Take a deep breath. You smell that? It’s back. The NBA is back. No more preseason, now the games are for keeps. We begin another march of 1,230 regular season games on a path that very likely may end up with another Golden State Warriors championship, but those 1,230 games are where the magic happens. So in the interest of being as boring and predictable as possible, here’s a standard discussion of our preseason predictions.
But first, this.
Greg: Anthony Davis. I think he’ll have the right combination of counting stats, team success, and narrative to win the award.
Tony: Giannis Antetokounmpo, and not just because we’re both Greek. Mike Budenholzer is going to be a massive coaching upgrade in Milwaukee, and Giannis is going to have all the numbers MVP voters enjoy.
Bryant: Anthony Davis. I think New Orleans is going to have a strong year, and they’ll be closer to the 4th seed than out of the playoffs. After the All-Star game last year—when Boogie’s injury finally forced him to play center—Davis averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, and 52% shooting from the field. If he can duplicate those stats over the full year, I think he’s the clear MVP. Plus, he has SOMETHING extra to play for... he’s a free agent next summer.
Akis: I’m gonna go a little against the grain here and say Kyrie Irving. I think with LeBron out of the East, the Raptors adapting to life with Kawhi, and Gordon Hayward back healthy as well as an improving young cast, the Celtics should be able to easily clinch the top spot in the East. Irving’s their best player and as such, I think he’ll make waves as a potential MVP candidate.
Tim: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak finally has a decent coach who’s running the correct plays for his skill set. He’s going to have a monster season.
Richard: I’m really split between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis. I honestly think they could both score 30 PPG this year. Unfortunately, much of MVP voting comes down to wins, and for that reason I have to lean Giannis, as he is in the weaker Eastern Conference and is therefor more likely to push his team to a 50-win season.
Kevin: I’m with Bryant on this. New Orleans should be improved and it’s going to be hard to ignore a full season of the kinds of numbers Anthony Davis will likely put up in a post-Boogie world.
Sanjesh: Giannis. He’s just too good in a bad Eastern conference.
Rookie of the Year
Greg: Deandre Ayton. I think he’s going to put up incredible stats for a rookie.
Tony: Luka Doncic. While Deandre Ayton might have the more impressive raw numbers, I think the Mavericks could be better than most are predicting, with Doncic leading them back to NBA relevance.
Bryant: Luka Doncic. I think this will end up as one of the most competitive ROY debates since... well, last year. Ayton is going to dominate. But the Mavericks will be pretty damn ok, and I think Luka will get a bunch of credit for that.
Akis: I was surprised to see Ayton not at #1 among GMs polled for Rookie of the Year. I think he is going to be a nightly double-double and when Booker comes back, they’ll just help each other
Tim: Deandre Ayton. He’s been a beast throughout the preseason and will continue to put up impressive numbers for the Suns. Side note: Harry Giles finishes third in voting and Marvin Bagley finishes fifth. instead of defenses being able to focus on one.
Richard: I’ll go with a Trae Young here. I think he is going to have so much volume that he will win the vote despite poor efficiency. I can imagine him playing 36 minutes a night and taking 20 shots per game. He’s also a very underrated passer already. Don’t be surprised if he averages 18 & 6 and runs away with the award.
Kevin: Deandre Ayton is going to have a great season but it’s going to be hard to beat a guy like Luka who projects to have the ball in his hands so much more. My prediction: Luka Doncic wins ROY, but we’ll be debating it down to the wire.
Sanjesh: I don’t want to say Ayton, but I have to. If he doesn’t get hurt, he’ll have his nightly numbers like Akis mentioned. Luka is a close second, easily. His partnership with Dennis Smith Jr. is going to be something (sorry, Greg).
Defensive Player of the Year
Greg: Kawhi Leonard. I think he’s back.
Tony: Rudy Gobert is basically that tall blue Monstar from Space Jam. If he can stay on the court, he’s the most impactful defender in the league, and he has my vote.
Bryant: Anthony Davis. I think he sweeps both the MVP and DPOY awards, and reminds us that Rudy Gobert may NOT be the best big defender in the league.
Akis: I still can’t get over how quickly the Kings gave up attacking the basket against Utah in that last preseason game. Gobert is a game changing player on that end of the floor and I think he can repeat.
Tim: Draymond Green. The Warriors will once again look fantastic and Green is one of the most versatile defenders in the league.
Richard: It’s hard to repeat in yearly awards, but the narrative around the Jazz could make it possible for Rudy Gobert. I see the Jazz finishing 3rd in the West and getting even more love from the media this season.
Kevin: Joel Embiid is primed to have a monster season in an even-weaker-than-usual Eastern Conference. He’s publicly predicted he’d win the award and I Trust The Process(™).
