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.