Staff Picks and Predictions for NBA Awards Show
Break out the black ties, red carpet and green-with-envy second-place finishers…
It’s NBA awards season!
For the first time ever, the Association is announcing its annual awards in an on-air production, which can be seen on TNT on Monday night. As Commissioner Adam Silver told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck and Jordan Brenner on The Full 48 podcast, “I feel bad that people have to wait, but the notion was that, for me, having been with the league 25 years now, I never liked the way the awards were dribbled out, essentially, throughout the playoffs.”
With the wait nearly over, we’ve gathered some of B/R’s best basketball minds to predict how voters will decide the debates we’ve been having at sports bars and around water coolers. Was Russell Westbrook’s historic season enough to earn him MVP honors? Does Draymond Green finally get the Defensive Player of the Year he’s arguably deserved in years past?
And, of course: Who takes home the fan votes like Dunk of the Year, Performance of the Year and, obviously, Best Style?
These answers and more will come to fruition at 9:00 p.m. Monday.
From our squad to yours, here's how we see things playing out (and how things are playing out as the NBA leaks winners out on Monday).
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers
Criticize the media voters if you wish, but they generally put in significant effort when they have to make decisions. It's not necessarily the same with player votes or even this executive award, which is chosen by one's peers. That's why it's likely that the obvious choice—Golden State's Bob Myers—will be named Executive of the Year for recruiting Kevin Durant to the Warriors in the season's tide-turning move.
Myers already won the award in 2015, but San Antonio's R.C. Buford has won two of the past three years, so repeat winners are accepted. Myers responded to the Warriors' 2016 NBA Finals collapse by getting Durant and other key pieces—JaVale McGee, David West, Zaza Pachulia and second-round draft pick Patrick McCaw—that led to the 2017 title.
Myers was promoted from general manager to president of basketball operations entering the season, and he did have added responsibilities despite the immense talent of the superteam. With Warriors head coach and close friend Steve Kerr struggling with his health again this season, Golden State needed fill-in Mike Brown to mind the gap—and also the stability offered by Myers as a franchise leader.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
- Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Even though Most Improved Player is an award without a true definition—some exclude second-year players from consideration, others give credence to jumps in playing time and production, while others still focus solely on increased per-game numbers—Giannis Antetokounmpo should come close to unanimity.
The aptly named "Greek Freak" morphed into a full-fledged superstar during his fourth season with the Milwaukee Bucks. Dazzling with his Eurosteps and rim-rattling dunks, he made his first All-Star appearance, asserted himself as one of the league's 15 best talents and became the first player ever to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, steals, assists and blocks.
Though Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert are worthy finalists, the gigantic strides in both statistical production and nationwide appeal make Antetokounmpo the runaway favorite. This time around, any other selection would just be wrong.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green
- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
- Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Finishing second for the 2015 and 2016 awards to the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard despite receiving more first-place votes in 2015 will pay off in grand fashion for the Warriors' Draymond Green this year. Voters discounted how integral Green was to the Warriors defense in previous years because of the presence of center Andrew Bogut, an occasional Defensive Player of the Year candidate himself, but Golden State finishing this year as the league's best in several defensive metrics, including defensive field-goal percentage, changed all that.
(The Warriors' defensive field-goal percentage, .435, remained exactly the same, and they blocked 57 more shots despite replacing Bogut with Zaza Pachulia, who contributed 81 fewer blocked shots. Credit some of that to Pachulia being as underrated of a defender as Bogut was overrated in recent years.)
Analytics, both team and individual, point to Green as clearly the most impactful defender in the league, but simply watching the Warriors will bring you to the same conclusion. As good as Leonard and Utah's Rudy Gobert are, neither is as versatile from game to game and possession to possession as Green, who consistently, rather than occasionally, guards all five positions during the course of a game.
All-Defense: CP3, Andre Roberson, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert
The last three names here are obvious. Kawhi Leonard is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year and still operating at a remarkably high level, while both Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert serve as leading contenders to take that particular award away from his clutches. The former is a versatile menace who impacts a game in myriad ways, and the latter graced the Utah Jazz with some of the best rim protection the NBA has seen in recent years.
