By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
The NBA season has ended, which means it is now time for the praising of those who individually experienced success, even if their teams did not. Production, or lack thereof, always carries a certain unforeseen consequence of the extreme. This result is what leads to a Mike Conley Jr. earning $26 million per and Chandler Parsons making $22 million per respectfully. Whereas, a player’s impact is far left tangible therefore it is ignored or even disregarded at times. Look no further than Kawhi Leonard’s salary of $17 million per or Klay Thompson’s check of $16 million a year.
It is easy to question the value of a player based on several factors, but what can never be debated is a historical feat. When history is broached and or overcome all that can be said is “Salute”. With that we are here to give daps to the overachieving and celebrate the greatness of the players around the league. Production and impact will run hand and hand in these selections, even if the production (i.e. win total) is not as high as many would like. These are individual awards for players who no matter what they do will always lose out to the habitual ineptitude of their team and teammates.
Most Improved Player: Isaiah Thomas – Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas will more than likely not win this award, despite being the balling epitome of what it stands for. The generously listed 5’9 guard has taken an already All-Star worthy offensive game to new heights, and the Boston Celtics won the No. 1 seed in the conference because of that growth. The addition of four time All-Star forward Al Horford has opened up space for the guard to penetrate, which Thomas has taken full advantage of. The Celtic All-Star finished the season ranked second in fourth quarter points (9.8 per), second most points in the “clutch”, third in points per game with 28.9, third in free throws made (7.8 per), seventh in made field goals (9.0 per), and seventh in free throw attempts (8.5 per) just to name a few numbers.
However, it is Thomas’ performance against Cleveland, Toronto and Washington that has propelled him ahead of his counterparts. As a unit Boston is 4 – 7 against the aforementioned three, with Isaiah on the court, but the losses have been in spite of Thomas’ performance not because of it. At an average of 29.2 points per the former Washington Husky has shown he is up to the challenge of keeping the Celtics above the competition.
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder – Utah Jazz
As much as Miami Heat general Erik Spolestra is the desired choice, there is no way to justify a head coach from a non-playoff team winning any type of award for achievement. Therefore, Utah Jazz Head Coach Quin Snyder gets the nod. Snyder led the Jazz to a 51 – 31 record and the Northwest Division crown.
Utah was a sub .500 team last season (40 – 42), their third losing season in a row. When the year began many believed the Salt Lake City group were on the rise and a possible 50 win club. The Jazz lived up to those expectations bestowed upon them, which is sometimes harder than when a team has unexpected success.
First there is the 11 game improvement, then the coach’s ability to be successful playing fundamental basketball and finally the development of center Rudy Gobert all give credence to this selection. Coach Snyder had the unmitigated gall to teach the game minus gimmicks and without previous any previous M.V.P candidates. Gobert’s defensive resume is on par with some of the game’s juggernauts. The center ended the year with 42 games of three or more blocks, 5th in defensive rebounds, 1st in total blocks, 1st in blocks per game and 1st in Defensive Win Shares all pretty impressive numbers. But putting the big in position to accumulate those numbers should not be overlooked.
The Utah front man created a defense for the center to thrive in and an offense that allowed Gordon Hayward to make his first ever All-Star appearance. That is coaching. The Jazz completed the year ranked third in defensive efficiency and 12th in offensive efficiency, without a roster full of top five picks. Joe Johnson may be the squad’s most recognizable name. Snyder took a novel idea of teaching both ends of the court, along with developing players and turned it into a 51 win season. A head nod also goes to Houston Rockets offensive mastermind Mike D’Antoni, who has revitalized guard James Harden.
Rookie of the Year: Dario Saric – Philadelphia 76ers
Dario Saric is NOT the winner by default for this award, in fact the former EuroLeague star earned the trophy through strife and hard work. The 76ers were about as fun as a prostate exam, but Saric made it bearable. His effort and production were visible from start to finish. It was a tale of two seasons for the forward, one as a patient reserve and the second as an assertive starter. In 45 games as a reserve the 76er averaged a modest, but still impressive 11 points, six rebounds and two assists. In his 36 games as a starter 15 points per, seven boards and three dimes. March has been known to be where rookies hit the wall and tend to fall off, this was not the case with Dario. The ides of March proved to be the Croatian’s most prolific month.
