By: Alec Garcia (@alecbruins)
This NBA season was packed with drama and intriguing story lines. We saw playoff match ups being determined up until the last minute of play. In the West the Houston Rockets were an offensive juggernaut and ran away with the conference but it remains to be seen if anyone will actually dethrone the Warriors. OKC's version of the big three had a roller coaster of a season led by Russell Westbrook who just averaged a triple-double for the second straight season. Damian Lillard had his own MVP campaign leading Portland to the 3 seed. The Eastern Conference as always goes through Lebron James, but the Toronto Raptors deserve some credit for the season they put together finishing as the top seed. The Raptors tend to flame out in the playoffs but COY candidate Dwane Casey implemented a new system that sparked them all season. The Celtics stumbled to the finish line and will unfortunately be without their two best players. The youth movement in Philadelphia has us all trusting the process, Ben Simmons is can't miss television. So while there are plenty of questions heading into the postseason, one thing we know for sure is that it will be entertaining. This year, perhaps more than any other, the front runners for the regular season awards are all relatively clear. I'll be giving you my picks for these NBA individual awards.
Sixth Man of the Year
Lou Williams. Drake said it first: “6 man like Lou Will, 2 girls and they get along like I'm... (Louuuu).” This is the clearest of all the awards, Lou was on the cusp of an All-Star nomination and looking back probably should have been there. He averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists per game and nearly willed the Clippers to the playoffs despite all the shakeup.
Most Improved Player
Victor Oladipo. The resurgence of Victor Oladipo was quite the story line this season. He was traded in the offseason from OKC as part of the return package for Paul George. Trades involving superstars like PG are always tricky but this most certainly looked like the Pacers had been swindled. That is until Victor Oladipo went out and had himself a career year and completely flipped the script. Essentially Dipo went from salary dump to stardom in less than a year.
Coach of the Year
Brad Stevens. This one was difficult, I would suspect Dwane Casey actually wins this award. I'm a firm believer that coaching is measured by how many games a team should win versus how many they actually win. Brad Stevens not only lost Gordon Hayward in game one but he's also been without Kyrie Irving for the latter part of the season as well as others. Every team deals with injuries, however, losing your two best players for a total of 100 games combined is detrimental no matter how you slice it. Stevens led the Celtics to the 2-seed in the East despite all of this with a 28-13 road record which is tops in the Eastern Conference.
Rookie of the Year
Ben Simmons. This is easily the most debatable award among the NBA community. The two players involved are even chiming in to lobby for themselves to win. Most people who believe Donovan Mitchell is the ROY argue that Ben Simmons is actually not a rookie, being that this is his second year in the league. The argument for Ben Simmons is a simple one. At this point you are unable to say Donovan Mitchell is a better player than Ben Simmons or that he had a better season. Simmons is the second player in NBA history to record at least 1,200 pts, 600 assists and 600 reb in his rookie season. That's why I'm going with the Fresh Prince.
Defensive Player of the Year
Rudy Gobert. The NBA has transformed into a small-ball, guard centric league. Very few players have as much impact on a basketball game as Rudy Gobert. The Utah Jazz were (11-16) with the fourth worst defense in the NBA in games without Gobert this season. With Gobert on the floor they posted a 97.5 defensive rating which is tops in the NBA. In an era where rim protectors are at a premium, Gobert just happens to be the best rim protector in the NBA.
Most Valuable Player
James Harden. This award really comes down to how you define the Most Valuable Player. I tend to define this award as the best player on the best team. Of course there are anomalies such as Russell Westbrook who had a historic 2016-17 season by averaging a triple-double. Lebron James was by all measures the best player in the league after the all-star break. In his 15th season he will have played all 82 games and lead James Harden in every individual statistical category. So why is James Harden my pick? MVP is just as much a team award as it is individual. James Harden and the Rockets were so good this year, that they were on cruise control for the last month of the season. Game planning for Harden and the Rockets is mostly just hoping for the best. Lebron and the Cavs struggled to find any cohesion the entire season. Harden was the best player on the best team from tip-off on opening night to the last game of the season. Offensively, James Harden is an isolation nightmare. He has the best step back in the league and has the ability to drive right by you almost always drawing a foul. Harden is equally gifted as a passer as he is a scorer. He's the best offensive player in the NBA and he has worked to become at least an average defender. I can't bring myself to pick the guy whose team finished 4th in the Eastern Conference. This is James Harden's year.