In the final installment of our NBA Preview series, K and I will be predicting the awards winners come season’s end. Don’t forget that if you haven’t already, catch up on the entire series.
Rosenberg: Ok K, I’ll start us off. I am taking James Harden, Rockets to win the 2017-18 NBA MVP.
Let’s start by crossing people off the list. Can we all agree that this award is going to LeBron, Durant, Steph, Harden, Kawhi or Westbrook?
The first thing we should talk about is voter fatigue, which is very real. There are only two guys on this list that have not previously won the award, Kawhi and Harden, so they can remain for now. I think we can eliminate Westbrook on account of voter fatigue and that he is not going to average a triple double again this season. Once we add in that George and Anthony take away the “Westbrook plays with trash,” argument to his candidacy I feel confident Westbrook won’t join a very exclusive list of back-to-back winners.
Out of LeBron, Curry, and Durant I think voter fatigue works against Curry the most. Becoming a three time MVP is a big deal and the argument can be made he isn’t the best player on his team. I’m not saying I agree or disagree, I’m just saying the argument can be made. This, plus the fact that Curry and Durant will cannibalize votes from each other and I think a third Steph MVP is not on the horizon.
However, while voter fatigue works against LeBron and Durant it won’t shock me if either wins. It will never shock me if LeBron wins, especially this season. This could be the last season of the there-is-no-debate-LeBron’s-the-best-player-in-the-game world we have been living in for what seems like a lifetime now. It may be very difficult for him to piece together a season that will get voters to give him another MVP after all he has already accomplished and his absolute lack of effort defensively during the regular season. The one counter to this is I believe voters may “give” (not that he won’t have earned it) him this award to help with his GOAT argument, assuming the un-slayable beast out in the Bay prevents him from ever winning another title.
Durant becoming a two time MVP is also something that should and will never come as a surprise. If the Warriors end up winning 70+ games there will be plenty of voters that think, “who is the best player on that team?” and vote for that guy. Once again, cannibalization comes into play here with Steph so while I don’t think this is impossible like I do Westbrook, I find it unlikely.
Harden averaged a career high in rebounds and assists last season and just like Westbrook coming back down to earth I’m sure Harden will as well. Regression to the mean obviously plays a part here but when your team goes out and adds Chris Paul you’re just not going to rack up 11.2 assists per game again. Harden has a lot working in his favor; I picked the Rockets to finish second in the West, he isn’t victim to voter fatigue and I don’t think Chris Paul will cannibalize some of his votes. Harden, rightly or wrongly, believes he was jobbed out of the last two MVPs. He won’t average the 29 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds from last year, but if he can get to the 29 points, 7.5 assists and 6 rebounds from the prior year and the Rockets end up second in the West, Harden will garner a lot of MVP consideration.
However, Kawhi Leonard has to be the favorite in a world where he isn’t injured or plays 75 games, perhaps even just 70+. A 60-win regular season team where the second best player isn’t in the same stratosphere as its best player will produce an MVP candidate. Kawhi is not subject to voter fatigue, has no one at even Chris Paul’s level to sort of, possibly, cannibalize his MVP votes, isn’t subject to otherworldly numbers falling back down this season, and will be in the DPOY conversation unlike Harden or LeBron. If Leonard wasn’t injured right now, or at least had a timetable to return, I wouldn’t be hesitating to pick him as the MVP. Due to this mysterious injury LeBron has overtaken Kawhi as the Vegas favorite to win the Award.
I think your three finalists are LeBron, Kawhi and Harden. I really want to take Kawhi, for the reasons listed above, but as of right now Leonard is not expected to play in the season opener and all Popovich has said is Leonard, “won’t be available.” Even if Leonard was going to play in the second regular season game I’m sure Pop would have said the exact same thing, but such a short winded, vague explanation makes me nervous. I’m going with Harden out of fear Kawhi misses more time than anyone imagines (and since I predicted it the opposite is bound to happen so, you’re welcome, Spurs). Finishing second in MVP voting last season shows that Harden’s defense won’t hold him back from the award as much as I believe it should and he has the opportunity to be the best player on a 60-win team and has never won before.
So after all that, K, how do you view this award panning out?
K: I am going to pick Kawhi Leonard, Spurs and keep it much shorter and sweeter. Kawhi had my vote last year. Steph and Durant share a court. Harden now has Chris Paul. Westbrook has Paul George. LeBron is still LeBron, but people are apparently tired of greatness. The stage is set for Kawhi’s MVP this year; he’s the best player (by a wide margin) on a very good team.
6th Man of the Year
K: Alright Rosenberg, I’ll lead us off here since you stole the glory of going first for MVP. For 6th Man I am taking Marcus Smart, Celtics.
Smart isn’t your typical 6th-man pick. The sixth man of the year award usually goes to an offensive-first player who is able to ignite the offense when the first unit needs a breather. Take a look at the past 5 winners:
’16-’17 – Eric Gordon
’15-’16 – Jamal Crawford
’14-’15 – Lou Williams
’13-’14 – Jamal Crawford
’12-’13 – JR Smith
With the exception of JR Smith at times, these guys are at best zeroes on defense. Smart is one of the most defensively versatile guards in the league, something that Boston desperately needs given that the defensive upgrade from Isaiah Thomas to Kyrie Irving is almost non-existent. Smart has been shooting the ball well in the pre-season. If he can improve his shooting enough this year to make him adequate offensively, his defense should carry him to this award.
Do you agree or do you have someone else in mind?
Rosenberg: I actually really like your pick and sort of want to steal it. I think the front runner for the award should be Eric Gordon and had I gone a different direction with MVP he would be my choice. However, I don’t believe the voters will give MVP and 6th Man to guys on the same team, the same logic I will apply to the Defensive Player of the Year award below. As a result my pick for 6th Man is Lou Williams, Clippers. You did a good job illustrating how voters go for bench scorers that come in and keep second units productive while stars rest. Lou Williams finished 3rd in the voting for this award last year and spent 23 games as a 7th man on the Rockets playing behind Eric Gordon. Had Williams been on the Lakers the entire season I believe he would have finished second in voting. Now back in Los Angeles, but this time playing a part for a team that will compete for the playoffs, I believe if things break for Williams (Harden wins MVP, Clippers make the playoffs) he will be taking home this award.
Defensive Player of the Year
Rosenberg: Ok K, I am going with something boring here but I just believe this is what will happen when the season is over.
Draymond Green, Warriors
This is another one that is weird given Kawhi’s odd injury. Over a full season I think Leonard would end up winning defensive player of the year but I just don’t know how many games he will log this season. Where this gets trickier is how I believe Kawhi wins MVP if he plays enough games and I don’t think voters will give MVP and DPOY to the same guy. These two factors lead me to, one way or another, Draymond winning.
I’d like to take this opportunity to opine that Draymond Green does not get enough credit for his contribution to the evolution of basketball. Steph Curry broke the NBA by being the deadliest shooter with unprecedented efficiency and deserves every ounce of attention he garners. However, Draymond Green makes the death lineup and small ball work. Green stands 6’7” and can guard anyone on the entire court. If you want to play with a traditional big that is a 7-footer that doesn’t worry Steve Kerr because Draymond can lock him down. He can lock down wings and guards as well. He is the definition of a switch everything defender that is still going to get you boards despite his relative lack of height. 6’7” is the typical height of a wing and considered a small power forward. Imagine earlier generations using a 6’7” guy to guard a traditional 5? Sprinkle in his ability to grab a rebound and then push the ball into transition possessions, which bodes well for a floor full of small quick dudes that are lights out shooters, and Draymond Green, in his own way, also broke basketball.
K, are you able to inject some intrigue into this conversation?
K: In theory yes but in reality the answer should be no. Everyone has narrowed this award down to Draymond and Kawhi and I have decided to go another direction, hence where the “intrigue” comes into play. I just don’t think that my selection is bold or fascinating at all since more people should be considering this guy as a viable candidate.
Rudy Gobert, Jazz
Of players who averaged 25 or more minutes per game and played 50 or more games last season, Gobert ranked second in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. Of those same players, Gobert led them all with a block percentage of 71.1%, the next closest was DeAndre Jordan sitting at a mere 58.8%. This season, his age-25 season, I expect him to cement his place as the league’s premier rim-protector.
Rookie of the Year
K: Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks
I am going to make this very straight and to the point. I find it hard to make a case for anyone over Smith. Not only has Smith amazed with his Summer League and preseason play, he’s going to have every opportunity to shine on an underdog Mavs team.
Who do you have here, Rosenberg?
I’m taking the Vegas front runner: Ben Simmons, 76ers
Simmons, right now, without having played a single regular season NBA game, is an elite passer in the league. I will stand by that statement. He is phenomenal in transition and is a freak athlete. He allows Brett Brown to have extreme lineup flexibility. Does he have any post moves? Will his shooting be better than abysmal? How bad will his defense be? I’m not quite sure, but I think we are about to have a nice feel good story come out of Philadelphia this season and this will be the voters way to acknowledge the progress of the Process.
Most Improved Player
Rosenberg: D’Angelo Russell, Nets
Does Embiid count for this award? The three guys above are heavy Vegas favorites so nothing thus far in this piece has been ground breaking or bold. Here is something bold. I mentioned in my East write up that I still believe there is a star somewhere inside Russell and I look forward to him making a substantial improvement this upcoming season. For all the Lakers’ issues the in previous seasons that one that never gets brought up is the lack of shooting. Jordan Clarkson is a career 33.4% shooter from three, Ingram shot 29.4% from three last season, Julius Randle is the anti stretch 4, and, well, Mozgov. Ok, yes, Mozgov remains in Russell’s new digs, but Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll will now flank him. Each of these guys is a good enough threat from distance that you have to guard them. This is going to help Russell get better looks himself and provide him more assist opportunities. I don’t think 20 points, 7 assists and 40% from three is an unrealistic end of season stat line for Russell. Voters may not go for him if they still hate him for the Nick Young video thing, but I said I am going to die on D’Angelo Russell hill and I suppose this is me going all in on that.
What say you, K?
K: I am taking a different Net, actually, in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the poor man’s Aaron Gordon.
Ok, maybe his is somewhat of a hopeful take on one of my favorite players, but I wanted to pick a player who will actually show improvement from last year, not just a player seeing his role expand. Hollis-Jefferson is the longest tenured Net, but he is still just 22 years old. After getting a feel for the league in his first two seasons, I think this is the year he takes a step forward. Hollis-Jefferson has been an adept ball handler and passer, especially for a PF, where he is expected to see most of his time this year. While he will still be a defense-first player, a wing who can guard 2-4 and smaller 5’s, any offensive improvement will add exponential value to his game.
Apparently we both have a thing for underachieving Nets players that were acquired through trade and drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft. Weird thing to have in common.
Coach of the Year
K: Ok, to wrap up I am going to choose Brad Stevens, Celtics, for coach of the year.
I’m tempted to hand the award over to Greg Popovich, who in my mind is the best coach in the NBA. But since the NBA loves narratives, I’ll go with Brad Stevens. With two new star players and sky-high expectations, Stevens faces his toughest task yet. Stevens finished fourth in the COY voting for this past season, with all eyes on Boston I think he’ll get the votes he deserves for guiding this mostly-new roster to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
You get the last word here Rosenberg, don’t blow it.
Rosenberg: There’s ice water in these veins, bruh. I am taking Quin Snyder, Jazz.
I wanted to pick Steve Kerr because I think the Warriors are going to end up winning 70 games and if you win 70 games you kind of should just get Coach of the Year. However, in the event someone misses time (maybe even Kerr himself) I think that really opens the door for Snyder. As I said in my West projections I think the Jazz will end up as the 7 seed in the Western Conference. During the offseason this team essentially lost Gordon Hawyard and George Hill while adding Ricky Rubio. Now Dante Exum is dealing with an injury that may require season ending surgery, although he is looking for alternative rehab possibilities to avoid missing the entire year. You may not be a huge Exum fan, but he is still one more body the Jazz are now missing.
Given these changes I think if Snyder can get this team to grind its way to the 7 seed in this absolutely loaded Western Conference, voters will be unable to overlook the job he did in Salt Lake City in 2017-18.