Welcome to our 2016-17 roundtable discussion where we talk about the end-of-season awards. With just a few games left in the regular season, VAVEL USA writers Sully Akbari, Chris Hughes, Youssef Machkhas, Austin McConnell, and Kintaro Skinner will give their take on who will be the NBA's Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and will finish off with the Coach of the Year. Let's get started, but first, view our Christmas roundtable to see how our answers have changed.
2016-17 NBA MVP
Sully: PG - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
As I have said all along, even before the season started, the season’s MVP belongs to Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder. With a few regular season games to go, the MVP still goes to Westbrook. One can say that the MVP race is between James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Westbrook but that race ended when Westbrook had a span of seven games where he recorded a triple-double. He clinched averaging a triple-double for the season last week in a blowout loss against the Phoenix Suns and also surpassed Oscar Robertson’s NBA record for most triple-doubles in a season with 42 with his game-winner in Sunday's win against the Denver Nuggets. In addition, Harden missed one game due to the flu so with Westbrook likely to play all 82 games and to average a triple-double, it possibly secured him the MVP award.
For the season, he’s averaging a ridiculous 31.7 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 10.4 assists per game. Westbrook is a force of nature on the court. His 31.7 points per game average is the most since 2014 when Kevin Durant averaged 32 points per game, which also was the year when KD won the MVP as a member of the Thunder. The same will go for Westbrook come season’s end.
Chris: PG - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
As a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder, I might always be biased when it comes to this one, but I really don’t see how anyone can overlook Russ.
When I look at the San Antonio Spurs without Kawhi Leonard and the Houston Rockets without Harden, you can see them surviving, but without Westbrook, the Thunder wouldn’t have made the playoffs, period.
He’s leading the league in points and fastbreak points 31.8 and 6.7 respectively and has also made triple-doubles look easy this season. Regardless of what seed OKC finish in, he has to win it. No one has been more valuable to their team this season.
Youssef: PG - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard may have added their names into the mix since the last roundtable, but James Harden and Russell Westbrook are still the two frontrunners. He beat out Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record, a.k.a., he’s going to have a triple-double in more than half of all of the games this year. To add, him clinching an average of a triple-double by the end of the season locked it up. Honestly, there was going to be a “but” and an explanation on why Harden will win it but with the Thunder staying at sixth, typing this up convinced me. As a Rockets fan, it hurts to admit this. However, Westbrook will be this season’s MVP.
Austin: PG - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
This is easily the most difficult race for me to decide, and it happens to be for the most prestigious individual award there is. I was a preseason and midseason supporter of the James Harden hype train because of his seemingly overlooked stats and worth to his Houston Rockets team. However, I’ve had a change of heart down the stretch run and now think Russell Westbrook just edges him out. The point guard will average a triple-double on the season, but his value to the Thunder goes even beyond the numbers. It is just too difficult to pick against him, but Harden, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard are not far behind at all.
Kintaro: PG - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
In my eyes, Russell Westbrook is the MVP this year. At first, James Harden was my pick. However, I looked back on the history of some the players who have been in Rockets' head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash, and Amar’e Stoudemire are some great examples. In such a high-octane system, Mike D’Antoni does not mind a star player jacking up shots, or finding the open man constantly off the pick and roll. Harden has benefited greatly from a coach like D’Antoni, as he is given free reign to do whatever he pleases. His teammates are also perfect for Harden’s game as well. The second someone brings help defense to Harden or the rolling big men to the basket, shooters like Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, Trevor Ariza, and even Patrick Beverley at times are open, leaving Harden with multiple options, something Westbrook does not benefit from. Remember, this is a man who averages almost 11 assists a game with a team that is 28th in the NBA in three-point percentage.
