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Basketball is back, baby!
The regular-season tipoff is just a few days away, and our staff at Bleacher Report is collectively throwing caution to the wind with its 2018-19 Major Award Predictions.
Take a gander at the OG unicorn, Anthony Davis, and read how his efforts in 2018-19 will pave the way to his position in theNBA‘s pantheon of all-time elites.
Observe Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder as he upsets the apple cart in the Western Conference to earn one of the two highly coveted front-office honors.
Will anyone challenge Rudy Gobert for the title of league’s best defender, or is he bound to swat away the competition once more? Who can upset overseas veteran Luka Doncic in the race for the game’s youngest award?
Join our team at B/R as it exorcises its offseason demons by summoning the Lord of Light and unveils the results of the 2018-19 season!
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Presti retainedPaul Georgewith zero drama, a true stunner in light of the seeming certainty PG was bound for Los Angeles. That four-year deal will look even better whenRussell Westbrook, already slated to miss early-season time following knee surgery, declines in his age-30 season.
The inevitable slippage of a 30-year-old whose entire game depends on athleticism is a bummer for OKC, but with George secured, it’s not fatal. No matter what happens to Westbrook in the coming seasons, the Thunder will have a superstar (who happens to be more than a full year younger than Russ) anchoring the action on both ends. That’s about as good as contingency plans get.
Keeping George was always a no-brainer, though. Presti pulled it off, but anyone in his position would have made it the offseason’s top priority. Fortunately, our pick for 2018-19’s top exec also operated shrewdly on the margins: Oklahoma City dumped Carmelo Anthony, added a reclamation project with upside in Dennis Schroder, snagged Nerlens Noel for the minimum and re-signed five-position-defender Jerami Grant.
Despite health concerns with Westbrook and defensive stalwart Andre Roberson, the Thunder remain a threat to finish in the West’s top four.
Apologies to Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets. this award doesn’t typically go to the executive who did the most with the least, but Marks managed to come out of an offseason in which his team had just $10 million in space with several, quality, low-cost signings—Ed Davis, Joe Harris, Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham—while also clearing up to two max-salary slots for 2019.
Honorable Mentions: Donnie Nelson, Sean Marks
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Even though the Utah Jazz have a dynamic up-and-coming offensive superstar in Donovan Mitchell and the league’s best defensive center in Rudy Gobert, there’s still this sense that the team’s success to this point owes largely to Quin Snyder’s scheming. Despite the obvious talent on hand, that analysis isn’t necessarily wrong.
Snyder’s offense is built on creating advantages, achieved by setting players in motionbeforethey have the ball, so they receive it with a defender already behind the action. This approach isn’t just a ploy to get Mitchell his buckets; it liberates everyone, scrambling defenses and creating open looks. Snyder’s is a truly egalitarian system—the kind that makes a coach look good.
Utah is going to feature the NBA’s top defense, Mitchell will make a leap, supporting cast members like Dante Exum and Jae Crowder will have breakout and bounce-back (respectively) years, Joe Ingles will never stop making threes, and the Jazz will win 55 games for the first time since Karl Malone and John Stockton were on the roster. Snyder will deservedly get a heap of credit and his first Coach of the Year award.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Budenholzer, Brad Stevens
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Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
Over his final 25 games last season, during which he was used as the Lakers’ offensive lifeline, Brandon Ingram averaged 16.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists while swishing 47.1 percent of his threes.
Say what you will about his lackluster three-point volume, unfinished pull-up jumper and defensive durability. It doesn’t matter.
Playing next to LeBron James will accelerate Ingram’s offensive growth. He’ll have more room to attack in the half-court, and it shouldn’t be hard to maintain his outside efficiency amid extra volume. Most of his additional three-pointers will come as wide-open standstills courtesy of LeBron, and he put down more than 40 percent of his uncontested triples as a sophomore.
Making strides at the defensive end will be harder. The Lakers don’t have many bigs, and Ingram will continue to struggle against stronger wings and small-ball 4s. Still, he’s a more disruptive defender than advertised—especially off the ball. And he knows how to use his length to bust up possessions in one-on-one situations. The switchability is there.
Go ahead and fast-track Ingram for stardom. He deserves it.
Honorable Mentions: Jamal Murray, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince
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So many valid candidates exist for this award. Fred VanVleet and Jae Crowder could serve as some of the league’s best bench players, but the award path is perilous for players who don’t typically function as volume scorers. Beating out Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, Nikola Mirotic, Dennis Schroder and [insert young Los Angeles Laker who doesn’t start] could prove too tough an undertaking.
Plus, everyone is likely to stare up at Tyreke Evans by the end of the 2018-19 campaign.
Evans experienced a delayed breakout for the Memphis Grizzlies last year, thriving as a basket-attacking scorer who kept defenders off balance with a reliable three-point stroke. But he was only operating on a one-year contract and played well enough that the cash-strapped Grizz had no shot at retaining him. Now with the Indiana Pacers, he’s primed to excel in relief of Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo while likely joining the two starting guards in smaller lineups when Bojan Bogdanovic needs a breather.
