One of the most unpredictable awards is also my second favorite (behind Rookie of the Year). I love this award because there is nothing better than a player making the leap from good to great and making himself someone to be taken seriously. Or maybe he just got more minutes this season. Either way. Regardless, I am really intrigued by all five players on my list and think they could all be making a jump this season.
1. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Ingram is so raw that there is a lot of room to grow for him. That helps. What else helps is having someone with the vision and pass-first mentality of Lonzo Ball as your new point guard. The Baby Lakers are going to be a lot of fun to watch and they could even win a handful of games if the young guys gel around Brook Lopez. What might be crazier is I have three players from last years Lakers on my list.
2. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jaylen was raw last year as well, but come the playoffs, he showed flashes of his potential on defense in particular. He has the defensive potential to be one of those few players that could bother Lebron (although by the time Brown gets to that point, James won’t be peak Lebron anymore). I think the Celtics best move is to start Brown this season, so I think the combination of additional minutes plus more development could launch Jaylen to the MIP award.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets
(Former) Laker #2. I love Russell’s potential and given his fresh start in Brooklyn, I’d like to see the Nets turn the keys over to him and let him fly. The Lakers weren’t big on Russell as everyone knows by now, and it was obvious that they weren’t letting him reach his full potential. I still expect big things from D’Angelo.
4. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
And Laker #3. Normally this is an award directed toward younger (yes I know Randle is only 22) players, mostly second year players. But I’ve been hearing that Randle has put in crazy work this offseason and could be a monster this year. I really hope so. Randle seems like one of the genuinely great people in the league and I’d love to see him make that leap into a real force at the 4.
5. DeAndre Bembry, Atlanta Hawks
Bembry was turning some heads last season, before the Hawks lost Tim Hardaway Jr., Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard and went into full rebuild mode. He won’t start, but the Summer League standout will earn significantly more minutes this season and if he continues to impress, could sneak away with the award.
Similar to the Most Improved Player award, there are two different methods for how coaches win the award. Either they are the coach of a good team that exceeds a bit and maybe plays its way into a seed or two higher in the playoffs, or they go from having a bad or mediocre team to surprising people and either making the playoffs or ending up in the top four of their conference. Fittingly, there’s a mix of both on the list this year, although the coaches with better teams usually have a better chance of winning. With that said…
1. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
For years, Boston has been playing above its head, which most attribute to coach Brad Stevens. Now, Stevens has some real talent. The acquisition of Gordon Hayward was huge obviously, and with the trade completed for Kyrie Irving, the Celtics will be extremely formidable on the offensive side of the ball. They can take a real shot at throwing Cleveland off the throne and establish themselves going forward as the team to worry about in the East.
2. Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets
If Houston was coming back with the same team as last year, D’Antoni wouldn’t have made the list. He’s done a great job with the Rockets, but coaches never win the award twice in a row. No seriously, it hasn’t happened. However, if anyone has a chance at it, it might be D’Antoni. The Rockets added Chris Paul for basically nothing this summer, and they could challenge Golden State for the wins record in the regular season. Golden State could rest more this season and not worry about giving up home court to Houston. I think if Houston finishes the regular season with the best record in the NBA, D’Antoni could be the first back to back winner of the award.
3. Brett Brown, Philadelphia Sixers
If the Sixers stay healthy this season, they will probably make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs, even with a middling record, Brown will be getting a lot of love from the media for the job he’s done there. Whether you want to give him the credit for having 98 top 3 picks in the last few seasons is debatable, but the Process will finally be paying some dividends for the fans in Philly.
4. Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
Here is your alternative to the scenario with the Houston Rockets. Golden State could come out on fire, ready to make a run at back-to-back championships, and light everyone up. I’ll keep this short and sweet. If the Warriors set the record (again) for wins in a season, Kerr stands a good chance at winning the award.
5. Jason Kidd, Milwaukee Bucks
I might as well have put Giannis Antetokounmpo’s name instead of Jason Kidd’s. Kidd is a fine coach, but the only reason he has a chance at this award is because of the Greek Freak. If the team makes a leap this season, playing it’s way into a 3rd or 4th seed in the East, Kidd could potentially win the award. It’s not likely but stranger things have happened. (Mike Brown and Byron Scott have Coach of the Year awards in the last ten years)
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics completed, somehow, the craziest trade of the offseason tonight. The Cavaliers are sending Kyrie Irving to the Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, and a 2020 2nd-round pick.
When the Irving stuff first started getting leaked, I saw a tweet from FS1’s Jason McIntyre basically laying out this trade, but with Guerschon Yabusele instead of Zizic. I loved the idea then, so to see it play out is really interesting. Here’s why both teams won this trade.
