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2021 NBA Awards Predictions: From AD to KD

The 2021 NBA season tipped off on Tuesday with a pair of intriguing matchups. With the rest of the league having tipped off Wednesday, it gives us a chance to make some predictions about who will win the NBA awards in 2021.

The Brooklyn Nets took the Golden State Warriors to the woodshed in the first game and the Los Angeles Clippers repeated their performance from last season’s opener and downed the Los Angeles Lakers who were receiving their championship rings.

Of course, we won’t have any idea how the season will play out. But having a little more vested interest never hurt anyone. And we’re going to cover them all. MVP, DPOY, Comeback Player, they’re all here.

Predicting 2021 NBA Award Winners

Most Valuable Player

Anthony Davis – PF – Los Angeles Lakers

Starting with a bang, it will admittedly be tough for Anthony Davis to win the most prestigious of individual NBA awards with one LeBron James as a teammate. After all, James finished second in the voting himself last season. Is there a path to Davis not only usurping him but also Giannis Antetokounmpo and any other contender? Put simply, yes.

Davis, who had 18/7/2 in the opener, came in sixth in MVP voting last season. He was sixth in scoring, fourth in rebounds, fifth in steals, and first in blocks all on a per-game basis. We saw him continue his strong play in the finals, ranking third in scoring, second in boards, third in steals, and again leading the way in blocks. Most of those stats trailed James.

The quick turnaround, in combination with James being another year older (and some media hype), could lead to such a changing of the guard. James played just 28 minutes in the opener; Davis 31. They were basically even last season, so the slide for LeBron could be Davis’ gain. Adding to the difficulty is the incredible efficiency of James. But, with the new league rules on resting, James could sit when L.A. faces teams against whom he could pad his stats. That’s where Davis swoops in.

Defensive Player of the Year

Bam Adebayo – C/F – Miami Heat

Part of a player winning one of the NBA awards is them getting on the radar of voters in advance, often in the previous season. Bam Adebayo fits this to a T. He saw his points per game output nearly double, going from 8.9 to 15.9 PPG. He also saw increases in his rebounding, assist, and blocking stats all coinciding with his increase in minutes from the previous campaign.

Adebayo, who has been dubbed a “point-center”, was 11th in Defensive Real Plus-Minus, per ESPN, but he was second among power forwards. That’s ahead of everyone who finished ahead of him in DPOY voting except for Giannis. Among the finalists for DPOY last season, he ranked sixth in steals and fifth in blocks. But his presence on the floor dropped opponents’ offensive rating two full points.

Antetoukounmpo, the reigning DPOY, is the biggest threat to Adebayo’s triumph. But the year we’re predicting for Davis will have him in this discussion as well. The thought here is Adebayo took advantage of the added attention of the bubble and is on enough short-lists to be a finalist. Another leap in production like he had last season will go a long way to making this happen.

Rookie of the Year

LaMelo Ball – G – Charlotte Hornets

We’re not going to overthink this. Yes, Anthony Edwards was the first-overall pick. And yes, James Wiseman did land in one of the best situations in the NBA. But it’s LaMelo Ball, despite the poor opener, who has the best chance at winning Rookie of the Year. This is a marriage of a player being high-profile and having a clear path to the kind of opportunity that makes this Ball’s award to lose.

The last four ROTY winners have either been point guards by trade or functioned as the primary ball-handler for their club. Going back to 2010, only three non-point guard or primary facilitators have won the award. So the path lies in the job description. Edwards will still have to contend with the 2015-16 ROTY, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell for shots. Wiseman, in addition to playing a position that has won the award just twice since 1990.

Terry Rozier and especially Devonte Graham won’t just go away so Melo will have some competition for stats. But as the undisputed face of the franchise, he should be given every opportunity to be “the guy”. Barring an implosion the likes of which only his staunchest detractors will have foreseen, Ball will prove his mettle as the best Ball brother and Rookie of the Year.

