This NBA season, not a single rookie who played more than half of his team’s games averaged at least nine points per game while shooting at least 46%. For context, those were the 2016-17 statistics of 35-year-old defensive-specialist Tony Allen. For further context, two years ago the Warriors came back from down 2-1 to defeat the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals by literally ignoring Tony Allen’s offensive presence.
The Rookie of the Year trophy is typically given to the best rookie from a particular season (which seems obvious, but since the Academy almost never awards Best Picture to the best picture, you never know). This season, however, begs the question: is giving a trophy to a player less offensively adept than Tony Allen really the best use for it, or are there better options?
Option 1: Make up a new award and use it for that
Here are just a few ideas:
Most Valuable Player Who Played Limited Minutes Award: JaVale McGee
Worst Contract of
the Year All-Time Award: Joakim Noah
Season-Long Heat Check Award: Dion Waiters
Low-Key Averaging 27-6-5 Award: Damian Lillard
Unexpectedly Vicious Dunker Award: Richard Jefferson
Unexpectedly Beautiful Accent Award: Patty Mills
Best Name Award: Diamond Stone
Second Best Player in the League Named “Hernangomez” Award: Juan Hernangomez
You Had No Idea He Was on the 76ers Award: Tiago Splitter
Looks Like a Member of the Beach Boys Award: Ron Baker
Most Likely to Star in Fast and Furious 10 (titled “The Fast and the Fur10us”) Award: Blake Griffin
Shut Down the MVP on the Most Important Play of the Finals Last Year but Can’t Play Defense in Any Other Situation Award: Kevin Love
Option 2: Repurpose it as a second-place MVP trophy
My official endorsement is for James Harden, but Russell Westbrook deserves some hardware too. This year’s MVP race is so competitive that the winner of the last two years, putting up essentially the same stats as his first MVP season for a 67-win team, is not even in the conversation. Two reasons I didn’t vote for Westbrook:
(1) If humans used a binary number system, and Westbrook and Harden both averaged a triple-quadruple, I can’t see there being the same wave of support for Westbrook. Take a look at their stats written in binary:
Westbrook: 11111 points, 01010 assists, 01010 rebounds
Harden: 11101 points, 01011 assists, 01000 rebounds
Westbrook’s slight rebounding advantage jumps out a lot less there, right? Averaging a triple-double is ridiculously impressive (considering that Oscar Robertson played around 45 minutes a night when he famously did it, and games were, on average, much higher-scoring back then), and Westbrook’s rebounding advantage over Harden is relevant to the conversation (he gets offensive rebounds like this that give his team extra shots, and he’s able to lead fast breaks by corralling more defensive boards). But the fact that we don’t count in binary doesn’t make Westbrook more valuable.
Note: This is what happens when you take CS 3410 a.k.a. Computer System Organization and Programming a.k.a. Lighting Yourself on Fire. Just be thankful I didn’t also write out stats in hexadecimal.
(2) If two captains were drafting teams for a pickup game out of all NBA players, I’m not sure Westbrook would get picked in the top five. I think the first three goes LeBron (duh), Durant (only guy who can go toe-to-toe with LeBron at that position), Curry (creates so much space for everyone else on the floor). It gets tough after that, but unless Westbrook is dominating the ball the way he is in Oklahoma City this year, I think Harden and Kawhi are simply better players. There’s this notion that Harden’s prolific season is just the product of coach Mike D’Antoni’s system (I love our standards for NBA coaches… ignoring defense and giving the ball to your best offensive player constitutes a “system”) and that Kawhi’s success is because of the culture of the Spurs’ organization, but aren’t Westbrook’s outrageous numbers just as much a product of him having to do absolutely everything for his team?
Option 3: Give it to Joel Embiid
He only played 31 games, but in those games he averaged 29 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per 36 minutes. You want to guess the list of players in NBA history who have averaged 28-10-3 per 36 minutes in a season? It’s Joel Embiid. I don’t care how many games he played. How do you not vote for the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon who can hit spot-up threes and has back-to-back “i”s in his name?
The current favorite to win the award is Embiid’s teammate Dario Saric. He has a smooth, classic shooting guard’s game inside a 6’10’’ body, but man is it hard to justify giving an award for best rookie in the entire league to someone who literally everyone agrees wasn’t the best rookie on his own team.
Option 4: Give it to Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons sat out the whole season with an injury, but I think we can all agree that he would have the been the best rookie had he played. This is the point in the article when you realize that the 76ers are probably going to trot out a lineup of Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid and two top lottery picks next year. This is the point where, if you’re a fan of any other NBA team, you take a drink. And if you’re a Knicks fan, you take another drink, simply because you’re a Knicks fan.
Option 5: Give it to Gregg Popovich
I’d give to Pop mostly just to see what he’d do with it (probably immediately throw it in the garbage), but also because he’s been grossly under-trophied throughout his career. He’s unlikely to win Coach of the Year this season despite the fact that he won 61 games with one All-Star, and despite the fact that HE SHOULD WIN COACH OF THE YEAR EVERY YEAR. It’s like the argument that LeBron should win MVP every year because he’s the best player, only coaching ability isn’t something where your athleticism and skill-set evolves over time. Sure, coaches adjust their strategies based on roster changes, player development and league-wide trends, but basically if you’re a great coach you’re a great coach, and Popovich has quite literally been the best coach in the NBA since I was born. “Top 5 Seasons That Popovich Should Have Won Coach of the Year But Didn’t” is definitely on my list of the top five listicles that I want to write but definitely won’t.
Option 6: Give it to Donald Trump
Sean Spicer would probably say that he won MVP.