It's the guards where things get tricky. Patrick Beverley, Tony Allen, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Thabo Sefolosha, Ricky Rubio and plenty of other point-preventing stalwarts have quality arguments for selection, but they can't quite pass muster compared to the top two candidates.
Chris Paul remains one of the best defenders of his generation, whether he's getting aggressive while going for steals or displaying a complete understanding of the minutiae of pick-and-roll coverage. Meanwhile, Andre Roberson broke out in a big way for the Oklahoma City Thunder, devoting countless hours to film study and then putting it all to use as he guarded one big name after another. Some players take on tough assignments every night without much success; Roberson did so and made their lives far more difficult.
UPDATE: The NBA has announced First and Second Team All-NBA teams. First Team: Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and Patrick Beverley. Second Team: Tony Allen, Danny Green, Anthony Davis, Andre Roberson, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Block of the Year: Kawhi Leonard
- San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston (above)
- New York’s Kristaps Porzingis vs. Brooklyn
- Miami’s Hassan Whiteside vs. Toronto
No disrespect to Hassan Whiteside and Kristaps Porzingis—the other two Block of the Year nominees—but neither player's nominated swat saved a nationally televised game between two of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Those were the stakes when Kawhi Leonard pinned James Harden's shot against the glass on March 6 in San Antonio. With less than 30 seconds left and the Spurs down 108-107, Leonard drained a three on one end and blocked Harden's layup attempt on the other to all but seal a 112-110 win over the Houston Rockets.
"Kawhi wanted it badly, and he went and took it," San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
This time, it'll be up to the fans who voted for Block of the Year to make sure Leonard gets his due.
Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon
- Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
- Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
- Lou Williams, Houston Rockets
Offensive numbers invariably carry the day, and so they will for the Rockets' Eric Gordon over teammate Lou Williams and the Warriors' more defensive-oriented Andre Iguodala. Williams technically had the higher scoring average than Gordon, but the bulk of that came with the last-place Lakers before the Rockets acquired him at the trade deadline. Having won the award already in 2015 won't help Williams, either—three-time winner Jamal Crawford, a bit of a sixth-man unicorn, is the only player in the last 25 years who has won the award more than once.
Voters also want to recognize the surprisingly sensational regular season the Rockets had, which is why Mike D'Antoni is a Coach of the Year candidate and James Harden made the MVP final three. Among the three, though, Gordon is the best bet to bring home some hardware.
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid
- Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
- Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid may be a controversial Rookie of the Year pick, considering he only played 31 games. But Malcolm Brogdon's 10.2 points and 4.2 assists per game just weren't enough.
Embiid was simply too good, with his 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in just 25.4 minutes. He even averaged 1.2 threes. He was a superstar, routinely dominant at both ends despite having played such little basketball over the past three years.
With a player efficiency rating of 24.1, Embiid is facing one argument against him—that he didn't play enough games. As solid as Brogdon was through 75 games, he just wasn't anywhere close to Embiid's level performance-wise.
All-Rookie Team: Embiid, Saric, Brogdon, Hield, Murray
Joel Embiid was a superstar when he was on the floor, which helps make up for the fact he only played 31 games. The small sample size shouldn't negate what he did though, which was average 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Behind Embiid, Dario Saric finished second among rookies in scoring, but also chipped in 2.2 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 threes in 26.3 minutes per game. Versatile and competitive, he's emerged as a valuable, underappreciated building block for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Malcolm Brogdon slipped to the second round and was arguably the most reliable rookie in the class. He finished behind Saric in scoring, but also dished out 4.2 assists, shot 45.7 percent and 40.4 percent from three. Efficient and tough defensively, Brogdon was the obvious steal of the 2016 draft.
