Another enjoyable and entertaining NBA regular season has come to a close. Although the official presentation won’t take place until June 26, it’s time to look at who ought to take home this year’s superlatives in the NBA.
MVP: Russell Westbrook. To all the James Harden supporters and those pushing for LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, I hear you, I understand your arguments. However, in my mind, Westbrook’s performance this year has been too incredible to not win MVP. Even if the triple-double is somewhat of an arbitrary stat in your mind, you have to admit it’s a supremely challenging feat to accomplish. Just doing it once is impressive, but Westbrook did it throughout a whole season. It’s only the second time in NBA history it’s ever been done. Sure, there was some stat-chasing involved but I think everyone is taking for granted what Russ has showed us this season. He’s been spectacular all year, leading a team with players that don’t fit the modern NBA through a respectable season. Unlike many stars he never took a night off, never took a playoff. He led the league in usage rating, but also led the league in PER (player efficiency rating). As the triple-double speaks too, the well roundedness of his game was elite and the simple fact is he just did more than everyone else this year. He earned it.
Coach of the Year: In a year where nearly all the contenders performed at or even slightly below their expected level, one team, and one coach stand out. Brad Stevens has led the Boston Celtics to the No. 1 seed in the East with one all-star, a 5-foot-9 defensive liability who bucks all NBA norms and a roster full of good (but not great) talent. The Celtics have a solid unit, but on pure talent their roster doesn’t exceed that of Cleveland with their Big Three and skilled role players or the deep and experienced Toronto Raptors. They don’t have the backcourt fire power of the Wizards or the “super team” roster of the Knicks or Bulls. Yet the Celtics routinely beat and have outplaced all of them. In many ways the Celtics seem like they aren’t even playing all that well, but their record doesn’t lie. And with so much youth and assets yet to be cashed in on, they’re really ahead of schedule in their quest for an NBA championship. Stevens’ work comes off as underwhelming, but that’s what make their achievements is ever more brilliant in my mind.
6th Man of the Year: The Rockets have two strong candidates fighting with the Warrior’s Andre Iguodala for this award. Eric Gordon has been sensational at times, but ultimately Lou Williams ought to be named 6th Man of the Year. He was getting buckets in Los Angeles before the Lakers shipped him to Houston at the trade deadline. He was single-handedly winning games and keeping them from the tanking they desired. His scoring has always been elite, but he’s been durable, playing in 81 games, more than the other two. He plays the least of the three in terms of minutes, yet outscores them, which in the Rockets’ high-octane offense, is what they want. Since Williams was moved to the Rockets, his role and his numbers dipped, but the Rockets as a team have a higher winning percentage and Williams had several big games.
Most Improved Player: There were some pretty spectacular improvements in the league this year. A lot of guys put themselves on the map as studs, but none more so then Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka “The Greek Freak.” His fourth year in the league, Antetokounmpo took the massive leap from “athletic specimen with potential” to NBA super star. He was deservingly an All-Star starter and led injury-plagued Milwaukee to the playoffs this season. With no real up-tick in playing time, he jumped from 16.9 points-per-game to 22.9, with a PER of 26.13 (good for No.10 in the NBA) after not even placing in the top 50 last season. He improved in every relevant statistical category (shooting, assists, rebounding, steals, and blocks) while becoming the featured guy and performing well in that role all season long. He will place on an All NBA team after being nothing more than a promising enigma last season, a quick and impressive evolution.
Defensive Player of the Year: Roby Gobert has earned his award fair and square. Kawhi Leonard and Dryamon Green have put up impactful defensive seasons in their own right but Gobert has been down right dominating in the post for Utah. “The Stifle Tower” is holding opponent to a 43 percent shooting percentage at the rim this season and is the core of the Jazz’s third best league defense. His agility for some so tall allows him to function well in pick-and-roll defense, which allows Utah to be one of the best-equipped defensive teams for the current style of play. In a three-point-happy league, the Jazz allow the second least three pointe and Gobert’s versatility has been a key to that. It doesn’t get any easier when foes come into the paint as Gobert leads the league in blocks and blocks-per-game, while also posting the NBA’s third best defensive rating and placing fifth in defensive rebounds (regaining possession is part of defense in my opinion.) He’s been at this level all season long and this should be the first of potentially many DPOY awards for him.
Rookie of the Year: Throwing out Joel Embiid’s injury shortened performance, it was been quite an underwhelming performance from the rookie class. It’s a consensus the award ought to go to Dario Saric, who despite being drafted two years ago just debuted for Philadelphia this season, and Malcolm Brogdon, the No. 41 overall pick in 2016 who is actually two years older than Saric. Just like the MVP race with Harden and Westbrook, I wish this one could be a tie. Saric scores more and rebounders better, but Brogdon shot better and is a good defender. The margin between their numbers is razor thin, but in the numbers that count, such as efficiency and other advanced metrics, Brogdon holds the edge. Not to mention he has been a contributor for a playoff team well Saric got thrust into a center role for an injured and depleted 76ers team. Neither of them stoodout as stars by any means, but Brogdon simply was superior, even if by a minimal amount.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.