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Way-Too-Early Award Predictions
Lock 'em in.
I love thinking about NBA awards, and it’s never too early (it’s definitely too early) to start thinking about who will be the winners next season. Below I have who I think will win, not necessarily who will be deserving to win (a lot more on that in the Most Improved Player section). Since I’m feeling particularly prognosticate-y, I’ve even included the runner-ups for each section.
Most writers would make you read all the way to the bottom for the good stuff, but not me! You’re welcome.
MVP: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia
After two straight years as the maid of honor, Embiid finally gets his turn at the altar. His per-game averages with Harden were unprecedented in league history, and I’m expecting Big Things from the Big Man.
When healthy and engaged, Embiid has an unparalleled two-way impact on the game. The giant has a silky midrange game, takes guys to the rack, dysons up rebounds, and deters shots at the rim with a dexterity belying his rhinoceros frame.
He very, very publicly wants to be MVP, too, something that voters have seemingly responded to in the past with other awards (hi, Marcus Smart!). Two of his biggest competitors, Giannis and Jokic, have already won it twice — voters may be leery of giving either the vaunted third MVP trophy. Curry and LeBron have aged to the point where it seems likely they’ll have their foot off the gas in the regular season, Durant can’t stay healthy (and isn’t winning much charity from folks with his offseason antics), and the next generation of superstars might be a tad too young. If he can play 65 games, this will be Embiid’s best shot at garnering his coveted Maurice Podoloff trophy.
Second Place: Luka Doncic, Dallas — Embiid’s biggest competition by far and a betting favorite yet again. An MVP award feels inevitable for Luka, who supposedly is in the “best shape of his life.” Stop me if you’ve heard that one before. Embiid’s defensive impact and better regular season record will outweigh whatever slight offensive advantages Doncic has over Joel.
Third Place: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee — Antetokounmpo may have to carry just a tad more workload with Jrue Holiday getting older, Middleton coming off an injury, and no noticeable improvements to the Bucks roster. That little bit extra could easily propel Giannis to another top-three finish.
DPOY: Bam Adebayo, Miami
In my opinion, Bam should’ve won the award last year, but he missed a few too many games for most voters’ liking. This year, he’ll need to provide even more defensive oomph in the absence of PJ Tucker.
Some of his defensive statistics are artificially deflated thanks to Miami’s switch-heavy schemes, but don’t let that fool you. Miami’s entire defense is built around Bam’s uniqueness.
Adebayo can shapeshift from rim protector to lockdown artist to help side menace at the drop of a hat. Although others are better at individual skills, nobody is as complete a package. He’s the most versatile defender in the NBA, with the ability to guard 1-5 with ease.
Second Place: Rudy Gobert, Minnesota — Rudy has a very real chance to win yet again while anchoring what should be an otherwise-porous Timberwolves defense. Gobert’s defensive dominance has become taken for granted; new surroundings might make voters appreciate him again.
Third Place: Ben Simmons, Brooklyn— Simmons is about to remind people why he was runner-up for this award a few years ago. He’s Bam-like in his ability to switch, although he’s not quite the rim protector Adebayo can be.
Sixth Man Of The Year: Jordan Poole, Golden State
This one’s almost too easy. Golden State’s starting five of Curry/Thompson/Wiggins/Green/Looney is locked into stone, health permitting. Poole did his best Steph impression while filling in for the variously-injured Warriors last season, showing remarkable off-the-bounce shooting abilities and playmaking chops.
Poole should be a lock for high-teens scoring, but his underrated passing is what lends him a little more credibility in my eyes. His defense needs improvement, but that won’t cause many problems during the regular season in a bench role. He will be a natural fit as the next in a long line of scoring guards who have recently won this award.
Second Place: Malcolm Brogdon, Boston — Brogdon won’t put up the scoring numbers that get votes, but he should have a well-rounded stat line as the sixth man in Boston who still cracks 30 minutes per game regularly.
Third Place: Bones Hyland, Denver — Backup point guard Bones will have a golden opportunity to run the show when Jokic and Jamal Murray sit, and he was a good enough shooter as a rookie (37% on a high degree of audacious attempts) that he can comfortably play alongside those two, as well.
