It’s that time of year again. The NBA season is little over a month away and in a season with a lot of uncertainty, I thought I’d make my picks for the NBA award winners this year.
Most Valuable Player
My Pick: James Harden, SG – Houston Rockets
For some reason, nobody is really talking about the chances of Harden winning his 2nd straight MVP award this season. I had no doubt that Harden could do it last year, and I don’t see any reason why his play would decline.
Since being traded to Houston in 2012, Harden has been the best shooting guard in the league, averaging 27.9ppg, 7.7apg, and 5.8apg in his 6 seasons as a Rocket. Harden’s production elevated to another level last year, as he meshed incredibly well with PG Chris Paul and C Clint Capela, and the three lead the team to the 1st seed in the West, and finished one game away from a trip to the NBA Finals.
Harden is the best 1-on-1 player in the league. His stepback and deceleration have absolutely revolutionized the art of scoring in the NBA, and I think it’s fair to say he’s the best scorer in the league. Harden has also made an art of getting to the foul line, as he averages 8.7ppg on free throws alone. Along with his scoring talents, “The Beard” is incredible at creating for his teammates, and not just for the assists column on the stat sheet (sorry Russell Westbrook).
While Harden’s defense is subpar, he does enough for his team offensively to justify the title of MVP. He did it last year, and I don’t see a reason that he couldn’t do it again.
Lebron James, SF – Los Angeles Lakers:
Anthony Davis, PF – New Orleans Pelicans
Victor Oladipo, SG – Indiana Pacers
Nikola Jokic, C – Denver Nuggets
6th Man of the Year
My Pick: Domantas Sabonis, PF – Indiana Pacers
I think it’s pretty safe to say the Paul George trade worked out very well for the Pacers. Not only did they receive Oladipo, one of my picks for MVP, but included in the package was PF Domantas Sabonis, son of former Lithuanian Blazers forward, Arvydas Sabonis.
Sabonis plays somewhat like his father, but he’s much more athletic and has great shooting skills as well. He averaged 11.6 ppg and 7.7 rpg coming off of the bench in his 2017-18 campaign, and at age 22, it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to get a lot better.
Sabonis showed what he was capable of in the playoffs last year, scoring 22 points in game 5, on the biggest stage he’s ever played on. While 22 points is nothing to freak out about, Sabonis took over that team when Oladipo was having one of the worst games of his career (2-15FG), not to mention he has Lebron guarding him for multiple possessions. I think Sabonis has a unique blend of consistency and take-over capability that could make him a weapon this year.
Eric Gordon, SG – Houston Rockets
Kyle Kuzma, SF – Los Angeles Lakers
Terry Rozier, PG – Boston Celtics
Spencer Dinwiddie, PG – Brooklyn Nets
Defensive Player of the Year
My Pick: Anthony Davis, PF – New Orleans Pelicans
Davis is often described as a point guard in a center’s body due to his incredible ball handling, jumper and passing abilities. While these qualities are certainly present, this statement rings true for Davis’ defense as well.
Davis stands at 6’11” with an extremely solid frame. With his height and athleticism, he is easily one of the best shot blockers in the NBA, however, along with his rim protecting skills, it’s pretty evident that Anthony Davis was a guard in high school. Davis is able to guard basically any position, anywhere on the court, when guards try to use screens to get a big man defending them, Davis locks them up. He truly is the most versatile defender in the NBA.
Davis is an offensive fiend, and while he’s not only one of my top picks for MVP, he happens to be an elite defender as well. This may finally be the year where both sides of his play are recognized.
Rudy Gobert, C Utah Jazz
Kawhi Leonard, SF Toronto Raptors
Victor Oladipo, SG Indiana Pacers
Jrue Holiday, SG New Orleans Pelicans
Rookie of the Year:
My Pick: Marvin Bagley IV, Sacramento Kings
Somehow Bagley’s name got lost during all of the conversation about rookies like Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Kevin Knox. While all of these names are certainly valid candidates, people seem to be forgetting about the best player in college basketball just a season ago.
Bagley is one of the most athletic bigs to come out of the draft in a long time. Rated as the #1 player coming out of high school in 2017 according to ESPN, Bagley certainly did not disappoint. In his one season with Duke, Bagley averaged 21.0ppg and 11.1rpg on 61.4% shooting. Bagley slowed down in tournament play, but still earned himself the #2 overall pick.
Now Bagley is surrounded by some glimpses of young talent, but for the most part he’s on his own. I think the lack of talent on this roster should give him some solid spotlight time to really showcase his skills. I think Bagley is the best athlete in his draft, and with his defense and dominance in the post, he’s a jump shot away from being a hall of fame talent.
Deandre Ayton- C, Phoenix Suns
Jaren Jackson Jr.- PF, Memphis Grizzlies
Trae Young- PG, Atlanta Hawks
Lonnie Walker IV- PG, San Antonio Spurs
Most Improved Player
My Pick: Frank Ntilikina – PG, New York Knicks
Frank Ntilikina was in a flat out awful situation last year. Drafted 9th overall, Ntilikina quickly found himself dealing with injuries through the entirety of the 2017-2018 season. However, even when healthy, Ntilikina wasn’t getting the minutes he needed in order to develop. Instead, the Knicks (genius as always), decided it was more practical to get 34-year-old Jarrett Jack, and Ron Baker (2.4ppg) playing time at point guard.
Ntlikina, the French stretch guard, currently sits as the backup shooting guard for the Knicks, but I’m confident he will find his way to the starting point guard role pretty quickly. At 6’5” with a 7’1” wingspan, Ntilikina is a lengthy guard who can defend the 1-3 with ease. While he’s no superstar on offense, he’s a very capable ball handler with a developing three. I think he could be a great Jrue Holiday type player in a couple of years, especially if there’s talent around him.
After a rather disappointing rookie season, (5.9ppg in 21.9mpg), Ntilikina is in prime position to break out. The Knicks have some subtle talent on their squad and I think Frank could be a great defensive threat to supplement Kristaps Porzingis when he returns.
Jamal Murray – PG, Denver Nuggets
Julius Randle – PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Nikola Jokic – C, Denver Nuggets
Dejounte Murray – PG, San Antonio Spurs
Coach of the Year
My Pick: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
It was pretty obvious that rival to only Gregg Popovich, Brad Stevens was the best coach in the NBA. To be honest, I think for the most part, an NBA basketball coach is pretty worthless. Outside of substitutions, I really don’t think a typical head coach outweighs the amount of talent on his team. There are a few exceptions of course: “Pop,” Quinn Schneider, Steve Kerr, Brad Stevens, and a couple others. I think this effect was really highlighted towards the end of the season.
Without Kyrie Irving and Al Horford (for a majority), the two best basketball players in Boston, Stevens was able to lead the Celtics to a deep playoff run, nearing a trip to the Celtics. Now, one could argue that it was the raw talent of guys like Terry Rozier and Jason Tatum that got the Celtics to where they were, but I’m not convinced that there was that much superstar talent on one roster. With respect to Tatum and Rozier, I really don’t think the Celtics could’ve been what they were without the mastermind.
It’s very hard to control this much young talent on one team, and really focus it towards one common goal, however, Stevens has done this with ease. As the star players on his roster improve, and Irving returns, I’m confident Stevens will find away to let his stars shine, and his role players become necessary pieces to a championship contender team.
Quinn Schneider- Utah Jazz
Gregg Popovich- San Antonio Spurs
Nate McMillan- Indiana Pacers
Erik Spoelstra- Miami Heat