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NBA AM: Casting Awards Ballots Is Not Easy

As the NBA season ends, here is how Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler voted for the regular season awards.

Steve Kyler

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Casting Award Ballots Not Easy

It’s time for NBA writers around the league to cast their votes for the regular season awards. The balloting is done electronically and is required to be submitted by Friday. Most voters wait until the season ends. However, votes could be cast as early as last week.

I usually do not write in the first person or about myself, however, as a voter, I wanted to share my process, my votes and how I came to my selections. I have also shared those selections on Twitter and as you would expect they were met with unanimous respect and support… Well, maybe not unanimous.

There are a few things I opted to do with my voting, especially my final vote in most of the categories. In those situations, I opted to acknowledge a lesser or more underrated candidate—the contrarian vote, if you will. In other words, I opted to show some love and respect to those that are more than deserving, but maybe not getting talked about enough.

Let’s start with NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

The NBA asks for five nominations. First-place votes count for 10 points in the scoring system. A second-place vote is worth seven; a third-place vote is worth five, a fourth-place vote is worth three and a fifth-place vote is worth one.

I landed with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the first place slot. This was not an easy vote. There has been a lot written about Westbrook and his record-setting triple-double season. His efficiency is down. His team’s offensive efficiency is down. His usage rate is up over 42.6 percent. It was not easy to pick Westbrook over Houston’s James Harden. That said, the records he has broken stood the test of some of the greatest to have ever played the game. How can that be ignored? I couldn’t do it.

The rest of my votes went to Harden, Cleveland’s LeBron James, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and lastly Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, respectively.

In my mind, Harden was as equally deserving as Westbrook. This was a 1A – 1B situation, not some huge gap between the two. As for James, he has been just short of incredible this year. I think we’ve grown too accustomed to how special LeBron is as a player, but not recognizing how good he’s been all season would have been a mistake. The same is true of Leonard. He is truly becoming a special NBA player and more than deserving of the nomination.

Lastly, Thomas in Boston has been so impressive to watch. Pound for Pound, he is maybe the best player in basketball and he is powering an impressive Celtics team that, today, has a one-game hold on the top seed in the East.

As for Rookie of The Year, this was not a great rookie class by any stretch of the imagination. There were a few late-bloomers in this class, but when it came down to it, these were not easy decisions.

The NBA requires three nominations, and my first-place vote landed with Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon. He was the 36th pick. He was one of the older players in the draft, and he’s become a key part of a Bucks teams that’s not only going to make the playoffs, but could be a formidable match-up.

I could have easily gone with Philadelphia’s Dario Saric in the top spot; his season has been great. I opted instead to acknowledge the player on a winning team, mainly because I don’t think the gap is so great between Brogdon and Saric. Both have turned into very promising young players, and you’d get no debate from me on Saric as Rookie of The Year.

My third-place vote went to New York’s Willy Hernangomez. New York’s dreadful season was highlighted by the emergence of Hernangomez, who posted the second-best Player Efficiency rating in the rookie class. While his raw numbers won’t wow you, his play this season has been impressive, especially considering how lackluster the rookie class was this season.

So now on to Defensive Player of The Year.

Twitter isn’t very happy with me today and its brought to light a problem with having people vote for awards. Some have suggested I should just shut up and vote based on stats. Maybe. Some have suggested that my personal view of a player shouldn’t be a factor. Maybe. Some have questioned my sanity, mental acuity, the amount and frequency I may have smoked something and my sexual prowess because I might be more willing to vote on principal rather than just raw performance.

Let’s be clear. Golden State’s Draymond Green is having an incredible season defensively. He has powered the Warriors to the second-best team defensive efficiency in the NBA, he holds the best individual defensive efficiency in the NBA, and he is routinely guarding the best player on the opposing team more nights than not. The resume speaks for itself.

But should he get my vote? Not your vote. Should he get my vote? I struggled with this mainly because Green has a history of what we’ll call “questionable” play defensively. He flails his legs, often making contact with other players. He admitted to trying to punch James Harden in his injured wrist. Should he be rewarded and acknowledged for it?

There are many that have said who am I to judge. I was the one asked to vote. Where do I get off judging Draymond? I was asked to. Apparently, I have some agenda against Draymond. I really don’t, other than I have issues with the “questionable” play, especially when you consider San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert don’t carry the questions.

Green is likely going to win the award because many will overlook his many transgressions and just vote on the stats and the games. That’s what many on Twitter have suggested I should do, but should we reward the questionable actions? I struggle with that.

The Supreme Court issues a dissenting opinion whenever it rules on a subject. The purpose of that opinion is to put out the other side of the argument. To make sure its recorded that there was another side.

Some have suggested my view is about publicity. Trust me, I’d rather not have the things said about me that are being said. However, as a person of principal, I can’t just put that in my pocket because it’s more comfortable or popular.

With that out of the way, here is where my votes landed.

