2017–18 NBA End of Season Awards

Credit: USA Today Sports

After a season that is far too long for its own good, the NBA has actually produced some intriguing conversations around who should get the major 2017–2018 REGULAR SEASON awards.[1] I will take on Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Most Valuable Player. I don’t need to bore you with why Lou Williams is sixth man worthy or Victor Oladipo is the most improved player of the season. I’ll also try to fill out my All-NBA teams as well which is probably the hardest exercise of the lot. Here we go.

Rookie of the Year

Let’s clear up two points from the start. First, Ben Simmons is a rookie by definition and the narrative about him not being a “real” rookie is foolishness. Your rookie season in the NBA starts the moment you play in a regular season game. Doesn’t matter if only played 13 minutes and snapped your leg in your first game like Julius Randle in 2014. You step on the court in the regular season, the rookie year begins. Simmons didn’t play last year. He is a rookie. Second, there is no question that being with a NBA team is a huge advantage for a player and Simmons does have that advantage over Utah’s Donovan Mitchell.

While the two players look similar when considering team success and shouldering a large burden of on court productivity, Mitchell does stand out as a multi-talented scorer in ways that Simons doesn’t. Stated plainly: Mitchell can shoot and Simmons has room to improve. That Mitchell is leading a team reorganizing the entire offense following the departure of Gordon Hayward makes Mitchell that much more impressive.

Still, Simmons is a winner for me here. Step outside of shooting, which is important, Simmons is an absolute monster. That he is able to still score when defenses know he doesn’t have an outside game is remarkable. His physical tools — particularly his vision, speed, and finishing at the rim — puts him in the category of better player. It’s a big reason why Simmons possess a higher player efficiency rating (20.1 vs. 16.8), win shares (9.2 to 5.3), and real plus/minus (3.35 to 1.87).

It’s not as iron clad as Ben Simmons makes it but Simmons is a clear winner for the award. And yes, being around a team and NBA weight room helped him win it.

1) Ben Simmons

2) Donovan Mitchell

3) Jayson Tatum

Coach of the Year

So much of voting for these awards is understanding the criteria that the voter considers for interpreting the category. Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the NBA but doesn’t win every year mostly because people see the awards as: 1) which coach presided over a team that sucked last year but is good this year or 2) which coach dealt with tremendous adversity during the year or 3) did you do something absolutely extraordinary with the same general pieces. Mike D’Antoni fits this mode for his 2017 Coach of the Year award and it’s the same limits that have him as an after thought despite the Rockets owning the best record in the NBA and notably improved their defense to a top ten level.[2]

If we look at what makes coaching stand out, I look at Brad Stevens, Dwane Casey, and Nate McMillan. When sorting out the pieces, Stevens has been incredibly impressive reorganizing the season plans following the horrific Gordon Hayward injury and later still adjusting to not having first half MVP contender Kyrie Irving. To maintain the defensive principles and find scoring is a testament to the praised heaped on him by most of the basketball community. Nate McMillan took a team that people generally forgot about, a team that lost their best two-way player, and made them a good team. 5th seed in the east when folks didn’t expect playoffs from them. And when I say good, I mean good. Not great. Not above average. Good. It’s impressive how much we don’t appreciate good — low ceiling but hits that ceiling more often than not.

Top marks go to Dwane Casey. It’s not just the top record in the conference after an uninspiring season last year. It’s the fact that the Raptors finished the season top five in points allowed (defense) and points scored (offense). They’re the only team in that category. And they reorganized their offense into a more dynamic, efficient, modern day offense. Extra touches, over 8 more threes per game (DeROZAN!), and got out the cellar for percentage of baskets off assists[3]. Necessity may be the mother of innovation but not everyone can successfully innovate. Casey and the Raptors did and they are a legit force to deal with in the playoffs.

1) Dwane Casey

2) Brad Stevens

3) Nate McMillan

Most Valuable Player

Here we go with this award. Let me outline a few points about the award and how I consider players for it. First, and I know I am repeating myself, but we need to stop overthinking the name and acknowledge it is the best player in the league award for a given regular season. One season. It does NOT mean this player is the league’s best player when everyone is playing at maximum effort. It’s based on what happened in the too long season where players do coast a bit or play like their lives depended on it every night. For me, wins don’t matter that much but elite win totals can give you a bump up in close situations. I don’t need my MVP coming from the best team nor do I subscribe to the idea that they need to cross the 50 wins threshold. However, once you enter the 60 or 65-win total, that’s rare air and that should absolutely matter.

