Basketball, Columnists, Sports

The 2-3 Zone, featuring predictions for the five major awards

NBA All-Star weekend is just behind us (in case you didn’t watch, it was amazing) and there are no NBA games until Thursday. We’re also about two-thirds of the way through the season. So I figured there’s no better time to make some predictions for the league’s major awards.

The whole format of this column lends itself pretty well to making some NBA award predictions too. The Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards are a solid big three, while the Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player awards don’t really get as much attention.

So, let’s kick things off with the league’s biggest award and the easiest prediction to make.

The “3”

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the league MVP.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some other players having truly elite seasons. LeBron James is doing his typical dominant thing. James Harden is scoring at an absurd level and I think he’s fun to watch too. Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic and Jimmy Butler are all making this season amazing to watch.

But Antetokounmpo is playing on another level. His team, the Milwaukee Bucks, currently have the fourth-best point differential per game in NBA history, just 0.1 per game behind the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team that won a then-record 72 games.

And the Greek Freak is doing it all for this historic squad. He’s second in the league in points per game, fifth in rebounds per game and he’s an absolute monster on the defensive end of the floor. There simply is no else as deserving of the MVP as Antetokounmpo.

The Rookie of the Year race is about as open and shut as the MVP race. Ja Morant is the clear frontrunner. Morant is leading all rookies in points per game, at least among those who have played more than 10 games (sorry, Zion Williamson). Morant also leads all rookies in assists per game by a wide margin, with 7.1 assists per game compared to second-best 3.8.

More importantly, Morant is quite possibly the most fun player to watch in the entire league right now. He slices defenses open with shifty playmaking. He has the tenacity and talent to dunk on everyone in the league. 

Morant also plays alongside some other young talents, Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr., who make it easier for Morant to play his exciting brand of basketball.

Even if Williamson continues to play elite basketball for the rest of the season, he won’t have played enough games to legitimately compete with Morant for this award.

The race for Defensive Player of the Year is a whole lot closer than the MVP or Rookie of the Year races, but even with Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid making strong cases, Anthony Davis might have the award locked up right now.

Davis is averaging 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game while also only allowing opponents to shoot just 38.0 percent from the field. Davis stifles opponents. Without Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers would likely rank far below fifth in the league in defensive rating.

Antetokounmpo or Gobert could certainly win this award by season’s end, but Davis should be the league Defensive Player of the Year leader right now.

The “2”

For a lot of people, the Sixth Man of the Year race is once again stationed entirely in LA with Los Angeles Clippers Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell near the top of the award leaderboard. Derrick Rose is also another contender to look out for the trophy. 

But right now, Dennis Schroder is my pick. Schroder leads the league in bench scoring. He plays efficient basketball and does exactly what you want from a sixth man: he gives the offense a spark when he comes into the game. 

Schroder is also a key part of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s electric three-guard rotation. If Schroder doesn’t take this award home after the season, I’ll be shocked.

I’ve saved the worst NBA award for last. The Most Improved Player award almost always goes to young players who most expect to improve from year to year. It doesn’t make much sense because it doesn’t really tell us anything special.

That said, this award should go to Bam Adebayo. He’s become a stud on both sides of the ball this year. He’s the second-best player on a potentially contending Miami Heat team and he’s just pure basketball entertainment. If Adebayo doesn’t win, Devonte’ Graham probably deserves this award, just based on how it’s typically picked.

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