The NBA season is nearly upon us and after a record-setting year last season excitement is bubbling over the possibilities in 2017-2018.
NBA awards predictions are often a hot talking point for fans of the league and this season should be no different. Warren and I will present our top candidates for the major awards in the 2017-2018 NBA season. I can’t wait to revisit this in June of 2018 to see how we did!
Most Improved Player
Ashley: It’s hard to say who will win this award since this season really hasn’t started yet, but I will go out on a limb and bet on Buddy Hield. Hield bounced around a bit last year, and ultimately found himself playing in Sacramento for the Kings. To be honest, I really expected Hield to be much better than he was last season, and while he wasn’t as much of a dud as Kris Dunn (another potential MIP candidate for this year), he wasn’t too far off. With Cousins out, Hield has an open opportunity to make the Kings organization his home and help them rebuild.
Warren: This award is probably the most arbitrary of them all which makes it harder to pick. That said, Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic is the front runner to win in my opinion. Opportunity, playing in the right position and growth have all aligned for Gordon to have a breakout season. Orlando isn’t a great basketball team but they could be fun to watch and Gordon has the buzz of being a dunker who has turned into a decent overall player.
Rookie of the Year
Ashley: In my opinion, this person already won the Rookie of the Year award before the NBA draft even took place. His dad has done a good job of getting the family name into the media, and even though the discussions aren’t always positive about the Ball family (LaVar) there’s supposedly no such thing as bad press. Lonzo Ball has kept his comments respectful, and legitimately shows to be a great asset for the Los Angeles Lakers organization. Despite an iffy preseason Lonzo has already shown some great leadership for the team. Time will tell, and he will certainly need to work hard to cash the checks that his dad’s mouth wrote for him.
Warren: The Lonzo Ball hype machine is in full effect for ROY and it will be hard for any other rookie to break the wheel. Dennis Smith Jr. and Ben Simmons are two players with an opportunity to derail Ball’s inaugural campaign. The problem for Simmons is his success could easily be swallowed up in the love fest his teammate, Joel Embiid, has created with fans and media members. Simmons could post multiple modest triple-doubles this year but a healthy Embiid will steal much of the thunder Simmons could generate unless Philly makes a strong playoff push. That leaves Smith Jr. Who has nothing but opportunity in Dallas in front of him. He has a great feel for the game and is a better scorer than the two at this stage of their careers. While all three guys will be primary ball handlers it appears that Smith will be asked to score in addition to creating for others more than Ball and Simmons. It’s a long shot but I like Dennis Smith Jr. as ROY.
Ashley: This is a boring pick, but I’m going to with Eric Gordon to win it once again. The Houston Rockets have recruited Chris Paul to join James Harden making a mini-super team, but they will still need some strong support off the bench. Gordon brings solid numbers to the Rockets each night averaging 16.2 points per game, on a respectable 37.6% shooting from 3. Andre Iguodala was my gut instinct, but with so many incredible players on the Warriors roster Iguodala’s contribution may be lost in the noise. Wilson Chandler was also a favorite from last season, but with Danilo Gallinari moving on to the Los Angeles Clippers Chandler just moved up to the starting lineup.
Warren: The problem I have with this award is it usually only accounts for offensive production off the bench. There is no indication that will change but I digress. Several guys are going to have extremely important roles this season coming off the bench including the reigning Sixth Man Eric Gordon. I’ll be looking for Norman Powell, Rudy Gay, Milos Teodosic and Lance Stephenson to make strong pushes to challenge Gordon. Of that group, Gay stands out to me as a guy that as a member of the Spurs could truly be impactful. He’s played well the last three seasons and has shed his inefficient label by shooting over 45% from the floor and 35% from three. He’ll be on the floor quite a bit in smaller lineups for Coach Pop but may also get a boost as a spot starter if Kawhi Leonard‘s injuries continue to linger. Look for Gay to sneak into this battle and steal the award from Gordon.
Coach of the Year
Ashley: Now that the Boston Celtics have both Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, the award will undoubtedly go to Brad Stevens. Aside from the Nuggets (I know, I’m a homer) the Celtics are the next team I’m most excited to watch this year. I love the idea of Irving and Hayward playing together. Combine those two with the genius of Coach Stevens and its magic in the making. It will be great to see the Cavaliers have some more stiff competition in the East this season. While the notion of Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James seems like an automatic Eastern Conference title I’m not so sure that the aging James and Wade will be able to prevail over the young and fresh Celtics.
Warren: The odds makers and my colleague have given Brad Stevens the inside track to win this award. I’m very concerned about the chemistry that Boston needs to establish with so much roster turnover. Even still I don’t how many more wins in the regular season Boston can amass which makes Stevens an unlikely candidate. Erik Spoelstra in Miami and Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City have great opportunities to improve their records from a season ago. Miami is bringing back much of the same roster that finished so strong in the second half of the season. The Thunder have armed the reigning MVP with Carmelo Anthony and Paul George as sidekicks while keeping supplemental players largely the same. I don’t believe the Heat are as good as they finished and OKC can easily improve to be a 55-win team and high seed in the West giving Donovan the inside track as Coach of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Ashley: As long as Draymond Green plays in the league I believe this award should be his. Kawhi Leonard is a top contender for this award, but his intensity just doesn’t match that of Green. Green brings a level of fiery passion that is simply a product of his personality. Unfortunately, you can’t change a personality type and Leonard just isn’t the blustery presence that Green is every single game. I will note that Green makes some questionable plays, but I also believe that’s simply a byproduct of his level of intensity.
Warren: Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green are the easy front runners and should show, place and win in some form this season. Green and Leonard provide great versatility but Gobert’s interior presence and increased responsibility could equate to some lofty numbers defensively. I’m also counting on voter fatigue in the cases of Green and Leonard as those two are well established as great defenders while Gobert is still emerging in the eyes of many.
Most Valuable Player:
Ashley: It’s going to be hard to guess this one this year. With all the super team conglomerates, stand out performances will be drowned out a little more. However, after watching Russell Westbrook play in the preseason I will have to select him to win again. He is also a fiery presence on the court and he focuses on winning no matter the odds. If it’s a scrimmage, Westbrook is out for blood and a win because that’s simply who he is. He has some more fire power with Paul George and *grits teeth* Carmelo Anthony this year while Steven Adams takes care of business under the rim. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be a team to watch this year, and if they can get their act together in the post-season I believe they may make a run for a spot in the Western Conference Finals.
Warren: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Giannis Antetkounmpo John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard are my favorites to be in the MVP conversation this year. It’s disrespectful on my part to discount Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but how do they possibly top or even equal last year’s performances? In a “what have you done for me lately” scenario I feel they may get the cold shoulder when it comes to consideration. Winning combined with a little how good is the player’s teammates makes for an interesting conversation in the mythological formula of determining a winner. Leonard might have the best case of the especially if the Spurs don’t slip too far in the West standings. This is where his two-way ability could truly pay dividends as voters try to implement news of determining value. Another 58-60-win season for the Spurs and Leonard should capture the crown after many thought he could have won last season despite the heroics of Westbrook and Harden.