NBA Awards Takeaways: Basketball is more fun, global than ever

Pascal Siakam spoke about what the NBA championship win means for him and how he feels about taking home the Most Improved Player award for the Toronto Raptors.

The NBA is the best reality show on TV and on Monday night the conversation around the sport turned to an awards show. The NBA never sleeps and with Toronto Raptors‘ championship parade barely in the rearview mirror and free-agent rumours already swirling, the league put all that on pause to crown the best of the best from the 2018-19 season.

If it feels late to be wrapping up the regular season now, it is. The playoffs ended 11 days ago. It’s been 73 days since the votes for the awards were submitted. This is the third straight year the league has elected to have a post-season award show rather than hand out the trophies on the court throughout the playoffs.

Despite the less than ideal timing, the awards were an advertisement for how fun and lighthearted the culture of the sport has become. And how global. Europeans swept the major awards as the MVP is from Greece, the Defensive player of the year is from France and the Rookie of the year is from Slovenia. Not to mention the most improved player is from Africa and played in Canada. Basketball Without Borders was on centre stage at the awards.

As was the NBA’s production acumen to come up with great bits, and host Shaquille O’Neal’s willingness to be the deliverer and brunt of the jokes.

The best was Jay Pharoah clowning the Big Aristotle by impersonating him.

Shaq’s material came off at times overly scripted as his delivery was flat, but the sight of him alone along with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith was enough to draw laughs throughout the night.

Pascal Siakam wins Most Improved Player and shouts out his dad

Pascal Siakam won the Most Improved Player Award, becoming the first Toronto Raptors player to win the award.

Not only did Siakam continue his storybook season with the MIP honours, but he used his time on stage to highlight why his rise is so special. Siakam used his acceptance speech to pay tribute to his deceased father saying, “He had this crazy dream. People back home never believed in him, and he always believed.”

Siakam went on to say “I’m just blessed to be able to make this dream become a reality.”

The 25-year-old Cameroonian didn’t stop there, he also had a message for the youth from his continent looking to follow in his footsteps. “I just want to give a quick message to all the African kids out there. Cameroon, I know it’s hard and it feels like it’s not possible most of the time. I just want to tell you to believe in your dreams and go out there and work hard for it and I promise you it’ll happen.”

Siakam increased his points per game average by 9.7 points in 18-19, the most by any player to suit up in at least 40 games across two seasons. His rebounds, assists, threes-made and win shares also went up this season. Thirteen previous winners of the award went on to be all-stars, so Siakam’s ascension is likely far from over.

Luka Doncic wins Rookie of the Year in a landslide

It was not a surprise that Dallas Mavericks small forward Luka Doncic was announced as the winner of the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.

It was a surprise that it wasn’t close, as Trae Young finished the season putting up comparable numbers. Still, Doncic received 98 out of a 100 first-place votes, with the Atlanta Hawks point guard Young getting the other two. All Doncic does is win as he took home the Euro League MVP and Euro League Final Four MVP last season. This season, Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.3 threes and 1.1 steals.

Unlike last year when Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons were beefing over who was the best rookie, Doncic showed Young respect before accepting the award.

6 man like Lou Will

Lou Williams tied up Jamal Crawford for the most Sixth Man of the Year Awards, both men have three.

Williams started his speech with a joke, asking rhetorically “You can never have too many of these, right?”

Williams keeps pushing the envelope on what a sixth man can do, as he has recorded most career points off the bench with 11,375, most career 30-point games off the bench with 29 and the most 40-point games off the bench with five.

John Wall struggles to present community assists award to Bradley Beal

This will only fuel more rumours that John Wall and Bradley Beal can’t coexist in Washington. Wall seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else but reading off a prompter to hand out an award to his Wizards teammate Beal for his work in the community. Either something else was on his mind or prompter reading is not his domain. The words were nice but the delivery was terrible.

More importantly, Beal won the NBA Community Assist Award for mentorship with the Ron Brown Preparatory High School. Beal brought two of the RBHS students with him to the show and on stage to accept the award. He highlighted what it meant to one of the students saying “Tah’j flew first class for the first time… this moment means the world to him.”

Robin Roberts sends a message and wins Sager Strong Award

Robin Roberts played and covered basketball in the past, but that’s not why she was at the NBA awards. Roberts was diagnosed with cancer for the first time in 2007. She was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone marrow disease five years later and took her road to recovery public. Now known as the co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America, Roberts won the Sager Strong Award named after the late Craig Sager, who Roberts became close to when she started her career covering the NBA.

“You always walked away from Craig with a smile on your face … and a drink in your hand,” she recalled.

The line of the night was “make your mess your message” as Roberts encouraged those going through trials and tribulations to use the experience to help others.

Greek Freak wins MVP

When only one of the frontrunners for the MVP attended the awards, it was obvious and anticlimactic when the winner was crowned. Giannis Antetokounmpo beat James Harden and Paul George to win the biggest trophy of the night. If the league wants the event to feel like an award show, then more of the nominees need to be in attendance. When two of the three nominees for the biggest individual award in the sport aren’t there, it’s tough to sell the audience why they should stick around. This is the third year the NBA awards have been televised and the two biggest stars in the sport, LeBron James and Stephen Curry have never been in attendance.

None of that takes away from the year Antetokounmpo had, who is the heir apparent as the public face of the league. Giannis was an East all-star captain, unanimous all-NBA first team, all-defensive first team and added MVP to his list of accomplishments this season. The Greek Freak became the first Bucks winner since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971.

Naturally, he wants more saying, “This is just the beginning. My goal is to win a championship. As my dad told me, you can always want more but never be greedy. My goal is to win a championship and we’re going to do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

Giannis is Europe’s first MVP since that Dirk Nowitzki guy in 2007.

He also tied Canadian Steve Nash for the lowest-drafted player to win MVP in the lottery era after being selected 15th overall pick. The Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, was also No. 15 pick.

Other winners include:

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Teammate of the Year and Sportsmanship Awards: Mike Conley, Utah Jazz

Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Executive of the Year: Jon Horst, Milwaukee Bucks

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