An NBA player averaged a triple-double this season, a feat that was accomplished just once before, in 1963. That player likely will win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award Monday night.
But should Russell Westbrook win the MVP award?
That debate will take center stage at the NBA Awards show in New York. Incredibly, Westbrook’s historic season hasn’t made him an MVP runaway, thanks to the continued brilliance of Kawhi Leonard and James Harden also putting up one of the best statistical campaigns of all time.
Westbrook’s 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game are absolutely mind-boggling. Here’s the rub, though: He had to do literally everything for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season. The dynamic point guard singlehandedly accounted for more than a quarter of the Thunder’s shot attempts (27.4 percent), and it’s well-documented that he pads his rebounding stats. Westbrook obviously is a tremendous talent, but his numbers are inflated somewhat by his incredibly large workload.
Then there’s Harden. The Houston Rockets floor general scored just 202 fewer points than Westbrook this season on 408 fewer shot attempts. He also led the NBA in assists with 11.2 dimes per game and added 8.1 rebounds per game to boot. More importantly, Harden took just 21.6 percent of Houston’s total shots.
In other words, Harden put up comparable numbers to Westbrook in much more efficient fashion, all while leading the Rockets to the third-best record in the Western Conference with 55 wins — eight more than Westbrook’s No. 6-seed Thunder. Based on that evidence, Harden sounds pretty deserving to us.
Unfortunately, we don’t have an NBA MVP vote, and Westbrook is the safe bet to take home the award after his season for the record books. And since all we can do is give our two cents, here are our predictions for who we think will win each award.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks
This one’s easy. The Greek Freak improved in virtually every offensive category this season, earning second-team All-NBA honors amid a breakout campaign. His ceiling is scary high.
Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon, SG, Rockets
Gordon gets the nod over teammate Lou Williams after finishing second on the Rockets in scoring at 16.2 points per game. His addition was a big reason why Houston shot up in the West standings this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors
For all of the Warriors’ offensive dominance, they don’t win 67 games and an NBA title without Green’s incredible defensive versatility. He’s long overdue for his first DPOY award.
Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers
Yes, Embiid only played 31 games this season, and Malcolm Brogdon probably is more deserving. But the Sixers big man’s stats in that small sample size — 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game — are head and shoulders above the other candidates. Embiid benefits from a weak ROY class.
Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni, Rockets
D’Antoni deserves tons of credit for unlocking Harden’s next-level ability as a playmaker. Houston’s scoring average jumped nearly 10 points per game this season in D’Antoni’s free-flowing offense, so he gets the nod over staple Gregg Popovich and dark horse Erik Spoelstra.
MVP: Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder
See above. Harden and Leonard make compelling cases, but this thing’s going to Westbrook.
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images
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