Both LeBron James and Ben Simmons are finalists in NBA awards. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
Both LeBron James and Ben Simmons are finalists in NBA awards. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

Can LeBron James and Ben Simmons take top honours?

AS THE Golden State Warriors bask in the glory of back-to-back NBA titles, the attention of the basketball world is set to shift to the season's award winners.

Houston Rockets star James Harden is the red hot favourite to claim the league's most prestige individual gong, the season's Most Valuable Player, and Aussie star Ben Simmons and Utah spearhead Donovan Mitchell are battling out for the Rookie of the Year.

Voting closed for the awards before the playoffs started, so they are judged purely on regular-season performance and will be announced on Tuesday from 11am AEST (watch on ESPN) at a ceremony at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California.

We spoke to four basketball luminaries and got their tips for each award.

ANDREW GAZE

The Aussie GOAT

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: LeBron James

No words needed. Hands down the best player in the NBA.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Ben Simmons

Spectacular numbers for a rookie including 12 triple-doubles in the regular season. Made his teammates better and elevated the Sixers to championship contenders.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: Eric Gordon

His 2016-17 was no fluke. His contribution off the bench was of starter proportions. Excelled when filling in for Chris Paul or James Harden. Averaged 18 points off the bench and was more than serviceable on the defensive end.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Victor Oladipo

Went from a good player to one of the best in the league. Elite at both ends of the floor. The numbers tell the story. Increased his scoring over seven points from the 2016-17 season but also improved in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rudy Gobert

One of the best, if not the best, rim protector in the league. Not as versatile some of the previous winners but just as impactful.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Dwane Casey

Steve Kerr should be coach of the year but if we can't vote for him then Dwayne Casey is next in line. Led the Raptors to the best record in franchise history and the best record in the East. Had a talented group but others had more to work with. Got the best out of the team.

James Harden is the hot favourite to win his first NBA MVP. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
James Harden is the hot favourite to win his first NBA MVP. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

LAFAYETTE 'FAT' LEVER

2xNBA All-Star and Denver Nuggets legend

MVP: James Harden

Arizona State University guy (Lever's alma mater). Great numbers all season and won the west.

ROY: Donovan Mitchell

Played in the toughest west coast conference and he did it all season and not always the main focus of the team.

6MOY: Lou Williams

Every team knew what he was on the court to do - score. Teams couldn't stop him.

DPOY: Rudy Gobert

Defence wins games and that was his focus for a young team that made the playoffs in the tough Western Conference. Rudy protected guys that aren't good on the defensive side.

MIP: Victor Oladipo

Turned an Eastern Conference team into a contender in the regular season and into the playoffs.

COY: Quinn Snyder

Tough choice, as Stevens was in a weaker conference but got a lot out of injuries. No one got more out of a season with little expectation than Quin Snyder. Coach Snyder gets the bid with turning less into a lot.

It’s no surprise Ben Simmons is the ROY favourite. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
It’s no surprise Ben Simmons is the ROY favourite. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

CHRIS ANSTEY

Aussie Olympian, 3xNBL champion, former Chicago Bull and Dallas Maverick

MVP: James Harden

Harden will win MVP, but I think LeBron should. What Harden did scoring and the volume he did it was as good as anyone's been for a while. But I think LeBron, over the course of the playoffs, showed why he deserves to win it.

ROY: Ben Simmons

He'll win it, because he's eligible, but that's a whole other discussion. I wouldn't be surprised if they give it as a joint award to him and Donovan Mitchell

6MOY: Lou Williams

I'm still not sure why he doesn't start. He impacts the game every time he comes in.

DPOY: Rudy Gobert

Lets teammates be better defenders and more aggressive defenders knowing they've got him behind them.

MIP: Victor Oladipo

Without Capela, I don't believe the Rockets have the season they had and he was incredible, but he was allowed to be incredible because he had two superstar guards playing next to him. Oladipo took over the reigns of a franchise, took them to the playoffs in a year where most people saw them as rebuilding and not many would have picked them to play post-season basketball.

