Published by Fran Cava
Just 72 days ago, we watched LeBron James & company finish off the Miami Heat in six games for the controversial 2020 title. Tonight, regular-season action returns concluding the shortest offseason recorded in league history. To combat the brief offseason, the players association agreed with the league on condensing the schedule to just 72 games per team. Before tonight’s first tip-off at seven though, let’s dive into some award predictions.
Most Improved Player: Michael Porter Jr. – Denver Nuggets
Coming off a superb bubble performance, MPJ is in the perfect situation for his numbers to drastically rise. He shot the lights out in Orlando, leading Malone to insert him into this year’s starting rotation. He showed the tools of someone who can one day be a prolific scorer, and has exuded a ton of confidence; sometimes to a fault. Nonetheless, they are going to be giving him more of a green light this year, and who knows he may fuck around and average 20 a night. For them to be an elite team this year they are expecting a huge jump in his development.
Sixth Man of the Year: Caris Levert – Brooklyn Nets
As it appears after the short preseason, new head coach Steve Nash has slotted the two-way wing in the sixth man role. Although a backcourt of Kyrie-Levert sounds better, (and probably would work better), on paper than Kyrie-Dinwiddie this is how the lineup is set for the start of the new campaign. The Nets are a top 3 team in the East, and they looked great this preseason. Their bench is being labeled as one of the best units in the league, and they are going to be led by Mr. Levert. This sets up Levert to play against team’s second rotations, which should benefit his numbers spectacularly. He’s going to have efficient splits and is capable of locking up any second-team wings. Barring he’s not traded before the deadline, he’s a safe pick for the award.
Coach of the Year: Michael Malone – Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets were entertaining as hell in the bubble. They came back from 3-1 twice, knocking off the “juggernaut” Clippers with incredible performances from all of their core players. Now they head into this season with a potential budding star in Michael Porter Jr., Murray playing with a ton of confidence, and a top 2 center in Jokic. They have a great supporting cast surrounding their young stars, and I think they have a shot at being the 2 seed in an extremely stacked Western Conference. They have the talent to be hovering around the top, but Malone’s effort is going to be crucial in their quest to be elite. This means less experimental lineups, and not digging a hole early into games.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz
After becoming one of the NBA’s most hated players following the covid-microphone incident, Gobert casually signed a 205 million dollar five-year-extension. Giannis deprived the French giant last season of the rare DPOY three-peat, so expect Rudy to be playing with some extra motivation. The game-changing type of play Gobert brings to the defensive side of the ball has elevated a subpar Jazz defense to league average. Advanced metrics prove Gobert’s defensive worth comes from his ability to shrink the offensive players’ space. His freakishly athletic physique has aided Utah in becoming one of the best teams at preventing shot attempts. With the pace of the game increasing every year though, the media has questioned as to how well Rudy can defend the perimeter. In his defense, he has shown substantial improvements the last few years when switching onto guards. Minus this of course…
Nevertheless, expect him to reclaim his award this season.
Rookie of the Year: LaMelo Ball – Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo is by no means an easy selection for this award. His game is extremely flawed, and to be the star many believe he will be, he’s going to have to work his ass off. His shot needs a lot of work, and defensively he’s gotta play with a more inspired motor. With all that said he possesses a talent that arguably cannot be taught. He’s a delightful passer that was born to entertain with his playmaking abilities. He could use these skills to one day be an above-average scorer, granted that he improves his efficiency. Charlotte is in a position to give him free reigns of the offense, which should allow him to put up numbers – even if they aren’t translating to wins. His usage rate should be high, and hopefully, he gives us a bunch of highlights throughout the year. It also works in his favor that this rookie class is filled with a ton of question marks.
Most Valuable Player: Luka Doncic – Dallas Mavericks
After a historic sophomore season, averaging a near thirty point triple-double on efficient shooting – Doncic is poised to enter into the game’s truly elite plateau. He proved in the playoffs he’s capable of leading a team to crucial wins, and possibly with a better supporting cast could have made a real splash in the bubble. Now with a slightly better team, all the confidence in the world, and the fact that he’s one of the NBA’s most global stars at 21 – the narrative for his MVP is already being created. If he’s able to carry Dallas to a top 4 seed in the West he’s got a real shot at becoming the youngest MVP ever. He’s been involved in some of the most exciting games the past two seasons and seems to improve in the clutch.
He’s also got a few indirect factors working in his favor. There’s not a shot in hell that Giannis wins three years in a row. The writers would just never let it happen. LeBron and AD are going to split votes, as are Durant and Kyrie probably. The Warriors simply might not be good enough to insert Steph into the conversation for the award, and the Harden/Rockets ordeal is a disaster. This leaves Doncic as one of the few candidates that doesn’t have a narrative working against him. If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on the young Slovenian.