(Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s no secret that Lebron James is looking for a change of scenery this summer. Lebron has a strenuous relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It’s rumored that he has been touring prep schools in Los Angeles and Philadelphia for his kids to attend. While the Sixers and the Lakers would be great destinations for the King, I’ve been wondering where the best place for Lebron to go would be.
We’re just about a month away from the start of the season, so we’re going to start looking at some of the bigger picture stuff to get you through the last bit of the offseason. We’re starting with a look at the top 10 players at each position. These are in order based on what I project for the upcoming season, not a projection on how good anyone will be beyond that, or a claim on past abilities. So, let’s get into it!
Top 10 Point Guards
- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
- John Wall, Washington Wizards
- Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
- Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
- Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
- Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
- Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
- Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
- Isaiah Thomas, Cleveland Cavaliers
I gave a slight nod to Westbrook this season because I think Steph won’t have to consistently be on his A game, especially given that the Warriors are completely comfortable with each other now. I think we’ll see a lot of the starters sitting in fourth quarters again, and Westbrook, with the addition of Paul George, will be gunning for a top 4 seed in the West. The only other thing I’d like to note is Isaiah Thomas. If he were coming into the season fully healthy, I’d probably have him slotted around 5-6. However, he loses some spots because of his hip.
Top 10 Shooting Guards
- James Harden, Houston Rockets
- Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
- Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
- Demar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
- CJ McCollum, Portland Trailblazers
- Avery Bradley, Detroit Pistons
- Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
- Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
- JJ Redick, Philadelphia Sixers
This is where I expect the most differences. I think the league is split up between three actual positions. You have primary ball handlers (point guards essentially), wings (shooting guards and small forwards, and some power forwards) and bigs (centers and non-stretch power forwards). So to get caught up in whether Andrew Wiggins is listed as a shooting guard or a small forward isn’t the point. Wiggins and Jimmy Butler will play on the wings, and Butler will guard the other teams best wing player. That will usually mean he’s guard a small forward, just based on the depth of the two positions in the league.
Top 10 Small Forwards
- Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
- Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
- Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
- Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
- Carmelo Anthony, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia Sixers
- Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks
I wanted so badly to put Giannis over Lebron. I really did. I think this is Giannis’ leap into superstardom and if that happens to full effect, he’ll be the second best wing in the league. I know it’s strange to think about Kawhi being the fourth best small forward in the league, but I think he’s on a better team this season than last and won’t have to exert himself like he did last season. If he plays like he did last season though, it’ll go Durant, James, Kawhi, Giannis. At least for one more season.
Top 10 Power Forwards
- Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
- Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
- Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
- Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
- Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
- LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
- Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
- Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Draymond is the glue to the Warriors and Davis is hurt consistently and on a terrible team. Sorry, but Green gets the nod. I expect Kevin Love to be huge this season. It will basically be just he and Lebron until Isaiah comes back, so I’d imagine they’ll both look great. I’m also expecting Blake Griffin to look pretty good without Chris Paul in LA, and if Jabari can (finally) stay healthy, we may see why he was the second pick in the draft. Lastly, as I said in my Most Improved Player piece, I love Julius Randle going into this season and he could rock the boat in this category.
Top 10 Centers
- Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
- DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans
- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia Sixers
- Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
- Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
- Deandre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
- Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
- Al Horford, Boston Celtics
I’d expect Gobert to improve a bit with Gordon Hayward’s production leaving town. I love Jokic, but I’ve got high expectations for Gobert. Embiid’s position is solely based on the fact that I need to see him healthy for the whole season. If he manages to have a fully healthy season, he’ll probably end up somewhere in the top 3. I think with Myles Turner being the focus in Indiana, he could start to shine.
Last seasons rookie class took a big hit with Ben Simmons missing the entire season and Joel Embiid getting hurt about halfway through the season. It was definitely one of the least exciting Rookie of the Year votes in recent memory, but this season is going to be much different. I mean, when Malcolm Brogdon (who I love) wins the award and Buddy Hield finishes fourth, after basically not existing in New Orleans until the All-Star break, behind Joel Embiid, who literally missed half of the season, it’s a bad year. But we move forward. The top 5 this year is a great class and should make this a great race as long as everyone stays healthy.
