Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and LeBron James were absent from the inaugural Awards Show, which nonetheless had its moments and managed not to switch any envelopes.
The NBA has tried to turn this into an Oscars-type show at Basketball City in Manhattan, hosted by rapper Drake and featuring an Egyptian-themed performance from Nicki Minaj. To accommodate the show, the NBA held back the results of the media voting much longer than usual.
Was it worth it? The TNT ratings will tell the story. But Drake carried much of the show (until fading in the second half) and Bill Russell highlighted the night when, after accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award, opened his speech by pointing to Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and announcing, “I would kick your ass.”
The platinum artist opened his monologue with a bunch of one-liners, ragging on the Knicks (“New York is the City that never sleeps because everyone here thinks they’re going to be traded”), Draymond Green’s podcast (“It’s an awful listen”) and, of course, LaVar Ball (“He’s the black father who’s around too much”).
Porzingis was probably glad he didn’t make the trek overseas after losing Block of the Year to Kawhi Leonard. And after nearly 2 1/2 hours, we’re able to recap the pomp and circumstance with a few grafs on the six major awards:
Russell Westbrook, the first player since Oscar Robertson to win a triple-double, beat out James Harden despite his team winning just 47 games and finishing sixth in the Western Conference.
His numbers were remarkable and, more than anything else, tells the story of the 2017 MVP: 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists. Without Kevin Durant – who controversially left for the Warriors – Westbrook dominated the ball and the record books.
He averaged career highs in points, rebounds, shot attempts (24) and turnovers (5.4), winning the award three years after Durant captured his MVP. He brought his teammates to the stage and the speech turned tearful when he brought up his family.
“I don’t know (how I can improve on this year),” said Westbrook. “I get asked that question every year. And I just go out and there and try.”
The votes are cast before the playoffs, and could’ve changed after Harden’s Rockets toppled Westbrook’s Thunder in just five games of the first round.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Mike D’Antoni captured his second Coach of the Year award – this time with the Rockets — and, with his first line on stage, joked about his treatment when he guided the Knicks.
“I never thought I’d be in New York and thank the sportswriters for Coach of the Year,” he said.
While implementing his speedball system in Houston, D’Antoni’s squad won 55 games and created an MVP candidate in James Harden. It was a rejuvenation for the 66-year-old after failed stints with the Knicks and Lakers.
His time in New York was doomed by a rift with Carmelo Anthony and an overall resistance to preferred style of offense.
“I just wish, like I said, I wish we had won more (in New York), a little bit more stable. If we knew now probably the way we need to play, people would be a little bit more patient,” D’Antoni said. “But that’s not New York’s way. But hey, it was great.”
D’Antoni easily beat out finalists Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Draymond Green, wearing a suit jacket with shorts, added Defensive Player of the Year to his second NBA title, taking the only award Monday for either the Warriors or the Cavaliers.
Green’s defensive versatility at his size – with the ability to guard all five positions – has allowed the Warriors to thrive with their small-ball lineup.
“Offense will always be talked about. That’s just the way it is,” Green said. “But we know (at Golden State) how important defense is to winning championship.”
For the award, he bested finalists Rudy Gobert (Utah) and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio).
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Malcolm Brogdon became the first winner of this award not drafted in the first round since the start of the common draft era 1966, winning after averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 assists as the Bucks’ starting point guard. He beat out Sixers finalists Joel Embiid – who missed over 50 games last season – and Dario Saric – the 12th overall pick in 2014 who finally jumped to the NBA before last season.
“I think it’s an example for guys that are told they are too short, they are not athletic enough, they are not real point guards, they are not real shooting guards. I just think it’s an important message for people to see, and it can be done,” Brogdon, who was drafted 36th out of the University of Virginia product, said. “It just takes a lot. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice and a lot of good decisions.”
New York’s Willy Hernangomez received eight third-place votes.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Eric Gordon made the right decision by signing with the Rockets last summer over the Knicks, and he was rewarded Monday as Sixth Man of the Year after averaging over 16 points in Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system.
Gordon signed with the Rockets for four years, $53 million, while the Knicks went with Courtney Lee for four years, $50 million. A big concern with Gordon heading into the season was injuries, but he played 75 games – the most since his rookie campaign in 2008-09.
“This has been a special year,” said Gordon, who added the Sixth Man of the Year award to his 3-point championship from All-Star weekend.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who many regard as the next great superstar in the Eastern Conference, after carrying the Bucks into the playoffs while averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists (up from his 2015-16 averages of 16.9, 7.7, 4.3).
The “Greek Freak” saved one of his best performances for the Garden, hitting a stepback game-winner in January to cap a 27-point night.
Antetokounmpo, who was not in New York on Monday, beat out Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Denver’s Nikola Jokic.