Taking a stab at crowning winners in the six prestigious award categories at the All-Star break, we named James Harden our MVP, Draymond Green our Defensive Player of the Year, and Joel Embiid our Rookie of the Year.
Well, things done changed. When that thing was published, DeMarcus Cousins was still on the Kings, Phil Jackson wasn’t trying to get rid of the only good player on his roster just because he bailed on an exit interview, and Russell Westbrook ended up doing the unthinkable, averaging a triple-double.
So it’s time to revisit our decisions and definitively crown our award winners for the 2016-17 before the NBA officially does it.
The inaugural NBA Awards close the coffin on the season as the star studded event hands out hardware for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, and Most Improved Player of the Year. Drake’s the host, TNT has the coverage, and we’re here to tell you who will win each award and who really should win each award before things tip off Monday at 9 pm ET in New York City.
Sixth Man of the Year
Finalists: Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala
Who Will Win: Eric Gordon
Who Should Win: Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon is as obvious a pick for Sixth Man of the Year as anyone has ever been an obvious pick for anything. Last year was his first year coming off the bench (which he did for all but 15 games) and he basically matched his career averages, finishing as the Rockets second-leading scorer at 16.2 ppg while playing in 70-plus games for the first time since his rookie season. This is the role Eric Gordon was born to play, it just took him until his ninth season to play it. If Gordon can stay healthy—admittedly a big if—he can be the next Jamal Crawford. Mike D’Antoni was good for a lot of Rockets, most obviously MVP candidate James Harden. But Gordon may have benefitted more than anyone. (Shouts to Andre Iguodala, who may have to settle for a ring and one last big contract as a consolation prize.) — Russ Bengtson
Most Improved Player of the Year
Finalists: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic
Who Will Win: Antetokounmpo
Who Should Win: Antetokounmpo
We made the case that Isaiah Thomas should be the winner of this award based on the massive jump he made statistically from the 2015-2016 campaign to this past season. But the NBA lords that be didn’t deem him worthy of earning consideration because they generally tend to dole this one out to younger guys and Thomas has been in the league for six years now and will enter his age 28 season this fall. Antetokounmpo became a star this past season, averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 boards, 5.4 assists, and 1.9 blocks per. He filled up stats sheets unlike the other two candidates and guided the Bucks, with less overall talent than the Gobert and the Jazz, back to the playoffs. Plus, who else can take four steps from half court and dunk it? — Adam Caparell
Coach of the Year
Finalists: Mike D'Antoni, Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra
Who Will Win: Mike D’Antoni
Who Should Win: Mike D’Antoni
D’Antoni is an offensive genius and the proof is the style of play in today’s NBA. He’s the first coach to make the 3-pointer the most important shot. With the help of James Harden’s MVP-worthy campaign and D’Antoni’s offensive system, the Rockets won 55 games this year—14 games better than the previous season. Steve Kerr studied Mike’s whole style when he was the GM of the Suns back in 2007. Kerr essentially ruined the Suns by trading Shawn Marion for Shaq, causing D’Antoni to bounce for the Knicks. He should give D’Antoni a ring for the vision alone. D’Antoni brought in this 3-point wave and it looks like it’s here to stay. Give him his props. — Angel Diaz
Rookie of the Year
Finalists: Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Malcolm Brogdon
Who Will Win: Malcolm Brogdon
Who Should Win: Joel Embiid
Here’s one where I hope I’m wrong. Nothing against Malcolm Brogdon, who had a fine rookie season with the Milwaukee Bucks. But if Joel Embiid played enough games to qualify for Rookie of the Year—and he did—he’s your only choice. Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per this year, and who really cares that he only played in 31 games? The Sixers didn’t—they were merrily processing along, and had the same zero percent chance of making the playoffs whether Embiid played or not. Meanwhile, Embiid scored 20 in his debut, posted a double-double in his third game, and scored 30 points (in fewer than 30 minutes each time) before the All-Star break. Yes, he didn’t play at all after January 27th. But he was far and away the best rookie in the games he DID play last season, and isn’t that what it’s all about? — R.B.
Defensive Player of the Year
Finalists: Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert
Who Will Win: Green
Who Should Win: Green
We crowned Green our Defensive Player of the Year winner at the All-Star break and nothing we saw over the second half of the season has changed our minds. Yes, Leonard is probably the best on-the-ball defender in the league. But Green can competently cover guys Leonard can’t just because of his size. Gobert led the league in blocks, and 10 years ago, that almost assuredly would have won him the award. But it’s a different NBA these days and analytically speaking, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that best defensive team in the league (the Warriors) features the best defensive player. Of note, all three of these finalists rightfully made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. — A.C.
Most Valuable Player
Finalists: Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden
Who Will Win: Russell Westbrook
Who Should Win: Russell Westbrook
The guy lost his road dawg—who just so happened to be the second best player in the NBA—to the team that beat them in the conference finals the year before, and became the first player to average a triple-double in 55 years. Russell has won games for the Thunder and lost games for the Thunder this season, something he’s done his entire career, but they were 33-9 when he put up a triple-double, which should be enough to get him the MVP over Harden. Westbrook did it with less help and literally put his team on his back night in, night out. He needs to win for everything he’s been through last off-season. — A.D.