By: Liam Purcell
It’s way too early to say for sure who will take home the various hardware throughout the NBA in 2017 but with the help of some relevant stats and also some not so relevant opinions, I am going to try to point out the players to keep an eye on.
MVP: James Harden
Following the departure of ringless cupcake Dwight Howard and his extremely low 19.2% pass from the post percentage, incredibly high 53.4 average touches per game and embarrassing 52.8% free throw percentage, former MVP runner up James Harden has perhaps his best chance at actually winning the award. Newly added catch and shooters Eric Gordon (5.6 catch and shoot points per game) and Ryan Anderson (5.2 catch and shoot points per game) will space the floor and open up lanes to the basket as well as offer a place to pass for the 2015-2016 NBA’s 6th leading assister.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi’s defensive numbers, while impressive, are not a true representation of the impact that he has on defense for the Spurs. Twelfth in the league in steals per game, 28th in defensive plus minus, and 3rd in defensive win shares are certainly enough to consider him an elite defender, but it is his role in the Spurs’ team defense and his ability to guard multiple positions that make him so valuable. Especially now that 8 time first team all NBA defender Tim Duncan and are now replaced by the much less defensive-minded Pau Gasol, the defense of the Spurs will rely heavily on the play of Kawhi Leonard.
Rookie of the Year: Marquese Chriss
The Phoenix Suns drafted Washington forward Marquese Chriss in an absolute steal at pick eight in the draft in order to fill their lack of depth at the 3 and 4 spots. When he finds his role on the young, up-and-coming Suns roster, Chriss will have the chance to showcase his skills (1st in preseason PPG and RPG and 3rd in BPG among rookies) in a rookie class that already lost its number one pick to injury. Look for Chriss to turn some heads early and often.
Most Improved Player: Devin Booker
The 19 year old Kentucky sharpshooter will start for the Suns after coming off the bench for the majority of his rookie year, giving him the opportunity to breakout as one of the league’s best young scorers. After an impressive 2015-2016 campaign in which he finished near the top of the rookie class in eFG% (8th), PPG (4th) and 3PM (3rd), the Suns have shown that they intend to make him one of the focal points of their offense. The fact that he has earned the starting position in a stacked group of guards in Phoenix alone proves that Booker is ready to be the guy for the Suns this year.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau
The Timberwolves have the potential to be incredible on defense. As coach of the Chicago Bulls from 2011 to 2015, Coach Thibs proved himself to be one of the best defensive minds in basketball, leading the 2011 Bulls team to:
- 1st in opponent field goal percentage
- 1st in opponent three-point field goal percentage
- 1st in opponent rebounds per game
- 1st in rebound margin
- 2nd in opponent points per game
Pair that with the length and athleticism of the young and hungry T-wolves and you’ve got a terrifying combination. Imagine trying to score against a lineup of Ricky Rubio, Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. Scary. If defense really does win games, then the Wolves will win 40 games, and Thibs will win the COTY.
NBA Champion: The Golden State Warriors
Stats may not be entirely necessary when picking the super-team Warriors to win it all as they are seen as one of the best teams on paper in the league’s history. Whether or not you agree with that statement, Golden State looks pretty good statistically as well. Not only does offseason acquisition Kevin Durant fit their playbook:
- GSW 2015-2016 Off Screen Catch and Shoot Plays per game rank – 1st
- Stephen Curry – 2015-2016 catch and shoot PPG rank 5th
- Klay Thompson – 2015-2016 catch and shoot PPG rank 1st
- Kevin Durant – 2015-2016 catch and shoot PPG 20th
- Draymond Green – 2015-2016 assist ratio rank 21st
He also adds a 7 foot wingspan and 6’11” frame to a team that lost a lot of length this offseason:
- Festus Ezeli – 7 feet tall, 7’6” wingspan
- Harrison Barnes – 6’8” tall, 7 foot wingspan
- Andrew Bogut – 7 feet tall, 6’11” wingspan
Durant, along with David West, will allow the Warriors’ to continue their recent dominance of the Western Conference. Sorry Lebron, the O’Brien trophy is going back to Golden State.
(All statistics courtesy of NBA.com)