DA's Morning Tip
After tough MVP decision, making picks for NBA's other awards (mostly) easy
Chase for Defensive Player of Year, other accolades closer than you may think
Deciding the MVP winner for 2016-17 wasn’t an easy one, and if you missed it, I’ve detailed who I picked (and why). As for the rest of the 2016-17 awards, let’s get to it …
NBA Awards Show on June 26 on TNT
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The Winner: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
The Runner-Up: Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
The Others: Joel Embiid, 76ers; Yogi Ferrell, Dallas Mavericks
Obviously, Embiid would have won this had he gotten through the season healthy. He was not only worth the two-year wait in which the 76ers engaged while he rehabbed foot injuries, he was interesting and charming about his embrace of “The Process — “ the long-lamented talent acquisition slog undertaken by former GM Sam Hinkie. But you cannot give an award that clearly says “Rookie of the Year” to someone who only played 31 games — less than half of that “year” mentioned above. It just doesn’t reach even a minimum standard of fairness to the other players who got through many more games and accomplished more.
The problem is, this was a decidedly underwhelming class of rookies. The first overall pick, Ben Simmons, set the tone by not playing a single minute all season. There have been a few flashes here and there — Fred VanVleet (Toronto Raptors), Buddy Hield (Sacramento Kings), Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks) and Taurean Prince (Atlanta Hawks), along with others, have played well at various points of the season. But few have had any significant impact.
The exception is Brogdon, the second-rounder from Virginia and ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Many thought Brogdon had a chance to be a contributor, given his defensive chops and solid all-around game. No one thought he’d be this impactful this soon, though.
All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo has gotten all the attention this season in Milwaukee, and rightly so. He has been sensational. But the Bucks’ most effective five-man lineup offensively, by far, has Brogdon on the ball, with Jason Terry at the two and Antetokounmpo at the three, Mirza Teletovic at the four and Greg Monroe at five. That quintet has a smaller sample size (85 total minutes this season) than other Bucks’ groupings, but it’s produced the fourth-best Offensive Rating in the league (128.4 points per 100 possessions), per NBA.com/Stats, while also being stout defensively (91.4 points/100 allowed).
Witness Milwaukee’s impressive road win a couple of weeks ago in Boston. Against an elite defender in Avery Bradley, Brogdon made play after winning play down the stretch — scoring, finding Antetokounmpo and Greg Monroe for key buckets, then hitting the game-clincher himself.
He’s one of just four rookies to average double-figures in scoring (10.3 ppg) and has an assist-turnover ratio near three, a very solid number for a rookie. Brogdon’s net rating of 2.3 this season is fourth-highest among rookies on playoff teams, behind Van Vleet (a very impressive 11.2) and the San Antonio Spurs’ Davis Bertans (6.6) and Dejounte Murray (3.6).
And his numbers compare very favorably with Saric, the 76ers’ rookie who has had a great season and assumed more responsibility on offense since Embiid went down for the season. Saric isn’t the fastest guy, but he always seems to get where he wants to go, and he’s shown an impressive ability to finish through contact in the paint and at the rim. He’s earned two Kia Rookie of the Month honors and scored in double figures in 22 straight games. Saric has been everything Philly said he’d be when he finally came over from Europe after being drafted in 2014.
But Brogdon’s numbers, almost across the board, are more than comparable to Saric’s.
Saric averages slightly more points (12.8) than Brogdon, and more rebounds (6.3 to Brogdon’s 2.8) — which you would expect a frontcourt player to do. But Brogdon has shot it much better than Saric — 46 percent to 41 percent from the floor, including 40 percent to 31 percent on 3-pointers, and from the foul line (86 percent to 78 percent). He averages more assists (which you would expect a guard to do).
And, most impressive: Brogdon shoots almost 52 percent from the floor in fourth quarters, a figure topped among rookies who’ve played 30 or more games this season only by the Knicks’ Willy Hernangomez (52.7 percent). By contrast, Saric has shot 43 percent from the floor in the fourth. And while Saric has put up very good numbers in Philly, Brogdon has been a major catalyst for the Bucks during their second-half resurgence and playoff drive.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
The Winner: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
The Runner-Up: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
The Others: Lou Williams, Rockets; Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers
Another one where the quality of the top candidates’ cases made a decision very, very difficult. Both Gordon and Iguodala are former starters who accepted coming off the bench to make their teams better — Gordon this season in Houston, his first, while Iguodala has done it for three seasons running with the Warriors.
Both embraced the role when they could have chafed at it, which allowed their teams to not only continue playing at an extremely high level after their starters took a seat, but keep their character as well — the Rockets could keep raining 3-pointers on people’s heads. The Warriors could keep demoralizing opponents with ball movement and switchable, effective defense. You can’t put a value on that kind of continuity and impact on team chemistry.
Gordon should not only get props for his play, but for being available for his team for the first time in years — his 74 games played so far this season is the most since his rookie season with the Clippers in 2008-09. Part of being great (he says for the millionth time) is showing up, and after being injury-plagued throughout his career, Gordon has been available almost all season for the Rockets. That means something.
