Awards, awards, awards.
This season holds tons of suspension and ambiguity. Among this, there is plenty of speculation as to who will win each of the major awards for this upcoming season.
Each award has plenty of names that will always be in contention almost every season (LeBron and the MVP, Popovich and Coach of the Year…) but newcomers will look to vy for recognition with hopes of winning awards as well as games this season.
Here are my picks for Most Valuable Player, Most Improved Player, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year.
Rookie of the Year
Dennis Smith Jr.
Names like Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson or Markelle Fultz will come to mind first for most when speaking of candidates for this award, and rightfully so. However, my pick for this seasons ROY is Dennis Smith Jr. The Dallas Mavericks, who admittedly were shocked and surprised that DSJ fell to their pick at No. 9, made a decision that I believe four of the eight teams with a high pick in the 2017 NBA Draft will regret. Those teams who made a mistake passing on Smith Jr. in my opinion are the Suns, Kings, Magic, Bulls (who traded for the No. 7 pick draft night), and Knicks. Smith Jr. has just as much potential as the aforementioned young talents that are new to the league this season, and he also comes in with one of the most complete and NBA ready skill-sets of this past summer’s draft class. Dennis will be on a team that likely will not make the playoffs but will surround him with plenty of veterans to mentor him from Dirk to Wes Matthews and JJ Barea. The Mavericks got them a hungry, talented, and extremely athletic point guard who resembles a mix of Russell Westbrook and John Wall with his quicks, playmaking ability, raw athleticism, and motor. He will make plenty of appearances in the NBA top ten plays of the night, and wow those who have not seen him play much yet.
Most Improved Player
This is always one of the most intriguing award races to look for. Plenty of players show growth from season to season, but often times this awards recipient can greatly benefit from the circumstance they find themselves in. For some players, going from a featured player to the focal point of a team is what they need for their numbers to garner the attention needed for this award. For others, like Clint Capela, their individual evolution as a player is seen but expedited by the surrounding roster. Clint is in a situation where he saw a vast improvement across the board statistically with the Houston Rockets moving on from the Dwight Howard saga. Clint became the starting Center for the Rockets last season and was thrusted into a situation where he would have to learn on the fly, and did so well. The uptick in minutes for Capela resulted in a jump in efficiency and for his stats across the board in every major statistical category for Centers. Through ten games this season for the Rockets, he has seen the same trend continue as his points, rebounds, field goal and free throw percentage, and blocks per game are all up from where they were last season. Expect Capela’s 13.2 ppg average through 11 games this season to sky-rocket toward 16 when Chris Paul returns. Paul is known for making players around him better, especially frontcourt players as CP3’s pick and roll IQ is unparalleled. This will come at a perfect time as he and the Rockets did not agree to an extension ahead of the October 16 rookie-deal extension deadline. The CP3 effect coupled with this season essentially being a showcase for a lucrative(ish) contract offer, and winning is why I believe Clint Capela will win this season’s MIP award.
Coach of the Year
Mike Malone (Denver Nuggets)
The Denver Nuggets did not make many additions from last season to this season (see my recent post about the Denver Nuggets off-season) but they did make a key addition that was Paul Millsap. Along with that, they are also getting a fully healthy Wilson Chandler to go with the continued evolution of star big man Nikola Jokic and their young guards Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton. I think the Denver Nuggets are in a situation where they have a playoff roster out west. I do believe that they are two players away from truly becoming a threat to the west’s upper third. Insert Eric Bledsoe (maybe with TJ Warren?) and one of Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe, or Demarre Carroll, and the Nuggets are two deep at every position especially in their front court where they can legitimately rotate five players. Head coach Mike Malone received praise after the Nuggets accumulated a few notable wins (including one over the Warriors) en route to a 40-42 season where they missed the NBA playoffs by just one game. Should the Nuggets front office make the proper decisions addressing roster deficiencies moving forward, and the Nuggets can pick up where they left off in the second half of last season, Mike Malone should win Coach of the Year.
On a separate note, keep an eye on Frank Vogel in Orlando. They have been playing surprising well so far and have a roster that should be able to continue the same play consistently.
Defensive Player of the Year
After last season performance defensively by the “Stifle Tower,” I do not expect Rudy to go away anytime soon regarding this award. Rudy finished last season as the NBA’s leading shot blocker on a per game basis with 2.6, block percentage, and defensive win shares. Typically, when you lead the league in three of the major defensive categories and your team has an elite defense as a whole, you win that award almost unanimously. Last season was not a typical one regarding the DPOY choice though, as Draymond Green was the eventual winner. Kawhi Leonard was also in the running as he was on a mission with his play on the less glamourous end of the court. A positive for Rudy so far this season is that Kawhi has started on the sideline due to injury, and the Warriors, according to coach Steve Kerr, were in “championship hangover mode” for the first few weeks of the season. Should Gobert and the Jazz continue to be a defense first team under coach Quin Snyder, Gobert will finally earn that first DPOY award.
Most Valuable Player
I recently wrote about my top three picks for this seasons MVP award. Likely the most intriguing of those three was the section about Giannis attempting to live up to the challenge and expectation voiced by Kobe Bryant. So far, Giannis has done just that as he currently leads the league in scoring with 31 ppg. Along with that 31 ppg, he has also made highlight plays on both sides of the ball. His otherworldly athleticism coupled with his length and height make him the “Greek Freak,” an athlete the NBA has never seen before. So far, the only adversity that could get in the way of Giannis and meeting Kobe’s expectations is team success. Probably the most overlooked aspect of who wins the MVP award year to year is team success. Often times people get so caught up in the individual statistics (which are the most important aspect of MVP seasons) that they almost disregard the fact that MVP winners are rewarded more when their teams are winning. One of the main reasons Harden has yet to win an MVP award is that his teams did not have more wins than the Curry led Warriors of 2014-2015. Giannis will have help on the way as Jabari Parker looks to comeback in the not too distant future. They are also one of the few team said to be intrigued by adding Eric Bledsoe. Should the Bucks find a way to garner a top three seed in the East this season, I believe that Giannis will win MVP.
Thanks for the read, and feel free to comment below or tweet/message me on Twitter @StayTrueSdot3.
I appreciate the read, and be on the lookout for my next posts which should make for great debate material.