After four long months, a new NBA season is finally upon us. In just a short while, the Warriors will begin their quest towards their third title in four years and Lebron James begins his quest to win the fourth of his career and maybe dunk on former teammate Kyrie Irving along the way. With any new season comes the important questions: Who will be the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and all that jazz? And who will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season?
Most Valuable Player: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard already has a Finals MVP trophy to his credit and has the reputation of being arguably the best two-way forward in the league. He’s been the linchpin of the Spurs as the team’s veterans have entered the twilight of their careers, and it’s debated that if not for his injury in the Western Conference Finals in June, the Warriors would have never made it to the Cavs. The only thing that stopped him from being the MVP last year was Russel Westbrook making history and averaging a triple-double, and considering that Westbrook won’t have to shoulder the load this season, the road is clear for Kawhi once he returns from injury.
Rookie of the Year: Lonzo Ball
I can hear you sighing from here. His father’s bravado and strange marketing tactics aside, Lonzo is bursting with talent and potential, as his showing in the Summer League this year proved. Combine that potential with him being the starter for a high-profile team like the Lakers and he’s suspect number one to bring home the award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetekounmpo
Giannis is both the runner-up in my mind for MVP as well as the centerpiece of my fantasy team, so this might be a little biased. But to be fair, who wouldn’t be biased? He’s a genetic freak with the ability to play at least three different positions, and as he showed in the preseason, his knack for corralling rebounds and blocking shots has only improved, making him prime to take the crown from the Warriors’ Draymond Green.
Sixth Man of the Year: JR Smith, or any given Warrior
Entering his third season in Cleveland, JR Smith finds himself coming off the bench full-time for the first time since his stint in New York after the Cavs signed 3-time NBA Champion Dwyane Wade. Smith has proven time and time again the value his shooting brings to a team, shooting .506 from deep in the playoffs last season, and the fire lit in him by being moved behind Wade in the rotation makes that shooting all the more dangerous. On the flipside, though, Golden State has a deep roster. From veteran and former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala to rookie phenom Jordan Bell, spots 6-13 for the defending champs could have the title locked up.
Most Improved Player: D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell’s career in Los Angeles is the perfect example of “right place, wrong time”. Getting drafted by the Lakers during a coaching crisis and the twilight of Kobe Bryant’s legendary career is a hard position to envy, but then again, so is getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets, a franchise so doomed that they can’t even be accused of tanking, because they haven’t had any first round draft picks in years, due to that horrible trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. However, this could be the perfect storm for Russell and the Nets. He’s an efficient scorer and playmaker and tagged up with fellow former Laker Jeremy Lin in the backcourt, Russell could be on track to a rock solid season in Brooklyn.