Rookie Of The Year — Paolo Banchero, Orlando
Paolo will be the focal point of an Orlando offense that desperately needs someone with his skill set. He’s a good rebounder and passer with the size to bully his way into layups and free throws, and he has juuuust enough of a jumper to put up some big point totals.
I don’t think Orlando will be particularly good this year, but they should be a fun watch, and it would not shock me at all to see Paolo put up a monstrous stat line like 20/8/5/1/1.
Second Place: Keegan Murray, Sacramento — Murray will slide comfortably into a Kings offense that should be very potent. Few top-five picks have the luxury of being third or even fourth banana, but with De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and Harrison Barnes soaking up defensive attention, Murray will be free to wreak havoc as a clever off-ball cutter and spot-up shooter.
Third Place: Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana — the brash shooting guard in Indiana figures to fill an important role next to Tyrese Haliburton and Chris Duarte as the most physical driver on the team. His brute strength and outside touch should give the Pacers a fun (if porous) backcourt, and while Mathurin will likely struggle with his efficiency, his raw numbers should be enough to get him some stray votes.
Coach of the Year: Erik Spoelstra, Miami
Despite being named to the NBA’s 15 Greatest Coaches list, Spo has never nabbed the elusive COTY trophy. By virtue of standing still while others have improved, the Heat have fallen behind the top teams in the East. The COTY often goes to the coach helming a team that overachieves; another top-two finish in the East ahead of at least two of Boston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia should be enough to finally give Spo the narrative win.
Spoelstra remains a master tactician and motivator. While head coaches frequently get too much credit for player development, which is usually the purview of assistants, Spo has consistently put the Heat’s unheralded role players into the best possible position to maximize their potential.
Spo is universally regarded as the best coach in the game. It’s high time we fill up that vacant space in his trophy cabinet with a shiny new Red Auerbach Trophy.
Second: Chris Finch, Minnesota — Rudy Gobert is a super floor-raiser, and he’s used to propping up otherwise-shoddy defenses to elite levels. With Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards on the rise, Finch has the offensive weapons to support what should be a top-10 defense. He will be a popular bet to win.
Third Place: Ime Udoka, Boston — The Celtics were just two wins away from the championship in Udoka’s first year steering the ship, and they’ve since improved (although the Danilo Gallinari injury hurts). Expect voters to be intrigued by his postseason success. The Celtics seem to always start slow, so if they can avoid that trap this year, Udoka has a great shot at earning the trophy.
Most Improved Player Of The Year - Anthony Edwards, Minnesota
Etch it in stone. With the Ja Morant win last year, this award will forevermore be the “Whichever Third-Year Top-Three Pick Improved The Most Award,” which is so incredibly boring and disappointing. As I’ve outlined before, I don’t think top overall picks deserve to be rewarded for the upwards trajectory that they are supposed to travel.
Morant won last year and thought so little of it that he literally shipped the trophy to teammate Desmond Bane’s house!
Why are we giving future MVP candidates Most Improved Awards when they clearly don’t give a fig about it? Figs are tasty; they deserve better.
To be clear, Edwards is primed for a huge year. All the pieces are in place — he has the best pick-and-roll partner in the game (weird how Rudy Gobert keeps popping up all over these awards, right?), he has the three-level scoring ability to put up massive box score numbers, he has the highlights:
I love Ant’s game. I love Ant’s attitude. I love Ant’s dog.
Let’s not sully Edwards or this award by letting him win. Even though he absolutely will.
Second Place: Jalen Brunson, New York — Brunson should see significant improvements in his scoring and assists as he helms a Knicks offense that has the potential to be solid. We’ve never seen him on a team without Luka, but Jalen has the steady hand that the Knicks have craved for years. If the Knicks surprise, Jalen could be a strong contender for second place (since Ant is guaranteed to win).
Third Place: Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers — Tyrese exploded after being traded from Sacramento to Indiana, boosting his scoring, passing (9.6 assists per game!), free throw attempts, and FG% by massive levels. If he can consistently put up 20 and 10, he’ll be a dark horse candidate for second place (since Ant is guaranteed to win).
Executive Of The Year — LOL just kidding who really cares
(…I care. It’ll be Brad Stevens in Boston, Daryl Morey in Philadelphia, and Joe Cronin in Portland.)
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