Cleveland won the trade because…
Kyrie was unhappy, wasn’t going to resign with Cleveland in two years, and was going to make the whole season super awkward for everyone. The Cavs needed to dump him, and they needed to maximize what they were going to get for him. I believe they did that. Thomas is injured, and unlikely to resign with them, but he isn’t the key to this deal. Crowder is on one of the best contracts in the league and the Celtics really liked Zizic as a role player, possibly as a replacement for Al Horford as he ages. But the real prize is the Brooklyn pick. Even with the Nets looking much more competent for this upcoming season, they will still probably yield a top seven pick, and this years draft is extremely talented up top. If the Cavs can turn an unhappy Kyrie into Zizic, a vet in Crowder to put around Kevin Love, and can get a guy like Luka Doncic in the draft, they will set themselves up for the future. This is a big deal because it’s clear by this move that the Cavaliers believe Lebron James is going to Los Angeles after this year. Even the 2020 pick could prove valuable in a rebuild. Best case scenario, James is happy Irving is gone and decides he wants to stay. Worst case scenario, he leaves and you’ve got a young core that you can start to rebuild around.
Boston won the trade because…
The best player in the trade ended up on Boston’s roster. Plain and simple. Boston is signaling that they’re gunning for the Finals this season, and it’s broken that terrible cycle they were in of gathering assets AND trying to contend. They finally decided to be aggressive, and it will pay off for them, even if they don’t resign Irving. Also, they clear up some of the logjam at the wing spots by dumping Crowder, even if it meant losing his contract. We still aren’t sure if he and Gordon Hayward were going to gel anyway.
Ultimately, both teams did well given the circumstances, and this trade helps the league by stealing the spotlight right before we head into football season.
Signed: Aron Baynes, Gordon Hayward, Shane Larkin
Received in Trade: Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris
Drafted: Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye, Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird
Free Agents: Gerald Green, Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, James Young, Jordan Mickey
Traded: Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Avery Bradley
Projected Starting Lineup
- Kyrie Irving
- Jaylen Brown
- Gordon Hayward
- Marcus Morris
- Al Horford
TOM REEL, STAFF / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS
This is my personal favorite award. It may have something to do with the very creepy Mike Ryan song about Draymond Green from a couple seasons ago found here. But I’ve always appreciated the emphatic block or jump into the lane for the breakaway steal more than the dunk that follows. While nobody can defensively light up the crowd like Steph Curry does with his 3’s, these players get the nod as the most likely to do so.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Leonard is the reigning two-time DPOY and it’s easy to see why. Averaging 6.8 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.4 bgp last season, he is definitely helped by the Spurs culture and commitment to defense. However, with Tim Duncan retiring this offseason, Kawhi is now the face of the franchise (not named Gregg Popovich). Look for him to take that mantel and run with it. Kawhi also had a fantastic 26 PER as well, and finished tied for second in defensive win shares (5.5).
Ideal Starting Lineup: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Probably the most versatile defender in the league, Draymond has definitely made a name for himself. Last seasons issues in the playoffs not withstanding, he is still one of the best defenders in the league and will continue to be that for the Warriors this season. Earning a 19.3 PER and averaging 9.5 rpg are impressive numbers for a guy that’s listed at 6’7” playing the 4/5 positions. However, Green’s numbers don’t reflect the presence he has on the court, as well as the effect he has on his teammates defense. I don’t know that he will be able to overshadow the Warriors offensive players, but if he can anchor their defense, he could finally breakthrough for the award.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Drummond is the centerpiece to the Pistons rebuild, and in year two of the Stan Van Gundy era, many expect them to make a leap this year. Drummond is a big reason for that. He averaged 14.8 rpg last year, and with a 24.5 total rebounding percentage, he knows where to be at all times. He was also tied with Leonard in DWS (5.5). Van Gundy has gotten the best out of a defensive center in the past (Dwight Howard) and could have another gem on his hands.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond
Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Horford has never been awarded any defensive awards in his 9 year career, and only had 4.5 DWS last season. He averaged 1.5 bpg and had a block percentage of 3.6. Now enter the Celtics. Their commitment to team defense, as well as the length and athleticism on the outside, are the reason Horford is a darkhorse for DPOY this year. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder could easily be on this list as well, but I believe if anyone on that team has a chance, it’s Horford. The DPOY award usually benefits the front court players, with acknowledgment to Kawhi.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Al Horford
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
The biggest question is if Whiteside loses motivation now that he has his big contract. If he does, which is a very real possibility if the Heat struggle without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, then Miami will look like fools. However, if he elevates even further, and develops himself as a more pure defender, we could be dealing with something flat out terrifying. Since joining the Heat, about a season and a half worth of games, some off the bench, he is averaging 11.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg, and has a PER of 25.7. He is an exceptional athlete and if he harnesses his potential, Whiteside may walk away with the award and lead the Heat into the playoffs again.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow, Josh McRoberts, Hassan Whiteside
My Pick: Kawhi Leonard