This is arguably the most exciting time of the year for anyone invested in basketball, as each team, player, coach and fan begins the season with hope.
We let our imagination run wild for each franchise across the NBA and tried to predict an award that someone from each organization can earn once the season comes to a conclusion. This optimistic exercise, which we also did last season, also reminded us just how much talent there is across the league and just how many exciting players there are heading into the new year.
With the projected fall of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty, this was an especially interesting thought experiment as the league appears to be more wide open than it had been in recent years.
No matter the team that you follow and support, there is something for you in these predictions.
John Collins, Most Improved PLAYER
The Atlanta Hawks have continued to build an impressive young core and will be one of the more exciting teams to watch as they continue to develop. While point guard Trae Young may capture the most headlines and rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish are set to intrigue fans in their NBA debuts, forward John Collins could be ready to make another leap. After leading the Hawks with 19.5 points per game last season, Bovada now has him with the fourth-best odds (+1800) to win Most Improved Player.
Jayson Tatum, Most Improved PLAYER
The Boston Celtics had a wild summer that included both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford leaving the team. But as such, Jayson Tatum will have a bigger role for their offense. This has given many around the league reason to believe that the best has yet to come for the former Duke star. For example, in the recently published annual survey of NBA general managers, Tatum received the second-most votes for the player most likely to have a breakout season in 2019-20. The most recent odds, courtesy of Bovada, currently have Tatum as the favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player. The forward is one of the most versatile, young scoring options in the league and projects as an Eastern Conference All-Star candidate with the right upward mobility.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Sixth Man OF THE YEAR
Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie finished in the Top 5 among all players for Sixth Man of the Year voting last season. Now heading into the upcoming season, he has the second-best odds to win Sixth Man – trailing only Tatum. Bovada put him at +550 to start the campaign, suggesting an implied probability of 15.4 percent. Dinwiddie is a prolific, efficient scorer in isolation who will have lots of opportunities for continued success. Last season, Brooklyn led the league in total minutes given to their bench players. Expect him to provide extraordinarily valuable minutes either alongside or in the absence of Irving for the new-look Nets.
Terry Rozier, Most Improved PLAYER
After he was included in a sign-and-trade that sent Kemba Walker to the Celtics, Terry Rozier has received some serious betting momentum for the NBA’s Most Improved Player. In fact, Bovada currently has him with the second-highest odds. Much of the interest likely comes from the fact that the former Boston guard has typically had a low usage rate, which will inevitably improve on the Hornets. Also, one of Rozier’s strengths has always been that he rarely records turnovers. If he is able to become a more consistent scorer in Charlotte, Rozier could become one of the finalists for Most Improved.
Tomas Satoransky, Most Improved PLAYER
After three seasons primarily as a backup option on the Washington Wizards, Tomas Satoransky will be the starting point guard on opening night for the Chicago Bulls. The 6-foot-7 guard received votes in the annual NBA GM Survey for the player most likely to break out in 2019 as well as the most underrated player acquisition. As he has started to take fewer mid-range shot attempts over the past two seasons, he has also become one of the most accurate rim finishers and three-pointers shooters among all players at his position.
Darius Garland, Rookie of the Year
Cleveland Cavaliers rookie guard Darius Garland has the fourth-best odds to win Rookie of the Year, per FanDuel. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 overall draft also received the third-most votes from NBA GMs when asked about the Rookie of the Year race. Garland has shown some confidence shooting off the dribble during the preseason, showcasing an ability to create his own offense. That will go a long way for the first-year guard, who will likely be given the keys to the offense in Cleveland alongside sophomore guard Collin Sexton.
Luka Doncic, Most Improved PLAYER
After a sensational NBA debut, there is some legitimate buzz about Luka Doncic potentially entering the Most Valuable Player conversations for the upcoming season. Still, it is more likely that Doncic wins Most Improved (+2500) than MVP (+5000) in 2019-20. While it is possible that Doncic eventually takes home such a trophy, there are still some strides that many expect the 20-year-old star to take as he continues his development in the NBA. For example, he had one of the worst turnover rates in the league and was only average during transition opportunities. However, his effectiveness out of the pick-and-roll and his overall assist rate were both so strong that he could easily become an All-Star now playing alongside Kristaps Porzingis.
