Today marks the end of one of the wildest NBA summers in recent memory.
What better time to skip the contents of the entire regular season and just get to the end and give out some trophies!
Last year’s award races featured James Harden getting the annual “look we can’t just give LeBron everything” MVP award and Ben Simmons defeating Donovan Mitchell before being outperformed by a Super Saiyan disguised as Mitchell in the playoffs. The Eastern Conference will be wide open this season and big names have flown all over the country and will tipoff on Tuesday with new jerseys. Here is who will be bringing home the most coveted NBA individual hardware this season.
MVP: LeBron James
At the beginning of the summer, I figured that a healthy Kyrie Irving or Giannis Antetekounmpo would be front row and center to win the MVP. Once LeBron James announced he was going to the Los Angeles Lakers, for some reason the basketball community (including certain reputable sports sites) were wondering if the Lakers were even going to make the playoffs. That take was one of the most confusing I have seen but opens the door perfectly for the 16-year-vet to shock a world that he should no longer be able to shock by leading the Lakers to the playoffs with his high-IQ brand of dominance. With the expectations for the Lakers being strangely low, any type of playoff push should have LeBron right at the forefront of the MVP conversation, and he should certainly win should the Lakers land a high seed. He is playing for a legendary team in a big market with no big-name sidekick. It won’t get much easier to win the award than this.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic
Donovan Mitchell does not get a second year of eligibility like some people (kidding, kinda) so I’m expecting this to be a tight race between Doncic and Deandre Ayton, both of whom figure to have large roles and opportunity on teams that are invested in their production. Doncic, however, has the ability to contribute for a Dallas Mavericks team that figures to at least make a push to make it on on the back end of the Western Conference playoff race. If Dallas can be competitive and win 40ish games Doncic will be a huge reason why. He has an NBA ready body and has been playing in the second best basketball league in the world for years. His ability to score and create for others fills a big void for the Mavericks and he has proven veterans around him that will contribute to his growth and understanding of basketball at the NBA level. Last year he did not just excel overseas. He dominated the competition and was the best player in the world outside of the NBA at age 18. This one isn’t hard.
Sixth Man of The Year: Dennis Schroder
Dennis Schroder’s primary function will be to back up Russell Westbrook and lead a bench mob that has struggled to score when Westbrook is off the floor. Oklahoma City has not had a 6th man with game-changing potential like this since the James Harden days. While Schroder is far from a superstar, he is a steady point guard with a fantastic feel for scoring or passing out of the pick and roll.
With the evolution of small ball in the NBA, there will be lineups that will feature Schroder alongside Westbrook. This can be an exciting fast paced backcourt that can give opposing defenses all sorts of problems situationally due to their versatility. Schroder is more patient than Westbrook and is a true point guard, a position that doesn’t come naturally to Russ, who is more of a scorer. Raymond Felton had moments for OKC last year in a reserve role but can get tunnel vision and misses plays that Schroder will not. Schroder can be a 20 point per game scorer and may have been over his head trying to lead an anemic Hawks roster in the East. With a vastly improved level of talent around him and a dynamic backcourt partner, expect Schroder’s game to rise to the next level.
Most Improved Player: Markelle Fultz
This is the perfect circumstance for Markelle Fultz to have his coming out party. Fultz came out of college as a dominant scorer and was sidelined by a bizarre injury that affected his ability to shoot the ball correctly. After a year of rehabbing and only making a handful of appearances. In the lone game he started last season, he actually recorded a triple-double.
The 76ers should be good enough to grab a high seed in the East and Fultz was named the starter for opening night in place of J.J. Reddick. The dynamic of Fultz and Ben Simmons on the floor at the same time opens up the playbook for Philadelphia and allows for Ben Simmons to play the LeBron/Giannis point forward position as a wing against slower defenders. As long as there is no regression in his health, Fultz will have the opportunity to surprise the skeptics just by going out and playing his game. With such a low floor of expectation, Fultz should be in the running for MIP even without All-Star level numbers.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis has been one of the premier shot blockers in the league and is a valuable anchor for the New Orleans Pelicans defensively. As talented as Davis is, he gets overlooked and doesn’t receive the love he deserves as one of the leagues most disruptive defensive forces.
Davis is the perfect big to patrol the paint in today’s small ball league. He can comfortably guard any center in the league one on one and has the versatility and athleticism to step out on shooters, clean up the glass, or switch onto guards.
The Pelicans aren’t an elite defensive team overall, which may account for the fact that Davis has been overlooked for the last few seasons. His versatility and high energy cover up a ton of mistakes for the Pelicans and set the tone for their high paced transition offense. After finishing 3rd in the voting last year, hopefully, Davis gets the credit he deserves.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics were 9 points away from an NBA finals appearance while their two best players watched from the sidelines. LeBron is now gone, and the Celtics have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league. It could be argued that he should have won it last year but with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back the Celtics should have a clear shot at the number 1 seed and if healthy will be favored to reach the NBA Finals.
It is simply the year for Stevens, who despite all of the attention continues to simply be quietly good at maximizing the potential of his players, managing egos, being great after time-outs, and establishing solid defensive game planning. The case for Stevens is already written. Barring a seismic shift elsewhere in the league, this award will be a formality.