A historic season is coming to an end, so in a year of shattered records, who deserves the end-of-season praise?
By: Bogart Lipe
The MVP discussion this year has been fervent to say the least. What makes an MVP? Best player in the world? Best player on the best team? Best single season? Best statistics? A combination? Let’s start with a non-MVP stat: the virtually impossible record of 422 turnovers in a season was somehow shattered by BOTH Russell Westbrook and James Harden this year. In lieu of this, the two have separated themselves from the other contenders. Kawhi Leonard? Averaging nearly 26 points per game as the only real star on a 60+ win team while frequently guarding the opposing best player (and frequently shutting them down)? Sorry, but not enough. LeBron James? Averaging career highs in assists and rebounds (and turnovers) while still being the undisputed best player in the world? Sorry, but not enough. Although in any other year the seasons these two have had would almost always run away with the prestigious award, Harden and Westbrook have simply performed at a level we haven’t seen and may never see again. Westbrook has now clinched a triple double average (and a 30 point average at that) for the season while keeping the Thunder in the playoff race after a world-beating, get-out-of-my-way last few weeks. A few weeks that have seen spectacular fourth quarter performances for wins, the latest being a game winning 35 footer at the buzzer in Denver on Sunday. Harden is leading the league in assists, and as a result of the large number of 3s the Rockets take and make, has the first season in NBA history averaging 25 points per game while accounting for another 25 points per game by way of assists. Both have led their team to unexpected heights during this year’s campaign, so how do you choose? Russ is going to shoot a ridiculous 1900+ shots this season, and neither are exceptionally efficient from the floor (LeBron actually has a higher 3 point percentage than both this year). But for voters, it will come down to who they can live with not giving the MVP to. Each of the four players mentioned are worthy recipients, however this is the hardest race to judge conceivably in history. LeBron’s Cavs have sputtered over the last month of the season, even blowing a 26 point 4th quarter lead in Atlanta on Sunday, taking him out of serious contention. The Spurs’ inability to overtake the Warriors when KD was injured hurt Kawhi’s momentum. But how to pick between Russ and Harden? Can you say no to a triple double? Can you say no to the captain of the perfect version of D’Antoni’s mathematical system? There is undoubtedly stat padding by Russ and Harden, as players their size cannot carom the number of rebounds they do without help from teammates, but that’s the case for every superstar on the planet. If you get over the criticism that the triple double is a subjective statistic based on humans’ adoration of round, easy to understand numbers (just like every other stat in sports because well, this is sports and numbers are a huge part of this), the answer is simple. Westbrook has had too many MVP moments as the season winds down; his 50 points 16 rebounds 10 assists game-winning performance Sunday in Denver that broke Oscar’s 41 triple doubles mark might’ve just sealed it.
Winner: Russell Westbrook
Others receiving votes: James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Steph Curry (KD who?), Isaiah Thomas
Coach of the Year
Compared to the brutally difficult MVP race, this award is a bit less stressful, but is still very competitive. Sure, Gregg Popovich—who could win the award every year— is a basketball wizard who churns out 50 win seasons no matter the circumstances and is doing one of his best jobs ever. Brad Stevens has done a wonderful job for the Celtics and will receive many votes as his team challenges for the number 1 seed in the East. As will Quin Snyder, the architect of the Jazz’ fabulous season. However, Mike D’Antoni has helped completely change the Rockets’ outlook, starting with the offseason decision to have Harden bring the ball up. And I guess not having Dwight Howard anymore always helps.
Winner: Mike D’Antoni
Others receiving votes: Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, Quin Snyder, Scott Brooks
Sixth Man of the Year
It’s stunning that this is possible, but the Rockets have a chance at sweeping MVP, Coach of the Year, and Sixth Man. Trading for Lou Williams before the deadline cements that the sixth man will come from Houston. It’s only a matter if it’ll be Eric Gordon or Lou Williams. Other contenders will include the everlasting Jamal Crawford, who appears on track to come off the bench and score 18 into his late 40s. Patty Mills has had a good year for the Spurs, but not enough to seriously contend. In another close race, it goes to Williams, who has scored more per game while also being more efficient than Gordon. However you can’t go wrong with either.
Winner: Lou Williams
Others receiving votes: Eric Gordon, Jamal Crawford, Patty Mills
Most Improved Player
This award is the easiest decision for the voters. There are cases to be made for some players, though. Bradley Beal has finally shown us he’s not actually made of glass, and has career highs in games played, points, field goal and free throw percentage, and assists. Plus he has played a big part in the jump the Wizards made this season. Myles Turner has further established his potential as a future star in the league. Rudy Gobert has transformed into a double double stalwart while leading the league with 2.7 blocks per game. However, there’s a freak in Milwaukee that is leading his team in every major statistical category (while improving upon each from a year prior) and has taken the league by storm as the leader of the Unicorn Party. Giannis Antetokounmpo also will just miss out on averaging 2 steals and 2 blocks per game, a feat only David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, and ahem…Gerald Wallace have accomplished.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Others receiving votes: Bradley Beal, Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner
Rookie of the Year
What a terrible year for rookies. Ben Simmons hasn’t played a game, Brandon Ingram has struggled all year long, and Joel Embiid missed more time with injuries. What we have been left with is a vote between Malcolm Brogdon and Dario Saric. There was early talk about whether or not Embiid’s earth-shattering per 36 numbers would be enough to make up for only 31 games played, but it becomes harder to imagine he will get enough votes as each day passes. Embiid is widely seen as the best rookie that played this year, and I am rooting for him to win, but the low sample size damages his bid. Brogdon has had a solid first year for the upstart Bucks, but is only posting 10 points and 4 rebounds a game. It doesn’t help his case that no player has won the Rookie of the Year while scoring less than 11 points per game. Saric has also played well for the Sixers, and has averaged 13 and 6, not eye-popping statistics by any means, but more impactful than Brogdon’s. In the least intriguing race for the regular season awards, Saric gets the slight edge.
Winner: Dario Saric
Others receiving votes: Malcolm Brogdon, Joel Embiid, Marquese Chriss, Willy Hernangomez
Defensive Player of the Year
Finally, the defensive player of the year. As with all the other awards, this year has provided many deserving players. As previously mentioned, two time defending champ Kawhi Leonard is still the best two way player on the planet and will go down as one of the best defensive players ever. Gobert will receive many votes as well, as the centerpiece leading Utah’s defensive year-long prowess. Big men like Hassan Whiteside and Deandre Jordan will also vulture some votes to possibly finish in the top 5. Paul Millsap may also threaten, and finish in a similar position as his 5th place finish last year. However, this should finally be Draymond Green’s year. With the arrival of Durant, a Draymond who could focus much more energy on defense came, and it has shown in his play. He can still guard anyone from Isaiah Thomas to Anthony Davis and is leading the league in steals. Also consider he’s the main cog in the Warriors machine that is second in defensive efficiency. Given, the Spurs are narrowly above the Warriors in the metric, but Draymond blows away Kawhi in defensive box plus/minus (4.9, a league high, compared to 1.6). It’s finally his time.
Winner: Draymond Green
Others receiving votes: Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, Deandre Jordan, Paul Millsap