It’s never too early to start debating where this season might end up for individual players. Let’s make some predictions!
Most Valuable Player
The winner of this year’s MVP award will be Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Greek Freak is on a career trajectory that would put him in a tier with some of the greatest to ever do it. His ability to score, defend, rebound, handle the ball, and even play off the ball gets more impressive each and every year. He is a seven-foot physical specimen with a wingspan long enough to cover any part of the floor.
He has been named to the All-NBA Second Team two seasons in a row while playing the small forward position. A position played by some of the game’s brightest superstars; one that includes LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and OKC’s very own, Paul George. Last season, the Greek Freak averaged 26.9 points, 10 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game. The 23-year old superstar needs to improve his three-point shooting, as the floor will be more spaced when he handles the rock. Other than that, there is not a thing he cannot do. His biggest challenge is proving he can lead a team to wins. With Mike Budenholzer leading the way as the new coach and the learning experiences that came from the last two years of first-round exits for Milwaukee, they should be a lock for 50 wins and a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. The sky is the limit for a lot of players, but this kid has already bursted above and beyond.
Who else can win it?
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers: He is arguably the greatest player to ever touch a basketball. He sets new records and precedents every year. What more can you say? A 4-time MVP, 3x NBA Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 12x All-NBA First Team, and eight consecutive Finals appearances, the resume speaks for itself. This year, the pantheon great takes on a new challenge. He took his talents out to Los Angeles and will be the focal point of reviving a storied franchise. If LeBron takes this team of kids and role playing vets to a top four seed while continuing to put up his incredible individual performances, voters will have a tough time swaying away from him. He has not won the award since the 2012-2013 season, but this might be his best opportunity to capture his fifth.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: If Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon had a baby, it would be Joel Embiid. The Process is a brick wall in the paint and he can also spread the floor with a respectable jump shot. In 2017-2018, he finished fourth in the league in blocks. He finished tied for sixth with Enes Kanter in rebounds per game with 11, but played significantly less minutes over the course of the season than three guys who finished ahead of him. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting. The Cameroonian superstar looks to take the 76ers to the top of the east and be the best player on a championship-caliber team. If Embiid can continue posing a multi-faceted dominant force and stay healthy all season while doing so, watch out.
Russell Westbrook: The thunderous energy (yes, I went there) that is unmatched by any point guard in the league looks to average a triple-double for a third straight season. In order to win the MVP award, Russell Westbrook probably has a tougher criteria than the other guys mentioned. First, he will need to lead his team to a top three seed in the Western Conference. Second, he will need to average a triple-double once again and be a top five scorer in the process.
One thing going away is that the narrative of him being a poor teammate that does not get along well with others is dead. One could argue that his performances were downplayed as a result of people looking at him as selfish and aloof. Paul George did not even meet with the Lakers and wasted no time re-signing with the Thunder, so that myth can be laid to rest. Westbrook and George will have unbreakable chemistry that will make them one of the most lethal, dynamic duos in the NBA. Westbrook once again will put up a historic stat-line and lead the way as the best entertainer in the entire league, and that needs to count for something.
Rookie of the Year
The Rookie of The Year Award for the 2018-2019 NBA season will go to Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies. It is surely an outside-the-box pick for many. JJJ will not start to begin, but he will eventually have a green light with his team that no other top-tier rookie is going to have. He plays on a team with no legitimate offensive threat. Mike Conley is a true point guard who can set him up in the PNR and Marc Gasol is the perfect mentor for a young big. He can score, shoot, pass, handle the ball, and defend. It might not be the sexy choice, but JJJ has a lot more potential than people realize.
Who else can win it?
DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix Suns: The stud out of the University of Arizona who was drafted at number one might be the franchise piece the Suns have not had since Steve Nash. With all due respect to Devin Booker who is a blossoming young assassin, DeAndre Ayton must be the man in Phoenix if they want to turn things around. At age 20, his body is already NBA-ready. He can grit and grind with the other bigs in the league. He can score, stretch outside the paint, and he is probably the safe choice for the award.
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks: The Slovenian nineteen-year old is so versatile. He can play every position besides center, and in today’s NBA he might even be able to do that here and there when teams play small. He can handle, shoot, defend, and provide a big spark for another team that needs to be revitalized. The former EuroLeague MVP looks to take the torch from Dirk Nowitzki as the European face of the Dallas Mavericks. His abilities will translate well to the US against NBA competition.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers: The third-year superstar aims to defend his crown...
