On June 26, the NBA will be hosting an awards show to announce the winners of all regular season awards. This NBA season has been one of the statistically best in years. The conversation has dominated around the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, tightly contested between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but other awards, including the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) award, and the Rookie of the Year (ROTY) award are also highly competitive. Here are our picks for the major NBA awards, as well as for the all-NBA teams which honor the league’s best stars, defensive talents, and newcomers.
MVP: James Harden
After last year’s free agency period, a video clip emerged and was mocked heavily around NBA circles. In it, Rockets guard Patrick Beverley expressed the belief that in this season, his teammate James Harden would be the NBA’s regular season MVP, and that the Rockets would contend to be in the NBA finals. At the time, this was unfathomable. The Rockets had embarrassed themselves in the playoffs, lost Dwight Howard in the offseason, and had made some very expensive free agency decisions. Additionally, James Harden was coming off a season where MVP contention in 2015 had been replaced by Shaqtin’ a Fool MVP discussion, stemming from mockery over his lackadaisical defensive effort.
However, against all odds, Beverly’s predictions have been spot on. James Harden has had a masterful season, leading the NBA in assists and being the league’s number-two scorer. He has transformed the Rockets’ offense from one of stagnation to a dynamic, fast-paced one, which this season easily broke the previous NBA record of regular season 3-pointers attempted and made. And, perhaps most importantly, Harden has gone from playing laughable defense to giving a much greater effort, contending the second highest percentage of shots by any guard in the league, and consistently racking up steals and even securing the occasional chasedown block. The MVP award is not only about statistics, but about winning, and James Harden is the only MVP candidate to have carried this amount of offensive responsibility while delivering results this impressive. The Rockets are on fire, and James Harden is their catalyst; therefore, he is the league’s MVP.
Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY): Rudy Gobert
Three game-changing defenders are contending for the DPOY award this year, and one is a new face who has brought back the archetype of the interior defending center. Rudy Gobert is only 24, but has led the Utah Jazz to a 5 seed in the perennially great Western Conference. While Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard are generational talents, being the league’s best overall and perimeter defenders respectively, Gobert has been an ideal defensive anchor at Center, letting an amazingly low 43 percent of defended field goals hit. Tied for the lowest Defensive Rating in the NBA with Green, and above him in Defensive Win Shares, Gobert makes his impact down low. In contrast, Green can often not contend with the league’s best big men due to his undersized 6’7” stature. Leonard, while a shutdown perimeter defender, has regressed defensively, because opposing teams are deathly afraid to let him affect the game, isolating him in the corner or finding other ways to neutralize him. However, to win games, teams must go to the post, where they consistently have the misfortune of meeting the shot-blocking defensive stalwart in Rudy Gobert.
Rookie of the Year (ROTY): Joel Embiid
With the 2016 draft class and its lottery picks looking highly disappointing this season, Joel Embiid came off 2 years on the sidelines electrifying the NBA. Scoring over 20 a game on a minutes restriction, Embiid also contributed on the defensive end, leading the NBA in block percentage before his untimely injury. He proved not only as a threat inside, equipped with numerous post moves, but he showed that he had worked to develop an outside shot in his two year hiatus, hitting on 37 percent of his 3-pointers and shooting smart midrange jumpers in his final games of the season. Despite his shortened season, Embiid still undoubtedly deserves the Rookie of the Year award, due in large part to the utter lack of skilled rookies around the league. Malcolm Brogdon, while having played excellent defense and shooting well from the field, did not demonstrate the starpower and offensive might that we’ve come to associate with the ROTY award. Similarly, Dario Saric, Embiid’s teammate, did not show up until the end of the season, shooting badly from the field and unable to help the 76ers win in Embiid’s absence. Meanwhile, Embiid had a monster year when healthy, quickly establishing himself as one of the best big men in the NBA, and stunning the basketball world with his two way skill. Embiid’s 31 games were transcendental, and that is why he should win Rookie of the Year.
6th Man of the Year: Eric Gordon
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni
All NBA First Team: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Rudy Gobert
All NBA Second Team: John Wall, Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis
All NBA Third Team: Stephen Curry, Demar Derozan, Kevin Durant, Gordon Hayward,
All Defensive First Team: John Wall, Patrick Beverly, Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert
All Defensive Second Team: Jimmy Butler, Avery Bradley, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside
All Rookie First Team: Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, Dario Saric, Willy Hernangomez, Joel Embiid
All Rookie Second Team: Yogi Ferrell, Jamal Murray, Caris LeVert, Skal Labissiere, Ivica Zubac