NBA Awards Predictions Post All-Star Break
Before this NBA season officially tipped off in October, I tried to predict the outcomes for every major award. This was back when the excitement of a season that did not have a foregone conclusion was still fresh, rookies were still entirely untested and unproven, and before the injury bug bit a couple superstars. Since then, we have seen an absolute powerhouse emerge in the East with the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the most exciting rookie classes of recent memory, and (spoiler alert) my preseason MVP pick go down with a broken hand almost immediately. As most predicted they would, things went crazy, but let’s see how I did.
Preseason Pick: Steph Curry
Right off the bat, a huge swing and a miss. In my defense, this pick made a lot of sense at the time. This season would be the first time in three years Curry would be back in the driver’s seat of Golden State’s offense and he could even defer to another All-Star ball-handler in D’Angelo Russell when he just wanted to sprint off screen and shoot 75% (slight exaggeration) on catch-and-shoot threes. Instead, in the fourth game of the season Steph fell awkwardly while driving to the rim, breaking his hand and dashing the sliver of hope the Warriors had for a winning season. Curry has not played since, and even with a possible return in the near future, he has no chance to win MVP, and I was VERY wrong with this prediction.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Damian Lillard
As much as it pains me to say it, the Trailblazers have had a disappointing season so far. Currently out of the West playoffs, residing a couple games behind an electric Grizzlies team for the eight seed, Portland needs to get hot very soon for a chance to sneak in. With that being said, absolutely none of the blame can be put on Lillard. Dame has played out of his mind recently, going off for one of the best scoring stretches in the history of basketball after scoring 61, 47, and 57 in three straight games in late January. He’s averaging just under 30 PPG and is dishing out 7.9 APG with a PER of 26.80. Dame Time has been incredible this season, but with the Blazers underperformance and the dominance of a certain Freak in Milwaukee, he will most likely not be taking home MVP this season.
Current Pick: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Barring some sort of catastrophe of epic proportions, it’s not even going to be close. The reigning MVP, Antetokounmpo has been better this season, and the Bucks have reaped the rewards. Sitting atop the East with the best record in basketball (46-8), Milwaukee currently has the second best odds to be champions at +250, right behind the Los Angeles Lakers at +200. Team success aside, Giannis has been the best player in the league this year by far. Dominating every game, averaging 30 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, and boasting an enormous PER of 32.29, he’s been, well, freakish. In a year where there have been a lot of really good individual performers, MVP should be unanimous for the Greek Freak.
Preseason Pick: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Speaking of the likely future MVP, he’s been really good on defense as well. Averaging just over a steal and a block a game, The Freak’s biggest impact on defense will always be his versatility. Big enough to protect the rim and hold his own against anyone on the block, but athletic enough to guard on the perimeter and keep up with guards, he’s a menace. However, as much as they shouldn’t, voters will already be putting Antetokounmpo on their ballots for MVP and will most likely go another way for DPOY, so I’m expecting this one to be wrong as well, and I think Milwaukee is just fine with that result.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Jrue Holiday
It was a longshot pick to begin with, and even though Jrue’s numbers are actually pretty solid (1.7 steals and 0.9 blocks per game and opponents are only shooting 40.7% from the field when guarded by Jrue), he’s not winning DPOY. At times he has looked overmatched with more athletic guards, he’s missed some time due to injury, and he’s a guard in a crowded DPOY race. He was a longshot at the beginning of the year, and he’s an even longer shot now.
Current Pick: Anthony Davis
The betting favorite at the beginning of the season, Anthony Davis has shown just how powerful he can be on the defensive end this season. Gaudy numbers including 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game and a 38.0% Defended Field Goal Percentage speak volumes, but AD passes the eye test more than anything. Playing next to Lebron and his on-and-off defensive effort, Davis has been the anchor for the Lakers and their stout defense. With rim protectors like Dwight Howard and Javale McGee behind him, Davis has been able to step out and show his versatility against wings, locking down players who would normally blow by a 6-10 player. As the second best player on a first place team with the Lakers, Davis could very easily garner the votes to win this award.
