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Saric, Harden among likely award-winners: As the NBA season comes to a close, MVP, ROY races become clear

Adam Zalewski, Staff Writer

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     Self-evaluation is one of the harder tasks for any individual to complete. As human beings, we like to be right all of the time, and when we find ourselves off the mark, we tend to cover up those instances. I however, would like to take self-evaluation head-on by looking at an article I wrote six months ago, and seeing how my predictions stack up today.

     In an article published on October 26 of this last year, I discussed which players had the potential to win Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP. My picks for rookie of the year included Kris Dunn of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Brandon Ingram of the Lakers and three-fifths of the 76ers projected starting lineup. It turns out I was slightly off target.

     Kris Dunn never truly broke out like he was expected to, which is not a knock on him in the slightest. Averaging just over 17 minutes per game, Dunn has not been able to wrest the starting job from Ricky Rubio, who is having a resurgent season. 3.8 points per game to go along with 2.2 assists are not Rookie of the Year numbers, but Dunn is developing slowly under the tutelage of coach Thibodeau.

     Ingram, on the other hand has had a tough time acclimating to the physical nature of the NBA. He plays around 30 minutes per game and has appeared in every game this season, but is only averaging 9.2 points per game. This is simply not enough for a player whose best attribute is his natural scoring ability. It remains to be seen if he will be able to increase his scoring next year with a year of experience under his belt.

     As for the 76ers, Ben Simmons never stood a chance. He injured his foot in the preseason (sound familiar?) and didn’t play at all this season. Joel Embiid, who I picked to win the award, would have blown his competition out of the water, but injuries limited him to 31 games on the year. In those 31 games, he played 25 minutes per game but was able to accumulate 20 points per game and eight rebounds. Those numbers were fantastic, but with Embiid playing only 31 games, it seems incredibly unlikely that he will win the award.

     Dario Saric is a player I picked to be in the mix, but not win the award. Due mostly to a lack of other productive rookies this year (with the exception of Malcolm Brogdan), Saric looks like the odds-on favorite to win the award. Averaging 12 points and six rebounds in just over 26 minutes of action per game, Dario has been the beneficiary of the Sixers injury plague.

     Embiid and Jahlil Okafor have both battled nagging injuries throughout the season and Nerlens Noel was traded away to the Dallas Mavericks. The loss of these players has given Saric many more opportunities to play than was previously anticipated, and he has taken full advantage.
Switching gears to the Defensive Player of the Year discussion, I may have overestimated the abilities of Draymond Green. He plays with great energy every night and guards across all five positions, but ultimately, he is undersized for a power forward, not to mention mercurial. I included Draymond with the likes of LeBron, Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert in my initial predictions, but LeBron, like Draymond, seems to have fallen off on the defensive end.

     LeBron treats the regular season like a warm-up, and while he can be really good defensively when duty calls, for long stretches of the season he is simply not performing at playoff-level LeBron. Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert are again likely to be the two top candidates for the award given their strong play this season. As of today, it looks like Gobert would be taking home the silverware because of what his defensive efforts have meant to the Utah Jazz.

 

Rockets’ point guard James Harden attempts a jump shot over John Wall. Harden is a candidate for MVP this year as he is averaging 29 points, 8 rebounds and 11 assists per game.

 

     The Jazz currently sit as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, thanks in part to Gobert averaging 13 rebounds per game, nine of which are defensive rebounds, to go along with 2.61 blocks per game, improving his numbers from last year considerably. Kawhi Leonard is an elite player on a title contender but Rudy Gobert will win this award because of the surprising record of the plucky Jazz.

     As far as the MVP discussion goes, this was my most accurate category, down to mentioning LeBron taking off some games for rest. My three contenders for the award were James Harden, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Until March, it looked like this race would come down to the wire, but the recent tumult surrounding the Cavaliers coupled with the controversy surrounding LeBron taking games off to rest has all but knocked LeBron out of MVP contention.

     There will be a great debate surrounding the MVP of this season regardless of who walks away with the award, but you could not go wrong picking either Harden or Westbrook. At the beginning of this season, I picked Westbrook to win MVP and noted that he had a chance to average a triple-double for the entire season. He will go on to average that triple-double, but in my eyes, won’t win the MVP award.

     Russell is the driving force behind everything that the Thunder do and is the reason they will comfortably make the playoffs, but his sometimes-atrocious shooting percentages and outbursts toward referees are all things that are considered when this award is handed out.

     The 2017 MVP will be James Harden, because he has managed to increase his all-around statistical numbers from last season, and in doing so has become the first NBA player to have 2,000 points and 2,000 assists in the same season, which Harden accomplished with nine games to spare. The Rockets were thought to have a chance to mix it up in the Western Conference this season, but nobody expected them to add 20 wins to their record and have a candidate for MVP and Coach of the Year. James Harden is a quiet (and heavily bearded) superstar who thoroughly deserves the designation of Most Valuable Player.

 

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Saric, Harden among likely award-winners: As the NBA season comes to a close, MVP, ROY races become clear