The NBA preseason tips off on Friday with the Celtics taking on the Hornets. Finally! After an arduous summer devoid of news, we get to marvel over NBA basketball. With the season commencing, it is time to arbitrarily look way into the future and make predictions that likely will become obsolete in a few months. The NBA is dynamic and ever-changing; few saw Victor Oladipo’s blossoming into a superstar and Donovan Mitchell’s rise to stardom. Still, it is fun to predict which players will have standout seasons in 2018-19. The awards I’ll be predicting are Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player, Coach of the year, Executive of the year, and the All-NBA, All-Rookie, and All-Defensive teams.
Most Valuable Player: James Harden
Dark Horse: Victor Oladipo
My MVP pick is a bit of a sleeper. I do expect James Harden to make a serious push for his second straight MVP trophy and what should be his third. Harden’s historical 30.4 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 36.7% from deep and a 61.9 true shooting percentage. Combine that with his league-leading box plus-minus of 10.9 and his leading the Rockets to a league-best 65 wins and near upset of Golden State, MVP voters fawned over the Beard.
For a multitude of reasons, many are low on the Rockets heading into 2018-19. People forget how dominant the Houston Rockets were last season. The Houston offense is an unquenchable fire and James Harden burns the brightest. The Rockets will likely finish as a top-three seed in the West once again, which is a major boon to anyone’s MVP case. There’s a real possibility that Harden repeats his statistical feats from last season if not eclipses them.
When looking at the other popular MVP picks, each has a glaring caveat in their potential case. Giannis Antetokounmpo may not have the wins, Joel Embiid may not play enough games, LeBron suffers from chronic voter fatigue, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant won’t have the numbers and play on the Warriors, and nobody knows what we will get from Kawhi Leonard this season.
Another name that could emerge as a dark horse is Victor Oladipo. Coming off of an All-NBA season where he won most improved player, all signs indicate nothing but improvement. He has the chance to put up even more impressive numbers than last season and if the Pacers can exceed expectations, he could have a real case. James Harden is simply the most talented player out of the popular MVP candidates and walks the path of least resistance to his second straight trophy.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic
Dark Horse: Miles Bridges
Luka Doncic wins this award simply because he is the most talented rookie of the crop and plays in a solid situation. The Dallas Mavericks are undergoing a sort of renaissance at the moment, and the Slovenian Doncic is at the center. After dominating the second best league in the world, the Euroleague, at 19 years old, he seems ready to take on the challenges that the NBA presents.
Doncic is a generational playmaker with brilliant vision and infallible basketball IQ. His 6’7” frame, crafty handles, and shot-creating ability will make him a major hassle to defend. He can play multiple positions on offense and multiple roles. His biggest struggle will be acclimating to the athleticism and physicality of the NBA game, specifically on the defensive end.
Doncic could bolster his case in the same way that Donovan Mitchell did last season: being the leader of a surprising team. It certainly isn’t a stretch to believe that Doncic will be the best player on the Mavericks from day one. Dallas has a solid crop of talent, from Dennis Smith to Harrison Barnes to DeAndre Jordan. If the Mavericks can near the 40 game mark and even sneak into the playoffs, Doncic will be the leader in the rookie of the year voting.
Miles Bridges could sneak his name into contention if the Hornets’ flop and they want to give Bridges the keys to the offense. If he’s used as a closeout attacker and spot up shooter, he could put up some solid numbers.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis
Defensive Player of the Year is always a finicky award to project due to the subjectivity of the matter. As all NBA fans know, defensive metrics suck. They just aren’t accurate enough to tell the full story. For what it’s worth, Davis ranked first in the NBA in blocks at 2.6, 16th in defensive box plus-minus at 2.3, and third in defensive win shares at 4.9. Anthony Davis will be playing center for the majority of his time on the court this season and is a defensive monster. Last season, the Pelicans ranked 14th in defensive rating at 105.6 and should be one of the best defensive teams in the NBA this season.
Playing at center, there’s a real chance that Davis puts up nonsensical numbers and even places his name in MVP consideration. If New Orleans can nab the four seed and be one of the top defensive teams in the NBA, Davis will have a great shot at winning the award.
Sixth Man of the Year: Tyreke Evans
Dark Horse: Dennis Schroder
Last season, Evans saw himself partake in a pseudo breakout, recording numbers akin to his spectacular rookie season. Taking over primary ball-handling duties for Memphis, he recorded splits of 19.4 points, 5.2 assists, and 5.3 rebounds, shooting a career-high 39.9% from three. The playmaking and creation ability has always been there for Evans. Adding the three-point shot is vital and will allow him to succeed off of the ball in Indiana. In all likelihood, he will be the first man off of the bench for the Pacers and will have a chance to repeat his 2017-18 campaign in some capacity. He can run the offense himself and play second-fiddle when Victor Oladipo is on the court. Combine his potential numbers with his playing on a winning team and you have a substantial 6MOTY case.
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Schroder gives Oklahoma City a creation element off of the bench that they haven’t had since James Harden was in town. He can play with Russell Westbrook at the end of games and lead the team when Westbrook and Paul George are on the bench.
Most Improved Player: Taurean Prince
Dark Horse: Jayson Tatum
This award was the one I deliberated the most and likely the one that will be most disagreed but the one I feel most confident in. Taurean Prince is a name that many casual fans don’t even know but surely will after this season. Drafted in 2016, Prince was an athletic wing player with a limited offensive skill set. He looked much improved in 2018 but his 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists don’t look spectacular but when you dig deeper, my case becomes clearer.
After the All-Star break, the Hawks handed over the keys of the offense to Prince and he went from zero to sixty. He increased his splits to 19 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on an efficient 41.2% from three and shooting 44.3% from the field. He showed a knack for creating his own shot as a real offensive threat. The Hawks are going to lose a lot of games this season but they’re going to run and gun and get a bit creative. If Prince dominates early, he could establish himself as a premier scorer in the NBA.
The Jayson Tatum pick will make most raise an eyebrow, as the casual fan already views him as a star player. His playoff performance warrants this praise to some degree but his regular season was solid for a rookie but pedestrian. 13.9 points and five boards per game don’t scream “star.” If he can drastically improve his numbers, he could steal the MIP award from under our noses.
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder
Dark Horse: Mike Budenholzer
Quin Snyder led his Jazz to a surprising fourth seed berth in the Western Conference last season. Many will give most of the credit to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert but the meticulous Snyder deserves just as much of the praise. His defensive philosophy and great offensive scheme put his players in a position to succeed. If Utah can take another jump, Synder could be a frontrunner for the award.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has never had a competent head coach and Budenholzer is far more than that. He may be the missing piece to elevate the Bucks from perennial sleeper team to true contender.
Executive of the Year: Masai Ujiri
Dark Horse: Bob Myers
Masai Ujiri made a major power move in trading for Kawhi Leonard this offseason. He didn’t give up any major pieces in the deal so the Raptors improving seems very possible. If Toronto can grab the top seed in the East and Leonard returns to his MVP form, Ujiri will have pulled off one of the biggest thefts in NBA history.
Calling Bob Myers a dark horse is admittedly insulting but his name had to be included here. Signing DeMarcus Cousins for a bag of chips and a YMCA membership isn’t a move that most could make and Myers should be credited earnestly.
All NBA First Team
All-NBA Second Team
All-NBA Third Team
All-Defensive First Team
All-Defensive Second Team
All-Rookie First Team
C-Jaren Jackson Jr.
All-Rookie Second Team
G-Lonnie Walker IV