The dust has finally settled.
We are now in the closing weeks of a record-setting, wild 2019 free agency. Most of the leagues stars have found their way to the team of their future, and role players are setting in around them. Teams are putting the final touches on their roster, topping off with summer-league standouts.
For the most part, we now know what to expect each of the 30 teams in the association to look like this upcoming season.
So, what better to do than make some way-too-early predictions for next seasons NBA awards?
🏆Rookie of the Year: Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans)
As fun as it would be to predict a sleeper to win this award, such as Denver’s Michael Porter Jr or #3 overall pick RJ Barrett in New York, or even Grizzlies point guard from Murray State Ja Morant, it would be a crime to predict this award to go anywhere but New Orleans and to their #1 overall pick Zion Williamson.
This kid is something special.
At 6’7 285 pounds, with the ability to move the way he does on both ends of the floor, Williamson is an athlete unlike any this league has ever seen. Initial comparisons are to players like 11x all-star and first-ballot hall of famer Charles Barkley, and 6x all-star Blake Griffin.
“Coaches compare him to a football player. They also liken him to a ballet dancer. He’s the anomalous basketball player roughly the size of Charles Barkley who can jump like Michael Jordan,” writes the Wall Street Journal.
“One of our athletic trainers put it best,” explains junior Duke forward Javin DeLaurier. “He said, ‘All of you guys hit the genetic lottery. Zion hit it twice.’”
While his impossible physical gifts may be at the for-front of his “hype-train”, his pure basketball talent is no second fiddle.
Zion put up a stat-line consisting of 22.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game in his lone college season for the Blue Devils, earning himself consensus National College Player of the Year Honors and a consensus first-team All-American selection. Whats so miraculous about Williamson’s college numbers however, is the efficiency in which he put them up, shooting a striking 68% from the field in his 33 games played.
“As the world remains consumed with Williamson’s brilliant dunking ability, his potential on the other end of the floor is what really makes him special,” writes SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell.
“To watch Williamson defend is to see his unprecedented physical tools leveraged to make plays few others would even think about attempting. Even something as routine as an entry pass into the post isn’t safe with Williamson on your man.”
Zion Williamson may just be the best rookie we have seen since LeBron James.
Offensively, defensively, on the court, off the court, Williamson is special. Expect to see nothing less than the most entertaining show on television every night he steps on the court, and a rookie-campaign worth nothing less than Rookie of the Year honors.
🏆Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers (Los Angeles Clippers)
The Los Angeles Clippers ended last season with 48 wins, earning themselves a playoff birth as the 8 seed in the Western conference.
They then took the “un-beatable” Golden State Warriors to 6 games, beating them twice in their own home arena.
Then they added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Let me say that again:
Then they added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Los Angeles Clippers next year will consist of the reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, reigning 6th Man of the Year Lou Williams, the 3rd place MVP vote-getter Paul George, and the 3rd place 6th Man of the Year vote-getter Montrezl Harrell.
That is quite the core for an LA Clippers team more than capable of accomplishing extraordinary things this upcoming season.
And at the helm of it all, 2008 NBA Champion and 2000 Coach of the Year Doc Rivers.
Rivers has been known to run a class-act, hard-nose team, no matter who or where he is coaching. Such was evident with his 2008 Boston Celtics whom went on to win the championship.
Last season, Rivers shocked the NBA world, coaching the Clippers to a shocking playoff birth and tough-fought series against the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors, as mentioned.
Now, with superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining the squad, Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers can be expected to have an incredible year, with a Coach of the Year award for Rivers being a likely byproduct.
🏆Most Improved Player: Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics)
After being selected 3rd overall in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum went on to have a spectacular rookie-season for the Boston Celtics. The 19 year-old forward put up just under 14 points per game on an impressive 48% from the field and was among the leagues leaders in 3 point percentage, shooting 43% from long distance. The most impressive part of his season just two years ago however, is the way it concluded. Tatum finished off his rookie year leading a young Celtics group of underdogs to the Eastern Conference finals, and took LeBron James and his Cavaliers to the final minutes of a game 7. Jayson Tatum finished just 3rd overall in Rookie of the Year voting, behind Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.
After such an impressive first run in the league, Tatum came out this past season, his second year, looking to be even better.
But things didn’t go quite as planned..
Tatum was expected to come out this past season and be an all-star caliber player on a Boston team expected to fight for a title. However, like the Celtics group he was a part of, he greatly underachieved. After putting up just under 16 points per game on worse shooting numbers across the board than in his rookie-campaign, and receiving almost no all-star consideration in a weaker Eastern Conference, Tatum is now thought to have plateaued. The complete and utter disfunction around him that was the Boston Celtics organization was no help either, losing to Milwaukee in the conference semifinals four games to one.
Next season though, things look to be much different. Tatum absolutely possesses the skillset and ability to be a 20 points per game all-star in this league, and on a Celtics team now free of the locker room cancer that was Kyrie Irving, the now 21 year old forward should be able to thrive.
Boston getting rid of guys such as Irving, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, and Al Horford this offseason has left more than enough oppurtunity on the table for Tatum to return back to his former self, and be even better than he once was.
