This post is about regular season awards and status.* This year, there’s been extra attention paid to the media’s role in determining the salary options available to Paul George and Gordon Hayward if they make All-NBA teams. As peculiar as that clause in the collective bargaining agreement is, my guess is that number of games will be a more important factor in determining which players are labeled as top 15 in the league.
Lots of folks are suggesting that Kevin Durant and Chris Paul will fall short of All-NBA because they missed time this year. Except that they both played ~75% of the season, having 62 and 61 games under their respective belts. It’s gonna be interesting to see how their situations shake out. As for me, availability matters, but only as one element of the larger story of an individual season.
One last thing to mention is that I take the NBA’s positional rules seriously. Although ‘positionless basketball’ is the rage these days, there are still guidelines. Unfortunately, that means the third team center is taking a spot that would more realistically go to a different player. Uh oh.
Yes, LeBron James is the best player in the world. Yes, Kawhi Leonard plays a more complete game. Yes, James Harden had an epic season, far better than the one that he registered when awarded the first Players’ Awards MVP in 2015. Still, Westbrook’s statistical accomplishments should prevent him from experiencing the odd situation Oscar Robertson faced when he averaged a triple double yet finished a perfectly reasonable third place MVP finish in 1962.
Gordon has been the second best player on a very impressive Rockets team. Sixth Man is his permanent future role and he’s played it masterfully this year. In fact, he may well be redefining the job description for the future.
Coach of the Year
In October, I legitimately thought the Trail Blazers would start tanking a couple weeks before All-Star Break. Instead, Stotts freed Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum to be super aggressive, coaxed strong performances from a motley crew of barely rotation players and unleashed Jusuf Nurkic on the world. Making the playoffs in the West with this roster is a feat of wizardry yet somehow, Stotts is being totally overlooked for this award.
Most Improved Player
I have been high on Giannis for a few years now, still I’m astonished at the season he just completed. He finished the season in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots, leading the Bucks in all 5 categories. The other guys who have done that are Hall of Famers and Giannis is now on that trajectory. This year was his first in full flower as a de facto point guard and his capacity for growth is still overwhelming. Giannis will soon be stronger, a better ball handler and a more confident shooter. We may see a situation in which this year’s MIP is next year’s MVP.
Rookie of the Year
Nearly by default, Dario Saric gets the nod because he’s the only rookie to a) play half the games and b) demonstrate star potential. Joel Embiid didn’t do the first and Malcolm Brogdon’s ceiling is not far from his roof, uh, current status.
Defensive Player of the Year
The Swiss Army Knife of the Golden State Warriors, Draymond Green, finally gets the nod he’s been desperate to achieve. One of the few players in the league who can reasonably guard anyone on the floor, Green sacrificed his offense to spend even more energy harassing anyone and everyone. He plays bigger, faster, and stronger than he is.
All-NBA First Team
It’s hard to imagine much dispute with the forwards and guards on my first team. In some order, those players should be the top 4 MVP vote getters. It’s the troublesome center spot where we have a mess. KAT has gaudy, empty numbers because his Timberwolves were still so bad. Yet, those empty numbers place he and (the usually playing center) DeMarcus Cousins a tier above the other options. Slotting Anthony Davis here is a cheap attempt to avoid the rules as written. The Pelicans work very hard to keep AD from spending time as a center. Let’s not pull a reverse Duncan where we disregard the action on the court.
This is where AD belongs. He might be the first person chosen in an all-league reset draft but he didn’t do as much as James and Leonard, perhaps not even as much as Antentokounmpo (see Most Improved Player). His frontcourt mate Cousins has somehow become underrated. I don’t know how his stat lines get ignored so regularly but they do. When you score like Jerry West, rebound the ball like Hakeem Olajuwon and get assists like Kobe Bryant, you’re a special dude. Boogie Cousins is a special dude. Stephen Curry got lots of heat this season for not being TRANSCENDENT. He was still the third best guard in basketball. In a down year for him and a banner year for Harden and Westbrook. Wall elevated his game and his team. His all-around game gives him the edge over the scoring dominant guards in the East.
Butler and Durant had stretches of real MVP contention but couldn’t manage that level for the whole season for team chemistry and injury reasons. Gobert became a dominant force on defense and a consistent offensive presence, squeaking past Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard on this list. DeRozan and Thomas were fantastic offensive players who led their teams to impressive seasons with unconventional approaches.
I need to apologize for omitting a few folks. Damian Lillard never seems to get recognition but this spot would have been well earned. Yes, his Blazers made the find of the year by swiping Nurkic from the Nuggets but Nurkic is the only Blazer frontcourt player who would even be in the rotation of most other playoff teams.
Paul George had one month of being one of the 5 best players in the world and half a year of being one of the top 15. His all-court game is, at times, astonishing. Still, there’s a decent chance that he’ll only be the third best small forward in his division for the next three years.
Draymond Green had such a down year in shooting and scoring that I actually feel okay about leaving him off but he and Klay Thompson both have credible arguments that they should be on this team.
Finally, Chris Paul has often been the fourth best guard in the league this year and taking him over Derozan and Thomas would make sense to any GM in basketball. His absence from this team reflects his missed games more than his performance. As always, CP3 is a dominant player.
*This piece won’t get edited and published until Monday, April 17 but rest assured, the content was written BEFORE the first weekend of the playoffs began. Regular season recognition derives from only the regular season.
© Gayle Force Press 2017