After the long wait between the NBA Finals and the NBA Awards Show, a Most Valuable Player has finally been named.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden won the MVP award over New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James.
Harden led the fast-paced and sharpshooting Rockets to the number one seed in the Western Conference at a 65-17 record while averaging 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game over the span of 72 games.
“Sixth man of the year to the MVP,” Harden said. “Shoutout to all the younguns out there. If you got a dream, get out there and chase that dream.”
Harden joined NBA Hall of Fame member and former Finals MVP with the Portland Trailblazers Bill Walton as the only two players in NBA history to win both the Sixth Man of the Year award and the MVP in their careers.
Walton won Sixth Man of the Year in 1986 while playing for the Boston Celtics long after his career was thought to be over. Harden won the award in 2012 while playing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Sixth Man of the Year award went to Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers for the second time in his career. Williams averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists per game coming off the bench for Doc Rivers’ streaky Clippers. Williams played a career high 32.8 minutes per game, seeing a resurgence once he became the focal point of an offense for the first time on a woeful Lakers team in 2016.
Williams won the award over Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon and Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert took home the Defensive Player of the Year award after averaging 13.5 points, 10.7, rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game as the anchor of the Jazz defense.
Gobert only played 56 of the 82 games this season, but upon his return from a sprained PCL and bone bruise in January, the Jazz defense improved drastically as the 7’1” Frenchman swatted his way through the league.
“I have all these great people around me, these great players,” Gobert said. “If you would have told me I’d be here fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t believe you.”
The Rookie of the Year award was surrounded in controversy after Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons won the award over Celtics forward Jayson Tatum and Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
Simmons was drafted in 2016 and missed his rookie season due to injury, and his rookie status has been brought into question all season. The precedent has already been set, however, as Blake Griffin won rookie of the year in 2011 after missing his whole rookie season.
Simmons drew comparisons to the Cavaliers’ James all season, acting as an oversized point guard and doing whatever the 76ers asked of him. He averaged 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game, numbers unseen from any rookie in the league’s history.
Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers took him the NBA’s most improved player award after averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game for the overachieving Pacers.
Trading Paul George for Oladipo was thought of as a downgrade, but Oladipo’s addition and the play of Domantas Sabonis have replaced perennial all-star George nicely.
Oladipo bounced from Orlando to Oklahoma City and back to where he played college ball in Indiana before finally having his breakout season. He burst out of the gate in his fifth season, improving his per game averages in every single category. Oladipo was able to prove he belonged in the talk with the league’s elite guards with his improved defense and efficiency.
The awkward moment of the night came when former Toronto Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey was named Coach of the Year after being relieved of his duties due to the team’s disappearing act in a playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Raptors were fourth in the league in points scored and sixth in the league in least points allowed, with the third highest scoring differential behind Houston and league champions Golden State.
But when the playoffs came, the Raptors were exhausted and overwhelmed by LeBron James and the Cavaliers, getting swept out of the second round after four straight games of not looking like themselves. After the series, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri made the decision to relieve Casey of his duties.
“All the players in Toronto the past four or five years... I’m so proud of them,” Casey said. “When you get fired after winning coach of the year, you always doubt yourself a little bit, but then I interviewed with the Detroit Pistons, and he gave me the opportunity of working with somebody who believes in me.”