Welcome to one of the most exciting days of the year! The NBA is finally back! Today I’ll be going through my predictions for NBA season awards, but before we get into them, I’m also going to go over some of my biggest questions and expected story lines from the upcoming season, give a few of my hot takes, and provide some players to keep an eye on.
Biggest Questions & Story Lines
Smallball vs. Playing Big. Smallball has been the predominant playing style over the past 5 years, and traditional bigs have been undervalued. This season, there are a handful of teams looking to buck that trend and counter by playing with multiple bigs on the floor at a time. The Cavaliers will try to continue with the limited success they saw last season playing Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen together, the Wolves are trying their hand at twin towers utilizing Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, and Orlando, Oklahoma City, and New York all figure to run a variation of a traditional 2-big lineup.
I’m not sure it can work if neither big can space the floor, but it will be interesting to see the machinations and counters we see throughout the year, and especially in the playoffs.
How quickly do tankers tank? I’m not sure exactly how many teams will be tanking in pursuit of Victor Wembayama (or a hell of consolation prize in presumptive 2nd overall pick Scoot Henderson), but there is sure to be more teams than usual fighting for lottery odds. Typically tanking doesn’t become blatant until the new year, once teams are already essentially eliminated from playoff contention. This year, it will be interesting to see how quickly a slow start morphs into a tanking season, and whether this facilitates more trades (teams dumping winning players). I’m not entirely sure it will be different than usual, but I am expecting something we’ve never seen before.
Can the East finally compete? The East has been the weaker conference for more than 30 years, though it has seemingly evened out a bit over recent years. With Donovan Mitchell and Dejounte Murray moving East, there are now 9 Eastern Conference teams that will realistically fight for a home playoff series, more than I can ever remember in my lifetime. The West is still a juggernaut, but it speaks to the level of talent across the league that the East is no longer a few top teams among a sea of garbage. I mean the 2014-15 Hawks (a team with no All-NBA players) won 60 games. That roster today would be lucky to make the play-in. It’s truly a wonderful time for the league.
Comeback or Cooked? Last season was one of the worst we’ve had for top players being out with injuries, holdouts, and/or not playing in the playoffs. With so many players returning after a year away, it follows that there are differing expectations for their respective teams across the board. Will they come back strong, or are they done?
The list includes Damian Lillard, Michael Porter Jr., Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson, Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray, John Wall, Kemba Walker, Anthony Davis, Ricky Rubio, Anthony Davis, Joe Harris, Khris Middleton, and of course Kawhi Leonard. Who comes back strong and who hangs it up is one of the hardest things to predict, so I’m excited to see what happens.
Hot takes are – by definition – against the conventional wisdom or consensus opinion. So these will be the most outlandish version of each position that I believe. For example, I think Zion Williamson is going to have a great year. But saying “Zion will be an all-star” isn’t a hot take as many people – probably most – already agree. Instead, I could say something like with “Zion will win MVP” to make it a hot take. I’m not sure I fully believe all of them myself (and using this context, many of them will end up being wrong), but this is a good way to present how I feel about certain teams/players in the context of comparing my position to what most people think. So, if you disagree (which is the whole point!) just remember that these are supposed to be hot takes, and they wouldn’t be hot takes if they were obvious.
Ben Simmons will play 75+ games, average more than 17 points per game, and lead all non-centers in eFG%.
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills whenever people talk about Ben Simmons. Sure, he hasn’t developed a jumpshot, but he never had one anyway, and he’s still a 3-time All-Star! He’s excellent at everything he does on the court (including scoring efficiently) and the fact that he struggled in one playoffs doesn’t mean he suddenly sucks at basketball. I’m extremely excited to see him prove everyone wrong.
Karl-Anthony Towns will be an MVP finalist.
Over the first 7 seasons of his career, KAT has played with the least help of any all-star in the NBA. I’m not kidding. He’s now played 482 regular season games. Of those games, he’s played just 69 (nice) with another all-star. That’s a pitiful 14.3%. Last year was the first season he had competence around him, and “coincidentally” the first season the Wolves looked like they were building something.
Despite being put in the worst situation in the NBA from the second he was drafted, Towns is consistently slandered, called “soft,” or criticized for things that other stars are given a free pass on. Take Andrew Wiggins for example – he was awesome in the playoffs right? And Towns didn’t show up in the playoffs right? Well Towns scored 5 more points per game (on less shots!) than Wiggins, along with more rebounds, assists, and stocks (steals+blocks). That’s an extreme example (as even the most ludicrous GS fans don’t believe Wiggins is better than Towns), but it goes to show the unwarranted criticism KAT receives, despite being one of the best bigs in the league. This year, given another all-star in Rudy Gobert and even a mini-leap from Anthony Edwards, and he’s going to flourish. I can’t wait for Towns to finally get his flowers.