Most Improved Player

Michael Porter Jr – F – Denver Nuggets

Talent-wise, this shouldn’t even be a possibility. Michael Porter Jr. is one of those genetic freaks teams covet in today’s NBA: a wing player with big size and guard skills. Porter was forced to miss what would have been his rookie season in 2018 with a back injury that had many wondering about his longevity. Critics even went so far as to bring up his family medical history.

Porter appeared in 55 games, starting eight, in 2019. He averaged a crisp 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 16 minutes per game while slashing .509/.422/.833 from the field. He got a bump in playing time in the postseason and saw his output rise accordingly. Porter averaged 11.4 points and 6.7 boards in just over 23 minutes per.

Another year under his belt, along with assuming a starting role in the lineup, have Porter poised to deliver on all the promise he showed in high school (he was injured in college too). The previous three winners saw jumps in their scoring output of around five or six points. That’s just one part of the puzzle for Porter, but it’s one he’s good at and a leap he’s capable of making.

Sixth Man of the Year

Derrick Rose – G – Detroit Pistons

After Los Angeles Clippers won Sixth Man of the Year in back to back years, it’s a rumored Clippers target that could walk away with the hardware this coming season. Derrick Rose has seen his career go through the full gambit of NBA awards. From Rookie of the Year to youngest MVP in league history and now, possibly, the top reserve. Rose averaged 18-plus points per game for the third time in four years coming off the bench for the Detroit Pistons last year.

He came in seventh in the 6MOTY voting last season, but there were plenty of shakeups that make a jump from seventh to first more plausible. First, Dennis Schroder and Christian Wood, two players that finished ahead of Rose in voting last season, are moving into starting roles this season. Montrezl Harrell moves to a slightly lesser role with the Lakers who also have a better bench situation, making his path tougher.

If those things stand, Rose is competing with Williams, George Hill, and Goran Dragic for the honor. He was already fourth among the finalists in scoring while tying for the lead in assists and steals last season. At this point, a move to the Clippers might be the only thing that can help make this a reality because there isn’t much more he can do for a bad Detroit Pistons team.

Comeback Player of the Year

Kevin Durant – F – Brooklyn Nets

The NBA hasn’t handed out this comeback player awards in quite some time; 1985-86 to be exact (shouts to Marques Johnson). But were they to reinstate it this year, Kevin Durant would have to top their list. He missed all of 2019-20 recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in the 2018-19 NBA Finals. But if what we witnessed in the opener is just a precursor then KD is back.

In his first NBA game action in 18 months, Durant had 22 points on 43 percent shooting and 50 percent from deep. He also had five boards, three assets, three steals, and a block. 13 players averaged at least 22/5/3 last year but not one of them averaged more than 1.8 steals per game. It’s highly unlikely, but if KD keeps it up he will be the first player since Alvin Robertson in 1990-91 to average three takeaways per contest.

If you want to harp on the overall efficiency, fine. But again, 18 months away. Durant could make a case for MVP this season if he keeps up the defensive efforts. We could also see a Finals run for the Nets in an Eastern Conference where last year’s champ was a fifth-seed. At the very least, he will remind everyone just why they call him the Easy Money Sniper.

Coach of the Year

Monty Williams – HC – Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns were just 34-39 last season, their first under Monty Williams. But that marked a 15-game improvement in the win column. They also went undefeated in the bubble but missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season. Phoenix was first in field goal percentage, first in free throw percentage, third in points per game, and fifth three-point percentage.

Nick Nurse was the 2019-20 Coach of the Year largely on the strength of losing a top-five player in the NBA and still guiding the Toronto Raptors to a two-seed and going seven games with Boston in the second round. Phoenix will probably need to make the playoffs to avoid this conversation going the other direction but several factors are playing into Williams’ hands.

The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going to be the fifth-seed this time around and likely won’t make the playoffs. That’s one less team for Phoenix to contend with, though the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans will surely have something to say about it. As are the Houston Rockets (pending any James Harden trade) and possibly the San Antonio Spurs. But Williams will have Chris Paul on the floor. If he is able to do what he did for OKC last season, this will be an award for him just as much as it will be Williams

Triple Zeros: WTF, WFT?

Triple Zeros: WTF, WFT?