This season Jayson Tatum will look to revitalize his young career, and show the world that he is exactly what everyone once thought he was after his incredible rookie year.
Keep a close eye on Tatum this upcoming season… the opportunity is right there for him to put the league on notice once again, and prove to be the NBA’s most improved player.
🏆6th Man of the Year: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers)
Along with head coach Doc Rivers, Lou Williams is the second member of the Los Angeles Clippers taking home an award on this list.
Last season, Lou Will had one of the best of his career, averaging 20 points per game to go along with a career-high 5.4 assists in just under 27 minutes off the bench.
This was enough to earn him his second straight 6th Man of the Year award, and the 3rd of his career.
Next season, do not be the least bit surprised if the LA Clippers “instant-offense of the bench” Lou Williams takes home his 3rd straight 6th Man of the Year and the 4th of his career.
This coming season, the man who has essentially turned the 6th man of the year award into the “Lou Williams Award,” will look to help lead LA to one of the leagues top records.
Two things can be almost guaranteed looking at Lou Williams and this years’ Los Angeles Clippers..
One, they will be a very good team. Whether of the belief that they are the title favorites or not, it is indisputable that with guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining the squad, the Clippers will be a team to recon with.
Two, Lou Williams is gonna be the guy he has been every year since 2014: an absolute explosion of offense off the bench and one of the best 6th men, if not the best, in the association.
If all things work out as planned for this Clippers team, and Lou Will has yet another spectacular year off the bench, it is very likely we will be sitting back about a year from now watching this guy win his third 6th Man of the Year award in the past six years.
🏆Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis (Los Angeles Lakers)
The 6’10” Lakers big man has been one of the leagues best defenders since he first entered the league back in 2012.
With his substantial size, yet guard-like abilities on both ends of the floor, Davis has a rare gift of being able to guard all 5 positions.
As SB Nation’s Paul Flannery detailed, Davis is scary good. In Flannery’s profile, he quotes an NBA insider who says he has never seen anything like Anthony Davis.
“He’s going to revolutionize the game,” one says. “We’ve never seen anything like him,” another offers. Who would you take to start a franchise, a third responds, “You mean, besides Anthony Davis?”
Though, it isn’t simply Davis’ extraordinary defensive ability that gives him such a great chance at winning this award next season. Its the fact that the team around him, is simply lackluster on that end of the floor.
Outside of Davis, the Lakers have few great, or even very good defenders on the roster.
While LeBron James is still the offensive stud he has always been, he is simply not what he used to be defensively, and it has showed as of late.
James has consistently been in the bottom half of the league for defensive RPM (a player’s average impact on his team’s defensive performance, by the points allowed per 100 offensive possessions) both of the past 2 seasons. At the age of 34, LeBron, while still an unbelievable offensive talent and one of the leagues top talents, is a shell of his former self defensively.
Guys like Kyle Kuzma and DeMarcus Cousins have their defensive incapabilities as well.
The number of defensive struggles with the Lakers roster are all the more reason for Anthony Davis to show his defensive prowess and extraordinary ability to carry a team defensively.
Although there will be some fine defenders such as Danny Green and Avery Bradley at his side, there is nobody on that Lakers roster capable of outshining Anthony Davis on that end of the floor.
The defensive spotlight will be absolutely shining on him, and the opportunity is right there for the six-time all-star to prove to the world why he is more than deserving of the Defensive Player of the Year award.
The ball is in his court now.
🏆Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
What can be said about this guy that hasn’t been said already?
After putting up a not-so-spectacular 6.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in his rookie-campaign, the 2013 #15 pick made his unmatched work-effort and will to grow be known, increasing both his points and rebounds per game exponentially the next 5 years of his career.
The reigning 2018-2019 MVP has evolved himself into arguably the NBA’s best player today, and has earned himself the opportunity to make his mark as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
The thing about Antetokounmpo that may just be his best trait, is his un-matched work ethic and hunger for greatness.
Bucks assistant coach Ben Sullivan heard the rumors about Antetokounmpo’s work ethic before joining the Bucks coaching staff last summer.
“You hear rumors and whispers about Giannis’ work ethic … You hear little chatter like, ‘Giannis has kinda got that work ethic like Kobe, Jordan, ‘” said Sullivan, who works with Antetokounmpo on his jump shot.
“And then you get here, and you see it first hand, and you’re like, this dude, he really works hard. He really works on his game.”
While potential MVP candidates such as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George share respective teams with one-another, which means they will take votes away from one another, Giannis shares a team with nobody that caliber. This gives Antetokounmpo a significant advantage over the rest, especially considering how great his Bucks will likely be in the upcoming season.
Giannis’ Bucks won 60 games this past year, earning the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The bucks most significant loss of the offseason was guard Malcolm Brogdon, but they were able to find a quick replacement, agreeing to a deal with sharpshooter Wesley Matthews. Every other significant piece to Milwaukees 60 win team was resigned, and they now look forward, past the offseason, and to their new goal: to win the eastern conference and bring an NBA championship to the city of Milwaukee.
Being the leader of a team as talented as the Bucks, and possessing the ability to put up the eye-popping numbers he can, Giannis is a sure fire MVP candidate, and my pick to take home the award for the second year in a row.
– By Zack Weiss