Every NBA season is a specific chapter inside of a historic book. We use these chapters as a reference to strengthen our points in conversations with friends and arguments at the park, or a bar, or at work.
However, When we look back at each NBA season there are two things that are significantly more important than the rest — who the champion was, and who won that season’s MVP.
Of each of the individual awards that are handed out each season, none hold more importantce than the NBA’s MVP. It’s the ultimate individual award in all of team sports, in my opinion. Bill Simmons has referenced how he wishes each season the trophy weighed a different amount depending on how impressive the race was during that campaign. For example, Derrick Rose’s 2010-11 MVP trophy should weigh the same amount as a bag of Old Dutch potato chips with a jar of french onion dip. As a comparison, this year’s trophy would equal Ronnie Coleman’s 800 lb. deadlift. Lightweight baby!
FACT: Many, many, MANY hours of NBA League Pass, number crunching, research, reading, conversations, and thought went into these choices.
FACT: I’m willing to admit if I’m wrong. Each award and pick is subjective in its own right. Many players have a good case to win an award, but voters and fake-voters (me) simply have to pick someone. There are no co-winners. There are no participation trophies. These are simply my beliefs.
FACT: I’m willing to listen to your opinion ONLY if you present it in a way that doesn’t make you sound like a Jimbroni who is angry that “your guy” didn’t win.
I will present each award as if I’m filling out an official ballot. Without further ado:
2016-17 NBA MVP:
1. James Harden, G, Houston Rockets
2. Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
3. Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
4. LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Isaiah Thomas, G, Boston Celtics
FACT: The MVP was NOT a two-man race.
A lot of history was made this season from these 5 superstars, but nobody was able to capture more while holding a greater positive influence towards his team’s success than James Harden.
Some of James Harden’s achievements that were reached this season were:
Led the league in assists per game, assists per 100 possessions, total assists, and assisted points.
Led the league in points produced (scored points + assisted points).
First player in NBA history to average at least 25 points scored and 25 points assisted per game.
Only player in NBA history to score 2,000 points and assist 2,000 points in the same season.
Led the Houston Rockets to the 10th greatest offense in NBA history, 114.7 offensive rating.
Led the league in win shares with 15.0 (Kawhi 4th, Russell 5th, LeBron 6th).
Led the league in offensive win shares with 11.5 (Isaiah 2nd, LeBron 5th, Kawhi 6th, Russell 9th).
Averaged a triple-double per 100 possessions.
Most 30 point + 15 assist games in NBA history (Magic Johnson 2nd).
Led the league in free throws made and free throws attempted.
Second in the NBA in scoring with 29.1 per game, 2,356 points with a 61.3 TS% to Westbrook’s 55.4 TS%).
Winning 55 games after Vegas set over/under at 41.5. Overachieved by 14 wins.
Won enough games to earn his team a 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Oh yeah, and this was all in Harden’s first season as a point guard under D’Antoni. This also includes his numbers slipping a tad over the final three weeks because of a pretty serious injury to his left wrist.
Throughout the course of the season I had Harden, Leonard, Westbrook, LeBron in a different order almost every two weeks I’d check in on this award. But Harden was on the top of my list more times than anybody else.
Each player on the MVP ballot was having a career season in one form or another:
Isaiah Thomas — Finished third in scoring with all-time 4th quarter heroics that granted him the reputation as a folktale in Boston. Was the driving force for the Celtics that captured them their first #1 seed since 2007-08.
LeBron James — As a defending champion, the best player in the world found a career high in rebounds and assists while leading one of the most efficient offenses in the league in scoring. He has also finally proven that he truly is an official player-coach in this league and played/coached his way to a top 5 record despite several team injuries. Oh yeah, and this other thing, LeBron led the NBA in minutes per game.
Russell Westbrook — The notorious triple-double season: While averaging a triple-double over the entire season, Russ also broke the triple-double record with 42 in one season. Russ finished first in several advanced statistics (VORP, PER, +/-, WOR), and delivered 44 wins to the Thunder a year after Kevin Durant left him for Golden State. At one point Westbrook actually ripped off the skin from his face and confirmed that he really is the Terminator.
Kawhi Leonard — Tied Tim Duncan’s career high for points per game, arguably the Defensive Player of the Year, best two-way player in the NBA, had one of the most efficient offensive seasons ever with an insanely lower usage rate than the other leaders. But most impressively, Kawhi delivered a 7-2 record against Harden, Westbrook, LeBron during another 60-win season with considerably worse teammates than the other 60-win team. Kawhi transitioned as the face of the Spurs and has kept them as relevant as they’ve ever been a year after the greatest power forward of all-time retired from their team.