James Harden has been the best player in the league. He has been stunningly efficient, further cultivated the step back as the most damaging isolation play in basketball, maintained his ball distribution power, and was not ghastly on defense. Yes, he did have the most help on his team but few players can put up the figures he did. In fact, only Westbrook and Jordan have ever composed a 30ppg/8apg/5rpg in the modern era.

Most of this piece sits at this next point: Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Popular narrative suggest that Lebron James has nearly an identical case for getting the MVP[4]. 27ppg/9apg/8rpg (career highs in assists and rebounds), leading the league in minutes, and a stellar ranking of number one in clutch points and second in clutch plus-minus is compelling. The race is a two-person race which is, frankly, a bit disingenuous.

I am here to suggest that Anthony Davis has been the equal of James and I don’t really understand why he has been ignored in the rush to create a Harden/James battle for the ages. Davis had the worst roster for the season compared to Harden and James and still but up the outstanding: 28ppg/11rpg with a league leading 2.6 blocks per game. Remember how Lebron was second in clutch plus-minus? Davis was number one. Just as the James/Harden debate says the advanced metrics show how tights things are, the figures on Davis/James are, well, tiiight. Harden leads in player efficiency rating (29.87) followed by Davis (28.98), then James (28.65). True shooting percentage? James (62.1), Harden (61.9), Davis (61.2). Usage rates? James (31.7), Davis (27.7), Harden (35.9). Season long real plus-minus, which takes into account teammates and assesses impact per 100 possessions, has Harden (6.33), Davis (5.49), and James (4.72) respectively. All comparable to wins added. See this figure of a James/Davis comparison from Basketball Reference which uses slightly different calculations for PER, usage, and win-shares. The point remains that these two players are CERTAINLY similar on offense.

Why Davis gets a nod from me is the defense. He will probably finish third in defensive player of the year behind Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid. My logic is quite simple: if I have a guy with legitimately comparable offensive numbers to James and is a consensus top 3 defender this season, wouldn’t the defense tip him over a very good defender who had his share of, eh, lapses this season? Davis is slotted at two for me.

Honestly, it’s insulting how little people know about Davis to dismiss him from serious consideration. The idea that his record wasn’t good enough is laughable. The Pelicans finished with two fewer wins than the mighty Cavs while playing in the harder conference. Davis is being hurt by playing in the smallest market in the NBA and while that won’t influence many casual conversations about MVP, I’d expect much better from writers who follow the league. I am happy to be wrong about this but my grip also stems from a lack of explanation in the case against (or for) Davis. Some may say I am too into the numbers and need to watch the game more. I, respectfully, disagree and ask “how much Anthony Davis do you watch over 82 games?” Be honest. I just don’t want you to miss out on something special.

James would be third which is odd to type but I go by what I see.

1) James Harden

2) Anthony Davis

3) Lebron James

4) Damian Lillard

5) Giannis Antetokounmpo.

I’ve written too much so I’ll just list my All-NBA team below, the hardest of all the picks this year.

First Team All-NBA

G: James Harden

G: Damian Lillard

F: King Lebron James

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo

C: Anthony Davis

Second Team All-NBA

G: Russell Westbrook

G: Victor Oladipo

F: Kevin Durant

F: LaMarcus Aldridge

C: Joel Embiid

Third Team All-NBA

G: DeMar DeRozan

G: Chris Paul

F: Jimmy Butler

F: Al Horford

C: Nikola Jokic

[1] This is so important and will be stressed throughout. This isn’t a life time achievement award. It isn’t a make up call. It’s an assessment of observed performance for the year. Get over yourselves.

[2] Some of this can be placed on GM Daryl Morey reshaping the roster but coach should get some love here too.

[3] Thank goodness for Zach Lowe and NBA nerd twitter for these figures.

[4] Seriously, read the Anthony Davis sections in MVP columns. They are short and say “he has been amazing since Cousins went out and should get more respect but if only the Pelicans did more to stand out, he would be higher.”

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Allen L. Linton II

Free writing about politics, sports, intersection between the two, and Chicago.