SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses the chaotic finish to the regular season that is about to hit the Western Conference.
USA TODAY Sports
Every year NBA award voters are confronted with the same questions: How to define MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and several others.
This year was no different. Our USA TODAY NBA voters viewed the MVP as a toss-up between James Harden and LeBron James. The Rookie of the Year voting came down to how one actually defines the term “rookie”. For Coach of the Year, how does one distinguish between a coach who led his team to the No. 2 seed despite an unfathomable string of injuries (Boston’s Brad Stevens) vs. a coach (Utah’s Quin Snyder) who lost a franchise centerpiece, embraced a rookie and will enter the postseason guiding one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA?
In the name of transparency, we’re pulling back the curtain and revealing USA TODAY’s Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt’s votes for every NBA award ahead of Friday’s deadline.
Most Valuable Player
Amick: Houston’s James Harden, Cleveland’s LeBron James, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Golden State’s Kevin Durant
As detailed here, Harden is about to become just the fourth player in league history to average at least 30 points, eight assists and five rebounds for an entire season, with Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook, according to Basketball Reference.com.
Zillgitt: James, Harden, Davis, Durant, Lillard
What James has done individually and with Cleveland’s roster – dragging the team to 50 wins (as of Wednesday; one game remaining) when they won 51 last season with a better roster – makes him the 2017-18 MVP.
Coach of the Year
Amick: Utah’s Quin Snyder, Toronto’s Dwane Casey, Indiana’s Nate McMillan
Zillgitt: Snyder, Casey, Boston’s Brad Stevens
There are a lot of layers to Snyder’s Coach of the Year candidacy, but the simple reality is this: He lost a franchise centerpiece in Gordon Hayward to free agency in July, trusted a rookie in Donovan Mitchell with the ball a few months later, leaned on big man Rudy Gobert along the way, and now has the Jazz within just a few wins of their 51-32 mark in 2016-17 (they have 48 wins with one game to go). Snyder’s ability to maximize the talent on this Jazz roster has been remarkable.
Rookie of the Year
Amick: Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Boston’s Jayson Tatum
Zillgitt: Simmons, Mitchell, Tatum
Simmons averages 16 points, 8.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds and shoots 54.7% from the field and joined Oscar Robertson as the only rookies in NBA history to record at 1,200 points, 600 rebounds and 600 assists, and he did it while lifting Philadelphia to its best record since 2000-2001.
Most Improved Player
Amick: Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Los Angeles Lakers’ Julius Randle
Zillgitt: Oladipo, Randle, Orlando’s Aaron Gordon
In essentially the same minutes played per game as last season, Oladipo increased his scoring average to 23.9 points from 15.9, assists to 4.3 from to 2.6, rebounds to 5.2 from 4.3, steals to 2.4 from 1.2 and free throw attempts to 4.9 from 2.3. Helping Indiana offensive and defensively and to a playoff berth solidifies his case.
Defensive Player of the Year
Amick: Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, Davis
Zillgitt: Gobert, Embiid, Boston’s Al Horford
The Jazz were the most stunning story line in the NBA, and Gobert (10.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per game) was the man behind their mission as they battled for homecourt advantage in the West. Since he returned from a 15-game absence on Jan. 15, the Jazz have gone 29-7 while having the league’s best defense by a large margin (97.9 points allowed per 100 possessions; Philadelphia was second at 101.5). For the season, the Jazz have allowed 7.5 points per 100 possessions fewer with Gobert on the floor (97.8 compared to 105.3 when he’s off, according to NBA.com/stats).
Sixth Man of the Year
Amick: Los Angeles Clippers’ Lou Williams, Houston’s Eric Gordon, Miami’s Wayne Ellington
Zillgitt: Williams, Gordon, Ellington
The Clippers sixth man is 14th in scoring (22.6 points per game) for a team that nearly made the playoffs despite trading five-time All-Star Blake Griffin back in late January. And while he has started in 19 of 79 games, it’s a smaller starting percentage than his top sixth man threat in Gordon (30 of 68 games started, averaging 18.2 points).
Amick – First team: Lillard, Harden, James, Durant, Davis,
Second team: Westbrook, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, San Antontio’s LaMarcus Aldridge, Embiid
Third team: Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Oladipo, George, Butler, Gobert
Zillgitt – First team: Harden, Lillard, Davis, James, Durant
Second team: Antetokounmpo, Aldridge, Embiid, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Curry
Third team: Westbrook, DeRozan, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Horford, Butler
Amick – First team: Simmons, Mitchell, Tatum, Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma, Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen
Second team: Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr., Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball, Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, Atlanta’s John Collins, Miami’s Bam Adebayo
Zillgitt – First team: Simmons, Mitchell, Tatum, Kuzma, Markkanen
Second team: Smith Jr., Ball, Bogdanovic, Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen, Toronto’s OG Anunoby
Amick – First team: San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Philadelphia’s Robert Covington, Davis, Gobert
Second team: Houston’s Chris Paul, Oladipo, Golden State’s Draymond Green, Horford, Embiid
Zillgitt – First team: Horford, Green, Gobert, Butler, Murray
Second team: Covington, Oklahoma City’s Paul George, Embiid, Paul, Oladipo
Follow USA TODAY’s NBA insiders Sam Amick and Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter.