On the Locker Room app, HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan were joined by CBS Sports writer Sam Quinn with occasional input from listeners. The trio debated all the top candidates for each of the major NBA awards. For more interviews with players, coaches, and media members, be sure to like and subscribe to the HoopsHype podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. Listen to the podcast above or check out some snippets of the conversation in a transcribed version below.
1:18 MVP race headlined by Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid
Gozlan: I think, especially with last year, there were a lot of people that are starting to want to look at this award as the best player. MVP has never really been the best player, just the best player throughout the regular season. It seems like the people that are pushing back on Jokic, might be intensifying that part of the argument a little more.
10:18 The case for LaMelo Ball to win Rookie of the Year
Quinn: He’s so spectacular, and there’s no other rookie in his universe. Do we really want to go through this whole charade where we give it to like, look, I love Tyrese Haliburton, I think he’s gonna be an All-Star at some point, but he’s not LaMelo. LaMelo is a franchise-changing player and we’re all going to remember him anyway. Just give him the trophy.
13:26 Evaluating Jae’Sean Tate’s rookie season
Scotto: Jae’Sean Tate is a guy that can be a role player, and you can plug him on any team, and I think that he is going to have an impact. I think he’s just, in a way, a guy that’s underrated, because he didn’t have the traditional path of a rookie and he went overseas in the NBL, which people forget with guys like RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball. Tate’s had a nice impact.
14:54 How Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley became a Tom Thibodeau favorite
Scotto: Tom Thibodeau said on January 2, “He’s really talented. He’s smart, and he’s a great worker. I love his attitude. I love his approach. He’s going to be a really good player in this league for a long time.”
17:05 Anthony Edwards’ case for Rookie of the Year
21:10 Defensive Player of the Year race between Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons. Plus, Myles Turner’s case before he got hurt
Scotto: You’ve got Rudy Gobert, Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and I personally don’t want to leave this guy out, Myles Turner. I think he has been criminally underrated defensively. This guy, before he got hurt, had four or more blocks in 21 out of the 47 games he played. It’s no wonder to me why he was leading the league in blocks per game and block percentage.
Gozlan: I like Gobert. I thought he should’ve won it last year too. I think he should win it again. Best rim protector. But most importantly to me, he’s got the biggest defensive load and responsibility in the entire League. He is Utah’s defense. Now, they’re having their best season since I want to say maybe the 2007 season.
Quinn: I’m going with Rudy. It’s a pretty simple calculus here. Utah’s entire defense is premised on the idea that you never have to send help at the basket. Rudy is such a dominant rim protector that everybody else can stay at home on shooters. If you look at the rim protection numbers, they aren’t the best defense in the NBA at the rim, but they are the best defense in the NBA at preventing threes or at least preventing open threes. So that’s the real impact that he has that everybody else can just stay at home on their shooters.
Scotto: When it comes to the award, Gobert has the stats where he’s leading the league in total rebounds, defensive rebounds, and total blocks. According to Basketball-Reference, in defensive win shares, he’s the leader, and defensive rating too. He’s got all that working for him. Simmons has the eye test where he can guard all five positions and effectively at each one.
27:20 Sixth Man of the Year: Should Jordan Clarkson or Joe Ingles win the award?
Quinn: I think everybody has it wrong. I think the wrong Jazz player is going to win it. I think Jordan Clarkson is going to win it, and I think Joe Ingles should.
34:00 Executive of the Year race contenders: Sean Marks and Sam Presti
Scotto: Sean Marks took all the chips and put them in the center of the table for James Harden. Now they’re legitimate title contenders… I touched on Bruce Brown. He got a rejuvenated Blake Griffin. Before LaMarcus Aldridge had to retire that looked like a steal having him and getting a starting center in the buyout market. The only other team that was able to do that was the Lakers with Drummond. If you’re talking about the award for this season and having an impact to make your team a title contender, I think it’s Sean’s award… He got Jeff Green to come there for a minimum. That guy’s been a steal. He got Aldridge there too when a lot of people thought he was going to go to Miami and have a roll there.
Gozlan on Presti’s case: I’m always looking at the best long-term moves for a GM because when you look at team success, and you want to look at the culmination of everything they’ve done to get to where they have at this moment, you’ve got to look at I think what you do now in the long term, that gives you the best case.
Quinn: I think Sam Presti is the only candidate here that doesn’t have some real mark against him. He hasn’t made any bad moves. What is the argument against Presti? What is the bad move that he made?
42:51 Evaluating Rafael Stone’s tenure with the Rockets thus far
Quinn: I think the thing that gets lost in the Harden trade is that the real value here isn’t necessarily the Nets pick. It’s really that they made themselves bad enough to take advantage of their own picks. They were going to lose their pick in a swap to Oklahoma City before the Harden trade. Now, they might keep it. They have their own picks and 2022 and 2023. If they had Ben Simmons, those picks would probably not be very high. Now that they don’t, those are probably going to be two pretty high picks that they could use to potentially restock. I’m just not super enthused about taking picks from Brooklyn. Sean Marks has already proved he can rebuild without picks. Say this Nets team falls apart in the next two years, they might have a down period, sure. They’re not going to be in the toilet for five years.
