With my standings predictions complete, it’s time to turn my attention to who I think will win each major award; along with who I see facing off, and winning the NBA Finals. For certain awards I will rank my top three to five candidates.
NBA Executive of the Year
1. Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves
3.Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets
Last season saw Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors walk away with this award with absolutely zero competition after signing Kevin Durant. This year however, after a stellar offseason, there are a couple good options to win the award. Out of all the major moves, I think Sam Presti of the Thunder has to get the nod. Fleecing the Pacers in the Paul George trade was probably enough to win in itself, but then acquiring Carmelo Anthony puts the cherry on top. The other two biggest moves of the offseason, Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and Chris Paul to the Rockets make Thibodeau and Morey viable options for the award, but Presti’s acquisition of two stars puts him over the top.
NBA Coach of the Year
1. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
2. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
3. Gregg Poppovich, San Antonio Spurs
The Celtics are returning only four players this season from last year’s roster, and yet I think they’ll be even better. While their defence will slip due to the loss of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, their offence will only go up; therefore I think this is the year that Brad Stevens wins his first (of many) Coach of the Year award(s). Steve Kerr of the Warriors and Gregg Poppovich of the Spurs round out my top three votes, but coaches of potentially surprise teams could sneak into the conversation; Brett Brown in Philadelphia and Kenny Atkinson in Brooklyn come to mind. The Warriors could beat their own single season win record of 73 wins this year, and Poppovich is one of the best coaches all time, in any sport, period.
NBA Most Improved Player
1. D’Angelo Russell, PG – Brooklyn Nets
2. Rodney Hood, SF – Utah Jazz
3. Dwight Howard, C – Charlotte Hornets
The Nets might actually be fun to watch this season, and that’s not something you could have said in years past. D’Angelo Russell will lead the way for a newly exciting Nets team, and being the number one option will allow him to show his true worth. Rodney Hood will also have an expanded role this season after Gordon Hayward’s departure, it will all depend on whether or not he is capable of a higher scoring output. Dwight Howard is my dark-horse for this award, playing in Charlotte’s system should fit Howard’s pick-and-roll game perfectly, and if the Hornets can play into a top-5 position in the East, he will get garner some attention.
NBA 6th Man of the Year
1. Eric Gordon, SG – Houston Rockets
2. Dario Saric, PF – Philadelphia 76ers
3. J.R. Smith, SG – Cleveland Cavaliers
I wanted to choose Saric for this award, but with this award it’s best to just keep it simple; Eric Gordon is the new Jamal Crawford in terms of being considered the frontrunner for this award for multiple seasons. The Rockets offence is going to be even scarier this year with the addition of Chris Paul, and Gordon should see even more wide open three point attempts. Saric will be a great bench option for the 76ers, but just won’t produce at the level of Gordon. J.R. Smith is, in a way, a sneaky and not so sneaky option in Cleveland now that Dwyane Wade is starting. Smith won this award back in 2013, and now will be a top offensive option of the bench for Cleveland.
NBA All Rookie 1st Team
Lonzo Ball, PG – Los Angeles Lakers
Dennis Smith Jr., PG – Dallas Mavericks
Malik Monk, SG – Charlotte Hornets
Ben Simmons, PF – Philadelphia 76ers
Jordan Bell, C – Golden State Warriors
This year’s crop of rookies appears to be one of the strongest in recent memory, and it was tough to narrow down the field two just two teams, even bumping guys down to the second team (Kuzma and Jackson fit this bill). But I just see these five guys as having the largest roles and making the biggest impact on their individual teams. Lonzo Ball is running the show in L.A. and will get all the opportunity to succeed. The same can be said for Dennis Smith Jr. in Dallas and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia, even though Markelle Fultz is their point guard by definition. Malik Monk might end up starting for the Hornets after Nicolas Batum’s injury will sideline him for the start of the season. Jordan Bell may not get major minutes to start the year, but I believe he can beat out JaVale McGee for the backup role by the midway point, and he can provide a lot of diversity for the best team in basketball.
