National Basketball Association basketball is fully underway, with opening night putting on compelling games, like the defending champions Milwaukee Bucks taking on title favorites the Brooklyn Nets, as well as The Los Angeles Lakers taking on the Golden State Warriors.
Now that we have been able to see some of the NBA’s biggest stars playing in their first games of the season, it is time to make some predictions for postseason honors.
Rookie of the Year: This year’s rookie draft class is a hefty one. From the Detroit Piston’s number one overall pick in Cade Cunningham to sleeper picks like Miles McBride of the New York Knicks, this class has a plethora of talented players. Cunningham is probably the most highly touted prospect coming into the league but, with fellow Piston Jerami Grant expected to take another step forward this season, Cunningham may not get the usage he needs to compete with some other rookies.
Cleveland Cavaliers center Evan Mobley is in a similar situation as Cunningham, being one of, if not the best, big man in the draft. What I see hurting Mobley this season is the Cavs’ guard tandem of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland both taking a step in scoring. Mobley will be competing for rebounds with fellow starters Jarret Allen and Lauri Markkanen, all three of whom stand over seven feet tall.
One dark horse pick for rookie of the year that many people seem to be overlooking is Sacramento Kings pick Davion Mitchel. Mitchel is arguably the best on ball defender in this draft, and in the Kings season opener against the Portland Trailblazers, Mitchel was able to lock down star guard Damian Lillard, allowing only 20 points on 8/24 field goals. Keeping all this in mind, the race for rookie of the year is really wide open, but the safest bet would be on Cade Cunningham.
Most Improved Player: This is arguably the hardest award to predict because, as fans, we don’t see all the work that goes into the offseason. With that being said, there are still some educated guesses worth taking. Two possible candidates who had incredible games on opening night are Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics and Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies. Jaylen Brown had a career high in points in his season opener which ended with a loss in double overtime to the New York Knicks. Although Brown wasn’t able to secure the win, he was the clear scorer for the team while Jayson Tatum was having an off night shooting. Although it is unlikely that Brown becomes the number one option over Tatum, he should be receiving an uptick in offensive usage with the loss of players like Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.
As for Ja Morant, in his third year in the league everyone is expecting big things, possibly even his first all star appearance. Morant is the clear future of the Grizzlies franchise, and it looks like it will be a bright future the way he has played since being in the league. Morant first seized the leagues gaze, by being the number two pick behind Zion Williamson, but then stole the show with his insane highlight plays.
Now, scoring 36 points on over 50 percent shooting in the season opener, the sky’s the limit for this young star as he could take a step closer this season. Averaging just under 20 points per game last season it wouldn’t be a far fetched idea for Morant to increase that to around 25. Now, considering that last season the Grizzlies were able to make playoffs while dealing with key injuries throughout the season, and Morant is set to turn up his play this season, Morant is absolutely poised to win the most improved player award.
One pick going under the radar is Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers. A lot of uncertainty surrounds Simmons this season with no one knowing where or if he will even play this season. If Simmons can get a trade to a weaker team, it is possible that he proves to the haters that he does not need a jump shot. With his size, vision, handling and defense he is already a very good player and it seems like many of his issues could have stemmed from being on this Philadelphia 76ers squad. If Simmons does fix his situation he could be a viable candidate for more than just the most improved player award.
Defensive Player of the Year: As stated earlier, Ben Simmons’ award chances completely depend on if and where he plays this season. Regardless of where he plays, as long as Simmons is on the court, he will be a contender for defensive player of the year. His ability to guard the one-five is almost unmatched in the league.
Other candidates for the DPOY are familiar faces, such as Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers, Giannis Antetoukounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz. Gobert already has three DPOY awards throughout his career and it’s because of this that I don’t believe he will win again. The politics in these awards can often outweigh the actual accomplishments of the players. Two players in history have earned four DPOY awards, Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutumbo; I simply do not believe the NBA will put Gobert on their level accolade wise, and so he may be snubbed this year.
Now, between Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetoukounmpo, there is really no wrong answer which will ultimately narrow it down to preference. My pick would be Giannis.
Most Valuable Player: Now it is time to predict who the best player of the regular season will be. Players like Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetoukounmpo and Luka Doncic are the favorites this season, all for different reasons that I will outline now.
Kevin Durant is simply the best basketball player in the world right now. As possibly the greatest scorer of all time, there is no weakness in Durant’s game. The two main things that will deter Durant’s MVP campaign are load management and James Harden. No one should be expecting Durant to play all 82 games this season but it really just depends how many of those games he will play. James Harden on the other hand will play in most of the games this season, and will be taking some usage away from Durant.
Steph Curry is the greatest shooter of all time, and in the conversation for the greatest point guard of all time. He has the ability to take any game over at any point by shooting from the logo at a high clip. Many believed Curry deserved the MVP award last season, but with missing playoffs, he all but knocked himself out. This season, with the return of splash brother Klay Thomson, making the playoffs shouldn’t be a problem. With Thompson’s return there will be less opportunity to double-team Curry.
Antetoukounmpo is the reigning finals MVP, and has been considered the most dominant player in the league right now. His presence in the paint is overwhelming, and while he is able to accumulate points on the same scale as those mentioned above, what separates Giannis from the pack is his defense. Giannis is without-doubt the best defender in the group, being the only one to win a DPOY and being younger.
Finally, Doncic is simply the future of the league. He’s the youngest of the group and leaves viewers speechless on a regular basis. He can score from anywhere and is only expected to get better. His MVP contention could come down to one single factor: the signing of coach Jason Kidd after Rick Carlisle’s resignation. Under Carlisle’s system, the Mavericks’ offense revolved around Doncic. Now, with Kidd at the helm, it will be interesting to see how that affects Doncic’s game. Although those are the favorites for the MVP award, one name left off that should be mentioned is Nikola Jokic.
Jokic won the MVP award last season averaging 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 26 points. The reason he is left off that list is because I simply believe the names mentioned above will have better statistical seasons. All the names mentioned are likely to average near 30 points, as they have in most recent seasons. With Jammal Murray missing an undisclosed amount of time due to injury, it is expected that teammate Michael Porter Jr. will take a step forward to fill that gap, and considering Jokic’s primary function is as a facilitator, it is unclear how that will end.
Considering the unknown scheme that the Dallas Mavericks will be running this season and the load management that will likely affect Kevin Durant, the safest options for MVP this season are Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Giannis Antetoukounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks.