Sam Smith's NBA Preseason Awards
MVP, DPOY: Sam looks across the NBA to pick the winners in each category
Sports is actually better when there's a dynasty.
As frustrated as many fan bases were about the dominance of the Golden State Warriors the last few seasons, it was special to see such a great team. And also special to see if someone could beat them.
Anyone excited about the Nationals against the Astros this week in the baseball World Series?
Though it should be interesting to see who will emerge in the balanced NBA this season to gain the biggest prize. My guess is it will be between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers. Hardly dominant teams. But more on that Tuesday for the NBA's opening day. The Bulls join most of the rest of the league starting Wednesday. Here's a preliminary look at the other prizes, those that could/should/might go to individuals this season in the NBA.
Though first, how did I do last year? I thought overall not too bad even if I'm still explaining picking Jabari Parker for Sixth Man of the Year. Maybe that's what influenced Bulls coach Jim Boylen when he took over in December and benched Parker. The guy wasn't particularly pleasant to have around, but he can score. And now with the Atlanta Hawks, Parker could actually be a Sixth Man of the Year contender this season. I doubt he will, but, c'mon, it wasn't that bad a guess.
It's time for the annual speculation about the NBA's awards. I'm suggesting a new category: Playing 82 games. Avoiding load management might rank with Most Valuable Player for how rare and special it is anymore. Now that I've dealt with that bete noire I can proceed with the positives.
Last season I suggested LeBron for MVP, for which he'd always be in the running as Michael Jordan once was. Though LeBron, shockingly, actually got hurt for the first time. I had Giannis Antetokounmpo third, which wasn't bad for the winner. Not many preseason prognosticators had the Bucks winning 16 more games than the previous season. I did pick their coach, Mike Budenholzer, for second in Coach of the Year. I thought that was a good selection and he did win. I had Utah's Quin Snyder the winner.
Pretty much everyone, including me, got Rookie of the Year correct with Luka Doncic. I had Trae Young third, which also was a good selection since he was runner-up. This season everyone who didn't wait to post their selections has Zion Williamson to win. Many still will as there have been rookies of the year, like Patrick Ewing and Kyrie Irving, who played about 50 games.
Perhaps it looked like a bulls.com pick with the Jabari selection, and I also had Zach LaVine for Most Improved. It's perhaps the most arbitrary of all these mostly arbitrary selections, especially since they are made before anyone actually plays a game of consequence. There are so many varying definitions. Mine generally is to vote for an overlooked veteran or lower draft selection. Though often it becomes a high draft pick who maybe didn't get a chance. Pascal Siakam was last season's winner, and he was a good choice. But Zach should have won since he had a much better season and not much was expected of him. LaVine had the misfortune of not standing next to Kawhi Leonard. There's no most Most Underrated. If there were, it should be LaVine. Derrick Rose would also have been a good choice if only for his 50-point game. There's never been a former MVP to become Most Improved. Which actually doesn't make much sense. Rose would have won the old NBA Comeback Player award.
I prefer individual defenders for Defensive Player of the Year, and so does Draymond Green, who was my choice last season. Voters tend to favor centers, so Rudy Gobert won. I still believe if you can defend centers and point guards, that represents the best defense. Not just blocking the rim. It is difficult, I agree, residing in an environment where most everyone else is wrong.
Sixth Man isn't fun because everyone votes for Lou Williams every year and he really hasn't been a sixth man because even though he came off the bench, he was his team's best player and closer. No more with Leonard and Paul George. He's not winning this year because he's not getting all those shots. Unless, of course, you know Kawhi and George rest most of their 82 games. I actually would understand it more now for Kawhi that he's in California instead of Canada. C'mon, if you're staying inside anyway, why not play?
Here we go with the 2019-20 NBA season possible award winners. Jeopardy and Carnac the Magnificent are passing for now on the categories. So I'll try.
Most Valuable Player:
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
With the most wide open races for the title in recent memory, it should follow that the MVP contest is similarly uncertain because there's usually a correlation between wins and the winner. Unless a player has an unusually exceptional season, like Russell Westbrook with his triple double average in 2017. The most dominant teams, at least in relation to their conference, seem to be the 76ers and Bucks. Giannis probably is the favorite for a repeat, and there always are questions about Embiid because of health and rest games. He'd probably have to play at least 70 to win. And perhaps the 76ers will be so secure in the standings they will sit him out more often. But Embiid remains one of the game's most dominant figures. With Jimmy Butler onto Miami, he'll be more dominant again. LeBron despite rumors about his demise always is a contender. His physical presence remains remarkable. Leonard and George likely will cancel out one another as Curry and Durant often did and Harden and Westbrook could. Curry should put up big numbers, and he will have a chance for three if they get into the top four without Durant and Klay Thompson. The Nuggets probably are too varied and versatile for Nikola Jokic to win. LeBron figures to overshadow Anthony Davis.