In 17 games, all starts, the rookie posted 18.4 ppg/7.0 rpg/ 3.4 apg, including a career high 34 points in Chicago. Saric would also grab 10 rebounds in a rare road win. For the record 53 games of 10 or more points all while playing a role that went from starter-to-reserve-to-starter again is why this rookie went from afterthought to conversation starter. Joel Embiid’s monitored minutes still failed him and should not be considered, just as Milwaukee Bucks’ guard Malcolm Brogdon and Sacramento Kings’ guard Buddy Hield are only mentioned because someone else has to be.
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers – Golden State Warriors
Adding Kevin Durant was spectacular, adding ZaZa Pachulia was more judicious, but the coup was keeping the team’s cap flexibility going forward. Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Durant are the only players of consequence under contract next season for the Warriors. Durant can opt out, which is likely, but both Thompson and Green have modest contracts by today’s standards.
This opens the door for Golden State to re-sign Stephen Curry, which is not a given, but also keep the club competitive for years to follow. Myers has kept the Warriors competitive (which has kept the arena full) while remaining financially sensible (which has kept the check writers happy). Houston Rockets czar Daryl Morey and San Antonio Spurs shot caller R. C. Buford are worthy of mention here also. Both have chosen to reload rather than rebuild and have been successful thus far in doing such.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond “Hands” Green – Golden State Warriors
At times it feels like people take turns hating on the Golden State Warrior forward, for reasons that never seem to be basketball related. Draymond Green came from nowhere to become the unquestioned leader of the NBA’s most potent team. Yet, for some how he leads his crew overshadows where he has led them to.
Watch a Golden State Warriors game and it is impossible to not be mesmerized by Draymond’s hustle and activity. The second round pick always has his hands in the passing lanes, he is always denying ball, his hands are always up, he constantly moves his feet, and there is not a possession that goes by where he is quiet.
The former Michigan State Spartan finished the regular season second in total steals (154) and steals per game (2.0) which is fantastic for the numbers never lie crowd. Yet, it is the forward’s on-the-ball defense that separates him from the pack. Green ranks second in deflections per (3.9), second in defensive rating (99.1), second in defensive win shares (5.4), and fifth in contested shots per (13.7). Such a resume is a testament to his determination and defensive wherewithal.
Most Valuable Player: Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder
At some point people are going to have to stop constructing hateful cases against “the Brodie”! Before the exodus of ______ a triple-double was considered a feat of strength, now some pundits treat it like Mondays. When a player overtakes Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James in a single season the M.V.P trophy should be a given. Unless it comes at the expense of the powerful new media, then there are questions about just how potent those numbers are.
Consider this Stephen Curry was the unanimous award winner last year and averaged less points (30.1 vs 31.6), grabbed 434 less rebounds (430 vs. 864), tallied 317 less assists (523 vs. 840), and had the benefit of playing with two other All-Stars. Essentially Curry claim the trophy in such fashion because the Warriors won 73 games and the guard made a whole lot of threes. Now Steph is an amazing offensive player, and the goal is not to diss rather it is to point out the hypocrisy that exist.
When LeBron James left Cleveland their NBA franchise died. This was not the case in Oklahoma City, or even in Chicago, homes to two of the most recent questionable M.V.P winners. Derrick Rose and Durant both were “given” the most valuable title despite its rightful owner that season being James. Nevertheless, the Bulls are in the playoffs in Rose’s first year gone and Westbrook actually has gotten better since Durant’s departure.
This cannot be the case! OKC and specifically Russell are suppose to crumble. The former UCLA Bruin was certain to be an undisciplined reincarnation of Allen Iverson. Instead the game’s most fierce competitor led the Thunder to a win total, eight games shy of the previous years. No doubt there have been “Iverson-ish” moments, but this is to be expected when Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter are your next best scoring options.
Those player’s previous team’s record with them in tow and who they were traded for should solidify just how implausible a season Russell has had. The Utah Jazz selected Kanter third overall in the 2011 draft and traded him four years later for Tibor Pleiss, Grant Jerrett and Kendrick Perkins. To be clear none of those players are even in the league.
Much has been made, and rightfully so, about Westbrook’s production both good and bad. The internet has been infiltrated with videos and diagrams displaying how the Thunder have helped the mercurial guard amass record setting performances. However, until one person can illustrate how the opposing team stopped competing, such attempts should be futile.
To date only one other person in league history has accomplished what we all witnessed this season. To not pay homage with an award dedicated to rewarding feats alike, would be a bigger travesty than voting unanimously for a player because they made a lot of jumpers.
