Vandy’s NBA forecast


Vandy Manyeh, News Reporter

The 2017 NBA All-star game is over, and teams are gearing up for the final stretch of the season. Players and teams are about to book a spot in the top eight to have a 1/16 probability of winning the 2017 NBA championship title. After following the league to this point, here are my takes on players who will win major accolades:

MVP: James Harden (Houston Rockets)

A boy from Los Angeles, living the dream in Houston, is averaging 29.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 11.3 assists through 58 games. His scoring ability isn’t a shock since he has been able to average a little above 20 points per game through his NBA career. Harden is having a surreal year, leading the Houston Rockets as they comfortably sit third in the tight Western Conference. Not only is he playing for himself, but he has been able to get guys involved with his new role at the point guard position since the arrival of veteran Head Coach Mike D’Antoni from his NBA coaching sabbatical. It is easy to compare these statistics with the “Brodie” and fellow Los Angeles native Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is averaging 31.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.1 assists through 57 games. He is averaging a triple-double half way through the season and is ranked third on the list of players with the most triple-doubles through a season behind the legends Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. In all honesty, Harden and Westbrook could go unblemished by basketball pundits if any is announced as the league’s MVP. But here is the simple reason why Harden stands a better chance to scoop the title: Houston is third in the Western Conference, while Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder are at the seventh spot. Why does this matter? Since the league placed an end to fans voting for the MVP title in 1975, no player has been able to win the MVP title without being in the top three spots in their conference. Admittedly, Westbrook is a great player like Harden, but his team’s position could cost him a major award despite his stellar performances.

Contenders: Russell Westbrook (OKC Thunder), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

Defensive player of the year: Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)

On a team with a bunch of light-skinned guys* who we all think just play offense, Draymond Green is that man who dictates the way the Golden State Warriors shape on the defensive end. If you cannot fathom how the Warriors blew up a 3-1 lead to succumb to the Cavaliers in last year’s finals, here is the reason: they played without Green in game 5 after he was handed a flagrant foul one for hitting LeBron James in the groin. Since the end of last season, the Warriors let go most of their defensive players to create a room for Kevin Durant. Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Festus Ezeli who rotationally gave the Warriors that much-needed rim protection are no longer with the team. Green is the solid rim protector and the team’s de facto defensive coordinator. He has been able to steal the basketball 111 times this season, about 2.1 steals per game (second in the NBA). He recently got a triple-double the hard way with 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 steals, while adding 5 blocks. Green could face a fierce competition from Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside who is averaging 14 rebounds per game, with most coming from the defensive end. Whiteside most recently led his team to a 13-game winning streak.

Contenders: Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

Sixth man of the year: Eric Gordon (Houston Rockets)

As the seventh pick in the first round of the 2008 NBA draft, Eric Gordon has had a rough career trying to play well like he did during his time at Indiana University. He was traded by the Los Angeles Clippers to the New Orleans Pelicans and had a rough spell missing games due to injury. The versatile point/shooting guard was signed by the Houston Rockets and has established himself as a key part of Coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Coming off the bench, Gordon has made 148 treys from downtown, which is the fourth most three-point total in the league this season. As the Rockets’ sixth man, he is averaging 17.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists through 52 games. He isn’t the only sixth man putting up such numbers. The Los Angeles Lakers’ Lou Williams is averaging 18.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists through 58 games. Gordon stands a better chance since his team is winning, sitting at the third spot in the Western Conference.

Contenders: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Lakers), Enes Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Most Improved Player: Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)

Prior to this season, Isaiah Thomas averaged a little under 18 points per game for the Boston Celtics. This season, he is averaging 29.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists through 53 games. He broke Celtic’s legend John Havlicek’s record by scoring 20 points in 40 straight games. Drafted in the second round as the 60th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas is leading his team to an amazing run in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics sit at the second spot with a decent 37-20 record. Nicknamed “Mr. Fourth Quarter,” Thomas has been the decisive player during recent wins for the Celtics. During a recent five-game winning streak, he averaged 16 points, 2.5 assists, and went 16-16 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. The Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo is a contender for this award, leading his team in all major categories. Given the Bucks’ recent performance coupled with the absence of Jabari Parker, Antetokounmpo cannot continue his electrifying performance. The Celtics look ready to compete with the Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title, and as such, a team’s performance could affect the way voters will vote, thereby giving Thomas an edge to win the Most Improved Player award.

Contenders: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns)

Rookie of the Year: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

DeMarcus Cousins sees him as the best big in the league after he retires, and 922,174 fans voted for “The Process” in this year’s All-Star campaign. A rookie with a high fan base, he is about to be the second back-to-back unanimous Rookie of the Year after 2016 winner Karl-Anthony Towns. With restricted minutes “The Process” has been able to put up terrific numbers. He currently averages 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists through 31 games. Embiid is playing without 2016 first round pick Ben Simmons and a bad roster. For a rookie to establish himself so early, making himself the face of a franchise, nothing is more deserving than the Rookie of the Year Award. Phoenix Suns’ Marquese Chriss has shown how athletic he is, giving us some nice dunks, but his numbers aren’t good enough to match Embiid. Malcolm Brogdon of the Bucks like Chriss has been able to get into the starting five on numerous occasions. Unlike other awards, voters usually vote for the best player regardless of the player’s team performance. Top rookies are usually drafted by teams with the least wins. This is an advantage for Embiid who’s playing for one of the worst teams in the NBA to win the Rookie of the Year award despite his team’s performance.

Contenders: Marquese Chriss (Phoenix Suns), Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee Bucks)