James Harden — Reasons listed above.
The fact of the matter is that with how great three or even four other players were this season, nobody did as much as James Harden. He bought into a new system immediately and thrived from the moment his hands touched the basketball. While it’s true that Harden does play in a system that can inflate his statistics, he has truly become the system. You can’t fault a player for taking full advantage of the surroundings in his specific situation.
The trajectory of Harden’s career is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. A player that preferred to come off of the bench as a sixth man his first few years in the NBA, blew up as a scoring guard the first real opportunity he got as a starter. Since then, Harden has fought for scoring titles, highlights, and superstar respect. But this season, he transitioned to the most dynamic offensive player we have in the NBA.
Think about this, Harden has made a mockery out of a system that won Steve Nash two (TWO!!) MVP’s with less help than Nash ever had on his roster.
My argument for Harden is simple. He created a deadly combination by posting the most impressive individual season with team success AND has made each of his teammates better.
In my opinion, Harden has pushed the boundaries further than anybody else as to how much you can efficiently do by yourself. While I believe Kawhi is the runner-up, the so called “two-man race” between Harden and Westbrook have started arguments all year about who has a better roster. Arguments centered around “who carries their team more”. If only Houston’s bigs allowed Harden to poach rebounds from them, then maybe he’d average a triple-double too and this wouldn’t be much of an argument.
Just for the sake of the argument, here is how Sports Illustrated rated Harden and Westbrook’s teammates BEFORE the season started on their SI Top 100 list:
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook #5, Steven Adams #40, Victor Oladipo #74, Enes Kanter #88 — average teammate grade of 67.3.
Houston Rockets: James Harden #7, Clint Capela #79, Trevor Ariza #81, Ryan Anderson #89 — average teammate grade of 83.0.
In this scenario, the LOWER the grade the better, obviously. Westbrook clearly had the better roster before the season started. Westbrook also had the best teammate of either squad in Steven Adams by 39 players.
Also, all of that talk about how the Thunder only dipped a handful of games after losing Kevin Durant is kind of subjective when you take a look at where Las Vegas had them pegged before the season started.
Las Vegas over/under lines in October:
Oklahoma City: 45.5 — Finished with 47, + 2 wins.
Houston: 41.5 — Finished with 55, + 14 wins (!!!).
Like Harden, Westbrook can’t help the situation or system he plays in, but situations and systems matter when voting. That system is the reason why Westbrook averaged a triple-double. That system is why his usage rate is the highest in the history of the NBA. That system is what has kept the Thunder somewhat relevant.
However, the MVP race isn’t the “let’s see who can put up the best statistics” race. Westbrook has been nothing short of amazing, but if you believe he deserves this award more than Harden simply because he averaged 1.5 more rebounds per game than you simply have too much appreciation for a statistic created by Oscar Robertson.
In a season where Harden become an offensive maestro, mastermind, sheer GENIUS, nobody was more impressive.
Kawhi Leonard was close for his ability to dominate games on both ends, but didn’t have enough “fixings” in my opinion. . Westbrook was close because he put up better statistics, but didn’t translate it to the win column or his teammates the way that Harden did. LeBron was close for his efficiency, improving in so many different areas this late in his career, and true VALUE to his team, but a 12-15 record after the All-Star break dropped him out of the conversation.
FACT: The tightest MVP race in the history of the NBA will be picked apart, re-ordered, and argued about for years. But to me, this is James Harden’s award.
2016-17 Rookie of the Year:
1. Malcolm Brogdon, G, Milwaukee Bucks
2. Dario Saric, PF, Philadelphia 76ers
3. Jaylen Brown, F, Boston Celtics
First off, let me say this about Brogdon winning this award. He WON the damn thing. There is no asterisk. There is no “well, he won because Embiid got hurt”. There is no question, to me. He was the best rookie this season for 82-games.
Malcolm Brogdon has been a very productive player for the Milwaukee Bucks. You know, the playoff team.
To me, contributing as a rookie to a playoff team is way more impressive than a guy who fills up a stat sheet on a really bad team. However, there are some cases where that’s true. Look no further than last year’s winner, Karl-Anthony Towns, who destroyed some of the best bigs in the NBA all season long. If you do that then you deserve to win. But Saric wasn’t doing that. He’s a nice player on a bad team. As a result, he has all of the opportunity in the world.
But this isn’t last year. And it isn’t next year, or who the best player in this class is going to be. This year, it was Malcolm Brogdon. Flat. Out.
