‘Let me explain’: Voter shares NBA award ballots, picked Joel Embiid over two-time MVP Nikola Jokic

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

Got all 15.

Just not on the same squads.

The All-NBA teams dropped Tuesday and I voted for every player who made them for the 2021-22 regular season.

Not looking for applause because I dropped the ball on some of these NBA awards, too.

It’s not easy, but it’s fun. Really fun.

Being part of the 100 global media members who have a vote is an honor, but I’m far from perfect at this.

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) hugs Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) after the game at American Airlines Center.

My All-NBA teams

First team: Devin Booker (Suns), Ja Morant (Grizzlies), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), DeMar DeRozan (Bulls) and Joel Embiid (76ers).

Second team: Luka Doncic (Mavericks), Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kevin Durant (Nets), Jayson Tatum (Celtics) and Nikola Jokic (Nuggets).

Third team: Trae Young (Hawks), Chris Paul (Suns), LeBron James (Lakers), Pascal Siakam (Raptors) and Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves).

Final All-NBA teams

First team: Booker, Doncic, Antetokounmpo, Tatum and Jokic.

Second team: Morant, Curry, Durant, DeRozan and Embiid.

Third team: Same.

Let me explain: Since I voted Embiid as the league MVP, it only made sense, to me, to vote him first team at center.

Stay tuned for that rationale.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic claimed his second straight NBA MVP award, beating out 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (not pictured).

DeRozan made a bigger impact on his team than Tatum, but Tatum averaged 30.4 points on 50.6% shooting (41.5% from 3), seven rebounds and 5.1 assists after the All-Star break.

Boston finished the regular season 17-5 and rose to the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Impressive, but I’d still vote DeRozan first team.

As for voting Morant first team over Doncic, tough call.

Doncic put up better numbers, played more games (65 to 57) and the Grizzlies went 20-5 without their All-Star, but Memphis doesn’t finish with the league’s second-best record without Morant.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant scores against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) in the last second of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 27, 2021, in Phoenix. The Grizzlies won 114-113.

My NBA MVP voting

First place: Embiid.

Second place: Antetokounmpo.

Third place: Booker.

Fourth place: Jokic.

Fifth place: Morant.   

Final NBA MVP voting

First place: Jokic.

Second place: Embiid.

Third place: Antetokounmpo.

Fourth place: Booker.

Fifth place: Doncic.

Giannis Antetokounmpo gets fired up after a big second-half bucket.

Let me explain: Last year, Embiid only received one first-place vote.

Came from yours truly.

So with Embiid having an even better year as he led the NBA in scoring, he got my first-place vote again. He was the most dominant player in the league this year.

As for why Jokic wound up fourth on my ballot, that’s a whole different conversation.

Antetokounmpo is the league’s best player. Period.

Booker was the best player on NBA’s best team that won a franchise-record 64 games and finished eight games better than the Grizzlies.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic gestures after hitting a 3-point basket against the Golden State Warriors in the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round Western Conference playoff series on April 24, 2022, in Denver. Jokic has earned a second straight NBA Most Valuable Player trophy to become the second consecutive international player to win two in a row. The 27-year-old from Serbia averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists.

Yes, Jokic had a historic season.

He became the first player in NBA history to register at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season and the first to average at least 25.0 points, 13.0 rebounds and six assists in a season.

Jokic led the league in triple-doubles with 19 and double-doubles with 66. The Nuggets probably don’t even make the play-in without him, but they did finish sixth in the West.

I put more weight on winning than numbers.

Have no issues with him winning a second straight MVP. One of the game’s best, but as great of a season Jokic had, his team didn’t.

That’s got to count for something.

Nov 30, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) pressures Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) at Footprint Center.

My NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting

First place: Mikal Bridges (Suns).

Second place: Antetokounmpo.

Third place: Draymond Green (Warriors).

Final NBA Defensive Player of the year voting

First place: Marcus Smart (Celtics).

Second place: Bridges.

Third place: Rudy Gobert (Jazz).

Let me explain: Smart wasn’t a unanimous winner, but he definitely deserved the award.

The Celtics finished the regular season first in defensive rating with relentless and physical, yet skilled and intelligent Smart leading the charge, but Phoenix ranked third thanks in large part to Bridges. 

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (11) drives past Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart, left, during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, April 25, 2022, in New York.

Such a versatile defender. Even though Doncic had his way with him in the playoffs, Bridges, to me, was the best defensive player this season.

Saw him make life tough for Kevin Durant, James Harden and Stephen Curry, three of the game’s all-time scorers, in the regular season.

I covered every game Bridges played this season.

That certainly played a part in my voting. Can’t argue that, but he played all 82 games.

They say the best ability is availability.

Antetokounmpo has won defensive player of the year and was special on that end again this season.

As for Green, he was a runaway favorite for the award before suffering multiple injuries that kept him out for months.

Seriously considered voting him second behind Bridges.

Hindsight 20/20, I could’ve voted Green second and Smart third, but I’m standing by my vote and vote order.

First round: Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) and guard Gary Payton II (0) try to box out against Nuggets center DeMarcus Cousins (4) during the first half of Game 5.

My All-Defensive team voting

First team: Smart, Dejounte Murray (Spurs), Bridges, Antetokounmpo and Gobert.

