Last October, what seems like eons ago, I made some predictions a week into the National Basketball Association (NBA) season on who would win each regular season award: Most Valuable Player (MVP), Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), Most Improved Player (MIP) and so on.
With the wisdom of hindsight and the announcement that all annual awards will be based on the regular season through March 11, the date of the shutdown, I decided to remake my predictions.
As a disclaimer, I do not really have an objective criteria for my new predictions. Multiple factors will be considered, from the hard numbers of stats and team records to more subjective things like media bias and player arcs. That being said, I do intend on getting as many picks right as possible.
At the risk of sounding full of myself, I am very pleased to say that I will be sticking with the prediction I made earlier in the season for Rookie of the Year: Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant.
No other rookie really comes close statistically other than New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who has only played in 19 games compared to Morant’s 59 games.
The numbers make it easy: Morant is averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game while shooting an efficient 49 percent from the field and leading his team to the eighth seed in a competitive Western Conference.
But no set of numbers can do justice to how exciting Morant is to watch. Morant is a no-brainer pick.
The next award is a bit trickier. For Most Improved, I believe Pelicans small forward Brandon Ingram deserves to win.
Miami Heat power forward Bam Adebayo has a strong case, as he essentially doubled his production from last season, earning his first All-Star nod and serving as an integral part to the Heat’s success this season.
However, for this award in particular, I think individual stats should take precedence over contribution to team success.
Sure, Ingram still has a shot to take the Pelicans to the playoffs, but what makes him worthy for MIP is his leap in efficiency.
Ingram currently shoots a tick under 51 percent from the field and 86 percent from the free throw line. His free throw percentage is over 17 percentage points higher than his next best season average, all while averaging a career-high in free throw attempts.
Ingram has also become a threat from the three-point line, averaging 4.5 more three-point attempts than last year but shooting five percentage points higher at 38.7 percent.
His increase in efficiency has translated to 24.3 points per game, along with career highs in assists and rebounds at 4.3 and 6.3, respectively.
What is most impressive is that Ingram has been putting up these big numbers after battling a blood clot in his shoulder, which prematurely ended his season last year. Excelling through physical adversity, Brandon Ingram deserves this award.
I predict that Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams’ Sixth Man of the Year streak will end this year.
Still an invaluable component to his team, Williams’ point average took a slight dip from last year while his shooting numbers and his rebound and assist totals have hovered around the same. Media voter fatigue may very well play a role, and I think Williams would have had to have been more productive to overcome that fatigue and win for the third year in a row.
Oklahoma City Thunder combo guard Dennis Schröder is most deserving for this award. He averages 19 points and four assists per game on a Thunder squad that was expected to be a lottery team after trading away franchise cornerstone Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for an aging, expensive Chris Paul.
Paul has been the leader for the Thunder this year, but his play is greatly complimented by Schröder. The three point guard lineup of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Paul and Schröder has created matchup nightmares for teams during crunch time and is an important reason why the Thunder currently hold the fifth seed. Schröder should get the nod for helping his team overcome expectations and producing at the level of a starter.
The last two awards — DPOY and MVP — should go to the same player: Milwaukee Bucks superstar and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Winning both of these awards would put Antetokounmpo on a legendary shortlist of players who have won DPOY and MVP in the same year; only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon have done it.
Looking at Antetokounmpo’s stats alone is sufficient for his case for both trophies.
He is number one in defensive rating, defensive win shares, defensive box plus/minus and total defensive rebounds. If that just sounds like jargon, know that Antetokounmpo has led a defense that is a big part of why the Bucks are the number one seed in the East.
Offensively, Antetokounmpo is averaging two more points than he did in last year’s MVP campaign at nearly 30 points per game, while also keeping most of his efficiency and even raising his three point percentage.
The pair of Los Angeles Lakers in Anthony Davis and LeBron James might stand in the way for Antetokounmpo.
Davis is second behind Antetokounmpo in defensive rating and in the top five for defensive box plus/minus; he could honestly win the award for best defensive player without stirring much controversy.
James also makes a compelling case for MVP; 25 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds is impressive for any player, let alone one that is in his 17th season.
The Lakers are also championship favorites, and that is in no small part to James’ and Davis’ efforts.
But for me, the cases are too strong for Antetokounmpo, who is far and away the best player on the team with the best regular-season record.
Aside from the player awards, Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors should win Coach of the Year.
Even the most optimistic preseason power rankings dismissed the Raptors from being championship contenders again after losing their Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Yet the defending champions persisted, and they currently sit at the number two spot in the East thanks to Nurse’s game plans and defensive schemes.
So that marks the conclusion of my new predictions. With the NBA bubble up and running in Orlando, all but seeding is set for the rest of the season to play out. I applaud the move not to include the bubble games in consideration for these awards; there is no reason for players to make their final push for an award in the final eight regular season games after having not played for the past four and a half months.
As the season inches closer to its return, my only two hopes aside from the return actually happening is for my predictions to hold up and for the NBA to get rid of the annual summer awards show and start announcing individual awards once the regular season ends, like it used to do.