2016-17 NBA Award Picks: Draymond, Giannis unanimous, MVP too close to call
Our NBA experts share their picks for every major NBA award this season
CBS Sports Staff
4 min read
If there was a theme for the 2016-17 NBA season, it was individual excellence. Triple-doubles never looked so easy, budding stars ascended and well-established franchise players did things they've never done before. All the moaning and groaning about the Golden State Warriors' inevitable dominance before the games started was replaced by shock and awe when players like Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo earned everybody's attention.
All of this has made for a more interesting than usual award season, starting with the great MVP debate. There was disagreement among our panel on that one, of course, and even when the experts were on the same page, they were quick to point out there were other deserving candidates. This is a reflection of a league that is better than ever, despite what grumpy retired players might tell you.
It has been a career year for one of the best players in NBA history. LeBron James is averaging career highs in rebounds and assists, his usage rate is near an all-time low and beyond the allure of the numbers his competitors have put up is this unassailable fact: Minus LeBron, the Cavs aren't true contenders. With him -- and unlike with the Rockets and Thunder -- they are. That adds up to MVP.
Give me another minute, and I'll switch it back to James Harden, who handled his position switch with aplomb in directing the NBA's most explosive offense. But Westbrook's finishing act against Denver (50 points, buzzer-beating 3, season record for triple-doubles) was a compelling closing argument. In short, he made himself impossible to ignore, and -- by a hair -- his six-month rampage is what will be most remembered about this season.
The most complete player this season, when factoring scoring, efficiency, making teammates better, team performance, leadership and excellence. Westbrook's season is historic, and I pray for co-MVPs. If you ask who did more this season, I'll say Westbrook, but if you ask who was better this season, it was Harden.
I hated having to choose, but this guy is running Mike D'Antoni's system better than two-time MVP Steve Nash did -- the Rockets having one of the most efficient offenses ever is a product of Harden's playmaking being up there with anybody in the history of the league.
He is leading the league in scoring, set countless triple-double records (and his team is 33-9 when he gets one, while just 13-25 when he doesn't) and was absolutely unbelievable in the clutch for the Thunder this season.
It's a down season for rookies, but Dario Saric has been a rare bright spot on a team in desperate need of them. Discounting teammate Joel Embiid, who played in just 31 games, Saric leads rookies in points per game and is second in rebounds per game.
Second in minutes in an uninspiring rookie class, and first in win shares, steals and assists, while keeping turnovers down and shooting efficiently (40.3 percent from three, 86.5 percent from the line), the mature play-maker has been a season-long factor on a competitive team.
I was sold on Saric, had his name in there and everything. But Brogdon does so much for the Bucks. He's already a good defender. He's their best play-maker behind Giannis Antetokounmpo. He's shooting above 40 percent from 3-point range. And he's doing this on a team that is in the playoffs, where it's even harder to get minutes. Saric has been great. Brogdon has been the best rookie in a class compromised by Joel Embiid's injury.
He's leading rookies in assists and steals, is fourth in scoring and is shooting over 40 percent from downtown. Plus, he stole the starting point guard role and has been instrumental in the Bucks' late-season playoff push.
Draymond Green continues to be the consummate defender, guarding an array of positions while imposing his will and unique energy on opponents and teammates alike. What he means to the Warriors and their success, particularly on defense, cannot be understated.
In the modern NBA, versatility is tops. There's nothing more important. Nothing. You have to be able to guard multiple positions, play multiple positions, do multiple things, handle multiple things. Rudy Gobert is the most versatile and impactful center in the league. But Draymond Green does everything, everywhere, all the time, for arguably the league's best defense. He adapts to changing dynamics, bullies bigger players, smothers quicker ones, swipes steals, grabs, gnaws and annoys guys into submission, and he does it guarding all five positions. Draymond Green is the most impactful Defensive Player in the modern NBA, and that's why he's DPOY.
He's the league's most versatile defender, and runs the show for one of the league's best defenses. Golden State didn't fall off on the defensive end when Kevin Durant went down, and that's largely due to Draymond Green.
He's the league leader in steals, 12th in blocks and owns a 99.3 individual defensive rating on the league's second-ranked defense. The Warriors' D could've taken a hit without Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, but it didn't because of Draymond Green.
Sure, Eric Gordon has benefited from Mike D'Antoni's system as an offense catalyst off the bench. But James Harden has to get some help in leading Houston to the third-seed in the West, and in Gordon he has found it.
Finally healthy, he shot better than 37 percent from deep, sinking six or more 3-pointers in 10 games, and three or more 3s in 38 others. He was the perfect space-creating complement to James Harden in their 1,500 minutes together, and -- when they played separately -- didn't let defenses relax.
