2017-18 NBA Award Predictions
Even a quarter into the season, any one league member can change the pace and the face of their franchise in a heartbeat. So let’s take a stab at predicting this season’s award winners – with some minimal bet-hedging.
Most Valuable Player
Safe Bet: James Harden
Usage percentage wins the MVP, and James Harden leads the league. Couple that with league-best numbers in points per game and assists per game on a conference-leading team and Harden is a shoe-in. He lost to Westbrook last year, but this year he takes it home when his Rockets win 60+ games and make it to the conference finals. The runner up here is LeBron, who is having the best season of his career by the numbers, but it might be tough for voters to empathize with a man who’s won it four times – more than Moses Malone, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Hot Take: Kyrie Irving
The Celtics are leading the league in clutch wins and show no signs of slowing. Of course, the masked man behind those fierce clutch buckets is none other than Kyrie Irving. This would be a huge snub to LeBron, who is putting up better numbers in almost every category, but it’s hard to argue that Kyrie isn’t the best player on the best team at this point in the season. The storyline would be kickass.
Rookie of the Year
Safe Bet: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons is outperforming his fellow rookies by such a margin that it almost seems unfair. He’s averaging the fifth most assists per game in the league and an absurdly high usage percentage for a rook at 24.5%. He also finds himself in the NBA’s Top 10 Plays at least once a week. The next best argument is for Jayson Tatum, who is shooting at an astonishingly high clip (49%) but doesn’t carry the load that Simmons does for his team night after night.
Hot Take: Lonzo Ball
The NBA season is a long affair, and Lonzo has already recorded more triple doubles at his age than any player in NBA history. Granted, no rookie point guard that I can find has shot the ball quite this poorly over a season and become a player of any significance, but there’s plenty of time for Lonzo to come to form. If he gets his field goal percentage up to the 38% mark (where Jason Kidd was his rookie year), the voters may excuse his stroke in lieu of formidable numbers elsewhere and staggering passing abilities.
Most Improved Player
Safe Bet: Kristaps Porzingis
Porzingis has achieved full unicorn. He’s currently fourth in usage percentage, fourth in points per game, and first in blocks per game on a major market team. That team is winning more games this year after losing Carmelo Anthony for peanuts. This is not to mention his three point percentage is up four points at 40%, and his true shooting percentage is up seven points at 58%. Kristaps’ biggest competition is probably Robert Covington, who’s seen his field goal and three point percentages rise to a whopping 46% and 43% respectively. Cov’s win shares per 48 minutes are also 50% above league average at .151, but his distinctive improvement, while significant, is not that of the Latvian champion.
Hot Take: Giannis Antetokuonmpo
No player has ever won it twice, but Giannis seems to be making a case after taking a leap from the stratosphere to the mesosphere (science? no?). He leads the league in points in the paint and falls second on the points per game list between James Harden and LeBron James. Giannis was an early favorite for MVP, which looks likely in his future, but not before his team is consistently winning games.
Defensive Player of the Year
Safe Bet: Draymond Green
The back-to-back award. So many players have won this award in consecutive years that Draymond just makes sense. With Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard injured, it’s hard to find another player that has Green’s impact on the defensive end. Because of the fact that he often leaves his man to help elsewhere, his individual numbers are hard to pin down, but anyone who watches the game can see the little things that he does to affect the opposing offense. In other words, he passes the eyeball test with flying colors. Porzingis is probably going to be your runner up, but, since he’s taking home another prize, he’ll fall short of Draymond Groin here.
Hot Take: Chris Paul
Paul is always on the All-Defensive NBA Team so this is only a hot take in light of his struggle with injury. This season, Paul has held his opponents – and bear in mind he guards the most prolific position in the league – to a combined field goal percentage of 39.7%. Top that off with over two steals per game and the fact that he’s on a winning team. As CP3 learns to play without single-handedly orchestrating an offense, look to the voters to reward him for his selflessness and moxy.
