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
The NFL Draft serves as a starting point for most of the football’s future stars on an annual basis. It has higher viewership than any other draft in American professional sports and has had higher viewership ratings than the MLB and NBA playoffs. It’s an important opportunity for downward-spiraling teams who need to rebuild, as well as for teams which are only a few key pieces away from a championship. This year’s draft was no disappointment. It was chock full of big names, surprising picks, and ridiculous trades (looking at you, Chicago).
Here are grades for every team’s draft. It’s worth noting that no true grade can be given until the end of the regular season. These are only early thoughts on how teams utilized the draft to address their needs and how likely their picks and moves are going to help them.
New England Patriots: A
Although the Patriots only had four selections this year, they capitalized where they could. They lost their first rounder in a trade for speedy Saints receiver Brandon Cooks who will be a great addition to their powerful offense and who is undoubtedly worth more than any 32nd overall pick could be worth. They also dropped a few slots for former Panthers DE Kony Ealy who will replace pass rusher Jabaal Sheard. New England finally used their fifth rounder in a trade for Bills running back Mike Gillislee. The players they did draft, pass rusher Derek Rivers and tackle Antonio Garcia were premium picks in round 3.
Miami Dolphins: C+
Miami didn’t have a particularly noteworthy draft. They added some youth to their defense with first round pass rusher Charles Harris, second round linebacker Raekwon McMillan and third round cornerback Cordrea Tankersley. They also added some depth to their weak offensive line with fifth round guard Isaac Asiata, who’ll be blocking on the inside while last year’s first round pick Laremy Tunsil will be moved to the outside.
Buffalo Bills: A-
The Bills decided not to take a quarterback early this year, content with sticking to Tyrod Taylor for now. They traded the tenth pick in the draft to Kansas City, picking up a second first-round pick in next year’s draft. They used their new first rounder for cornerback Tre’Davious White, taking over for former Buffalo corner Stephon Gilmore. They also took some key pieces to build around Tyrod Taylor, including wide receiver Zay Jones and offensive lineman Dion Dawkins. They took quarterback Nathan Peterman in the fifth round who has the potential to develop into a viable starter if Tyrod Taylor doesn’t work into their long term plans.
New York Jets: B
Gang Green did a solid job addressing their poor pass-defense, drafting two safeties and two cornerbacks. LSU Tiger Jamal Adams, who some considered the best player in the draft, dropped to them eatly in the first round. They then took Florida Gator Marcus Maye in the second, and Michigan cornerback Jeremy Clark & Mississippi cornerback Derrick Jones in the sixth. They also added a few key offensive pieces in running back Elijah McGuire and wide receivers ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B
First round pick T.J Watt needs some grooming but will rejuvenate this defense and has the potential to be a top defender in the league. There’s no question that he brings some amazing genetics to the table. Second-round WR Juju Smith-Schuster is a great player but seems like an unnecessary pick with Martavis Bryant coming back from suspension. Third round pick RB James Conner is both a feel good story, a cancer survivor and hometown hero at Pitt, and a bruiser quite contrary to Le’Veon Bell’s agile slashing style of running. Fourth round pick Josh Dobbs from Tennessee has an amazing football IQ and can take over for Big Ben, who has been mulling retirement for some time, in a few years.
Baltimore Ravens: B
The Ravens utilized the draft to rejuvenate an aging defense. First-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey will be able to deliver as a deep-ball defender, and second-round pick OLB Tyus Bowser will team up with third-round pick OLB Tim Williams and defensive lineman Chris Wormley to add to the run defense. Fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemenor will attempt to strengthen an o-line that lost a lot this offseason.
Cincinnati Bengals: B+
The Bengals used the ninth overall pick in the draft to select wide receiver John Ross, holder of the record for fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. The speedy receiver will be a quick downfield threat to pair up with 6x Pro Bowler A.J. Green. They continued to bolster their offense by selecting controversial Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. He slid down most teams’ radars and fell off of some draft boards completely this year due to the infamous video of him punching and knocking out a female student. He’s a top 15 talent, video notwithstanding. Head coach Marvin Lewis and Cincy’s front office have had a history of welcoming talented players with major off-field issues (eg: Vontaze Burfict, Adam “Pac-Man” Jones). They also addressed their defensive holes by getting outside linebackers Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. Lastly, Cincy drafted kicker Jake Elliott to address their poor field goal and extra point conversion performances last year.
Cleveland Browns: A
The Browns’ ideal draft scenario was to take Garrett first overall and Mitch Trubisky at 12. They did half of that but I think that they were better for it. Texas A&M defensive end and first overall pick Myles Garrett is going to be a generational talent and a major threat to opposing offenses for years to come. With Trubisky gone in a baffling move by the Bears, the Browns decided to deal out their twelfth pick to Houston. They used their new pick for versatile defensive back Jabrill Peppers. Their final first round pick was used on David Njoku, who has the most upside of any tight end in this draft. They ended up taking DeShone Kizer late in the second round to try to fill their gap at QB. The Browns played their cards very well in this draft and landed five picks in the first two rounds in next year’s draft. This ammo can be used to slowly finish their near decade-long rebuild. Expect a brighter future in Believeland.
Kansas City Chiefs: B
The Chiefs gave up a lot to take Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. It’s likely that he’ll sit a year or two under current starter Alex Smith to develop into a strong NFL quarterback. They addressed the loss of Dontari Poe by drafting defensive lineman Tanoh Kpassagnon from Villanova. They also took running back Kareem Hunt out of Toledo to pair with the two-headed attack consisting of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West.
Oakland Raiders: C
The Raiders used the first two picks to improve their weak pass defense. CB Gareon Conley slid down to 24 due to his rape accusations, despite projecting as a top-ten pick prior to his off-field drama. Assuming he didn’t commit the crime and his claims are correct, he’s a great shutdown corner and a great addition to a weak Raiders defense. Their second round pick, DB Obi Melifonwu, has to work on his football instincts, but he has great physical talent. If third rounder DT Eddie Vanderdoes can properly avoid getting derailed by injuries, he can be a great addition for the Raiders’ trench game.
Denver Broncos: B-
Of the Broncos rookie class, first round pick Garett Bolles appears like the only one who’ll get significant starting time in 2017. The left tackle is inexperienced but has the physical skills and will be major upgrade for their weak offensive line. Second and third round picks pass rusher DeMarcus Walker and WR Carlos Henderson will likely get a few snaps, while third and fourth round picks CB Brendan Langley and TE Jake Butt won’t contribute much immediately. Butt has the potential to be a pain in the side of opposing defenses (pun intended) once he recovers from his Orange Bowl injury.
Los Angeles Chargers: B+
Philip Rivers must be celebrating right now. Los Angeles used their first rounder on Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams. This gives Rivers a sizeable target alongside Tyrell Williams and, barring another injury, Keenan Allen. He also got some quality protection in guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. This will also open up the run game a little more and allow current running back Melvin Gordon to build off of a strong sophomore season.
Houston Texans: B+
Truthfully, the Texans’ draft grade depends on how Deshaun Watson performs under center. If Watson can break the streak of Houston’s terrible signal callers (David Carr, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler), it won’t matter what they traded for him. LB Zach Cunningham, T Julien Davenport, and Doak Walker Award winning D’Onta Foreman all have starting potential but will likely contribute minimally in their rookie seasons.
Tennessee Titans: A-
Marcus Mariota finally has some receivers in first round pick Corey Davis, a great route runner and holder of most receiving yards in FBS history, and third round pick Taywan Taylor, a threat in the slot who’ll be able to make up for the loss of Kendall Wright. They also added to their lacking secondary with Adoree Jackson, who also has strong potential as a return man.
Indianapolis Colts: B-
The Colts have turned their focus this offseason towards revamping the wet paper bag that they call a defense. They must have been thrilled to see Ohio State safety Malik Hooker slide down to the 15th pick. If he can overcome his injury issues, he can live up to his expectations as the next Ed Reed. Second-round CB Quincy Nelson and third-round edge rusher Tarrel Basham can also be of use to this lackluster defense. The running game will also improve with the addition of OT Zach Banner and RB Marlon Mack.
Jacksonville Jaguars: A-
Look for the pressure to build on quarterback Blake Bortles. After a strong 2015 season, the quarterback took a huge step back in 2016. To sum it up, he currently has more pick-sixes than victories. First round running back Leonard Fournette will likely become the center of this offense with second rounder OL Cam Robinson blocking for him. Bortles will have to prove that with all of these offensive additions, he can be a strong starting quarterback, or at least game manager.
Dallas Cowboys: B
America’s Team baffled many by not addressing their defense at all during the offseason, considering that they lost starters Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. They did add to their defense in the draft with defensive end Taco Charlton, second round CB Chidobe Awuzie, and third round cornerback Jourdan Lewis (assuming his legal problems are resolved). They also picked up WR Ryan Switzer as another slot threat along with Cole Beasley.
New York Giants: C-
Longtime GM Jerry Reese has always approached the draft with a “Best Player Available” strategy over a need-based one. That’s a nice way to explain their first round head scratcher, TE Evan Engram. Engram isn’t much of a blocking TE but he’s a very talented pass catcher, which the Giants already had a lot of. Second round DT Dalvin Tomlinson will likely take over for Jonathan Hankins, who they lost in free agency, but won’t be much of a game changer. Third round QB Davis Webbs was a smart pick who head coach Ben McAdoo will likely groom to take over for the aging Eli Manning in a few years.
Washington Redskins: B+
The Redskins have needs at defense and first-round lineman Jonathan Allen, second-round linebacker Ryan Anderson, and third-round cornerback Fabian Moreau should help fill some holes. Anderson will likely take over for suspended OLB Trent Murphy. Fourth round running back Samaje Perine will strengthen a running back depth chart with Robert Kelley at the helm.
