Authors: Najee Adams and Hunter Keuchkerian
Just about every NBA fan knows that the All-Star Break is right around the corner. This year’s break is sure to feature half-court alley oops, limited defense, and the much anticipated Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook reunion. However, the break also marks the official end of the first half of the NBA season. So, we here at First Class Sports decided it would be fun to hand out the end of season awards, half a season early.
Most Valuable Player
Hunter: Isaiah Thomas
Although Russell Westbrook and James Harden are having career years, Isaiah Thomas has been overlooked as he himself is having a phenomenal season. Isaiah Thomas is averaging a career high in points per game (28.9) and tied for his career high in assists per game (6.3). Also, he has the longest current streak in the NBA of consecutive 20-point games at 31 games and has only scored less than 20 points one time this season.
It is quite hard to argue against the fact that Isaiah Thomas has been the most clutch player of the 2016-2017 NBA season. The most prominent statistic that Isaiah Thomas is averaging this season is a league-leading 10.1 points per game in the 4th Quarter. Isaiah has stepped up game after game in late game situations and points to his wrist after hitting clutch shots to let everyone in the crowd know what time it is, Isaiah Time.
The most impressive thing to mention about Isaiah Thomas is his height. Standing at 5’9″, Isaiah Thomas is trying to be the greatest “little guy” of all-time, which is what motivates him to be as great as he is. The other motivating factor for Isaiah Thomas is that he was picked last in the 2011 NBA Draft. The “Pick Me Last Again” Nike campaign has fueled him to work as hard as he does, and he is the hardest working player in the NBA in my opinion.
Isaiah Thomas has done all of this while leading the Boston Celtics to a 29-18 record, which is tied for second-best in the Eastern Conference. Although many will argue Westbrook or Harden, I believe that Isaiah Thomas has done just as much if not more than enough to earn the MVP award for the 2016-2017 season.
Najee: James Harden
Everyone knows the MVP award this year is a two man race between Russell Westbrook and James Harden. However, when it comes down to it, I had to give it to Harden. His emergence as a Point Guard this season is probably one of the biggest storylines of the season. When it was announced in the offseason that Harden would be moving from the position he played all 7 years of his career, Shooting Guard, it was widely speculated upon by tons of analysts. Turns out, thats probably the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to James Harden’s career. He has gone from a player most people just considered an extremely talented scorer, to a multi-dimensional player, constantly displaying his court vision play after play.
Harden took a Houston Rockets team that just one year ago finished with a .500 record of 41-41 and turned them into a 3rd seed in the highly competitive Western Conference with a record of 35-15, only 6 games behind their win total at the end of last season, and remember, we still have a whole second half to play.
The argument for Westbrook is that he’s dropping triple-doubles seemingly every game, and breaking records along the way. However, so is Harden. No, he’s not obtaining triple-doubles at the absurd rate that Russell Westbrook is, but he’s definitely no slouch. According to Sportingcharts.com, Harden has 14 triple-doubles while Westbrook has 23, however, Harden leads the league in double-doubles with 41.
And of course, how could we forget about his historic 50-15-15 night in December vs the Knicks? Making him the first player in the history of the NBA to record a triple-double of that magnitude as well as making him the first player in 20 years to have 40 points and 10 assists throughout 3 quarters.
At the end of the day, the MVP is always decided by numbers, team records , and storylines. Harden definitely has the numbers(29.1 PPG, 11.6 APG, 8.2 RPG), he definitely has the team record, and his newly found Point Guard abilities are as good a story as any other this season, aside from the Westbrook v Durant saga. So you tell me, is it really a 2 man race? Because to me, its not even close.
6th Man of The Year
Hunter: Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon has been an injury-ridden player throughout much of his career, but he is having a healthy and productive year thus far.
He has had better years statistically, but his move to the bench has only caused his production to dip slightly. Gordon is benefitting greatly from James Harden being the point guard as he has become his favorite target on the wing. Although Gordon is not having a career year in terms of production, he has played the sixth man role significantly well and has been extremely efficient as well.
His effective field goal percentage of 54.8% is a career high, further solidifying the fact that his efficiency has risen with his transition to sixth man for the Houston Rockets. Gordon’s tremendous season has contributed significantly to the Rockets 35-15 record, which is the third best record in the tough Western Conference.
Najee: Lou Williams
As a die hard LA Lakers fan I know how instrumental Lou Will has been to getting us the 16 wins we currently have at this point in the season. According to ESPN he averages the most points on the entire roster, with 18.2, with the second best being D’Angelo Russell with 14.3. In those 16 wins, he averages a total of 16.9 PPG, and in the 4th Quarter he averages the 6th most points in the entire league with 7.4.
Lou Will simply shows up every night and does what is asked of him, he’s been the Lakers best and most consistent player all season, and constantly plays the role of a starter even though he comes off the bench. He currently averages the third most bench points in the entire league with 18.3(which is one spot above Eric Gordon by the way), according to NBA.com.
Lou Williams has set records this season, yes, records. Remember, this man comes off the bench. Lakeshowlife.com states that he currently holds the record for most points scored by a bench player in a 4 game span, with 137 points, averaging 34.25 points per game during that span. Literally, no player in the history of the league has ever achieved that.
Lastly, Lou Williams is the best player on by far the most productive bench in the league. According to hoopstats.com, the Lakers’ bench is top 3 in every important category there is, including Points, Rebounds, Assists, Offensive and Defensive Efficiency.
Traditionally, what you want from your 6th man is valiant scoring off the bench in order to bring a spark to your team, and I honestly can’t think of anyone better for that award than the “6ix Man” himself, Lou Williams.
