Prediction-making is a fickle business, especially when it comes to the increasingly predictable NBA. Call for a Warriors-Cavaliers final and you get a “no duh!” reaction. Call for a Brooklyn Nets playoff appearance and you’ve assured that you’re going to be wrong, and therefore ridiculed. What’s left to be surprised by anymore?
Well, did anyone foresee Steph Curry making 400 threes last year? Or Kristaps Porzingis looking so comfortable in New York right out of the gate? Individual performances are the one area where the NBA can still provide shock and awe each night (remember that random Terrance Ross 50-point game?) and across a whole season. Predicting the players who will impress us the most this year is the perfect challenge for this NBA season, and one I’m more than happy to take on.
So who am I predicting to take home some of the NBA’s biggest hardware? Here are my predictions! Grand aren’t they?
NBA 2016-17 Award Predictions
Rookie of the Year: Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans
Five of the last eight Rookie of the Year awards had gone to the first-overall pick in the previous draft, and with the hype surrounding the Ben Simmons train, he felt like a lock to get the nod. But now, the Aussie is headed for an operation on his broken foot, and with Simmons’ setback comes new hope for this rookie class.
So who will emerge from the pack? How about the purest scorer in the draft, a kid who should be starting from day one and leaned on to produce points for a Pelicans team that constantly loses its star to injury? Yup, it’s time to reintroduce yourself to Buddy Hield!
The reigning Naismith College Player of the Year should beat out E’Twaun Moore for the starting spot at the two, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll still see heavy usage off the bench. Buddy has been one of the top scoring rookies in the preseason, averaging 12.8 points in four games.
If there’s one thing we know about the ROY, it’s that the award could be renamed “highest scoring rookie” and no one would bat an eye. The last seven winners have all been the top scorers in their class, and “Buddy Buckets” has all the skills to fill up a scoresheet at the pro level. Helping his cause too, will be his ability to drive and dish to Anthony Davis, whenever the First Team All-NBA big man is healthy and ready to go again.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
The Celtics have been slowly building to something under Stevens, and while this award usually recognizes the quicker turnarounds, it’s hard not to appreciate the solid team basketball Boston has been playing. Without any star power, the Celts managed 48 wins last year in a far more competitive Eastern Conference, and now return most of the same cast, plus Al Horford.
The Cavaliers have shown that, as long as they have LeBron, it doesn’t matter what seed they are in the Eastern Conference, leading to some lackadaisical regular season performances. This year, Boston looks like the team that could potentially push them for that one-seed, and maybe even steal it. Atlanta pulled such a coup in 2014-15, and it netted Mike Budenholzer COY.
Even if Boston is just a quality two-seed, the amount of respect Stevens gets could still net him recognition.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
I’ve never been accused of excessive thoughtfulness, so here would be a weird place to start. Two years ago, Leonard stopped a near two-decade trend of this award going to big men, and I don’t see things going back to the way they were. With all the top talents in the game lurking outside the paint, Leonard consistently locks down the opposing team’s best players night in and night out, leading a Spurs team that always ranks tops in the league in defense.
Some guys, like Hassan Whiteside, Rudy Gobert, and Draymond Green, might have better numbers in the categories voters used to cherish (mainly blocks, steals, and rebounds). But in a more enlightened era, it’s hard to see why Leonard wouldn’t keep winning the award for the foreseeable future. (Unlike the MVP, voters don’t get bored of giving it to the same player, inexplicably handing it to Charles Barkley or Derrick Rose instead.)
MVP: James Harden, Houston Rockets
This year, Harden is transitioning to point guard – a position he pretty much played last year anyway, touching the ball on 85.1-percent of possessions. But the move is convenient for argumentative purposes, because he now plays the same position as perceived MVP favorite, Russell Westbrook.
Really, what is the difference between the two? I mean, besides the complete lack of effort Harden shows at one end of the court? The MVP doesn’t go to the player who tries the hardest on defense (they have another award for that, which we already covered): it’s for who is most valuable to his team’s success. And Harden’s value will be found on the offensive end, especially because the Rockets, as a team, can’t play defense.
With the Dwight Howard sideshow packing up and moving to Atlanta, the Rockets lost a huge distraction, but also lost a true rim protector. Houston allowed 106.4 points per game last year, and that number could conceivably go up this season. That means if the Rockets are going to succeed, the bearded one needs to not only get his, but act as an effective facilitator in Mike D’Antoni’s offense.
Steph Curry claimed last year’s MVP by averaging 30.1 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.4 rebounds (granted his team also broke the all-time wins record, but still). Looking at Harden’s past performance, numbers like that are easy to envision in his expanded role. Since most of the league’s other elite performers play on loaded teams (cough Golden State), Harden and Westbrook are both poised to stand out as the only great players on otherwise average teams; but Harden – a better career shooter, particularly from three (.368 to .304) – is more equipped to handle the offensive load .
This award could come down to who leads their team to the seemingly up for grabs four-seed in the West. I’m siding with Harden, not only because he’s far better value (10/1 vs 2/1 for Westbrook), but because he actually has plenty of experience in the alpha-role. Westbrook put together some nice numbers when Durant went down with an injury in 2014-15, but the Thunder still missed the playoffs. Since Harden arrived in Houston as the guy, the Rockets have averaged 49 wins and never missed the postseason.
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