After a long summer of pretending to care about baseball and seven weeks of refereeing controversies, it’s finally time for the NBA season. Here are a few awards and conference champion predictions.
MVP: Stephen Curry
Today NBA fans, and especially Warriors’ fans, got the terrible news that Klay Thompson would not suit up for Golden State this year. As horrible as this news is it opens the road for Stephen Curry to win the MVP this season. Curry’s best season, one of the best seasons ever, was 2015. He averaged 30 points a game on 50-45-90 shooting. Curry also, inarguably, changed the way the game was played that season with his resplendent shooting. I think he can get back to that level this year. The Warriors have two gaping offensive holes to fill with Kevin Durant’s departure and Klay’s injury. D’Angelo Russell will be a fun addition to the team who brings the threat of the three; it would be interesting to see Steve Kerr use Curry and Russell in pick and pops on the wing. I think the Warriors play no defense this year while hoping Curry can go supernova every game. If Curry and Co. can patch together 46-50 wins, and if he performs spectacularly on the way I think the voters run to give the award to him. The relative dearth (No Iguodala, Livingston, Durant, Thompson) of offensive talent on this year’s club compared to past years is going to be the catalyzing force behind Curry’s MVP journey.
ROY: Ja Morant
The events that need to happen for Ja Morant to win this award are simple. One, Zion Williamson, who already is slated to miss eight weeks because of a meniscus injury, misses significant time which prevents him from having the necessary games on his ROY resume. Two, Ja must average at least 15 points a game and 6 assists. Some are concerned about Morant’s forays to the rim because of his slight build, I don’t think he’ll have a problem because of his tremendous explosiveness. From what I’ve seen from Morant in preseason action he looks to be a truly instinctual passer, who can dish with either hand to anywhere on the floor. I’m not as worried about his playmaking; I’m worried about his shot-making. If Morant’s jumper is a work in progress all season it might result in some ugly efficiency numbers. Ja Morant is a human-highlight film who will be all over SportsCenter’s Top Plays all year, so I think he’ll nail the public sentiment part of the award. The Rookie of the Year award isn’t usually contingent on team success as most of the players drafted in the lottery go to woeful teams; no roadblock for Morant there. I truly think Morant runs away with this award if Zion misses significant time.
DPOY: Joel Embiid
This is Embiid’s season. The 76ers suffered a crushing loss to the Toronto Raptors in a Game 7 on a fateful Kawhi Leonard bounce. If that isn’t a motivating factor for Embiid I don’t know what will be. I’m predicting he comes out this season in the best shape of his life, and if he avoids injury, he dominates on the defensive end this season. Last year the 76ers allowed 107.5 points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the court and 112.7 with Embiid off the court. In other words, with Embiid on the court, they played like a top-5 defense and with Embiid off they played like a bottom-ten defense. That’s a huge difference, and it’s all because of the 7’3 frame and uncanny mobility of Embiid. I believe the 76ers will have a top-five defense this year in no small part due to Mr. Embiid. Look for him to average 2.5-3 blocks a game and play top-flight defense.
Western Conference Champion: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers seem to have almost all the bases covered, assuming health. They have the ultimate pitbull point guard defender in Patrick Beverly, the two best two-way forwards in the league in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, a sharp-shooting guard who can also defend in Landry Shamet, a dynamic scorer off the bench in Lou Williams, and his partner in crime dive man extraordinaire Montrezl Harrell. Ivica Zubac showed promise last season before an atrocious playoff’s performance, Jamychal Green is physical and can defend, and Maurice Harkless is a solid if unspectacular forward. That is depth personified in a team. Paul George will miss time to start the season, but I don’t think the Clips will skip a beat. Their competition in the West is either too young (Nuggets), too limited offensively (Utah), or too Circus-like (Lakers, I’m looking at you Javale Mcgee and Dwight Howard). This team will be able to score with the best of them and choke the offenses of opposing teams. I do not envy the men that have to bring the ball up against Patrick Beverly.
Eastern Conference Champion: Philadelphia 76ers
The Clippers are deep but the 76ers may be deeper. They have the best 5-man rotation on paper in basketball with Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid. That is a gigantic line-up. In an NBA landscape that now values positional versatility above all other attributes, the 76ers consciously assembled one of the biggest rosters in NBA history. They were able to turn Jimmy Butler into Josh Richardson and Al Horford. That’s a good trade-off. They’re going to rebound the hell out of the ball and play stifling defense. Outside of Embiid and Simmons everyone in their starting five is a competent shooter, which gives me hope for their spacing. The 76ers also added Matthies Thybulle in the Draft and early reports are he’s going to be one of the best defenders in the NBA (I’m dubious). I don’t see any other Eastern Conference team being able to compete with the talent on this roster. The Milwaukee Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon who was often their second-best player, the Toronto Raptors lost Kawhi! Good teams are assembled around talent, great teams are assembled around talent and fit. I think the 76ers’ pieces this year will fit together cohesively.