Now, both of these players have had remarkable seasons but Westbrook’s appears to be more impressive. To start, Westbrook’s storyline. After Kevin Durant spurned the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors, everyone thought that all the dominos were falling into place. Not only did Durant leave but many thought Westbrook would eventually leave too due to his original contract that was close to expiring. However, Westbrook decided to re-up his contract with the Thunder and became the true face of their franchise. Westbrook followed this up by averaging a triple-double this season with a team that has almost no shooting, one of the worst benches in the league (until the trade deadline where they got some shooting), and a middle of the road defensive team. To boot, Westbrook also leads the NBA in the “Value Over Replacement Player” stat which can be a great indicator of value as well as player efficiency rating. Of course, there have been questions about his shot selection, his uncontested rebounds, sixth place seeding, and turnover problems. However, Westbrook has something that none of the other MVP candidates have - the weaker supporting cast. LeBron James has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Kawhi Leonard has LaMarcus Aldridge and elite role players, and James Harden has some of the best depth in the league. Westbrook has had to carry a team that has at times been willed to wins with his monstrous performances.
Seems like Russell Westbrook is favorite to win this year's NBA MVP. Moving onto the next award at hand.
2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year
Sully: PF - Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
One could say this year’s rookie class is a disappointment. In today’s NBA, there is a huge emphasis put on scoring the ball and with only four players averaging double figures, it was disappointing not seeing the rookies light it up. Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, who was averaging 20 points per game, was the only rookie to average more than 15 points a game, but he once again he went down with an injury, playing only 31 games. He was on pace to be the Rookie of the Year but as far as who will win the award, it will have to be Embiid’s teammate, Dario Saric.
Saric is very skilled for a big man and knows how to score the ball and rebound at a decent rate. His one skill that is underrated is his playmaking ability. Saric sees the floor well, often throwing flashy passes for easy baskets that woo the crowd. With the overall No. 1 pick, by way of the 76ers selecting Ben Simmons, it was a disappointment when he was ruled out for the season because of a foot injury, and with Embiid going down midseason, the 76ers will have something to celebrate when Saric is named Rookie of the Year.
Chris: PF - Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
In a year where Los Angeles Lakers' Brandon Ingram has underperformed and Ben Simmons as been injured, this season’s draft hasn’t exactly been incredible.
With Joel Embiid injured it has to go someone else, although his claim to the award was always a gray area. I’d give it to his teammate, Dario Saric.
Not only does the big man boast the next highest points average in 12.8 but he’s also taking on a solid amount of minutes for a rookie. The Philadelphia 76ers have hardly set the league alight this season but with Embiid injured they’d be a lot worse off with the work of the Croat.
Youssef: PG - Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
Can Joel Embiid still win rookie of the year even though he’s been injured for forever now? Apparently, it’s possible, so it should be him. But sadly the voters will probably not agree with that logic. So, if he won’t win it, who among this lackluster rookie class will? It’s a tight race between Milwaukee Bucks' Malcolm Brogdon and Embiid’s teammate Dario Saric, with Sacramento Kings' Buddy Hield as a dark horse. Amongst them, it’s got to go to Brogdon. Saric may have the better stats, but Brogdon helped a team missing Khris Middleton, one of their best scorers, at the beginning of the season, until Middleton became healthy again. He’s also the third-leading scorer among rookies and at the top in assists. Now, the Milwaukee Bucks are sixth in the Eastern Conference with a winning record. If Embiid won’t get it, Brogdon should.
Austin: PF - Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
This award was a no-brainer for most of the season, with sensational big man Joel Embiid stealing the spotlight for the Philadelphia 76ers. A season-ending injury has derailed his rookie campaign, however, and now the race is much more up in the air. I’ve gone with Embiid’s teammate Dario Saric, although nobody has particularly stood out as an impact player in the present. Saric has been solid all season, averaging almost 13 points and around six rebounds and has played even better down the stretch. Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks is his closest competition.
Kintaro: C - Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
For the first time in history, it seems the recipient of the Rookie of the Year will go to someone who played on a minutes restriction and did not even play half a season. Joel Embiid showed the NBA world this year exactly why he is a franchise big man. He led all rookies in points, rebounds, player efficiency rating, blocks per game, and defensive rating, while only playing 25.4 minutes a game. Embiid also had an amazing impact on his team when he played. Although his team finished 13-18 when he was in the lineup he brought hope and excitement to a Philadelphia team that only won 10 games the year before. Embiid’s per 36 minutes numbers and per 100 possession numbers also demolish every other rookie’s numbers in this year’s class detailing when given the full opportunity, his potential is limitless.
Looks like a member of the Philadelphia 76ers or the Milwaukee Bucks will win the Rookie of the Year. Moving onto the next award.
