Expert picks for every major NBA award, from MVP to Coach of the Year
FOX Sports staff
The 2016-17 NBA season wraps up on Wednesday with 28 teams in action, yet we won't find out the winners of the Association's regular-season awards until June.
That gives us plenty of time to debate the MVP, Coach of the Year, and all the other major awards well after the ballots have been cast. So as we gear up for the white-hot 2017 NBA playoffs, we asked our NBA writers and editors — Nunzio Ingrassia, Dieter Kurtenbach, Andrew Lynch, Brett Pollakoff and Andre Vergara — to cast their votes for the seven major awards: Executive of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP.
Enjoy, then let us know what we got wrong. We know you'll be happy to correct us.
NBAE/Getty ImagesBill Baptist
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers, Golden State Warriors & Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets (TIED)
That's right; we have a tie in the Executive of the Year race. We promise it's the only one on the ballot.
Bob Myers: 2 votes
POLLAKOFF: The Warriors landed Kevin Durant in free agency. The End.
LYNCH: You can't overthink this one. The only argument against giving Myers Executive of the Year is he had to lay the groundwork to sign KD over multiple seasons. Even then, pulling the trigger on the move this summer wins him the award.
Daryl Morey: 2 votes
INGRASSIA: Between hiring Mike D’Antoni and bringing in the array of shooters his system needs (Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson), Morey has pushed the right buttons this season. The Rockets have bounced back in a big way from a disappointing 41-41 campaign with Morey betting big on seven-seconds-or-less philosophy.
VERGARA: He had the vision to hire Mike D’Antoni and got him his shooters in Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams. Morey said bye to Dwight Howard and won more games going all-in on James Harden, who rewarded him with the most impressive statistical season ever.
Masai Ujiri: 1 vote
KURTENBACH: Among the executives who are in contention, only Ujiri made moves that significantly improved his team’s chances to win a title mid-season. The acquisition of Serge Ibaka was stellar, but the under-the-radar pickup of P.J. Tucker was so lopsided that it should singlehandedly clinch him the award.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Most Improved Player: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Isaiah Thomas: 2 votes
VERGARA: The Celtics point guard is scoring 29.1 points per game, or 10 more than his career average, and all his shooting stats are up. The most impressive is his fourth-quarter scoring (9.8 ppg), which is second only to Russell Westbrook’s. But Thomas has led his team to more wins, so he gets the edge.
KURTENBACH: Just because he’s 27 doesn’t mean he didn’t improve dramatically year over year — Thomas’ true shooting percentage improved by 6.4 points and he accounted for three more win shares than his All-Star campaign last year. Sure, he might be a terrible defender, but he became the NBA’s best clutch player this year and that jump shouldn’t be overlooked.
Giannis Anteotokunmpo: 1 vote
LYNCH: The leap from stardom to superstardom is the hardest to make — and Giannis did it this year. His numbers were up across the board, including an increase of six points per game on better shooting. The only hole in his game is a 3-point stroke. If he can add that, everyone else is doomed.
Nikola Jokic: 1 vote
INGRASSIA: Yes, you probably know Russell Westbrook’s triple-double count this season, but did you know Nikola Jokic has one of his own? Did you even know he existed before reading the first sentence? The Nuggets big man has taken a huge step forward in his second season, becoming one of the most versatile big men in the league.
Otto Porter Jr.: 1 vote
POLLAKOFF:Porter's field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage both made significant leaps this season, despite the fact that he's played more minutes per game and has attempted more shots. He's also a starter for a Wizards team that's the four seed in the East, while other candidates for the award (like Denver's Nikola Jokic) will be sitting the postseason out.
Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala: 3 votes
KURTENBACH: He has the highest real plus-minus of any sixth man in the NBA (sandwiched on that overall list between Giannis and Blake Griffin) and has shown just how valuable he is to the Warriors since Durant went out of the lineup. Lou Williams wasn’t able to keep up his production in Houston and Eric Gordon doesn’t stack up when you seriously look at defense. It has to be Iguodala.