San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard got my first-place vote. While his numbers are down from a season ago, the Spurs are the top defensive team in basketball and Leonard is far and away their best defender. His two-way game is impressive, and he may be the best perimeter defender since Michael Jordan.

My second-place vote went to Utah’s Rudy Gobert. He has been incredible this year on a team that’s become very interesting defensively. There is a real case for Gobert as the first-place guy. It was not an easy decision.

My third-place vote went to Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, like Leonard, Whiteside’s numbers are down from a season ago, but he still leads the league in rebounding. He is second in total defensive rebounds grabbed and third in blocks per game and fourth in total blocks on the season.

Sixth Man of The Year was a little easier and less dramatic than Defensive Player, with my first-place vote going to Houston’s Eric Gordon. He has been phenomenal this season. Few can debate him as the sixth man.

My second-place vote went to Golden State’s Andre Iguodala. He may not want the vote, but, he is deserving and as impactful as anyone in the field. Lastly, Memphis’ Zach Randolph. He embraced being moved to the bench like a pro and has been incredibly effective in that role for the Grizzlies. Not every player can transition to the bench as smoothly as Randolph has and he’s been incredibly effective.

Coach of The Year was tough too. There have been some stellar coaching jobs this season, but the job that Brad Stevens has done in Boston stands above the rest, and he landed my first-place vote. The narrative all season was it was a forgone conclusion that Cleveland would win the East, and as of today that’s not true. Boston has done it with young guys and with their defense, and that’s typically a reflection of the coaching staff.

Houston’s Mike D’Antoni got my second-place vote, but he could just as easily have been the first-place vote. What D’Antoni has done in Houston is just short of incredible. The same can be said of Miami’s Eric Spoelstra; there may not have been a better coaching job in basketball than what Spo has done in Miami. Washington’s Scotty Brooks was also under serious consideration for this final spot.

Executive of the year was also tough. There were a number of strong candidates, but Houston’s Daryl Morey won out. Not many teams have all of their moves pan out, but Morey’s free agent acquisitions, trades, and even his coaching hires all across the bench have paid dividends.

The second-place vote went to Boston’s Danny Ainge. Like Morey, he’s come up roses on almost everything he’s touched this year, and his team has played incredibly well. A lot of Boston’s success is about decisions from previous years but landing Al Horford in free agency and drafting Jaylen Brown were huge in getting the Celtics over the hump. Golden State’s Bob Myers got my third-place vote, although he could have easily flipped with Ainge, no one landed the bigger fish than Myers, and the creative way they managed the cap to fill in the roster and convince veterans to go in for a title run was impressive.

So we get to the end of the line with Most Improved.

The Most Improved is a tough award because it’s harder to define than many of the others. Case in point is Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is often talked about as Most Improved, but is he really that improved or is he progressing as the Bucks have expected? Consider that Giannis went from 6.8 points per game as a rookie to 12.7 as a sophomore and to 16.9 last season to 23.1 this season. Is that “Most Improved,” or the steady progression of a promising young star? I think there is a better case for Giannis as an MVP candidate than a Most Improved Player, because the progression was there.

Some have suggested that Washington’s Brad Beal get consideration. Beal averaged 17.4 points last season on 44.9 percent shooting. This year he is at 23.1 points and 48.2 percent shooting. Is he Most Improved, or simply healthy for the first time in four years?

From my perspective, Most Improved is about radical improvement, not steady gains. To that end, my first-place vote went to Denver’s Nikola Jokic. His season has been breathtaking. He showed glimmers of being good, but he emerged as a legit star for the Nuggets and maybe their best player.

My second-place vote went to Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. Last season, many thought that Porter may have been a draft bust, but this year, he might be Washington’s second most important player. The year-over-year transformation has been unbelievable, which got him the second-place vote. My third-place vote went to Dallas’ Harrison Barnes. While you could argue Barnes became the player Dallas hoped he’d be when they gave him the huge contract last summer, compared to who he’d been for four years in Golden State, his emergence as a star in Dallas is impressive.

So, lastly, the All-NBA teams.

Here is how I came down:

All-NBA First Team
Kawhi Leonard
LeBron James
DeAndre Jordan
Russell Westbrook
James Harden

 

All-NBA Second Team
Kevin Durant
Draymond Green
DeMarcus Cousins
Damian Lillard
Stephen Curry

 

All-NBA Third Team
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Anthony Davis
Rudy Gobert
DeMar DeRozan
Chris Paul

While I respect everyone’s right to disagree or to have other opinions, that’s how I saw it and ultimately voted.

This year’s awards will be handled differently than in season’s past, with a single awards show to occur on Monday, June 26 from Basketball City at Pier 36 in New York City. TNT will air the show that will recognize NBA players, teams, coaches and executives for their accomplishments and performances from the 2016-17 NBA season.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers, and @Ben__Nadeau .

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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