Michael Porter Jr., Rookie of the Year
The Denver Nuggets were an interesting case study in this exercise as they have several potential options for notable awards. Superstar big man Nikola Jokic could win MVP while Mike Malone is a safe pick to win Coach of the Year. But the best chance arguably goes to Michael Porter Jr. for Rookie of the Year. After playing just 53 minutes in the NCAA for Missouri and then sitting out of all last season due to injury, Porter is set to make his NBA debut. Despite the missed time, he has the fourth-best odds for Rookie of the Year recognition. FanDuel has the projections at +1400, which converts to a 6.7 percent implied probability. He averaged 20.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per 36 minutes during the preseason – but his outside shot looked shaky connecting just once on seven attempts from three. If those start landing, it could be an X-factor for Denver.
Derrick Rose, Sixth Man OF THE YEAR
Former No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose has won Rookie of the Year as well as an MVP during his NBA tenure thus far. After an impressive season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and a potentially big upcoming campaign with the Detroit Pistons, perhaps a Sixth Man of the Year trophy could come next for Rose. Detroit has “no plans” to start Rose over Reggie Jackson, which will give him a chance to be a sparkplug scorer off the bench. Despite his age, he had the highest effective field goal percentage of his career last season. According to FanDuel, he currently has the eighth-best odds for the Sixth Man of the Year and could be a smart sleeper pick.
Golden State WARRIORS
Stephen Curry, Most Valuable Player
While the Golden State Warriors are no longer the favorites to win the title, superstar guard Stephen Curry has a chance to re-introduce himself to the rest of the league. The two-time MVP took home trophies for basketball’s top honor in back-to-back campaigns for a reason and with a thinner supporting cast than usual, he can remind everyone why. Curry is the best three-point shooter in the world and with the offense running through his hands, there is plenty of reason to expect greatness. He currently has the second-best odds to win MVP once more this season, per FanDuel.
James Harden, Most Valuable Player
Houston Rockets superstar James Harden has been a fixture for the Most Valuable Player conversations in each of the last three years, winning it in 2018. It may have just been exhibition basketball but Harden led all players in both points per game (31.2) and assists per game (9.0) during the recent preseason. Even though he will be playing alongside a very ball-dominant teammate in Russell Westbrook, oddsmakers give Harden another solid chance to win MVP and have him at +600, per BetMGM. This converts to an implied probability of 14.3 percent for the upcoming season.
Myles Turner, Defensive Player OF THE YEAR
Last season, Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner led the league in blocks per game (2.7) and actually recorded more blocks (199) than the Cleveland Cavaliers (195). Turner also led all players with 3.5 blocks per game during the preseason. His services as a rim protector helped Indiana finish with the second-best defensive rating in the Eastern Conference in 2018-19. Turner currently has the eighth-best odds to win Defensive Player of the Year, per both FanDuel and OddsShark.
LOS ANGELES Clippers
Lou Williams, Sixth Man OF THE YEAR
NBA veteran Lou Williams has already won Sixth Man of the Year Award three times in his career. But after his team added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during the offseason, it is possible that Williams wins the honors yet again. Last season, when including his passes, the combo guard created more points out of the pick-and-roll per game than all but just three players in the league. While he is getting older and admits he may have just “three or four” years left in his career, Williams is still a heavy favorite to win Sixth Man yet again. FanDuel lists him at +170, which converts to an implied probability of 37.0 percent. With another win, the league might have to consider renaming the trophy after him upon his eventual retirement.
Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis, Most Valuable Player
The biggest knock against the candidacy for Anthony Davis to win MVP in 2019-20 is that he plays alongside LeBron James. The two superstars have the exact same odds (+700) to win the league’s top award, via BetMGM. But oddsmakers elsewhere disagree as OddsShark lists James more likely while FanDuel gives the advantage to Davis. It will be hard to tell which player is going to get the lion’s share of the workload until the season actually begins. James, however, has said the offense is running through Davis. During their preseason games, the two players had nearly identical usage rates. Based on their ages and load management projections, Davis would be a smarter bet to win MVP.