Warriors fans turn on Wiggins.
As of now, fans of Golden State are dunking on Wolves fans after winning yet another championship in which they benefitted from a trade with Minnesota. This is understandable, if misguided – Minnesota fans aren’t upset about the D’Angelo Russell trade. Wiggins oscillated from decent to awful in Minnesota, and fans got sick of the inconsistency, especially where his effort was concerned. We’re more than happy with DLo. After the trade, Wiggins continued his theme of inconsistency in Golden State, but playing in an easier role (playing alongside Curry on offense and Green on defense will make anyone’s life easier – just ask Harrison Barnes), allowed him to take on less responsibility, which meant bad streaks have mattered less. Then, he caught one of his ‘decent’ streaks at the right time, and in the playoffs he was… decent.
The consensus seems to be “he’s just a good player now” or even in some cases “he’s great now,” but oh how quickly people forget. He had stretches like that in Minnesota too, but always regressed to the mean. I’m betting that happens again, and despite building up a lot a good will that a championship buys, if the Warriors underachieve Wiggins will be first to lose their favor.
The Cavaliers win less games than last season.
I’m not sure I truly believe this one, but I really don’t think the Cavs are going to be much better this season. Most people think – understandably – that Donovan Mitchell will take this team to the next level, but I’m not sold. They were playing their best basketball with Ricky Rubio (win % of .588 with him; .500 without), and Mitchell figures to take most of those minutes. They’re replacing a pass-first point guard who is an elite point-of-attack defender with a high-volume combo guard who is one of the worst defenders in the league. Mobley and Allen lurking behind figure to take some pressure off him, but I’m dubious about whether Mitchell fits their scheme.
Players to Watch
Incomplete list of players who will prove the haters wrong:
Ben Simmons (see above)
Karl-Anthony Towns (see above)
Franz Wagner – absolute beast who will be a household name by the end of the season.
Paul George – Kawhi might be number one, but PG13 is still an elite wing.
Michael Porter Jr. – puts the Nuggets into elite territory.
Damian Lillard – remember me?
Cade Cunningham – people called him a bust. He didn’t call back.
Giannis Antetokounmpo – he’s the best player in the league, and he’s coming for the GOAT discussion.
Incomplete list of players who will disappoint their stans:
Andrew Wiggins (see above)
Donovan Mitchell (see above)
Tyrese Haliburton – he’s good, but he’s not the guy.
Russ Westbrook – does he even have stans anymore?
James Harden – Houston Harden is gone for good.
Jalen Brunson – I love you, but it’s still the Knicks. Welcome to the lottery.
Scottie Barnes – Lot of potential, but development takes time. He’s still a year away.
Gordon Hayward – I still can’t get over this haircut lol
NBA Award Predictions
Most Valuable Player
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
2. Kevin Durant
3. Joel Embiid
4. Luka Dončić
5. Zion Williamson
HM. Karl-Anthony Towns
Giannis is just the best player in the league, and I can’t realistically put anyone above him. Voter fatigue is real, but it’s been 2 years since his last award, so I think it’s fair to keep him up top while still using the voter fatigue argument to exclude Nikola Jokić. Durant and Embiid figure to be the clear #1 on a very good team, and I’d lean toward whoever ends up playing more games. Dončić is the betting favorite for a reason – he’s arguably the most unguardable player in the league. If he wins the scoring title, I think he’s got a good shot at the MVP, too. Williamson is the biggest freak athlete since Shaq. Is he more physically imposing than even Giannis? I’m not sure, but I think I lean yes. If the Pelicans are as good as I expect them to be, Zion will be in the MVP conversation, and – health pending – won’t be leaving it anytime soon. (I had to include KAT as an honorable mention, since that was my hot take).
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
2. Ben Simmons
3. Rudy Gobert
HM. Draymond Green
Rudy Gobert is the best rim protector and defensive big in the league. Teams scheme their entire offense around his presence, and you can watch players try to avoid them before they even arrive on the help side. It warps offenses and makes the entire game look different. Still, it’s hard to say how good the Wolves defense will be at their best, and how quickly they get to that level. The two best perimeter defenders in the league are Antetokounmpo and Simmons. (No – I won’t listen to arguments for Marcus Smart. Stop it. Get some help). I’ll give the slight advantage to Giannis since I think it’d be cool for him to win MVP and DPOY in the same season.
