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Henry Liao

NBA Awards Night: Westbrook, Rockets and Bucks are Big Winners

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Oklahoma City?s do-everything guard Russell Westbrook was the biggest winner in the first ever National Basketball Association Awards Night held last June 26 at the Basketball City in Pier 36, New York.

Westbrook, who became the first player in 55 years to post a triple-double season average with an NBA-leading 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and league third-best 10.4 assists in 81 games, romped away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy that goes to the NBA?s Most Valuable Player in a landslide balloting by a 101-member media panel.

The 6-3 Westbrook, who has spent his entire nine-year pro career with the OKC Thunder, received 69 first-place votes, far outdistancing Houston?s James Harden (who had 22), San Antonio?s Kawhi Leonard (nine) and Cleveland?s LeBron James (one).

I have no idea yet what the final points total were for the four men in the MVP race. A voter needed to select five players according to ranking with points assigned for first to fifth choices on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis and the MVP winner is determined by the total points he accumulates. There is no criterion in the selection of the MVP, not even a player?s statistics.)

Westbrook, who captured his second NBA scoring title (the first came in 2014-15), broke a pair of 55-year-old triple-double NBA records previously held by ?The Big O? Oscar Robertson. The 28-year-old UCLA product racked up 42 T-D games ? one more than the 6-5 Robertson?s output with the Cincinnati Royals (the predecessors of the Sacramento Kings) in 1961-62 ? and joined him as the only players to register a triple-double season average. That year, Robertson normed 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg and 11.4 apg in 79 appearances as a second-year pro out of the University of Cincinnati.

Be that as it may, my personal choice for MVP was ?The Beard? Harden. The 6-5 left-handed playmaker, who was Westbrook?s Thunder mate for three seasons (2009-12) before being jettisoned to the Rockets in late October 2012, finished second in the NBA in scoring behind Westbrook and first in assists. He is the first player ever to both score and assist on at least 2,000 points in a single season and accounted for the most points in league history with 4,554, surpassing Nate (Tiny) Archibald's 4,539 total in 80 games (2,719 points and 910 assists) with the Kansas City-Omaha Kings (now Sacramento Kings) in 1972-73 when the left-handed court general became the first and only player in NBA annals to pace the league in both scoring and assists in the same campaign. (Note that the three-point shot was not introduced until the 1979-80 season.)

In his long, emotional NBA MVP acceptance speech wherein he thank just about everybody from the Thunder organization to his brother, wife and family (Pambansang Pabati, in short), I would have thought that Westbrook would graciously also acknowledge the great season turned in by his MVP rivals Harden and Leonard. That would have been great from a public-relations (PR) standpoint.

In the Rookie of the Year derby, a long shot (at least to some non-media voters), Milwaukee?s little-known Malcolm Brogdon defeated a pair of Philadelphia freshmen in Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.

A 6-5 backcourter, Brogdon averaged 10.2 points in 75 games (28 of them starts) and topped all rookies in assists (4.2 apg) and steals (1.1 spg) while also grabbing 2.8 rebounds in 26.4 minutes every time out. The 24-year-old Brogdon, a lowly second-round pick (36th overall) in the entire 2016 NBA draft after spending five years (including one sitout) at the University of Virginia, joined Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) as the only players in Bucks history to earn the ROY honor. He is also the first player not drafted in the first round to win the award since 1966 when the modern-day draft system was instituted (and the ?territorial first-round selection? rule abolished).

Brogdon was one of only two unanimous choices by a media panel on the NBA All-Rookie First Team, along with the 23-year-old Saric, a 6-10 power forward who posted averages of 12.8 points, 6.3 boards and 2.2 assists in 81 games (including 36 starts) with the 76ers and led all rookies with five 20-point, 10-rebound performances. Saric, the 12th overall selection by Orlando in the 2014 draft whose rights were shipped to Philly in return for co-first-rounder guard Elfrid Payton on draft day, is a member of the Croatian national team.

Embiid would have been a runaway ROY winner if he had stayed healthy throughout the season. The 7-foot center from Cameroon, who was sidelined for two seasons due to a pair of surgeries on his right foot, was limited to 31 appearances due to a torn meniscus in his left knee (an injury that was sustained in mid-February and sidelined him for the remainder of the regulars) and averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 25.4 minutes a game. The 23-year-old Embiid, the No. 3 overall selection by the Sixers in the 2014 grab-bag, joined Brogdon, Saric, Sacramento guard Buddy Hield (a native of Bahamas who started the season with New Orleans) and New York center Willy Hernangomez (from Madrid, Spain) on the NBA All-Rookie First Team (based on positions of three frontliners and two guards).

The all-rookie second unit consisted of Denver guard Jamal Murray, Dallas guard Yogi Ferrell, Boston forward Jaylen Brown, Phoenix forward Marquese Chriss and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram.

The other major individual awardees for the NBA?s 71st edition are as follows:

Defensive Player of the Year ? Golden State forward Draymond Green (No. 1 in the majors in steals);

Most Improved Player ? Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (the Greek Freak is the fifth player in league annals to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and shot blocks in the same season after Dave Cowens, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James (Note that stats for steals and blocks were only documented officially starting the 1973-74 wars);

Coach of the Year ? Houston?s Mike D?Antoni (the first-year Rockets bench tactician steered his team to the NBA?s third-best record at 55-27 and a playoff stint a year after Houston missed the postseason with a 41-41 mark);

Sixth Man Award ? Houston guard Eric Gordon (he made 206 three-pointers off the bench ? the most by a reserve since the three-point rule was introduced in 1979-80 ? and netted 246 triples overall, the fourth-most this past season, en route to a 16.3-point clip in 60 of 75 games as a reserve, second in the NBA behind Rockets mate Lou Williams, who started the season with the Lakers and owned a combined 17.6 ppg off the pines);

Sportsmanship Award ? Charlotte guard Kemba Walker;

Executive of the Year ? Golden State general manager Robert ?Bob? Myers (the Warriors, at 67-15 finished with the NBA's best regular record for a third straight season and gifted the Bay Area with their second championship in three years); and

Lifetime Achievement Award ? Bill Russell, who is the winningest player in NBA history ? and my choice as the Greatest Player of All Time (GOAT) ? with 11 titles in 12 Finals trips during a distinguished 13-year playing career with the Boston Celtics from 1956-69. The 6-10 Russell he also was the Hub City squad?s playing coach during the 1968 and 1969 title finishes.

More on the other minor individual awardees and Fan Awards, where fans exclusively voted on NBA.com, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram seven in-game awards (Assist of the Year, Block of the Year, Dunk of the Year, Game Winner of the Year, Performance of the Year, Best Playoff Moment, and Best Style), next time.
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