A regular season that produced some of the most cerebral performances of all-time is in the books. We’ve officially entered into the Golden Age of Euro-NBA, where spacing and passing have become the foremost offensive strategy. Whether this style makes for good aesthetics is certainly up for debate. What cannot be debated is how incredible the video game numbers of this season have been. Without further ado, let’s get into my picks for the 2017 NBA Awards season.
MVP – Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Before I get into my reasoning for picking Westbrook, let’s preface it with my definition of value. I base value on a few criteria:
Winning is obviously on there. No NBA player can win MVP without being on a playoff team, and obviously, the better the team, the more impressive the season.
On the other hand, this is balanced by the talent surrounding the player. Any Golden State Warrior is tough to pick since they are putting four of the top 20 players in the world on the court for the most park. JaVale McGee can only weigh your team down so much. It takes a truly remarkably epic season to win MVP when you are surrounded by other superstars. This also discredits LeBron James to me for MVP talk.
Stats matter. Both volume and efficiency are important. No disrespect to Kawhi Leonard, the LeBron-stopper himself, but this year had two all-time seasons. And we need to stop overthinking this. Westbrook has been more valuable this year than James Harden.
Let’s start with the winning. Both the Thunder and Rockets are playoff teams, though I digress Houston’s No. 3 seed and 55-win season are superior to Oklahoma City’s 47-win season. But let’s deconstruct the narrative here. The Rockets led by super-statistician Daryl Morey and space-and-pace maestro Mike D’Antoni constructed a roster of superior shooters that could create room for Harden’s superior dribble penetration. Ryan Anderson was a great value contract, as he has been a decent stretch four for some years now, finally getting the opportunity at more minutes after being wasted in New Orleans. Eric Gordon became a revelation this year. He’s had his best shooting season since 2011 (I’m not counting 2012 when he played just nine games).
The Rockets also benefited from addition by subtraction with the loss of Dwight Howard. Not even including the health issues and the fact he didn’t want to work with Harden, Howard clogged the paint and had little offensive game. This roster, complemented by D’Antoni’s system, is a major factor why Harden had such an efficient season.
On the other hand, we know what happened in Oklahoma City. The snitch, Kevin Durant, turned his back on Westbrook and the Thunder, leaving Westbrook with a roster barren of talent or depth. The team’s identity was to give the ball to its 28-year-old star and let him play pick and roll over and over. The roster lacks any outside shooting. Victor Oladipo could hardly be considered a sharpshooter. Andre Roberson would be better off never shooting a basketball again. While I do think Steven Adams and Enes Kanter are respectable big men, no one is confusing them for some Duncan-Robinson tandem. Westbrook carried this 25-win roster to 47 wins.
As far as the stats go, everyone will focus on the triple-double record and average. And it is truly remarkable. This season will go down in lore. But let’s not forget he did this all while also winning the scoring title – and by a wide margin. Since 2008, only one other player, Durant, won a scoring title by a margin larger than Westbrook. If you want to penalize the defense and say the rebounding numbers are slightly inflated, I won’t argue. But you can’t argue the sheer volume of points he scored (on a nightly basis as he did not take any games off until the final week).
Call my reasons simplistic, but I cannot deny the man.
Defensive Player of the Year – Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
We could give this award to Leonard every year. And there is no guy more versatile than Draymond Green. But this year we need to give the award to the guy who carried the Jazz to the No. 2 defensive ranking in the NBA. Just look at how top centers did this year against the French Rejection. Anthony Davis scored 12 points under his average; DeMarcus Cousins scored 10 less and Karl-Anthony Towns put up four less points per game. His prowess as a shot blocker this year has made him head and shoulders above everyone else in the conversation.
Rookie of the Year – Dario Saric (Philadelphia 76ers)
I want to give this to Joel Embiid, I really do, but I can’t give it to a guy who played less than half of his team’s games. Hopefully, at some point, we get a full season of Embiid, and when we do, he will garner enough of his own awards. But this isn’t that year. In what was a weak class, Saric gets the award for the extra gear he turned after the Ersan Ilyasova trade. Saric averaged close to 20 points per game for the month after the All-Star break, when his minutes drastically increased. Some injuries led to a weak end to the year, but in a season where no rookie (that played over 800 minutes) showed any true dominance, we give it to the guy with the best forgettable season.
Sixth Man of the Year – Eric Gordon (Houston Rockets)
Nice of Gordon to give Jamal Crawford a year off. Let’s be clear – Harden cannot make the switch to a permanent on-ball presence and Mike D’Antoni’s scheme does not work without addition of Gordon. Patrick Beverley is a nice player, but to act as though he is any sort of credible offensive threat is an overstatement. Gordon has played the starter’s share of the minutes and finished top five in the league in three-pointers made. I don’t see this award as particularly close.
Coach of the Year – Mike- D’Antoni (Houston Rockets)
Call it the perfect storm of events, but D’Antoni inherited the perfect roster for his style of play. After years of being bogged down with ISO ball in New York and Los Angeles, the Houston Rockets were an ideal destination for a coach who wanted to play the style of basketball that previously earned him back-to-back one seeds in Phoenix.
And although I did give Harden’s roster the nod over Russell Westbrook’s, let’s not confuse this Houston Rockets team with the ’27 Yankees. Career years were pulled out of Anderson and Gordon. Trevor Ariza’s percentage from behind the arc, but strangely his mid-range game had a huge upgrade. Clint Capela almost averaged a double-double and Harden had one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. D’Antoni was the maestro of all of this. Sure, they go into the playoffs as a decided underdog against Golden State or San Antonio, but I will not pretend to be shocked if Houston scored the upset over both of those teams.