The 2016-17 season is upon us, and though the Warriors didn’t come out of the gate as expected, there’s plenty of time for them to make some noise in the awards races this season. Let’s dissect the lay of the land for each award race, and make some predictions!
Most Valuable Player
- Any Warriors? Both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are candidates for this award. However, their presence on the same team may dilute their numbers, or at least blur their individual impacts on the court. For Curry, voter fatigue might cause media to choose another player instead, and for Durant, an MVP vote would be tacit approval of his decision to change teams. They’re both top five guys, though, and definitely at the top of ballot.
- Dark horses? James Harden’s and Russell Westbrook’s candidacies are entirely dependent on the success of their respective teams this season. In general, media voters reference a “50-win” threshold that teams need to pass for their star players to receive MVP votes. Both Harden and Westbrook will put up insane numbers as the focal points of their offenses, but their surrounding cast might not be strong enough for voters to see them as worthy of the award.
- LeBron James
- Kawhi Leonard
- Stephen Curry
- Kevin Durant
- Russell Westbrook
Though James will probably not be the best regular season player, his insane play last playoffs, imposing legacy and easier competition in the Eastern Conference will put him ahead for awards. Leonard played incredibly well on Tuesday, and is primed to take giant steps as the true leader of the Spurs franchise. Curry, Durant and Westbrook round out the top five.
Rookie of the Year
- Any Warriors? Not really, unless Patrick McCaw plays amazingly and receives at least 25 minutes a game. There’s a minuscule chance.
- Dark horses? In a weak 2016 draft class, few sleepers stick out as real contenders for the award. Though he’s out with a foot injury, don’t count out No. 1 pick Ben Simmons. And Dario Saric, who was drafted in 2014, is primed for major minutes on the 76ers as well.
- Joel Embiid
- Jamal Murray
- Brandon Ingram
We’ve “trusted the process,” and the Embiid we see today is the result of it. He’s seven-foot-two, has three-point range and looks like Olajuwon-lite on the block. His preseason usage rate was upwards of 37%, and he’s been cleared to play back-to-backs. On a lowly 76ers team, he’ll steal the spotlight if he stays healthy. Murray and Ingram are two high draft picks that showed intriguing promise in the preseason, and will have plenty of minutes on developing teams.
Defensive Player of the Year
- Any Warriors? Despite his recent struggles, Draymond Green is still a top contender for the award. He was the runner-up the last two years to Kawhi Leonard.
- Dark horses? Any team with a strong defense usually has its best defensive player receive recognition. If the Celtics, Hawks, Clippers or even the Magic have incredibly potent defenses, expect guys like Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan and Serge Ibaka to steal a few votes. However, this category has a very strong top three.
- Kawhi Leonard
- Draymond Green
- Rudy Gobert
Leonard seems likely to three-peat in this category because he’s the best wing defender in the NBA, capable of shutting down any player on the perimeter. Green does a little bit of everything on defense, holding his own against all five positions. If the Jazz do indeed play to their high expectations, Gobert could steal the top spot. Whenever he’s healthy, he’s the best rim protector in the game with his length and shot-blocking ability. The Warriors could have drafted him in 2013 ...
Coach of the Year
- Any Warriors? If the Warriors win 73 games again this season, or anywhere close, Steve Kerr will be a strong candidate. It’ll be hard to top last year’s regular season, though, which will make voters wary of awarding him Coach of the Year again.
- Dark horses? There are a crazy number of dark horses for this award. If the Rockets, Trail Blazers, or Jazz outperform expectations, Mike D’Antoni, Terry Stotts or Quin Snyder could win.
- Brad Stevens
- Tom Thibodeau
- Steve Kerr
With the acquisition of Al Horford, and plenty of assets to make the team even better via trade, the Celtics are likely to take a big step this season. If all goes smoothly, Stevens is a good bet for the award. Thibodeau will also win votes if the Timberwolves do well, given an awesomely talented, young roster with plenty of athleticism. Kerr will do well if the Warriors dominate the league again.
Sixth Man of the Year
- Any Warriors? Andre Iguodala probably remains the best bench player in the entire league, but his lack of counting statistics hurts him every year. But with a reinvented Death Lineup, and the probable dominance of the Warriors, he could stand out this year.
- Dark horses? One new contender for this award is Zach Randolph, who is now backing up JaMychal Green in Memphis. If the Grizzlies find success and he fills up the stat sheet from the bench, he’ll be a strong candidate.
- Andre Iguodala
- Zach Randolph
- Enes Kanter
Hopefully, voters will realize how much Iguodala contributes to the team when he’s on the court, and see past his unusually small statistics. Randolph and Kanter are both scoring bigs off the bench who will make many buckets and snag a bunch of rebounds.
Most Improved Player
- Any Warriors? JaVale McGee is honestly the best bet, given his massive potential — but only if he ends up starting games this season.
- Dark horses? Usually, winners of this award are players who don’t necessarily improve, but are given more minutes to show the media their worth. Thus, it seems like any second- or third-year player is a dark horse — making guys like Devin Booker, Jabari Parker, Myles Turner and D’Angelo Russell all possible winners.
- Zach LaVine
- Seth Curry
- D’Angelo Russell
LaVine quietly had an amazing second half of last season after the Timberwolves finally set him at shooting guard full-time. He’s not just a dunker, but a great shooter who can handle the ball well enough to get to the rack. Under Thibodeau, he could take major strides. Seth Curry looks like he’ll benefit under Coach Rick Carlisle’s system, and with some backcourt questions in Dallas, he’s likely to earn consistent minutes as a shooter. Russell finally has a system that will work with his skillset, under Luke Walton. And he’s been shooting it great this preseason, with more potential than any young point guard in the league.
But take these predictions with a grain of salt.
We still have a whole season to play, and the awards seem biased towards reputation more than actual play. But they’re still fun to predict.
Feel free to offer your own thoughts in the comments below.