We're less than a week into the season already kicking off, and we're already seeing the hot takes come in. If you peruse NBA Twitter like I do on a daily basis, you'll see takes like the following:
- The Raptors' run as a contender is over and they're cooked at 0-3.
- The Wizards are 0-4 and Bradley Beal is ready to bounce DC.
- The 3-1 Kings and 3-1 Suns are ready to contend for home court playoff spots in the West, finally.
- Cleveland has their backcourt of the future and one of the best in the East in Colin Sexton and Darius Garland.
- Trae Young is an MVP candidate and Hawks are a Top 4 team in the East.
What's real and what's not?
We're going to have to wait and see on all of these, because it's only been 3-4 games for each team, but predictions are fun. Aaron and I have already picked the East and West standings and winners in our season previews, but while it's still early in the year, I also had to get some predictions down for the 2020-2021 major awards. Let's see how these turn out!
Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant
Who doesn't love a great comeback story? Kevin Durant, coming off an achilles tear that kept him off the court for 18 months, is back and ready to terrorize the East in Brooklyn in 2020-2021. Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP, and Giannis is the two-time reigning MVP for a reason, but I am going with KD for a couple reasons.
First off, I picked the Nets to win the Eastern Conference. I think there's a decent chance this Nets team blows the doors off of the East in 2021 and if early signs are any indication, KD looks just like he always has. We forget, the last two playoffs Durant was healthy all the way through, the Warriors won back to back championships and Durant was the best player and Finals MVP both years (2017 and 2018). Even in a 72 game season, I think the Nets may approach 50 wins and there's no question who the best player on this team is, no matter how much sage Kyrie is burning. The best player on the best team in the East has won the last two MVP's, and I think it's KD's turn this time.
Secondly, the narrative. Durant's comeback story is inspiring, taking 18 months off after the worst possible basketball injury a player can suffer with the torn achilles, which he injured trying to come back quickly to help his team in the 2019 NBA Finals. I think Durant's return to lift the Nets from the lower half of the Eastern playoff picture to the prohibitive favorite to win the East may be the biggest story of the year.
Lastly, we're talking about KEVIN DURANT. This is the baddest man in the planet not named Lebron James, and Durant beat him in back to back Finals the last time we saw him healthy. Durant is a career 27 PPG/7 RPG/4 APG guy who's also an MVP and a 2-Time Finals MVP. Durant overcoming the achilles tear, leading the Nets to win the East, and (small sample size alert) he's already averaging 28.3 PPG on 52 FG%/57 3PT%/88 FT% with a 29.2 PER, with a 60.1% eFG to boot) is why I'm picking KD to win Most Valuable Player in 2020-2021.
Others to watch: Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo
Dark Horse: Trae Young
Rookie of the Year: James Wiseman
I absolutely love Wiseman's game. After only playing 3 games at Memphis as a freshman before being declared ineligible, Wiseman has slid into the center spot for the Warriors and immediately looks like a future star for the Dubs. In just 23 minutes per game, Wiseman is averaging 12.5 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game, and 1.5 blocks per game. Per 36 minutes, that translates to 19.1 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game, and 2.3 blocks per game!
The wildest thing is he is just 19 years old and playing in his first couple of NBA games after barely even getting any experience in college. He's mostly doing this off of his immense natural talent, and I believe Wiseman is a prototype for the modern big in the NBA going forward. On the offensive end, he is a force in the paint and is able to step out and stretch the floor, in addition to taking slower bigs off the dribble. Defensively, he doesn't know where he's supposed to be and gets caught out of position like any rookie, but has the natural ability to protect the rim and still block shots with his immense wingspan, quick-twitch reflexes, and athleticism.
Wanna see what all of this looks like at once?
You can count just a handful of guys in the league that are 6'11 and can block a shot, beat the defense down the floor, eurostep, and slam it like Wiseman did here. I'm higher on Wiseman than anyone else in this draft, and he's my pick for 2021 Rookie of the Year.
Others to watch: Anthony Edwards, Obi Toppin, Lamelo Ball
Dark Horse: Tyrese Halliburton
6th Man Of The Year: Caris Levert
Another Nets player getting love on my predictions, but I think this one is going to end up being very justified. Lavert averaged 18.7 points per game on 29 minutes per game last year and his sole job for this Nets team will be to cook against other team's second units. The offense will run through him in his 15-20 minutes while KD and Kyrie are resting, and I think he has a chance to score a boatload of points on a very good Nets team.
The rough news for Brooklyn coming out this week is that Spencer Dinwiddie has a torn ACL and will miss quite a bit of time, perhaps even the entire season- which may lead to LeVert joining the starting 5. That will be my only caveat to not win this award, if LeVert is not eligible. However, if he is coming off the bench for Brooklyn, I think he can provide a Dennis Schroder-like impact with the offense running through him for large stretches of Nets games, and he will likely be closing games out with Kyrie/KD too. I like LeVert to bring home 6th Man of the Year in 2021.
Others to watch: Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson
Dark Horse: Cam Johnson
Defensive Player of the Year: Bam Adebayo
Bam burst onto the scene last year as a key member of that Miami Heat team that overcame all doubters to win the Eastern Conference and push the Lakers to 6 games, even without a healthy Bam Adebayo in that series. However, we all saw Bam's impact all season long on the defensive end even as his offensive game progressed, earning him a spot on 2nd Team All Defense. That was just the beginning.
He finished 2nd among all Power Forwards in the NBA in Defensive Real Plus/Minus (+3.06), trailing only Giannis, and 2nd among all players with at least 50 defended post-ups, allowing just 0.63 points per possession. Bam also showed impressive ability in one-on-one situations, ranking 3rd in defending Iso’s, allowing just 0.66 points per possession.
Adebayo's 3.9 Defensive Win Shares were good enough for 5th in the league in just his 3rd season, and I'd only anticipate him to take another jump after inking his max extension in Miami this offseason. Giannis and Gobert have won the last 3 DPOY's, but I think this is the year Bam asserts himself on their level and brings home the Defensive Player of the Year as the defensive foundation of a great Miami Heat team.
Others to Watch: Giannis, Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis
Dark Horse: Lu Dort
Most Improved Player: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SGA is one of my favorite players to watch in the league and I think 2020-2021 is primed to be his next step en route to stardom. Shai is being given the keys to the car in OKC, as Chris Paul was traded to the Suns, Dennis Schroeder was traded to the Lakers, and Shai is going to be asked to shoulder the load as the point guard and fulcrum of the Thunder offense.
If pre-season and the first game of the regular season are any indication, Shai looks up to the challenge set in front of him. Shai already jumped from a 10.8 PPG/2.8 RPG/3.3 APG line as a rookie in LA to 19.0 PPG/5.9 RPG/3.3 APG last year, but there's another level I'm expecting him to hit in year 3. Plus, he's already showing off his late game chops:
I think it's very reasonable to expect him to average 23-25 points per game, approach 8-9 assists per game, and 6-8 rebounds per game, which would vault him into the All-NBA conversation. I think Shai will greatly benefit running the Pick and Roll with savvy vet Al Horford, he's going to have to score buckets of points for the Thunder, and already considered a versatile, crafty defender on the other end of the court. Give me Shai for Most Improved Player this year.
Others to watch: Christian Wood, OG Anunoby, Michael Porter Jr.
Dark Horse: Cam Johnson
All NBA Teams
C Giannis Antetokounmpo
F Lebron James
F Kevin Durant (MVP)
G Damian Lillard
G Luka Doncic
C Nikola Jokic
F Anthony Davis
F Kawhi Leonard
G James Harden
G Steph Curry
C Joel Embiid
F Jayson Tatum