Buddy Hield started slow in New Orleans but found a groove in Sacramento after the Pelicans traded him in a deal to acquire DeMarcus Cousins. In 25 games with the Kings, Hield looked more like the offensive player he was at Oklahoma State. In Sacramento purple, he averaged 15.1 points on 2.4 threes per game and 42.8 percent shooting from deep.
Jamal Murray only averaged 9.9 points on the year, but it seemed pretty clear the Denver Nuggets got themselves a player in the 2016 draft. Despite the inconsistency, Murray showed off his crafty scoring and ability to catch fire around the arc.
UPDATE: The NBA has announced the 2017 All-Rookie First and Second Teams. 1st Team: Malcolm Brogdon, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, Buddy Hield and Willy Hernangomez. 2nd Team: Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, Marquese Chriss, Brandon Ingram, Yogi Ferrell.
Dunk of the Year: Larry Nance Jr. Obliterates Brook Lopez
- Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance, Jr. vs. Brooklyn (above)
- Minnesota’s Zach LaVine vs. Phoenix
- Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo vs. Atlanta
Look, I could say that this was a difficult decision. That any one of the nominees could have won. But these would be lies.
Larry Nance Jr.'s stuff on Brook Lopez is the victor, and it's not even close. Getting the beat on Anthony Bennett (R.I.P. to his NBA career) isn't breaking news, but one-handedly jamming over the outstretched arms of the 7'0" Brook Lopez is a legitimate crime against gravity.
Besides, Nance's monster smash brought the Brooklyn Nets' bench to its feet. Did either Zach LaVine or Victor Oladipo incite similarly warm receptions from their opponents? Exactly.
Assist of the Year: Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
- Golden State’s Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
- Denver’s Nikola Jokic's epic no-look pass
- LA Clippers’ Chris Paul with wraparound pass
Only the Golden State Warriors could turn an early December blowout over a middling Eastern Conference team into high basketball art. They did throughout their 142-106 home win over the Indiana Pacers—enough so to contend for two fan awards for the same game.
The first should go to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant for a pass off the glass from the former to the latter for a dunk on the break. That these two pulled this off on the fly just two months from the opening of their first training camp together was a wink and a nudge toward the juggernaut for which they were pegged, and which they became en route to a dominant championship run.
But the real MVPs of this play were Zaza Pachulia and Draymond Green. Pachulia tipped a jump ball with Indiana's Paul George to Green, who tossed a laser over two defenders into Curry's mitts. Curry then kissed the ball off the backboard to KD for the photo finish.
Top Performance of the Year: Klay Thompson
- Phoenix’s Devin Booker 70-point game vs. Boston
- Houston’s James Harden nets 53-16-17 triple double vs. New York
- Golden State’s KlayThompson scores 60 in three quarters vs. Indiana
- Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook with most points in a triple double, 57-13-11, vs. Orlando
The only Dub superstar who didn't get in on that potential Assist of the Year was Klay Thompson, though he did plenty to propel Golden State to its 36-point victory.
It's impressive enough that Thompson torched the Pacers for 60 points on 21-of-33 shooting (8-of-14 from three) in just 29 minutes, without setting foot on the court during the fourth quarter. What's more, the All-Star sharpshooter only needed 46 touches, 11 dribbles and a total of 90 seconds with the ball in his hands to hit his 21 field goals, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst and Tom Haberstroh.
"I felt every shot I took was a good shot," Thompson said afterward, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
The results certainly bore out his assessment, and might just land him a fan award.
Style Award: Russell Westbrook Is the MVP of Closets
- Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert
- Chicago’s Dwyane Wade
- Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook
The NBA might as well rename this the Russell Westbrook Fashion So Forward It's Light Years Ahead of Normal Award for next season.
Plenty of players around the league push the envelope on fashion. The trick is knowing how to balance provocation with sensibility. Dwyane Wade is too extreme, often opting for outfits that look like Project Runway rejects—mishmashed, unfinished ensembles that were manufactured in under an hour by sleep-deprived designers. Iman Shumpert, meanwhile, dresses like he's auditioning for a role in an Alice in Wonderland spinoff.
