As the Celtics continue to sizzle, speculation continues to increase about whether or not anyone in the franchise could earn an NBA award.
Ime Udoka (Coach of the Year), Brad Stevens (Executive of the Year), Jayson Tatum (Most Valuable Player), Marcus Smart (Defensive Player of the Year), Robert Williams (Defensive Player of the Year), and Grant Williams ( Most Improved Player) are all in the mix. What are the chances any of them win?
Ime Udoka, Coach of the Year
The case for Udoka: Udoka has been instrumental in spearheading one of the greatest turnarounds in NBA history. His disciplined mindset has permeated throughout the entire team, and he’s come a long way in just a few months after fans wanted him out a few months into the season. Locking up the 1-seed would help his chances tremendously.
The case against Udoka: There’s no real argument against him, but he does have some serious competition. Monty Williams (Suns), Erik Spoelstra (Heat), Taylor Jenkins (Grizzlies), and JB Bickerstaff (Cavaliers) appear to be the frontrunners, and one could argue those coaches have exceeded expectations even more.
The verdict: Udoka could possibly win, especially if the Celtics finish strong, but chances are he’ll end up in the top three to five. Bill Fitch (1980) was the last Celtics coach to earn the award.
Brad Stevens, Executive of the Year
The case for Stevens: Stevens didn’t try to blow everything up when the Celtics stumbled. The sample size—25-25 through 50 games—was large enough to consider something drastic, but Stevens remained patient, pressed the right buttons, and didn’t panic. They’ve won 21 of 24 since and are now firmly in the title discussion. Derrick White hasn’t had the wow factor many fans were hoping for yet, but it’s clear he fits in well with the pieces around him. As long as the Celtics are winning, fans can’t complain.
The case against Stevens: Artūras Karnišovas (Bulls), Zach Kleiman (Grizzlies), and Sachin Gupta (Timberwolves), among others, all have a shot. One could argue that the Celtics have a ton of talent and it was more so about the players and coaches sparking the turnaround.
The verdict: Stevens has as strong a case as anyone here. Sometimes less is more, and he did help this team flourish. He has an excellent shot to win.
Jayson Tatum, Most Valuable Player
The case for Tatum: Tatum is the only player in the NBA to play in 70 games, average 27-plus points, and log 36-plus minutes a night. He has best by far the plus-minus (+770) in the NBA. If the Celtics get the 1-seed, with Tatum as their go-to option, he has a compelling argument.
The case against Tatum: The only problem is that there are many other strong candidates as well, including Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Ja Morant, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Steph Curry, and DeMar DeRozan.
The verdict: It’s likely Tatum will finish in the top five but not win. Jokic and Embiid are the frontrunners, and Booker is also making a late push. The Celtics haven’t had an MVP since Larry Bird in 1986.
Marcus Smart, Defensive Player of the Year
The case for Smart: Smart is the arguably best defensive player on arguably the best defensive team, and that should unquestionably count for something. He’s always been a pest, but he’s taken it to another level this season and has helped his teammates do the same.
The case against Smart: 1996 was the last time a guard was named Defensive Player of the Year. Rudy Gobert, Antetokounmpo, Bam Adebayo, and Mikal Bridges are all in the mix and may end up ahead of Smart.
The verdict: Smart has a legitimate gripe if he doesn’t win. It ultimately comes down to whether or not voters want to go with the traditional big man or mix it up with a guard. Much like Tatum, he’ll likely finish in the top five but not win.
Robert Williams, Defensive Player of the Year
The case for Williams: Williams is the more traditional type of winner for Defensive Player of the Year. He blocks shots, overwhelms opponents, and is also extremely versatile for someone his size. He’s always had the ability, and this year he’s figured out how to maximize it in an increased role. He also has a case for Most Improved Player.
The case against Williams: Smart, Williams, Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford are almost too good as a unit defensively that they cancel one another out. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is in voters’ minds. It’s hard to give either Smart or Williams a clear edge over the other.
The verdict: Like Smart, Williams will presumably end up in the top five but not take first.
Grant Williams, Most Improved Player
The case for Williams: Williams has only increased his scoring average from 4.7 to 7.7, but he looks like an entirely different player this season. He’s shooting 42.2 percent from 3-point range, compared to 25 percent as a rookie and 37.2 percent last season. He’s also shooting 48.3 percent overall and 91 percent from the line, way up from his previous averages. Williams has been extremely dependable as a shooter, defender, and glue guy.
The case against Williams: While his improvement in Celtics circles is noticeable, his stats may not be eye-popping enough on a national stage. Ja Morant, Darius Garland, and Miles Bridges are the frontrunners.
The verdict: Morant likely has this one locked up, but Williams has a shot to finish in the top 10.
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