With the end of the NBA regular season finally here, it is time to look on to the playoffs and who will win the league’s biggest awards.
All the positions are set in the Western Conference, with the Portland Trail Blazers locking up the eighth seed in the West over the Denver Nuggets. The final playoff spot in the East, however, is coming down to the very final game. Three teams, the Indiana Pacers, the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat are all within one game of each other for the final two playoff spots. With a win in their final game, the Pacers would clinch the No. 7 seed, and the Bulls would clinch at least the No. 8 seed over the Heat as they have the tie-breaker over Miami.
With a win in their final matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics will clinch the top seed in the East, but if they lose and the Cavaliers win, the Cavs will lock down the top seed.
Now, with the end of the regular season here, we must decide on who will win the league’s awards. Before the season, in my NBA Preview, I projected Russell Westbrook would win MVP, Kris Dunn would win Rookie of the Year, Kawhi Leonard would win Defensive Player of the Year and Steve Kerr would win Coach of the Year. Now, here are my predictions for who will win the awards with the regular season reaching its finale.
MVP: Russell Westbrook, OKC Thunder
This year’s battle for the MVP award is the most contentious it has been in years. There is a very legitimate case for four different players to take home the award —Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
Harden leads the league’s best and most efficient offense and has turned the Rockets into a legitimate title contender this season after they barely snuck into the playoffs a year ago.
Leonard became an unstoppable force on both sides of the ball.
James is easily one of the three best NBA players of all time and he’s having the best, most efficient season of his career.
Westbrook, however, is the clear choice for me for many reasons. The 2016-2017 NBA season has been the season of Westbrook. He has been a man possessed all season since Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season. Westbrook has single handedly won his team numerous games with his incredible end of game theatrics and brought a very untalented team to the playoffs where they will play Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round.
Rookie of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
This choice for Rookie of the Year might be as difficult as the choice for MVP. However, it is difficult for an entirely different reason, no one truly deserves the award. Early this season Joel Embiid of the Philadelpha 76ers seemed like the clear choice, but he only played 31 games all season for that reason I cannot justify awarding him Rookie of the Year. Embiid’s teammate Dario Saric also has a case for the award after averaging 13 points and six rebounds per game. Brogdon has the best case for the award averaging 10 points and 4 assists as an important contributor to a playoff team.
Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Igoudala, Golden State Warriors
There is another tightly contested race for the Sixth Man of the Year award. There are three players with legitimate cases for the award: Igoudala, Eric Gordon of the Rockets and Lou Williams of the Rockets (formerly of the Lakers).
Igoudala gets the slight edge here because of his tremendous defensive value he adds off the bench, leading players with under 20 starts in Win Shares and filling in phenomenally for the Warriors when Durant missed time due to injury.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
For me, this award comes down to Gobert, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. Gobert edges them out for his phenomenal rim protection and for being the anchor of the league’s third best defense. Because of Gobert’s defensive ability, teams are often afraid to attack the rim against Utah.
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
D’Antoni’s idea to move Harden to point guard from shooting guard was one of the smartest moves in his coaching career. D’Antoni took a team that snuck into the playoffs a year ago and made them a legitimate title contender by building the league’s most dangerous offense around MVP candidate James Harden.