Falling in line with the theme of change sweeping across the world, the NBA has made changes in handing out individual awards. For as long as the league began to take shape as the biggest club basketball competition on earth, award winners have received prizes on different dates in the heat of the postseason. Awards like the Rookie of the Year are handed out way earlier than the highest honor, the Most Valuable Player Award.
While this system is steeped in history, its style was a bit jumbled up and robbed winners the utmost attention a single event would provide. Well that problem has been rectified with the announcement of the NBA’s Awards set to go down on one stage on June 26 to give the event the buzz it deserves.
The race for MVP has got to be between James Harden and Russell Westbrook and to an extent Kawhi Leonard. The trio was super in the just ended regular season so much so a winner between the three will be a justified one. One of the front runners in the Coaching category Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets recently got a head start after being named Coach of the Year by his peers in the NBA Coaches Association (NBCA) with Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra.
Despite the huge recognition by Coaches in the league, both recipients have questions about them. As good as the Heat was, rallying late in the season to snatch a playoff spot, Spoelstra’s win is somewhat baffling considering the achievement of Brad Stevens whose Boston Celtics side is just slightly better than the South Floridians roster but achieved big things. Stevens guided a group of under radar players to clinch the Eastern Conference top spot ahead of defending champions Cleveland Cavaliers which deserves a ton of credit.
However, Spo’s chances of scooping the NBA Award is a long shot as a result of missing out on the postseason. Out West, the Rockets top season under D’Antoni has seen his name mentioned as a top potential winner of the Award. Should he win it, it will be a good but not a better choice.
Better competition deserve it more
As good as D’Antoni has been, Quinn Snyder of the Utah Jazz and Brad Stevens of the Celtics are better placed to have the award conferred on them for their outstanding work for the season under review. For starters, Snyder’s Jazz won its first round series in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Utah didn’t achieve that impressive feat by merely chancing on a weak or injured side; the Jazz toppled Blake Griffin and Chris Paul’s Los Angeles Clippers to get there. For Stevens, clinching the Eastern Conference first seed ahead of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers is more than enough to earn the award.
Precedence validates Stevens choice as Coach of the Year since Atlanta Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer earned the honor after doing same in 2015. Rockets did finish the regular season in third place ahead of Utah but Houston is in the Western Conference semis for the second time in three years which is a somewhat mundane achievement when matched up against those of his rivals.
Changed little about the team
While D’Antoni has received tons of positive reviews for converting James Harden into an excellent Point Guard from Shooting Guard, that feat is remarkable but not spectacular. After all Harden had the ball in his hands almost all the time and dictated plays well before the former Knicks Coach got to Houston so having the offense run through the Beard is hardly something new. Coming into the season, the basketball universe had a good feel of what to expect from D’Antoni’s team and so far, it has not disappointed. Leading the league in three point shots converted, the Rockets ooze every sinew of Magic Mike’s fast paced three point heavy but poor defensive system.
Before he landed in Houston, the Rockets was eighth best in the league on offense and 20th in defensive rating. A year under his watch, Houston’s offensive output predictably spiked ending up second on the offensive list. However, the predictable bad defensive play which plagues his system showed up in a big way as Houston cratered to 26th in the league.
Former winner Steve Kerr changed everything about the Golden State Warriors after his appointment. Though he maintained the top defensive touch of the team, he moved the team from a heavy isolation based offense under the Mark Jackson era to a ball sharing hyperactive scoring machine.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter