in this slot, as this NBA is won on the perimeter, and no shooter envies facing Smart, a tough physical guard who once threw Kristaps Porzingis into tantrums. Smart has never won the award and has only been named to an all-defensive team twice. The Celtics are among the East’s elite in part because they have Smart.
BRIAN LEWIS: Rudy Gobert, jazz—The Greek monster is also outclassed here, as usual suspects Draymond Green and Ben Simmons 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 most important defensive force in the game. The Jazz big man should become the third player to win this award for the fourth time.
MIKE VACCARO: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks—As good as he is on the other end of the floor, Antetokounmpo has become the most feared defensive player in the league, allowing the Bucks to survive in an often undersized front row.
Rookie of the Year
MARC BERMAN: Evan Mobley, Knights—Maybe I’m biased, because the Cavaliers’ power forward has crushed the Knicks. But his addition propelled perennial underdog Cleveland into the postseason with excellent offensive numbers (14.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 50.6 percent shooting). He has also 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 push needed to beat Evan Mobley of the Cavaliers and Cade Cunningham of the Pistons.
IAN O’CONNOR: Evan Mobley, Knights—It’s a close race with Scottie Barnes and Cade Cunningham, especially Barnes, but Mobley’s rim protection (top 10 blocks) gives him a slight nod.
MIKE VACCARO: Evan Mobley, Knights—Not only was he rolling from Day 1, but his impact on the team was felt doubly every time he was out of the lineup. The essential player on the most intriguing team in the NBA.
coach of the year
MARC BERMAN: Monty Williams, Suns—Tom Thibodeau captured this past season in a close decision against the Suns coach, and he wasn’t looking good after the Knicks were beaten in the first round and the Suns marched within two wins of the NBA championship. Part payback 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—It’s hard not to go with Taylor Jenkins, but Williams is the only coach in the league to have 60 wins this season, and I’ve never liked to exclude coaches from teams with high-level talent.
MIKE VACCARO: Monty Williams, SunsT—there were many who thought Williams was robbed of the award last year, and perhaps they were right. There should be no such robbery this time.
Most Improved Player
MARC BERMAN: DeMar DeRozan, Bulls—Who will succeed Julius Randle? I’m going to go off the standard option board and take the 2021 free agent who the Knicks didn’t make an offer to because they thought he was done. Instead, the 32-year-old former All-Star lifted his game to new heights by pulling the Bulls out of the swamp (averaging 28 points, eight more than his career average). This used to be the “Comeback Player of the Year” award, so this is a rare old-school pick.
BRIAN LEWIS: Yeah, Morant, Grizzlies—Don’t be fooled by the Grizzlies’ impressive record without him. Morant has jumped to stardom as explosively as he jumps on his dunks.
IAN O’CONNOR: Yeah, Morant, Grizzlies—You will win much bigger prizes in the future.
MIKE VACCARO: Yeah, Morant, Grizzlies—As good as Morant already was, he tells you how electrifying it has become that this has become his to lose…and also makes it awesome to think about where he could take his game next.
Sixth Man of the Year
MARC BERMAN: Tyler Herro, Heat—The Kentucky scorer who helped the Heat reach the Finals from the bubble has re-emerged. He averages 20.8 points, but plays starting minutes (32.6).
BRIAN LEWIS: Tyler Herro, Heat—He’s played big minutes and had a big role on a Heat team that’s surprisingly atop the Eastern Conference.
IAN O’CONNOR: Tyler Herro, Heat—He’s averaging 20-plus points a game for the best team in the East. Reggie Miller of a poor man.
MIKE VACCARO: Tyler Herro, Heat—If you want a reason why Miami is in position to be a top seed in the East, this is a good one. He averaged 20.8 instant attack points off the bench for a deep and dangerous team.