I was not going to vote for him because he has said in the past he didn't want the award. Then last week he did an interview where he said he did want it. So it's his. That simple. Look, the best team in the league, not only this season, but the past three years, has asked him to come in and settle down both the offense and defense while taking on the toughest assignments and knocking down high pressure shots. This is not brain surgery. For once, we won't have a Sixth Man of the Year just based on who shoots a lot. This is a no-brainer.
Iguodala has probably been the NBA's best sixth man for three years now, but he should win the award this time because his decision-making and improved efficiency on offense have been just as valuable to the Warriors as his brilliant defense, especially when Kevin Durant was sidelined.
At 35 years old, Zach Randolph bought in and took a reduced role coming off the bench. All that led to averages of 14.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in 24 minutes -- production the Grizzlies needed every bit of to lock up the seventh seed in the West.
The Greek Freak has turned all his potential into stardom, and has helped turn the Bucks into playoff contenders. The greatness in Giannis has been evident in his marked increase in scoring, his comfort with the speed of the game and the clear fact he's now a rising star.
There are other worthy candidates (Nikola Jokic, James Johnson, Otto Porter Jr.), but there's no tougher leap than the one from good to great. The Bucks survived the absences of Khris Middleton (early) and Jabari Parker (late) to qualify for the playoffs, largely because of his seemingly limitless ability.
On my ballot, Otto Porter was second and James Johnson third, and those guys deserve credit. But listen, Value Over Replacement Player is a good stat, if flawed like so many are. And Giannis has jumped the most of any player not named Westbrook this season, taking over point guard duties and leading the Bucks to a top-six seed. I tend to shy away from crediting guys we know are great for making the leap to stardom, but Antetokounmpo had a lot to figure out about his game, and not only has he defined himself, but he has defined himself as "elite."
This isn't a case of somebody simply getting more minutes and opportunities -- Antetokounmpo already played a major role for the Bucks, but he has become a superstar by getting significantly better on a per-possession basis in every meaningful statistical category.
Points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, you name it, Giannis was better at it this season than he was last season. He made the jump from a pretty nice young player to a bona fide All-Star.
Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks in all five major stat categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). Last season he didn't lead the team in any of these. Couple that with Milwaukee in the playoffs, and that's what I call improvement.
Few foresaw success for Mike D'Antoni when he landed in Houston, but even optimists would have been hard-pressed to predict his leadership would turn Harden into an MVP front-runner and the Rockets into legit contenders. What more can we say other than: D'Antoni remains an offensive genius, and that has spurred his team to a level few saw coming.
What do teams do at 11-30? They quit. That the Heat, with a roster replete with castoffs, stuck together and made a run all the way back to .500 was a testament to a coach who wouldn't let them settle, slouch or split.
I had D'Antoni in here until the last minute, but Brooks has done something seemingly impossible: He has helped the Wizards make the most of their ability. Remember the preseason fighting headlines? Gone. Remember the woeful offensive constructs? Gone. The Wizards have been one of the best teams in the league since December despite a late swoon, and Brooks' ability to get the most out of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, developing young talent on the fly and making Washington one of the most dangerous playoff teams in the East deserves credit.
Tim Duncan retired, and 34-year-old Tony Parker and 39-year-old Manu Ginobili are showing their age, yet the Spurs have kept rolling -- with the No. 1-ranked defense, somehow -- because they're the most disciplined and well-coached team in the NBA.
Halfway through the season, Miami, a team with no All-Stars and nine former D-Leaguers, was 11-30, its best young player was out for the season and Pat Riley wanted to tank. Now, the Heat are on the brink of the playoffs thanks to a brilliant turnaround orchestrated by Spoelstra.
The offensive genius of Mike D'Antoni, which is incredible to watch, is made even more incredible by the fact that he could turn a guy in James Harden, who wasn't even voted third-team All-NBA last season, into an MVP candidate. He also improved a .500 team last season by double-digit wins this season.
Miss me with Bob Myers. Myers is a genius, his approach to how he has built not only the roster, but more importantly the Golden State operational structure is fantastic. He is one of the few people worthy in Golden State of being called "Light-years ahead." But "Hey we should sign Kevin Durant since he already wants to come here because we won 73 games last season and our power forward has been tampering with him for six months" is not some brilliant strategy, and the supporting pieces around the Warriors weren't as good as in years past. It doesn't matter, they're the Warriors, but I can't say that's the best job. Daryl Morey, on the other hand, was clowned by everyone, including me, for signing injury-prone, flawed players who couldn't defend in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. Both have been phenomenal. He invested in the D-League to develop guys like Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell, and saw the value in using them vs. going after veterans, and yet also saw what Nene could do in an Amar'e Stoudemire role. And he hired Mike D'Antoni to put him with Harden. That was a monster gamble. All his gambles came up aces, and for that, he deserves this
Mike D'Antoni, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Louis Williams ... Daryl Morey has a vision of how he wants his team to play and he went out and put the coach and players around James Harden to do it, which led to significant improvement.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.