Most Improved Player
Hunter: Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker, in my opinion, is the most obvious choice for most improved player of the year as he has demonstrated exactly what the award represents, improving in every aspect of your game.
He is having a 6.4 points per game increase, a 0.8 rebounds per game increase, and a 1.2 assists per game increase while increasing his overall efficiency as well. Parker had also developed a three point shot this offseason as he increased his three point makes per game from 0.1 to 1.4 while also improving his three-point percentage from 25.7% to 38.4%.
The Bucks have also had an improved record showing how significant the improved play of Jabari Parker has been for the team. He is developing into a star just as many had projected prior to the 2014 NBA Draft and is the exact embodiment of the Most Improved Player Award.
Najee: Giannis Antetokounmpo
At the beginning of the year, the race for Most Improved Player was relatively unclear, but one man has clearly propelled himself above all others.
The “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo.
According to NBA.com, Giannis has raised his level of production in every important statistical category, averaging 23.6 PPG, 6.3 APG, 8.8 RPG, 2.4 SPG, and 2.3 BPG. Making him the only player in the NBA to lead his team in all of those categories. Just for the sake of comparison, last year, Giannis ended the season averaging 16.9 PPG, 4.3 APG, 7.7 RPG, 1.2 SPG, and 1.4 BPG. Now of course, its only the first half of the season, and Giannis could get worse, but I don’t see that happening.
The Greek Freak isn’t really limited by what position he can play, because honestly, he can play them all. He’s regarded as a Point Forward, averaging the 3rd most assists out of forwards, only trailing LeBron James and Draymond Green. He’s as versatile as they come, not only being able to make plays, but also defend all 5 positions, making him the defensive anchor for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Giannis has gone from a player that was simply exciting to watch, to an Eastern Conference All-Star Starter in the matter of a season and with his teammate Jabari Parker on the rise as well, its safe to say the future of the Bucks is bright.
Defensive Player of the Year
Hunter: Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert is an underrated NBA defensive star that has once again improved from the elite defender that he already was to a bonafide defensive star.
The guards on the Utah Jazz often allow the opposing guards to get to the basket, so Rudy Gobert might just having the toughest job in the NBA. He faces the most shots in the paint in the NBA and he has done significantly well in trying to stop as many shots as he could.
Gobert leads the league in Blocks, Defensive Rating, and Defensive Win Shares. Without Gobert last season, the team struggled on the defensive end of the court and this season has shown just how important he is to the success of their team.
In my opinion, Gobert is underappreciated and should have made the all-star game this season. The Utah Jazz have a 30-18 record thanks in no small part to the phenomenal defense played by Rudy Gobert, which is why I think that he should be defensive player of the year.
Najee: Rudy Gobert
Well, I think Hunter did a pretty good job of explaining things, so I’ll just add in a couple more reasons.
Its simple, Rudy Gobert is the best defensive player on the best defensive team in the league, the Utah Jazz. The Jazz allow the lowest number of PPG in the entire league at 95.3 PPG while holding their opponents to a shooting percentage of 43.1% from the field.
Gobert has already gotten snubbed from the All-Star Game, its simply not fair to take this honor away from him too.
Rookie of the Year
Hunter: Joel Embiid
There is nothing more to say besides “The Process.”
Najee: Joel Embiid
It’s safe to say that no one expected Joel Embiid to break out like he has this season. After being sidelined the last 2 seasons due to injury, Embiid is now proving why the Sixers used that 3rd pick to get him.
This award was by far the easiest to decide, Joel is well above every other rookie in almost every statistical aspect, while also being on a minutes restriction. He leads rookies in PPG with 20.2, Free Throws and Field Goals Made, RPG, BPG, and Double Doubles.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen a rookie like Embiid, I would even go far enough to call him a Once-In-A-Generation player. According to basketballreference.com, no player since the 1973-74 season has ever averaged the 38.8 PPG, 15.3 RPG, and 4.8 BPG per 100 possessions that Embiid is averaging.
Embiid single handedly turned around the Philadelphia 76ers franchise, gained fan support, and actually made Sixers games watchable, in only half a season. Making him very worthy of his nickname: The Process.
Coach of the Year
Hunter: Mike D’Antoni
Mike D’Antoni has commanded a roster that was not projected to do all that well this season to a 35-15 record due to the bold move of making James Harden the primary point guard.
James Harden has had an amazing season under D’Antoni’s offense and his play is likely the reason they are as successful as they are. He has made many good choices such as playing Eric Gordon as the sixth man, which was clearly the right choice.
The Rockets have commanded one of the best offenses in the NBA this season due to the coaching of D’Antoni and he deserves recognition by winning the Coach of the Year.
Najee: Mike D’Antoni
When D’Antoni announced that he would be moving the league’s best shooting guard, James Harden, to point guard, everyone was skeptical.
However, Harden’s play this season is making D’Antoni look like a genius. This year D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets have improved to 35-15 as of right now, and are regarded as the most over achieving team in sports, shattering the expectations of just about everyone.
He’s improved their offensive rating drastically (105.5 to 112.6), while not hurting their defensive rating (105.6 to 105.7) much at all. He has made James Harden have the most statically rewarding year of his career, as well as engineered the resurgence of Eric Gordon’s injury ridden career. Those same 2 players are also in the discussion for two other NBA Awards in MVP and Sixth Man of the Year.
Since not having a winning percentage of above .600 since his 2007-2008 season with the Phoenix Suns, according to basketballreference.com, D’Antoni is currently sporting a .700 percentage and his team is 3rd in the Western Conference. Even if he doesn’t win Coach of the Year, I think its safe to say one thing: He’s redeemed himself.