COY: Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens, followed by Quinn Snyder, followed by daylight. Brad Stevens was incredible. I know it's a regular-season award but when we got to the final four teams in the two conferences, you take away any of the head coaches, teams look the same. You take Brad Stevens away from the Celtics and they're stuffed, they're a different team. His play calling is incredible, what he's built off the court is incredible, especially with the injuries, they're dependant on him to be successful.

Victor Oladipo became the heart and soul of the Pacers in his first season in Indiana. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
Victor Oladipo became the heart and soul of the Pacers in his first season in Indiana. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

SHANE HEAL

NBL champion and ROY, former Minnesota Timberwolf and San Antonio Spur

MVP: LeBron James

LeBron is the best player in the world right now. This certainly cannot be disputed no matter how you feel about him personally. To play all 82 games and every playoff game is remarkable and to take an average squad to win the East gives him the MVP for mine.

ROY: Ben Simmons

Without doubt Ben Simmons. Mitchell and Jayson Tatum had great years but what Simmons did statistically with his all-round game was superb and unprecedented and sets up and even bigger year next season.

6MOY: Eric Gordon

He played a valuable role in the resurgence of the Rockets in helping them gain the best overall NBA record in the regular season.

DPOY: Rudy Gobert

He is an incredible shot blocker but I think his intimidation goes beyond the shots he blocks. It's the shots he forces players to miss because they think they will be blocked.

MIP: Victor Oladipo

Emerged as a star in his own right after moving from OKC to Indiana.

COY: Brad Stevens

He was brilliant this season and took a good team without their two best players and gave them a chance to compete for the East title against all odds. He found a game plan in every series that gave his team a chance to over achieve.

Simmons might be the favourite, but Utah Jazz young gun Donovan Mitchell has his admirers in the ROY race. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
Simmons might be the favourite, but Utah Jazz young gun Donovan Mitchell has his admirers in the ROY race. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

CHRIS GOULDING

MVP: James Harden

Harden simply because he had an incredible regular season.

ROY: Ben Simmons

Because he's an Aussie!

6MOY: Lou Williams

At one point he had two girlfriends at the same time and he was almost an All-Star off the bench.

DPOY: Anthony Davis

He led the Pelicans defensively into the second round.

MIP: Victor Oladipo

No one wanted him and he showed everyone by having a great year with the Pacers.

COY: Dwane Casey

Best team in the East for the whole year, rough luck in the playoffs.

Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, without the injured Kyrie Irving. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, without the injured Kyrie Irving. Picture: Getty Images/AFP

List of award nominees

NBA MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

James Harden, Houston Rockets

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

NBA SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Fred Van Vleet, Toronto Raptors

Lou Williams, LA Clippers

NBA DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

NBA MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

NBA COACH OF THE YEAR

Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors

Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

OUR AWARDS JURY

Gary Payton gets in the face of Shane Heal during the 1996 Olympics.
Gary Payton gets in the face of Shane Heal during the 1996 Olympics.
Fat Lever: One of the most underrated players in NBA history. Once had 31-16-12-6 against Michael Jordan.
Fat Lever: One of the most underrated players in NBA history. Once had 31-16-12-6 against Michael Jordan.
Andrew Gaze: The Aussie GOAT (and Sydney Kings coach).
Andrew Gaze: The Aussie GOAT (and Sydney Kings coach).
Melbourne United captain Chris Goulding celebrates the 17-18 NBL title.
Melbourne United captain Chris Goulding celebrates the 17-18 NBL title.
No one is expected to challenge stopper Rudy Gobert in the Defensive Player of the Year award. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
No one is expected to challenge stopper Rudy Gobert in the Defensive Player of the Year award. Picture: Getty Images/AFP
Chris Anstey: Former Dallas Maverick and Chicago Bull, one of the greatest NBL big men.
Chris Anstey: Former Dallas Maverick and Chicago Bull, one of the greatest NBL big men.


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