A common theme of the last year has been how strange the passing of time feels. I know it’s been a year since the world was turned upside down, and there are some days that feel like they truly last a week, but the months are just flying by. The most recent reminder of just how quickly the sand goes through the hourglass is that we are already halfway through the NBA season, and that means I have to update my award predictions to try and right my wrongs, of which there were many. No more existential dread, let’s jump right in.
Preseason Pick: Luka Doncic, G Dallas Mavericks
The odds-on favorite at the beginning of the season, Luka has been downright incredible for an unpredictable Mavs team. Averaging 28.6ppg/8.4rpg/9.0apg on 54/36/76 splits, Doncic is far and away the only reason Dallas still has a remote shot at the playoffs. A pick-and-roll genius with an improving stroke from three, he’s a menace on the offensive end and puts together enough effort on the defensive end to not be a major liability. An All-Star starter and most likely an All-NBA player at the end of the season, Luka deserves every bit of recognition he is receiving. However, MVP looks out of reach. Great players on underperforming teams never get the looks they probably deserve (shoutout Bradley Beal) and unless the Mavs can make an enormous run after the break they simply won’t have the team success to push Luka to the front. Maybe next year for the Slovenian Wonder.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Damian Lillard, G Portland Trailblazers
My Damian Lillard stock investment has been steadily rising for the last few years, and it might be peaking right now. After a slow start to the season by Dame standards, in the absence of CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, Lillard has been stupid good. 29.8ppg/4.3rpg/8.0apg on 45/38/93 splits speaks for itself, but the 21-14 Blazers record and current 5th seed in the West is even more telling of Dolla’s impact. He has multiple 35+ point games, he’s still the best clutch performer in the league, and he’s leading Portland through the absolute minefield of the Western Conference; MVP is absolutely a possibility. When CJ comes back (hopefully in the next few weeks) Dame’s workload will decrease slightly, but what he has done so far cannot be ignored. Could be my first ever sleeper pick to come to fruition, stay tuned.
Current Pick: Joel Embiid, C Philadelphia 76ers
This could be the closest MVP race we’ve had in recent memory with a packed field at the top. Dame, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokic all have very legitimate cases and will most likely garner a few votes, but big Jo in Philly would be my guess right now. I wrote about him about a month ago here, and he has been playing even better recently. 30.2ppg/11.6rpg/3.3 apg on absolutely disgusting 52/42/86 splits is incredibly difficult to argue, and he is still one of the best defensive bigs in the league. On top of all that, the Sixers are holding on to that one seed in the East at 24-12 for the time being (the Nets are closing in fast, though). The next few weeks will be crucial for the MVP race, but the Em-Vee-Piid campaign is skyrocketing.
Preseason Pick: Bam Adebayo, C Miami Heat
Don’t look now, but the Heat are on a tear. After being 6-12 at one point this season, the reigning Eastern Conference Champs have won 7 of their last 8 contests and are back to 18-18, which would be more than enough to get them into the playoffs in the East, currently sitting as the 6th seed. Part of this is due to the return of Jimmy Butler, but Bam is playing out of mind. Nearly averaging 20ppg/10rpg, he’s been a force that opponents have struggled to deal with. But, the defense has been good, not great. As a whole the Heat are a pretty good defensive team. 9th in DefRat and only allowing 108.4ppg are elite numbers, and Adebayo is a big reason for that, but the numbers don’t back up his performance as well as they need to. And with other bigs near the top of DPOY rankings, this one will most likely be incorrect.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Marcus Smart, G Boston Celtics
Not gonna happen. In my preseason picks I said that all bigs across the league would have to struggle for this to happen, and that has actually been the opposite of what occurred. That, plus the fact that Smart has only played in 17 games due to a calf injury, makes this one essentially guaranteed to be incorrect. Check back next season when I pick another guard as my sleeper only to be horribly incorrect once again.
