It was so easy last year.
Stephen Curry was the unanimous Most Valuable Player, Karl-Anthony Towns was the unanimous Rookie of the Year, and most of the other NBA award races turned out to be very one-sided when the votes were counted.
That was then.
Here’s this year’s reality: When three NBA writers from The Associated Press made their picks, we were unanimous on nothing. And in two of six categories, everybody voted for someone different.
For the first time, the NBA will release all the award results on the same night — in a televised special June 26 in New York, instead of revealing winners sporadically throughout the playoffs.
And this year, intrigue will not be in short supply.
So in this, our final edition of “Around The NBA” for this season, AP Basketball Writers Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis, Brian Mahoney in New York and Tim Reynolds in Miami tell you their picks:
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Krawczynski: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee. Others, including Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, were flashier. But no one was more consistent all year long and had a bigger impact on a playoff-bound team.
Mahoney: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia. Yes, it was only 31 games, but when Embiid played he made the 76ers matter and sometimes made them pretty good, and neither has happened much in Philadelphia the last few years.
Reynolds: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia. I think there should be a minimum-games requirement, and if one existed the pick here would be Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon — whose value to the Bucks cannot be overstated. But even in 31 games, Embiid’s numbers were just that good.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Krawczynski: Eric Gordon, Houston. Harden has been great, but Gordon’s renaissance in his first year in Houston has been a major factor for the Rockets’ improvement as well.
Mahoney: Eric Gordon, Houston. In his first season coming off the bench he shattered the record for 3-pointers by a reserve as one of the many weapons around James Harden.
Reynolds: Andre Iguodala, Golden State. Simply put, the Warriors aren’t the Warriors without him. Eric Gordon, Lou Williams and (as always) Jamal Crawford merited a look here as well, but Iguodala — even with modest stats — stood out.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Krawczynski: Draymond Green, Golden State. The tip of the spear for the best team in the league. Warriors may have two titles were it not for his suspension in last year’s finals.
Mahoney: Rudy Gobert, Utah. Scoring often looks like it’s gotten easier in the NBA but that doesn’t seem to be the case around the center for the team that allows the fewest points per game in the league.
Reynolds: Rudy Gobert, Utah. There are so many tremendous defensive players in this league, like Kawhi Leonard, Hassan Whiteside, Draymond Green and LeBron James (the best to never to win DPOY). But Gobert keeps getting better, and now is a gamechanger.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Krawczynski: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee. From very good young player to an All-Star starter, the Greek Freak can now say he’s an elite player in the league.
Mahoney: Nikola Jokic, Denver. In just his second season, the native of Serbia has become a triple-double threat from the center spot.
Reynolds: James Johnson, Miami. He changed his body after arriving in Miami, losing 30 pounds. With that, his attitude and his game changed as well. It was a career year for Johnson and he’s going to get seriously paid this July as a result.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Krawczynski: Mike D’Antoni, Houston. The Rockets were a mess last season. He came in, installed Harden as his point guard and has galvanized a team that entered the season with low expectations.
Mahoney: Mike D’Antoni, Houston. Engineered a terrific turnaround in Houston with his high-scoring brand of basketball and made a Rockets team that was a disappointment last season into one of the best in the West.
Reynolds: Erik Spoelstra, Miami. This was Spoelstra’s best coaching job. Losing Chris Bosh a week before camp, losing Dwyane Wade in the summer, starting 11-30, dealing with tons of injuries … it all brought out the best in Spoelstra. And even with many players in contract years, he kept the room together.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Krawczynski: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City. At least four players have legitimate claim. When we look back on this season in 10 years, Russ’s performance will be the one everyone still talks about.
Mahoney: James Harden, Houston. Slightest edge over Russell Westbrook after playing a brilliant, all-around game at a new position to make the Rockets one of the best teams in the NBA.
Reynolds: LeBron James, Cleveland. You can argue for Russell Westbrook and make all the sense in the world. Same goes for James Harden, same goes for Kawhi Leonard. It was an MVP race like perhaps none other. But the MVP should go to the best player. Triple-doubles be damned, that’s still LeBron James.
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