The first annual NBA awards are set to air tonight on ESPN. Mirroring the extravaganza that the NFL puts on year in and year out, the NBA is taking a different approach to awarding players for their achievements. We’ve seen championship presentations transition from the locker room to center floor. We’ve seen MVP awards given out from the home arena during the playoffs to a press conference. Like the latter, the NBA wants to create a more interactive experience with a red carpet vibe. Nonetheless, the same awards must be given out, and here are the should-be winners of every award.
NBA MVP: James Harden
I may be the last person on Earth holding strong to this notion. Nevertheless, this notion is the correct one. Kawhi Leonard had a fabulous season but it’s just not his time yet. Russell Westbrook had a phenomenal season where he averaged a triple double, and while the favorite, once people look past the numbers, Harden is the runaway choice. First and foremost, precedent is key when analyzing a players stats and performance. Starting with key situations, Kevin Durant departed from Russell Westbrook, leaving 28 points per game to be earned and made up for. Westbrook has always been the alpha on OKC, and his departure literally gave Russ the keys to the city so to speak, where he was free to dominate the entire offense. On the other hand, James Harden had to switch positions this season. It doesn’t matter the circumstance, a player transitioning from their natural position, that he most probably has played his entire life, requires extreme poise, willingness to adapt, and trial-and-error on the basketball court. Given, both handled their new scenarios with grace, but one was filled with much more adversity from a personal standpoint.
Further, Harden separated himself from Russ in many other areas of the game. If people allow themselves to actually think past the glamorous “triple double average” that Russ accomplished, they’ll realize that Harden pretty much put up the same numbers, with 2 less rebounds. 2 more rebounds and he too would have averaged a trip-dub. And how was Russ able to accomplish such a feat. It is no secret that he padded his rebounding numbers all season long. There are countless video montages of Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson throwing their hands back as Russ charges in and steals rebounds from them. Yes, him getting the rebound ignites a fast paced tempo. But the sole reason he is ahead of Harden is because of the spectacle that is the triple double. And if that is done in an unnatural fashion, doesn’t it defeat the purpose? After all, there is a reason why KD left OKC. He wouldn’t leave the MVP of the league that’s for sure. When using the eye test, it is clear who was more MVP worthy. Westbrook played with relentless ferocity and passion, and did a great job of leading his team. But James Harden had the innate ability to dictate the pace. Let’s say that again, dictate the pace. The main problem with Russ’s game is his inability to switch gears and dictate pace. All of the great point guards in history have possessed this quality. Harden, a first year point guard, did so glaringly better than a point guard who has been such for 8 seasons.
Why this is not quantified is beyond my knowledge. James Harden switched positions, led a team to more wins and 3 seeds higher in the Wild Wild Western Conference, anchored a top 3 offense in the league, improved his defense from last season, and actually contested some shots this season, unlike Russ who was nowhere to be found out to his man. The only difference between Russ every other season and now, is free reign. It’s that simple. His thought process was probably to average such triple double to show up his counterpart Kevin Durant, look better than him, and appear to be the hero and square things up in the MVP department. Not so fast. If you’d take 2 rebounds and 3 points over 8 more WINS, what actually counts, then it shows what you value more in basketball. Look at the way he won All Star Game MVP’s back to back. Not because he was the MVP. But because he took every shot he could get his hands on and played out of control. The funniest part of it all? In the all star game, everyones game looks exaggerated and emphasized to appease to the fans. But Russ’s game looked all the same. This isn’t an all star game or a contest for who’s the best. And that’s why James Harden gets my MVP nod. Oh, but I could tell you how Russ had a usage rage 10 units higher than the second man, James Harden, or how Harden had a higher true shooting percentage at 77th in the league to Russ’s 138th at 51.1%, or how Harden is 55th in Net Rating to Russ’s 95th, but nobody wants to hear about all those numbers right? Yet numbers are the only premise that will likely land one candidate the award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green
Draymond Green is the Defensive Player of the year. Rudy Gobert, his soon to be runner up, has a strong case for the award. Gobert was, as of this morning, named to the All Defensive 1st Team, as the best defensive center in the league. He led the league in blocks this season with 2.6 a game. However, Green was named to the same Defensive 1st team, placing them on even playing fields. Green anchored the NBA’s best defense. In addition, his ability to guard positions 1-4, as opposed to Gobert only able to guard the 4 and the 5. To add to Green’s case, he ranks first in the association in Defensive Win Shares. Gobert on the other hand ranks 2nd. The statistics are very close, with Green getting the edge by a nose. But the true distinguishability lies in the eye test. Green, who may not have been as imposing a threat on the interior, took on the task of guarding the opposing team’s best or second best player night in and night out. Equally dealing with big men with his undersized 6’7 frame, Green has made all of the big blocks and steals when it counted, and was the backbone of the defense that went on to win a championship and lock down Lebron James and the Cavaliers. Therefore, he deserves the nod.