Brogdon was steady all season for the Bucks off of the bench and eventually became an important piece as a starter. He is a primary to secondary ball handler most of the time, or else is spotting up on threes during the closing moments of BIG games. Jason Kidd wasn’t scared or hesitant to turn to the 4-year Virginia product once this season and that will show as he makes an impact in the playoffs.
A polished basketball player who was a true leader for the Bucks at age 24, and helped morph their identity.
Ask the Boston Celtics what they think of Brogdon. Ask Jaylen Brown, who was silenced by this performance right as Brown was starting to build a case for himself:
The reason I have Jaylen Brown ahead of Hield, Murray, Hernangomez, etc. is because he also impacted a playoff team. Jaylen Brown has been up and down this season like most rookies, but he has had stretches that have truly reflected the outcome of several Boston games. For at team with the best record in their conference, I had to hand him that third spot.
2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year:
1. Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
2. Draymond Green, F, Golden State Warriors
3. Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
Of all the awards each season, Defensive Player of the Year is my favorite. For whatever reason, it is also being considered a “two-man race” between Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green. Obviously I think differently.
While Kawhi has put together the second best case of any player to win this year’s MVP, it has distracted us from how phenomenal his defense has been in a season that he has apparently “slipped”.
As the lynchpin to the leagues best defense (104.25 defensive rating, 104.13 adjusted defensive rating, both good for first), Kawhi Leonard and his gigantic hands have found their way towards grabbing his THIRD STRAIGHT Defensive Player of the Year.
An unusual way of arguing this award in Kawhi’s favor is using unsupportive advanced metrics towards Kawhi’s defensive numbers. This season when team’s were facing the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard on the floor, their offensive rating was a surprising 106.9. When Leonard was off of the floor, opposing team’s offensive rating dropped to a 98.3. Opposing team’s offensive ratings were (statistically) a +8.6 better with Kawhi on the floor.
This can’t make sense can it? The greatest perimeter defender we’ve seen since the peak 90’s Bulls, and his team is better on that end without him on the court? Thanks to Matt Moore of CBS, Kawhi Leonard’s numbers are out of whack because he’s SO DAMN GOOD defensively, teams are taking who he’s guarding and sticking him in the corner and avoiding that entire area of the court. This is now known as, Kawhi-solation.
Think of it this way — the last two years of Kawhi Leonard (really, three-four) has been like Darrelle Revis when he was at his peak. He’d shadow your best receiver, following him on every route regardless of where he lined up on the field, and took him out of the game.
Kawhi Leonard this year has become Richard Sherman when he was at his peak, sort of. Richard Sherman took grief for not following his matchup. Instead, he’d line up on his side of the field and literally shut down one-third of the entire field. Tom Brady set a Super Bowl record 37 completions, with 50 attempts against Richard Sherman’s defense. However, Brady only targeted Sherman ONCE out of those 50 passes. While Kawhi Leonard isn’t playing a Cover 2 zone defense, the man he’s guarding is sitting in the corner and forcing Leonard to have as small of impact as he can on that side of the ball.
While you can argue who was better at their peak between Revis and Sherman, they were the best in the NFL at different periods of time. That being said, Kawhi Leonard has remained the best perimeter defender (or cornerback) in the NBA since he earned that title. He has continued to give opposing coaches the most trouble in their gamelans, without question.
Rudy Gobert has been the best rim protector in basketball, and Draymond Green has been the anchor (as usual) for Golden State’s second best defense. But in my opinion, Leonard and Green’s versatility is more impressive to me than Gobert’s duties — even if he was the best defensive big in the league.
The difference to me between Kawhi and Draymond are that the Warriors just have so much more help throughout their roster, even with Durant being injured for a long period of time. Not to mention how impactful Durant was for the Warriors’ defense while he was healthy. Draymond is the second best defensive player in the league, and if he trades in an individual trophy for another ring, I’d say that’s a fair trade.
As hard as teams are preparing to keep the ball away from Kawhi, he’s STILL 9th in the NBA in defensive rating and 6th in defensive win shares. But that wasn’t even Kawhi’s most impressive statistic this season.
Thanks to Tom Haberstroh for pointing this out:
LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Paul George vs. San Antonio in clutch situations: 7-27 FG (25.9%) and a combined -37. The Spurs won 7 out of 8 of those games, and Kawhi guarded each of them.
Three-peat! Three-peat! Three-peat!
2016-17 Sixth Man of the Year:
1. Andre Iguodala, F, Golden State Warriors
2. Eric Gordon, G, Houston Rockets
3. Enes Kanter, C, Oklahoma City Thunder
After just missing the award last season, Andre Iguodala has once again been huge for Golden State during their third straight run at #1 seed.