2016-17 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year
Sully: G/F - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Most Improved Player award has to go to Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. The 'Greek Freak’, really freaked his production up from last season. Majority of his stats have spiked from last season to this season, with his points average being the biggest improvement going from 16.9 to 23.1 points a night.
What’s most impressive is that since our last roundtable discussion, Antetokounmpo led his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. Four months later and he is still leading his team in those categories. He also led his team to clinch a playoff spot for the second time in three years, making him worthy of this award.
Chris: G/F - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
If it was any other season I’d be really rooting for Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, but sadly for the Serbian, I don’t think anyone can look past Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He leads the Milwaukee Bucks in all five of the major recorded stats, and despite barely increasing his minutes he’s averaged nearly six more points per game.
When you consider that for the majority of this season the Bucks have had at least one key player (firstly Khris Middleton now Jabari Parker) injured you can’t overlook The Greek Freak’s influence to get them to a mid-low playoff seed.
Youssef: G/F - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak. That’s the only explanation needed. But still, I’ll add more for those who aren’t fully convinced already. Also, quick side note, ignore that I put New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis in the last roundtable. Ok, moving on. Giannis Antetokounmpo has become an absolute monster, leading his team in all major stats. Have you ever seen the same player’s picture under each of the major statistical categories? Exactly. He has improved in every single area imaginable. The craziest part is that he is only 22-years-old, so he will only continue improving from here on out.
Austin: G/F - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Sticking with my midseason pick, the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks has continued his unbelievable season and deserves the title of “most improved.” His numbers would normally put him in the MVP discussion, but the level of play from NBA superstars this season has been much higher than usual. He has seen increases of over six points, a rebound, and an assist per game compared to last year’s stats while shooting at a much higher percentage and running point guard for a playoff team in the East. Guys like Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz give him some competition, but Antetokounmpo fully deserves the honor.
Kintaro: G/F - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The Greek Freak has lived up to his nickname this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo has not only been his typical self as one of the more dynamic and exciting players in the NBA, but he has made the leap this season from a raw prospect with potential to bonafide young superstar. Looking at his improvements and accolades this year, Antetokounmpo has clearly made the jump. He made his first all-star team, he has improved in virtually ever major statistical category, he has assumed more responsibility in the same amount of minutes per game (22.3 to 28.3 usage rating in only a 0.2-minute increase from the previous season). This has all culminated into a strong season for the Milwaukee Bucks where they can finish as high as the 5th seed thanks to the strong play of the Greek Freak.
The 'Greek Freak' is certainly on his way to becoming one of the elite players in the NBA. Continuing on with the next award.
2016-17 NBA Sixth Man of the Year
Sully: SG - Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
If there is one thing for sure, it’s that the Sixth Man of the Year will go to a Houston Rocket and that can either be Eric Gordon or Lou Williams. Williams, who was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, was acquired by the Rockets in this season’s trade deadline for Corey Brewer. The trade greatly benefited the Rockets as they now have two lethal perimeter shooters as well as great playmakers coming off the bench in Gordon and Williams. Both are averaging more than 16 points per game and give their team a boost on the offensive end and bring great energy whenever they are on the court. If I were to pick, the Sixth Man of the Year would have to be Eric Gordon because this is by far his best season from a consistency and conditioning standpoint.
Chris: C - Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder
I think Lou Williams and Eric Gordon of the Rockets are both great shouts and the latter will probably run away with the award, but I’ve got to give my own personal choice to Enes Kanter of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Prior to the Doug McDermott/Taj Gibson trade, Kanter was really the only player the Thunder had on the bench who could score consistently, and that was shown when he missed the month through injury.
He’s still only 24-years-old and has a 23.83 player efficiency rating for the season, which is around ten more than Gordon’s. Alongside Victor Oladipo he’s the only player to lead OKC in scoring besides Westbrook. He deserved it last year and I think he does this time around too.
Youssef: SG - Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets
The Most Improved Player of the Year race is still between Lou Williams and Eric Gordon. While Williams is averaging more points throughout the year, Gordon is averaging more on the Houston Rockets. As one of the primary scorers at Los Angeles, Williams had to score the ball more often. Now that Williams is surrounded by other quality scorers, Gordon has proven that he is the slightly better sixth man. His offensive skillset is one of the primary reasons why the Rockets are doing well, as he is able to alleviate the weight on Harden’s shoulders to score. Therefore, the award should go to Gordon.
