The NBA season is officially five weeks away from tipping off and since players don't report for training camp until September 27, there isn't a whole lot of news to cover. With most of the teams in the league entering the season with revamped rosters, there isn't too much certainty and it's hard to pinpoint what's going to go down in the Association this year. That being said, I'm going to make a few predictions about awards that will be handed out in June 2020, so this is very much a speculative piece. I'll probably do an update around mid-season; it'll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.
Most Valuable Player
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
2018-19 stats (per game): 56 G, 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.4 blocks, 1.6 steals, 51.7% FG, 33.1% 3FG, 79.4% FT, 30.3 PER
After becoming the most notable, and high-profile, addition that any team made in the offseason, Anthony Davis is primed to take the league by storm in his first year with the Lakers. Davis spent the first seven years of his career with the New Orleans Pelicans and only appeared in the playoffs twice, making it out of the first-round once (2018). The expectations for Davis have always been sky-high since he came out of Kentucky in 2012, but after being stuck in a football-dominated market surrounded by mostly mediocre rosters, this is the first season in which AD can actually compete for a championship.
The biggest difference for Davis is the roster around him. LeBron James is still the best player in the league (yeah, I said it) and after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2004 due to an injury-shortened season and front office drama, he's going to be back with a vengeance. Even though he only appeared in 55 games, LeBron still managed to put up 27-8-8 a game, which is insane for a player entering his 17th season. Because Davis is still only 26 and has established himself as one of the most lethal scorers in the game, I expect his PPG to rise to near-or-above 30 per game. Don't get it twisted, the Lakers are still LeBron's team, but at 34-years-old he's going to be setting up Davis to take the reins. Hell, I'll even make this prediction while I'm at it: this is going to be the first season that LeBron averages over 10 assists per game. With Davis able to score from just about anywhere on the floor, it'll open up the space for LeBron to truly take over as point guard and set his team up to score, especially since the Lakers addressed their shooting woes this summer.
Offense aside, Davis is better-known for his ability to shut teams down. He's always been hailed as a defensive monster and in recent weeks revealed his desire to win Defensive Player of the Year. Davis averages 2.4 blocks per game for his career and in a defensive system ran by new head coach Frank Vogel, I'm thinking Davis gets at least 3 blocks a night and leads one of the best defenses in the league. LeBron is a beast on D when he wants to be and a combo of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard shouldn't be written off.
Even though they missed the playoffs last year, the Lakers are very much in the hunt for contention this season. I expect LeBron's name to pop up in the MVP conversation but at the end of the day AD is going to be the one to bring it home. His assertion into the lineup will prove to be woeful for other teams on both ends of the floor and after putting up an expected-freakish stat-line, Davis will take home the first of potentially multiple MVP awards.
Other candidates: Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard
Defensive Player of the Year
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
2018-19 stats (per game): 81 G, 15.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.3 blocks, 66.9% FG, 63.6% FT, 24.6 PER
I wanted to pick players who hadn't won these awards previously or could be considered a bit "outside-the-box", but I can't think of a better candidate for DPOY than Rudy Gobert. He's won the award the last two seasons and I wouldn't be shocked if he earned his third after this year. The Utah Jazz quietly became one of the most improved teams in the league this offseason and with the additions of Mike Conley, Ed Davis, and Bojan Bogdanovic, they've become even better defensively.
As the anchor of one of the best defenses in the league, Gobert has cemented himself as one of, if not the best, defensive player in the league. The Jazz are coming into the season with higher-than-usual expectations and if they can somehow improve on their already-stellar defense, Gobert should easily take home the award again. Bringing Mike Conley on board will boost Utah's perimeter defense, leaving Gobert to truly be the man in the middle blocking every shot put up against him.
There will surely be a few candidates to emerge and attempt to dethrone Gobert as the King of Defense in the NBA, but the dominant Frenchman will remain at the top until further notice.
Other candidates: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Paul George
Sixth Man of the Year
Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
2018-19 stats (per game): 51 G, 18.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 48.2% FG, 37.0% 3FG. 85.6% FT, 19.5 PER
This is all based on health. If Derrick Rose can stay on the court, he can easily win Sixth Man of the Year. He easily could've last year with his official comeback season if he hadn't been limited to 51 games. Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey said that there will be points throughout the season in which they rest Rose to keep him fresh for the playoffs, so if he can play in around 60-65 games, he can add another award to the trophy case.
Last season was a sigh of relief for Rose fans. After never being able to find consistency post-ACL injury, he finally was able to get comfortable and start to get back to performing at a high-level. Rose become a reliable shooter for the first time in his career, posting a career-best 37.0% from beyond the arc. For a Pistons team that relied primarily on Blake Griffin for scoring last season, Rose will be a welcomed addition as his job will be to put the ball in the basket with minor playmaking responsibilities.
