The 2019-20 NBA season is upon us and The BarnBurner hoops writers have assembled to provide their preseason NBA awards predictions.
Most Valuable Player
Mason: LeBron James
Let me be clear, this award is most likely going to Giannis Antetokounmpo once again, but that pick seems too chalk for this article.
Anthony Davis has been the hot pick for MVP sleeper amongst many NBA pundits, but I think we see one more dominant season from LeBron before he fully hands the reigns to AD. You know LeBron is going to score and rebound at a solid rates, but if he can average around 10 assist per game as well, I think he’ll have a chance to add a final MVP award to his collection.
Not to mention, James is coming off the most rest he’s had in years and AD could be the most talented teammate he’s ever had.
Runner Up: James Harden
I know it was just preseason, but Harden was clearly in his bag. Westbrook won’t take many, if any, shots from Harden and the Rockets have the potential to be a hellacious regular season team. Should expect much of the same from Harden with the exception of new tricks he’s added to his game.
Josh: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Greek Freak broke out last year, leading the Bucks to the best record in the NBA while putting up jaw dropping stats. When looking at MVP, I look at who is the best player, and in my eyes, it is Giannis.
He is only turning 25 this year and his shot has looked improved in the preseason, so seeing a statistical improvement might not be surprising.
While jumping from 27.7p/12.5r/5.9a might not be possible, I do think we can see an uptick in his scoring once he improves upon his lackluster 25.6% clip from three and 72.9% from the line. If Antetokounmpo simply replicates what he did last year, he should be a front runner quite easily.
Runner-Up: Joel Embiid
I do think Joel Embiid has a good chance as he started to look like an MVP-candidate last year, but his injuries and minute restrictions are what keeps him from true contention. Maybe this year with an even better team he might be able to show his value if the 76ers win the East, but until Embiid can play 70+ games at 30+ minutes a night, I don’t think he will earn the MVP award.
Rich: Giannis Antetokounmpo
While I believe that Steph may very well win the scoring title, and LeBron will damn near average a triple double on his redemption tour, I just can’t bet against Giannis in his prime going back to back.
He’s one of the few superstars that doesn’t have to integrate a new superstar onto his team this year. The Bucks made some sneaky good signings (albeit losing Brogdon and having to really rely on Bledsoe will surely hurt) that will continue to space the floor and open up lanes for Giannis. The true question is: Can he maintain that dominance in the postseason this year?
Defensive Player Of The Year
Rich: Rudy Gobert
This award regularly goes to big men, and outside of Embiid, there is literally no one who I can see preventing Rudy Gobert from three-peating. He’s a prolific shot blocker and some teams have literally just given up trying to shoot over him. I’m interested to see how this Utah team functions as they add in Captain Clutch, but one thing is for certain: The Steiffel Tower will be swatting shots all over Salt Lake.
(Except Zion’s of course)
Josh: Joel Embiid
I already know what you’re thinking — if you’re too concerned about time played for Embiid’s MVP chances, why do you not care about this when it comes to Defensive Player of the Year?
And that is because it has not mattered in the past. In 2018, Gobert won his DPOY after only playing 56 games, and Kawhi did the same in 2015 in only 64 games.
Yes, both were incredible seasons, but it shows that impact in games played matters more than total minutes and counting stats. Embiid is a phenomenal defender and will be the centerpiece of the best defense in the NBA this season. The additions of Horford and Josh Richardson to the 76ers will allow Embiid to be a more imposing rim protector, as these are an upgrade compared to the guys they replaced (J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler).
Runner-Up: Rudy Gobert
Pairing the great defensive pedigree of Embiid with the high chance they will be a historic defense, and I think Embiid will run away with this award. In terms of Rudy Gobert, I still think he will be a phenomenal defender, but the Jazz’s overall defense will slip, and this will harm his chances.
While Bojan Bogdanovic is a better overall player than Derrick Favors, he is a worse defender, and will place more stress on the French center. I don’t think Gobert will struggle, but rather will be not as effective as he once was since he will be cleaning up for more teammates.
Mason: Kawhi Leonard
The best defensive player on what I expect to be the best defensive team in the league — if they can remain healthy. If not for his return from shoulder injury being uncertain, I probably would have voted for Paul George. I just think the Clippers defense is going to be a force of nature that we haven’t seen in a few years, led by the two best perimeter defenders in the NBA.
Runner Up: Rudy Gobert
The 2-time DPOY should be offended that I didn’t select him to win for the 3rd year in a row. Truth is, Gobert will probably win it again if the Jazz are as good as most think they will be. I’m a bit lower on Utah than most and that’s why I picked Rudy as the runner-up.
Rookie Of the Year
Josh: Zion Williamson
Let’s not try to complicate this – Zion Williamson is the best rookie in this class and looks to have a real chance to put up incredible numbers this year.