By: Kwame Fisher-Jones
As the NBA playoffs commence its most frequent participator faces his most difficult journey to date. Each season the obstacles appear to be more insurmountable than the previous years’ for LeBron James. The 2016/2017 season has remained true to that form, however it feels as if this season’s series of events could stifle James’ seventh consecutive NBA Finals appearance and destroy his dreams of a fourth NBA ring.
Or is it possible we will witness an unforeseen conquest of the most recent dream team assemblage? In order for that conquest to come to fruition a series of Eastern Conference mid-season acquisitions and a vicious rash of injuries must also be vanquished by the Cavalier of Cleveland.
Nevertheless the table has been set. Last year’s championship was impressive, leading the Cavs back from a 3-to-1 hole will never be taken away from James. But that was last year, and a new moment is upon us.
After stating Cleveland was “top heavy” and informing management of the team’s need for a playmaker, the All-Star forward placed down his shield and picked up his sword. Playing a league leading 37.8 minutes per, James’ highest in five seasons, all appearances are the King is ready to carry the load. And after a 32 point, 13 assist game one performance there is no reason to believe the 13 time All-Star will fall off.
But endings are not immediate, and while the King’s fighting spirit is admirable, the implementation of that spirit could have catastrophic results. James has managed to avoid the injury bug, yet fatigue is bound to rear its ugly head. This is when the front office’s reluctance, or inability, to make a gauntlet dropping move could be costly.
Cleveland played a significant part of the season without forward Kevin Love (missed 20 games) and guard J.R. Smith (missed 41 games), which directly affected the team finding itself holding the second seed in the playoffs. This could possibly have created a difficult, but not insuperable, road to what feels like LeBron’s 78th trip to the NBA Finals.
After declaring help was needed the three time Finals MVP realized early what us fans realized late, that the likes of Lou Williams and Carmelo Anthony were not going to grace the Q hardwood in a title defense. It was also unlikely that anyone of consequence was going to walk through those arena doors.
While the Eastern Conference failed at gaining ground on the defending champions, the more egregious offense was the defending champion’s failure to slam the door to hope shut. Such actions may have created a season’s load that may prove too heavy to bear. There is little doubt Cleveland will make it to the NBA Finals, but will an exhausted and overexerted James be the price. At this point in the three-time champion’s career it should be about conserving his dominance on a nightly basis instead of forcing him to confirm it. By adding a player, like say a DeMarcus Cousins, one of the game’s more impressive championship runs may have continued. However, now it feels more and more as if once the Cavalier star reaches the Finals, he won’t have anything left to win in the Finals.
The four time league MVP has chased the ghosts of legends passed since his rookie season, and this year’s challenges have set the table for him to unceremoniously pass the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to name a few. Making seven straight NBA Finals will be the headline, but the conquest would be told in the details. The 2016 – 2017 Cavaliers were ravaged by injuries, yet their wounded and exhausted Gladiator led his troops to victory and in the process seized the throne as the game’s greatest champion.
Sounds like a fairytale, or something straight out of the movies. Better yet, it sounds like the end to one of the greatest NBA careers we have ever witnessed. Win or lose after 14 seasons of hunting this prize feels bigger than them all. This season’s crown would squash any forthcoming stale debates about where James’ lies in the hierarchy of icons, basketball greats and champions. Simply because this title would be his greatest acquisition.
Each year since reaching the championship round way back in the 2006 – 2007 season, it has been the talented forward’s title to lose. The current campaign was the first where expectations for a title were replaced by the hope for one. Now a player whose heart, not talent, have consistently been questioned is playing on nothing else. His team is not the most talented, and considering number one seeds have won 7 of the last 10 NBA titles, the lack of championship predictions seem appropriate for this group. But this is the King and he has relished in the unexpected before.
Somewhere the NBA world has forgotten or chose to misremember just what the Akron native has done up to this point. Yes, the front office should have added another piece but that is just another obstacle to overtake. Yes, the Warriors added more firepower but the Chosen One still has the best arsenal and yes San Antonio is led by a basketball genius.
But Cleveland is still home to the game’s only mastermind.
The Indiana Pacers will not beat the Central Division champions, but they will beat them up. The Washington Wizards, who are poised to make a title run, will not beat the number two seed in the east, but they too will lay some vicious blows. All of which would create a legless champion resting on the ropes only to respond with a flurry of pride and grit. All on their way to the most impressive of championships.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers win the title LeBron James’ reign as King will end and his accession to basketball God will be unquestioned.