UPDATE: This story was written before the Oct. 21 announcement by the New Orleans Pelicans that Zion Williamson had undergone surgery to repair his torn right meniscus.
It’s that time of year again folks, the 2019-20 NBA season is officially here.
Although, we could say the NBA never left, thanks to a historically eventful preseason that saw the United States National Team embarrassing themselves at the FIBA Basketball World Cup and Kawhi Leonard shift the entire league’s power dynamic in Thanos-esque fashion.
MVP – LeBron James (27.4 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, 8.3 assists last season)
I know LeBron had health issues last year and played a career-low 55 games while surrounded by a rag-tag group of young Lakers with no true identity. However, things are different this year. LeBron just teamed up with Anthony Davis, a transcendent star with limitless potential when he’s able to stay healthy for an entire season.
Furthermore, with the departure of young guns Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram in the offseason, LeBron has surrounded himself with notable vets such as Rajon Rondo, Demarcus Cousins, Avery Bradley and Danny Green. It doesn’t take a genius to know LeBron performs best around battle-tested vets (shoutout to Miami and Cleveland).
LeBron is also 34 years old, and factoring in all the strings he pulled to assemble a roster that looks like the Justice League (or a retirement home, depending on who you ask), he has a sense of urgency. With his few elite years left in the tank, LeBron James will be gunning hard for his fifth MVP and his first championship since leading Cleveland to the promised land in 2016.
Rookie of the Year — Zion Williamson (22.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.1 apg at Duke)
UPDATE: It was announced on Oct. 21 by the New Orleans Pelicans that Zion Williamson had undergone surgery to repair his torn right meniscus and will miss six-eight weeks.
I’ll admit, I was a skeptic at first. However, after seeing how dominant Zion Williamson was during this year’s preseason, I’m now a believer.
The biggest knock to Zion’s game is that he only scores in the paint — but if he’s scoring 20 points a game at a 70% clip, why change it? He scored 26 points on reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert during the preseason; I have nothing to complain about.
Zion joins an entertaining, up-tempo offense anchored by Lonzo Ball’s fantastic court vision. Look for Zion to get easy buckets off Zo’s outlet passes. Furthermore, with shooters like JJ Redick on the wing, Zion has a failsafe if he gets caught in the paint.
The Pelicans are young, so they will have no qualms running Zion if he stays healthy — and if he does, he’s looking like a lock for Rookie of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert (15.9 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 2.3 blocks per game last season)
I think Rudy Gobert will be the first player since Dwight Howard to win three consecutive DPOYs.
Getting past the voter’s fatigue and winning three straight will be tough — but despite not leading the league in total blocks or blocks per game, the “Stifle Tower” was at the top of nearly all advanced defensive stats, like plus-minus and defensive win shares.
Just look at him, he’s a 7-foot-1-inch goliath who absorbs everything in the lane. Plus, with the Utah Jazz’s improved roster, thanks to additions like Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, Gobert will be going all out — especially after his ridiculous All-Star Game snub last season.
Look for Rudy to be on a revenge tour all season.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams (20.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.4 apg last season)
They really ought to change the name of the award to the “Lou Williams Award.”
Sweet Lou averaged an absurd 20 points off the bench last season, and with a Clippers team that just became the favorite to win the NBA Championship, Williams will have his work cut out for him.
Look for Lou Will to anchor the second unit’s offense when Kawhi and Paul George are on the bench.
Most Improved Player: Lonzo Ball (9.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.4 apg last season)
A heralded recruit coming out of high school and college, Lonzo Ball has always been under the spotlight. In Los Angeles, Ball was subject to immense amounts of pressure for a kid that young — no thanks to his father, Lavar, and Magic Johnson.
Ball has been quoted saying confidence has been an issue for him, and now that Ball is free from unrealistic expectations in LA, he’s sure to thrive.
New Orleans is just a better fit for him. Lonzo has Jrue Holiday to alleviate some of the offensive pressure, he has JJ Redick to kick the ball out to, he has a transcendently athletic rim-runner in Zion and he still has his pals Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram.
Look for Zo and the young-gun Pelicans to make some noise.
Coach of the Year – Quin Snyder (50-32 record with the Jazz last season)
The Utah Jazz quietly had one of the best offseasons this year. Sure, they didn’t just add a transcendent player like the Rockets, the Clippers and the Lakers, but the Jazz was already great — they just got even better.
The Jazz added Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay to their roster for the upcoming season.
The addition of a former all-defensive vet in Conley is huge for the Jazz —especially having him alongside Donovan Mitchell. Plus, with added scoring from Bogdanovic and Green, the Jazz are poised to have an even better season than last year.