NBA All Rookie 2nd Team
DeAaron Fox, PG – Sacramento Kings
Donovan Mitchell, SG – Utah Jazz
Jayson Tatum, SF – Boston Celtics
Josh Jackson, SF – Phoenix Suns
Kyle Kuzma, PF – Los Angeles Lakers
DeAaron Fox would have made my first team if it weren’t for the fact that he will be backing up George Hill, causing him to play under 20 minutes a night. Donovan Mitchell very well could end up being the second-best scorer on the Jazz, even as a bench player. Jayson Tatum will get a lot of opportunity in Boston, and he appears to be NBA-ready. It appears that Josh Jackson will be the starting small forward in Phoenix, a bad team that’s only goal is to give their young players all of the shots. And finally, we have Kyle Kuzma, the consensus steal of the draft as of this point. Kuzma appears to be better than Brandon Ingram, and I can already envision trade rumours surrounding Julius Randle so that Kuzma can start.
NBA All-Defensive 1st Team
Chris Paul, PG – Houston Rockets
Andre Roberson, SG – Oklahoma City Thunder
Kawhi Leonard, SF – San Antonio Spurs
Dryamond Green, PF- Golden State Warriors
Rudy Gobert, C – Utah Jazz
There are three players that are basically written in stone for the All-Defensive 1st Team: Leonard, Green and Gobert. The guard positions are up for debate, potentially Patrick Beverley over Paul, Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley over Roberson. However I think these two, Paul and Roberson, will be so crucial to the defensive success of their individual teams that they’ll gain the edge.
NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team
Patrick Beverley, PG – Los Angeles Clippers
Marcus Smart, PG – Boston Celtics
Avery Bradley, SG – Detroit Pistons
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF – Milwaukee Bucks
Anthony Davis, PF – New Orleans Pelicans
Piggybacking off of my 1st team, Beverly, Smart and Bradley fall to the 2nd team distinction. Other guards that I considered include Tony Snell of Milwaukee, Ricky Rubio of Utah, Jaylen Brown of Boston, Tony Allen of New Orleans and Klay Thompson of Golden State. Moving onto the forwards/centers I have Antetokounmpo and Davis rounding out the team. Both of their lengths are terrifying for opposing offences and that’s what caused them to leap their competition. Others considered include Robert Covington of Philadelphia, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson of Brooklyn, Jae Crowder of Cleveland, Myles Turner of Indiana and Willie Cauley-Stein of Sacramento.
NBA Rookie of the Year
1. Ben Simmons, PF – Philadelphia 76ers
2. Lonzo Ball, PG – Los Angeles Lakers
3. Dennis Smith Jr., PG – Dallas Mavericks
The popular pick for this award is Lonzo Ball, and it’s pretty clear to see why. He’ll run the offence, he’s flashy and he’ll have a lot of highlights shared across social media platforms. However, I don’t see his average stats reaching that high. He rebounds well for a guard, but exceeding five boards per game is a stretch. The same for his point totals, as a player who is clearly pass-first, he may struggle to reach 10 points per game, especially with better offensive options like Brook Lopez and Brandon Ingram around him. His assist totals should be high, but on a pretty poor Lakers team he’ll be relying on his teammates to actual finish plays to earn those assists. Therefore, my pick is Ben Simmons in Philadelphia. Technically in his second season in the NBA, Simmons has yet to play a regular season game and is eligible for the award. Even with Fultz as the point guard by definition, Simmons will be handling the ball a majority of the time and his passing prowess will be on full display. He has an NBA-ready body and the “red shirt” year will have helped his development, especially behind the scenes. Dennis Smith Jr. rounds out my top-3 vote, for a similar reason as Ball. Smith Jr. will handle a majority of the point guard rotation minutes in Dallas, and playing in Coach Carlisle’s system will only aid in his development.
NBA Defensive Player of the Year
1. Rudy Gobert, C – Utah Jazz
2. Kawhi Leonard, SF – San Antonio Spurs
3. Draymond Green, PF – Golden State Warriors
And here we have the three locks that I mentioned earlier for the 1st team. I thought about this for a while, and I just don’t think there will be any other players that break into this top-3 conversation. Roberson was the only option in my mind, but he just isn’t at the level of these three. Leonard and Green have won this award, and that was one of the factors that made me pick Gobert. The league is trending towards small ball, so picking a wing player for this award makes sense, but if Gobert can prove that his immense impact on the defensive end allows him to play in all crunch time moments, then this has to be his award.
