Russell Westbrook and James Harden produced epic numbers throughout the 2016-17 NBA season. Will one of them be the MVP?
OKLAHOMA City star Russell Westbrook is the odds on favourite to claim his first NBA MVP award after averaging a triple-double across a historic season.
But he has stiff competition from star Houston Rockets playmaker James Harden and San Antonio Spurs machine Kawhi Leonard, who might just be the best two-way player in the game.
The three superstars are the finalist for the MVP, which will be awarded at the NBA’s first awards event this morning from 11am, AEST.
Rap megastar — and NBA superfan — Drake will host the event from Basketball City at Pier 36 in Manhatten, New York.
WE’LL HAVE ALL THE AWARD WINNERS TOMORROW
NBA AWARDS FINALISTS
Most Valuable Player
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, PG
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs, SF
My tip: Russell Westbrook
You can argue until the cows come home about how Harden (29.1 points, 11.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds) won more games, led the league in assists and was only just short of Westbrook’s (31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists) numbers and I would agree with you. Harden should be the MVP. He made his teammates better and made better decisions with the ball when the game was on the line. But the NBA voters are easily dazzled by history-making efforts and the popular belief is Westbrook’s triple-double average has seduced enough of them to secure the award (leaked lists have Westbrook ahead of Harden). Leonard (25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists) is a wonderful player, cut straight from the cloth of the hyper-efficient Spurs, but he’s making up the numbers in this class.
Can we Trust The Process to win the Rookie of the Year?
Rookie Of The Year
Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks, SG
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers, C
Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers, PF
My tip: Joel Embiid
Your guess is as good as mine on this one. Embiid is, far and away, the most talented player of the three finalists and his numbers (20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds) dwarfed the other two. But he only managed to play 31 games after missing his entire rookie season with injury. Embiid is going to be a star (body permitting) and I reckon the voters will recognise that and help him put a ROY on his resume. Saric (12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) is an intriguing blend of inside-outside Euro play and could be anything, but I might have missed the Malcolm Brogdon (10.2 points, 4.2 assists) hype train because he stole Aussie Matthew Dellavedova’s starting job, but the kid was an important role player on a playoff team. Who knows?
Will Draymond green add the Defensive Player of the Year to his NBA title?
Defensive Player Of The Year
Draymond Green Golden State Warriors, PF
Kawhi Leonard* San Antonio Spurs, SF
Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz, C
* Won award in 2015 and 2016
My tip: Draymond Green
Giannis Antetokounmpo was the most improved player in the NBA — will the voters recognise it?
Most Improved Player
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks, SF
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets, C
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz, C
My tip: Giannis Antetokounmpo
If he’s not already, the Greek Freak is about to be one of the biggest stars on the game. And that is built on a remarkable season that saw him lead his Milwaukee Bucks back to the playoffs — and led them in all five major statistical categories — 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.6 steals. Those were all marked jumps on his 2015-16 stats, in virtually the same number of minutes. Nikola Jokic might be the brightest young big man in the game and his diverse game produced six triple-doubles — fourth best in the league. The Frenchman Gobert is making up the numbers here.
Adding a Sixth Man of the Year Award would cap off a superb title-winning season for Andre Iguodala.
Sixth Man Of The Year
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors, SF
Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets, SG
Lou Williams, Houston Rockets, SG
My tip: Eric Gordon
Gordon always had the potential to be a great player in the league, but his body let him down, time and time again. Found a new lease on life in Houston coming off the bench. Played the most games since his rookie season, missing just seven, and drained 3.3 threes per game on his way to 16.2 points a night. Williams hopped from LA to Houston to join Gordon and did a similar job on arrival, but did not have the impact of his teammate. Iguodala was the sixth man on the best team in the NBA and, while the stats don’t show up for him, he did everything he was asked, night in, night out, often locking down the opposition’s most dangerous scorer. Would be a mark of respect for a star-turned savvy role player on a title team.
Will Houston’s successful run and gun offence help Mike D’Antoni win the Coach of the Year Award?
Coach Of The Year
Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
My tip: Mike D’Antoni
Orchestrated a historically good offence with James Harden and a bunch of role players. Has always been an offensively talented coach, but built this team around Harden, giving him an arsenal of shooters in Ryan Anderson, Gordon, Lou Williams and Trevor Ariza to feed, as well as developing young big man Clint Capela and lockdown defender Pat Beverley. Spoelstra won two titles in the LeBron era with the Heat, but his team was gutted after Dwyane Wade signed in Chicago and Chris Bosh was ruled out for the season with a potentially career ending health issue (blood clots). With Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside, the Heat fell just short of the playoffs in a season many thought they would be near the bottom of the east. They should just name the award after Pop and leave him out of the nominations every year, because he is the best coach in the NBA.