Predicting This Season’s NBA Award Winners



Camille Fine/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Nick Lalli

After highlighting the biggest surprises of the year last week, now seems an appropriate time to predict the award winners for this NBA season. I’ll take a look at MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year while adding some honorable mentions.

Starting with MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo has made a strong case to become the 12th player to win the award in back-to-back years. He’s led the Bucks to a league-best 39-6 record while averaging 30 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists and a block and a steal per game.

Additionally, he’s accomplished all this on extremely high efficiency while playing only 30 minutes per contest. James Harden deserves a shout out here, as he leads the league by a wide margin in points per game. However, his Rockets have stumbled as of late, losing four straight games to drop to sixth in the Western Conference.

Defensive Player of the Year (DPoY) is hotly contested year after year, and this year is no different. Defensive stalwarts like Rudy Gobert, Marcus Smart and newcomer Jonathan Issac have all had incredible years. Yet Anthony Davis still leads this pack in his first season as a Laker.

Davis has anchored the Lakers defense, leading them to a top-five ranking in defensive rating while averaging 2.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. His defensive rebounding numbers have fallen, but that can be attributed to Davis being surrounded by big men like Lebron James, Dwight Howard and Javale McGee.

Like DPoY, the field for Most Improved Player of the Year contains several worthy candidates. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Bam Adebayo have made the leap from intriguing young players to borderline all stars, while guys like Brandon Ingram and Pascal Siakam have gone from great role players to bona fide all stars. But none of them have experienced the kind of monumental growth that Bobcat’s Devonte’ Graham has.

As a four-year college starter and second-round pick two years ago, expectations were low entering Graham’s rookie season. He proved nobody wrong, producing less than five points a game on 34.3% shooting from the field in only 46 games.

After questions were raised about whether Graham even deserved a roster spot this season, he proceeded to silence all doubters, nearly quadrupling his scoring output to 18.6 points per game alongside 7.7 assists per contest. While his efficiency is still too low, Graham has entirely altered his career trajectory and proven himself as a solid building block for a middling Charlotte team.

The Rookie of the Year discussion is not much of a discussion really, as Ja Morant has far outpaced his peers. The second pick in this past draft has placed himself firmly in the All-Star Game discussion, averaging 18 points per game along with seven assists and astounding efficiency for a 20 year-old.

He’s also kept the Grizzlies, widely considered before the season to be a sure lottery bet, in playoff contention as they currently hold the eighth seed in the West. Morant hold on this award has benefitted from Zion Williamson’s absence, but rookies like Miami’s Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn are putting up fine seasons of their own.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the Lou Williams award, or the Sixth Man of the Year award, as some prefer to call it. The Clipper’s resident sharpshooter has won the award three of the last five years, and looks to be the frontrunner again.

He has averaged nearly 20 points and six assists per game while keeping the Clippers in contention for a top-four seed even as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have dealt with various injuries. William’s pick-and-roll mate Montrezl Harrell deserves an honorable mention as well, averaging nearly 20 points per game on elite efficiency while playing excellent defense.