This season marked the first year when there was an actual show and ceremony to announce the NBA Awards. It was an amazing night, between Russell Westbrook’s MVP speech, a real tearjerker for anyone watching, Bill Russell offering an ass-kicking to five Hall of Famers, Drake’s hosting, and the multiple great performances. Today, we’re going to focus on the actual awards. There was a variety of awards given out, but the focus here is on seven of them: Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, Best Sixth Man, Most Improved Player, Defensive Player of the Year and obviously MVP.
This year’s MVP was the prolific Russell Westbrook. It had to be. How often do you see such a historic season? 42 triple-doubles is no easy feat. In any other year, James Harden or Kawhi Leonard would have taken home the honors, but Russ leaves them in the dust in 2017. Harden put up stats close to Westbrook’s and had a respectable playoff run in the difficult Western Conference, and Leonard is the best two-way player in the league, highlighted by the fact that he was a contender for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Harden and Leonard at least had strong teams around them. Kevin Durant’s departure was a huge blow for the Thunder, as Westbrook’s supporting cast shot 32.7% from the field. Westbrook singlehandedly lifted an otherwise abysmal roster to playoff contention: the very definition of being an MVP.
In my eyes, Defensive Player of the Year was a tight race between dominating center Rudy Gobert and two of the best on-ball defenders in the league: Draymond Green and Leonard. Green’s stellar defense was integral to Golden State’s championship run and his DPOY campaign. He can rack up statistics in every major category (points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks) on any given night. He’s one of the most versatile defenders, able to guard every position. My personal pick for the award was Rudy Gobert, a commanding post-presence who grabbed 12.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks a night. Leonard turned in an equally impressive season because, as mentioned before, he remains the Spurs’ primary offensive and defensive option. Still, Draymond, one of the most important cogs to the machine that was the 2016/17 Warriors, is very deserving of the award.
Most Improved Player was also a pretty tight race between Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic. Antetokounmpo and Jokic were actually given the same odds (3/2) to win the award. Jokic’s improvement came from moving to the center position in November. The entertainment that comes from watching a big man pass like a point guard is enough to win him MIP, but what Giannis has done for his team this season after the performance he turned in last season gives it to him any day. The Greek Freak became the first player in history to finish top-20 in all five major categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Giannis’s step-up from solid pro to All-Star allows him to take this award over his worthy competitors.
Malcolm Brogdon set a record as the lowest-drafted player to win Rookie of the Year. His 10 PPG and 4 APG coupled with his stellar defense were key to Milwaukee’s playoff berth, but some of that is due to the weak Eastern Conference, where a 42-40 record warrants the sixth spot. Still, Brogdon defied his pre-draft expectations to win ROTY. My personal pick to win the award was Dario Saric, who took off in the second half of the season in the absence of candidate number three, Joel Embiid. In that time, he posted 16.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG in only 29 MPG on a youthful, but thin 76ers roster.
What’s amazing about Sixth Man of the Year winner Eric Gordon is that he’s a sixth man who played starter minutes this year. Andre Iguodala is a great candidate to take this, due to his ability as a two-way small forward, but Eric Gordon had to win it. He scored 16.2 PPG and knocked down 37.2% of his three-pointers. He was key to the Rockets’ three-point attack that made them a serious contender.
Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni was the only coach in the league to manage an improved record from the 2015/16 season. He oversaw Harden’s switch from shooting guard to point guard and his jump into MVP contention in a deadly three-pointer-oriented offense that turned them into one of the best in the West. Gregg Popovich is a perennial candidate for this award and was able to lead the Spurs to the two-seed in the post-Tim Duncan era and Erik Spoelstra was able to rally a Heat squad that was marred by injuries. They started the season 11-30 and had a 30-11 record in the second half of the season, finishing as a playoff contender and just barely missed the playoffs. Still, the way D’Antoni maximized the offensive skill-sets of his players in Houston to become one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league earns him this award.
Warriors General Manager Bob Myers had to win Executive of the Year. He signed Finals MVP, Kevin Durant. Enough Said
Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
NBA Sportsmanship Award: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Season-long NBA Cares Community Assist Award: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Performance of the Year: Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson drops 60 in thirty minutes against Indiana Pacers
Game Winner of the Year: Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver Nuggets
Dunk of the Year: Oklahoma City Thunder’s Victor Oladipo against Dwight Howard
Assist of the Year: Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant vs. Indiana Pacers
Block of the Year: San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston Rockets
Best Playoff Moment: Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant late-game three pointer vs. Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Finals
Best Style: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Lifetime Achievement Award: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics legend
Sager Strong Award: Monty Williams, San Antonio Spurs
Hustle Stats Award: Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets