Premature Predictions for NBA Superlatives

NBA Training Camps open on December 1st. Preseason games will begin on the 11th, followed by the regular season tip-off on the 22nd of December. A quick turnaround from the NBA Bubble that just finished in Mid-October. An abbreviated offseason for teams that qualified for the NBA Bubble, but an extended offseason for those who did not.

This should make for an interesting 2020–21 season, especially for the eight teams who have not played an NBA game since March. We will get our first chance to see which players were putting in the work throughout the quarantine and which players were slacking off.

While many players have been seen in open gym runs throughout the past few months, it will still take a few games to get re-acclimated to the speed and flow of an NBA game.

This leaves the door wide open for underrated or undervalued players to show how much work they have been putting in to improve their game and earn more playing time, a new contract, or one of the heralded NBA Superlative Awards.

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While the Most Valuable Player award is usually a 2–3-man race, the other awards such as Most Improved Player, 6th Man of the Year, Rookie of the Year, or Defensive Player of the Year are all up for grabs.

With that being said, I am going to predict who I believe will win each of the NBA Superlative Awards for the 2020–21 NBA Season.

· Most Valuable Player (MVP):

o Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers — With LeBron James reportedly sitting out the first month of the season to rest, Anthony Davis will have the keys to the Castle in LA. This should allow him to jump out to an early lead in the MVP race and from there, he will not look back.

· MVP Runners up:

o Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics — Coming off his MIP Award last season, I expect him to continue his improvement. Tatum will be the #1 option on the Celtics moving forward and will have another very successful season in 2020–21.

o Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks — The Bucks improved their roster this offseason, but will it be enough to keep Giannis in Milwaukee. Either way, he will still put up ridiculous numbers like he has been over the last couple of years. There are not many guys in the league that can stop Giannis from getting to the basket.

o Luke Doncic, Dallas Mavericks — Going into his 3rd NBA season, Doncic is already one of the most un-guardable guys in the NBA. This trend will continue in 2020–21 as he and the Mavericks will look to avenge their post season loss from the NBA Bubble and take that next step toward an NBA Championship.

· Most Improved Player (MIP):

o Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies — The reigning rookie of the year shows no signs of slowing down. He has been putting in work this offseason and it will pay off. Morant’s elite athleticism, explosiveness, and playmaking ability will lead him to another award this coming season.

· MIP Runners up:

o De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings — After receiving that massive extension from the Kings, De’Aaron Fox must prove that he is worth the money. If his outside shot can marginally improve, the sky is the limit. His game-breaking speed and defensive ability should translate to a much-improved season for the Kings point guard of the future.

o Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls — Markkanen regressed last season, but many believe that was because of the coaching. With new coach, Billy Donovan, Lauri should get back to where he was his first two seasons and more. He will see career high numbers in all 3 major categories this season.

o Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat — Bam just signed a huge extension with Miami. This likely takes them out of the running for acquiring Giannis next off season… However, by locking Bam up for the next 5 years, the Heat with have one of the only guys in the NBA that can guard Giannis a full 48 minutes. Adebayo’s game took a huge jump this past season and I think he builds off that momentum going into the 2020–21 campaign.

· Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY):

o Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks — Giannis has improved his defensive efficiency year over year with the Bucks. With the addition of Jrue Holiday, they project to have a dominant team on the defensive side of the ball. Anchored by Giannis, this defense will be a problem for opposing offenses. Size, Length, and athleticism is a winning formula for the Defensive Player of the Year award. It goes without saying that Giannis excels in all those categories.

· DPOY Runners up:

o Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors — Draymond was the one constant on the Warriors roster this past season. Although they will be without Klay Thompson for another year, he will get his reinforcements back for the 2020–21 campaign. Steph Curry being back and healthy should help take the offensive load off Draymond so he can focus on the defensive end. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Wiseman should help anchor that defense behind Draymond as well.

o Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat — The ‘Heat Culture’ is where Jimmy thrives, and I am happy to see he found a home for many years to come. Jimmy’s motor itself is enough to land him on this list, but his defense is where he made his name. He is tenacious as they come and is a major problem for opposing backcourts. Jimmy is great at getting into passing lanes and creating turnovers. He should now have a reduced load on offense as guys like Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic, and Duncan Robinson have proven to help significantly on the offensive end. This should allow Jimmy to put even more effort on defense which is scary to even think about.

o Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz — Rudy will always be in this conversation. He is the anchor of the Jazz defense. When opposing players get near the rim, they must get past Rudy. That is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. He is an excellent safety net that allows for Utah’s permitter defenders to play tighter because they know that Gobert is in the paint waiting to disrupt floaters, layups, and dunk attempts.

· 6th Man of the Year:

o Goran Dragic — Goran was essential for the Heat in the Bubble. He provided much needed scoring in that second unit. A veteran guard who can facilitate, but also put the ball in the bucket. If the Heat are going to get back to an NBA final, they will need Goran to produced like he did last season. That production through an entire season would be good enough to land him with this award.

· 6th Man Runners up:

o Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons — Who knows what the rotation is going to look like in Detroit after a plethora offseason moves. If Derrick does come off the bench, I expect him to be in this conversation. His confidence on the floor is growing every season and he is molding into the best possible version of himself post-injuries. He is a guy that will give you 10–15 points and 5–8 assists a night. A great floor general but can still take over a game if he needs to.

o Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards — Fresh off his new contract extension, I expect Bertans to have a significant role in Washington’s plans moving forward. He is a guy that is in 3-point range as soon as he gets off the bus. His quick shot release and ability to move without the ball makes him a player that will live a long, happy career in the NBA or elsewhere. Still an underrated player, but he will put his doubters on notice this season.

o Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers — Sweet Lou will always be in the conversation for 6th man of the year. You know what you are going to get out of Lou Williams night in and night out. A guy you can rely on to give you instant offense off the bench.

· Rookie of the Year (ROY):

o Obi Toppin, New York Knicks — Although Obi is one of the elder statesmen from this year’s draft, his college experience and NBA ready body should help him make an immediate impact as a rookie. Although new head coach, Tom Thibodeau notoriously does not play rookies, due to the construction of their roster, Obi should have plenty of opportunity to play. This catapults him to the favorite for ROY in my books.

· ROY Runners up:

o James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors ­– The 2nd overall pick from this year’s draft will have every opportunity to play on a Warriors team that is hurting for a paint presence. Wiseman should provide much-needed defensive stability for the Warriors and anything he provides on offense is merely a bonus in his rookie year.

o Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic — A bit of a dark horse to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation, but Cole Anthony should get the keys to Orlando’s offense as a rookie. He has elite scoring ability that will translate to the NBA. The only question about Cole Anthony is whether he can get his teammates involved and be a factor on the defensive end.

o Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards ­– The potential steal of this draft fell to Washington at #9. While I think it will take a month or two for Deni to acclimate to NBA physicality, once he gets his feet under him, he should find himself in the ROY conversation come seasons end.

· Coach of the Year (COY):

o Erick Spoelstra, Miami Heat ­­– After leading the Heat to an NBA Championship appearance in the NBA Bubble, Spoelstra looks to run it back with a slightly improved roster. The ‘Heat Culture’ is real, and Spoelstra has a lot to do with it. It is being reported that people around the NBA believe the 2020 ‘Bubble Heat’ team that battled the Lakers in the Championship was a fluke… I do not know who exactly is saying that, but they obviously have not watched a lot of NBA basketball or Spoelstra as a coach. He has done a great job with this team for years now and will look to take that final step in 2020–21 by winning a Championship with LeBron.

· COY Runners up:

o Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls — Donovan comes to Chicago after a great run with OKC. He proved to be successful in developing young players. Chicago has no shortage of young talent on the roster for Billy Donovan to mold into the next stars of the NBA.

o Ty Lou, Los Angeles Clippers — Ty Lou takes over a Clipper team that is in disarray. They lost their 6th man in Montrezl Harrell and the team is as dysfunctional as they come. I think Ty Lou will help bring the team together toward one common goal of winning it all. He has championship pedigree as a player and a coach. Now that he is the man in charge for the Clippers, he should help them take the next step toward a Championship run.

o Doc Rivers, Philadelphia 76ers — Doc takes over one of the most talented young teams in the NBA… on paper. So far in their young careers, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have been out of sync. I think Doc will help bring the best out of each player on the roster which will propel the 76ers back into relevancy in the Eastern Conference.

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