...(totally a joke)
Defensive Player of the Year
There are so many great defenders to choose from, but the 2018-2019 Defensive Player of the Year will be Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers. Embiid was among the league leaders in rebounds, blocks, and defensive win-shares. Embiid is a tank in the paint with his size, athleticism, and his guts. Defense is more than just skill, it is heart and competitive fervor, both of which are traits of the 24-year old superstar. Embiid absolutely has that dog in him, and he is ready to take that next step (as if he wasn’t already right at the precipice). The Process will see increased minutes and therefore increased statistics. Expect him to start looking like the most dominant force down low that we have seen since Shaq. Finishing second in the vote last year, Joel Embiid will be looking down at everyone else who gets votes this time around.
Who else can win?
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors: The ultimate Swiss-army knife. He is not elite at any one skill, but he is good at just about everything. When it comes to defense, Draymond Green is pesky. He is tenacious. He is stingy. He will cover shooters, bang with the guys under the basket, fight for every loose ball and contest every shot in his general vicinity. He won the award in 2017 after finishing runner-up in both 2015 and 2016. He knows how to cause fits for any ball-handler. It is important to remember that his situation is different than others. He plays on a team where his offense is not needed, so he is enabled to focus solely on defense, a luxury that others do not have. Nonetheless, he will get plenty of votes again.
Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder: In this league, you need wing defenders. Guys who can go out on the perimeter and lock down. Most of today’s superstar players are most effective on the wing, and teams who want to compete better be sure that they can counter. Paul George did that last season by finishing fourth in the voting. He has made back-to-back All-Defensive Second Teams. With Andre Roberson out for the first few months of the season, George has a chance to step up even more and really shine as one of the game’s elites.
Sixth Man of the Year
No team is complete without a leader coming off the bench. For this season, nobody will epitomize that more than Terry Rozier of the Boston Celtics. Rozier got well-deserved recognition in Boston’s postseason run last season with Kyrie Irving inactive due to a knee injury. Rozier displayed his scoring abilities, his ball-handling and playmaking abilities, and even got his own nickname, “Scary Terry.” Whether the name catches on or not, Rozier deserved his shine. He hit big shot after big shot and made Boston fans almost forget about Kyrie...almost. With Irving back at full health, Boston knows they have a scorer off the bench who could start on half the teams in the league, if not more.
Who else can win it?
Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: The second-year scorer for the Lakers was considered the steal of the draft in 2017. As a starter last season, Kozma averaged 16.1 points and 5.1 points. For a team that lacks true shooters, Kuzma will be relied upon to hit big shots late in games if the Lakers see themselves competing with the elites. LeBron James has taken a liking to the former Ute. He will play a big role in the growth of Kuzma and he will put him in position to maximize his impact on games. Kuzma will likely see more minutes than a lot of second-string players in the league and will see inflated stats.
Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder: Schroder has a lot of Westbrook-like traits. He plays with intense ferocity. He plays at 100 mph on any night whether its primetime against Golden State or a random Tuesday night in Sacramento. He is the ideal backup for the the former MVP. He has a contagious energy that will lift up the team, preventing any major fall off whenever Westbrook needs a breather. Schroder played out of his mind in round one against the Washington Wizards in the 2017 postseason. He averaged 24.7 points and 7.7 assists while going toe-to-toe with proven star, John Wall.
Coach of the Year
The man who should have taken home this award last season will leave nothing on the table as he makes amends for it this time around. Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics is a genius. Some people call it an overreaction to crown a ringless coach as the best in the business, but as of right now, he is doing a better job than Gregg Popovich. Stevens is a wizard when it comes to both defensive rotations and offensive schemes. He has his team prepared for every game and they will always play their hearts out for him. This season, he will have the talent and the depth to make a masterpiece. The Celtics are the popular pick to win the East, and Stevens will play a big role in that.
Who else can win it?
Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks: The former coach of the Atlanta Hawks who comes from Popovich’s coaching tree is expected to raise the Bucks to new heights. The one thing that hoop heads have been robbed of over the last few years is watching the Greek Freak win games. A lot of that blame can go to the poor coaching the team has had up to this point. Budenholzer took a Hawks team with no true superstar to 60 wins and the Eastern Conference Finals in his first year in Atlanta back in 2015. The same magic is expected to travel to Milwaukee as he has an all-time talent to work with as his go-to guy.
LeBron Ja... Luke Walton, Los Angeles Lakers: Walton is presented with a tough task this year. The Lakers are full of new faces and Walton will have to be on his A-game to assist in the chemistry development and distribution of minutes. Walton coached under Steve Kerr before arriving Los Angeles and has learned a lot coming from the winning organization by the Bay. He did well last year as the team was spear-headed by two rookies and a second-year player. Walton and the Lakers will be under a big microscope this year. Magic Johnson believes in him and so did LeBron James, two of the smartest basketball minds to walk the planet. He is ready to show he can lead a winning basketball team.
Honorable mentions: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz; Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers; Dwayne Casey, Detroit Pistons
What do you think? Am I off? Let’s debate!