By Connor Pignatello
The NBA will host its inaugural awards show on June 26, and the event is sure to have lots of flair. It’s hosted by Drake, contains fan voting for the first time, and will showcase the very best basketball players-on the court and off.
In addition to awards like the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Coach of the Year — awards that have been around for over fifty years — there are six new awards entirely voted on by the fans, like Dunk of the Year, Block of the Year, and Performance of the Year.
The first awards show promises to be filled with style, so let’s get to it. Here are my predictions for some of the awards to be announced on Monday.
Most Valuable Player
Nominees: James Harden, Houston Rockets; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Although the award seemed to be an even battle between Russell Westbrook and James Harden throughout most of the year, Westbrook distanced himself from his former teammate down the stretch. Westbrook broke the record for most triple-doubles in a season (42), becoming only the second player ever to average a triple-double for an entire season (only Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season had accomplished that feat), and won the scoring title.
Although Harden and Kawhi Leonard (both members of the First-team All-NBA) both had historic seasons, Westbrook’s legendary year was one of the greatest individual seasons ever for the sport, and that’s why I predict that Russell Westbrook will win MVP.
Coach of the Year
Nominees: Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets; Eric Spoelstra, Miami Heat; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Even though each candidate has a case for the award, Mike D’Antoni engineered the biggest improvement in his squad. The Rockets improved by 14 wins after D’Antoni took over the reigns of the club, and they captured the third seed in the Western Conference after barely squeaking into the Playoffs as the eighth seed last year.
Gregg Popovich’s situation is much like Lebron James, James doesn’t win MVP every year even though he is widely recognized as the best player, and Popovich doesn’t achieve Coach of the Year honors every year even though he is known to be the premier coach in the league.
Eric Spoelstra also deserves some recognition for his efforts. The Heat coach took a 11-30 team that looked bound the basement of the Eastern Conference, and turned them around in the second half of the season, with a sterling record of 30-11.
Although the race for Coach of the Year is close, the 14-win improvement of D’Antoni’s Rockets is why I predict that Mike D’Antoni will win Coach of the Year.
Rookie of the Year
Nominees: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
This year’s rookie class is shaping up to be one of the weakest in the history of the NBA. The draft class is so lackluster that not a single 2016 first round pick was nominated for the award. Malcolm Brogdon was a second rounder, Dario Saric was a draft-and-stash prospect from 2014, and Joel Embiid was effectively the same, out due to injury the past two seasons.
The rest of the rookie class didn’t fair well either, as #1 pick Ben Simmons missed the entire year because of a foot injury, and #2 pick Brandon Ingram finished dead last in the NBA metric Total Points Added, a measure of how much a player helps (or hinders) his team.
Embiid would have won the awards hands down, as he nearly made the All-Star game, but he played only 31 out of 81 games because of a torn meniscus. If Embiid wins, the amount of games he played will be far and away the least ever for a Rookie of the Year winner. If Brogdon wins, his points per game average of 10.2 will be the lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year winner. And if Saric wins, his points per game average of 12.8 will be the fourth lowest ever for a Rookie of the Year winner.
Ultimately, I predict Brogdon to win Rookie of the Year honors because he was a steady, consistent, reliable option for the Bucks, he was the only rookie to post a triple-double, and he shot 40% from three-point range, whereas Saric didn’t shoot over 40% from the field until after February.
Most Improved Player
Nominees: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz, Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
This has always been one of my favorite awards, because most of the time, the winner has gone on to become a star. Recent winners include: C.J. McCollum, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and Kevin Love. This year, three promising youngsters from up-and-coming teams are vying for this honor.
Nikola Jokic became the centerpiece of the Denver Nuggets, and thanks to his wondrous passing skills and strong rebounding ability, the Nuggets rose from 19th in offensive rating in 2016 to 4th in 2017.
Another player who had a much-improved year was Rudy Gobert. The ‘Stifle Tower’ was a member of the Second-team All-NBA, finished the year fourth in rebounds per game and led the league in blocks per game.
However, the player I think should win the award is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The ‘Greek Freak’ carried his young team to the playoffs and became just the fifth player in league history to lead his team in every major statistical category (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks). Antetokounmpo also became the first player ever to finish in the top 25 of every major statistical category, and he has improved his stats in every category in each of his years in the league. Antetokounmpo’s improvement from a 6.8 point scorer in his rookie season to a 22.9 point scorer this past year is why I think he should win Most Improved Player.
Defensive Player of the Year
Nominees: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Despite Kawhi Leonard winning this award the past two seasons, I predict that he will lose his title this year.
Rudy Gobert has come on strong this season, garnering Most Improved Player consideration, and blocking shot after shot on his way.
Draymond Green, after second-place finishes the last two seasons, has tried even harder this year to claim this elusive award.
Either Green or Gobert lead pretty much every defensive metric or statistical category.
Green produced the first ever triple double in the history of the NBA without scoring ten points, whereas Gobert recorded 25 rebounds in a single game, the most of any player this year.
Sixth Man of the Year
Nominees: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets; Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors; Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets
Also a nominee is the always-reliable Andre Iguodala, the 13-year veteran and 2015 NBA Finals MVP. Iguodala is frequently tasked with defending the opponent’s best wing, and this year he shot a career high 52.8% from the field.
Although Williams and Gordon are not assets defensively — they were each in the bottom ten of the NBA in Defensive Points Saved — the two shooting guards lit up the three point arc, as they were both in the top 25 in three-point makes and attempts.
The duo from Houston also were one-two in points per game off the bench as Williams checked in at 17.5 and Gordon at 16.2.