I can rattle off all the things I love about Zion, but his impact on both ends of the floor makes too much sense that he will be a star from day 1.
Rookie of the Year usually goes to whoever puts up the most impressive stats and provides memorable moments. Zion fills both of these requirements as I can see his averages around 19p/7r/4a/1.5s/1.5b a night on incredible shooting.
These stats will most likely not be topped by any rookie this year, and when you factor in the name recognition and highlight plays, I only see him winning this award.
The only true contender in my eyes is Ja Morant. Yes, it is boring to say the top two rookies will be the pair that went as the top 2 picks in the draft, but hey, sometimes that’s how it breaks.
*prediction made pre-injury announcement*
Runner-Up: Ja Morant
I also think Ja will put up great numbers with highlight plays, but I do think that he might struggle early on, similar to Trae Young last year. This is not a slight at anyone, but rather praise for one of my favorite prospects that I have ever seen.
Mason: RJ Barrett
RJ averaged 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in preseason action and should have a long leash under Coach David Fizdale as the Knicks don’t have high expectations heading into the season.
Barrett has a decent compliment of talent, with solid NBA players surrounding him, and the Knicks will probably need him to facilitate with the point guards on their roster not necessarily being known as distributors. 18-8-6 is not out of the question. If not for injury concerns, this award would go to Zion, hands down.
Runner Up: Ja Morant
His passing is uncanny and he’s going to be a joy to watch for many years to come. Morant’s scoring will come but probably will never reach the level of Barrett’s, and scoring is key when it comes to getting votes.
Rich: (Assuming healthy) Zion Williamson
See: previous hyperlink.
See: the NBA preseason.
See: NCAA basketball last season.
See: those frail private school hoopers in Spartanburg, SC.
See: God-given talent.
See: Lonzo’s passing brilliance.
See: SportsCenter every night.
Need I say more? … because I can if y’all really need me too. I’m really rooting for this young man though. He’s handled all of the hype, pressure, and expectations with sincerity and grace, and he definitely has a good head on his shoulders. As long as he stays away from my grandmothers gumbo and crawfish etouffee, he will be just fine.
Sixth Man Of the Year
Mason: Lou Williams
It is disrespectful to give this award to anyone other than Lou Williams at this point in the preseason. Lou is set to come off the bench with his bash brother Montrezl Harrell once again for a Clippers team that is projected to be tops in the Western Conference.
With Paul George returning from injury and Kawhi’s load management schedule, there will be plenty of opportunity for Williams to get 15 shots a game and his chemistry with Harrell should see his assists hover around the 5 he average last year. Those stats on a top team in the West will equate to another one for the Six Man himself.
Runner Up: Montrezl Harrell
If it’s not Lou Williams, then Trez is my pick. On a team that should be more efficient on both ends of the floor this year, Harrell’s impact on the game should be magnified for more to appreciate this season. He averaged 17 & 6 last year on 62% shooting from the field and this year he will also feed off of Kawhi and PG, in addition to Lou. Trez could have a monster season.
Rich: Spencer Dinwiddie
As much as I want to just simply say Lou Will, I feel as if the heightened Clipper exposure, as well as the emergence of Montrezl Harrell, their votes might be split. I’m going to go with Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn.
Kyrie Irving will be the shiny new centerpiece, leaving Dinwiddie with the ultimate greenlight to come off the bench and just get buckets during this transition season as they await the return of that 7 foot guard dude that’s really, really good… and very active on Twitter.
Josh: Spencer Dinwiddie
This was the hardest award to choose as many teams seem to be in great fluctuation in terms of starters, so choosing a specific 6th man is impossible. However, it does seem that Dinwiddie will man that role for Brooklyn this year. He might have been the Nets’ best player last year and by replicating his role — but this year backing up Kyrie Irving — I can see Dinwiddie getting a lot more buzz.
Dinwiddie’s game is built for the 6th man role, and that will be solidified after winning the award this season.
Runner-Up: Lou Williams
I do not want to put any disrespect on Lou Will’s name, but I doubt he will have the same impact. Last year he was the Clippers clear #1 guy, but after the additions of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, I doubt he will have as large of an impact. Name recognition alone will certainly help him get votes, but I doubt his impact will warrant it as much as Dinwiddie.
Most Improved Player
Rich: Lonzo Ball
I’m torn between two of my boys: Bam Adebayo and Lonzo! I’m gonna have to go with Zo though, I feel that getting out of Los Angeles and taking control of his career is going to be the best thing that could’ve happened to him. He already seems much more confident, open, and genuinely happy than he’s seemed in quite some time.
