Well, here we are – days away from the start of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. This was my first full season covering the BBNBA for KSR and while it’s not quite over with yet, it has granted me more amusement, entertainment, and headache than I ever imagined possible just from watching/writing about that beautiful orange ball.
Now is when the fun truly begins. The upcoming playoffs aren’t going to resemble the postseasons of old. The ones where the good matchups don’t formulate until the Conference Finals or even the NBA Finals. No, these playoffs are going to be fantastic from start to finish. There’s going to be something of notice and value in each and every matchup and I intend on taking you all along for the ride with me. The unfortunate news is that most of the BBNBA roster is spread out across non-playoff teams. So, in reality, there will only be about 7-8 former Wildcats who will receive significant minutes in the playoffs – and possibly a few more depending on what happens with Bam Adebayo in Miami and Malik Monk/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Charlotte. Regardless, the content will be there.
But before we can preview any potential playoff matchups (mainly because the standings are still not set in stone just quite) we need to hand out some awards. I split the categories into Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, along with a 1st and 2nd team All-BBNBA. Let’s get to it, starting with MVP.
Most Valuable Player – Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)
Through all the nonsense and media interrogation Karl-Anthony Towns has been dragged into as a result of the whole Jimmy Butler-Minnesota debacle, he deserves this award. Towns is having his best season to date, even if the raw numbers don’t indicate it. He’s averaging a smooth 24.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game while shooting nearly 52 percent from the field and right at 40 percent from three. If we take away the first few weeks when Butler was a member of the Timberwolves, those numbers go up even slightly higher.
Minnesota won’t make the playoffs this year after finally returning from a long hiatus the season before, but what KAT has been able to do for his team since the All-Star break is borderline historic. He has been just ripping teams apart for 30-point, 15-rebound performances, drilling an unorthodox amount of triples while dominating in the post and demanding his teammates move the hell out of his path of terror. Towns has a legitimate shot to land himself on an All-NBA team this season, as well. He was the Wolves best player all season and one the franchise has seemingly (and finally) gone all in on. It’s about damn time, too. There’s a chance KAT is looking at real NBA MVP awards in his near future.
Runners up: Devin Booker (PHX) and De’Aaron Fox (SAC)
Most Improved Player – Julius Randle (NOP)
This was actually a hard one to pick. Out of De’Aaron Fox, Eric Bledsoe, and Julius Randle, all three players made massive strides in their game this season. Bledsoe’s was probably the most impressive, considering his age and where he was with Phoenix last year. Fox was expected to get better after a worrisome rookie year, but not this good. However, Randle went from a Los Angeles Lakers afterthought to a player that would have the second-best on that roster – next to LeBron James – had they resigned him.
What Randle has done in New Orleans amidst all the internal drama with the Anthony Davis trade saga is nothing short of impressive. Davis has been in and out of the Pelicans lineup for basically the entire second half of the season (which is why you won’t find his name on any of these personal awards) with Randle carrying the frontcourt responsibilities. And he did so in spectacular fashion for a team actively trying to lose. The former Kentucky big is averaging a career-high 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game this season while shooting over 52 percent from the field and – most impressively – over 34 percent from deep on 2.4 attempts per game.
Randle is no longer just a bruiser in the post, he’s elevated his game to stretch across all areas of the court. He’s a much smarter passer, can be the focal point of an offense, has extended his range, and can still body the living hell out of any and all opposing big men. What was once purely brute strength has now been harnessed into pinpoint timing and accuracy combined with that overbearing size of his. He’s one of the biggest bargains in the NBA at under $9 million this season and he should expect double that if he decides to test free agency in the summer.
Runners up: De’Aaron Fox (SAC) and Eric Bledsoe (MIL)
Rookie of the Year – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (LAC)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should easily make 1st Team All-Rookie this season, joining future stars such as Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Deandre Ayton, and Marvin Bagley. So it wasn’t hard to pick him as the BBNBA Rookie of the Year. Kevin Knox had a historically poor shooting season for a rookie and Hamidou Diallo couldn’t get off the bench enough outside of the Dunk Contest to fight for the award. But SGA isn’t winning this award by default, he truly is one of the best rookies in what is shaping up to be an insanely talented draft class. There’s a reason the Clippers – a 47-win playoff team – have started him for 72 out of 81 possible games so far. He’s the type of player they can build around. The type of player they can trust to learn from his mistakes. His progression from November to now would be unheard of if it didn’t mirror what he did during his lone season at Kentucky.
Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 10.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists for the Clips while shooting over 47 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from deep. He’s methodical in how he attacks the basket, almost like an ever-suspicious kitten plodding around its new house, slowing gaining a complete understanding of its surroundings. He stops. He goes. He waits… He plots. There aren’t many 20-year olds that NBA historians can point to and confidently say that they understood the game better than SGA does. He’s the starting point guard on a playoff team as a rookie and that is wholly by design. He’s the most valuable asset the Clippers have right now.
Runner up: Kevin Knox (NYK)
Comeback Player of the Year – Brandon Knight (HOU/CLE)
The obvious candidate for this award is DeMarcus Cousins and how he overcame a career-threatening Achilles injury, joined the Golden State Warriors, and returned to the court playing high-level basketball. But I’m giving this award to Brandon Knight, for a few different reasons. First off, the beginning to Knight’s career was incredibly promising. He was the young, lead guard for Detroit and Milwaukee early on and put up impressive numbers in the process. He was a borderline All-Star when he averaged over 19 points per game in Phoenix, only for injuries to stack up against him. And keep stacking. And stacking…
An ankle injury turned into heel surgery. He missed over a month next year with an adductor strain. That same adductor would later end his season and five days later he underwent surgery for a sports hernia. He missed the entirety of the 2017-18 season with a torn ACL. He played organized basketball for the Houston Rockets in mid-December of 2018 for the first time since February of 2017 – nearly two years away from an NBA court. But the injuries didn’t fully subside. He was limited during his time in Houston with constant knee soreness. Then he was traded to a tanking team in Cleveland during the first year of the post-LeBron era. And that is where Knight has earned this recognition.
As a member of the Cavaliers, Knight has started 25 out of 26 games, averaging 8.5 points and 2.3 assists per game. He’s become a mentor to Cavs rookie point guard Collin Sexton, working alongside the energetic guard from Alabama who has recently been playing his best basketball of the season. Knight has been through more pain in the previous two years that most NBA players experience in their entire careers. Now, he’s making the most of what Cleveland is giving him and relishing every second of it.
Runner up: DeMarcus Cousins (GSW)
And finally, here are my selections for the two All-BBNBA teams. Yes, Davis still made the list. Even if he appeared in fewer than 60 games this season, he was still soooo good when he was in. Shoutout to Darius Miller and Willie Cauley-Stein, too, for some solid, under-the-radar seasons.
1st Team All-BBNBA
G: De’Aaron Fox (SAC)
G: Devin Booker (PHX)
F: Julius Randle (NOP)
F: Anthony Davis (NOP)
C: Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)
2nd Team All-BBNBA
G: Jamal Murray (DEN)
G: Eric Bledsoe (MIL)
F: Darius Miller (NOP)
F: Enes Kanter (NYK/POR)
C: Willie Cauley-Stein (SAC)