Second team: Matisse Thybulle (76ers), Paul, Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies), Green and Robert Williams III (Celtics).

Final NBA All-Defensive teams

First team: Smart, Bridges, Antetokounmpo, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gobert.

Second team: Jrue Holiday (Bucks), Thybulle, Bam Adebayo (Heat), Green and Williams III.

Let me explain: I’m feeling pretty good about voting for Williams. He continues to prove himself in the postseason. The Celtics have been a different team on that end with him on the floor.

Got to give myself at least one pat on the back. Just one, though.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, left, shoots as Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III (44) defends in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Boston. The Celtics won 126-120 over the Nets.

I voted Bridges as a forward, not a guard.

Booker and Paul start at the guard position for the Suns.

I pay attention to the announcement of the starting lineups, but Bridges made All-Defensive first team as a guard.

Murray got a first-team vote as a guard along with Smart.

Now Murray didn’t make either team, but he led the league in steals at 2.0 a game and did end up finishing with more voting points than Paul or Patrick Beverley.

As for leaving Holiday off first or second team? Damn.

Jrue Holiday (21) steals the ball from Marcus Smart (36) in the closing seconds to help secure the Bucks' win.

Seeing him come up with huge defensive plays in the postseason has me feeling some kind of way about that, but the Bucks weren’t the same team defensively this year.

Milwaukee finished ninth in defensive rating last regular season.

This year? Try 14th.

Not all on Holiday.

He’s been one of the NBA’s better defenders for years, but that team's defensive rating played a role in my decision.

Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham (2) drives on Milwaukee Bucks guard Wesley Matthews (23) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

My NBA All-Rookie teams

First team: Scottie Barnes (Raptors), Cade Cunningham (Pistons), Evan Mobley (Cavaliers), Franz Wagner (Magic) and Jalen Green (Rockets).

Second team: Davion Mitchell (Kings), Josh Giddey (Thunder), Chris Duarte (Pacers), Bones Hyland (Nuggets) and Herbert Jones (Pelicans).

Final NBA All-Rookie teams

First team: Same

Second team: Jones, Giddey, Hyland, Ayo Dosunmu (Bulls) and Duarte.

Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland, right, drives to the basket as Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson defends in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round Western Conference playoff series Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Let me explain: First four were no-brainers, but I went back and forth on Green and Mitchell for first team.

Ultimately chose Green. When his body fully develops, it's a wrap.

Turns out Mitchell didn’t make first or second team.

Still like the vote.

He’s an outstanding defender who confidently stepped into that No. 1 role with De’Aaron Fox out, but Mitchell was just on a bad team.

Sacramento Kings guard Davion Mitchell, left, attempts to steal the ball from Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 1, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

My NBA Rookie of the Year voting

First place: Barnes.

Second place: Cunningham. 

Third place: Mobley.

Final NBA Rookie of the Year voting

First place: Same.

Second place: Mobley.

Third place: Cunningham.

Let me explain: Mobley finished a close second as Barnes only won by 15 points. 

Love Mobley's game, but Barnes had a great year. He averaged 17.1 after the All-Star break in helping the Raptors earn a fifth seed in the playoffs.

Barnes is a player.

Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) shoots against New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 10, 2022 in New York. (AP Photo/Jessie Alcheh)

My NBA Most Improved Player voting

First place: Tyrese Maxey (76ers).

Second place: Darius Garland (Cavaliers).

Third place: Jordan Poole (Warriors).

Final NBA Most Improved player voting

First place: Morant.

Second place: Murray.

Third place: Garland.

Let me explain: This award usually goes to someone who was a role player the year before and then becomes a starter and is a major contributor.

Maxey is the epitome of that. He took over at point guard for Ben Simmons and averaged 17.5 points on 48.5% shooting. He shot 42.7% from 3.

As a rookie, Maxey averaged just eight points on 46.2% shooting. He only made 30.1% of his 3s.

Morant certainly took his game to another level, but he was already a great player. The guy won rookie of the year.  

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers talks to guard Tyrese Maxey (0) on the sidelines during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, Monday, May 2, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

My NBA Sixth Man voting

First place: Tyler Herro (Heat).

Second place: Jordan Clarkson (Jazz).

Third place: Cam Johnson (Suns).

Final NBA Sixth Man voting

First place: Same.

Second place: Kevin Love (Cavaliers).

Third place: Same.

Let me explain: Herro should’ve been a unanimous choice, but he did receive 96 of the 100 first-place votes.

Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro celebrates after a basket during the second half of Game 3 of the team's NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Friday, April 22, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

My NBA Coach of the Year voting

First place: Monty Williams (Suns).

Second place: Taylor Jenkins (Grizzlies).

Third place: Ime Udoka (Celtics).

Final NBA Coach of the Year voting

First place: Same.

Second place: Same.

Third place: Erik Spoelstra (Heat).

Let me explain: The Suns had the NBA’s best record by nearly 10 games.

Williams deserves a great deal of the credit for that, but Jenkins did a standout job with Morant missing 25 games.

As for Udoka, this guy can flat-out coach. Another Gregg Popovich pupil. 

He and Spoelstra are going at it in the conference finals right now.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.