The highly publicized divorce between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook finished on strong notes for both players at the end of the season. Durant captured his first title, while Westbrook was named league MVP last night at the NBA Awards. Westbrook won in a landslide decision over fellow candidates James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James.
Westbrook received 69 out of 101 first-place votes, while Harden finished second with 22. The choice came as no surprise after the OKC guard started on a warpath back in October. After Durant bolted to join the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook took a mediocre squad under his wing. His development as a leader was one of the many reasons he emerged as the obvious choice for MVP.
On the court, Westbrook was in a class of his own during the 2016-17 season. The 28-year-old became just the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double. His career-high of 31.6 PPG led the league. Westbrook also finished third in assists and tenth in rebounds, a stat incredibly impressive when considering his small 6’3” frame.
Even though the Thunder only won 47 games this season, Westbrook’s choice as MVP featured little controversy. A Durant-less OKC team struggled offensively behind Westbrook all year long. Victor Oladipo was the team’s second leading scorer, averaging only 15.9 PPG. Without Westbrook, the Thunder could’ve easily finished as a lottery team.
While Harden, Leonard, and James were deserving of MVP honors, Westbrook’s historic season soared above the rest. His importance to his team was highlighted in the playoffs when OKC was highly over-matched against the Houston Rockets whenever Westbrook headed to the bench for a rest.
The nine-year pro has one final guaranteed season remaining on his current deal with OKC.
Other Notable Awards:
Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets took home Coach of the Year honors. In his first season in Houston, D’Antoni inherited a team riddled with turmoil and turned them into a 55-win squad. A year after the Rockets barely snuck into postseason play, D’Antoni led them to a third-place finish in a stacked Western Conference, including a trip to the Conference Semifinals. He deserves a ton of credit for James Harden’s transition into more of a facilitator, and his use of the bench, especially after losing Dwight Howard in the off-season.
It was no surprise as Draymond Green was named Defensive Player of the Year. The power forward claimed the award after finishing runner up two years in a row. Green was the catalyst behind a Golden State defense that improved greatly this season. It was no contest as Green finished well above fellow candidates Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard.
Malcolm Brogdon became the first non-1st round pick in the common draft era to win NBA Rookie of the Year. Brogdon was a key piece for a young and upcoming Bucks’ squad that finished 6th in the East. His rookie counterparts Joel Embiid and Dario Saric did not qualify for the playoffs. Brogdon earned praise for his dominant defensive play. He contributed offensively as well, finishing the season with 10.2 points and 4.2 assists per game.