Austin: F - James Johnson, Miami Heat
This one is up for debate as well, but I’d like to give some love to a candidate who might not get as much attention: James Johnson of the Miami Heat. He has been downright on fire at times in the second half and is also a major reason why the Heat are actually in playoff contention. The stats for the season are solid, with averages of 12.6 points and 4.8 rebounds, and his ability to take over games off the bench is a unique skill. Houston Rockets teammates Eric Gordon and Lou Williams have both averaged more points, but I believe Johnson has been more valuable to his team down the stretch.
Kintaro: SG - Eric Gordon/SG - Lou Williams, Houston Rockets
After playing on a tumultuous Los Angeles Lakers team for the most of the season, Lou Williams has been able to find more of a solidified role on a contending Houston Rockets. Williams has all the attributes to win the Sixth Man of the Year award for the second time. He brings great shooting, shot-making ability, and creation off the dribble that any team can use. Williams may be a detriment to a team on the defensive team but looking at the past winners, they are typically high-volume players that can fill up the bucket quickly, i.e. Cavaliers' J.R. Smith, Los Angeles Clippers' Jamal Crawford, James Harden, Bucks' Jason Terry, Spurs' Manu Ginobili, and former NBAer Ben Gordon etc.
Eric Gordon is also included on this list as he has brought an almost identical impact to the Rockets this year with similar statistics so he could easily get the nod for the award. Gordon has also spent a full year with the Rockets and has been part of their winning culture for the entirety of the season something Lou Williams does not have the luxury of having.
The Sixth Man of the Year can go either way with the players mentioned above. Moving forward to the next award.
2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year
Sully: F - Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
I have had a change in heart with New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis winning the award but the popular vote would have to go to Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz. However, for what it's worth, what Warriors' Draymond Green is doing on the defensive end shouldn’t go unnoticed. Green is averaging two steals per game and 1.4 blocks per game. Those stats are what everyone sees but the stats that separates Green from Gobert is that Green is second in the league in deflections per game with 3.9, seventh in the league in contesting the three-point shot with 4.2, and fifth in the league in contesting all shots with 13.8 per game which just behind Gobert.
We also have to take into account that the Warriors lost both Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut to the Dallas Mavericks during the free agency period and was a slight knock on their defensive rating from last season to this season. Overall, Green is the Warriors’ defensive anchor and without his presence, the Warriors would strictly be an offensive team.
Chris: C - Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Kawhi Leonard could potentially win the award for the third consecutive season but if he does it’d be criminally unfair to Rudy Gobert.
He’s only grown as a player in recent seasons and the Jazz have been arguably the most improved team in the NBA this season, rising from ninth to what looks like a fifth-placed seed.
Gobert leads the league in blocks per game and is also among the top five best rebounders and most efficient shooters in the league. In fact, he’s the only player in the top five of all three of those categories.
Youssef: SF - Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert both truly deserve it. The former is the best perimeter defender in the league, even successfully defending the likes of LeBron James. The latter is the best rim protector in the league and brings back memories of Dwight Howard in his glory days. Both of their respective teams are at the top of the league in defense and it is mostly due to their star defenders.
So what will give Leonard the edge? Plays like this.
Still crying from that sequence of events. The San Antonio Spurs have to credit so many of their wins with Leonard’s defense. Without Leonard, Gobert would be looking at an easy win. However, Leonard is definitely the league’s best all-around defender, and that is why he will win his third defensive player of the year award in a row.
Austin: C - Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
This award comes down to two different types of players, but one who are almost equally effective on the defensive end. I have picked Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert over Draymond Green because of his astonishing rim protection this season. The 24-year-old is averaging 2.7 blocks per game, which makes him by far the best player at defending the paint in the league. Green and perennial candidate Kawhi Leonard have been solid as well, but Gobert’s monstrous season should not be overlooked.
