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NBA AM: Casting Awards Ballots Is Not Easy

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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.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

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