Sixth Man of the Year
Safe Bet: Dwyane Wade
Only us Miamians can completely appreciate the size of this man’s heart. Per 36 minutes, D-Wade is averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, a block, and a steal. He’s also held his opponents to a 37.9% field goal percentage. Those numbers are the kind of all-encompassing influence on a game that lead teammates to fall in love with the veteran, but the numbers are hardly the end of it. Wade is a thinker, an empathetic motivator, and a cool head in the heat. In essence, he’s the definition of a sixth man, and, since the future Hall of Famer has never been given one of these individual awards, it’s about time.
Hot Take: Derrick Rose
Easily the spiciest of these hot takes, D-Rose is far from in-the-conversation for this award. In fact, he may never play NBA basketball again after injuring his ankle a couple weeks ago. A career filled with fissures and fractures, Rose has said he is evaluating his NBA future. For him to win this award, many unlikely things would have to happen. Adidas would probably have to tell him he won’t receive the rest of his contract money should he quit, Dwyane Wade would have to be injured or placed back on the Cavs’ starting five, and the voters would have to sympathize with a player that prematurely won MVP. On top of that, he’d have to provide the Cavs with fifteen minutes per game of instant offense off the bench for at least two-thirds of the season… without getting injured. But if the stars align, he’d be the only player since Bill Walton to win MVP and the sixth man award, making Derrick the type of storybook player that always rose to the occasion (pun intended) and played his role admirably.
Coach of the Year
Safe Bet: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
It was evident that the Celtics were going to be better this year but not that they would be the best team in the league, and Brad Stevens is the fulcrum. By all accounts, Stevens is one of the most inspiring and innovative coaches in basketball. As former player Ronald Nored once said, “We know everything we need to about our opponents, all their tendencies are broken down.” Fans can see that his teams are better than they should be on paper. Above all, his win-loss percentage has increased every year he’s been in the NBA, finally topping the eastern conference last year and topping both conferences this year. Speaking to his calm presence on the court, Stevens has said, “Win the next game. Win the next possession. That’s our focus. It’s boring. It’s also the way championships are won.” Brad Stevens was always going to win Coach of the Year at some point, and he’ll win it again after this one.
Hot Take: Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
I could not have imagined taking this stab a few weeks ago, but the Pistons are actually a good team. While they’re expected to slow down, they currently sit above the Cleveland Cavaliers at the number two spot in the east. While they’ve struggled through their last few games, they’ve won 14 of 23 and aren’t playing scrubs either. Two of their recent wins were against the Celtics and the Thunder. With only a couple good players in Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, their success is nothing short of heartwarming. If Van Gundy can take a team that was 37 – 45 last year to 50 wins, he would be a prime candidate for COY.
Executive of the Year
Safe Bet: Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics
Eugene, Oregon. 1965. A six year old Danny Ainge, sits, wide-eyed, on his father’s lap, listening to the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. We all know it, but few of us registered its simple truths as law the way Danny did that day. Fifty two years later and Ainge has sauntered the Celtics to the best record in the league and the cusp of the O’Brien trophy based almost entirely on draft picks acquired in the Brooklyn Nets Massacre of 2013. The next best candidate for this award is over in Oklahoma City, but Ainge will beat Sam Presti by the numbers. Boston currently leads the league in plus minus and defensive rating, a feat that almost always leads to a conference championship. Not this year because, well, LeBron, but certainly after James takes his talents to Venice Beach.
Hot Take: Scott Layden, Minnesota Timberwolves
In a less-than-impressive run as the GM of the Knicks in the late 90s/early 2000s, Scott Layden presided over some controversial moves like the re-signing of Latrell Sprewell and the trading of Patrick Ewing. Over a decade later, the T-Wolves gave Scott another shot. This off-season, Layden acquired all-star shooting guard Jimmy Butler for an injured Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th pick in the draft. In free agency, he signed Jeff Teague and veterans Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson, and Minnesota is suddenly on the verge of championship contention. If they make the playoffs this year, it’ll be the first time since 2004, and Layden may sneak away with the prize (and some job security).
(Image courtesy of Eric Wong via Flickr.)