All-NBA 1st Team
Russell Westbrook, PG – Oklahoma City Thunder
James Harden, SG – Houston Rockets
Kevin Durant, SF – Golden State Warriors
LeBron James, SF – Cleveland Cavaliers
Anthony Davis, C – New Orleans Pelicans
All-NBA 2nd Team
Stephen Curry, PG – Golden State Warriors
Chris Paul, PG – Houston Rockets
Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF – Milwaukee Bucks
Kawhi Leonard, SF – San Antonio Spurs
Karl-Anthony Towns, C – Minnesota Timberwolves
All-NBA 3rd Team
Damian Lillard, PG – Portland Trailblazers
Kyrie Irving, PG – Boston Celtics
John Wall, PG – Washington Wizards
Jimmy Butler, SF – Minnesota Timberwolves
Joel Embiid, C – Philadelpia 76ers
When it comes to the 1st and 2nd All-NBA Team’s, I’m not sure there’s much to debate besides the 2nd team center and where each player ends up falling. For the guards, it’s pretty safe to say that Westbrook, Harden, Curry and Paul will fill those slots in some order. The same can be said for the forwards, James, Durant, Leonard and Antetokounmpo. The big man slot is a bit tougher, but Anthony Davis should be the frontrunner for the 1st team spot. After that, I have Karl-Anthony Towns on the 2nd team because of the belief I have in the Timberwolves breakout. Now the 3rd team is a veritable free-for-all, and I chose to break the rules by putting three point guards on the team. Why did I do that? Because leaving one of Irving, Lillard and Wall off felt blasphemous to me. Jimmy Butler was an easy choice in the forward slot, but after that I felt as if any of the possibilities were not at the same level as any of those guards. The most glaring omission would be Draymond Green, but if Portland can snag a Playoff spot in the West, which I think they will, then he deserves recognition for that. Rounding out my third team is Joel Embiid, who fully healthy was one of the best big men in the league last season. Other omissions include: guards Isaiah Thomas (injury), Klay Thompson, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, forwards Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Blake Griffin, Paul George, and centers Nikola Jokic, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gobert.
NBA Most Valuable Player
1. LeBron James
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
3. Russell Westbrook
MVP is a tough award to predict this season with all of the movement that took place this summer. Russell Westbrook can’t possibly produce at the same amount with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in tow, James Harden’s time on the ball will go down with the arrival of Chris Paul, and the Warriors will be stealing votes from one another. I considered John Wall as a possibility, Karl-Anthony Towns or Jimmy Butler (but the same problem with the Warriors guys could potentially occur in Minnesota), and even Nikola Jokic if Denver’s season is out of this world. But eventually, I ended up at the age old question: who is the best basketball player in the world? And the answer is the same it’s been since the decline of Kobe Bryant; LeBron James. LeBron has lost his sidekick Kyrie Irving, and with Isaiah Thomas due to miss a large chunk of the season, there inevitably will be more on James’ plate. It can be said that the Cavaliers probably don’t care about the regular season, and James doesn’t care about his offensive output during that time as well, but he’s still a basketball savant that will put up big numbers. Giannis Antetokounmpo is my second choice for this due to his rise in production every year since he entered the league. This could be the season that we see a spike in triple-doubles from the Greek Freak. My third vote still goes to Westbrook, even though the acquisitions of George and Anthony will (slightly) reduce his time on the ball, Westbrook is still Westbrook. Expect the assist totals to stay the same, or potentially even rise incrementally, the rebounds to take a bit of a dip and the scoring average to drop a few points. Guess what, that still makes for a pretty amazing stat line.
NBA Finals Matchup, Winner, and Finals MVP
Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Champions: Warriors in 6
Finals MVP: Kevin Durant
The West is going to be insane, and so incredibly fun to follow during the regular season. Most media members still think the Warriors will somewhat easily earn another Finals berth, but I really believe that playing two of the Thunder, Rockets and Spurs is a massive challenge, and has the potential for upset. However, if I were to bet with my head instead of my heart, I would pick the Warriors to once again meet up with the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals (sigh). While this would be be somewhat annoying for the more hardcore fan, it would have some interesting implications going into the following year. If the Warriors win again, could we see an even crazier offseason then this one? Will LeBron leave Cleveland again if he fails to earn another ring? I predict the Warriors will win their third championship in four years, which could cause a chain of events in the months following that will affect the league for years to come.