Ultimately, both players saw a resurgence in their careers this year, but Gordon was more efficient than Williams and made more threes, which is why I predict that Eric Gordon will win Sixth Man of the Year
And now, for the fan awards!
Dunk of the Year
Even though Oladipo’s dunk was on a former Defensive Player of the Year, and even though Zach Lavine brought the ball back farther, my personal favorite is Larry Nance’s hammer on Brook Lopez. Luckily for Lopez, he can’t get dunked on by Nance anymore since they are now teammates .
Nominees: Iman Shumpert, Cleveland Cavaliers; Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
I believe that Dwyane Wade has the best style in the Association.
His looks are not outlandish like Shumpert and especially Westbrook, but they show his appreciation for fashion. Wade always looks good every pre game walk down the tunnel, every post game interview, and every public appearance; that’s why I think he has the best style in the NBA.
Block of the Year
Even though Kawhi Leonard’s chase down block on James Harden in the waning seconds of a close game is excellent, and even though Kristaps Porzingis’ backhanded grab block is incredible, Hassan Whiteside’s rejection is my personal favorite.
Whiteside seemingly jumped out of the sky and stole Pascal Siakam’s floater right out of the air. The ball was at least 12 feet high when Whiteside claimed it with an outstretched hand. That’s why I think he should win block of the year.
Game Winner of the Year
Ah, Buzzer Beaters.
The craziest few seconds in all of sports. Both teams fortunes are changed in a matter of seconds and one team walks off the court in tears of joy while the other in tears of sadness.
Tyler Ulis, a rookie second-round pick of the lowly Phoenix Suns and the third-shortest player in the league, stole the ball and hit a deep fadeaway three to sink the Celtics, who would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Although both of these moments were great, in my opinion they don’t compare to Russell Westbrook’s deeeeeep three-pointer to beat the Nuggets. The shot was memorable in many other ways, because it gave Westbrook a 50-point triple-double and the record for the most triple-doubles in a single season.
Performance of the Year
The 2016-17 season brought us many, many historic performances.
Russell Westbrook gave us one on March 29, where he broke the record for most points in a triple double. Westbrook’s 57 points, 12 rebounds, and 13 assists provided fans with a moment that will last in the history books forever.
Another triple-double that broke records was recorded by James Harden on New Years Eve against the Knicks. The Beard caught fire on the last day of the year en route to 53 points, 16 rebounds, and 17 assists, which not only tied the record for most points ever in a triple double (Westbrook broke this record in the game above) but it was the first line of its kind. Since Basketball Reference started recording data in 1984, no one has ever recorded a 50-15-15, except for Harden.
Another legendary performance this year was achieved by Klay Thompson against the Indiana Pacers. Thompson scored 60 points in just 29 minutes, the fewest minutes needed to score at least 60 points in NBA history. Thompson’s 2.07 points per minute was the second most points per minute in league history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game.
However, I believe that the greatest performance of the year was Devin Booker’s 70 point explosion. Even though his Suns team did lose to the Celtics despite his 70 points, every player and fan walked out of the TD Garden that night believing in the star of Devin Booker. Booker, at just 20 years old, became the youngest player ever to score more than 55 points in a game, and that’s why I think he should win Performance of the Year.
Assist of the Year
After the NBA experienced a season of offensive brilliance this past year, here are the contenders for Assist of the Year.
Chris Paul, who has led the league in assists four times, has been one of the premier passers in the Association ever since he was drafted in 2005. In this assist, the Clippers floor general used a nasty wraparound pass to circumvent Tyler Johnson and James Johnson, giving Brandon Bass an easy dunk.
This past season, Nikola Jokic, the up-and-coming star for the Denver Nuggets who is also nominated for Most Improved Player, used his excellent passing chops to pilot one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. Jokic’s imaginative no-look-over-the-head pass to Wilson Chandler was one of the highlights of the season.
My favorite assist of the year was the three person alley-oop that Draymond Green, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant pulled off against the Pacers. Even though this was the same game that Klay Thompson scored 60 points, this three-person alley-oop was the play of the night. This was the game in which the NBA realized that Kevin Durant had, in fact, joined the Warriors, and this alley-oop to Durant perfectly encapsulates the how the Warriors stormed through the league this season.
Best Playoff Moment
The NBA playoffs this year, although bland at times, brought us some spectacular moments.
Isaiah Thomas’ 53 points, just days after his sister passed away due to a car accident, was one of the most courageous performances I’ve ever witnessed. Thomas was visibly upset, but he fought through the pain and delivered a performance for the ages. Of Thomas’ 53, an astounding 29 points came in the 4th quarter and overtime, showing again and again that the shortest player in the league could fight with players much larger than him in stature.
Another memorable moment from the Eastern Conference Semifinals was John Wall’s winner in Game 6. The Wizards were down by 2, facing elimination, but John Wall received the inbounds pass with 7.7 seconds left and shot a rocket of a three pointer over the outstretched arm of Avery Bradley. Wall’s game winner with 3.5 seconds left showed that he was willing to do anything to keep his team alive.
Although those two moments from the second round of the playoffs are enduring, I believe that the most memorable moment of the postseason was Kevin Durant’s go-ahead three pointer in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Down by 2 with less than 50 seconds to go, Durant calmly took the ball up the court and before the Cavaliers defense was set, he unleashed a high arcing shot that landed in the bottom of the net. A Kyrie Irving miss and a few free throws later, the Warriors were up 3 games to 0.
Special thanks to Basketball Reference and NBA Math for all of these helpful statistics.
All Photos courtesy of NBA.com and I do not own them