Hello and welcome to the First Annual Commissioner Dan End of Season Awards! And I’m doing it now, because unlike when the NBA presents them, people actually care around this time of the season (please fix this NBA!).
So, let’s get this show on the road. The first award goes to:
Coach of the Year – Dwane Casey
Dwane Casey isn’t new to Toronto. He has been coaching the team for seven years now. And the Raptors aren’t exactly new to winning. The team has been finishing above .500 since the 2013-14 season, with this being their third consecutive season with over 50 wins. So, what is different this time? The team is closing in on ending the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference for the first time in it’s history. In a conference that features a LeBron James led Cavaliers team, and a Kyrie Irving led Celtics team (who, granted, has been hurt).
What’s it going to take for this man to get his due? He is the only coach in the franchise’s history to possess a winning record with a winning percentage of .533. The next highest winning percentage is owned by the late great Lenny Wilkens with .459 for seasons spanning 2000-03. I’m not sure the NBA will see this as his year to win the award, but at the very least, some acknowledgement is necessary at this point. Good lord.
Most Improved Player – Victor Oladipo
This award always pisses me off. Every year, the award is given to a player who is simply developing. Last year’s winner was a then 22 year old Giannis Antetokounmpo, who made a HUGE leap in his fourth year in the league, but was a young star in the making ever since he was drafted to Milwaukee. The year before that was C.J. McCollum, who was only in his third year as a pro. Jimmy Butler received the award in 2015 while in his fourth year. And on and on and on and bleh… Very rarely is the award given to someone who played a few years in the league, we all thought we knew the guy, and then the new season plays out, and we’re all saying, “Who the fuck is this guy?” (I see you James Johnson, the real winner of last year’s award!).
Drafted second overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, there were high expectations for Victor Oladipo. Expectations that were obviously not met, because the Magic traded him after three seasons with the team (along with Ersan Ilyasova and then-rookie Domantas Sabonis, to further illustrate how little he was valued) to OKC for Serge Ibaka. Popular opinion was that pairing Oladipo with budding MVP-in-the-making Russell Westbrook would create a formidable backcourt in the Western Conference; however, you can make the argument this season was a regression by lack of progression by Oladipo, as his numbers remained pretty much the same. He was traded yet again the following offseason to the Pacers (along with his buddy Sabonis again!) for Paul George.
Although still young at 25 years of age, the Magic, the Thunder, all of us, we all thought we knew who Victor Oladipo was. Up until this year, Victor Oladipo’s career averages (4 seasons in the league) looked like this: 15.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, and 1.5 SPG, all with very little progression evident from season to season. This year, he’s bumped up his averages to 23.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, and a league leading 2.2 SPG, all while shooting a career high 47.7% from the field. Let’s put these numbers against the two players he was traded for as a “throw-in”:
Victor Oladipo: 47.7% FG, 23.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.2 SPG
Paul George: 43.9% FG, 22.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.1 SPG
Serge Ibaka: 48.6% FG, 12.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.3 SPG (1.3 BPG)
Victor Oladipo is my winner here easily, if only for the way he compares to the players he was acquired for: He now looks like a straight up swap for George, and is making Ibaka look like a “throw-in” himself.
… but, I bet the league gives it to Brandon Ingram (second year) or Joel Embiid instead. Bleh!
Sixth Man of the Year – Lou Williams
This is one of the few slam dunk, can’t-miss, award selections of the year. “Sweet” Lou Williams is having a banner year with the Clippers, with career highs in minutes (32.7), points (23.1), and assists (5.4). I think the only way you don’t give him the award is if you consider the games he started for the team out of necessity (16 games out of a possible 64 so far), which would be ridiculous.
This would be his second Sixth Man of the Year Award, and the Clippers third winner in five seasons (Jamal Crawford, 2015-16 and 2013-14)!
Rookie of the Year – Donovan Mitchell
Everyone and their mother is raving over Ben Simmons, and he truly is a phenomenal player. But this is another award that I potentially hate, because the NBA sometimes gives it to a player who sat out his entire actual rookie year. And, I get it, sometimes freak accidents happen (Blake Griffin), but this sort of problem is becoming way too commonplace nowadays (Philadelphia 76ers), and it really isn’t fair to the fresh batch of rookies who go through the learning experience of a grueling 82 game schedule each year.
Imagine this: Every year there is a race through a jungle, and you are a participant. You don’t know what to expect, you’re simply asked to run blindly through it, and whoever comes out of it in the most heroic fashion is handed an award. Now, imagine someone you are running against was everyone’s favorite to win the race last year, but because he was hurt, he didn’t actually run through the jungle. He simply sat and watched as others ran, and now, he is using that ever-important knowledge to his advantage this year. He saw where the jaguars are lurking, which part of the river has the piranhas that will gnaw your leg to a nub, he knows to swing across the vine to avoid the quicksand, what to do at nightfall, how long to expect the race to last… HOW IS THAT FAIR???
Aside from this, the other reason I would award the ROY to Mitchell is because nobody saw his ascension coming. Everyone knew once Philadelphia got back not only Ben Simmons, but Joel Embiid as well, Philly would climb the ranks of the Eastern Conference and become a playoff team. And, not to take anything away from Philly, they have been playing great, but they are also in the Eastern Conference. Things are a lot tougher out west, and this is precisely the reason Donovan Mitchell has been so surprising.
Last season, the Utah Jazz finished 51-31, led by All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, who averaged a career high 21.9 PPG. They placed first in their division, and fifth in the conference. Then, without warning, all of those joy-joy feelings their fans had received from that season would end, when Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics in the following offseason.
