NBA Award Predictions
What is the definition of the Most Valuable Player award? Is it the best player? If so, then LeBron should win it every year. Is it actually the player that is MOST VALUABLE to their team? If so, then LeBron should still probably win it every year. Neither of those definitions seems to be what is used in the evaluation of the MVP award so I will be thinking of it as the player that is having the best/most important year. This year there are really only three players that can even enter the conversation for the MVP: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden.
I know you’re yelling at me that Durant left and joined the best regular season team of all time and he should never win any award ever again, but hear me out. Durant is having one of the best years of his career. Per Basketball Reference, he is fourth in the league in PER at 28, top ten in both Offensive (125.5) and Defensive (100.4) Rating, and a plus/minus of 8.4. Durant has flourished in Golden State and is having quietly one of the best years of his career. While Durant is having a great year there is no chance that the voters are going to give him the award after leaving OKC to join up with the back-to-back MVP.
Russell Westbrook, Durant’s former teammate who refuses to acknowledge his existence, has been a triple double machine. He is averaging 30.8 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.6 rebounds per game. This is the latest in a season that anyone has averaged a triple double since Oscar Robertson in the 1961–62 season. Westbrook could do something that hasn’t been done in 55 years. The energy and effort that he brings every night is truly amazing and he is one of the most exciting players to watch. The biggest thing against his MVP candidacy is his team’s record. The last time that the MVP was not on a top 3 team was Moses Malone in the 1981–82 season. Despite his historical stat line, I don’t think that Westbrook has a chance to win the MVP if his team remains at the bottom of the playoff picture and Harden keeps playing as well as he has.
The midseason and likely end of year, MVP is James Harden. Harden has been reborn in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. He has gone from sulking, not playing defense, and (allegedly) getting his coach fired to being one of most dynamic, versatile players in the league in just one year. Harden has moved from SG to running the point for the Rockets and it has really paid off. He has a chance to be the second player ever, first since Nate “Tiny” Archibald in 1972–73, to lead the league in points and assists per game. He also has a plus/minus of 10 while having an Offensive Rating of 117.6, per Basketball Reference. He has been able to get any shot he wants whether it is a step back three, an open layup after a euro-step, or a free throw (he is averaging 10 a game by the way). He has been able to get his entire team involved from creating open threes for Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to uncontested dunks for Clint Capela. He is the reason why the Rockets offense and record look as good as they do. James Harden has come back in the strongest way possible after an abysmal 2015–16 season and will be the MVP.
Rookie of the Year
Unless there is an injury or massive downturn in production, the Rookie of the Year is Joel Embiid. Embiid has had a breakout year after missing his first two years to injury. He has carried this 76ers team to 15 wins, yes I know that isn’t a lot but it is more than they had all last year. He is averaging almost 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game while only playing 25 minutes.
He has embraced “The Process” and could be an All-Star this year. Embiid has the athleticism to defend the entire floor, the strength to bully defenders in the paint, the finesse to pull up for jumpers, and the range to knock down the occasional three. Embiid is a true 7 ft unicorn who is averaging 2.5 blocks per game, shooting 35% from three, and the only 76er with a positive plus/minus.
Defensive Player of the Year
Many have thought that Draymond Green had gotten snubbed the past two years by losing the Defensive Player of the Year award to Kawhi Leonard. This could be Draymond’s year as he is leading the Golden State Warriors number one rated defense allowing a league best 104 points per 100 possessions. Draymond also has an Individual Defensive Rating of 99 and a Defensive Win Share of 3.1. Yet again Draymond is having a great defensive year and is very deserving of the award but won’t get it, again.
Rudy Gobert, the Steiffel Tower, is my Defensive Player of the Year. He has a league leading Defensive Rating of 97.7, Defensive Win Share of 3.6, and 2.5 blocks per game. He is the anchor for the Jazz’s third rated defense and the best rim protector in the league. He has helped the Jazz turn into serious contenders in the West and is an absolute terror for other teams to face. For the third year in a row Draymond Green will finish second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. This year the award will go to the Steifel Tower.
Usually this award goes to an already good player that just gets more minutes or exposure. This year the award is actually going to the most improved player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis has gone from a young player with a lot of promise to an absolute stud. He is starting this year’s All-Star Game while averaging 24 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals per game. He is a 7 footer with a 7'3" wingspan who plays point guard through center and affects every aspect of the game.
He plays hard every game and doesn’t care who is on the other end of the floor because he thinks he is better than them, and this year he has been. This was obvious in the Bucks earlier matchups with the Cavs as Giannis showed zero hesitation taking it to LeBron. Side note, I am really hoping to see that matchup in the playoffs. Coach Kidd has taken the reigns off and let Giannis loose on the league. His shooting still isn’t where you want it to be but it has improved every year and who needs it when you’re a 7 ft point guard who is dunking from the free throw line. Despite no one being able to correctly pronounce his name, Giannis has become a household name and one of the most exciting young players in the league.
Eric Gordon, the once injury riddled bust, has come back to life and shown what people have been waiting years to see. Gordon is averaging 18 points and 3 assists while shooting 39% from three on 9 attempts per game. Like Harden, Gordon has flourished in D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on whatever role the situation requires from him. When Harden is off the floor, Gordon is capable of taking over and leading the offense. When Harden is on the floor, Gordon is able to step aside as a role player and help create open shots. Gordon has been a huge spark for the Rockets helping them climb to third in the West and deserves to be recognized for resurrecting his career.
Coach of the Year
Similar to the MVP, if the best coach gets this award then Gregg Popovich would receive it every year but that’s no fun. The Coach of the Year is Mike D’Antoni. What he has done with the Rockets this year has been incredible. He has brought Harden back from the brink, revitalized Eric Gordon’s career, perfectly utilized Ryan Anderson, and made the Rockets a top 2 offense and a top half defense.
The bigger story here though is not just what he has done for the Rockets, but more so what he has done for himself. He has brought his own career back from the dead. He was once one of the most admired coaches for what he had done in Phoenix with the Nash led Suns, but then ended up taking bad jobs with the Knicks and Lakers. Neither of those teams had the personnel nor leadership to help his system work. Now in Houston, D’Antoni has the perfect player for his system and he has the Rockets playing their best basketball.