Preseason predictions for any year-end award reflect expectations and optimism more than reality. Few experts accurately predict every award, which is what makes sports so exciting, there is always an element of surprise–the underdog that comes out of nowhere and captures the imagination and the hardware.
Coach of the Year-Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens has quickly become one of the best coaches in the game and this year, his Celtics will be too good to pass him over again. Ty Lue is viewed as a figure head, as most people view Lebron as the one calling the shots in Cleveland, so he won’t get his due. Steve Kerr won the award last year. Of all of the end-of-year awards, this one if the toughest to win twice in a row–it’s never happened, so Kerr is out of consideration. That leaves Stevens, Quinn Snyder, and Billy Donovan as my top 3 with Stevens edging out the others because his team will have the best record of the three.
Rookie of the Year– Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Embiid has waited his turn and paid his dues and now it is time to show the world what two full seasons and working out with an NBA team will do for your learning curve. It’s easy to forget that Embiid was drawing comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon when he was drafted. This season Embiid will remind us all why. However, the Rookie of the Year award will go to Brandon Ingram because of his scoring ability. That is what voters tend to care about and Ingram will have plenty of opportunities to shoot the ball. That pushes him to the top of my list, even though Embiid will be the top rookie.
Most Improved Player– Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
When trying to predict who the next Most Improved Player Award will go to, you look for a player with an opportunity to have an increased role with increased minutes due to a change in the team’s dynamic or make-up. Last year I predicted that it would be Giannis Antetokounmpo who ended up finishing 3rd to C.J. McCollum and Kemba Walker. The last three winners of the award averaged 14 points one season and over 20 the next. For this reason, I am going with Antetokounmpo’s teammate and this year the award is going to go to Jabari Parker. After averaging a modest 14.1/5.2/1.7 last year, Jabari will be asked to step up and take more of the offensive load, due to the injury to Kris Middleton. Parker has shown his explosion this pre-season and looks to be fully recovered from his ACL surgery his rookie year. I see Parker bumping his scoring average to above 20 this season, with a minor bump in his rebounding and assist numbers as well.
The deepest team in the NBA is the Utah Jazz, so it should surprise no one that the 6th Man Award will go to the Jazz’s 6th man. While it is difficult to tell exactly who Quinn Snyder will start at the wing positions, it will likely be Rodney Hood or Joe Johnson that will win this Award. While both will likely start at the beginning of the season (due to Gordon Hayward’s finger injury), one will end up coming off the bench. Both are above average scorers in isolation and in the pick-and-roll and scoring is what tends to win this award. Only 4 winners have averaged less than 13 points per game since they began this award in 1982-83. Whether Hood or Johnson, this will be the first time a Jazz player has won the 6th Man Award. Zach Randolph will also get some consideration as a scorer off the Memphis bench.
I know the guy who has won the last two DPOY Awards is a boring pick, but I just do not see anyone dethroning him this year. The only concern is voter-fatigue and whether voters will want to vote for someone else because they are just tired of voting for the same guy every year. Three straight DPOY would not be unprecedented, Dwight Howard won three straight for Orlando from 2008-09 thru 2010-11, the only player to win three straight. Avery Bradley and Rudy Gobert will round out the top 3.
Perhaps no player is more motivated coming into this season that Durant. The hero turned villain will spend the season winning his critics over. The Warriors offense was designed for him and with so many offensive weapons on that roster, there is no way that teams will be able to cheat on any of them. Curry, Thompson, and Green will provide lots of open shots and single coverage for Durant, which is bad news for defenses. Durant will not lead the league in scoring, that honor will go to Harden or Westbrook (because they have less help), but when the Warriors are sitting with the top record in the NBA at the end of the season and Durant proves to have been the best player on that team, he will win the MVP in another tight race. Westbrook, Harden, James, and Leonard will round out the top 5 in the voting.