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia Sixers
Last seasons expected winner of the award is expected to be back with a force this season, and he’s got some talent around him. Embiid proved what he could be last season in his limited time, and if he stays healthy, will help Simmons and fellow rookie Markelle Fultz bring the Sixers back to prominence. I will go ahead and say, Fultz isn’t on the list. If anyone wins it from the Sixers, I believe it will be Simmons, and I think there’s a chance that if both perform well, they’ll split some votes anyway. Either way, it’s clear the Sixers were smart to Trust the Process.
2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
A lot of the ROY award is attributed to who gets opportunities. Simmons and Fultz are going to start, and the same can be said about most of the players on the list. Smith Jr. is in that category. Yogi Ferrel was a fun experiment, but DSJ is the future and if he can embrace coach Rick Carlisle’s system, he could become a force quickly in the league. He has better talent around him than they do in Philadelphia and if he plays his cards right, he could be going on stage to receive the award in June.
3. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
The last starter that I believe has a real chance at winning the award, Ball displayed his potential in Summer League. I would expect to see similar stat lines in the season (low scoring triple doubles and double doubles) and if the Baby Lakers make a bit of a jump, expect to Lonzo in the conversation at the very least.
4. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets
Monk is not a starter this year, and barring injury, which isn’t unlikely given Michael Kidd-Gilcrest’s history, won’t crack the starting lineup. However, he is a dangerous offensive player and could earn a lot of minutes coming off the bench. If he can light people up on the second unit and work his way into 20-ish minutes a night, Monk could jump into the conversation.
5. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
The way I see it, there’s a slim chance Jackson wins the award. But it’s a chance. He’ll have to come in playing lockdown defense on the perimeter, stabilizing the Suns defensive efforts. In addition, he’s going to have to be an aggressive scorer in an offense surrounded by talented scorers and prove that he has put in the work in the offseason on that end. He doesn’t necessarily need to be draining three’s and knocking down mid range jumpers, but he does have to show glimpses of at least becoming, one day, a version of DeMar DeRozen. But it is a long shot to be sure.
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)
There are a lot of factors when determining the Defensive Player of the Year and not all of them totally make sense. Like rebounding. I’m not saying big men shouldn’t be included in the award, but if all you can do is block shots and rebound, that doesn’t necessarily make you a plus defender (see: Hassan Whiteside). But these things factor in regardless, so it’s not really up to me. If I were in charge of the voting process, I would weigh things like deflections, steals, blocks and versatility over other factors, but here we are. So looking at this seasons DPOY candidates, you’ll see more versatile defenders, as well as a big men.
1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Yes, it’s boring to pick the same players for the awards every year. But Draymond is the glue in Golden State and before Kevin Durant got into town, I believe he was was the best player on the Warriors overall. He can guard any position, has active hands in passing lanes and is a great communicator. Green could have won this award six times in a row and I would still be arguing he should win it this season.
2. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi was (obviously) asked to do more on the offensive end for the Spurs last year and that led to a drop in his advanced defensive statistics. His usage rate went up by more than 5 percentage points but he lost almost a full defensive win share, as well as his steal and block percentages lowering. I say all this to say that Kawhi is still an elite level defender, but he may be sacrificing his defensive numbers and awards for MVP’s and championships. Not a bad trade off if you ask me.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Allow me to go stat nerd for a minute. Giannis finished last season seventh in block percentage, sixteenth in defensive rating, ninth in defensive win shares and fourth in defensive box plus/minus. All that while being just outside the top 20 in usage rate. Why does that matter? The only players above him in usage while also being consistently listed in the top 20 of those other categories are Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. That’s it. Thats next level shit. As I said in my MVP preview, Giannis is headed for superstardom, and the DPOY could be his bridge to that.
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
As noted above, Westbrook is an extremely underrated defender. The production he puts out on the offensive end combined with his defensive metrics lead me to confirm what most people have been saying for awhile. He is a cyborg, sent here to determine how many minutes and how much effort can be exerted by an NBA player before people get truly suspicious. We aren’t there yet though, because as far as I know, they haven’t started testing him for these things.
5. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Ah yes, our resident block and rebound specialist. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gobert. But I can’t unsee Steph Curry putting him into a literal washer and turning the spin cycle on high. I mean Rudy literally looks like he was dancing or on ice skates. Or both. I digress…
That play doesn’t stop Gobert from being the best shot blocker in the league and an amazing rebounder. With Gordon Hayward moving on to Boston, look for Gobert to take the definitive leader role and try to take Utah back to the playoffs.