VERGARA: Eric Gordon has been good, but Iggy gives you more rebounds, more assists, better shooting and better defense. Sure, Gordon pours in more threes, but Iggy makes them at a better clip. If the Warriors needed it, he could put up numbers like Gordon. He just doesn’t have to since he’s playing with four All-Stars.
LYNCH: When the Warriors struggled to find their footing with Durant in town, and when they were hit hard by KD's injury, Iguodala was the player who kept Golden State afloat. Through the second half of the season, he's been one of the top 20 players in the NBA, period. And for that, he should win Sixth Man of the Year.
Eric Gordon: 1 vote
POLLAKOFF: Gordon had started in all but six games over his previous seven NBA seasons before joining Houston this year, but he's been incredible off the bench for the Rockets. He's third in the league in three-point attempts, fourth (or fifth, depending on the last game) in three-pointers made, and plays a starter's share of minutes for a team with the league's second-most efficient offense.
Lou Williams: 1 vote
INGRASSIA: In a twist, the top two candidates are on the same team. The Rockets acquired Williams from the Lakers before the trade deadline, teaming him with fellow standout sixth man Eric Gordon. Though their numbers are similar, Williams has Gordon beat in a number of categories and gets the slight edge for what he’s done over the entire season.
Coach of the Year: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets
Mike D'Antoni: 4 votes
POLLAKOFF: James Harden is leading the league in assists while averaging career highs in points and rebounds at the same time. D'Antoni made one of the best players in the league even better by moving him to point guard on a full-time basis, and the result was the Rockets winning [54 or 55] games and finishing with the three seed in the West.
VERGARA: He made James Harden his point guard and hoops heads rolled their eyes. Welp, that move worked and so did the three-point attack, with the Rockets hitting an NBA record 1,162 of them en route to winning more than 50 games. Now will he win in the playoffs?
KURTENBACH: He made the stellar decision to turn James Harden into a dribble-drive point guard at the beginning of the year and should be rewarded at the end of a banner season in Houston for that one simple, logical, and prolific move. (And the defense hasn’t been half bad, either.)
INGRASSIA: When given the right roster (shooters with a dominant ball handler), Mike D’Antoni has proven he can work wonders in the regular season – stress regular season. His system has helped James Harden reach new levels this season and transformed the Rockets into a legit title contender. It’s just enough to narrowly edge out Erik Spoelstra, who has performed miracles in Miami.
Erik Spoelstra: 1 vote
LYNCH: D'Antoni's an outstanding choice, especially after almost everyone on the Internet ridiculed the Rockets for hiring the former Suns (and Lakers, and Knicks) coach. The joke was on us, it would seem.
With that said, we need to recognize Spoelstra for the job he's done with this piecemeal Heat roster. Miami likely will come up short of the playoff thanks to the Nets resting against the Bulls in the season finale, but that doesn't change Spo's standing in the coaching hierarchy.
Thomas SheaThomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert: 3 votes
VERGARA: How has Utah won 50 games? The Jazz allow the fewest points, and Gobert is at the center of that. He leads the NBA in blocks (2.7 pg) and defensive win shares (6.0). Players shoot just 55.8 percent against him in the restricted area, which leads all centers.
POLLAKOFF: This one came down to Gobert vs. Draymond Green, but there's really no denying that Gobert is more important to his team than Green is. The Warriors are built to outscore teams if they have to with their otherworldy offense, while the Jazz rely heavily on their third-ranked defense to slow teams down. Gobert is the one who makes that possible.
LYNCH: Pollakoff made my argument for me. Draymond has Andre Iguodala on his side; Rudy Gobert has George Hill.
I like George Hill. I do. He's no Andre Iguodala, though.
