2017 NBA END OF YEAR AWARDS
Most Valuable Player — LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
With all due respect to the statistical dominance of Russell Westbrook or the on-court dominance of James Harden, it’s difficult to see how LeBron James doesn’t deserve the award this year.
For all the ridiculous accomplishments of those other two guys, James is the only player in the league this season to average at least 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and shoot 54% or better from the field. Since February 1st, James is averaging 29.5 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists — in other words, he’s averaging a triple-double — while shooting 54.3% from the field and just under 40% on three-pointers. That’s absolutely insane.
Let’s take it one step further by applying the MVP criteria of well-known basketball writer Bill Simmons. If the Houston Rockets don’t make it to the NBA Finals this year, when we look back at this season 10 seasons from now, won’t James’ performance — especially at this point in his career — stick out more than that of Harden’s? And while the Rockets wouldn’t be a 60+ team without Harden, they’d still make the playoffs if you replaced Harden with an average player; imagine what the Cavaliers would be if you replaced James with an average player. And finally, there still isn’t a single player you’d take in a “winner takes all” game ahead of LeBron James.
We’re getting to the point where we’re looking for excuses to not vote for LeBron James, instead of simply acknowledging his prolonged greatness. He deserves the MVP this year.
Rookie Of The Year — Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Before we delve further into why Ben Simmons deserves this award, let’s put aside the “Simmons mostly benefitted from Joel Embiid’s presence on the floor” talk. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Philadelphi has outscored opponents by seven points per 100 possessions since January 1st when Simmons plays without Embiid.
For as brilliant as Donovan Mitchell has been this season, what we’re seeing from Ben Simmons has comparing him to an evolutionary Jason Kidd. Mitchell’s 20+ points and just under four assists and four rebounds per game are impressive, no doubt. But compare that to the 16-8-8 stat line put up by Simmons. For all the criticism (rightfully so) that we have of Simmons’ outside game, he’s still only scoring two fewer buckets per game than Mitchell, while doubling Mitchell’s assist and rebounding numbers.
Mitchell is a dynamic scorer with a ton of upside, but Simmons is the ultimate matchup nightmare, and the catalyst of a 76ers team that is the one squad in the Eastern Conference that nobody wants to play.
Defensive Player of the Year — Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
In another NBA season filled with a ridiculous number of attention-grabbing headlines, Utah’s 28-6 record since late January might have been one of the biggest stories of the year. Center Rudy Gobert, who took over as the team’s franchise cornerstone after the defection of Gordon Hayward, was the centerpiece of that stunning stretch. Since he returned from his 15-game leave due to injury, the Jazz won 30 of their last 38 games, while having the league’s best defensive margin in that span of time.
Gobert’s advanced stats, like Win Shares, Defensive Box Plus-Minus, and Defensive Real Plus-Minus, are all better than those of Joel Embiid, who makes the case as a challenging runner-up for this award. But Gobert’s ability to get back in transition, and use his uncanny length to protect the rim, gives him the nod.
Coach of the Year — Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers
Brett Brown gets the coach of the year nod over highly deserving candidates like Quin Snyder in Utah, Brad Stevens in Boston, and even Terry Stotts in Portland.
Before the season started, Philadelphia was projected to win less than 41 games, and be a borderline playoff team in the East. Two years ago, the 76ers won a total of 10 games over the course of an entire NBA season. We still didn’t know what we had in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There was a potential black cloud hovering over this team with the weird injury to Markelle Fultz, the #1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Yet Brown managed to steer this ship to 52 wins, and the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Philadelphia’s players will run through a brick wall for Brown. He has figured out how to best utilize the strengths of his guys; most specifically, how to use Simmons and Embiid on the floor at the same time.
While you could argue that the 76ers have two of the top 25 players in the NBA right now, we couldn’t have foreseen that before the season started. Given that, you have to wonder if those players didn’t get to that status, at least in part, because of Brown’s coaching.
Sixth Man of the Year — Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
For much of the year, this was a runaway in favor of Lou Williams. While his stats did regress towards the end of the season, you could make the argument that Williams was the sole source of offense on a feisty Los Angeles Clippers team that hovered around the playoff race for much of the season, despite the fact that they’re clearly looking toward a rebuild in the near future (evidenced by trading away Blake Griffin).
Williams averaged career highs in points (22.6) and assists (5.3) for a Clippers team that ended up winning 42 games this year. While Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets has been integral to the team’s success this year, Houston would be somewhat ok without Gordon’s services; the same absolutely cannot be said for the Clippers without Lou Williams.
Most Improved Player — Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
This award should be the least difficult decision of them all. Victor Oladipo went from “athletic wing player who’s been an disappointment in general” to “one of the 15 best players in the NBA” in the course of just one year, while helping a seemingly over-matched Indiana Pacers team win 48 games. How important was Oladipo to Indiana’s success this year? The Pacers are 0-7 when Oladipo doesn’t play.
Oladipo is a serious candidate to be named second-team or third-team All-NBA, as well as to the All Defensive Team. With a stat line of 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.4 steals per game, he’s become the type of player who can single-handedly influence the outcome of a game.
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