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From Least Valuable Player to non-play of the year: our NBA season awards

Find out who the big winners of the 2016-17 NBA season were. Note: the Golden State Warriors may make a few appearances

On Monday night, the NBA finally handed out its regular season awards, roughly 3m years after the last game of the 2017 finals. But why trust the league when you have us here at the Guardian? OK, sure, we will admit that some of the categories that follow are not official. In fact, a few of these awards might be more accurately classified as insults, but we assure you that they will combine to give you a perfect picture of the 2016-17 NBA season.

MVP: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

This has been one of the most contested MVP races in NBA history. The Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James is the best basketball player alive. His mere presence has swung the Eastern Conference every postseason since 2012. The San Antonio Spurs Kawhi Leonard was the best two-way player in the league and he seamlessly replaced the seemingly irreplaceable Tim Duncan. The Houston Rockets James Harden had his greatest season yet, silencing his many critics (including this one) with an offensive performance that was as aesthetically pleasing as it was brutally effective.

Still, what Westbrook accomplished in his first year playing without Kevin Durant was special. Completely unleashed, he averaged a triple double for the season, eventually breaking Oscar Robertsons record after his 42nd of the season. He carried his team in a way we hadnt seen a player do since the end of LeBrons first stint in Cleveland, mostly because the Thunder desperately needed to be carried by him. Westbrook received so little help from team-mates that he ended up easily leading the league with his 41.7% usage rate. Thats fairly valuable.

Who actually won: Westbrook. Honestly it was all wrapped up for him after the Kendrick Lamar shout-out back in March.

Oklahoma
Russell Westbrook immediately after tying the season triple double record. Photograph: Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports

Team of the Year: Golden State Warriors

Best team ever? Lets wait a few years before handing that distinction over to the 2016-17 Warriors. Recency bias is a hell of a drug. It is, however, impossible to argue that they werent the best team of the year. After another regular season spent on top of the standings, they went on to lose exactly one game during the postseason before winning a championship that seemed nearly predestined. The main reason for that dominance? Well…

Move of the Year: Golden State Warriors sign Kevin Durant

The Warriors were building a case for all-time greatness last season, but then came the Cavaliers comeback victory in the 2016 finals. Spurred on by countless the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead jokes during the offseason, Golden State rebounded by replacing designated goat Harrison Barnes with Durant, who had become increasingly frustrated with the the Thunders inability to return to the finals. With one move, a potentially historic team had added a perennial MVP candidate, perhaps the leagues second-best player. The Warriors didnt set any regular season win-loss records this time around, but nobody really cared about that when they began demolishing all would-be rivals during the playoffs.

Who actually won: These are both entirely imaginary awards, but the league did reward the team by handing Executive of the Year honors to Warriors GM Bob Myers.

Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

This is a cop out. Embiid didnt play a full season, lasting just 31 games before the 76ers lost him to a torn meniscus. Plus, it was his third year in the league, even if it marked the first time he was healthy enough to step onto the court. It doesnt matter, he was technically a rookie and he was clearly the most transformative one while he was on the court. He averaged 20.2 points per game, showed flashes of frightening dominance and immediately made it clear what Philadelphia sees in him despite his worrisome injury history. Now, lets hope we actually see him play basketball for a full season at least once.

Who actually won: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks. A fine choice, but we all know that Embiid would have won if he had lasted another month or two.

Least Valuable Player: Lance Stephenson, New Orleans Pelicans/Minnesota Timberwolves/Indiana Pacers

It wasnt a huge surprise that Stephenson has flamed out – hes basically a walking red flag – but its comical to contemplate the sheer number of teams that given up on him. Since signing a 3 year, $27m contract with the Charlotte Hornets in 2014, the abrasive, injury prone and inconsistent Stephenson has played for the LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Pelicans and (for about a month) the Timberwolves. The Pacers reacquired Stephenson in March, bizarrely signing him to another three-year deal, possibly hoping a familiar face would convince Paul George to stay. (That, uh, has not worked out.)

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

Now, Mike DAntoni successfully remade the Houston Rockets in his own image, giving Harden the perfect stage to work his magic and transforming a thoroughly dysfunctional team into an incredibly dangerous one. Popovich, though, had one of the very best seasons of his already remarkable coaching career. Duncan, the greatest player of his generation, retired and, for most of the season, it looked like his former team-mates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili would soon be joining him. If things werent sketchy enough for the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge ended up being a rare awkward fit in San Antonio, leading to rumors that he wanted to be traded elsewhere. None of this ended up mattering much, as San Antonio rolled to a 61-21 record. They probably even could have made the Warriors sweat in their postseason had Kawhi Leonard not injured his ankle in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. (They still would have lost, obviously, Popovich isnt a miracle worker. We dont think.)