Philadelphia Eagles: C
The Eagles did a lot of work on their defense in this draft. Their first pick, DE Derek Barnett is a tenacious defender who’ll be a major threat for opposing offenses in some time. The Eagles also did a lot of work on their pass defense. Assuming CB Sidney Jones’ recovers well from his Achilles injury, he’ll prove to be a steal in the second round. Fourth round pick RB Donnel Pumphrey will take some of the burden off of Carson Wentz who didn’t have a consistent run game to rely on last year.
Green Bay Packers: B+
A weak secondary was a major part of the Pack’s loss to Atlanta in the NFC Championship game, and they used this DB-heavy draft to fix it. They used both of their second round picks on their secondary, selecting cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones. They didn’t do very much to address their fluctuating running back depth chart, drafting three different running backs late in the draft with hopes that one of them sticks. An interesting strategy to take.
Detroit Lions: C+
The Lions’ first two picks, LB Jarrad Davis and CB Teez Tabor (both teammates at Florida), can start right away as big playmakers for this defense. They also took Miami QB Brad Kaaya who is a likely career backup, but good value for the sixth round.
Minnesota Vikings: B+
The Vikings only had two picks in the first three rounds this year but made sure to address their weak rushing game – ranked last in the league last year – by taking advantage of FSU RB Dalvin Cook’s slide in the second round and OL Pat Elflein. Cook has some injury concerns and off-the-field issues but he has the potential to be an amazing running back. Expect Minnesota’s running game to be much stronger with Cook and newly-signed free agent Latavius Murray.
Chicago Bears: D
I can feel the heat from Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s hot seat back at my home in New Jersey. They gave up a haul to move up a spot in front of the 49ers (who didn’t touch a quarterback until the third round) and to take Mitchell Trubisky, who has only started 13 college games. They didn’t touch their cornerback needs and waited until the fifth round to address their weak offensive line, taking guard Jordan Morgan from DII school Kutztown.
Seattle Seahawks: B-
The Hawks decided to trade down out of the third round, getting six picks from Day 2. All but one was used for an aging defense. DT Malik McDowell has the potential to become a disrupting force against the run if Pete Carroll uses him properly. DBs Shaquill Griffin and Delano Hill will have a lot of work to do to become part of the Legion of Boom.
Arizona Cardinals: B+
The Cardinals picked LB Haason Reddick and DB Budda Baker in the first and second round respectively to add to a defense that lost five starters this offseason. They also took offensive guard Dorian Johnson to protect the oft-injured Carson Palmer. The Cards decided not to pull the trigger on finding a quarterback to replace the 38-year old Palmer.
Los Angeles Rams: C-
The Rams’ 2017 first round pick was part of the trade for Jared Goff, who’s coming off of a fruitless 2016 season with many question marks as to whether he can be a legitimate NFL starter. The Rams tried to build around Goff with TE Gerald Everett and WR Cooper Kupp. Even then, Everett played in the Sun Belt and Kupp played in the Big Sky Conference and it is unclear if either of them will be able to translate their talents to the professional level.
San Francisco 49ers: A
49ers general manager John Lynch should get arrested for robbing the Bears of their draft picks. They moved down from no. 2 to no. 3 overall and drafted highly coveted defensive end Solomon Thomas from Stanford. They also utilized a trade with the Falcons to continue addressing their weak run defense and picked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. Foster slid due to injury and drug test concerns but is a great value for the Niners at no. 31. Contrary to the Bears’ predictions, the 49ers took their time to pick a quarterback, taking Iowa’s C.J Beathard in the third round. Personally, I found Beathard to be a reach in the third round, considering Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs and California’s Davis Webb were both available at the time, but this pick rounded out a great draft for San Francisco.
Atlanta Falcons: B-
The Falcons weren’t missing too much entering the draft, but found a few capable starters. They used their first round pick for DE Takkarist McKinley who will play alongside sack leader Vic Beasley to bolster a pass rush that choked in the Super Bowl and blew a 25-point lead. Fourth round guard Sean Harlow has the potential to start in the wake of Chris Chester’s retirement.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B+
Tampa Bay’s offense is stacked. First round TE O.J. Howard will be a strong target for Jameis Winston along with deep threats Desean Jackson and Mike Evans. Safety Justin Evans and LB Kendall Beckwith will be strong additions to a defense that took some hits from injury. Fifth round pick RB Jeremy McNichols will be of great value for a team trying to move forward past Doug Martin’s suspension.
New Orleans Saints: B-
The Saints made use of this DB-heavy draft to fix the NFL’s worst pass defense by nabbing shutdown corner Marshon Lattimore with the 11th pick and Marcus Williams in round two who could start at free safety. The Saints also got tackle Ryan Ramczyk to protect an aging Drew Brees. Third round pick RB Alvin Kamara has great potential but is unlikely to get a lot of touches in year one sitting behind Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson.
Carolina Panthers: A-
The Panthers used this draft to make things easier for Cam Newton. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel are both very versatile players who can elevate offenses with their varied skill sets in the slot and backfield. They also got some protection for Cam with offensive lineman Taylor Morton. Expect Carolina’s offense and special teams to take a major step forward in 2017.