Preseason Pick: Jayson Tatum
Tatum has made a very large jump this season, averaging career highs in points (22.4 per game), rebounds (6.9 per game), and assists (2.9 per game), while shooting a decent 44.3% from the field and a solid 38.2% from three. He gained his first All-Star appearance alongside his point guard Kemba Walker and has looked like the best player on the Celtics on many occasions this season, including a 39-point game on 14/23 shooting against the Los Angeles Clippers in which he outperformed Kawhi Leonard. But, he’s probably not going to win MIP. Even though he’s been really good, this jump was expected, and there have been a lot more unexpected player improvements that will catch the eyes of voters. Also, he may not even be the most improved player on his team with Jaylen Brown having a coming out party of his own. Tatum’s only 21, so an MIP award in the future is certainly still a possibility, but I don’t see it happening this year.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Jamal Murray
Murray has not been bad this year for the dangerous Denver Nuggets, but he hasn’t really shown any improvement from last year. Statistically he is about the same, averaging 18.9ppg/3.9rpg/4.8apg this season compared to 18.2ppg/4.2rpg/4.8apg last season. While he’s the main ball-handler within the offense, the team runs through Nikola Jokic, which stifles a bit of Murray’s chances for shots and assists. He’s an excellent free throw shooter, but he only shoots 3.5 a game, vastly underutilizing that skill. I thought he would be an All-Star this year, but that’ll have to wait. And he is certainly not the MIP.
Current Pick: Brandon Ingram
It has been a crazy season for Pelicans fans, but one constant has been Brandon Ingram’s high level of play. The change of scenery from LA to New Orleans has massively paid off for the young wing, averaging 24.9ppg/6.2rpg/4.2apg and gaining his first All-Star appearance despite the Pelicans currently being out of the playoff picture. Ingram has improved in nearly every facet of his game, and is the front-runner for MIP right now, but this is not a certainty by any stretch. Ingram played in the All-Star game, but was dealing with a small hamstring issue before that. If that hamstring is more than an annoyance, Luka Doncic’s jump from ROY to MVP candidate, Devonte’ Graham’s emergence as a solid NBA scorer, and Bam Adebayo’s rise to All-Star caliber player could all garner a majority of votes.
Preseason Pick: Ja Morant
The number two overall pick from last year’s draft has sufficiently lived up to the hype. Memphis has been one of the most entertaining teams in the league this season, and most of that excitement can be attributed to Ja doing incredible things on a nightly basis. Averaging 17.6ppg/3.5rpg/7.1apg on 49% shooting and 35.8% from deep, Morant has been outstanding statistically and has proven a lot of people who doubted his game coming into the draft very wrong. He’s a walking highlight reel, a future All-Star, and is definitely the front-runner for ROY.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Tyler Herro
Coming off an excellent summer, Herro looked poised to make a poor man’s Devin Booker type of impact on the upcoming season for the Heat. Well, Miami ended up having a different really good rookie and a legitimate shot to compete for the East. While this is great for Miami’s fans, it certainly hurt Herro’s ROY chances. Kendrick Nunn, the undrafted rookie guard out of Oakland University and one of the biggest surprises of the season, is having a great season while Herro is simply having a good season. Herro projects to be the better player in the long run (he’s four years younger than Nunn and is already shooting threes at a near 40% clip), but Nunn has been far more valuable for Miami so far. I still really like Herro and can see him developing into an excellent player in the Heat’s future alongside Nunn, Duncan Robinson, Derrick Jones Jr., and the rest of the young group in South Beach, but not being the best rookie on your own team makes it tough to win ROY.
Current Pick: Ja Morant
Since Zion Williamson returned from injury and began playing every night, he has been the best rookie and it’s not even close. Averaging 22.1ppg/7.5rpg/2.2 apg in his first 10 games, Zion looks like he would have been an All-Star alongside Ingram this year had he been able to start the season. However, barring another injury, he’ll end up playing in around 37 games in the regular season, not enough to really be in contention for ROY. I think Ja continues his excellent play after the All-Star break and runs away with ROY, but the competition for the best career out of this draft will be fierce.