Draymond Green: 1 vote
KURTENBACH: Rudy Gobert is certainly deserving of this award, but Green’s late-season defensive push with Kevin Durant out of the Warriors lineup was nothing shy of spellbinding. If the two players were tied before March started (as they were in my mind), Green separated himself in the final six weeks of the season.
Kawhi Leonard: 1 vote
INGRASSIA: Draymond Green might be a more versatile defender but the league is perimeter-oriented and it’s hard to find a better on-ball defender than Leonard. The reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year is a rare breed in today’s game – a superstar who wants to guard the other team’s best player.
Russell IsabellaRuss Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid: 3 votes
KURTENBACH: No rookie had more of an effect on his team and their playoff chances this season than Embiid — it sucks to give the award to a player who played only 786 minutes, but no other rookie stepped up to claim the award in his absence.
LYNCH: Embiid was the most exceptional rookie in an awful class. I'm giving the injured big man the award based on his spectacular 31-game performance and moving on before this "race" makes me any angrier.
VERGARA: Yes, he played only 31 games. So what? Embiid averaged 20.2 points in 25.4 minutes. No other rookie comes close. The poor guy had to wait two years to be a rookie. Don’t deny him; give him his rightful award. Do you really wanna give it to Dario Saric?
Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers: 1 vote
INGRASSIA: As tight as the MVP race has been because of all the great performances, this race is too close to call for all the wrong reasons. Joel Embiid looked to be the clear choice, then he got injured. Embiid’s teammate Saric gets the nod in the worst Rookie of the Year class in recent memory.
Malcolm Brogdon: 1 vote
POLLAKOFF: Joel Embiid was the best player in the rookie class this year, and it wasn't even close. But injuries limited to appearing in just 31 games, and he was drafted three years ago. Brogdon has played meaningful minutes for a Bucks team that got better as the season went along, and again, winning matters with these things, which is why Dario Saric wasn't as strongly considered.
MVP: James Harden, Houston Rockets
James Harden: 3 votes
KURTENBACH: There is no incorrect answer between Harden and Russell Westbrook, but ultimately I believe Harden’s efficiency — no one has created more points per game in NBA history (with an incredible true shooting percentage, to boot) — is more important than the difference between 9 and 10 rebounds a game (particularly when at least one of those rebounds comes via stat padding). And I don’t buy the argument that Westbrook’s teammates are any worse than Harden’s.
POLLAKOFF:In an extremely tight race that came down to Harden vs. Westbrook, the team success of the Rockets is what ultimately gave Harden the edge. The award has historically been about recognizing the best player on one of the league's top few teams, and the Thunder finishing 10th in the league-wide standings hurt Westbrook's case.
LYNCH: Making a decision in this awards race physically hurts.
I've gone back and forth on the three top candidates (sorry, Kawhi Leonard) for the past month, and really for the entire season. LeBron is the best player on the planet. We'll probably regret not giving him the award every year when we look back on this era, but so be it. If The King wants his crown, he has to work for it just like everyone else.
Westbrook is phenomenal, of course, as the Thunder would be doomed without him. Yet I can't get over the word "valuable."
Even if Harden has better teammates, he's the skeleton key that unlocks this Rockets team in all its glory. After all, it's not like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon were setting the world on fire before they teamed up with The Beard.
Harden added the most value, in terms of winning basketball games, of the four major candidates this season. That makes him the MVP.
Now go away before I change my mind again, please.
Russell Westbrook: 2 votes
VERGARA: He averaged a triple-double, but it’s more than that. He took a team that lost its best player and got nothing back and carried it to almost 50 wins. Harden, LeBron and Kawhi were great, but their teams still make the playoffs without them. Not the Thunder.
INGRASSIA:What’s been more fascinating this season: Watching Russell Westbrook average a triple-double this season or listening to all the talking heads argue he doesn’t deserve the MVP? You can spot shadow “cheap rebounds” and spout metrics all you want, I’ll take history on this one and appreciate witnessing something I never thought I’d get to see.