Most Valuable Player
- LeBron James
- James Harden
- Kawhi Leonard
This year’s MVP race is far more wide open then the 2016-17 race. Heading into last season, everyone knew that Russell Westbrook would be a finalist for the award and likely be the winner.
Now, both Westbrook and James Harden have added ball-dominant stars to their roster. Despite the addition of Chris Paul to the Rockets, I still see Harden having a fantastic season.
His performance in the first game of the season, against Golden State nonetheless, only reiterated the fact that Harden is one of the most gifted play makers in the league.
Paul also suffered a knee injury in the first game, and could be out for several weeks. This will give Haden another chance to step up and play like an MVP.
Nonetheless, I still see Paul taking a more limited role on this team, and letting Harden run the show like he did last year.
Kawhi Leonard is a player who is on the cusp of winning his first regular season MVP award. If it wasn’t for his lingering leg injury from last season, I would have Kawhi as my winner.
Instead, I see him having another solid season, but not getting to that other level. Leonard and the Spurs will likely coast to another 50-plus win season, but I still see Leonard outside the series conversation for the award.
When it comes to LeBron James, you pretty much know what you’re getting at this point in his career. He’s going to average somewhere around 27-8-8, and at times look like he isn’t even trying.
With the devastating injury that Gordon Hayward suffered in the first game, it seems like James and the Cavs will coast to 50 wins or so and the one seed.
Unless someone like Harden, Leonard, Durant, or even Giannis can step up in a major way, it seems like all narratives are pointing towards James winning his fifth MVP. At this point, the only thing that could stop James is himself.
Will he “mail in” the regular season in order to preserve energy for the playoffs? It’s hard to tell.
James certainly has less offense help than last year, at least until Isaiah Thomas returns. This will likely help James earn him the, “Where would this team be if not for James,” narrative. You also have the “Kyrie Irving revenge tour,” possibility which would only make James’ case even stronger.
The thing that makes James such an intriguing candidate is that he can coast to a 26-9-9 stat-line like he did in 2016-17. He is the only player I’ve ever seen that can win an MVP without even trying.
All speculation aside, LeBron is the best player in the league by a large margin, and that’s his most convincing case for MVP.
Defensive Player of the Year
- Draymond Green
- Rudy Gobert
- Kawhi Leonard
Last year’s DPOY race came down to three candidates, and I see no reason to think Green, Gobert and Leonard will not be the finalists again this year.
Most will probably be surprised to see Kawhi Leonard, the best wing-defender in the league, coming in third. I am hesitant to grant Leonard the award because there are a lot of unknowns associated with his leg injury.
We know that the Spurs will take no chances when it comes to resting guys or not. Will Kawhi play over or under 65 games? The jury is still out, but I’d lean towards the under.
Rudy Gobert will be in the DPOY conversation yet again, but I don’t see him getting over the hump this year. The Jazz will not have as a successful a year as the last, but I still see them as a five to eight seed in the West.
What made Gobert’s DPOY case last season so strong was the team defense of the Jazz last season. He was the anchor, and many people believed he deserved the award because of how important he was to that team.
The main reason I have Draymond winning his second DPOY Award, is because of his defensive versatility. It’s what allows the Warriors to play their particular style of basketball.
Seeing how Draymond played in the first game of the season was only more reason to like his chances at back-to-back DPOY awards. He is the backbone of the team, and makes game changing plays on a consistent basis.
Because Draymond can legitimately guard five positions, this allows the Warriors to switch all screens and play the positionless basketball which makes them the offensive power house that they are.
Rookie of the Year
- Ben Simmons
- Jayson Tatum
Ben Simmons seems like the obvious pick for ROY, but Jayson Tatum will make some noise, especially after the injury to Gordon Hayward.
In his first game, Tatum looked very nervous in the first-half. His very first NBA shot was blocked out of bounds by LeBron, which I’m sure rattled him a bit. On top of that, seeing your fellow teammate dislocate his ankle won’t help.
Despite the tough start, Tatum was able to come out and have a solid second-half, finishing the game with 14 points and 10 boards. Those numbers will only increase, as the C’s will have to adjust their offensive game plan now that Hayward’s injury appears to be season-ending.
Tatum already had the offensive tools to be an immediate impact offensive player, and although this injury is no-doubt an awful situation, it will at least allow the Tatum to spread his wings in his rookie year.
On the contrary, Simmons is more prepared than any other rookie heading into the 2017-18 season. He is more physically developed, not to mention the fact that having the opportunity to build chemistry with teammates will give him a nice advantage over other first year players.
Watching Simmons move the ball in the preseason reminds you why he was the number one overall pick in 2016. His ability to see the floor and find unique passing lanes is similar to that of other stars like LeBron James.
He’s also fantastic at finishing around the rim and dominating the glass. Yes, Simmons doesn’t have a good jump-shot, but he will have an impressive rookie season by making a difference with his physicality and basketball IQ.
Sixth-man of the Year
- Eric Gordon
- Marcus Smart
At this point you’re probably rolling your eyes at my Boston Celtics bias, but skinny Marcus Smart can play basketball and make winning plays.
Smart looked great in preseason and was noticably quicker and had what looked like an improved jump shot.
Smart has always been an underrated player in the league and really fulfills the cliché of “guy that makes winning plays.” Unless he gets promoted to a starting spot, he will have a huge roll off the bench and will play some crucial crunch times minutes.
He wil also be responsible for picking up the other team’s best guard for large portions of the game, a job that Avery Bradley was responsible for, prior to his trade to Detroit.
Assuming he can stay in shape, which he’s had some trouble with in the past, Smart will be well improved and will be in the running for the award.
Eric Gordon, the 2016-17 sixth man of the year recepient, is the favorite heading into this season.
Gordon looked phenomenal in game one against the Warriors, and was extremely aggressive on offense.
With the injury to Chris Paul, the Rockets will need some offensive help.
Gordon will have another phenomenal shooting season in Mike DeAntonio’s “threes and layups” offense.
Most Improved Player
- Deangelo Russell
- Jaylen Brown
Most improved player is the hardest award to predict, because the winner usually comes out of nowhere. Yes, I’m cheating because I was able to watch Deangelo Russell and Jaylen Brown score 30 and 25 respectively, on their opening nights.
After Hayward went down, Brown stepped up offensively. He scored a team-high 25 points, while simultaneously guarding LeBron James.
Crowder’s move to the Cavs put Brown next-in-line to guard the other team’s best forward. Now with the Hayward injury, Brown will have to step up offensively as well.
Deangelo Russell is one of the most intriguing players heading into this season. In previous years, his off-the-court antics dominated the narrative surrounding him.
Coming out of college, Russell had a chance to be the next James Harden; a score first guard who could also become a great playmaker.
Now that he’s a member of the Brooklyn Nets, perhaps he can finally show his offensive tools on a team that will allow him more freedom than the Lakers ever would. Jeremy Lin’s injury, which will be season ending, also will give him even more chance to show off his talents.
At this point in his career, there is no excuse for Russell not to perform. He will take advantage of his opportunities this season and average over 20 PPG.