Playing for this Pelicans team will provide him with immense national exposure (thanks Zion) without the pressure of the Staples Center lights. He will average double digit assists, and his jumper is already looking smoother than it’s ever looked.
He’ll be serving up nightly highlights to Zion and co. and certainly making a name for himself outside of the shadow of Big Baller LaVar.
Josh: Zach Collins
While this award is usually flawed, with the winner just being someone grabbing a larger opportunity, I do like the idea of benchmarking who improves the most. And with this criteria, I see Zach Collins winning this award as he has shown plenty already in his young career.
Portland is known for letting their young players shine when they are ready (look at CJ McCollum as the biggest example), and letting a lot of their forwards and bigs walk seems to say more about Collins’s potential than anything else.
Collins’ shot blocking will help him get attention, and with eyes on him, he can certainly show his underrated offensive skillset with a nice shot and soft touch around the rim. By jumping from a role player to a starter this year, he fits the idea of a most improved player.
Runner-Up: Jonathan Isaac
I also think the Magic have a few guys who can win this award in Markelle Fultz or Mo Bamba, but Jonathan Isaac just seems like a guy primed to jump. His defense is already phenomenal, and his budding offensive game was showcased more towards the end of last season, so I would not be surprised if he put it all together for this season, turning into one of the better forwards in the East.
With Isaac only being 22 and dealing with tons of injuries his rookie year, I believe a healthy offseason will allow him to grow as a player and turn into a two-way forward the Magic can build around for the next decade.
Mason: Jaren Jackson Jr.
After averaging 14 points and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes per game as a rookie, everything seems to be aligning for Jackson to have a breakout sophomore season. The offense will have to run through him, as he is one of the few Grizzlies that have the ability to score the basketball.
Jackson will also see an increase in his 3 point attempts in Taylor Jenkins’ 5-out offense. Last season, Jackson averaged just 2 attempts from three per game.
Jaren has appeared to be more assertive when going for rebounds, and if he can average around 8 per game and increase his scoring to just shy of 20 ppg, he could be a prime candidate for Most Improved Player.
Runner Up: Bam Adebayo The Heat traded away Hassan Whiteside in the offseason, making Adebayo the anchor of a solid defense. Jimmy Butler should be able to create more open looks for Adebayo and the Heat remain a contender to make another acquisition in season that could increase Bam’s value even more.
Coach of the Year
Josh: Quin Snyder
Snyder has been a phenomenal addition to the Jazz’s coaching staff since joining in 2014, and I feel this will be the year he will get the recognition he deserves. The Jazz will continue being a defensive juggernaut, and with the additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, the offense should grow to a very impressive level.
If the Jazz start off strong (something they have struggled with in years prior) they can certainly contend for a top-3 seed in the West and become a true title contender.
Runner-Up: Doc Rivers
If I was to continue with the idea of rewarding the most impressive teams, I think Doc Rivers will help the Clippers become a monster early on. With so many moving pieces, chemistry might be an issue, but Doc has proven to be a true player-coach, making the most of any situation. However, I think the Clippers have so much talent that this will discredit Rivers and push him down the totem pole in the Coach of the Year rankings.
Mason: Brett Brown
Philadelphia could be the best team in the East, which has been a precursor for Brown earning COY the past 2 seasons. Ben Simmons should make a jump from last season, Embiid will continue to be better if healthy, and Al Horford will help anchor the defense even if Embiid has to sit out.
Philly’s window is now and they know it is time to capitalize.
Runner Up: Erik Spoelstra
Miami is always a threat to make a splash via trade and this seems like a season that Pat Riley may strike. Jimmy Butler will assert himself on both ends of the floor and could be the 2nd best player in the East, plus this writer expects big things from Adebayo which could result in Miami being a top 4 seed come Playoff time.
That’d put Spo in contention for this award.
Rich: Uncle Doc
Not only is he able to coach PG, Kawhi, and the rest of the bunch, but now Seth Curry is his son-in-law. Talk about an interesting Thanksgiving dinner!
Executive of the Year
Mason: Lawrence Frank/Jerry West
This duo brought in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and surrounding talent to the freaking Clippers! Just give them the award now.
Runner Up: Kevin Pritchard/Chad Buchanan
Indiana brought in TJ Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ McConnell AND my boy Justin Holiday to team with Oladipo, Myles Turner and Damontas Sabonis. While this season largely depends on how successfully Oladipo is able to bounce back, the Pacers have a strong roster and could make some noise in the East thanks to these additions.
Rich: David Griffin
While some lottery luck certainly helped things, this man definitely got back a haul for AD while instantly changing the culture in NOLA and spearheading much needed upgrades to their facilities.
Jrue Holiday is a big fan and I look forward to seeing the job that Griff will do.
Up next: Find a new mascot and get rid of that creepy king cake baby!!! Like, no, seriously.
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