More often than not, winners of prestigious individual awards suit up for playoff contenders. There are some exceptions here, particularly ROY, but in most instances players on winning teams tend to get the nod over those on bad clubs. Not here. Not at The Lottery Mafia.
Rookie of the Year
Ilia Shatashvili: Joel Embiid. Whether you like Jolly Ranchers or not, JoJo played enough to prove he’s the best rookie.
Daniel Coughlin: Marquesse Chriss. The clear winner should be Malcolm Brogdon, what a fantastic season. However, looking at teams missing the playoffs, it’s Chriss. He’s fifth among rookies in scoring, played the most games of all rookies, and barring Brogdon, had more win shares and more rebounds than the other three guys ahead of him in scoring. Also, I think he had the most technical fouls of any rookie and it probably wasn’t even close.
Gabriel Allen: Dario Šarić. Embiid deserves it despite missing more than half the year. But I’ll go with Šarić to diversify the field. Philadelphia is flushed with fun-loving passers in Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell, and the Croatian kid, and the latter is just a consistent long-ball (31.1 percent on 4.2 attempts per game) away from being a borderline All-Star.
Sixth Man of the Year
IS: Wilson Chandler. Started 32 games due to injuries but was sixth man in every other game and fulfilled his role impeccably.
DC: I almost went Jamal Murray, to reward him for not being my ROY, but I’m actually gonna go with Frank Kaminsky. He played 70-plus games, started a handful, and showed some fun stuff when forced into service at center for a while this year. He took a small, but very real step forward in his understanding of the game in his second season. Maybe not huge on his overall upside, but he definitely did a lot for the disappointing Charlotte Hornets this season.
GA: James Johnson. Both Johnson’s from South Beach are worthy, but James breaking out and helping to turn the tides for Miami in the aftermath of Justice Winslow’s season-ending injury is one of the best stories of 2016-17.
Most Valuable Player
IS: Nikola Jokic. It’s between him and Towns, but the Joker nearly made the playoffs and gave us all plenty of passing highlights to devour on YouTube.
DC: Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s historically good, better than Embiid and actually healthy, plus he’s still almost two full years (one year, eight months) younger. Some concerns exist over his defensive work and increased chatter with officials, but he’s easily the best player on my radar, though Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins also should figure into this discussion. I also wouldn’t be upset if Kemba Walker were MVP. There are a lot of great players missing out on the playoffs this year.
GA: Goran Dragic. If the Dragon drops 27 points on Wednesday, he’ll post a new career-high scoring average at 30 years of age. Right now, the Bulls and Pacers are both favored by about 13 points (versus the Nets and Hawks) tonight, which gives the Heat a shot in the dark (at best) of sneaking into the playoffs. It’s a shame because Goran and Miami are playing a much more exciting brand of basketball than Chicago and Indiana – two teams that both might be better served by a wake-up call (i.e. missing the postseason altogether).
Most Improved Player
IS: Dion Waiters. We thought everyone was going to drown on Waiters island, but he’s turned his career around, it seems. (If the Heat make the playoffs, Devin Booker becomes my pick for having a strong second half of the season and scoring 70 points in a game).
DC: Nikola Jokic. I hear the people who would pick him for MVP, like Ilia, and there is a great case for that. I don’t think he’s there, even though I love his game. He’s definitely on his way up and took a huge step forward this season.
GA: Harrison Barnes. Fans and critics alike went from joking about the Dallas Mavericks signing Barnes to a max contract to applauding the decision. Increased responsibility often leads to better counting stats, but his shooting percentages (46.8 FG, 35.1 3Pt, 86.1 FT) held strong despite this being the first year he has hoisted more than 10 field-goal attempts (16.2) per game.
Coach of the Year
IS: Rick Carlisle. I really wanted to go with Dave Joerger for even being able to win a single game with his roster after trading Cousins, but can’t deny Carlisle for making a late playoff push after how poorly the Mavs started without Dirk.
DC: Erik Spoelstra. He took a team from 11-30 to 40-41 heading into the final day of the season. If they win on Wednesday night and get a loss from the Bulls or Pacers, they’re in the playoffs. Historic.
GA: Michael Malone. Denver will watch the playoffs from home this year, but they do enter the final night of the regular season with the eighth-best point differential (+0.4) in the West. While a little taste of the postseason would’ve given this young core a bit more seasoning heading into 2017-18, the Nuggets will add another lottery pick to the fold instead of being swept by the Warriors.
IS: T.J. McConnell. Bayless was supposed to be the starter until he missed the whole season following wrist surgery. Then Sergio was expected to run the offense until he disappointed. Surprise, surprise, T.J. became the floor general and had a solid season highlighted by sturdy defense and game-winning buckets.
DC: Tyler Johnson. I really, really like Johnson. It’s not because he looks like an Amish hipster, though it might be because he’s a Midwestern boy. He said he almost threw up after hearing the numbers for his own contract, but he’s been huge for Miami this season, acting as the glue guy between players like Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters. He’s good, not great, and he makes a difference for this Heat team. Hassan and Justise and Dion and Goran can get the spotlight, they’re all playing with Tyler and he’s running that toothless grin all over the court.
GA: Justin Holiday. The Knicks were a total disaster in so many ways, but Holiday was a consistent contributor off the bench. New York would be wise to re-sign Justin this summer, but a 3-and-D wing with his reputation will have plenty of offers.