Scotto: The biggest thing that I didn’t get, and a lot of other executives around the league didn’t get, why didn’t he keep Caris LeVert? … Tate was a nice find. Kevin Porter Jr. Getting him for nothing pretty much when his value was low was a good move. The Christian Wood signing is good. He’s looking like he’s worth more than what he’s making right now. That’s always a good look for a GM.
Gozlan: When he took over the Rockets, he was dealt a really horrible hand. They did that Russell Westbrook trade, where they traded all those picks with Chris Paul for Westbrook. They needed to do that trade with Brooklyn. I think that was always what he wanted to do. Extract as many picks as you can from Brooklyn because they (Houston) were so behind on picks that they can’t really do much. Now, they have those picks. Now, with the surplus of picks, you could do more in my opinion with these extra picks.
51:05 Christian Wood’s long-term future with the Rockets
Quinn: If flexibility is the ultimate goal, do we think they’re going to hold on to Christian Wood? I’m just going to throw this out there, Wood is a borderline All-Star playing on the worst team in the NBA, and he only has two years left on his contract. We know how that story typically ends, right? He either leaves in free agency, or he demands a trade earlier. If I were them, I’d be trying to flip Christian out as soon as possible and get more picks, because right now like they’re going to end up in the same situation they were in with Harden. Do you think that they have the, let’s say pun sort of intended, stones to make that sort of trade?
Scotto: Sam, you brought up an excellent point about his contract. It’s got another two years left after this. I think then the question becomes can you (eventually) get an extension done for a good number? If you can’t, maybe you’re looking towards kind of what you were saying, and you flip (him). Wood is also still a young guy. Right now, he’s 25. He’ll be 26 at the end of September. You’re still going to have prime Christian for another couple of years looking ahead even if you have to re-sign him. If you’re going to be a contending team, all really good teams have to go over the cap. If you have his (Bird) Rights, then is it worth it to move him out? I think he’s a long-term piece. The view now of him is he’s a part of the long-term core. I don’t think like they’re looking to move him. They’d have to be blown away with a nice offer.
Quinn: His next deal, if he stays this good, he’s going to be making like $25-30 million.
59:58 Most Improved Player of the Year: Julius Randle, Jerami Grant, Christian Wood, and Jaylen Brown
Gozlan: I think it’s Julius Randle for sure as the front runner… He might get All-NBA this year. He’s facilitating the entire offense. I don’t recall him being this good defensively, but he looks really good defensively now.
Scotto: From a pure numbers standpoint, I think Jerami Grant going from a guy that was a fourth option to being the lead dog in Detroit has helped him improve those numbers. So if you’re looking at it, just from a pure numbers standpoint, Grant is going to be high up in the conversation. Christian Wood as well, but he did have injuries to deal with. I think that’s going to hurt his candidacy a little bit… If the Knicks finish top-four, that’s definitely going to help Julius Randle’s candidacy. You guys talked about the way that he’s played winning basketball. He never passed the ball like this before. The fact that Randle has become a triple-double possibility on a nightly basis speaks to the growth in his game.
1:09:50 Where does Jaylen Brown rank among top players in the league?
1:15:35 Coach of the Year candidates: Tom Thibodeau, Quin Snyder, Monty Williams, and Frank Vogel
Scotto: Randle has become a guy that’s in that Most Improved Player of the Year conversation because he’s playing for a guy that, in my opinion, is high up there in the Coach of the Year award conversation, and that’s Tom Thibodeau. This guy helped Randle develop into an All-Star and the Knicks defensively. They’re allowing the least points per game and they’re holding opponents to the lowest field goal and three-point percentages in the league… He’s certainly helped the Knicks surpass expectations. There are other guys. Quin Snyder is going to get mentioned because they have the best record in the league. Monty Williams is right there with that young Suns team and being right below where Utah is in the standings in the West. But I don’t think there’s a coach that has done more with less on paper than Thibodeau has and gotten better results.
Quinn: It’s a very small sample size, but I’m just going to throw this out there. The Lakers without LeBron and without AD, it was a 16-game sample, allowed 106.1 points per 100 possessions on defense. Over the full season, they’ve allowed 106.2. Their defense was exactly the same without LeBron and AD. Give Frank Vogel his flowers man. That dude is a defensive genius. Without LeBron and AD, their defense is better than what the Knicks have been all year. I know Vogel isn’t going win the award for a variety of reasons. How many other coaches could have their team at the five seed in the West with all of those injuries? I don’t think any other team could have done that. Maybe Brooklyn.