Sanjesh: I’m siding with Bryant to pick Anthony Davis. I think he gets the DPOY because he’ll prove he’s the best big man/defender, but he won’t win the MVP.
6th Man of the Year
Greg: Terry Rozier. I think he’s going to continue on his great play from last season, but with Kyrie back he’s going to be one of the best bench players in the league.
Tony: This is tough considering how lineups can and will fluctuate during the first few weeks of the season, but I’ll go with Isaiah Thomas here. If the Nuggets are going to compete in the west like so many NBA insiders are predicting, Thomas has to be a part of that success. I like that he’s back with Michael Malone. I like that he’s being more patient with his health. I hope he can be the same player we saw in Boston just two years ago.
Bryant: JJ Redick. He’s moving to the bench to let Markelle Fultz into the starting lineup, but the 76ers are going to find starter-level minutes for him, and he’s as important to the team as anyone.
Akis: I’m gonna go with Isaiah Thomas. Reunited under Mike Malone, has something to prove, looking for a big payday and the Nuggets will probably be decent to good. This was an ideal situation for Isaiah to go to, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Isaiah, it’s to never doubt him.
Tim: Tyreke Evans. The former King averaged 19 points, 5 boards, and 5 assists while shooting 40% from deep last season. He likely won’t put up those same stats as a member of the Pacers, but his impact on their performance will be highly regarded.
Richard: I’m still a Tyreke super-fan, so I’m going with him. I think he’s in a better system and he’s going to be a very valuable third guard for the pacers.
Kevin: I’ll believe it when I see it but if Carmelo Anthony accepts a bench role for the Rockets, I think he’s pretty much a lock. A high powered Rockets offense should take a lot of the attention/pressure off Melo and he’s looked pretty great in what little we saw of him this preseason. Look for a rejuvenated Hoodie to generate a lot of positive PR buzz as the Rockets make another deep run in the playoffs.
Sanjesh: I’m going with Terry Rozier as well. He did so well in Irving’s absence that it’s hard to not see him win it.
Coach of the Year
Greg: Mike Malone. I think the Nuggets are going to be really good this year. Like top 4 seed good. And I think Malone is going to get a lot of credit for it.
Tony: Quin Snyder. The Utah Jazz are going to be spectacular, Snyder has been great for a while, and this is the year he gets rewarded for it.
Bryant: I waffle between Mike Budenholzer and Alvin Gentry—again, betting on a strong year from the Pelicans—but I’m gonna go with Bud on this one. I think he makes the Bucks a real force in the Eastern Conference and gets more out of that team besides just optimizing Giannis. Starting Malcolm Brogdon over Tony Snell is a great start.
Akis: It’s Brad Stevens’ year. He has the right combination of narrative and great team.
Kevin: I agree with Akis here. The Celtics are going to win the East and Brad Stevens walks away with it.
Tim: Brad Stevens. He’s the best coach in the league.
Richard: Mike Budenholzer. He’s not as good of a coach as Steve Kerr, Greg Popovich, or Brad Stevens, but he’s going to be so much better than Jason Kidd was for the Bucks that he’s going to look like a superhero.
Sanjesh: Brad Stevens. He’s coaching the most talented team in the East, the deepest team in the East and he’s getting Gordon Hayward back. It’s all right there.
Most Improved Player
Greg: Brandon Ingram. I think he’s ready for a big leap forward.
Tony: I want to also say Brandon Ingram but in the interest of picking someone different, I’ll go with Beno Udrih.
Bryant: I agree on Brandon Ingram. Playing with LeBron is going to make Ingram’s inevitable third-year step forward into a massive leap, and the national spotlight that will be locked on the Lakers all season will make Ingram the natural selection for the pick.
Akis: I think this is an award the Kings can have a contender for (like a Buddy Hield) but ultimately I think it will go to someone like Brandon Ingram, playing a more visible role on a better team. With LeBron and a much improved supporting cast, Ingram should flourish in his role as the Robin to LeBron’s Batman.
Tim: Buddy Hield. Richard won’t like this pick, but Buddy has shown significant growth in his first two years in the league. I expect his scoring numbers to take a jump, his defensive impact to grow, while his rebounding and shooting stay steady.
Richard: This is a really hard award to predict, but Brandon Ingram isn’t a bad choice. I’ll go with that. But to Tim’s point, I do think that Buddy Hield is a bad choice. Dave Joerger is still refusing to start him for reasons beyond my understanding. He just won’t get the opportunity he needs to show off his skills.
