In NBA.com’s annual survey of the league’s 30 general managers, Giannis Antetokounmpo was again picked to be the MVP, the Los Angeles Clippers were tabbed to win their first championship and Zion Williamson was crowned the league’s most athletic player before ever taking part in a regular-season game.
Antetokounmpo, who won his first MVP award last season after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to 60 wins and a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, was selected by more than half of respondents to the survey, which was made up of 50 questions that were submitted to each of the league’s 30 front offices, to claim the award again this season. His 52 percent share of the vote made him the only player to receive more than 10 percent — which is where Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard all wound up.
Antetokounmpo’s place as the game’s emerging young star also was solidified by 86 percent of applicants saying they’d pick him if they had the option of starting a team from scratch — dramatically higher than the 30 percent who picked him last year. Only Anthony Davis and Luka Doncic, who each garnered seven percent of the vote, even received votes besides him.
Meanwhile, the LA Clippers were rewarded for their busy summer, which saw them land both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, on a variety of fronts. The Clippers were not only picked as having the best overall offseason (82 percent) and making the single-most important move (signing Leonard, 67 percent), but as a result were tapped as the team most likely to be holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June by 46 percent of voters.
That put the Clippers ahead of ahead of the Bucks at 36 percent and the Los Angeles Lakers, after adding Davis this summer themselves, at 11 percent. Both the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers also received championship votes.
The fact four Western Conference teams were picked to potentially win the title, compared to just Milwaukee in the East, also reflected something else that carried through the survey: that the East is essentially a two-horse race, while the West is wide-open.
Only two teams — Milwaukee and the Philadelphia 76ers — were picked to come out of the East by voters, with Milwaukee garnering 76 percent compared to Philadelphia’s 24 percent. The Boston Celtics were the only other team in the East to even get a second-place vote.
In the West, meanwhile, six different teams — the Clippers (66 percent), Lakers (14 percent), Warriors and Houston Rockets (seven percent), Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets (three percent) — each earned at least one vote to make it to the Finals this season.
By comparison, both the Celtics and Warriors earned 90 percent of the votes in each conference a year ago.
Williamson, on the other hand, continues to gain plaudits and praise amid an impressive preseason for the New Orleans Pelicans. The top overall pick in June’s NBA draft earned 68 percent of the votes to be named the league’s Rookie of the Year, with Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland being the only other players to receive a vote.
He also received 68 percent of the vote for which player from this year’s draft class will be the best five years from now, with Morant (18 percent), Atlanta Hawks forward Cam Reddish (seven percent), Garland and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jarrett Culver also receiving votes. Williamson’s teammate, Nickiel Alexander-Walker, was also tapped as the biggest steal of the draft by 32 percent of respondents, ahead of Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke (21 percent), Indiana Pacers center Goga Bitadze (11 percent), Denver Nuggets center Bol Bol and Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro (seven percent each).
Williamson (41 percent) and Antetokounmpo (28 percent) were also the only players to receive more than 10 percent of votes for being the league’s most athletic player.
Across individual positions, Curry, James Harden, Leonard, Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic were picked as the best player at each one — though LeBron James finish with one vote at point guard, 24 percent of the vote at small forward and 10 percent at power forward. Leonard was tapped as the league’s best defensive player, while he and George were picked as its two best perimeter defenders and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was overwhelmingly picked as its best interior stopper.
Among coaches, Gregg Popovich was named the league’s best coach by 55 percent of voters, followed by Erik Spoelstra, Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr, with Steve Clifford, Doc Rivers and Quin Snyder also getting votes. Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who had 47 percent of the vote to lead all coaches last year, received none this time around after Boston’s disappointing season a year ago.
Rick Carlisle was picked as the best at making in-game adjustments, while Kerr was credited with having the best offensive schemes, and Snyder the best defensive ones.
Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was deemed the league’s best leader, while Antetokounmpo edged out James for being its most versatile player. James once again was tapped as the player with the highest basketball IQ, while Curry was selected as the one who GMs would want shooting with the game on the line.