Knocking down 39.9 percent of his 5.5 triples per game for Memphis and connecting on his close-range attempts at a 54.4 percent clip, Evans has demonstrated a reliable blend of inside-outside scoring. Even more impressively, he did so while continuing to make further strides as a distributor. If defenders didn’t know whether to play him tight, sag back or anticipate passes in 2017-18, they surely won’t in 2018-19 when he’s surrounded by even more talent than the injury-riddled Grizzlies could place alongside him.
Honorable Mentions: Eric Gordon, Lou Williams
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Gregory Shamus/Associated Press
BillingDraymond Greenfor his second Defensive Player of the Year award is riskier than it should be. Most of the Warriors, including him, operate in toned-down gears until mid-May. Disinterest and self-preservation knocked Golden State outside the top 10 of points allowed per 100 possessions last season.
Another majority phone-in job could be on the horizon, if not overwhelmingly likely. Green most definitely isn’t earning this nod if he’s headlining a defense so comfortably outside the top five. But his absence from last year’s First Team All-Defense squad appears to have sparked something within him.
“I was second-team all-defense. That’s crazy,” he said, per the Mercury News‘ Logan Murdock. “I don’t think any voter can tell me five defensive players better than me. … I’ll wait.”
Green has long been an expert in manufacturing adversity. Last year’s snub could be his latest inspiration. And he doesn’t need the rest of the team to follow suit. Even at half-speed, he’s the Warriors’ stylistic lodestar. They wouldn’t dominate while sleepwalking if he couldn’t defend all five positions, acting simultaneously as their primary line of defense at the rim, a nuisance to jump-shooters and their leading off-ball worker bee.
Besides, when you look at the field, this pick isn’t that much of a reach. Rudy Gobert looms large, but who else? Joel Embiid needs to play in enough games first. Who knows if Kawhi Leonard is still Kawhi Leonard. New Orleans’ defense may not be good enough for Anthony Davis to drum up the requisite love. Andre Roberson is injured.
So, yes, I’m saying Green has a chance—a damn good one.
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard
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Kevin Hagen/Associated Press
Rookie of the Year is traditionally a stat-driven award. And Deandre Ayton’s numbers, both in terms of productivity and efficiency, will be tough for Luka Doncic or anyone from 2018’s draft class to match.
He’s averaging 20.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on 60.4 percent shooting through four preseason games. It’s only exhibition, but nothing about these results seems fluky. Already one of the most physically imposing bigs in basketball, Ayton figures to remain an overwhelming force around the basket, which should mean continued success as a finisher on dump-downs, lobs, quick slips off screens and offensive boards.
But he’s also looked remarkably confident as a scorer around the key, particularly with a mid-range jump shot he’s effortlessly getting off over defenders. The Phoenix Suns will keep feeding him all season. He’ll be locked into a high-usage, 30-minute role.
Doncic’s versatility will touch more statistical categories in Dallas, but he won’t dominate any of them. Ayton is an easy bet to lead all rookies in scoring and rebounding while finishing above 50 percent from the floor.
Honorable Mentions: Luka Doncic, Miles Bridges, Kevin Knox
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Anthony Davis has functioned as one of the NBA’s most talented figures for a few years running, but he’s about to officially arrive as a game-breaking big man capable of doing everything for the New Orleans Pelicans while rising to the top of the individual hierarchy. We saw the first signs of such unabashed dominance during the second half of 2017-18, when Davis flat-out exploded in the wake ofDeMarcus Cousins‘ season-ending injury, but that was just the stage-setting piece of this development.
Barring a momentum-canceling injury that forces him out of action after just 14 total missed games in the last two go-rounds, expect this former Wildcat to challenge for the scoring title. Count on him to pace the NBA in swats for the fourth time. Bet on him to serve as the driving force behind any and all NOLA success as the Pelicans take flight.
“In my eyes, I’m the best player in the game. I really feel that way and nobody can tell me different,” Davis said, per the Pelicans’ Twitter account, after a recent team practice. That’s a mentality shift for a perennially humble superstar, an indication he’s embracing all he can be and accepting the mantle that’s often been thrust upon his increasingly muscular shoulders.
Is Davis the world’s best basketballer? That’s debatable on a planet still featuring LeBron James,Kevin Durant,Stephen CurryandJames Harden. If you so desire, you can throw Giannis Antetokounmpo into that mix, as well.
But while James tries to pull the Los Angeles Lakers and their strange roster composition out of the lottery, Durant and Curry depress each other’s MVP chances and Harden strives to meet the lofty bar established in 2017-18, Davis is set to soar. He’ll surely have the individual stats necessary to justify this accolade, and dragging the Pelicans back into the postseason could give him the narrative needed to claim the Maurice Podoloff Trophy for the first time.
Honorable Mentions: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo