By George Ayad
Published: May 17th, 2017
Most Valuable Player
This comes down to a two-man race between the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden, former teammates who have taken their games to the highest possible level. What Harden has been able to accomplish this season is extremely impressive, and it would be a crime if he didn’t win the award. On the other hand, Russell Westbrook has done something that hasn’t been done in over 50 years: he averaged a triple-double. Westbrook broke Oscar Robertson’s record of triple-doubles this season, but his team’s early exit in the playoffs will hurt his case. What is more valued, the wins or the stats? Westbrook’s numbers are ultimately better, but Harden’s supporting cast plays well around him. He was close to averaging a triple-double as well, falling short by only two rebounds a game. The Rockets’ offensive system starts and ends with Harden. Russell Westbrook, on the other hand, doesn’t really have that option. It’s a tossup, and, ultimately, both have excelled in different aspects of the game to the highest level, and the recipient will just indicate whether personal numbers or team performance defines a player’s value.
Rookie of the Year
This award hands-down belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid. His season was riddled with injuries, which ultimately limited him to 31 games, but the way this monster could turn the lowly 76ers around in the time that he did play cannot be overlooked. In just 25 minutes per game, he averaged 20.2 points per game (ppg), 7.8 rebounds per game (rpg) and 2.5 blocks per game (bpg). His shooting percentage—46 percent—wasn’t bad either in limited play. One can only imagine how much better he would have been if he were playing regular minutes. It’s not just Embiid’s numbers; his play has transitioned to a better record for the team, as evidenced by their 10-5 stretch during the month of January. Another point in his favor is that there’s a huge gap in talent between Embiid and the next-best rookies. Teammate Dario Saric and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Malcom Brogdon are talented, but Embiid is on another level of progression. However, if the voters decide that Embiid’s lack of games is insufficient to get him the award, then Saric or Brogdon, who both had good statistical campaigns, are the next best options.
Most Improved Player
The clear-cut winner should be the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo. He led his team in every major statistical category, all while leading the team to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference despite losing Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton for the second half of the season. He also increased all of his averages from last season, except three-point percentage, all while playing the same number of minutes. There’s not much else to say here.
Sixth Man of the Year
Eric Gordon deserves this award more than anyone else in the game. He was a vital piece in accommodating head coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense and helped bring the Houston Rockets from the eighth seed the previous season to ghe third-best record in the NBA this season. He became the leader of the second unit by being the second-leading scorer on the team, and helped ease the offensive load on James Harden. While some may argue Andre Iguodala deserves this award, comparing the team’s supporting cast shows the true winner. Gordon did more with less.
Coach of the Year
This is a two-man race between Brad Stevens and Mike D’Antoni. After lurking behind the Cleveland Cavaliers all season, Stevens and his Boston Celtics finally took the top seed in the East. This was despite having an undersized group and nothing more than above-average players, apart from Isaiah Thomas. With the Celtics’ players not known for their offense, they were still able to establish a top-ten offensive rating, trailing behind other hyper-offensive teams. They also posted a respectable defensive rating that ranked 12th in the league, despite Thomas’ deficiencies in that area. A lot of that can be credited to Stevens’ rotation of players, as well as setting up defensive and offensive schemes depending on the situation.
As for D’Antoni, he took the Rockets, ranked eighth in the Western Conference last season, to the third-best record overall. After General Manager (GM) Daryl Morey brought in the proper pieces, D’Antoni was able to use his run-and-gun style of play to give the Rockets the second-best offensive rating, behind the Golden State Warriors. His decision to transition James Harden to run point guard has also proven to be successful, as Harden led the league in assists at 11.2 per game. With that, D’Antoni would have my vote to win it.
Defensive Player of the Year
After being considered in previous years, the Warriors’ Draymond Green finally put in the work and should absolutely win this award. After leading the league in defensive win shares, steals, and defensive rating, Draymond finally seems to have broken the defensive reign of Kawhi Leonard. His ability to potentially guard all five positions and switch defenders when necessary should set it in stone for him. As always, however, someone else will put up a fight for the best defensive man; enter Rudy Gobert. The Gobster is second in defensive win shares and defensive rating and first in blocked shots this season. All that led to the Utah Jazz finishing in third for defensive rating, behind the San Antonio Spurs and the Warriors. As Gobert clearly anchored Utah’s defense, don’t be surprised if his name gets announced on June 26. Draymond Green’s value in Golden State is undervalued, and he should win this award regardless of the outcome of this season’s playoffs.