For a few seasons now, Iggy has had an argument that he’s the best player in the NBA that comes off of the bench. What else does the Sixth Man of the Year need to do?
Favorites such as Gordon, Kanter, and even Lou Williams are chuckers. Their job is to come in and shoot, or get buckets. Iguodala impacts each game differently. Some games it’s his scoring, others it’s his defense, or passing ability. He’s the ultimate glue guy for the best team in the NBA. Being thrusted into a larger role once Kevin Durant went down only solidifies how comfortable this team is with their pieces, especially Iguodala, as they didn’t slip out of first place.
An incredible statistic about Andre Iguodala is that he leads the NBA in assist-turnover-ratio at 4.50 (Chris Paul 3.83).
2016-17 Most Improved Player of the Year:
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks
2. Isaiah Thomas, G, Boston Celtics
3. Tim Hardaway Jr, G, Atlanta Hawks
After being drafted as a project player, Giannis has became more than a player with a high ceiling. Since becoming a fan favorite, and earning the best nickname in the NBA, The Greek Freak has ARRIVED as one of, if not thee best under-22-year-old in the world.
This season Antetokounmpo became the first player in the history of the NBA to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.
After earning only 0.3 minutes per game, Giannis had no trouble improving every aspect of his game.
2015-16: 35.3 mpg, 16.9 ppg, 4.3 apg, 7.7 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.4 bpg
2016-17: 35.6 mpg, 22.9 ppg, 5.4 apg, 8.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.9 bpg
2016-17 Coach of the Year:
1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
2. Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
3. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
I once read an official NBA rule book, and in the back it said something about how if you’re able to win 60+ games the year after your organization’s all-time best player retires your coach should automatically win Coach of the Year.
Congratulations to the NBA’s Bill Belichick for another season of glorious success!
2016-17 All-NBA Teams:
Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
James Harden, G, Houston Rockets
Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers
Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
The first four players on this list are an absolute lock and if you don’t have each of those four players on your list than you should probably never talk about basketball again. There is no other argument, that list is final. FINAL.
Where it becomes interesting is whether or not you think Anthony Davis is a power forward or a center. Davis spent just about 65% of his minutes this season at center, which does more than qualify him.
That being said, Gobert was the best defensive big man in the league by any defensive metric. Gobert had more total, offensive, defensive, and per game rebounds than Davis.
Sure, Davis scored 14 more points per game than Gobert, but Gobert’s role as a defensive specialist and rebounding savage earned him 17 more wins than Davis got. To me, winning is the ultimate trump card and Gobert deserved First Team All-NBA honors, for this season.
Isaiah Thomas, G, Boston Celtics
Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant, F, Golden State Warriors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks
Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Isaiah Thomas just wrapped up maybe the most unexpected campaign of the NBA season. He finished 3rd in scoring and was the greatest 4th quarter performer we’ve seen in decades. Thomas, like Stephen Curry were the straws that stirred their teams to the best records in their respected conferences. Each, deserving of second team honors.
Giannis makes the second team for the reasons listed above and restoring hope throughout Wisconsin as he returned the Bucks to the playoffs.
Kevin Durant played in 62 games this season, which qualifies as enough to make an All-NBA team — history suggests you need at least 55-60. While healthy, Kevin Durant was without question a top-5 MVP candidate, but falls to the second team considering how special Kawhi and LeBron were.
The most impressive bigs in the NBA this season were Gobert, Davis, Towns, Jordan, Whiteside, and Cousins. In that order. Anthony Davis found very little, but still more team success than Karl-Anthony Towns this season, and was also 4th in the NBA in scoring while only grabbing one less board per game than Towns, resulting in a second place finish.
John Wall, G, Washington Wizards
DeMar DeRozan, G, Toronto Raptors
Gordon Hayward, F, Utah Jazz
Draymond Green, F, Golden State Warriors
Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
The biggest question for everybody on their third team is whether to place Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler, or Paul George on it. For me it was simple. Give me the guy who is very impactful to his team (all three), has the best record (Hayward), and cross of anybody who belongs to a team that we have zero faith of winning a playoff series (George, Butler).
While I’m not buying the hype of John Wall as an MVP candidate, he has a real argument as a top 3 guard in the league. Unfortunately for him he’s going against 3 MVP candidate guards who literally hoisted their team onto their backs and were more produced better cases. And the other guy owns the best record in the NBA. That being said, if I’m playing against John Wall in a playoff series, I honestly have zero idea or strategy as to how I’m going to find any sleep the night before.
