With the NBA season coming to an end, the Open Floor crew, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver make their award picks. They tackle the very close coach of the year race, answer how good the Rockets would be if LeBron James and James Harden swapped places and join the Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell rookie of the year debate.
Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here.
(The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity. Fan questions are in italics.)
COACH OF THE YEAR
Is Quin Snyder given enough credit? He has exceeded expectations with a young overhauled roster. He developed a rookie into an all-star caliber player. He appears to have even gotten Ricky Rubio shooting half-decently, which is nothing short of a miracle. Why isn't he worthy of coach of the year?
Ben Golliver: He is definitely in the conversation. I actually didn't have him in my top three. I have Donovan Mitchell second in my rookie of the year voting. So I am just going to spoil the fact that I have Rudy Gobert as my defensive player of the year.
Andrew Sharp: You was trying to make it up to the people of Utah so they don't unsubscribe (laughs).
Golliver: Well look, I was trying to apportion credit. Sndyer is not in this conversation if Gobert doesn't come back right? He is just a coach that is really good but just didn't have that kind of talent. Their season to me turned around when he came back into the fold from his injury and I think they would not have had that turnaround narrative if Gobert had stayed healthy the whole way. Gobert would have been the runaway defensive player of the year, no conversation, had he stayed healthy the whole way. That is why I came down against Snyder. My pick was actually Brett Brown.
Sharp: Ohh I love it. I love Brett Brown. He is probably my favorite human in the NBA. So hit me.
Golliver: I was coming out of it with Brown and Dwane Casey having really strong cases. But never in a million years did I think the Sixers were going to win 50 games, even if they are playing in "triple a" like other people said. Not very many people picked that. I think he did it all with young players and gets bonus points for sitting through the whole process and maintaining sanity for a three/four year stretch there. It's pretty amazing he kept his job.
Sharp: I think most coaches who lose that many games, even if it wasn't there fault, most coaches would have lost the locker room in that setting, and he never did. I was there in September talking to everybody on the Sixers and all of those guys swear by coach Brown and love him and he deserves credit for that. It's just a really unconventional roster particularly when you throw in the fact that half of those guys are 21 and 22 and the other half is like a team full of 30 year olds. He has woven in the veterans really well particularly the last two months. He has done a great job.
Dwane Casey's candidacy has been losing steam but we shouldn't overlook how depressing this Raptors season was supposed to be. Almost everyone quietly assumed that the Raptors were going to get stale and be depressing and it went the complete opposite direction and he deserves a ton credit. Sndyer, your read on it was right, if we are apportioning credit for what has happened in Utah, it is so clearly tied to Gobert's return but they have done a phenomenal job.
For me, I will also throw in Popovich too. I think there is five guys who deserve coach of the year, and I ended coming down to it and saying you know, if I had to win a game, who is the best coach? Who would I take? For me, it is Brad Stevens. He is the best coach in basketball. If you put Stevens in Milwaukee they would win 57 games and the Celtics would have 40 wins. That is ultimately how I decided it. He's just the best coach. There are like four or five guys who deserve it but I would say Stevens is better.
What if MVP Candidates Swapped Teams?
If the most valuable player is about determining value. How can you argue for Harden? If you had him on the Cavs and had LeBron on the Rockets who would be more valuable?
Golliver: I think this is too unreality based for my liking. It is a little too much hypothetical. When you play those games of switching two guys and how it would go, you do stray from what is actually happening. I think the first point is that is takes multiple years to build or deconstruct any team. So when you are looking at an annual award, you have to take into a fact the context that Houston labored for three years trying to figure out the right type of guys to get around James Harden to make him look like his best self. They finally found the right mix and low and behold he delivered with a franchise record of wins and everybody is happy.
By contrast you have to look at the context of Cleveland, where personality issues or whatever else you want to call it, LeBron factors in to them maybe taking a step back. But I will also push back on his contention that Houston with LeBron would just cruise to 65 wins. Because the Rockets have had an incredible season this year. They have been trying to stomp everyone. That was true when Chris Paul was injured and it's been true since he came back. No one has enjoyed picking the bodies of opponents quite like the Rockets this year. It is much like the Warriors in 2015 and that hasn't been LeBron's motive since the winning streak Heat team. He's coasted. He's taking a month off here and there. And I think if you surrounded him with more talent, he would be more likely to coast not less.
