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Long wait for NBA's award winners is almost over

The 2016-17 season was unlike any other in NBA history for a number of reasons, and the league will add another milestone to that long list Monday night when -- 75 days after the regular season ended -- it finally hands out all six major individual trophies at its first awards show.

The lengthy delay between the voting for these awards and the actual awarding of them has certainly dimmed some of the memories surrounding them, in particular with the Most Valuable Player, which will go to someone from a group of players who played a combined 24 minutes in the final two rounds of the postseason.

But the show, literally, must go on, as the NBA gets ready to dish out its annual hardware. Six of the awards being given out were voted on by the media: MVP, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man Award and Most Improved Player. Other awards include Executive of the Year (voted on by the league's executives), Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year (voted on by the players), NBA Sportsmanship Award (voted on by the players) and the NBA Cares Community Assist Award (voted on by fans and a panel of judges).

Fan Favorite Awards will be also handed out for Best Style, Assist of the Year, Block of the Year, Dunk of the Year, Game-Winner of the Year, Performance of the Year, and Best Playoff Moment.

Let's take a closer look at the six major media-voted awards, all of which had a trio of finalists named by the league last month.

Rookie of the Year | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man Award
Most Improved Player | Defensive Player of the Year | MVP


Rookie of the Year

Can Joel Embiid win Rookie of the Year despite playing just 31 games?

Adam Reisinger, ESPN.com

Finalists: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers

Here's what this vote boils down to: Can a player be the rookie of the "year" if he doesn't even play half the year? By any reasonable standard, Embiid -- who was drafted in 2014 but missed his first two seasons with foot injuries -- was the best rookie in the NBA in 2016-17. In his limited action, he averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. The list of rookies who've done that prior to Embiid can literally be counted on one hand: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Duncan.

But Embiid played just 31 games this season, opening the door for Brogdon or Saric to win the award if enough voters deemed Embiid's 51 missed games more important than his 31 productive games. Saric, Embiid's teammate in Philadelphia, played more than double the minutes (2,129 to 786), but his scoring average was just slightly more than half of Embiid's (12.8 to 20.2). Brogdon scored even less (10.2 points per game), but he played 75 games -- starting 28 of them -- for a team that made the playoffs. He'd be the first second-round pick to win the award.

ESPN Forecast prediction: Too close to call (Saric, 44%; Embiid 40%)

Coach of the Year

Mike D'Antoni is considered the favorite for Coach of the Year.

Adam Reisinger, ESPN.com

Finalists: Mike D'Antoni, Houston Rockets; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs; Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat

Popovich, a three-time winner of this award, could genuinely take it home every season and has another great case this year. He led the Spurs to a 61-win season (San Antonio's 18th straight with at least 50 wins) with just a single All-NBA player. Spoelstra took a Heat team that was a dismal 11-30 at the season's midway point and somehow got Miami to within a game of the playoffs. But it's D'Antoni who is the favorite to win. The 2004-05 NBA Coach of the Year took over a Rockets team that won 41 games a year ago and helped propel Houston to 55 wins, the third-best record in the NBA.

ESPN Forecast prediction: Mike D'Antoni (82 percent of vote)

Sixth Man Award

Eric Gordon is the favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year.

Adam Reisinger, ESPN.com

Finalists: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets; Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors; Lou Williams, Houston Rockets

Gordon and Williams ended the season as teammates, which would seem to make one of them a seventh man, but let's not get caught up in semantics here. Both were among the league's best scorers off the bench in 2016-17: Williams averaged a league-best 17.6 points per game as a reserve (18.6 PPG during his time with the Lakers), while Gordon wasn't far behind at 16.3 points per game. Williams won this award two seasons ago, but it's Gordon -- who made a career-high 246 3-pointers (12th-most in a season in NBA history) who is considered the favorite.

That leaves Iguodala as the dark horse. The 2015 Finals MVP doesn't fit the profile for the type of player who wins this award; the last player to win the Sixth Man Award despite averaging less than 10 points per game was Anthony Mason in 1994-95. However, as the lone reserve in the Warriors' "death lineup," Iguodala has made an impression on voters in the past. He was the runner-up last year and finished fourth in the voting in 2014-15.

ESPN Forecast prediction: Eric Gordon (60 percent of vote)

Most Improved Player

Will Giannis Antetokounmpo take home Most Improved honors?

Adam Reisinger, ESPN.com

Finalists: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Not only does Antetokounmpo keep improving as a player, he keeps improving in this vote. Two years ago he finished seventh in MIP voting and last year he was third. He's expected to finally take home the hardware this season after becoming just the fifth player since 1973-74 to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.

Gobert is a finalist for two awards tonight and could end up finishing as the runner-up for both of them. His MIP credentials hinge largely on averaging career highs in points, rebounds and blocks per game, though some of that was a function of upping his minutes from 31.7 to 33.9 per game and starting a career-high 81 games. Jokic had an even bigger jump in minutes (21.7 to 27.9), though his per-36 averages were also up across the board, leading to him getting significant consideration here despite the built-in voter bias against giving this award to a second-year player.

ESPN Forecast prediction: Giannis Antetokounmpo (64 percent of vote)

Defensive Player of the Year

Can Rudy Gobert or Draymond Green unseat Kawhi Leonard as Defensive Player of the Year?

Adam Reisinger, ESPN.com

Finalists: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Each of the three finalists for this award has a good case for winning it, so let's start with the two-time defending champ. Leonard is trying to become the first player to win it in three consecutive years since Dwight Howard (2009 to 2011). He averaged 1.8 steals per game, as the Spurs finished the season with the best defensive rating in the league.

Green has finished as the runner-up to Leonard each of the past two seasons and is trying to avoid joining Bruce Bowen, Kevin Garnett and David Robinson as three-time runners-up. The versatile lynchpin of the Warriors' defense averaged a league-best 2.03 steals per game while helping Golden State post the NBA's second-best defensive rating.

Gobert's Jazz had the third-best defensive rating in the league (you might be noticing a trend here), and he held opponents to 43.8 percent shooting at the rim, the best in the league for a player to face a minimum of 300 attempts. A win for Gobert would mark something of a return to form for this award -- it has gone to a center 22 times in the 34 years it has been handed out.

ESPN Forecast prediction: Draymond Green (46 percent of vote)

Most Valuable Player

The 2016-17 regular season featured an historic MVP race.

Adam Reisinger, ESPN.com

Finalists: James Harden, Houston Rockets; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Here's what we know for certain: Four-time MVP LeBron James, who averaged a triple-double in the Finals, will not win this award. Neither will Stephen Curry, who won it each of the past two seasons -- last year becoming the first unanimous winner -- and led the NBA with 324 3-pointers made this season. Nor will Kevin Durant, the 2014 NBA MVP who won his first title and his first Finals MVP award by averaging 35.2 points per game in the Warriors' five-game win over the Cavaliers.

After watching that trio put on a show on the game's biggest stage earlier this month, it almost seems silly that none of them are considered one of the league's three most valuable players. But this is a regular-season award, and the trio of finalists competing for the award had amazing, and in some cases historic, regular seasons in 2016-17. They legitimately earned the right to be in New York.

In addition to his defensive credentials, Leonard finished in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring, averaging a career-best 25.5 points per game. He was the only player in the NBA to rank in the top 10 in points, steals and deflections per game, and he did all that for a 61-win team that didn't have another 2017 All-Star on the roster.

Harden, who won the players' version of the MVP in 2015 but has never taken home the official hardware, became the first player in NBA history to post 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 900 assists in a single season. His 15.0 win shares led the NBA, as did his 11.2 assists per game. With new coach Mike D'Antoni putting the ball in Harden's hands and making him the point guard, the Rockets surged to a 14-win improvement from 2016 to 2017, and Harden posted 22 triple-doubles.

That number would be more impressive if not for Westbrook, who set an NBA record with 42 triple-doubles in 81 games. In his first season without Durant as a teammate, the Thunder star posted a career-high and league-leading 31.6 points per game, a career-high 10.7 rebounds per game and 10.4 assists per game, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double.

But despite the eye-popping numbers, there are some historical trends working against Westbrook. Only three players ever have won MVP on a team that finished fourth or worse in their conference (the 47-win Thunder were sixth in the West in 2016-17), and the last MVP winner from a team that won fewer than 50 games, excluding lockout-shortened seasons, was Moses Malone in 1982.

Regardless of who wins the award, it feels like the lengthy delay in handing it out -- coupled with the historic Finals performances of three non-finalists with MVP-like résumés -- will take some of the shine off of it. But the record books don't show how people felt about the MVP award after it was handed out, just who won it. And one of these three players is about to have his name in that record book forever.

ESPN Forecast prediction: Russell Westbrook (86 percent of vote)