Preseason Pick: Spencer Dinwiddie
When it looked like Kyrie Irving was going to be the consistent starting point guard for Brooklyn, Dinwiddie looked like a prime candidate to have an awesome year off the bench and scoop up 6MOY as the Nets cruised to the playoffs, having Kevin Durant waiting in the shadows to emerge next season. After dealing with multiple injuries, Irving has only played in 20 games, resulting in Dinwiddie being the starting ball-handler almost every night. While he’s been solid in the starting role, the Nets have struggled. With Irving most likely out for the season, Dinwiddie is not even going to be eligible for 6MOTY, making this prediction 100% incorrect.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: JJ Redick
This one could theoretically still happen by rule, as Redick has only started 35 games and it looks like (if everyone can stay healthy) won’t start any more. Redick has played exactly as fans and teammates have come to expect during his career, knocking down threes at an efficient rate and being a veteran presence on a young team, but it’s unlikely he’ll win 6MOY. His numbers are decent but don’t match up to the standard that guys like Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford have set to win this award (Redick is averaging 15.7 ppg, Williams averaged 20 ppg when he won the award last year). He’s not elevating the Pelicans enough off the bench to give himself a chance, so it is unlikely he walks away this summer with the 6MOY award.
Current Pick: Dennis Schroder
It’s going to be close when the time comes to vote at the end of the season. Derrick Rose has had a resurgence in Detroit off the bench and Jordan Clarkson has been a spark plug for the Jazz’s second unit, but Schroder best fits the mold of a 6MOY winner. Averaging 19.3 ppg for Oklahoma City, Schroder has been everything the Thunder have needed and more as their back-up point guard. He’s a high volume scorer with efficient shooting numbers (47.2% from the field and 38.7% from three) and is a key piece on a surprise potential playoff team. For a team that has Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as its two starting guards, it is an absolute luxury to have someone like Schroder coming off the bench to run the second unit and get some buckets. If the Thunder can stay where they are in the playoff picture, I can very easily see Schroder snagging 6MOY.
Preseason Pick: Brad Stevens
Boston has been one of the best teams in the league this season, and Stevens is doing his usual excellent job adjusting line-ups and setting up offenses to best utilize his player’s skill sets. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have both made a significant jump, Gordon Hayward is playing his best basketball since his horrific ankle injury, Kemba Walker is doing Kemba Walker things, and guys like Daniel Theis, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and Brad Wanamaker fill out the rotation to make for a deep and talented group. Stevens is one of the best in the game, and he has a team performing above expectations, which is usually a pretty good combination for a COY award. But, due to a certain other Eastern Conference team’s success, I don’t see Stevens walking away with COY this season.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Rick Carlisle
Dallas’s future relies on whether Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis can coexist on a nightly basis. When they are working well off each other, they look like one of the more unstoppable duos in the NBA. When they are not working well off each other, the offense becomes disjointed and neither can perform to their fullest potential. Carlisle had guided the Mavs to a 33-22 record and they are currently tied for 6th in the West with the Thunder, but if their two best players could figure it out for good, they could be a really dangerous team that top-level contenders would absolutely not want to face in the first round. All this is to say that Carlisle won’t be winning COY, but he has a major project to tinker with for the near future, and he seems like the guy who would much rather have that than another piece of hardware for his trophy case.
Current Pick: Mike Budenholzer
The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in basketball. Giannis is incredible, Khris Middleton is an All-Star, they can play 10 deep, they’re 46-8, and they have a serious shot to win a championship. At the helm of this ship is Mike Budenholzer who has done an incredible job this year keeping a roster loaded with talent happy. Having the likely MVP helps, but rotations and match-ups will always matter in the NBA, and Budenholzer finds ways to exploit weaknesses and consistently puts his team in a position to win. Whether the Bucks can make that final push come playoff time and bring a championship to Milwaukee is yet to be seen, but if they finish the season at the top of the East and nothing absolutely insane happens, I expect to see Budenholzer as the COY.
Stats and Records Accurate of Feb, 19, 2020