K.C. Johnson: Voting for NBA awards makes for some hard choices
Give the NBA credit for its multiple attempts at transparency, including Last Two Minute Reports for officiating and making all awards voting public.
For the first time, the league will announce the winners during the NBA Awards Show aired June 26 from New York on TNT. In previous years, award winners were announced sporadically as the playoffs progressed.
The league office also streamlined the process, eliminating all team-employee voting such as broadcasters. That meant if you got a ballot, you voted for every award as opposed to voting for two or three because of the previously larger pool of voters.
The Tribune got a ballot. And, yes, Most Valuable Player was hard. Actually, All-NBA, even with three teams, proved harder to this voter. Here’s my ballot:
Most Valuable Player
Russell Westbrook, Thunder; James Harden, Rockets; LeBron James, Cavaliers; Kawhi Leonard, Spurs; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks.
Comment: There’s no wrong answer from any of the top four. That’s how amazing of a season this was. Westbrook was just the most amazing. Even if triple-doubles are a media creation – a pro-Harden argument because Harden finished second to Westbrook in scoring, first over Westbrook’s third in assists and came close with 8.1 rebounds – Westbrook set a record for them and joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to average one for an entire season. Plus, his ability to empower a franchise reeling from Kevin Durant’s free-agency departure with his will and competitive spirit counts.
First: Russell Westbrook, Thunder; James Harden, Rockets; LeBron James, Cavaliers; Kawhi Leonard, Spurs; Anthony Davis, Pelicans.
Second: Stephen Curry, Warriors; John Wall, Wizards; Kevin Durant, Warriors; Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks; Rudy Gobert, Jazz.
Third: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics; DeMar DeRozan, Raptors; Jimmy Butler, Bulls; Draymond Green, Warriors; Marc Gasol, Grizzlies.
Comment: This means no Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside or Karl-Anthony Towns. Told you it was tough.
Rookie of the Year
Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks; Dario Saric, 76ers; Buddy Hield, Kings.
Comment: Joel Embiid is the best talent playing his first season in the NBA. But he’s a 2014 draft pick who played 31 games with minutes restrictions. He either should be first for any voter who’s OK with that or not listed for those who aren’t. That Brogdon is a second-round pick makes for a nice story. That he’s starting for a playoff team with steady two-way play is why he’s the winner.
Most Improved Player
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks; Rudy Gobert, Jazz; Nikola Jokic, Nuggets.
Comment: It seems like the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals should win something.
Sixth Man of the Year
Andre Iguodala, Warriors; Eric Gordon, Rockets; James Johnson, Heat.
Comment: Iguodala’s statistics aren’t flashy. But there’s nuance behind the numbers, and the two-time defending Western Conference champions understand how valuable he is on both ends – and in the locker room.
Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green, Warriors; Rudy Gobert, Jazz; Kawhi Leonard, Spurs.
Comment: Green’s ability to guard all five positions fuels the Warriors’ switch-heavy scheme.
Coach of the Year
Mike D’Antoni, Rockets; Gregg Popovich, Spurs; Erik Spoelstra, Heat.
Comment: D’Antoni handed the keys to his offensive engine to Harden and molded the team around him to play the system – lots of 3-pointers, free throws and layups – to far surpass preseason expectations.
First: Dario Saric, 76ers; Joel Embiid, 76ers; Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks; Buddy Hield, Kings; Willy Hernangomez, Knicks.
Second: Jaylen Brown, Celtics; Jamal Murray, Nuggets; Marquese Chriss, Suns; Yogi Ferrell, Mavericks; Rodney McGruder, Heat.
First: Chris Paul, Clippers; Tony Allen, Grizzlies; Draymond Green, Warriors; Kawhi Leonard, Spurs; Rudy Gobert, Jazz.
Second: John Wall, Wizards; Danny Green, Spurs; Paul Millsap, Hawks; Andre Roberson, Thunder; Anthony Davis, Pelicans.