NFL

🏈Undefeated No Longer
🏈Gase Firing Folks

NBA

🏀Melo ‘7’ Again
🏀Bron Talks Kyrie
+More!
 
 

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Triple Zeros. This is content to help reach the green light. Tis is content to help reach the green light. Ths is content to help reach the green light. Thi is content to help reach the green light. his is content to help reach the green light. Tis is content to help reach the green light. Ths is content to help reach the green light. Thi is content to help reach the green light. his is content to help reach the green light. Tis is content to help reach the green light. Ths is content to help reach the green light. Thi is content to help reach the green light. DangeRuss

With Friends Like James Harden, Who Needs Enemies?

Polarizing is a word that fittingly describes the kind of player James Harden is. Some view his style of play as innovative and unique; a skill set he has honed through practicing tough shots and understanding the rule book. Others would call it a detriment to the game. An abuse of poorly written and unevenly called rules. The amount of discussion coming from either side, though, shows just how high of a profile Harden has.

News broke on Wednesday that the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards had agreed to swap star point guards. Russell Westbrook to Washington and John Wall to Houston. It’s been reported that Harden and Wall have worked out and played in open runs together for some time now. The move has received all sorts of reactions, just like anything else Harden does.

Harden Running Out of Friends to Help Him

Okay, But Why?

Some say this is a move designed to keep Harden interested in staying in Houston. Recent attempts to get over the hump in the postseason have all fallen short. We can go back to the Dwight Howard experiment but let’s instead focus on Chris Paul’s time in H-Town. There was much consternation about how they would coexist being as ball-dominant as they are. They worked well enough for folks to hypothesize that if Paul doesn’t get hurt the Rockets might make some noise.

Well, Paul got shipped out after two seasons. One of which they lost to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in seven games. Injuries had always been a part of Paul’s history so an injury possibly derailing a playoff run is plausible. When Harden told reporters after they got bounced in 2018 that he knew what had to be done, the writing was on the wall.

Houston shocked the world again. They made another trade for what most considered an unmovable contract when they swapped CP3 for Russell Westbrook. After failing to click with the Point God, Harden now had his childhood friend for a running-mate. Unfortunately, Westbrook’s style caused the Rockets to change up their roster. They went with a small-ball approach. The tallest person on the floor for them often standing no taller than 6-foot-7. That ended with a five-game series loss in the second round. Again to the eventual champion, this time in the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, even with Daryl Morey no longer in the fold, the Rockets have swapped unmovable contracts. The move is receiving mixed reviews. Some argue the Rockets won. On top of keeping Harden happy, they get rid of Westbrook whose style isn’t conducive to winning. Others will argue the Wizards won because of the off-the-court issues Wall has had as well as the complicated relationship with (and reaction to the team building around) Bradley Beal. Oh, and Wall, who hasn’t played since the 2018-19 season, is returning from serious injuries including a torn Achilles.

Same Difference

The tale of the tape is quite interesting. Wall is the bigger of the two and has the higher assist average. This is more than a little surprising given Westbrook’s three-year run of averaging a triple-double. But Wall had a three-year stretch where he averaged better than 10 dimes per game. The difference is Wall has never been the kind of shot-seeking scorer that Westbrook is.

Brodie has eight seasons (out of 12) averaging greater than 18 shots per contest. Wall, aptly nicknamed ‘Optimus Dime’, has but one. Westbrook is the more voluminous scorer too, but Wall takes the efficiency advantage everywhere but at the free throw line.

Perhaps ideally, in the mind of Harden and Rockets brass, is that Wall can be a happy medium between Westbrook’s explosiveness (a nice compliment to Harden’s lull-you-to-sleep style) and Paul’s pass-first mentality. That is if he is happy and focused. Going to a competitive situation in Houston after being in the tumultuous one in Washington will help. As will the singing of Demarcus Cousins; a friend of Wall’s going back to their day at the University of Kentucky.

We’re all missing the forest for the trees, though. It doesn’t matter if this will work for the Rockets (it won’t). Nor does it matter who won the trade (the blogosphere). No, what matters here is that Harden has cycled through a fair amount of friends for teammates and hasn’t figured out the right fit yet. At some point the question needs to be asked if building around him is worth it.