Coach of the Year:
Jim Boylen, Bulls
Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
I guess I had to put a Bulls guy in there somewhere. Hey, stick with me here. Patience, patience. This award generally is about what team the national media misjudged. Not so much that the coach was the smartest since coaching excellence is one of the more subjective judgments. But the Bulls despite the lack of a superstar summer addition have a real chance to make a big win total jump. Boylen, at least in preseason, had the team with the help of the new additions doing some impressive team oriented things. But perhaps as significant regarding the voters, the Bulls were not a 22-win team last season. Except in the standings. I know, you are what your record stats. There were the injuries, the coaching change, the lure of Zion. It all seemed to conspire to turn a 35-win team into a 22-win season. If the Bulls get close to .500, it will rank as one of the great turnarounds. Similarly, the Heat looks primed for a nice move with Jimmy Butler and Spoelstra has consistently been one of the most reliable coaches and overlooked post-LeBron. Snyder has established himself as one of the best along with the Nets Kenny Atkinson, the Pacers' Nate McMillan, Portland's Terry Stotts—should I go on?—Toronto's Nick Nurse, Denver's Mike Malone. Doc Rivers will be up there and if the Spurs make the playoffs, as most doubt yet again, Gregg Popovich.
Rookie of the Year:
Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
If Zion is physically able, it's him. But a third knee episode already with one in college, one in Summer League and one in preseason, even if it's not serious they insist, still is worrisome. Given the investment the Pelicans have in Zion, who already requires just one name, it would not be surprising if they are extra, extra cautious. Which might mean playing 40 or 50 games. It's still possible he could be so dominant, but if they are cautious it likely means fewer minutes. Top draft picks usually go to the poorest teams where they could put up big numbers. That should be Morant and Barrett. It's unclear who can score for Memphis other than Jaren Jackson. So Morant might be among the league leaders in assists. And the Knicks already seem to have made clear Barrett is going to lead the league in minutes played. They barely took him out of preseason games, so he should put up big scoring numbers even if his potential may not be that great. Coby White? The Bulls rookie has been very impressive in preseason. But coming off the bench he probably won't get as many opportunities as Morant and Barrett. But it would not be surprising to see him crack the top three and work his way up to the top given his certain mindset about scoring and going to the basket, especially if Zion plays half the season.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIlwaukee Bucks
Patrick Beverley, Los Angeles Clippers
As I've noted, I don't like to go with the centers, though they generally win. Defense, to me, is the guys who can defend multiple talents, like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Robertson, Bobby Jones, Kawhi Leonard. Beverley is probably considered the third best defender on his team, thought he looks like the only one who'll play more than 60 games. And if Beverley isn't quite at their overall level in size and athletic ability, everyone hates playing against those relentless guys who don't know how to rest. Giannis has a shot at winning the rare MVP/DPOY double, though I think Green gets overlooked too often for how many guys he's had to defend. He'll probably be overlooked even more this season with the Warriors not expected to win as much. Other than by me, of course. Sometimes I don't go for correct as much as deserving
Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
Goran Dragic, Miami Heat
Derrick Rose, Detroit Pistons
Enough Lou Williams. He'll likely the favorite of most, but where's Jamal? It's never fully clear who'll be coming off the bench as these things can change. And there always are many good contenders in this category with the likes of Coby White, Eric Gordon, Enes Kanter, J.J. Redick, T.J. Warren, Taj Gibson, Terrence Ross, Ben McLemore, Marcus Smart, Austin Rivers, Ersan Ilyasova, Joe Ingles, Frank Kaminsky, Landry Shamet, Bobby Portis, Dennis Schroder and Kyle Kuzma. Unless they start, of course, like with Gordon who for now looks like a starter. Kuzma could start as well. Vince Carter? That would be a good parting gift. I'm partial to the former Bull Dinwiddie who was barely in the NBA and trying to make it out of Windy City to becoming an integral part of a good Nets team. Dragic had been a longtime, near All-Star level starter who looks reserve bound along with Rose, who we know had some good years as a starter.
Most Improved Player:
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
This is another difficult category because of the varying definitions and can a No. 1 pick really be that improved? Though if Markelle Fultz breaks through I'm changing my rules. No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball could have a much bigger season. But he was hurt last season and not getting the chance. Murray was hurt last season, also. He was a low first round pick and looks like he could emerge as the Spurs point guard. Sabonis has been coming off the bench the last two seasons, and there have been rumors he could be traded because of payroll issues. He looks like he could break out along with Brown, who seemed to regress last season amidst uncertainty among the Celtics. He's talked like he wants to test free agency next summer. Which leads to numbers.
All-NBA First Team:
F. Giannis Antetokounmpo
F. LeBron James
C. Joel Embiid
G. James Harden
G. Stephen Curry
F. Kawhi Leonard
F. Anthony Davis
C. Nikola Jokic
G. Damian Lillard
G. Ben Simmons
F. Luka Doncic
F. Jimmy Butler
C. Karl-Anthony Towns
G. Trae Young
G. Zach LaVine
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