The NBA is officially back, and that means it’s prediction time. To get ready for the grind of the season, I’m going to go through my predictions for all of the major awards, from MVP to Coach of the Year.
MVP: Nikola Jokic
Photo Cred: WYMT
The Nuggets, health permitting, should be the best team in the West again. They are returning their entire starting five from last year’s championship team. Jokic is the engine of it all, doing whatever Denver needs on any given night. Need 40 points? He can do that. Jokic will set them up time and time again with his unmatched passing ability. He does all this while being a monster on the glass as one of the league’s top rebounders.
I also think there could be some overcorrection from voters after last year’s race, where the narratives against Jokic got a little out of hand and strayed from basketball reasons. If the Nuggets are atop the West again, Jokic will be the driving force as to why.
Defensive Player of the Year: Evan Mobley
Photo Cred: SI
After finishing third in the DPOY race a season ago, everything lines up for Mobley to take another leap and take the award home in his third season. The young Cavs star is a space-eating monster on that end, able to switch out onto guards on the perimeter and deter drives from the weak side.
Mobley blocked just 1.5 shots per game last season. I expect this to increase as he continues to earn the trust to anchor his own lineups, along with the minutes he plays next to Jarrett Allen. The advanced metrics, on the other hand, loved the Cleveland big man. Mobley led the league in defensive win shares by a wide margin with 4.8. On a Cavs team where the guards should be average at best on defense once again, he will need to anchor this unit again, giving him a great shot at his first DPOY honor.
Most Improved Player: Tyrese Maxey
Photo Cred: NBA.com
With a James Harden trade imminent, the Sixers seem ready to hand the keys of the offense over to the electric Tyrese Maxey. The former Kentucky star already took a leap last season, eclipsing the 20 point per game mark for the first time. He also shot a blistering 43% from three on over six attempts a night. He put up these numbers despite playing off the ball a lot while Harden ran the point. With Harden seemingly out of the fold, Maxey could see the ball in his hands a lot more, giving him the chance to jump to stardom.
In the Sixers’ opener against Milwaukee, Maxey dropped 31 points with eight assists in a loss. If Maxey can keep up even a semblance of that production, he will be in the mix for Most Improved Player.
Sixth Man of the Year: Immanuel Quickley
Photo Cred: New York Daily News
Quickley has come along nicely as a bench piece for the Knicks and evolved into a consistent spark plug for Tom Thibodeau and company last season. He finished second in the race for this award a year ago, losing a tight race to Malcolm Brogdon.
His ability to come in off the bench and play with pace is a changeup for a Knicks squad that likes to play in the half-court when the starters are out there. Quickley can play both on and off the ball with his shooting ability, allowing him to slot in with or without Jalen Brunson on the court, and his ability to get a bucket makes him an asset for New York. On opening night, he started out with a bang, dropping an efficient 24 points off the bench in New York’s loss to the Celtics.
Rookie of the Year: Chet Holmgren
Photo Cred: NBA.com
Victor Wembanyama is the popular pick for this award, but I have concerns. He will be an excellent player, no doubt, but the potential of the Spurs limiting his workload and his minutes being cut by foul trouble as he learns the NBA game are potential problems.
Holmgren is ready to thrust his name back into the spotlight after missing all last season with a foot injury suffered in the offseason. The former Gonzaga standout has the potential to be a monster on both ends for a Thunder team that could’ve used a player with his size and skill last season. Standing at 7’0”, his length is a deterrent on the defensive end, blocking shots from all over the floor. Holmgren’s timing at the rim and coming over from the weak side are great, and he could help OKC take a step on defense this season.
On offense, he will get his chances on the offensive glass and in the post due to his height. Holmgren flashed a smooth jump shot in college that should allow him to score in the mid-post over smaller defenders and pop out to the three-point line. Combine all that with the fact that he will be contributing to a team in the playoff picture, and I think Holmgren has a great shot at this award.
Clutch Player of the Year: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Photo Cred: SI
This award is a crapshoot, but I’ll go with Shai as my pick. The Thunder should be in the playoff mix, and Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the best scorers in the league. He’s shown his mettle in crunch time over and over again last season. Shai has one of the deepest bags in the league, playing with great pace with the ball in his hands and getting into the lane at will. If you overcommit to the drive, he won’t hesitate to hit you with a lethal step-back. His plethora of ways to score allowed him to rack up over 31 points per game last season, a number that he matched in OKC’s opening night win in Chicago.
Coach of the Year: Jamahl Mosley
A bit of an out of the blue pick, the head man of the Orlando Magic should be a Coach of the Year dark horse if the Magic are ready to take the next step into playoff contention, and I think they are. Paolo Banchero had an amazing as a rookie and should take another step towards superstardom in year two. Franz Wagner remains one of the most underrated players in basketball, and he will be back alongside Banchero on the wing. Wendell Carter Jr. rounds out the front court as a rock-solid two-way center.
The guard room is the bigger question for the Magic, but they have a lot of bodies and plenty of untapped potential. Markelle Fultz is a veteran now but has found a home in Orlando after the roller coaster at the beginning of his career. Cole Anthony is a spark plug off the bench for this backcourt and can carry them with his scoring. The wild card here is Jalen Suggs, who has struggled in his first few seasons but still has plenty of potential that he can put on display in his third season.