Who doesn’t love predictions, right? I know I do and that is why I am here today. The first quarter of the 82 game NBA season has officially concluded and it is now time to predict each NBA award from what we have seen so far. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Most Valuable Player
Joel Embiid, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
Is my Philly sports bias showing? Maybe a little bit, but nobody can deny that Joel Embiid has been AT LEAST a top-two MVP candidate alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak and the Milwaukee Bucks may be 2nd in the Eastern Conference at 15-6 as we speak, but Philadelphia is not too far behind at 15-8. JoJo is currently fourth in the league in scoring with 28 PPG behind James Harden, Stephen Curry (who has missed the Warriors’ last ten games), and Kevin Durant. He is also fourth in the league in rebounding at 13.3 RPG behind Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, and Kevin Love (who has missed all but four of the Cavs’ games). On the offensive side of the ball Embiid also averages just under 4 assists per game and leads the league in both free throw makes and attempts at a clip over 80%, which is great for any player, let alone a 7’0-plus center. Not only is he one of the best offensive players in all of basketball, he is also one of the best rim protectors in the NBA with an average of 2 blocks per game. JoJo is also fourth in the league in usage percentage and second in Player Impact Estimate. Sounds like an MVP to me.
Honorable Mentions: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks and Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Rookie of the Year
Luka Doncic, G/F, Dallas Mavericks
The number three overall pick in the NBA draft looks even better than advertised. After leading Real Madrid to the EuroLeague championship and becoming the youngest EuroLeague MVP in history, the Slovenia native has not skipped a beat in his first NBA campaign. At 6’7, the Dallas Mavericks have him playing all over the floor at shooting guard, small forward, or even power forward, which is where he spends the majority of his minutes. At just 19 years old, the rookie is scoring 19.1 PPG, which leads all rookies, at a clip of 45.7/39.8/79.5 to go along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Because of his efforts, Dallas is actually the current 8th seed in the West, higher than the Pelicans, Spurs, Jazz, and Rockets. This is Doncic’s award to lose and barring a colossal collapse, I do not see any other rookie taking away the ROTY crown.
Side note: Doncic is becoming one of my favorite players in the league to watch.
Honorable Mentions: Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns and Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Sixth Man of the Year
Julius Randle, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans
This has been the hardest decision yet as there are four players all worthy of this nomination in Randle, Domantas Sabonis, Lou Williams, and Dennis Schroder. I chose Randle here as he leads all of these players in scoring and without him on the Pelicans bench, they most likely would not be 11-11 and on the cusp of a playoff spot right now. Without a point guard to relieve Jrue Holiday in the second unit, Randle, as a power forward/center, handles the majority of the ball-handling duties with Holiday on the bench. On the season, the former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging 18.1 points, 9 rebounds, and just under 3 assists. In the game against the 76ers on November 21st, Randle would come in for Anthony Davis at center and routinely brought the ball up in half-court sets and then would *attempt* to cover Joel Embiid on the defensive end. Luckily for Randle, defense usually does not matter in this award. It usually goes to the top scorer off the bench hence why players like Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, and Jamal Crawford have all won the award in recent years.
Honorable Mentions: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers and Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Defensive Player of the Year
Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Pelicans
This is always a difficult award to judge because you never know what the voters are looking for. It is usually an award geared towards big men and their blocking stats. Davis does not lead the league in blocks, however. He is fourth behind Hassan Whiteside, Javale McGee, and Myles Turner, but blocks are not always the key determination into a good rim defender. Oftentimes, Whiteside and McGee are out of position because they are chasing blocks and can hurt their teams from being too greedy. Davis is not like Whiteside or McGee; he is an extremely intelligent defender with excellent timing and can defend the perimeter with his quickness. Also an MVP candidate, I think it is more likely that Davis wins DPOY.
Honorable Mentions: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers and Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
Most Improved Player
Zach Lavine, SG, Chicago Bulls
Lavine showed plenty of potential during his tenure in Minnesota prior to the draft night trade that sent him, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markannen to Chicago for Jimmy Butler in 2017. In my opinion, he is the best athlete in the NBA right now and has flashed that athleticism as back-to-back Slam Dunk champion in 2015 and 2016. Prior to tearing his ACL in 2017, he was averaging around 19 PPG in 47 games with his absurd athleticism, perimeter scoring, and streaky shooting. This year, Lavine has been one of the lone bright spots on the Chicago Bulls roster with 25.6 PPG (9th in the NBA), 5.5 RPG, and 4.6 APG. He isn’t shooting a great percentage from deep but I’ll attribute that to being one of two players on the roster capable of creating his own shot. Lavine’s closest competition for this award is Derrick Rose who has turned back the clock during his first full season in Minnesota, but for now, the way Lavine has come back from a torn ACL and is budding as a future star has him locked in as my pick for Most Improved Player.
Honorable Mentions: Derrick Rose, Minnesota Timberwolves and Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Coach of the Year
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Is anybody else watching what the Clippers are doing this year? If not, I will tell you. They are currently the top seed in the Western Conference at 14-6 as a team without a bonafide superstar on their team. The one knock on this team is that they are 6-5 against teams above .500 and 8-1 against teams that are below a .500 record. But in my opinion, what makes a good team is dominating the teams that you should beat while also winning some games that you shouldn’t. Even without a superstar, this is still a very talented Clippers roster. Tobias Harris is a phenomenal scorer at 21.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds as the Clips’ number one option. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a rookie that grows more every game and is a reliable scorer, defender, and playmaker. Danilo Gallinari is healthy and while a terrible defender, is a quality scorer. Lou Williams is still one of the streakiest scorers in the league and one of the top sixth men in the NBA. This team has strong chemistry with a lot of talent and Doc Rivers is tying it all together to build a playoff team in LA for the first time since the Lob City Era.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors and Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
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University of South Carolina ’21