After the shortest NBA offseason of all-time, we are less than a week away from seeing regular season action once again. Despite the brevity, the league looks much different than when we left the bubble just a month and a half ago. The West is as wide open as it has ever been, superstars are signing extensions and showing up late for preseason games, and rookies have finally made it to the start of their NBA career. With the excitement building, it is prediction season, and I will be giving a pick and a sleeper pick for each major award. Last season, I went 2 for 6 on my before season predictions and 3 for 6 after my midseason updates. I fully intend to improve on those numbers, so let’s jump right in.
MVP: Luka Doncic, G Dallas Mavericks, +400
The odds-on favorite, picking Luka as MVP is far from a hot take. After an absurd sophomore season, averaging 28.8ppg/9.4rpg/8.8apg for the surprising Mavs, and a bubble full of highlights and buckets, Doncic is prime to vault himself into the MVP conversation. While his shooting numbers are still pedestrian (46.3/31.6/75.8 splits), his impact on the game cannot be overstated. Watching the Dallas offense run through Luka at its highest level is a work of art, and Rick Carlisle is starting to figure out how to match his star guard with Kristaps Porzingis most effectively. His biggest competition for the award appears to be Giannis, LeBron, Steph, and Harden, all previous winners in their own right, and coming off a back-to-back winner a fresh face for the award is not uncommon. Anthony Davis is the only other possible first time winner I can see, and while splitting the top dog role with LeBron won them a championship, I don’t think it wins either of them the MVP. The Luka Hype Train is full steam ahead, purchase your tickets before it’s too late.
Sleeper: Damian Lillard, G Portland Trailblazers, +1500
He was my sleeper pick last year, and I still feel he did not receive near the recognition he deserved from the voters. In the bubble his play was seen by the nation, but Dame is a killer for Portland night in and night out. Averaging 30ppg/4.3rpg/8.0apg(!) at a 46/40/89 percent shooting clip(!!), he came in 8th in MVP voting. The disrespect will not be near as strong this season, and with the Blazers improving at nearly every position this offseason another elite season should easily put Lillard in the conversation. Durable and reliable, at +1500 odds Dame is a beautiful sleeper pick.
DPOY: Bam Adebayo, C Miami Heat, +800
Picking anyone other than Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, or Giannis Antetokounmpo for this award feels like a death sentence, but I just can’t talk myself out of Bam. After an all-star season and a Finals run, the young big man out of Miami is flying up the ranks as one of the best players in the league, especially on the defensive end. Playing the anchor for a strong Heat defense that loves to create turnovers for its high-powered offense, Adebayo finished 5th in voting last season and is only showing improvements. Holding all opponents to less than 49% shooting (guards and forwards both shot less than 43%, while centers shot 48%), and averaging slightly over 1 block and 1 steal a game, Bam is rarely out of position and always quick to put a hand in front of a shot or in a passing lane. With expectations in Miami high, and Adebayo fresh off a nice contract extension, look for some hardware to be added to his shelf.
Sleeper: Marcus Smart, G Boston Celtics, +3000
I know it probably won’t happen, but I want a guard to win this award so damn bad, and Smart is one of the few in the league that has any real shot. As gritty as they come, Smart has become the old man on a Celtics team that has championship aspirations year in and year out under Brad Stevens. Averaging 1.7 steals and 0.5 blocks, the numbers are solid, but where he really shines is on the eye test, taking on anybody and everybody on the floor happily one-on-one. If all of a sudden bigs across the league begin struggling to stop anybody, it might be Marcus Smart’s time to shine.
MIP: Michael Porter Jr., F Denver Nuggets, +1200
Another year, another wide open MIP race. Nearly every expert/odds site has the top candidates being guys who shined in the bubble and are looking to continue that level of play, including Tyler Herro, Jamal Murray, and Deandre Ayton, but my eye is drawn to Porter Jr. more than anyone else. Once the highest rated recruit in the country, MPJ’s injury history has held him back for most of his collegiate and professional career. However, after coming off a “rookie” season where he averaged 9.3ppg/4.7rpg/0.8apg, he has finally found a footing in the league, and in the bubble he absolutely took off. Working his way into the rotation for the unbreakable Denver Nuggets, Porter Jr. was a major factor alongside Murrary and Nikola Jokic, shooting threes and playing solid wing defense with his 6’10” frame. Fully expected to be a major part of Denver’s line-up the entire season, boosting his number across the board could be more than enough to put Porter Jr. as the frontrunner for MIP.
