Tuesday, October 16, 2018

2018-2019 NBA Awards Predictions

The 2018-19 NBA Season is finally here.

Barring any season-derailing injuries, Golden State and Boston likely will face off next summer. Both teams are stacked with elite talent and selfless superstars.

But that doesn’t mean this NBA season won’t be full of surprises. Here’s a look at early predictions for the end-of-season awards.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America

Most Improved Player: Pascal Siakam (TOR)

Brandon Ingram could blossom into a premiere scorer this season with new teammate LeBron James commanding the attention of Lakers’ opponents.

But regarding individual improvement, Toronto’s Pascal Siakam will take the biggest step forward in development.

The energetic 24-year-old Cameroonian power forward with a 7’3’’ wingspan earned NBA D-League Finals MVP honors in 2017 before playing in all but one game for Toronto as a sophomore last season.

Surprising quickness for his 6’9’’ frame allows Siakam to defend multiple positions and he has proven to be a proficient passer with terrific ball-handling skills for a big man.

Like Ingram with James, Siakam will greatly benefit from Toronto’s offseason acquisition of MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard.

New Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is expected to utilize a "fluid" starting lineup. In other words, Leonard and Kyle Lowry are the only Raptors locked into starting positions.

Nurse will experiment with Siakam in various roles, including center and point forward due to his unique blend of size, athleticism and court vision.

If Siakam develops a strong rapport with Leonard, his production and playing time will flourish. With pedestrian career averages of 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, continued significant improvement may earn him MIP consideration.

* MIP Runner-ups: Julius Randle (NO), Brandon Ingram (LAL), Jamal Murray (DEN)

ESPN Expert Panel: Brandon Ingram 

CBS Expert Panel: Brandon Ingram/Markelle Fultz (PHI)

- Celtic to watch: Jaylen Brown

Stuart Cahill-Boston Herald

Sixth Man of the Year: Terry Rozier (BOS)

This one's a no-brainer for Celtics fans or anyone who beheld Terry Rozier’s transformation last season.

“Scary Terry” is too talented to come off the bench and he knows it. Regardless, he'll serve one final season as Kyrie Irving’s backup in Boston before hitting free agency in 2019.

Contract year motivation aside, Rozier is a proven playmaker on both sides of the ball.

His field goal percentage and stats across the board have climbed exponentially in each of his first three seasons.

All the while, Rozier has established an identity as one of the league’s most fearless defenders.

Rozier’s role this season will be to overwhelm opponents. Boston's powerhouse starting five will exhaust opposing defenses and Rozier (and/or Marcus Smart) will frequently check into games in one of two favorable situations:

1 – Matched up with a defender who is fatigued from having chased Kyrie Irving or bodied Jaylen Brown for the last ten minutes.
2 – Matched up with an inferior backup guard.

Each of these situations allow Rozier to instantly impact games by utilizing explosiveness, tenacity and elite playmaking ability to wreak havoc against opposing backcourts.

Rozier, like Smart, often changes the pace and flow of games with athleticism, passionate play and focused aggression.

It also doesn’t hurt that he models his offensive game after Michael Jordan.

Boston’s opponents simply have too much to worry about this season. Rozier, one of the NBA’s most aggressive guards, will reap the benefits of an offensive game plan designed to exploit opponents’ weakest links.

* 6MOY Runner-ups: JJ Redick (PHI), Lou Williams (LAC), Eric Gordon (HOU)
- ESPN: Eric Gordon
- CBS: Lou Williams
- Celtic to watch: (Also) Marcus Smart

AP Photo/Boston Herald

Defensive Player of the Year: Al Horford (BOS)

Al Horford may not record the block numbers of the last two DPOY winners, but make no mistake: Horford is an elite defender.

He finished fifth in DPOY voting last season and consistently ranked among the league leaders in defensive rating.

But this season, operating as the anchor to a dynamic lineup that will cause nightmares for opponents, Horford will be the leader and driving force behind possibly the best defensive starting unit in the NBA.

At age 32, Horford is past his prime. But don’t forget that Kevin Garnett won the award at age 31 when he led the ’08 Celtics to Banner 17. Horford gets a similar opportunity this season as the centerpiece for the East’s most promising squad.

Look for Horford to lock down the paint and help patrol the perimeter as the defensive leader for the Celtics’ starters. As with Rozier and Sixth Man, Horford’s case for DPOY will fluctuate with the overall success of the team.

