Recapping the First Ever NBA Awards

The first ever NBA awards show took place on Monday, June 26th.  As expected, Russell Westbrook was named MVP, Draymond Green took Defensive Player of the Year, and Mike D’Antoni was honored as Coach of the Year. Most fans would agree that the awards went to deserving candidates ; even if you don’t completely agree with the selections, there is no doubt that they are defensible. The real head scratching came on June 27th when the official media ballots were revealed.

The most indefensible selections were the 9 first place votes and 28 second place votes that propelled Erik Spoelstra to finish second for Coach of the Year.  There are two ways to vote for this award. The first, which most voters use, is to reward a coach whose team far exceeded expectations. This is why Mike D’Antoni won the award in a landslide – the Rockets improved on last season’s total by 14 wins and exceeded their Las Vegas over/under by 14 wins. The other method is to simply vote for the best coaches, provided they worked their normal wizardry during the season.  Gregg Popovich and Bill Belichick should probably win coach of the year every season, but they are “punished” by their previous successes.  They’ve established such high standards that it becomes impossible to exceed them.  Even so, Popovich garnered 8 first place votes this year for leading the Tim Duncan-less Spurs to a 61 win season.

Back to Coach Spo – how did he earn enough votes to finish in second place?  To review, the Heat finished 41-41 and missed the playoffs in the East. In a sport where more than half the teams make the playoffs, a non playoff team had a coach finish second in COY voting. Some would argue that he deserves credit for the Heat’s unlikely surge to finish the season. They went on a 30-11 tear during the second half.  He certainly does deserve credit for that, but who was the head coach when they started the year 11-30?  Others may say that it was an incredible feat to finish .500 with that roster. Granted, they were not the most talented team, but Goran Dragic made an All-NBA third team 3 years ago and is still in his prime, and Hassan Whiteside might be the best center in the Eastern Conference! Is Miami’s roster worse than any of the teams that finished behind them?  Probably not, unless you want to argue that the Knicks have a better roster….and if outperforming the Knicks is a criteria for earning awards, the NBA awards show will need to schedule a much longer time slot next year.

The Nuggets finished 9th in the West, same position as the Heat did in the East.  They went 40-42, winning 7 more games than they did last year and exceeding their over/under by 6 games. The Heat only exceeded their over/under by 5 games. The two teams had almost identical seasons – where is the COY love for Mike Malone?  Even the Spurs exceeded their over/under by 5 wins. It’s more impressive to be expected to win 56 games and win 61 than it is to be expected to win 36 games and win 41.  It would be understandable if Spoelstra received a few third place votes behind D’Antoni and Popovich, but for Spo to run away with second place was the biggest travesty and most perplexing aspect of the awards voting this year.

Some other interesting voting minutiae:

  • The top 3 in the MVP voting seemed pretty clear cut: Westbrook, Harden, and Kawhi in some order (with most voters putting LeBron 4th).  Isaiah Thomas and Steph Curry were the only players besides those four to receive a top 3 vote (Thomas with four 3rd place votes, Curry with three).
  • One voter seems to be daring the NBA to take his vote away.  Marcelo Nogueira left LeBron off his MVP ballot entirely (semi-defensible), had LeMarcus Aldridge at 3rd place for DPOY (completely indefensible), and had Isaiah Thomas on second team all defense (just take his vote away).
  • Bill Simmons put Austin Rivers on second team all defense.  It is Rivers’ only vote.  Simmons and Doc Rivers have had their differences over the years, so this vote could somehow be Simmons’ version of trolling.

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William fleshman