I also wanted to give a special shout-out to Draymond Green for being the best defender in the history of the league. Yes, in the history of the NBA, nobody has ever been a better defender than him – I firmly believe that. His strength, length, physicality, quick hands, and ability to switch and guard multiple positions is something we’ve rarely seen. But what separates Green from other elite defenders is his anticipation and knack for knowing where the play is going seemingly before the offense does. His ability to roam and blow up plays was unparalleled. Unfortunately, he’s lost a step, and is no longer prime Draymond. Mix that with his current turmoil with the Warriors, and he’s probably not on the radar for DPOY.
Rookie of the Year
1. Jaden Ivey
2. Johnny Davis
3. Paolo Banchero
I don’t watch enough college ball to ever be confident in this prediction, but from the limited pre-draft research, Summer League, and preseason I’ve watched, this is where I landed. Jaden Ivey has looked excellent and that’s basically my only rationale. Johnny Davis is a hometown pick (go Badgahs), and Paolo Banchero was the 1st overall pick, so he’s probably good, right?
Coach of the Year
1. Chris Finch
2. Tyronn Lue
3. Steve Nash
To be clear, I don’t think these are the 3 best coaches in the league. But this award usually goes to a coach who increased the number of wins of his team, and these are the teams I expect to improve the most next season. I predicted the Clippers and Nets to be the best teams in each conference, and I think the Wolves will be a top 4 seed. Finch has done well with an incomplete roster, and the players seem to be fully bought in. There have been doubts about the roster fit in Minnesota (doubts I don’t share), so if things go smoothly, he’ll be right near the top of this conversation. Lue has proven to be a solid in-game tactician, and with the return of Kahwi Leonard, he’s almost gifted a place in this conversation. Nash has arguably been one of the worst coaches in the league, but if the Nets win as many games as I expect, the narrative will shift.
Most Improved Player
1. Anthony Edwards
2. Tyrese Maxey
3. Franz Wagner
HM. Herb Jones
Ant seems to be the most popular MIP candidate this season – and for good reason. He was excellent in the playoffs, and showed a capacity for an expanded role. Tyrese Maxey makes my list for the same reason. Both teams should be near the top of the league, but whomever ends up with better stats would probably win in a tie, and Edwards takes that. Wagner and Jones both had underrated rookie seasons and should be primed for big seasons.
Sixth Man of the Year
1. Bones Hyland
2. Tyus Jones
3. Tyler Herro
Tyus Jones is one of the most reliable players in the league, and after an excellent playoff performance, he’s finally starting to get recognition for the value he delivers. Herro is a high-volume scorer on a good team. Both of these two should continue to be near the top of this list for years to come.
I love the Nuggets roster construction, and I think Bones Hyland will play a big role. With Monte Morris departing to Washington, Hyland will be the main initiator off the bench, and will be both a 6MOY and MIP candidate.
G. Luka Dončić
G. Steph Curry
F. Kevin Durant
F. Giannis Antetokounmpo
C. Joel Embiid
G. Ja Morant
G. Jayson Tatum
F. Karl-Anthony Towns
F. Zion Williamson
C. Nikola Jokić
G. Ben Simmons
G. Kyrie Irving
F. Kawhi Leonard
F. Jimmy Butler
C. Rudy Gobert
I won’t into full detail but a few of the highlights:
-No Suns. Devin Booker (incorrectly) made 1st Team last season. That’s a mistake I don’t expect voters to repeat.
-Towns at PF allows for both him and Gobert to make All-NBA. 2 Timberwolves? God damn I’m excited.
-Brooklyn’s big 3 all get a spot. Yeah, that’s unlikely, but I’m doubling down on my love for the Nets.
-Curry gets another 1st Team appearance.
G. Ben Simmons
G. Dejounte Murray
F. Giannis Antetokounmpo
F. Draymond Green
C. Rudy Gobert
G. Marcus Smart
G. Herb Jones
F. Jaden McDaniels
F. Bam Adebayo
C. Joel Embiid
-Herb Jones and Jaden McDaniels make their 1st appearance each (of many) on the all-defensive teams.
-Dejounte Murray not needing to carry the load offensively will allow him to take the toughest defensive challenges every game. He’s up to the test.
Jabari Smith Jr.
Who knows? I’m just excited to see some basketball. NBA IS BACK BABY!