The Regular Season Is Over, Now It’s Time For The NBA Awards: Who Is The MVP?
All cards on the table. I’ve never had such a difficult time deciding who the MVP of the NBA should be. I mean, I’ll make a decision (don’t scroll down yet), but it isn’t easy, and worse, I’m not passionate about it. I love to have conviction, but I also don’t dive into pools of water before I know how deep it is. I do my homework, and you’ll know it when I really believe something. The MVP this year, I don’t have the answer.
I believe Russell Westbrook will win it. The numbers are outstanding. The finish to the season has been sensational with a pair of comeback, 50-point 3×2’s, topped by a long buzzer-beating three to eliminate the Nuggets from the playoffs, and on the road no less.
Too many people I talk to simplify it to say: Triple Double = MVP. But I think that is what will win out.
And I’m okay with that because Westbrook is worthy of the honor. I’m not going to nit-pick the uncontested rebounds or the missed shots or the turnovers. He’s not a perfect a player. This just in: nobody is.
I like to think of honors this high as legacy awards. So when I feel the MVP is handed to the wrong guy, it could raise eyebrows one day in regards to the player who won and the one who didn’t. Russell Westbrook plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen. This was his season to completely step out of the shadow of Kevin Durant, and he did in a big way. His legacy will be defined in my mind by his motor, and the MVP would be a tribute to that.
The 6th place finish in the western conference is less than ideal. 35 years ago Moses Malone won the MVP for the Rockets on a 46-win 6-seed out west with averages of 31 points and nearly 15 rebounds per game. The only other player to win MVP on a team not in 1st or 2nd place in their conference during that time period?
Michael Jordan in 1987-88. MJ won his first MVP on a Bulls team that finished as the 3-seed in the East with a stat line of 35-5.5-5.9. Everyone else has been on the best or second best teams. So when we say we attach awards to winning, it’s the absolute truth.
That’s the interesting note with James Harden, even his Rockets are in 3rd place out west. I think he is very deserving. His team overachieved big-time. Vegas had Houston’s over/under at 41.5 wins. Blew that away. He’s the first player to score 2000 points, have 900 assists, and 600 rebounds. He almost passed Tiny Archibald as the the most points scored and assisted on per game, a record that has stood for 44 years. He’ll be the first player to go 29-11-8 in a season since…Oscar Robertson. He’s earned it.
Kawhi Leonard plays on the 2nd best team in the league. He’s about to become a 3-time winner of the defensive player of the year award. He’s efficient, inside and out. He shuts down other stars.
LeBron, Russ, Harden, Paul George vs Spurs in clutch: 7-27 FG (25.9 FG%) and combined -37. Lost 7 of 8. Kawhi guarded all. WHO DOES THAT?
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 9, 2017
LeBron James statistically has been terrific and like the others, and perhaps more so, his value to his team is undeniable. He’s the best player, but considering the team around him, and knowing what we know about the Cavs the last two years, winning as few games as they will is a strike against him in my mind this year.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
So complicated as you’ve read. Weighing an all-time great season (Russ) versus an all-time great season without a catchy title like triple-double (Harden) against a pair of players I think are both better, one (Kawhi) with a better record and less flashy numbers and one (LeBron) with a more similar record, great numbers, and better resume.
In the end, my memory will best recall Westbrook’s intensity and pursuit of victory, even if it was perfect, it was spectacular. He is comfortably in front in BOX +/- (15.7) and his PER (30.8) not only leads the league, but is among the 4 highest (MJ twice and LeBron once). MLB has WAR, and for Russ his VALUE ABOVE REPLACEMENT is easily tops this year too (12.4). I’m good with those supporting numbers when you look at how close Harden and Westbrook are in the traditional ones.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Dario Saric, Sixers
His teammate Joel Embiid takes this easily if he doesn’t get hurt, but the creativity and versatility of Saric was impressive, and to be honest, this is a real weak rookie class. So much so, two guys that weren’t drafted in 2016 are the top two candidates.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Expected, and I’m okay with that. The improvements of Otto Porter and Myles Turner and Devin Booker were expected too, but not as impactful. I seriously considered Tim Hardaway Jr. in Atlanta because it was both unexpected and important to the Hawks success. At the end of the day though, the Greek Freak became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 of scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and blocked shots. Good god. He improved in all those categories, and he got Milwaukee into the playoffs with only half seasons from Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton. Well done sir. Well done.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Erik Spoelstra, Heat
Jason Kidd’s Bucks actually had the same O/U total in Vegas (34.5) and Mike D’antoni’s Rockets will clear their total by more, but I’m most amazed at the job Spo did with spare parts in Miami. The franchise player left, and what looked like a team that should finish among the five worst, was far from it. He found roles that worked for Dion Waiters and James Johnson, and his team overcame injuries to key players and still have a chance to make the playoffs. Heck of a job.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
Rudy Gobert was fantastic, but Leonard is putting himself in Scottie Pippen/Ron Artest conversation as best perimeter defender ever.
Russell Westbrook James Harden Kawhi Leonard LeBron James Anthony Davis
Stephen Curry Chris Paul Giannis Antetokounmpo Kevin Durant Rudy Gobert
Isaiah Thomas John Wall DeMar DeRozan Gordon Hayward Nikola Jokic