It’s springtime again, and another NBA regular season has officially come to a close. The conclusion of Wednesday night’s slate of games were the final minutes of what has been an interesting six-plus months of basketball.
As the season began with 31 former Kentucky Wildcats rostered on the 30 teams of The Association, 28 remained when Wednesday’s final second ticked off the game clock.
Now, with those 28 players being the most from any college in the country, it’s only right to hand out regular season awards to the professionals who have repped the Big Blue.
Player of the Year
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
While the Minnesota Timberwolves fell far short of this year’s playoffs, All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns continued to be a dominant force and further his campaign as the league’s best power forward/center.
While the dysfunction of the Timberwolves franchise mostly kept Towns from receiving an abundance of national recognition, he still sustained an average of 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 blocks in 77 games for the Timberwolves.
The 2018-2019 season was his fourth in The Association, but the first of which he failed to appear in all 82 games. However, Towns was far and away the most productive and impactful player this season who used to rock the royal Kentucky blue.
Rookie of the Year
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles Clippers
After bursting onto the scene at Kentucky last year, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander saved the 2017-2018 season for Kentucky and quickly saw his draft stock jump into the lottery.
After being selected 11th by the Los Angeles Clippers in last summer’s NBA draft, Gilgeous-Alexander stepped into a role behind his NBA comparison in Patrick Beverly and flourished in assisting the better Los Angeles team to a playoff berth.
The rookie guard averaged 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting a better-than-average 36.7% from behind the arc.
While fellow rookie Kevin Knox has slightly better stats in New York, Gilgeous-Alexander contributed the most to winning and will continue to lace up his high-tops as the playoffs begin.
Offensive Player of the Year
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Two years ago, Devin Booker scored 70 points against the Boston Celtics and has since held his ground as one of the NBA’s best scorers as well as shooting guards.
This season, Booker logged his best statistical year of his career with an average of 26.6 points and 6.8 assists while also shooting a career-high 47% from the floor.
Booker logged back-to-back 50+ point games just a few weeks ago, further cementing his name for this award. Like Towns, his individual success is often clouded by the dysfunction of his franchise. However, Booker is more than deserving of the award and certainly started on the right path of earning his new five year, $158 million contract extension.
Defensive Player of the Year
Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks
Finishing 24th in defensive win shares, while also being the lead stopper in the best team’s backcourt, Eric Bledsoe had a All-NBA defensive season for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee finished with the best defensive rating in the NBA, which earns Bledsoe this recognition. The former Kentucky one-and-done also averaged 15.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting a career-high 48% from the field.
While Bledsoe’s facilitating and scoring absolutely assisted the Bucks in claiming the league’s best regular season record, ‘twas his defense that made the biggest difference.
Outstanding Leader of the Year
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Speaking earlier of dysfunctional teams, the case can be made that none have been worse than the Sacramento Kings over the last 8-10 seasons. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, owning the league’s longest drought.
While that trend will add another tally for this season, former Kentucky guard De’Aaron Fox seems to have turned around the culture in Sacramento.
The second-year guard averaged career-highs of 17.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting a career high 46% from the field and 37% from three-point land.
Fox made his case for most improved player this season, but his most significant impact was leading a locker room bolstered with young talent and turning around the NBA’s dumpster fire. Next season, breaking the Kings’ playoff drought should absolutely be atop the team’s agenda.
Most Underrated of the Year
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Though a year ahead of Fox, Denver’s Jamal Murray had a similar stint to Fox’s a season ago. Now, in his third season, Murray was the most underrated player in the NBA who used to rep the Big Blue.
Murray averaged career highs of 18.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists while shouldering a large quantity of the team’s point guard role.
The former Kentucky Wildcat played a significant role in his team earning the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs, while taking a back seat when it came to recognition, which leads to him earning this award.
Largest Surprise of the Year
Julius Randle, New Orleans Pelicans
After breaking his leg one game into his rookie season, Julius Randle followed up his injury with three up-and-down seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Once the former Wildcat his the open market, New Orleans paired him alongside Anthony Davis as an under-the-radar free agent signing.
Needless to say, Randle was the steal of last offseason.
The fourth year big man averaged a career high 21.4 points and added 8.7 rebounds with 3.1 assists while flourishing in the Pelicans’ front court. With the final year of Randle’s deal kicking in next season, another sound stint should have him in line to earn a plentiful payday.
Comeback Player of the Year
DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors
DeMarcus Cousins going down with a torn achilles last season was a heartbreak to watch, considering he was in the midst of his best season and finally sniffing success alongside Davis and the Pelicans.
After turning down a substantial contract with New Orleans, the market quickly shrunk and Cousins found himself signing just over a $4 million deal with the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Though Cousins was sidelined to start the season, he came in and comfortably averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in 30 games.
Tearing an achilles is horrific in general, but can be even worse for a 270 pound big man. Kudos to Cousins for putting in the time to condition himself and get in position this summer to make a bit of the money he lost out on last offseason.