This NBA season is going to be bonkers. At least I hope it is after the landscape shifting summer we just experienced. The Western Conference could very well have three or four over .500 teams miss out on the playoffs. In contrast, I believe the East may put at least three under .500 squads into the postseason. But playoff picks and overall NBA ballyhoo is another article for another day. Today I’m here to put forth my yearly slice of crippling humble pie. I say that in advance because when it comes to award predictions in any sport, I, as well as many others, rarely do even a half decent job in generating them. Please don’t hold me to these NBA awards picks. Who am I kidding, I expect ridicule by the end of October.
NBA MVP- LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
We’ll start off with the biggest snoozer pick. The Cavs were blindsided by Kyrie Irving this summer. They thought they were going to make one last valiant run at whoever survived the West. While Cleveland got a decent haul back from Boston for Irving, this team has become a one-man show again. Yes I know Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas are All-Stars, but the former is not Robin material and the latter may miss as much as half of the season with hip woes, a death knell for a speed guy. All the big guns from the Western Conference superteams will cancel each other out, leaving LeBron a clear path to his 5th MVP award. What could potentially be his defining season as a pro, before he leaves Cleveland again, of course, would tie him with Michael Jordan and Bill Russell for second most MVP awards of all-time.
NBA Rookie of the Year- Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
Trust me, I don’t want to feed the Ball family’s ego any more than you do. But facts are facts, Lonzo Ball fell into a better scenario to shine than any other lottery pick. He’s going to get starter minutes all season. It looks as if he’s developing great awareness of his teammates’ tendencies already. The noise around him will never go away, so I am looking forward to him actually showing what he can do on an NBA court rather than in a WWE ring or on a stage like in the photo above. He isn’t going to average a near triple-double like he did in the Summer League, but he will put forth one of the best seasons by a rookie point guard, arguably the toughest position for a rookie, in recent memory.
NBA Sixth Man of the Year- Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves
Is this when I start to go off the rails? Not so fast. The T-Wolves have been on the cusp of the playoffs the past few years but just needed that last little boost. I’d say Jimmy Butler is a bit more than a little boost. But Butler’s arrival doesn’t just bolster the starting lineup, it takes pressure off a bench that was one of the league’s worst a year ago. With Butler in the house, as well as having the super-sub tutelage of Jamal Crawford, I think Shabazz Muhammad is in for a tremendous season. His scoring output has fallen the past few seasons, but from preseason reports Muhammad looks to be taking more offensive responsibility with the second unit. The Sixth Man award has slowly morphed into the Highest Bench Scorer award in the last few years, and I think that will be Shabazz Muhammad in 2017-18.
NBA Coach of the Year- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
With the Western Conference arms race spiraling out of control, have we forgot about the Spurs? The team that had Golden State on the ropes last year before Kawhi Leonard went down is sliding under the radar like an action hero underneath a timed door. Yes, San Antonio isn’t stockpiling superstars like it is going out of style. But do they really need to? They already have a bonafide top-10 player in Kawhi Leonard and no team plays better team basketball than San Antonio. When the Spurs cruise to 57 wins this year and we are left wondering how Pop will be sitting there stonefaced with his record fourth Coach of the Year award.
NBA Most Improved Player- Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Most Improved Player is always the biggest wild card in NBA award predictions. Voters across the league end up giving votes to upwards of 50-60 players each season for the crown. Most local writers like to vote for their own guy so I am going to take the homer route as well. Without Carmelo Anthony at MSG any longer, it is time for the Latvian Unicorn to spread his wings and become the focal point of the club. I fully expect his scoring average to break the 20 PPG barrier this year, and his showing at EuroBasket leads me to believe that he’ll be making huge strides on the defensive end as well in 2017-18.