Sam Smith's 2016-17 NBA Awards Predictions
Sam picks his All-NBA teams and other individual awards
How come the NBA didn’t think of this before? Making money with an awards show. Americans love seeing dressed up people get prizes and say silly stuff. So, the NBA is going to announce the regular season Most Valuable Player after it awards the Finals MVP. At least it will come before the all-Summer League team is announced.
Are we on the way to 365 days of NBA? Can anything be sweeter?
And so it begins with the NBA’s first annual awards show, the Hoops Oscar ESPYs, June 26 in New York. But to stretch it out just a bit, the NBA Thursday will reveal it’s three all-NBA teams. Friday, it will reveal the top three for each award category. Which then will enable players to say they were a three-time Sixth Man nominee. Wonder how much the contract bonus is for that? Could Saturday bring best Coaches Behind the Bench?
I don’t plan to minimize the excitement for that June night, but here’s the picks I would make.
First Team: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis. This one is pretty easy since it’s essentially the MVP ballot. Except for Davis, and that’s a bit of a stretch since he often plays forward. But there are too many good forwards and not enough worthy centers. What takes the luster off this some is that in the playoffs Harden didn’t always look like a first teamer. But this is for the regular season and with the Rockets blast off and Harden’s dominance, he’ll be one/two on virtually all the MVP ballots. It’s the unfortunate part about changing the date. Of course, the NBA used to spread the awards out during the playoffs. Until Dirk Nowitzki was out of the playoffs before his MVP was announced and there were motivational serieses, like Hakeem Olajuwon outplaying MVP David Robinson. But you really can’t blame the NBA if they can get another big money TV show out of it. Maybe the guys can wear their team sponsor patches on their suits.
Second Team: Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns might be the surprise given his team was far out of the playoffs again. But there’s probably not another true center in the league you’d rather have. Not that he is, also, the way he shoots threes. And how about Curry going from two-time MVP to second team? With a good season. The West was fun, if not super competitive.
Third Team: Damian Lillard, John Wall, Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, Hassan Whiteside. We know the NBA has become a guards’ league. No top player gets left off award teams more than Lillard. So give him a break. The guy averages almost 30 points and how many guys are you guarding on that team? It was between he and Kyrie Irving to me for that last spot after Wall. You could go either one given Irving’s role as LeBron sidekick. One omission is Chris Paul, and not just because of another playoff meltdown. That doesn’t count in this. But Paul missed a quarter of the season. Durant did, too? Yes, but he’s better. DeMar DeRozan, too. Lots of really good guards. I like Whiteside at center for being there with that great, late Miami run.
Butler gets in over Paul George, in part, being the better teammate since the Pacers told George they needed him to be a stretch four this season. He told them to stretch that and he was playing small forward and wherever he wanted.
I’ve always thought Rudy Gobert’s effect is exaggerated because they play so slowly. Perhaps Marc Gasol? You could make a case for the way Denver’s Nikola Jokic came on, though he didn’t become a regular starter in the middle of December. And then just 36 triple doubles behind Westbrook, Jokic had six; which was impressive.
Most Valuable Player: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Runners up: James Harden (Houston Rockets), LeBron James (Cleveland Cavs), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
You could really make a case for any of the top four to win. It was a great season for individual play. Westbrook’s team wasn’t top four in its conference and was out in the first round of the playoffs, which doesn’t usually constitute a league MVP. Losing Durant and trading Serge Ibaka left him last man standing. And it really wasn’t the record for triple doubles and being the first since Oscar Robertson to average a triple double. Sure, Westbrook took a lot of shots and maybe more wild ones than anyone. And each of those top five guys was so valuable to his team that each could miss the playoffs without them. But to me it was a combination of Westbrook’s incredible urgency, his never-give-up play and so many game winning or closing shots and the way he so often brought his team back. It was an incredible season and probably the best individual show in the game. Thomas gets fifth, barely ahead of Wall because it’s still hard to believe this 5-7 guy has been able to score like that on a team without many scorers, and especially down the stretch. And they did get the No. 1 seed. Inspirational season.
Rookie of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
Runners up: Dario Saric (Philadelphia 76ers), Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets)
It wasn’t a great season for rookies once Joel Embiid went out for the season after playing 31 games. He was easily on the way to unanimous Rookie of the Year. Some will still vote for him given his impact in that period, but you can’t be at work less than half the time and win an award for it. Brogdon was a great pick by the Bucks and became a starter for a playoff team out of the second round. Also led all rookies in assists and third in scoring. And you had to love the way he had the Bucks make a charity donation instead of mailing out those door prizes to voters, which teams hate to do. But they fear their player will accuse them of disrespecting them if another team does it.
Sixth Man: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
Runners up: Lou Williams (Houston Rockets), James Johnson (Miami Heat)
I was thinking of listing Montrezl Harrell third. Nah, but it’s a Rockets’ award this season with Gordon and Williams probably the two most deserving. Gordon has the edge for being with the better team longer. Andre Iguodala plays an important role, though he’s fallen off some. Similarly, Enes Kanter lost playing time for lack of defense and failing to fight off the chair. The Spurs don’t get many awards, but they pick up deserving guys like Patty Mills and Cory Joseph now in Toronto. I like Zach Randolph for the way he so unselfishly accepted the role. But I break the tie with former Bull No. 1 draft pick Johnson, who transformed himself and his game with his fifth team, Toronto twice.
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
Runners up: Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs), Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Yes, you can vote Popovich most every season and be correct. Perhaps this season more than most, which is more evident now in the playoffs. Sorry, no playoff peeking on these votes. Popovich is the coaching chameleon the way he’s changed from the power post coach to the fast shooting game coach to now the Kawhi game. And getting 60-some wins yet again while still resting guys who aren’t tired. Stevens, too. After all, how did that team finish first in the East? I know Erik Spoelstra was a popular choice for their amazing midseason run. But, c’mon. Got to at least be eighth in the East. Who coached them the first half? D’Antoni’s system works. Well, you could use a near MVP point guard. Though he almost did that for Jeremy Lin. No team was more of a surprise and more committed to a different style of play. Yes, management did great job adding the right pieces, and Gordon stayed healthy for a rare change. But coaching was the difference. It often isn’t.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Runners up: Isaiah Thomas(Boston Celtics), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)
This usually is the most varied award because of the differing definitions. I generally prefer the guy who wasn’t expected to do much, a lower draft pick. It’s been a high draft pick who gets more playing time, like Kevin Love, Paul George and Tracy McGrady. The 2015 winner Jimmy Butler was the ideal, in many respects, going from a 30th pick to All-Star. Antetokounmpo was a mid first round pick and a risky choice who, impressively, transitioned into the guy-to-start-your-team-with category. He was good before, averaging 17 points in 2016. And then he took the big jump. That’s another conundrum, whether you vote for someone who already is All-Star level. Similarly with Thomas. He averaged 22 points in 2015-16. But then to go to one of the top three scorers and the guy to lead the league in fourth quarter scoring is award worthy. Jokic is a classic choice, as well, a second round pick who improved to all-NBA consideration. Second runner up isn’t bad in this beauty contest. Fortunately we don’t have to see them in swim suits. If there was Most Improved for just the last month, then it would have been Rondo.
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