Kintaro: C - Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
The emergence of the Utah Jazz this season has been one of the underlying storylines in the NBA this season, and a lot of it has to do with the play of Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower has simply been a presence on the defensive end all season long as he leads the league in defensive win shares, blocks, blocks per game, defensive rating and is the catalyst for the best defensive team in the league that allows their opponents to score 96.5 points per game (first in the league), and holds their opponents to 44.2 field goal percentage per game (second in the NBA). With his long arms and intimidating 7-foot-1 stature, Gobert’s career season is worthy of recognition of this prestigious award.
Kawhi Leonard's two-time reign of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year is at stake with Gobert and Green making a run for the award. Moving onto the last award.
2016-17 NBA Coach of the Year
Sully: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
There are a few candidates to win the Coach of the Year such as Miami Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra, who started the season 11-30 but turned things around in January and are now 39-41, finding themselves fighting for a playoff spot. Another case can be made for head coach of the Washington Wizards, Scott Brooks, who took the team from 41-41 last season to winning the Southwest Division title for the first time in 38 years. Quin Snyder of the Utah Jazz also makes a great case for the award but the one candidate that stands out from the rest and that is Houston Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni.
D’Antoni took the Rockets from 41-41 to the third team in the Western Conference and improved just about everything with the team. He put Harden at the point guard position and that just changed everything for the Rockets from an offensive standpoint. They’re second in the league in points per game with 115.5 and offensive rating with 111.9. D’Antoni trust in the three-point shot paid off as well because of the roster he had to work with. They stand with 1,153 three-pointers made for the season, which is the most ever made in NBA history and that just solidifies Mike D’Antoni the Coach of the Year award.
Chris: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
There are a lot of viable options, especially in the Eastern Conference. I think Scott Brooks’ work over the past few months, propelling the Washington Wizards to a high playoff seed, shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Likewise with the young Brad Stevens guiding his Boston Celtics to team to (nearly) knocking the Cavaliers off the top spot. However, I have to go with Mike D’Antoni.
The way he’s transformed the Houston Rockets into a 50-win franchise in such a short space of time really is brilliant. James Harden has been reborn as a point guard and they’ve turned into one of the most lethal teams from beyond the arc.
His side has the chance to finish with as many as 15 more wins than last season and for that reason, he has to take it.
Youssef: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
Still sticking with Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets have not let up on the gas pedal, as they are still pouring in points left and right. They have clinched the third seed in the Western Conference and are looking to make a deep playoff run. At the beginning of the season, nobody expected this to happen. Almost everybody saw this as a bad hire in the offseason. Now, it’s looking like a stroke of genius. It remains to be seen whether his offensive mindset can lead to postseason success (his days with the Phoenix Suns don’t give much hope). Still, in terms of the regular season, he has led a team that vastly underperformed last year to once again, one of the top teams in the league.
Austin: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
Mike D’Antoni’s system has worked wonders for the Houston Rockets and has helped James Harden flourish into an even better player than he was before. His emphasis on the three-point shot makes the Rockets a deadly offensive team, and they have been better on defense than many people expected. Erik Spoelstra, and Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs would be acceptable selections, but this one seems pretty clear to me.
Kintaro: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
After the Dwyane Wade offseason fiasco a season ago, the Miami Heat looked like a team destined for the draft lottery. They started the season 11-30 which many people expected in the first half of the season. That was until they went on a 13-game winning streak that was the highlight of their season. A lot of credit goes to their marquee players like Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, and Dion Waiters, but Spoelstra should not be left out of this conversation. His team is top-five in the league defensively in points against per game and top half of the league in offensive rating with some underwhelming talent on paper.
New York Knicks' guard Derrick Rose said it best in a shootaround interview before one of his matchups this year against the Heat, “I think we’re more talented (than the Heat), but it shows that basketball is a team sport.”
And is he ever right, Spoelstra has led this team to a 39-41 record thus far and with all the tension for seeding in the Eastern Conference, the Heat could potentially end up a sixth-seed which is only three spots behind what they were a year ago, an impressive accomplishment for a team that has lost LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in a three-year span.
It seems as if Mike D'Antoni is the favorite but there are many coaches in the league that could win the award with their tremendous work and leadership to the team.
There you have it. That concludes our 2016-17 end-of-season NBA awards roundtable discussion. The NBA awards will be given out during the first-ever NBA Awards Show on June 26. Look out for more VAVEL roundtable discussions in the future and team season reviews. Enjoy the rest of the season and playoffs.