It was thought the Utah Jazz would surrender their prospective playoff positioning this year. Thanks to the draft day trade for Donovan Mitchell, that is no longer the case. They are currently sitting in the eight seed of the Western Conference with a 39-30 record, and are on an eight game winning streak. Yes, the additions of Ricky Rubio and Jae Crowder have been fruitful, but Mitchell is the point guard, who also leads the team in minutes and points (32.9 and 19.7, respectively). In fact, should Mitchell reach the all important 20 PPG mark as a rookie, we might as well put his award in the mail. Look at this list of previous 20 PPG rookies:
2010-11 Blake Griffin – Won ROY
2009-10 Tyreke Evans – Won ROY
2007-08 Kevin Durant – Won ROY
2002-03 Carmelo Anthony – Did not win ROY
2002-03 Lebron James – Won ROY
1999-00 Elton Brand – Won ROY
1997-98 Tim Duncan – Won ROY
1996-97 Allen Iverson – Won ROY
1994-95 Glenn Robinson – Won ROY
1992-93 Alonzo Mourning – Did not win ROY
1992-93 Shaquille O’Neal – Won ROY
1989-90 David Robinson – Won ROY
1988-89 Mitch Richmond – Won ROY
As you can see, every single rookie who averaged 20 PPG won Rookie of the Year, going back nearly 30 seasons! And if they didn’t, it was because they played in the same season as someone else who was simply better, and also averaged 20 PPG. In case you were wondering, Ben Simmons averages 15.8 PPG.
Oh, and he also ripped the Slam Dunk championship right out of Larry Nance Jr.’s hands. Nance, coming back to his old stomping grounds in L.A. where the All-Star game was held, and where he was traded from only a week prior. Where the crowd would obviously give him quite the returning ovation, since he was always a fan favorite. Stripping off his jersey to reveal his old man’s Phoenix Suns one, to nail the same dunk his pops performed to a tee! Who could have seen this coming? Why, I did, of course! I even Tweeted Nance to be the future winner, I was so confident in the entire atmosphere he would create, as well as his abilities as a dunker. But again, the abilities of Donovan Mitchell, although healthily ignored, were not to be denied.
The side that wants Ben Simmons to win ROY probably believes the league would be remiss if a player of his potential caliber was denied the chance to win said award. All of Simmons’ predecessors (if you are of this line of thinking) such as Jordan, LeBron, Shaq, etc., won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award in their rookie year. It is the first award of many that legendary players collect as their accolades begin to stockpile. And Simmons is no different. He definitely would have won ROY his rookie year. Instead, Simmons got hurt, which allowed Malcolm Brogdon to win it. Yeah, I had to look this up myself. Sometimes, shit happens.
No offense to last year’s winner, but Donovan Mitchell is not Malcolm Brogdon. There is no shame in giving this year’s award to this year’s Rookie of the Year. Mitchell appears to have the makings of a star NBA point guard. We could be watching the second coming of Derrick Rose or Dwyane Wade, right before our eyes. If the league hands the award to Simmons in (technically) his second year, someday, the NBA may look back at this mistake, and feel remiss in denying Mitchell of such an honor.
A first year point guard, leading his dead-to-rights small market team to the playoffs, winning a Slam Dunk championship, and Rookie of the Year honors. I like how this story is starting for Mitchell.
Defensive Player of the Year – Andre Drummond
Currently, Andre Drummond is leading the league in rebounds per game, with a career high 15.8 boards a contest (previous best was 14.8). This would be his third consecutive year leading the league in this category. DeAndre Jordan isn’t far behind him, at 15.1 RPG. It’s been seven seasons since we’ve seen a player average over 15 RPG (Kevin Love with 15.2 RPG in 2010-11), and we got two of them doing it this year!
I also like both Andre and DeAndre a little bit more this year, since they both bumped up their free throw percentages from ungodly depths, to a respectable 60+%. This time last year, we were all wondering what to do about the incessant intentional fouling that was plaguing the NBA. Does anyone even remember that anymore? And if you’ve been following my writing, I was actually in favor of players simply improving their free throw shooting, over changing the rules to accommodate two to three terrible foul shooters. Now, there is only one bad apple in our bunch (Looking at you, Dwight). In accomplishing this, they are big reasons why the product on the floor is much improved compared to seasons prior, and have both made me very proud. A big hand to both big men!
Drummond is also ninth in blocks, recording 1.5 per game. When you take these two numbers into consideration, realize that Drummond (so far) is the first player in 15 seasons to record over 15 rebounds and 1.5 blocks since Ben Wallace did it in 2002-03 (Big Ben tallied up 15.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. Ben Wallace was a BEAST). Only three players total have ever accomplished this feat in the modern NBA (post-1980, Moses Malone was the other to do this). Add in his 1.6 steals per game, and I say you have a shoe-in for 2017-18 DPOY.
Most Valuable Player – James Fucking Harden
To be continued on my next post: Why We (I) Hate James Harden.
All stats were collected, as always, at http://www.basketball-reference.com. Admittedly, some of the data collected is now dated by a few games. It’s because I wrote a lot, and my job wouldn’t let me write while I’m working (although I did what I could). The numbers should still be very similar, although my case for Donovan Mitchell as Rookie of the Year is a much harder sell now with Simmons recording his eighth trip-dub, passing Magic’s seven as a rookie, and also becoming the only “rookie” to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists, 50 steals, and 50 blocks. Not bad for a second year pro. Make sure you follow me on Twitter for all of my incorrect predictions throughout the NBA season.