Even without Kyle Lowry for a long stretch, DeMar DeRozan kept the boat afloat. 5th in the league in scoring is impressive, especially when you legitimately refuse to shoot three pointers.
Hey, Karl-Anthony! The third team isn’t so bad! You just become the first player to ever score 2,000, rebound 1,000, and knock down 100 threes in a season! Chin up!
If you ever see Draymond Green reading this just calmly explain to him that I’m not only sorry, but also terrified of him. Third team isn’t so bad when you look at the players listed ahead of you.
2016-17 All-Defensive Teams:
Chris Paul, G, Los Angeles Clippers
Avery Bradley, G, Boston Celtics
Kawhi Leonard, F, San Antonio Spurs
Draymond Green, F, Golden State Warriors
Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz
Okay, okay let me explain myself. Before you call me a homer, having Bradley AND Smart on the All Defensive Teams, it actually makes sense.
First off, let me get this out of the way — Kawhi, Draymond, Gobert are locks.
Secondly, Chris Paul is a lock every year of his career as long as he plays enough games. By the way, 61 games is enough! Congratulations Chris Paul!
Okay, for everything good that Isaiah Thomas is, he’s like, actually the worst defender in the entire NBA. He’s a revolving door, and a small one to say the least. Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder have shuffled around on defensive lineups all season trying to hide Isaiah and have found the best record in the Eastern Conference as a result. That doesn’t happen by accident. For everything Isaiah does for Boston on offense, Bradley and Smart do for Isaiah on defense.
Sure, there are other variables such as injuries, the Cavaliers having no idea how to close out the final four games of the season, and maybe even just somebody being better than Smart or Bradley. But defense is so tough to quantify with numbers in certain instances. Having to hide the worst defensive player in the NBA will negatively affect your team’s statistics. As a result, neither guy has very impressive advanced metrics to show for it.
That being said, what we see can not lie. We know Kawhi Leonard is the best defensive player in the NBA, but if there is a number two as to who can disrupt a guard’s game, that’s Avery Bradley. Without question. Ask the players. Ask the coaches. For Christ sake, we call him the “Curry-Stopper”. Bradley returned from an injury and won the damn Cleveland game by dropping Kyrie Irving on defensive highlight clips (RIP Vine) when it should be the other way around! No more than a week later, Bradley checked Curry for zero 4th quarter points and had numerous strips/forced turnovers to finish off the game.
Marcus Smart, G, Boston Celtics
Patrick Beverley, G, Houston Rockets
Andre Roberson, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul Millsap, F, Atlanta Hawks
Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans
While Bradley was out with injury, Marcus Smart stepped up and filled this role for Boston. He’s just as talented defensively that it has gotten to the point of us wondering if Avery Bradley is expendable for Boston. How can the best defensive guard in the NBA be expendable under any situation????
I swear to most of you Marcus Smart is an unknown in this league. If you don’t think he’s good, you don’t watch enough Boston games. And if you don’t think he’s a top defensive guard in the NBA, you’re batshit crazy. Marcus comes out when it’s winning time and he impacts games with charges, strips, deflections, tipped rebounds, drawing offensive fouls, and intercepting passes at a rate like I’ve never seen before. He’s listed as a point guard, yet is the only point guard in the NBA that can defend players from the range of Chris Paul to Giannis Antetokounmpo to Kristaps Porzingis to Paul Millsap.
Here are over 4 minutes of Smart from only the first three months of this season:
Patrick Beverley is essentially a more grown, adult version of Marcus Smart and covers all of James Harden’s tracks on the defensive end. He’s also the last guard in the NBA I’d want to fight.
Andre Roberson is to Russell Westbrook what Patrick Beverley is to James Harden as Marcus Smart/Avery Bradley are to Isaiah Thomas.
Anthony Davis is the best big man in basketball, but this season he was the second best defensive big in the NBA. I’m looking forward to the day that he realizes he needs to A. get away from DeMarcus Cousins and B. get away from New Orleans.
Paul Millsap is one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA. He’s essentially impossible to move in the post and can switch onto anybody. He alone can win the Washington/Atlanta series with his dominance on BOTH ends of the court. Also, am I the only one who is stunned by how much better Millsap has turned out to be than Al Horford?
Ricky Rubio, G, Minnesota Timberwolves
Tony Allen, G, Memphis Grizzlies
Jae Crowder, F, Boston Celtics
Kevin Durant, F, Golden State Warriors
Hassan Whiteside, C, Miami Heat
Yes, I know there are only two teams, but these guys needed a shoutout.
All statistics found on basketball reference.