Kevin: I’m going to say Markelle Fultz over the popular choice of Brandon Ingram for a couple of reasons. Markelle Fultz just putting his shoes on and playing basketball would obviously be an incredible improvement over last season and I think there’s a good chance he works through the yips that plagued him last year, and realizes his potential. I also think the 76ers being much much better than the Lakers helps a lot.
Sanjesh: I was going to say the same as Kevin. I feel like many people forgot about Fultz but since he’s in the East with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, I think he’ll improve if healthy and remind people why he was a #1 pick (I also just don’t want Ingram to win it).
Executive of the Year
Greg: Masai Ujiri
Tony: Sam Presti. If Executive of the Year voters are willing to credit Presti for convincing Paul George to stay in OKC this summer, I think he’ll have a legitimate claim to this award by the time the season is over. Dennis Schröder isn’t my favorite guard in the world, but Presti landed him for next to nothing and they found a way to get rid of Carmelo Anthony. I think he’s done a nice job putting this team back together.
Bryant: Masai Ujiri. Raptors will get major wins in the East and Kawhi will be playing for next summer. Perfect combination to make Masai look like a genius, even if the real test of the trade comes in June.
Akis: Kevin Pritchard. I think the Pacers could end up being a top four team in the East this year, and that’s largely to the shrewd moves Pritchard and co. have made since trading Paul George. What was thought to be middling return has actually proven great, and they added some nice depth while giving a reasonable extension to one of their nice young stars in Myles Turner.
Tim: Masai Ujiri, Raptors. The Raptors will be much improved with Kawhi Leonard over DeMar DeRozan. This one’s a bit of a no-brainer if Kawhi stays healthy.
Richard: I’ll take Masai Ujiri as well. There’s just so much upside with Kawhi, and it’s not many executives that have the guts to trade away a franchise player. If it pays off, it will pay off big.
Kevin: No votes for Vlade? Haters... (I’ll pick Masai as well. He took a huge risk and I have a feeling he’ll be rewarded.)
Sanjesh: Sam Presti because he got rid of Melo who wasn’t the right fit in OKC and they waived Kyle Singler, too (he’s frustrating to watch). Paul George stayed, Dennis Schroder arrived and so did Nerlens Noel, who I really want to see succeed. I think OKC makes a great push in the tough West and they’ll get recognition for it.
Eastern Conference Champion
Greg: Boston Celtics
Tony: Boston Celtics
Bryant: Boston Celtics. Too deep, too talented, too Brad Stevensy.
Akis: Boston Celtics. In fact I think they might have the best regular season record of all teams this year.
Tim: Boston Celtics
Richard: Boston Celtics
Kevin: Boston Celtics.
Sanjesh: See above
Western Conference Champion
Greg: Golden State Warriors. I think they’ll try harder this regular season to secure that number one seed.
Tony: Siiiiigh. Golden State Warriors.
Bryant: Obvious pick is obvious.
Akis: The California Battlemen
Tim: Golden State Warriors
Richard: Golden State Warriors
Kevin: Houston Rockets (Don’t @ me)
Sanjesh: Also see above (excluding Kevin)
2018 NBA Champion
Greg: Golden State Warriors. It’s boring, but I think they win one more. The good news is that after winning, I think Kevin Durant goes to another team in the offseason.
Tony: I think this will be the toughest year for the Kevin Durant-era Warriors, but I’m still picking them to win the whole thing.
Bryant: The Warriors. But rather than lament their inevitability, celebrate the fact that we’ll get to see DeMarcus Cousins in the playoffs/probably the finals/probably holding up the trophy. I’ll be happy for Boogie, if no one else.
Akis: It’s boring to pick the Warriors every year but they didn’t lose anyone important and they added DeMarcus Freaking Cousins. There’s a good case to be made that they would have lost last year if Chris Paul hadn’t gotten hurt, but the Rockets got worse this year in my opinion and I don’t see the same threat to the Warriors this year.
Tim: Ugh, the Warriors. I would love to see the Celtics pull off an upset (and then get a top-5 pick from us!), but Golden State simply has too much firepower. Hopefully, Kevin Durant leaves so the league becomes rebalanced.
Richard: Golden State Warriors, though I think the Celtics have a very legitimate chance to steal it.
Kevin: The answer is Golden State but I didn’t pick them above because I’m hilarious. Seriously though, ban Golden State. Someone needs to serve them with the NBA equivalent of an antitrust suit.
Sanjesh: One thing I’m not a fan of is how predictable the NBA has become, but the dang Warriors are going to do it again. They’ll have a lot of competition in the West but if they survive to the finals, they’re winning it. Experience + talent (and lots of it) = success.
Share your NBA predictions below! And be sure to make your Sacramento Kings predictions as well in the prediction contest.