But Iguodala just does so much for the Warriors. We all know about his defensive versatility and effectiveness — his defensive rating of 101.1 this season is fourth among regularly-playing reserves in the league, behind only the San Antonio Spurs’ Patty Mills (99.2), the Atlanta Hawks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. (99.6) and the Detroit Pistons’ Jon Leuer (99.9). No other reserve has so many different defensive assignments, and does them all so well, while also serving as a pressure release and playmaker/scorer on offense.
And he’s been even more important since Durant’s injury Feb. 28. In the Warriors’ 19 games while Durant went out — he returned to the floor Saturday against New Orleans — Iguodala played in 16, averaging 11.1 points on 60.9 percent shooting (including 41.9 percent on threes), with 4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 28.6 minutes. During that stretch, he has an assist-turnover ratio of 4.6. Also, of course, Golden State went 15-4 in that stretch, including 14 wins in a row after Coach Steve Kerr infamously gave Iguodala, Curry, Thompson and Green the night off in San Antonio March 11.
Meanwhile, Gordon’s numbers have dipped noticeably since the All-Star break — from 38.5 percent on 3-pointers before the break to 34.3 percent since then. Since shooting almost 46 percent on 3-pointers in December, Gordon has shot just 32.8 percent (111 of 338) behind the arc.
But, again, this was a very tough call.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
The Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Runner-Up: James Johnson, Miami Heat
The Others: C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers; Otto Porter, Washington Wizards; Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Can’t ignore what “The Greek Freak” has done to further his game. It’s not just more minutes: he’s raised his field goal percentage (to .522 this season after shooting .506 last season) and his free throw attempts (from an okay 5.1 per game last season to this season’s robust 7.7 attempts per game), too. He’s averaging career bests in rebounds, assists and steals. And he’s just one of four players (the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert, the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook are the others) in the top 11 in both Offensive and Defensive Ratings this season. He’s become a season-long, both-ends beast; Draymond Green is the only other player in the league that has more than 100 blocked shots and 100 steals this season.
But Draymond can’t do … my goodness.
Meanwhile, who is this guy in an even more buff James Johnson suit? This guy, who never averaged more than 9.2 points per game in his first seven seasons, but who is now humming along at 12.8 per game off the bench in 27 minutes for the Heat? Who’s suddenly become a playmaker (career-high 3.5 assists per game) while maintaining rebounding integrity (also a career high 4.8 boards) and defending extremely effectively?
McCollum has made himself an equal to Damian Lillard in Portland, almost as deadly on 3-pointers (top 15 in makes in the league) while maintaining his still-lethal midrange game.
Porter may be on a contract drive, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s become a corner killer on corner 3-pointers (fourth in the league in 3-point percentage) and capable of doing much more than just running the baseline for buckets.
Hayward looks and plays like a different guy after his celebrated offseason work. He has not only become even more deadly from outside (nearly 40 percent this season on 3-pointers http://on.nba.com/2haktzc), he’s now able to get to the basket and finish through contact, and become a very good defender (top 20 in Defensive Win Shares).
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The Winner: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
The Runner-Up: Rudy Gobert, Jazz
The Others: Leonard; Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat; DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers
Another one that’s really, really close. You could pick Green or Gobert and sleep well.
Gobert leads the league in blocks, while Green leads the league in steals. Per NBA.com/Stats, Green is second in the league in deflections, while Gobert is fourth in the league in total rebounds.
Green leads in Defensive Win Shares and defensive rating, and Gobert is second in both. Golden State is second in team defensive rating … and Utah is third.
But Green just does so many things defensively for the Warriors, switching onto and guarding just about anyone in the league who has the ball in his hands at a given moment. He’s been on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis and others with a game in the balance this season, and done the job. I am also swayed by Green’s willingness, early in the season, to see that someone had to give up shots and offensive glory for the Warriors to work this season. He said he would, and he’d concentrate on defense. Which he has done.
Again, this isn’t a knock on Gobert — “he’s a problem,” a team exec said admiringly over the weekend — who must lead the world in making 10-foot floaters turn into eight-footers by just squaring up against the shooter as he enters the paint. Gobert is so skilled not only as a shot blocker. He is now strong enough to absorb contact and still affect a shot without committing a foul, as most big men do anytime they’re moved out of their comfort zone.
COACH OF THE YEAR
The Winner: Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
The Runner-Up: Erik Spoelstra, Miami
The Others: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs; Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards; Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
D’Antoni gets the nod here because, first and foremost, he put the ball in James Harden’s hands, trusting him to make the right decisions with the basketball as the Rockets’ point guard. That decision alone is COTY worthy.
But D’Antoni gets props, also, for finally shedding the doubts that even he had about going all-in on 3-point shooting. Even while his Seven Seconds or Less offense in Phoenix was revolutionizing the NBA game, D’Antoni acknowledges he still had a toe or two in the traditional game, and felt compelled to give Amar’e Stoudemire a few post-ups per game.