Current Pick: Rudy Gobert, C Utah Jazz
Another toss-up at this point, but I’m inclined to lean towards the best defensive big on the best team (record-wise) in the league. The Stifle Tower has always been an elite rim protector and forces teams to gameplan around going to the basket, and this year has been no different. Averaging nearly 3 blocks and almost never being out of position, the 27-9 Jazz would look far more vulnerable without Gobert in the paint. Rudy’s biggest competition is Ben Simmons, who has also been elite on the defensive end this season, taking on every difficult task thrown his way. As of now though, it’s hard for me to imagine a world in which a wing defender ever pulls in more votes than an elite center on the best team. Not super confident, but have a good feeling about this one.
Preseason Pick: Michael Porter Jr., F Denver Nuggets
It would be false to say MPJ hasn’t improved from last season to now. Jumping from 9.3ppg to 14.6ppg and from 4.7rpg to 7.0rpg is by definition an improvement, so for that reason I am saying Porter Jr. is still technically in the running for MIP, but I fully expect to be wrong on this one. After missing a significant amount of time due to health and safety protocols, Porter Jr. has been nothing more than a good role player for Denver, not near enough to be in consideration for MIP. Playing alongside flamethrower Jamal Murray and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic should allow for wings to absolutely thrive on back cuts and open shots, which MPJ does well, but there hasn’t been the leap most NBA fans expected quite yet. Still only 22 years old, Porter Jr. has plenty of chances to win this award in the future, but this year isn’t going to be the one.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: De’Aaron Fox, G Sacramento Kings
What a season for the Kings. After beating the Clippers 113-110 on February 7th to reach 12-11, they have since gone 2-11 and have fallen to 13th in the West. On the bright side, De’Aaron Fox has been their best player this season. Averaging 23.0ppg/3.2rpg/7.6apg puts him in the top half of starting point guards in the league, and his three point shooting has gone from an ugly 29.2% to an okay 34.2%. But players that have only shown marginal improvement on horribly bad teams never win MIP, and that’s where Fox sits right now. Another sleeper pick missed.
Current Pick: Jerami Grant, F Detroit Pistons
With Christian Wood sidelined for the past few weeks, Grant has had the opportunity to run away with MIP. After being a career role player as one of the better 3-and-D guys in the league, Grant has flourished in his new role as “the guy” in Detroit. Statistically, he might have the best argument in the league. Last season with the Nuggets Grant averaged 12.0ppg/3.5rpg/1.2apg, but this season with the Pistons Grant is averaging 23.4ppg/5.3rpg/2.9apg. A major statistical jump in every category is always a good indicator of where the voters will swing, and while his field goal and three point percentage are both down from last season (48% to 43% and 39% to 36%, respectively), his free throw percentage has improved dramatically, going from 75% last season to 89% this season on 3 more attempts per game. The Pistons are brutally bad, but without Grant they would be significantly worse, and I fully expect him to win MIP.
Preseason Pick: LaMelo Ball, G Charlotte Hornets
My best chance to be correct, LaMelo has been better than advertised for the Hornets. Showing all the promised upside and very little of the expected downside, Ball has been by far the best rookie this season and has become the starting point guard of the present and future for Charlotte. 15.8ppg/6.0rpg/6.3apg averages are bonkers for a rookie point guard (for comparison, Ja Morant averaged 17.8ppg/3.9rpg/7.3apg last season while starting every game, Melo has only started 15 of the 35 games Charlotte has played so far), but the most promising thing about Ball’s emergence has to be his 45/38/80 shooting splits, much better than even the highest of LaMelo supporters, including myself, could have ever imagined. Assuming nothing crazy happens the rest of the season, the improvement should continue, and this one has a great chance of being correct.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Cole Anthony, G Orlando Magic
Not much to say about Anthony other than he was playing well in his role before the rib injury that has sidelined him for the last few weeks. 11.0ppg/4.4rpg/3.8apg is solid, but 36/33/84 splits are far less encouraging. The Magic have not been good this season outside of Nikola Vucevic, and there is simply nothing that would lead me to believe Cole has any shot of winning ROY. Incorrect on this one.
