2017 NBA Awards

Taking a closer look at each of finalists for 2017 NBA Awards

As the June 26 event on TNT nears, we analyze the case each nominee has to win the award

With the NBA season finished, it’s time now to hand out a few awards. And for the first time ever, award season will be televised. The NBA Awards on TNT (June 26, 9 p.m., ET) will see hardware awarded to some of the NBA’s shining stars for their performances during the 2016-17 NBA regular season.

While there are several categories that will be voted on by fans, including Best Style, Best Dunk and Best Block, a some of the headlining categories have already been decided, voted on by a panel of media members.

Who will win? We won’t find out until June 26, when Drake takes the stage in New York City. Until then, let’s take a look at several major awards and the cases the finalists have made.

Kia NBA Most Valuable Player

The Finalists:

* James Harden, Houston Rockets

* Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

* Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Skinny: This looks to be one of the closest MVP races of all time. Westbrook had a historic season, leading the NBA in scoring (31.6 ppg) and adding 10.4 assists and 10.7 rebounds per game, making him the first player to average a triple-double for a season since Oscar Robertson in the 1961-62 season. But the Thunder (47-35) finished with a lesser record than Houston or San Antonio, and Westbrook’s triple-doubles may work against him in the eyes of some voters. Harden had a career campaign, averaging 29.1 ppg along with a league-leading 11.2 assists per night. The Rockets finished 55-27, with Harden the hub of their high-powered offensive attack. Kawhi Leonard might not be the most expressive player, but his game speaks for itself. Leonard averaged a career-high 25.5 points per game and was the best defender for the 61-21 Spurs.

Kia NBA Rookie of the Year

The Finalists:

* Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

* Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

* Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

The Skinny: With this year’s rookie class not having a standout statistical performer, several candidates are in play for this award. Brogdon played an important backcourt role for the Bucks, who made the playoffs with a 42-40 record. While he averaged just over 10 ppg, Brogdon’s versatility made him essential to Milwaukee’s developing core. Joel Embiid was drafted in 2014, and after missing two seasons to recover from injuries, finally debuted this season. While his numbers were undeniably phenomenal (20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes per game), Embiid played in just 31 of Philly’s 82 games due to injuries, which voters may hold against him. Meanwhile, Sixers big man Dario Saric came over from a successful career in Europe and immediately contributed, averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 boards in 81 games.

Kia NBA Sixth Man Award

The Finalists:

* Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

* Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors

* Lou Williams, Houston Rockets

The Skinny: After signing with the Rockets in the offseason, Eric Gordon made a consistent contribution off the bench for Houston. Gordon averaged 16.2 points per game, attempting almost nine 3-pointers in 31 minutes per game. Williams started the season with the Lakers but joined Houston in a midseason trade, and averaged a career-best 17.5 ppg over the season, providing instant offense. Iguodala averaged just 7.6 ppg in 76 games for the champs, but frequently stuffed the stat sheet with rebounds and assists, and was Golden State’s designated defensive specialist off the bench.

NBA Coach of the Year

The Finalists:

* Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets

* Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

* Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat

The Skinny: After a stint as an assistant with the Sixers, D’Antoni arrived in Houston and facilitated a move to point guard for James Harden, which opened up their offense. The Rockets shot 40.3 3-pointers a game and put up 115.9 points per game, finishing with 55-27 record, up from last season’s 41-41 campaign. Simply put, Popovich’s Spurs just win. Players come and go, but his teams always play tough defense and move the ball on offense, and it is Popovich who puts his players in positions to be successful. This season, the Spurs finished 61-21, second best in the Western Conference. After the Miami Heat began the season 11-30, everything turned around in the second half, as Spoelstra’s Heat closed it out with a blistering 30-11 finish. The Heat just missed the playoffs, but with a young nucleus seem to be pointed in the right direction

Kia Most Improved Player

The Finalists:

* Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

* Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

* Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

The Skinny: The 22-year-old Antetokounmpo, known as “The Greek Freak,” broke out in his fourth NBA season. With coach Jason Kidd giving Antetokounmpo more responsibility on offense, he responded by averaging career highs across the board: 22.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 5.4 apg. Gobert continued his development in his fourth NBA season, giving the Utah Jazz a rim protector and defensive presence in the paint. Gobert led the league in blocked shots, averaging 2.6 rejections per game. Jokic began the season fighting for consistent playing time in a crowded Denver frontcourt. Jokic eventually moved into the starting lineup and started posting astonishing stat lines. The 21-year-old Jokic finished the season averaging 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year

The Finalists:

* Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

* Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

* Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

The Skinny: Three players who play distinctly different styles vie for title of the NBA’s best defender. In a league increasingly going smaller, Gobert gives the Jazz a traditional big man who can dominate around the rim, grabbing rebounds and affecting shot attempts. Draymond Green is Golden State’s most versatile defender, anchoring one of the NBA’s best defenses. It’s Green’s ability to defend multiple positions that allows the Warriors to play smaller lineups that can switch picks and be tough to defend on the other end. Kawhi Leonard is arguably the best on-ball perimeter defender in the NBA, and routinely takes San Antonio’s toughest defensive assignments while carrying a load on offense as well.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here or follow him on Twitter.

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