By William Coolidge
The next NBA season is right around the corner with the first regular season games commencing Tuesday, October 18th. Each season, members of teams — all the way from players to organization executives — compete for an award in a distinctive category. For this specific piece, I will only be discussing the prospective MVP and DPOY. But, I will in follow up to this article, produce an analysis on early picks for the other awards. Along the same lines, I will not offer predictions for All-NBA teams, All-Defensive Teams, and/or All-Rookie teams, at least not yet. This is for a myriad of reasons, but I will provide a few explanations: 1) Since these teams feature 35 players altogether, it would leave me with the challenge of, (a) simply putting down my predictions with no context in order to preserve this article from spanning as long as the U.S. Constitution or (b) providing context, a practice I firmly believe in, but risk, again, producing an article as long as the U.S. Constitution ( If the Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution’s top arbiters by occupation, seemingly can’t even find the time to read through it…realistically, how can I expect anyone with no obligation to my writing, to read a text of the same size about the trivial topic of basketball ). 2) All those accolade-teams are on much shakier ground. The criteria are much more subjective and vary with the times. Sometimes you will see a player make an All-NBA Team (supposedly an honor for the top-15 players in the league) after they didn’t make the All-Star team the very same year, this variance is, often, due to the player playing better later in the season and creating a recency-bias for voters. And, if there is one thing I can’t predict, with integrity that is, is if a player will turn their play-up 5 months from now. With that preface, let us get into it!
Most Valuable Player: Luka Dončić
Runner-Ups: Giannis Antetokounmpo & Joel Embiid
Dark Horse: Anthony Davis
Analysis: The league is, as of right now, absurdly competitive as talent is unprecedentedly distributed throughout virtually all teams, save a few. As of right now, there are no big injuries to any big-name players (knock on wood), a situation the league rarely finds its-self in coming into the season. Also, an unusual occurrence is how talented almost every team is…I can argue for about 27 teams in that they will make the playoffs (obviously only 20 can make it, and that is including the Play-In tournament). Further than that, there are no real locks for who will fill out the top seeds in either conference. Historically, consideration of top-seeding would be vital for predicting MVP victors as the informal precedent used to be that you can’t win MVP unless your team is a top-3 seed in their respective conference. However — after Westbrook won it in 2017 as his team was the 6th seed, and Jokić won it just last season as his team was also the 6th seed — it seems this precedent is losing its value. Because of this, I’m extremely confident in picking Luka Dončić as the 2022-2023 NBA Most Valuable Player. The man scores as good, if not better than anyone else in the Association, so we know he is going to finish high in the leaderboards for points per game. It is common knowledge he is one of the best facilitators in the league, backed by the eye test and the fact he finished top-5 in assists per game last season. The Mavericks (the team Luka plays for) picked up JaVale McGee this last offseason, therefore if anything, Luka’s assists per game should be going up as he now plays alongside one of the best alley-oop finishers in the league. He also rebounds relatively well, so his rebounding numbers will be the cherry on top of the statistical case for his MVP bid. Going back to the seeding precedent, just last year Luka wheeled his team to the 4th seed, and the 5th seed the year before that, and this was without any real co-star. So, if Luka can put up the monster numbers he usually does, stay healthy (meet the minimum requirement for games played for MVP) as he usually does, and get his team into the top-6 seed (as we’ve seen the MVP standard get lowered to). I think he has the best case for MVP. Although Giannis always has an excellent case for MVP, I think the voters prefer to give the award to Luka because he has never won it; the NBA has a weird history of voter fatigue. Giannis already has two MVP awards, therefore his case is demoted, but he always finds himself finishing in the runner-up spots. Joel Embiid is a curious case as he is in virtually the same position as Luka…he has all the qualities of an MVP, and he’s been in top consideration for the award the past couple of years…but has yet to win it, so we’re kind of at a point where it feels like the league has an obligation to coronate him MVP. The case against Joel Embiid is that he has an all-star teammate in James Harden (a former MVP himself), and historically the MVP award is less likely of being awarded to players with other, tremendous, star talent(s) on their team. Anthony Davis as my dark horse is surprising, but also very unsurprising at the same time. This pick is sort of antithetical to what I just said about having star teammates lowering your chances of winning MVP…as Davis is arguably not even the best player on his own team, considering he plays alongside LeBron James. However, context is everything, and with expectations of the Lakers at an all-time low after freaking, missing the playoffs last year, and pathetically losing in the 1st round of the playoffs the season before that — if Davis can play a majority of the season and return to the beast of a player he was in New Orleans and his first year as a Laker, which was just a couple of years ago — expect him to be in consideration for the award.
Video Courtesy of Bleacher Report on Youtube
Defensive Player of the Year: Bam Adebayo
Runner-Ups: Joel Embiid & Mikal Bridges
Dark Horse: Herb Jones
Analysis: Bam Adebayo has been in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year for some years now. His defensive statistics aren’t eye-popping, but the victors of the award typically don’t put up crazy numbers. Bam Adebayo is one of the few players who can consistently guard any position. His on-ball defense is great on the perimeter or in the post, but he’s an absolute menace helping off-ball. With P.J. Tucker no longer on his team, Bam should be picking up greater defensive responsibility, which in turn allows for his impact on the defensive side of the floor to be felt and noticed more. As long as Miami is spearheaded by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and complimentary pieces that grind on the defensive end such as Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Gabe Vincent, etc., the Heat will be a lock to hold a spot as a top defensive team. Bam’s ability to guard any position effectively, record great defensive stats, and anchor a top-rated defensive team should make him the favorite for the award. Once again, Joel Embiid is being considered for another grand award. Joel Embiid, like Bam, has been in consideration for the award consistently throughout the past few years (finishing 2nd in DPOY voting in 2017-2018). Although both big men anchor their team’s defenses and consistently finish with considerations for Defensive Player of the Year, Bam and Embiid play different brands of defense. While Bam can be counted on to switch onto anybody and lock up, or at least hold his own, Embiid is solely expected and dutifully delivers, in protecting the rim and contesting shots around it. With Embiid’s team of the 76ers adding solid defensive pieces such as P.J. Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, and, of course, retaining Matisse Thybulle…they are poised to finish as a top defense in the league, led by Joel. With that, Embiid is all but guaranteed DPOY considerations. Mikal Bridges finished a near-close 2nd in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year because of his elite perimeter defensive abilities, among other valuable defensive tools. Mikal is also one of the few players in the league to have played all 82 games last year, if he can repeat that same feat — then that should, by all means, help his case for Defensive Player of the Year — because the “best ability (offensive or defensive) is availability.” My dark horse for Defensive Player of the Year is in a similar mold to Mikal Bridges, both of them being lengthy, 6’8″ (or around that height) wings who wreak absolute havoc playing perimeter defense. They both will guard the “Currys” (the best player) of the other team and cause more disruption than anyone can. Last year, Herb, as a rookie, anchored a Pelicans team that was lacking personnel with even solid defensive abilities, helping push them into being a top-12 defense. Herb, again, as a rookie, was top-6 in steals per game. Not top-6 for rookies…top-6 in the entire league. With Zion set to come back into the rotation, the Pelicans should only be getting better on the defensive side of the ball, and if they can finish a top-3 defensive team in the league…and Herb Jones is starting and doing what we know he can do, do not be surprised if snatches the award for Defensive Player of the Year.
Video Courtesy of House of Highlights on Youtube
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Videos Courtesy of Bleacher Report and House of Highlights, both on YouTube