* DPOY Runner-ups: Kawhi Leonard (TOR), Rudy Gobert (UTA), Anthony Davis (NO)
- ESPN: Rudy Gobert
- CBS: Kawhi Leonard (TOR)
- Celtic to watch: (Also) Marcus Smart
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Rookie of the Year: Deandre Ayton (PHO)

Slovenian guard Luka Doncic is considered the most NBA-ready rookie after he was named the 2017-18 EuroLeague MVP and then selected third overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Doncic averaged 14.7 points per game in the preseason and takes the reins of the Dallas Mavericks' franchise in what could be Dirk Nowitzki’s final year.

Nevertheless, Deandre Ayton will remind the basketball world why he was selected #1 overall, before Doncic and other talented young players, by the Phoenix Suns this summer.

Ayton has the body and talent to become the most dominant big man since Shaquille O’Neal. His stellar play at the University of Arizona (20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.9 blocks) drew frequent comparisons to David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and other Hall of Famers.

Despite most media predictions favoring Doncic, it was Ayton, the 7’1’’ Bahamian center (wingspan 7’6’’) who was voted most likely to win ROY by his peers in the 2017-18 NBA.com Rookie Survey.

The modern NBA is gradually phasing out the role of the traditional big man, but Ayton battles using well-timed explosiveness and brute force in the paint. He is the best of several young centers looking to spark a resurgence at the position.

Phoenix will probably struggle against fast-paced teams, but Ayton will make the Suns into a formidably gritty team. Their offensive game plan will seek to maximize scoring production from him and Devin Booker.

Ayton will almost certainly average a double-double while producing plenty of highlights as a commanding paint presence for the rebuilding Suns.

* ROY Runner-ups: Luka Doncic (DAL), Mohamed Bamba (ORL), Kevin Knox (NYK)
- ESPN: Luka Doncic
- CBS: Luka Doncic
- Celtic to watch: Robert Williams

Brett Duke-The Times-Picayune

MVP: Anthony Davis (NO)

After quashing past injury concerns by playing in 75 games in each of the last two years, Anthony Davis will continue shouldering the load for the New Orleans Pelicans in his seventh season.

Davis, 25, was my MVP pick last year when he finished third in voting behind James Harden and LeBron James. He also finished third in DPOY voting.

Now working in a faster-paced offense, Davis can build on last season’s averages (28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks) while exerting his overall dominance on both ends of the floor.

Arguably the most dynamic big man in NBA history, Davis shot over 53% last season (and career-high 34% from three-point range) while also logging a career-best 1.5 steals per game.

With DeMarcus Cousins gone, Davis is back to operating as the sole focal point of the Pelicans’ offense. New acquisitions Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle will help New Orleans move the ball quicker, allowing Davis more opportunities to overwhelm defenders in transition.

It would only take slight improvement from last season for Davis to average 30 and 12. Those are MVP frontrunner numbers.

* MVP Runner-ups: Giannis Antetekounmpo (MIL), Russell Westbrook (OKC), LeBron James (LAL)
- ESPN: LeBron James
- CBS: Giannis Antetekounmpo/LeBron James
- Celtic to watch: Kyrie Irving

Christopher Evans-Boston Herald

Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens (BOS)

It’s unfortunate that Brad Stevens is still yet to win COY, especially after he led last year’s Celtics to a 55-27 record en route to the Eastern Conference Finals despite injuries to several key players.

Nevertheless, Stevens won’t be overlooked this season when he leads Boston to the best record in the East and their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

As the best coach with the most talented roster in the conference, Stevens and the Celtics are incredibly skilled at exploiting mismatches. They are the greatest immediate threat to Golden State’s dynasty.

* COY Runner-ups: Nick Nurse (TOR), Quin Snyder (UTA)
- ESPN: Brad Stevens
- CBS: Brad Stevens

Axel Koester-Orange County Register

Executive of the Year: Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson is credited with bringing LeBron James to Los Angeles.

After the Lakers floundered to a 35-47 record last season, Johnson ultimately responded with an immediate influx in talent, wins, ticket sales and overall revenue facilitated by James’ presence.

Plenty of NBA executives are deserving of this award, including Danny Ainge and Bob Myers, who assembled the teams most likely to appear in this season’s Finals.

But even if Golden State and Boston prove dominant as expected, drastic improvement within the Lakers' franchise through the acquisition of James will earn Johnson EOY honors.

* EOY Runner-ups: Bob Myers (GS), Masai Ujiri (TOR)
- ESPN: No Prediction
- CBS: Masai Ujiri
- Celtic to watch: Danny Ainge

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