Rookie of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon
This is perhaps the toughest award to give out. On one hand, you had Joel Embiid who restored faith and hope to a city that’s witnessed putrid basketball for the past 4 seasons prior. Never playing in back to back games, Embiid’s season was cut short after 31 games. The center out of Kansas, when on the floor however, was not only one of the best rookies in the league, but one of the best players… period. He averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds a game on 47% from the field and a mindblowing 37% from 3. And as tough as it is to deny what should have been the run away favorite, the fact that Embiid never experienced the trials and tribulations of NBA back to backs, or even playing the greater half of 51 games makes it hard to choose him over Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon has established himself as a key piece on an equally improving team in the Milwaukee Bucks. As a second round pick, there were minimal expectations for Brogdon coming into the season. Quickly, his scrappy defense and intensity found his way into the rotation. Slowly over the course of the season, his ultra intelligent play and high basketball IQ ingratiated himself as an integral part of the offense and defense, becoming the team’s unofficial 6th man around the all star break. Toward the end of the season, Brogdon saw much more starts, and became one of the focal points of the team leading into the playoffs, particularly when Jabari Parker went down with injury. His 10.2 points a game are nearly doubled by Embiid, but his 4.2 assists in 26 minutes, as a rookie, speak volume to the playmaking ability he contains. In addition, his 40% mark from 3 already makes him one of the better 3 point shooters in the entire league, and his 46% from the field already shows his maturity and efficiency. Tough pick, but Brogdon has the strongest case of the bunch.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens
Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets came into the season with high expectations. And quire frankly, they were expectations we knew he would fulfill. We are well aware of his tract record in Phoenix, orchestrating the 7 seconds or less offense that led Steve Nash and company to three Western Conference Finals appearances. Affirming popular belief, the teams he coaches win solely on the premise of their offense. After being out of the association for a couple years, he returned to the Rockets with a similar team DNA as his old Phoenix squads. And he was back to his old ways. The Rockets ran one of the most dynamic offenses in the league but were eliminated by an all too familiar foe. Therefore, there is no indication that D’Antoni has improved his coaching, to really take a team to the next level. Because who knows, maybe if he did, his teams would actually win championships.
Brad Stevens has been the model of consistency in the NBA since his arrival. Outside of Greg Poppovich and Mike Budenholzer, his coaching style has translated to the most wins in the NBA in the last 3 seasons. And on top of that, this season he led the Celtics to the number 1 seed in the east over the powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers, and reached the conference finals. On the other hand, D’Antoni reached the semifinals, tore apart San Antonio in game 1, and then went on to get utterly exposed in every facet of the game in a 4-1 route of the next 5 games. The clear choice is Stevens, who operates on BOTH sides of the ball.
Most Improved Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokoumnpo
Nikola Jokic took the next step this season. He doubled his assist totals from 2.4 to 4.9 a game, solidifying himself as the best passing big man in basketball. He upped his point totals by nearly 7 points to 16.7 points a game. But the rest of his stats did not bulk up as notably as his minutes did. And any other year, he would probably be the go to guy for this award. But Giannis Antetokoumnpo took a leap from budding star to superstar in a single season. In the same amount of minutes played, the Greek Freak added 6 points to his average, registered 2 blocks a game, nearly 2 steals a game, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Minus the 23 points, those numbers are Lebron-esque… and then some. Oh, and he did all of that while putting the ball in the hole at a 53% mark. Every single stat on his line were career highs this season. Giannis is the no brainer pick.
6th Man of the Year: Eric Gordon
To the dismay of many Rockets fans, it seemed as though Enes Kanter would be the narrow favorite to take home honors for the best reserve in basketball. The Turkish power forward took virtually everyone who guarded him to school in the post. Nobody can take that away from him. He put up 14.3 points and 6.7 boards a game in what many felt were an unfair meager 21.3 minutes a game. Surely a guy with such talent in the post would garner more minutes. If he were getting the normal 25-27 minutes a game, all of his numbers could have been higher. And I too was captivated by his ability to spin off defenders, run the floor well, and finish through tremendous contact. But like his teammate Russell Westbrook, a facade was on display. Kanter blew his chances earlier on in the season than meets the eye with his incompetent defense and underwhelming execution in the pick and roll on both ends. The benching began in Golden State. Many watching Russ vs. KD part 1 wondered why Billy Donovan wouldn’t put in the second best scoring option on the team. Then it became evident in the postseason, when Kanter struggled to average an abysmal 9 minutes a game. You heard that right. Kanter was so bad in every area of the game outside of the post and the midrange, that he was a hindrance to his own team.
Eric Gordon, however, was the complete opposite. Thought to have lost his way after a promising start to his career in LA with the Clippers, Gordon left the toxic environment in New Orleans, and to his credit, coach D’Antoni allowed Gordon to spread his wings and do his thing. Mastering the hesitation dribble, Gordon was catching defenders left and right with his dual threat offensive game. His big body and handling skills allowed him to get into the paint with ease. But more impressively, his 3 point shooting went through the roof. The winner of the 2017 3 point shootout, Gordon beat the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving, 3 of the best shooters in our game today. Of course, festivities do not impact such decision, but it is a testament to how much of a deadeye Gordon became. Shooting 37% from 3, Gordon was the x factor off the bench for Houston. His ability to space the floor allowed him to score at will, averaging 16.2 points, his highest total since the 2012-2013 season. Gordon, while not the most efficient player at only 41% from the field, did his part, and helped the Rockets overcome OKC in the playoffs, where Kanter was nowhere to be found.