Ja Morant, Rookie of the Year
The Memphis Grizzlies have high hopes for former Murray State star guard Ja Morant. They believed in him not only enough to select him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft but also trade away longtime franchise cornerstone Mike Conley to clear the way for the incoming rookie. Morant led all NCAA players in points per game (8.5) and assists per game (3.0) in a transition offense last season. After leading all college players in total assists as well, Morant had the third-most assists per game (7.2) in the preseason. If No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson misses more time than expected with an injury, Morant has more than enough potential to make an immediate impact in Memphis.
Bam Adebayo, Most Improved PLAYER
The Miami Heat are reportedly treating 22-year-old big Bam Adebayo as “untouchable” in trade talks. After trading away Hassan Whiteside, expect Adebayo to have a more defined role for the Heat this season. One area he may continue to get better is as a distributor. The center increased his assist percentage and his assist-to-usage rate during his second season in the league. If he becomes more efficient at cutting to the basket, he can become an even more effective rim finisher. These are reasonable expectations as he is one of the early favorites to win Most Improved Player, per MyBookie.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Most Valuable Player
No matter the betting site, virtually all oddsmakers believe that Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is the favorite to win the MVP for a second-consecutive season. The odds are falling somewhere between +270 and +300, suggesting an implied probability of around 25 percent. The recent annual GM survey recently saw Antetokounmpo broke a seven-year streak by James for most votes for MVP in the preseason poll. If he were to win back-to-back nods, he would become just the 12th player in league history to ever accomplish such a feat.
Robert Covington, Defensive Player OF THE YEAR
Before he got hurt last season, there was some legitimate buzz for Robert Covington to win Defensive Player of the Year. His block percentage and steal percentage were both elite relative to his position and the Minnesota Timberwolves had a significantly better defensive rating when he was on the court. During his last fully healthy season, Covington has actually led all small forwards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus for two seasons in a row. He recorded the most deflections during his 2017-18 campaign and the second-most per game last season. Covington received the fourth-most votes for DPOY in 2017 and could be a contender in 2020.
New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson, Rookie of the Year
There are countless reasons why Zion Williamson could win Rookie of the Year. The ferocious athlete had one of the most efficient offensive seasons in the history of college basketball and came out like a wrecking ball during the preseason for the New Orleans Pelicans, averaging a remarkable 30.8 points per 36 minutes in four games. MyBookie has Williamson as the ridiculously overwhelming favorite (-800) to win Rookie of the Year. OddsShark, on the other hand, still has Williamson as the leader but with a much lower chance (-130) comparatively – likely due to his recent injury concerns.
New York Knicks
RJ Barrett, Rookie of the Year
While the New York Knicks may have had a disappointing offseason, the lack of star power on their roster may suggest a positive development for rookie RJ Barrett. The 19-year-old wing will have plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself under the big lights at Madison Square Garden. He currently has the third-best odds (+580) to win the Rookie of the Year. That converts to an implied probability of 14.7 percent.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Most Improved PLAYER
After a very strong rookie season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was arguably the centerpiece of the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers. The lengthy point guard made a splash as a strong defender and rebounder with flashes of solid scoring shooting off both the catch and off the dribble. If he can increase his assist percentage now on the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’ll be a strong candidate to watch for Most Improved. His odds are currently at +1400, per Bovada, tied with Rozier for the second-highest behind Tatum.
Jonathan Isaac, Most Improved PLAYER
The NBA awards are voted on by sportswriters, which means that the narrative surrounding the player often plays a huge part in the decision-making process. As such, former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz is a choice that would delight voters if he were able to turn around his career on the Orlando Magic. But there just isn’t enough evidence to show he has it in him yet. Instead, however, his teammate Jonathan Isaac has some serious potential to win the same award. Oddsmakers have him with the fifth-best odds to win Most Improved. If his jump shot is more accurate this season, it will go a long way for his candidacy.