Who actually won: DAntoni. And good for him.

Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Antetokounmpo had the tools to be a true game-changer from the start, but even the most optimistic of us never thought he would evolve this quickly. The 22 year old 6ft 11in forward/guard/whatever-you-need has rapidly adapted to the professional game, becoming the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in a season.

Who actually won: Antetokounmpo. It was really to impossible to deny him these honors.

Giannis
Giannis Antetokounmpos game is a work of art: Athens graffiti pays tribute to the Greek Freak. Photograph: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA

Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

It feels almost inevitable that this award will come down to Leonard and the Golden State Warriors Draymond Green every year for the foreseeable future, although the Utah Jazzs Rudy Gobert is now firmly part of the conversation. Leonard, coming off his best NBA season on both sides of the ball, probably deserved to win for a third straight year.

Who actually won: Green. Its a more than defensible choice, even if it feels like voter fatigue and a growing sense that it was his turn played a large role in the final results.

Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets

Well, we should give something to the Rockets for having such a great season and Sixth Man of the Year seems appropriate. Much of Houstons success was due to their impressive bench, which features two worthy candidates in Gordon and Lou Williams. Gordon, among other things, made 246 three-pointers, 206 off the bench, preventing opponents from relaxing whenever the Rockets needed to give Harden a breather.

Who actually won: Gordon. He edged out the Golden State Warriors Andre Iguodala.

Disappointment of the Year: Pretty much the entirety of the playoffs

You cant blame the Warriors for sucking all the drama out of the postseason. They were there to win games and not draw ratings, but these playoffs were an utter catastrophe from an entertainment standpoint. Maybe eventually well be thankful to have witnessed a team as dominant as these Warriors. Right now though, its hard not to feel like a part of their domination involved turning the postseason into an afterthought, a joyless victory lap that spoiled an otherwise fun season.

Disaster of the Year: New York Knicks

In the last 12 months under Phil Jackson, the Knicks traded for the remains of the Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, finished 31-51 in a weak Eastern Conference and, most recently, alienated sole beacon of hope Kristaps Porzingis by threatening to trade him right before the draft. Thats just the Cliff Notes version of this last year, mind you, one that doesnt include the Charles Oakley affair, Rose going MIA, the LeBrons posse comments and the growing sense among Knicks fans that Jackson could somehow be as bad of an executive as Isaiah Thomas.

Who actually won: One has to assume that the Knicks would win this if it were an actual award.

Best NBA All-Star Moment: Kyrie Irving, Flat Earther

Was the Cavaliers point guard being serious when he said that he believes the Earth is flat, or was he just trolling us all? Who knows, but it ended up being the biggest controversy of the All-Star Weekend festivities. It was refreshing too: these days most conspiracy theories are of the decidedly less-amusing 9/11 was an inside job and school shootings are false flags variety. In contrast, flat-Earthism was something everybody could have fun with, at least until Shaq, as he tends to do, completely killed the joke.

Game-winner of the Year: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

This is 100% a sentimental pick. This writers unabashed love of Bradley, an elite defensive player with a knack for hitting clutch threes, has gone on long enough that it has become a running gag over the years. So, it would be wrong not to honor the game-winning three-pointer Bradley hit against the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. In the long run, the shot was almost entirely meaningless, the difference between Boston losing in five rather than being swept outright, but for one night Bradley struck a righteous blow against inevitability.

Also take note: it takes so long for the shot to finally rattle in that the Cavaliers dont have any time to come up with an equalizer before the buzzer buzzes.

Who actually won: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder. Fan voters gave the award to Westbrooks game-winner over the Denver Nuggets, which was also pretty neat.

This was Russell Westbrooks 50th point of the game.

Dunk of the Year: Victor Oladipo, Oklahoma City Thunder

Its not just because Oladipos dunk victimized the Atlanta Hawks Dwight Howard, although thats a lot of it. The sequence is an amazing spectacle in its own right, not just for how high Oladipo leaps but for the awkward beauty in his flailing landing.

Who actually won: Oladipo. He also won via fan vote, marking an all too rare instance of democracy working.

Non-Play of the Year: Cleveland Cavaliers JR Smith talks to Jason Terry, allows a dunk

At one point or another, weve all stopped to chat with friends when we really should have been paying attention at work, its just suboptimal when one does it in the middle of a NBA game.

Game of the Year: Golden State Warriors 108-109 Cleveland Cavaliers

It was a Christmas miracle! The Cavaliers not only beat the the Warriors, they did so in dramatic fashion, putting together an impressive fourth-quarter comeback. This game would have been a NBA finals preview in a better world.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jun/28/from-least-valuable-player-non-play-of-the-year-our-nba-season-awards

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