Current Pick: LaMelo Ball, G Charlotte Hornets
In a draft class that looked pretty underwhelming, rookie play has actually been very solid. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman (when healthy), Tyrese Haliburton, Immanuel Quickley, and many others have all quickly found big roles within their teams and would have arguments for ROY in another year, but LaMelo seems to be pulling away from the pack. For all the reasons above, as well as Charlotte looking like they might sneak into the playoffs, I’m sticking with my original pick on this one.
Preseason Pick: Lou Williams, G Los Angeles Clippers
As strange a sentence as this is to say, Lou Williams is not a real contender for 6MOY this season. The numbers are down, his role with the Clippers isn’t nearly as prominent this season, and there have simply been better guys off the bench this year. Come playoff time is he going to be a terror and torch a lesser bench squad while Kawhi and PG get a rest? Absolutely, and it’ll be glorious. Do they need to consider renaming this award the Lou Will Award? Definitely. Is he going to win 6MOY this season? Nope. Another prediction I’m confident will not be correct.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Norman Powell, G Toronto Raptors
Going off of numbers alone, Powell would absolutely be in the conversation for 6MOY. Averaging 18.4 points on beautiful 49/44/90 splits, the stats look absolutely perfect for a 6MOY victory, but with Toronto’s struggles this season coach Nick Nurse has been working in different rotations, including inserting Powell into the starting line-up. Assuming Nurse can’t resist his efficiency, it is expected Norman will stay in the starting line-up for the foreseeable future, eliminating him from 6MOY contention. I had the right idea, but will most likely be incorrect by technicality.
Current Pick: Jordan Clarkson, G Utah Jazz
This one should be easy, assuming nothing goes catastrophically wrong for the Jazz or Clarkson after the break. An elite scorer off the bench for the best team in basketball, Clarkson is averaging 17.9/4.0rpg/2.3apg on 45/37/97(!) splits, and has looked downright dominant at some points this season, including a 40-point outburst against Philly in mid-February. With the Jazz comfortably at the top of the West, even after losing their last two games before the break, it can be expected for them to begin to coast near the end of the season, allowing Clarkson even more chances to pad his stats. How far the Jazz will go is yet to be seen, but Clarkson is built to go the distance and snag 6MOY.
Preseason Pick: Erik Spolestra, Miami Heat
The late push the Heat have put together makes this prediction look a little better, and I still fully believe Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the country, but COY would be a long shot. Starting 6-12 is just too bad to overlook no matter what health problems the team was dealing with, and there have been far too many other coaches leading equally as talented teams to greater success. Things could absolutely change, and having Jimmy Butler back is always an advantage, so I won’t admit defeat quite yet, but I am leaning towards incorrect on this one.
Preseason Sleeper Pick: Taylor Jenkins, Memphis Grizzlies
What Jenkins is doing in Memphis should be talked about. Going the entire season without Jaren Jackson Jr. and a tough 8 game stretch without Ja Morant, the Grizzlies are still .500 at 16-16. Add in Covid pauses and being in the West, Jenkins deserves a lot of credit, but COY is very unlikely for the coach of a team that most likely won’t make the playoffs. The West is not getting easier as the season goes on, and as long as JJJ is out there just isn’t enough talent on the roster to compete for anything above the eight seed. Leaving the door open on this one too, but would be very surprised if this becomes a possibility.
Current Pick: Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns
Last season, I went with the coach of the best team for this pick, Mike Budenholzer. I thought it was pretty much a lock, but I ended up being horribly wrong as Nick Nurse took it home. Therefore, I am changing up my philosophy and not picking my first instinct in Quin Snyder, and instead am taking Monty Williams as he leads the Suns to their best season in over a decade. Whatever happened to the Suns between the suspension of last season and the bubble needs to be replicated by every rebuilding team in the league, and acquiring Chris Paul to bolster a back court helps, but Williams is putting a surprisingly over-performing team in a position to win every time they step on the court, which should be more than enough to earn him COY.