Joel Embiid, Defensive Player OF THE YEAR
Much like with Doncic, there is a case to be made that Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid could actually be a candidate for Most Valuable Player. But his odds to win MVP (+1200) are still a bit less likely than his odds to win Defensive Player of the Year (+750) right now, per Bovada. The big man ranked Top 5 in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus and Top 10 in block percentage last season. According to Cleaning the Glass, meanwhile, his defensive rebounding rate on free throws and missed field goals both ranked in the 90th percentile or better as well.
Kelly Oubre, Most Improved PLAYER
OddsShark currently has Kelly Oubre with better odds to win Sixth Man (+2200) than Most Improved (+5000) for the upcoming season. But the 6-foot-7 wing is more likely to be in the starting lineup for the Phoenix Suns than come off the bench. Following his trade from the Washington Wizards last season, Oubre recorded career-bests in several (assist percentage, block percentage and steal percentage) key statistical categories. Oubre needs to be a more efficient scorer in a transition offense but has impressed in half-court sets.
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard, Most Valuable Player
When he is playing well, there are only a handful of people on the planet who are more enjoyable to watch score than Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard. Including passes, he ranked No. 1 overall in points created out of the pick-and-roll offense last season. Then during the playoffs, he displayed just how dominant he can be against even the toughest competition. His odds to win MVP (+2200) are lower than ten other players right now, which means he is a darkhorse option depending on how much you believe in Portland. But with the Western Conference more open than ever, the Trail Blazers may make some noise in the regular season.
De’Aaron Fox, Most Improved plAYER
The consensus line for Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox to win the NBA’s Most Improved is +2000, though Bovada lists his odds (+2500) the same as teammate Marvin Bagley. The former Kentucky star made very impressive strides during his second professional season, improving his assist rate from 27th percentile to 81st percentile among all point guards, according to Cleaning the Glass. He also improved his three-point percentage from the 26th percentile to the 73rd percentile. Fox also has a high steal rate and block rate on defense and field goal percentage at the rim on offense. If the Kings are a playoff threat this season, it’s likely because of his direction.
San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich, Coach of the Year
During last year’s edition of this article, we picked Dejounte Murray as a candidate for Most Improved. Although he missed all of last season due to an injury, the guard has a solid case to win it this year instead. While his odds (+1800) suggest it is possible, fans may want to wait on how he performs in the regular season since recovering from the torn ACL. Instead, a safer bet would be Gregg Popovich for Coach of the Year (+1400). San Antonio has always been proof that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and in his twilight as an NBA coach taking home such honors for the fourth time before retiring would be a fantastic cherry on the top of an already marvelous career. For the Spurs to make a run in the Western Conference, they’ll need an excellent coaching campaign from Pop.
Nick Nurse, Coach of the Year
The Toronto Raptors parted ways with Dwane Casey after a season in which he won NBA’s Coach of the Year, replacing him with Nick Nurse. In his first year with the Raptors, the coach led Toronto to win their first NBA title. He will have a tougher task this season without Kawhi Leonard, who left the Raptors in free agency to join the Clippers. But with Pascal Siakam locked in on a new deal, Toronto could still be a playoff threat in the East. The head coach enters the season with +2000 odds to win Coach of the Year, according to Bovada.
Rudy Gobert, Defensive Player
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is arguably the most important defensive player in the NBA. He led the league in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus and had the second-most defensive win shares last season. He also anchored the Jazz to the best defensive rating in the Western Conference. After he won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2018 and 2019, Gobert is once again the clear favorite to win it again next season. MyBookie has set his odds at +145, an implied probability of 40.8 percent. The odds for Gobert are nearly twice as strong as Giannis Antetokounmpo, who ranks next on the list.
Thomas Bryant, Most improved PLAYER
Washington Wizards big man Thomas Bryant finished Top 5 among all players in effective field goal percentage last season. Among the 259 players who finished at least 400 possessions on offense in 2018-19, per Synergy, only Dallas Mavericks big Dwight Powell was more efficient (1.23 points per possession) than Bryant (1.22 PPP) was for Washington. He connected on 79.9 percent of his attempts taken from the restricted area of the paint, which was the best among all high-volume players. He has increased his three-point percentage by quite a bit since entering the league and can be a serious scorer for the otherwise lackluster Wizards.
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