The 2017-18 season has been an eventful one, and Monday’s awards show finally puts a cap on the year.
Six of the awards being given out were voted on by the media: MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man Award and Most Improved Player. Other awards include Executive of the Year (voted on by the league’s executives), Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year (voted on by the players), NBA Sportsmanship Award (voted on by the players) and the NBA Cares Community Assist Award (voted on by fans and a panel of judges).
The fan-voted award for Play of the Year will also be handed out, with the finalists coming from the winners of the fan-voted categories for Dunk of the Year, Clutch Shot of the Year, Assist of the Year, Block of the Year and Handle of the Year.
Let’s take a closer look at the six major media-voted awards and the trio of finalists for each one, which have already been determined, along with the ESPN Forecast projections for each category. (Note: Forecast projections were made before finalists were announced.)
Rookie of the Year
Last year, this award was about rookies playing an entire season (Joel Embiid). This year, the debate has focused more on actual rookie status. Ben Simmons, the 2016 top draft pick, overcame losing the 2016-17 season due to injury by having an Oscar Robertson-type impact in his first pro season. Donovan Mitchell became the first rookie to lead a team with 45-plus wins in scoring since 1990. Jayson Tatum, another 2017 draftee, made a major impact on a team that finished second in the Eastern Conference.
Coach of the Year
The three finalists here have unique stories when it comes to adversity. Unfortunately for Dwane Casey, his great regular season in Toronto wasn’t enough to save his job, though he landed on his feet in Detroit. Quin Snyder overcame the offseason loss of All-Star Gordon Hayward and a 19-28 start to lead the Utah Jazz back to the postseason. Hayward’s season-opening and -ending injury affected Brad Stevens, as well, and Stevens still led Boston to 55 wins.
Sixth Man Award
Eric Gordon was last year’s winner here, and all he did for an encore was increase his scoring to 18.0 points per game for the NBA’s best regular-season team. Fred VanVleet’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but he gets credited for Toronto’s bench dominance. But the likely winner is Lou Williams, who averaged a career-high 22.6 points per game while leading the LA Clippers off the bench.
Most Improved Player
The finalists for this award showed three different levels of improvement. Clint Capela represents the improvement of a big man, as he averaged a double-double while finishing second in blocks per game this season. Capela also had 50 more dunks than the previous season, a major reason he led the NBA in field goal percentage. Spencer Dinwiddie represents the improvement you get when you go from backup to starter, going from 3.1 assists per game in 22.6 minutes per game in 2016-17 to averaging 6.6 assists per game in 28.8 minutes per game. The likely winner here is Victor Oladipo, who represents the improvement of changing teams and roles. In Oladipo’s case, he went from being a decent starter in Oklahoma City to an All-Star while improving his numbers across the board.
Defensive Player of the Year
A rim protector will win be named the league’s best defender, that’s for sure. Anthony Davis actually led the NBA with 193 blocks. Joel Embiid stayed on the court long enough to anchor the third-best defense in the NBA. Rudy Gobert missed 26 games due to injury, but he was a major key to the NBA’s second-best defense and was arguably Utah’s most important player (The Jazz won 66.1 percent of games Gobert played in and only 42.3 percent of games Gobert missed).
Most Valuable Player
The league’s premier award is expected to go to James Harden, the top scorer in the NBA for the league’s top regular-season team. LeBron James played in every game this season for the first time ever, and he actually led the NBA in total points. Anthony Davis led a relatively unexpected postseason run, but the last power forward or center to win MVP was Dirk Nowitzki in 2007 — a 10-year drought that is likely to extend another year.
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