A lot of wins for Houston have come from to just maintain consistent effort and execution night in and night out. Not taking games off and from that standpoint, I give Harden a lot of credit for that. We've bagged on his leadership in the past. A couple years ago he looked like a terrible leader. He wasn't getting along with Dwight Howard. To me this year, when you have a team as dominant they have been, you have to give credit to the leader of that team for keeping that group that focused and that committed and from that point James Harden is my guy and I don't find the role reversal argument that compelling.
Sharp: I like it. I agree with most of what you said. I certainly agree that the Rockets have been a special kind of surgical this year, that I don't know if they would have quite as coherent with LeBron there, they have had just as high of a ceiling. I'm not sure if you put Harden in LeBron's place, I don't think they would have that high of a ceiling as you head towards the playoffs but I think he can get to 48 or 52 wins which is where the Cavs are going to be at the end of the year. James Harden is one of the three or four players in the league where you can put him on a number of different teams and he can get them 50 wins. I don't think Harden will be that much of a disaster in Cleveland.
Golliver: I think we should be concentrating most of our mental energy on the facts before us and the season these guys have had in their respective homes. From that standpoint, I look at Houston is probably going to have 65 or 66 wins vs. LeBron and the Cavs with 50. That is a huge, huge gap. I think Houston is going to be like only the 11th team to ever reach that mark. They are going to have a top ten all-time offense and Harden has figured in all of that. He has also improved from last year by the way. The revenge factor is very real. I know there is sexier stuff to talk about like LeBron playing 82 games but Harden had an MVP caliber season last year, he didn't win it but he came back more efficient and has a higher usage, he had led his team to a better offense. He has basically improved in all of the meaningful ways and for that standpoint, I don't have reservations about picking him over LeBron James.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR DEBATE
Why does Ben Simmons claim he hasn't noticed in any other rookie? I pretty am sure he has commented on both Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell this season. What is the point of making that comment when we all know it isn't true. Is he just trying to annoy people or has he really been learning from papa LeBron? (Fan question)
Sharp: What did you think of the comment that Ben Simmons says he hasn't been impressed by any other rookie in the league?
Golliver: I think it was a brilliant PR stroke from him. Because it guaranteed a gigantic headline right as voters are making their determination. It was also a subtle reminder that he has played on an All-NBA level. I left him off my all-NBA team spoiler alert but he was in the mix for sure. He has also said he hasn't been trying to compare himself to other rookies, he is trying to compare himself to some of the best players in the league. Those comments are meaningless and it won't influence who I decide to vote for.
Sharp: Rest easy America, Ben Simmons is not swaying Ben Golliver. I don't think Ben Simmons has that much of a personality so being arrogant is kind of a good lane for him. He has been pretty brash the few times we have heard him speak publicly on a national setting and I think that is good for him because he doesn't have that much to say. But if we are going to talk let's spice it up. I appreciate him for that.
Golliver: I went with Simmons and I have been seeing everyone freak out about this race. To me, isn't the gap between their defensive effective enough to make this not an easy decision but at least one where you don't have to stay up to 4 a.m. over it.
Sharp: I think the most obnoxious take of the past month is the people saying it's not close. To me it's really close. Donovan Mitchell has been asked to do more for Utah and he has responded better than anyone could have dreamed. He kept their season from falling apart. He legitimately changed the trajectory of the franchise, not only this season but the next five years, because he has been that good. There is real hope in building a contender there. He has been closing games for them in a much tougher conference.
To me, I understand what you are saying about Simmons and how he has a more well-rounded game and I think there are a lot of people are going to judge this on PER and efficiency. Simmons grades out a little bit better in those areas because he rebounds more, and shoots a high percentage which is easier to do when you are not taking shots outside of 8 feet.
The debate here and the idea that is it isn't close is an example where the internet and the blog boys sometimes get lost in the weeds a little bit. Because what Donovan Mitchell has done is crazy f*****g impressive. His skill, a scorer capable closing out wins for a playoff team is much more valuable than Simmons' rebounding, defense and passing. It's the difference between a guy like Kyrie Irving and a guy like Al Horford.