But after seeing the Warriors take his offensive concepts to an even higher level than his Suns achieved, D’Antoni came to Houston with a determination to see his philosophy all the way through — threes, threes, threes and more threes.
The result has been Harden at his ultimate, and the Rockets producing one of the great offensive seasons in league history. As ever with D’Antoni teams, the Rockets play free and loose together, with little rancor about shots or roles, something that plagued Houston the last few years (to be sure, that was more about the personnel in the locker room than what former coaches Kevin McHale or J.B. Bickerstaff were doing). Make no mistake: D’Antoni is a competitive cuss and he wants to win, bad. But guys love playing for him.
Spoelstra’s team was 11-30 on Jan. 13, after giving up 116 points in a loss at Milwaukee. Miami was also 4-18 in its last 22 games. The Heat were dead and buried, strafed by injuries that took Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts out for the season, seemingly waiting for the day it could ditch Chris Bosh’s contract and start preparing for the Lottery. No one — no one — thought we’d hear from the 305 again this season, not with the collection of castoffs and unproven young players on the roster.
But Spoelstra coached up what he had. He gave Dion Waiters the green light, and unleashed James Johnson as an improbable playmaker off the bench, and mixed and matched his Rodney McGruders and Okaro Whites into real units that could score and defend at an amazingly high level in front of Hassan Whiteside. And the Heat took off, beating Golden State, Houston, Atlanta and Milwaukee during the most improbable 13-game winning streak in years. Miami is 27-11 since that January day, jumping into the playoff race and cementing Spoelstra’s status as one of the league’s elite coaches.
The Spurs’ sixth 60-win season under Popovich, coming the season after the franchise lost its all-time greatest player, Tim Duncan, to retirement, is yet another testament to Popovich’s teaching skill and powers of persuasion. (Less noted: the departure of one of the pillars of the Spurs’ development program over the years — assistant coach Chad Forcier — to the Orlando Magic.) Let’s be honest: Tony Parker is on his last legs, and Manu Ginobili is almost certainly in his last season. Yet the Spurs just roll right along, with Popovich and his staff developing still more unlikely contributors, from Dwayne Dedmon to rookies Murray and Bertans. You run the risk of taking what Popovich and his team do, year after year, for granted. We’re not going to.
Brooks overcame a 2-8 start in D.C. to pilot the Wizards to their best regular season in almost four decades. He had nothing to do with John Wall and Bradley Beal getting through the season healthy for the first time in years, but he had everything to do with the team’s defensive improvement and the development of the team’s bench, particularly second-year forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. (Funny how you don’t hear much these days about Brooks’ $7 million annual salary now.)
Casey had an All-Star backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to build on, but he found and played more contributors, including a series of youngsters like rookie big man Jakob Poeltl and second-year center Bebe Nogueira early in the season, and guards second-year guard Delon Wright and rookie VanVleet late. There’s no question that GM Masai Ujiri’s acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker before the trade deadline bolstered the Raptors’ roster and allowed Toronto to stay afloat after Lowry’s wrist injury. But Casey’s rotation calls were right all along, leading the Raptors to consecutive 50-win regular seasons for the first time in franchise history.
ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM
Guards: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder; James Harden, Houston Rockets
Forwards: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Center: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Not only has Gobert done all the above on the defensive end, he’s No. 1 in the league in Offensive Rating and helps free up his teammates with quality, numerous screens. ‘Nuff said.
ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM
Guards: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors; Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Curry’s “down” season — 25.3 points per game, shooting “just” 41 percent on 3-pointers — was still superior to 98 44/100ths of the other players in the league, and a testament to the standards by which the two-time league MVP is judged. Thomas, as every opponent knows, is going to his left, and is going to shoot almost all the shots for the Celtics in the fourth quarter. No one seems to be able to stop him despite having this information.
Forwards: Paul George, Indiana Pacers; Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
George is at the top of everyone’s list for offseason acquisition after a terrific season, almost single-handedly lifting Indiana to the playoffs.
Center: DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers.
DJ’s defensive numbers aren’t quite as good as last season, but he’s still plenty good and stifling in the paint.
ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM
Guards: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors; John Wall, Washington Wizards
DeRozan had a monster season after signing a monster contract–$139 million — last summer. What was even more impressive was his continued ability to get to his spots on the floor when everyone knows he’s no threat behind the three-point line, and his continued skill at drawing fouls — a career-best 8.7 free throw attempts this season. And he carried the load deftly after Lowry’s injury took him out of play at a key moment in the Raptors’ season.
Wall’s career year — 23.2 points, 10.7 assists entering the weekend — is even more impressive considering he was coming off of offseason surgery on both knees. He’s become lethal finishing with his left hand and the once-suspect jumper is now more than adequate enough to force defenses to be honest. The Wizards still go as he goes, and this season — other than way too much woofing at the refs — Wall has been sensational since Thanksgiving.
Forwards: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Center: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
“The Brow” is still the guy every GM on earth would take, right now, if he was building a team from the bottom up. Okay, some people would take “The Greek Freak”. Can’t front.
Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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