NBA Awards Predictions For 2017-18
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the NBA MVP odds and favorites heading into the 2017-18 season. It’s set to be a very interesting year and several of the awards are going to be pretty tough to figure out, with all the superteams clouding the MVP field, and a very talented group of rookies battling for the class’s top honor. On the eve of the NBA season, here’s a look at who will bring home all the NBA regular season hardware this year.
MVP: Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
Russell Westbrook’s case for a second-straight MVP took a hit as he got some new All-Star teammates in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony while Chris Paul joined forces with MVP runner-up James Harden. In Golden State, Durant and Curry could split votes and make it tougher for either of them to bring home the award. Enter Kawhi Leonard. Sure, he has former All-Stars on his team in LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Pau Gasol (the latter two of which are certainly past their prime) but make no mistake, Leonard is far and away the best player on his team. He’s the engine that makes the Spurs offense go and the focal point of the team’s defense and as Kawhi goes, so do the Spurs.
LeBron James, now without Kyrie Irving and without Isaiah Thomas for at least the early part of the season, is Leonard’s main competition for the award. However, the Cavaliers could get off to a slow start after adding several new pieces to their roster and if LeBron sits several games, Cleveland’s record and standing in the East could suffer as a result. If Leonard leads the Spurs to a better record in a tougher Western Conference, expect last year’s third place finisher to jump to the top of the MVP ballot.
Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks
This award could end up being a nightmare for voters to decide. With Lonzo Ball’s potential to revive the Lakers, the return of last year’s number 1 pick, Ben Simmons, along with Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson, Markelle Fultz, and a host of other talented exciting rookies entering the league, there’s a wide range of outcomes for how the year could play out for this rookie class. I’m going with Dennis Smith Jr., the explosive point guard out of NC State.
In Dallas, Smith will be handed the keys to the starting point guard spot, and in turn, the franchise, from day one. That kind of freedom will allow him a chance to rack up big point and assist numbers early. Sure, there should be a good deal of growing pains, mistakes, and turnovers as he adjusts to the NBA level, he should only get better as the season goes on and he learns from his mistakes. Smith’s rookie of the year case is also bolstered by the situation and system in place around him in Dallas. Rick Carlisle’s offense should allow Smith to both get out in transition and run a steady diet of pick-and-rolls, areas in which he excelled in college. He’ll also benefit from the great floor spacing that teammates Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, and Harrison Barnes can provide.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Jazz
Gobert could very well have won this award last year after he led a Jazz defensive unit that proved to be one of the best in the league this year. He’s become an elite force on the defensive end as one of the league’s premier shot blockers and he’s a terror in the pick-and-roll. The excellence of Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green on the perimeter has overshadowed Gobert’s work on the defensive end the past several years. After finishing second in voting last year, Gobert will take home the Defensive Player of the Year Award, which been dominated by big men prior to the past couple years.
Most Improved Player: Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
One of my main rules for this award is that it shouldn’t go to a former top-10 pick. While guys can surely make vast jumps after slower starts to their careers, players picked that high are expected to be great players sooner or later in their careers. For that reason, you won’t see me picking guys like Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, or Kristaps Porzingis.
The Denver Nuggets got an absolute steal when they got Nikola Jokic with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft. At 6’10” Jokic has shown that he’s one of the best passers in the NBA since he entered the league in 2015. Jokic was moved around a lot last season. After starting the year alongside Jusuf Nurkic (an awkward fit), Jokic was moved to the bench. After Nurkic was traded in February, Jokic was moved back into the starting lineup and looked like a superstar in the making as he led a Nuggets team that led the league in offensive rating and fell just short of the playoffs. He averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists and those numbers could take another leap with Jokic now in a consistent role as the focal point of Denver’s offense. If Jokic can lead the Nuggets ti the playoffs after finishing second in MIP voting last year, he should take home the Most Improved Player Award.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Clippers
Lou Williams could’ve brought home this award last year but his former teammate Eric Gordon ended up bringing home the award on a deep Rockets team. Now back in L.A., this time with the Clippers, Williams is a member of yet another deep and talented bench but he’s undoubtedly the best scorer among the bunch. Just about any time he’s on the floor he’ll be the designated scorer and if he can come near last year’s efficiency from his stint on the Lakers (18.6 ppg, 44% FG, 38.5% 3P, 88.4% FT) he could be well on his way to his second career Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Celtics
This offseason, the Celtics experienced far more turnover than you’d expect to see from a 53-win team that finished first in their conference. The flurry of trades and signings has left the Celtics with just four returning player’s from last year’s Eastern Conference runner-up. Coach Brad Stevens will also have to deal with a challenge he hasn’t been presented with to this point in his NBA coaching career: dealing with a star of Kyrie Irving’s caliber. All these factors have led many to predict that the Celtics could get off to a slow start this season and finish with less wins than they did last year. If Stevens can lead the Celtics to a 1-seed in the East and field an upper-tier defense after losing Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, he should fins himself in the driver’s seat for his first Coach of the Year award.