2018-19 NBA Awards Predictions
After another crazy NBA offseason, the regular season is set to kick off this Tuesday night when the Boston Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers. Superstars like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have switched teams and Jimmy Butler could also be on the move after his recent trade demands. Given what’s happened over the busy offseason, here’s a look at who could come away with this year’s major NBA awards.
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
The biggest change for the Milwaukee Bucks this season came when they hired Mike Budenholzer as head coach. It can’t be overstated how much Budenholzer’s system should benefit Giannis and the Bucks as a whole. For one, the Bucks will be playing faster under Budenholzer. The Bucks have ranked 20th, 26th, and 23rd in pace the past 3 seasons while the Hawks ranked 8th, 11th, and 8th (via NBA.com/stats) in the same category under Budenholzer. The increased pace and ball movement that come with it, will benefit Giannis with better scoring and more opportunity overall.
The Bucks will also be shooting more 3s under Budenholzer. 42% of the Bucks shots this preseason have been 3-pointers. While that stat’s from a small 3-game sample size, that’s a stark contrast from last year’s share of 29.7%. Milwaukee’s offseason signings also fit Budenholzer’s system well: Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova are both bigs that can space the floor and allow the Bucks to play five-out. This gives Giannis a ton of space to play to his strengths and violently drive to the rim.
Giannis has improved every year and if he can add any semblance of a consistent jump shot and up his three-point shot to the point where it’s a threat, say up to 33-36% from his career average of 28.4%, he’ll be unstoppable. Defense will have to respect his 3-ball, he’ll have even more space to work with in the pick and roll, also when he’s cutting off-ball.
The Bucks offseason acquisition and coaching hire have put Giannis in a great situation to reach even more of his potential. If he continues his career trajectory and the Bucks can finish near the top of a Lebron-less Eastern Conference with Giannis dominating, the sixth year forward has a great shot at holding the MVP trophy at the end of the year.
Other candidates: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kevin Durant
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Doncic has more winning experience at a professional level than anyone else in his draft class. At just 18-19 years old, Doncic has won just about every award possible in the Liga ACB and Euroleague, the second-best league in the world. A Euroleague champion and MVP, Doncic is surrounded with the talent necessary for early success. With Dennis Smith Jr. in the backcourt, Harrison Barnes scoring from the wing and post, DeAndre Jordan protecting the rim and finishing of pick and rolls, and the experience and shooting of Dirk Nowtizki, the Mavs should be very competitive this season and Doncic, widely regarded as the draft’s best passer, looks to play a big role in their success. If he can, he’ll add Rookie of the Year to his extensive trophy collection.
Most Improved Player: Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets
After falling to the 11th pick in last year’s draft Malik Monk had a rough rookie year with the Hornets, averaging 6.7 points on 36% shooting from the field. Right now, he’s remembered as the shooting guard the Hornets picked ahead of rising star Donovan Mitchell but Monk will look to make the leap in his second NBA season. Monk ended last season on a positive note, averaging 20 points and almost 4 assists over the final 6 games. If he can sustain that sort of production over an 82-game season, Monk can avoid the bust label and provide a quality second option on a team that should contend for the playoffs in the East. Jamal Murray, who i wrote about recently, is someone else to keep an eye on for this award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis might be the most versatile defensive player in the league. He’s an elite shot blocker, can step out and hang with guards on switches, can contest three-pointers with his length and can run the floor with the best of them to turn his defense into instant offense. Davis is the perfect center for today’s small-ball centric NBA and he constantly covers up the mistakes of his teammates on the Pelicans. His massive impact, particularly on the defensive end, was on display in the Pelicans’ dominance of the Trail Blazers in last year’s playoffs. If Davis can keep New Orleans in the playoff hunt after losing DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo he’ll have a great shot at winning the Defensive Player of the Year award, if not the MVP, after finishing third in voting last year.
Sixth Man of the Year: Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder
For the past couple years, the Thunder’s performance has dropped off dramatically when Russell Westbrook has gone to the bench with their offensive rating falling by over 9 points last year and over 10 points two years ago. Acquired in the Carmelo Anthony trade, Dennis Schroder figures to be both the focal point of OKC’s second unit and a key member of the Thunder’s rotation. Schroder will likely be on the court with Westbrook in crunch time. While Schroder was unable to carry a lackluster supporting cast in Atlanta, he’s overqualified as a backup point guard. Between his scoring ability and the Thunder’s lack of scoring options off the bench, Schroder should thrive as a secondary playmaker and figures to play a big role in the Thunder’s success this season.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
The expectations are high for Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics. The team is coming off a conference finals appearance and getting their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back. Stevens is great at managing lineups, creating defensive schemes, drawing up ATO (after timeout) plays, establishing a strong culture, and maximizing the efforts of his players. If Stevens can coach the Celtics to the Eastern Conference’s top seed, as expected, and show the Celtics are a viable threat to the Warriors, he’ll be well on his way to earning his first career Coach of the Year award.