Since the league decided last year to hold an awards ceremony in early summer, the NBA won’t be announcing their regular season award winners until June 25th. That’s a long wait, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t go ahead and announce my picks for the “Portland Trail Blazers Awards” for the 2017-18 season today.
Just as in the NBA awards, votes are awarded for regular season performance only.
MVP: Damian Lillard
Could there be any doubt? 27 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds per game. Nearly 92 percent from the free throw line on a career high 7.4 attempts per game. A career best .501 shooting percentage from inside the 3-point line. Damian Lillard was his usual dominant self this season, and had an epic February run that saw him jump into the NBA MVP conversation as a fringe contender.
But let’s not forget his improvement on the defensive end. Lillard showed significant gains on that end of the court, most clearly in navigating the pick-and-roll. He’ll never be an elite defender, but Lillard’s improvement from “poor” to “fine” was a massive boost for the Blazers. It’s frightening to imagine this team without him.
Others Receiving Votes: None
Most Improved Player: Shabazz Napier
Despite struggling with a lingering toe injury that clearly hampered his play down the stretch, Shabazz Napier had a breakout year in his fourth NBA season. Napier averaged career highs in minutes per game, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free throw percentage, rebounding, steals, and points per game.
Napier was a catalyst off the bench, especially early in the season when the Blazers were completely flat offensively. In November, Terry Stotts began utilizing Napier as an additional scorer/ball-handler alongside Lillard and CJ McCollum. Napier responded in a big way, carrying the Blazers to several wins and averaging more than 11 points per game over a 33 game stretch from November to January.
Others Receiving Votes: Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic
Sixth Man of the Year: Ed Davis
After a difficult 2016-17 season that saw him looking like he had forgotten how to play basketball before being shut down late in the season with a shoulder injury, “Phys Ed” was back in a big way in 2017-18. Davis doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, but he relishes doing all of the dirty work; rebounding, defending, boxing out. If a play relies on hustle, Ed Davis is your guy.
This was exactly what the Blazers needed this season. Early in the season, when it looked like Jusuf Nurkic wasn’t giving maximum defensive effort, Ed Davis was there. When a veteran needed to be paired with rookie Zach Collins and help him not get exposed on the court while he learned the ropes, Ed Davis was there. When the team needed a shot in the arm with a clutch offensive rebound and dunk, Ed Davis was there.
Others Receiving Votes: Shabazz Napier
Rookie of the Year: Zach Collins
While he didn’t have a big year, Zach Collins showed substantial improvement throughout the season. Besides, the award has to go to somebody and, with an eligible group consisting of Collins and Caleb Swanigan, Collins was the clear choice. Despite averaging a little more than four points and three rebounds per game, Collins showed glimpses of potential as he unexpectedly earned consistent playing time. Not great, but very nice for a player that was expected to be several years away when he was drafted last summer out of Gonzaga.
Swanigan, Portland’s other rookie lost his spot as a fringe rotation player by mid-February and only played 65 NBA minutes after November 22.
Others Receiving Votes: None
Defensive Player of the Year: Al-Farouq Aminu
Chief may have had a career year from the 3-point line, but he still shot 39 percent from the floor for the second season in a row. But Aminu still provided immense value on the defensive end. Aminu had a DRtg of 104 in 2017-18, third highest on the team (Ed Davis was a 103 and Jusuf Nurkic was a 101) but he still deserves the award.
Aminu played 30 minutes a night (compared to Davis’ 19 and Nurkic’s 26) and had to do it defending multiple positions. One night Aminu could be defending Kevin Durant, while banging with Anthony Davis the next. In multiple instances due to injury or foul trouble, Aminu was even forced to defend legitimate centers like Karl-Anthony Towns or Clint Capela for extended stretches.
Chief performed admirably and, what helped separate him from some of his peers, brought it on defense every single night.
Others Receiving Votes: Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis
Coach of the Year: David Vanterpool
Looking at the coaching staff is a tricky one. We don’t know exactly what these guys are doing behind the scenes, or even who is doing what. But it’s pretty well-regarded that Vanterpool deserves a large piece of the credit for the Blazers’ improved defense in 2017-18, which ranked eighth in the NBA last season after a 24th place showing in 2016-17.
Specifically, Vanterpool has been credited for working with Lillard and McCollum on their defensive chops. In the grand scheme of things, this had as much impact as anything on Portland’s regular-season success.
Others Receiving Votes: Terry Stotts
Agree? Disagree? Tell us who you would have voted for in the comments!