Sixth Man of the Year: Andre Iguodala
This might be a bit of a controversial pick given how great Eric Gordon has been off the bench for the Rockets. And if there was a comeback player of the year award, Gordon would win that hands down. But Iggy is the best bench player in the NBA, and he comes off the bench of the best team in the NBA. Eric Gordon might score more, and at a more efficient rate. Iguodala, however, is the stronger rebounder and passer, is in an entirely different galaxy as a defensive player. Even more impressively, he leads the NBA in assist to turnover ratio at a ludicrous 4.4 rate. Iggy just doesn’t make many mistakes on the basketball court, and his ability to defend multiple positions at an All-NBA level is a lynchpin to the Warriors’ “death lineup”. He’s the most valuable bench player in the NBA, and that’s how I interpret this award.
Rookie of the Year: Malcolm Brogdon
This is another tight two-man race (no, I’m not considering Joel Embiid). Brogdon is a starter and 6th man for a playoff team, while Dario Saric has been the one fairly consistent bright spot in another sad 76ers season. Neither is young—Saric is about to turn 23, while Brogdon is already 24 and a half years old. They therefore don’t make many typical rookie mistakes, and both have solid basketball IQ. It comes down to numbers and role. Saric scores and rebounds more, but is also the focal point for an awful team. Brogdon is a role player (albeit a good one) on a much better team. The crucial difference to me is shooting and defense. Brogdon has a sizeable advantage over Saric in each of those areas, and his usefulness as a 3 and D player as a rookie trumps Saric’s greater promise and upside. Brogdon might look like a foolish choice in a couple years if he plateaus and Saric reaches his ceiling, but I think Brogdon has been better this season.
Most Improved Player: Rudy Gobert
Gobert is a top contender for a more significant award (Defensive Player of the Year), but is also my choice for most improved player. He went from being a solid starter with lots of promise to a top-tier center and best defensive rim protector in the NBA in just one season. That’s crazy. Yes, Giannis Antetokounmpo has made the leap as well, as has Nikola Jokic (but he’s still only in his 2nd season, which rules out his case for me). The reason I give Gobert the edge is that I think Giannis already showed significant flashes of his play this season after the All Star Break. Gobert showed potential, but he never had any extended stretches as dominant as his play this season has been. People talk about his defense (which is definitely where most of his value lies), yet gloss over the fact that Gobert has upped his scoring by nearly five points per game while increasing his field goal shooting from 55.9% to 66.3%. It’s very tough to raise usage while maintaining efficiency in the NBA. Gobert has done that, and more. He’s been sensational.
Bust of the Year: Dragan Bender
Bender is still just 19. He’s incredibly young, and moving to a different country at that age must be incredibly difficult. An arthroscopic surgery on his ankle mid-season didn’t help matters, and I am not writing him off by any means. However… a 4th overall pick who averages a mere 3.3 points per game and only plays in 39 contests (so far) can’t be anything but a vast disappointment. He shot horribly from the floor, and his shot was supposed to be a strength coming into the NBA. Worse, he got to the line only 10 times in almost 500 minutes. That’s putrid. Yes, his lack of strength had a lot to do with that. It’s still a grim statistic, and one that doesn’t portend well for his making positive contributions in the next couple years. His ceiling remains relatively high, and Suns’ fans can be consoled by the fact that the 2016 draft looks like one of the worst in over a decade across the board. That doesn’t mean that this season wasn’t very far from what is expected from a top draft pick, and one that can’t be written off quickly.
Most Boring/Forgettable Team: Orlando Magic
They aren’t as disappointing as the Pistons. Or as incompetent as the Bulls. Or as baffling as the Kings. They certainly are not dominant like the Warriors or Spurs. What are the Magic? They are the team everyone forgets about when thinking of the NBA. The Magic have been a moribund franchise for half a decade now, ever since Dwight Howard forced his way to Los Angeles. They still don’t have a real plan going forward. No blue-chip prospects, no All Stars. Nothing. The cupboard isn’t quite bare, but it definitely isn’t well stocked either. A lot of that is a consequence of all the young (young-ish, anyway) talent that the Magic have traded or let go of over the past few years: Tobias Harris, Mo Harkless, Dwayne Dedmon, Kyle O’Quinn, Victor Oladipo, and E’Twuan Moore. None of those guys are franchise players either, which is a different story, but they are all NBA rotation players at the very least, and most just walked away. All that’s left is a solid starting center in Nic Vucevic, a mercurial point guard in Elfrid Payton, and a still developing Aaron Gordon. Mario Hezonja looks like a bust, Bismack Biyombo appears to be a poor signing, and the Magic have no options to improve outside of the draft. Currently projected to draft 4th, Orlando desperately needs a homerun pick to revitalize their franchise. It’s been a very long rebuild that has nothing to show for itself as of right now.