Westbrook is the perfect brew of unpredictable and experimental. Will he show up bare-chested or in a fully buttoned shirt? Will he troll Kevin Durant's photography hobby or borrow color schemes from the Hamburglar? Will he carry an iPhone or lunch box?
We just don't know. And that's all part of his fashion mystique—even when his outfits miss the mark.
Game-Winner of the Year: Kyrie Being Kyrie
- Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving vs. Golden State (above)
- Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver
- Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis vs. Boston
Tyler Ulis shouldn't even be an option here. His little stunt did nothing to improve the Phoenix Suns' lottery chances. And with all due respect to Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving's game-winner was more difficult.
I mean, is there a better tough-shot maker in the league right now than Irving? Probably not. He showed why on Christmas Day.
Klay Thompson did everything right. He even got away with both ankles intact. But here's the thing about Kyrie: Perfect defense doesn't matter. He'll get buckets anyway. His default shot selection is an unsupervised JR Smith-Nick Young hybrid, with extra efficiency on the side. He deserves this award.
Best Playoff Moment: Kevin Durant's Finals Dagger
- Boston's Isaiah Thomas scores career-high 53 points amidst personal tragedy.
- Washington's John Wall with game-winning shot in East semifinals.
- Golden State's Kevin Durant hits pull-up 3-pointer late in Game 3 of The Finals.
Isaiah Thomas' 53 points on what would've been his sister's 23rd birthday tugged at the heart strings, and John Wall's clutch three in Game 6 triggered a Game 7 in that same series between the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics. But neither came close to impacting the championship the way Kevin Durant's pull-up three in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals did.
The Cleveland Cavaliers looked well on their way to claiming a win at home, closing the series gap to 2-1 and ending Golden State's perfect 14-0 postseason run. The Warriors, though, had other ideas.
First came a bucket from Stephen Curry to cut a six-point hole to four with 2:18 to play. About a minute later, Durant came down to hit a midrange shot to pull Golden State within two. Then, after a clank in the corner from Cleveland's Kyle Korver, Durant grabbed the rebound, dribbled on the break and pulled up from the wing to drain a three and give Golden State a lead it didn't relinquish.
That was the signature moment of a brilliant series for KD. This season's most controversial free-agent signee averaged 35.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.6 blocks en route earning Finals MVP honors and his first title.
Coach of the Year: Mike D'Antoni
- Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
- Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Even more than the MVP award, the Coach of the Year award tends to go to someone who has a storyline to show what a difference he made...and Houston's Mike D'Antoni has the obvious case. D'Antoni tapped into James Harden's playmaking instincts to unify a fractured team and led Houston to a 55-27 record far better than most projected.
D'Antoni is likely to win over San Antonio's Gregg Popovich and Miami's Erik Spoelstra also because he so radically altered Houston's style of play. The Rockets broke the NBA single-season record for three-pointers made in late March of the regular season, so in the all-important eye-test area for voters, D'Antoni made a remarkably visible change. Harden bounced back from a down season with D'Antoni's help to be an MVP contender, and Eric Gordon also improved significantly from a down season last season in New Orleans to become a Sixth Man of the Year finalist.
D'Antoni's reputation as a subpar defensive coach was met by a middle-of-the-pack defensive performance by Houston. Associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik deserves some credit for his work on that end, but expect D'Antoni to get the spotlight shine for his work as an offensive innovator after disappointing stints in Los Angeles and New York.
MVP: Russell Westbrook
- James Harden, Houston Rockets
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
No single player energized fans—or stoked more heated debates—than the Thunder’s scowling, sneering, triple-double-accumulating point guard. In so many ways, this was Westbrook’s year.
Two months after the season concluded, his stats are still hard to fathom: 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. His joined Robertson as the only players to average a triple-double, and broke Robertson’s record for the most triple-doubles in a season, with 42. And he propelled an otherwise-ordinary Thunder team to a 47-win season.
I don’t think Westbrook was the MVP (I had him third on my ballot, behind James Harden and Kawhi Leonard), but I do think he will win the award.
Stats via Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.