Detroit doesn't have a super deep team, but playing in the Eastern Conference helps. With a thin lineup of teams, the Pistons could see themselves back in the playoffs for consecutive years following a first-round sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks last season. If Rose can keep his production at-or-above the same level as last year while aiding the Pistons on their path to the playoffs, 6MOY is an extremely achievable accolade.
Other candidates: Lou Williams, Fred VanVleet, Domantas Sabonis
Most Improved Player
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
2018-19 stats (per game): 47 G, 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 40.6% FG, 32.9% 3FG, 41.7% FT, 11.7 PER
I'm still high on Lonzo Ball. His shooting woes are well-documented and injuries are a point of concern, but I'm still convinced that he'll be an All-Star, one day. The above numbers don't really show it, and from an outsider's perspective it might seem crazy, but Lonzo was one of the most important players on the Lakers last season. Once he went down with an ankle injury in February, it was just another misstep in LA's disappointing first year with LeBron. The Lakers struggled mightily in his, and multiple others, absence and there were more question marks than answers when it was all said and done.
It's been a bumpy road for Lonzo's entire career, primarily because of all the media attention he's commanded since the time he was in high school. Los Angeles is one of the two largest markets in the NBA and with the Lakers' future at one point riding on Lonzo's shoulder, he was placed under a microscope from the start. After being included in the Anthony Davis trade this summer, Lonzo has a fresh start with a highly-athletic, young roster in New Orleans. The media circus will surely follow but Zion Williamson is now the focus, leaving Lonzo space to figure it all out.
One of the primary benefactors for Zo is the roster around him. Assuming he'll be starting alongside Jrue Holiday in the backcourt, their tandem will lockdown opposing offenses every night and both could wind up in All-Defensive talks. The praise was quiet at times, but it felt as if Lonzo was starting to gain traction in the "one of the best defensive guards in the league" conversation. If he can stay on the court, I expect the support to only grow louder.
People love to knock Lonzo's offensive abilities because he's not a great scorer, so it's good for him that he's not going to have to focus on scoring, like, at all. Zion, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, JJ Redick, and Jahlil Okafor will all be higher in the scoring pecking order and it's for the best. With a multitude of capable scorers around him, Lonzo will be able to toss lobs and throw no-look passes into the corner to rack up assists and keep the offense moving. The Pelicans played at one of the highest paces in the league last season, so it would only make sense for them to ramp it up even more and play the fastest in the league. The expectations aren't super high right now, why not put the pedal to the metal and see how fun they can make it?
If Lonzo stays healthy and adjusts to a new system in New Orleans, 2019-20 will be the breakout season for him. It wouldn't be crazy to assume that Lonzo will start putting up prime-Rajon Rondo stat-lines: around 10-11 points and assists. The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams entering the season; keep an eye on the Smoothie King Arena. lol.
Other candidates: Bam Adebayo, Jaylen Brown, Mitchell Robinson
Rookie of the Year
Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks
2018-19 stats (per game at Duke): 36 G, 13.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks, 35.6% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 77.2% FT
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the most devout follower of college basketball. I'll watch it and have a fairly loose knowledge of what's going on so I can get invested in March Madness, but I put most of my focus into the NBA. Doing a podcast with Ralph, aka the Blue Devil with an afro, during the height of Zion-madness gave me insight into his favorite team that featured three five-star prospects: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish. All three were taken within the first ten picks of this summer's draft and the expectations are high. It feels like a cop out to pick Zion for ROY and my guess is R.J. will have a somewhat-tough time adjusting to the continuous shit-show that is Knicks basketball, so why not go with the guy who is joining a super exciting team.
The Atlanta Hawks have a bright future and Cam Reddish is one of the reasons why. In addition to Reddish, the Hawks have Trae Young, John Collins, De'Andre Hunter, and Kevin Huerter to fill out their youthful core and made a few veteran additions in the offseason. Evan Turner, Jabari Parker, Allan Crabbe, and Chandler Parsons have all been in the league for a while and can give insight to the little birds as they turn into full-fledged hawks. Jesus, ignore that I said that. Also, Alex Len, I didn't forget about you. It's your time to shine.
Despite his inefficiencies from the field in his lone season at Duke, Reddish was regarded as a highly-skilled shooter entering the draft. With the amount of shooters on Atlanta's roster, Reddish will be able to thrive as the offense will surely allow him multiple open looks a game. Point guard Trae Young averaged 8.1 assists per game in his rookie season and as he continues to adjust to running an NBA offense, he can surely get close to or hit double-digit assists this season.
Atlanta may not be a playoff team just yet, but they will be. One thing's for sure, the Hawks are going to be one of most exciting teams to watch on offense this season and Reddish is going to make his case for Rookie of the Year from the start. Does he have a genuine shot of winning the award? Maybe; for the sake of my predictions, hopefully. The award is usually given to the rookie with the highest scoring average, so Reddish better start hitting threes on opening night.
Other candidates: Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, R.J. Barrett