Sleeper: De’Aaron Fox, G Sacramento Kings, +2800
Averaging 21.1ppg/3.8rpg/6.8apg last season, Fox is just a couple steps away from being a superstar. Electric in the fast break, Swipa is a blur on the court, almost to a fault. Averaging 3.1 turnovers and shooting 29.2% from deep are both alarming numbers, but that is why he has a shot to sneak to the top of MIP talks. Not only will he be the go-to guy in Sacramento this season, his stock is rising after his recent extension, and pushing the Kings to be competitive in the bloodbath Western Conference would launch Fox into the NBA stratosphere. A Brandon Ingram-level improvement may be out of reach, but even jumping up to 25 ppg and 8 apg would turn plenty of heads.
ROY: LaMelo Ball, G Charlotte Hornets, +400
This rookie class matching up to the excitement of last season’s is going to be nearly impossible. As of right now there are no Ja Morant’s or Zion Williamson’s that are going to set the league on fire, but I think Lamelo is closest. On a Hornets team that is in perpetual mediocrity, Ball brings his transcendent playmaking to a team that should take a leap after a surprisingly decent season last year. There will be plenty of rookie mistakes, but the Hornets took the highest ceiling player in this draft, and if Ball keeps throwing no-look passes on the money and can shoot even somewhat efficiently, voters will be hard-pressed to find a more impactful rookie than LaMelo. Obi Toppin was my only other real consideration here, but that would mean believing in the Knicks, and I simply cannot commit that sin. Worst case scenario, the lobs between Ball and Miles Bridges are going to be incredibly entertaining, which is a win for everyone.
Sleeper: Cole Anthony, G Orlando Magic, +2500
It feels like a long time ago when Cole Anthony was tearing up ACC defenses at North Carolina, and some shaky shooting mixed with injuries resulted in him slipping in the draft all the way to the Magic, but Anthony can hoop. And on a Magic team that is still figuring out exactly what its identity is going to be over the next couple seasons, Cole could see more playing time than expected. If he can conjure up some of the magic he had in Chapel Hill and Orlando is willing to hand over the reigns, Anthony has the opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong and win ROY.
6MOY: Lou Williams, G Los Angeles Clippers, +400
This is me punting on 4th and 2. I wish I had a better grasp of how voters decided 6MOY, because Montrezl Harrell winning last season is still confusing to me, so I’m going with the safe play here. Lou Will is still the best bench scoring threat in the league, and with the Clippers losing other important bench players (including Harrell) he will be back at the top of his game. Averaging 18.1ppg last season on 41.8/35.2/86.1 splits, Williams took a slight step back from his usual production, but the Clippers will need him to step up badly this season if Kawhi and Paul George are having off-days. I expect him to have another elite level season off the bench, and add another trophy to his case.
Sleeper: Norman Powell, G Toronto Raptors, +1600
One of the most consistently underrated players in the league, Powell was a major contributor for last season’s Raptors, especially once Pascal Siakam started to regress late into the season. He has the statline of a prototypical 6MOY candidate (16.0ppg on 49.5/39.9/84.3 splits) and should be seeing even more opportunities this season. He may actually play himself out of contention if Nick Nurse begins running him more with the starting five, which is partly why I think his odds are so low, but if Nurse keeps Powell coming off the bench and Norm lets it fly, he has a great shot to vault into contention.
COY: Erik Spolestra, Miami Heat, +1100
After leading another Heat team to a Finals run, Spoelstra is slowly climbing up the ladder of historically great coaches. Once regarded as simply the manager of the Heatles, his image has since turned into a master of match-ups and analytically-minded leader. The East should be more top-heavy this season than last, but Pat Riley and Miami fans expect a high level finish once again, and with the talent this team has and Spolestra’s genius it is absolutely within reach. Voters love to look at the “big picture” when voting on this award, and Spolestra deserves the recognition for what he has done in his tenure. The Hall of Fame is looking more and more realistic and a COY award would bolster that resume significantly.
Sleeper: Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies, +4500
My biggest sleeper of the year by odds has to go to Jenkins, the head coach of the enormously fun Grizzlies. Underrecognized last year in this award, if Memphis was in the East I think his odds would be far more favorable. The Grizz are solid, but their biggest strength is how they take advantage of their speed and athleticism from Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and the rest of their line-up. Jenkins has been happy to let his young guns make mistakes, but with the West tightening up this season things will be different. If Memphis can put it all together and make some noise down the stretch, voters will have to throw some love to Jenkins.