The following are my predictions and explanations for the 2017 NBA Awards. The results of these award races will be released on Monday, June 26.
Rookie of the Year
Candidates: Malcolm Brogdon, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric
Certion’s Pick: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid, center for the Philadelphia 76ers, is the Rookie of the Year despite only playing in 31 games. Embiid leads his competition in points and rebounds per game at 20.2 and 7.8 respectively, while Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks averaged 10.2 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game, and Saric of the 76ers averaged 12.8 points per game and 6.3 rebounds.
Embiid made a name for himself due to his defensive prowess averaging 2.5 blocks per game. Embiid leads the group in player efficiency rating with a superb 24.15. Brogdon is the next closest with a rating of 14.90. Embiid may not have played a full season, but to deny that he was the most talented rookie this season is a tough task.
Sixth Man of the Year
Candidates: Andre Iguodala, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams
Certion’s Pick: Andre Iguodala
The race for the sixth man is truly only between Iguodala and Gordon. The winner of this award comes down to their value to their respective team rather than statistical numbers. While Iguodala only averaged 7.6 points per game this season, which is much lower than Gordon’s 16.2 and Williams’s 17.5, he was much more beneficial to his team in other aspects of the game.
Iguodala’s important role in the Warriors’ victories this season is unparalleled to his competitors. He prides himself on his defensive capabilities. Constantly being on the other team’s best player in most games. He also rose to the occasion when the Warriors were without all-star Kevin Durant for more than six weeks due to an injury and averaged 12 points per game during that stretch.
Most Improved Player
Candidates: Giannis Antetokuounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert
Certion’s Pick: Giannis Antetokuounmpo
This pick is a no-brainer. Antetokuonmpo emerged as one of the best players in the NBA this season, earned All-NBA status and led the Milwaukee Bucks to the playoffs. Giannis destroyed his previous year’s numbers of 16.9 points per game, 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists and improved to 22.9, 8.8 and 5.4, respectively.
The “Greek Freak” exceeded expectations and has excelled tremendously as a point-forward for the Bucks. Gobert would be Giannis’s closest competition as he shot an impressive 66 percent from the floor but failed to elevate his game in the same manner as Antetokuonmpo.
Coach of the Year
Candidates: Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Mike D’Antoni
Certion’s Pick: Mike D’Antoni
Head coach of the Houston Rockets, D’Antoni made perhaps the greatest coaching move of the season in moving superstar guard James Harden to the point guard position. This shift allowed the star to solidify his passing and scoring game and bolster the Rockets to an impressive season finishing 55-27 compared to their previous season of 41-41. D’Antoni has coupled his success this season with the electric offensive style that the team plays with.
The coach pushes for offensive consistency while still maintaining enough attention to defense to win games. The team managed to finish third in the competitive Western Conference. Any other year Popovich would win this award due to his continued excellence with the San Antonio Spurs as they had another 60-win season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Candidates: Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard
Certion’s Pick: Draymond Green
The time is now for Golden State’s Green and this elusive award. Draymond has been a finalist for the award in the past two seasons but has lost repeatedly to the San Antonio Spurs’ Leonard. Green’s ability to guard every position on the floor and still manage to protect the rim are what set him apart from his competition. Green averaged 2.0 steals per game and 1.4 blocks per game during the season and is the tenth NBA player in league history to do so.
Green’s closest competition for the award this year surprisingly comes from Gobert and not Leonard due to his defensive numbers dropping this season. Gobert is an elite rim protector for the Utah Jazz as opponents only shot 43 percent at the rim while he was protecting the goal.
Most Valuable Player
Candidates: Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and Russell Westbrook
Certion’s Pick: Russel Westbrook
This award was between Harden and Westbrook from the very beginning of the season. Westbrook’s historic season led to him becoming the second player ever to average a triple double since Oscar Robertson in 1962. Westbrook averaged 31.6 points per game, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. He led a lackluster Oklahoma City Thunder roster to a 47-35 record, which enabled the team to finish sixth in the tough Western Conference. Westbrook also set a new league record in triple doubles for a season with an unprecedented 42 and seemed to carry his team at times.
Harden’s numbers and accomplishments for his team are right behind Westbrook’s. Harden averaged 29.1 points per game, 8.1 rebounds, and 11.2 assists. Harden’s transition to the point guard position enabled him to dominate the ball more, and improve on his ability in getting teammates involved which produced a 55-27 record for the Rockets and a third place finish in the Western Conference. One statistic separates these two superstars, and that is player efficiency rating.
Westbrook had a league-leading 30.70, while Harden had a 27.43 rating. Ultimately the award comes down to the player who is deemed more valuable to their team, and, due to the Thunder’s dismal roster and what the team was able to accomplish, I give the edge in this race to Westbrook.