The Real Culprit

This isn’t an attack on his playing style, either, outside of his willingness to be complimentary. There aren’t many, if any, situations where Harden would be a second option but he could still benefit from being a better compliment on the floor to his team. Instead of standing in the corner watching the action when off the ball, become a better, more active cutter. Instead of dribbling out the shot clock on every possession, allow yourself to be more of a part of a system that get more guys involved.

Yes, star players are supposed to touch and shoot the ball more. Harden’s 36.3 usage rate in 2019-20 is second only to Michael Jordan’s ‘86-’87 season (38.3) in NBA history. With nowhere close to the hardware as ‘His Airness’, and a history of fading in the postseason, that number could stand to drop even if only a little bit. The last player to win a championship with a usage rate in the 30s was LeBron James in 2012-13 with the Miami Heat. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, two of the most efficient scorers in NBA history, haven’t even done it.

It’s a big deal that the Rockets and Wizards pulled this trade off. We just need to recognize what the real story is here: Harden is the problem, not his teammates. At some point, it is no longer everybody else, it’s you. We are seeing this response to Paul George who is implicated in reports of dysfunction in the Los Angeles Clippers organization and now taking thinly-veiled shots at former coach Doc Rivers.

Harden’s passing of the buck isn’t as blatant as George’s was. But, even with the statements before the CP3 trade, the constant cycling of supporting cast speaks volumes. Talking heads have just overlooked it because the Rockets keep putting together intriguing groups. This time though, with a move that might be best described as lateral, we might be reaching the end of this case study. It’s been theorized that the Wall and Cousins moves are independent of a decision to move Harden, though that seems unlikely.

Rough Being Friends with James Harden

We saw Harden slapping Paul’s hand away on the sidelines and read the reports that Harden and Westbrook had bumped heads on occasion. These incidents get viewed through the lens of isolated incidents or as the fault of the other guy. Maybe rightfully so, none of the aforementioned teammates were choirboys. But the common denominator, and dominator of the situation, is James Harden. As a player who has been vocal about his scoring accolades, he needs to be a leader and own up to and adjust his ways.

Unless, of course, he truly doesn’t care about winning

Early Aftermath of a Short (but Sweet) NBA Offseason

It’s been a week since the 2020 NBA Draft. With less than a month until the start of the 2021 season and free agency well underway, this is a good time to take stock of our favorite NBA offseason moves. Five teams, be it their draft decisions, free agency signings or trades, or both if they were really smart.

NBA Aftermath: Who’s Had the Best Offseason?

Honorable Mentions: Golden State Warriors/Miami Heat

You have to hand it to Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob. As trade acquisition Kelly Oubre said, Lacob is willing to spend to keep his team competitive. Oubre was taking a not-so-subtle jab at Phoenix Suns ownership, but the point stands. Lacob is spending upwards of $80 million due to the luxury tax. This even though Klay Thompson is out for the year with a torn ACL. It’s as easy to take Oubre’s words as just lip service as it is to dismiss the Warriors as contenders. But Oubre and James Wiseman is a good haul for a team in their particular situation.

There is a sense of underestimation with what the Miami Heat have done this offseason. The reigning Eastern Conference champs have flown relatively under the radar in a surprisingly active offseason compared to the rest of the NBA. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been doing well though. Landing Precious Achiuwa with the 20th pick is a steal. In free agency, the Heat lost Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr, and Solomon Hill but retained Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard. They replaced them with a pair of hard-working, two-way players in Maurice Harkless and Avery Bradley.

5. Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks are in a new phase in which they seek to add impact veterans to supplement and aid in the development of their young superstar point guard, Trae Young. That didn’t stop them from taking athletic, shot-blocking forward Onyeka Okongwu out of USC with the sixth pick. They hit free agency hard, going after and landing playoff point god Rajon Rondo and certified bucket Danilo Gallinari. Then, they went with younger vets in landing tough defensive guard Kris Dunn and signing Bogdan Bogdanovic, who shot 37 percent from three last season to an offer-sheet.

4. Phoenix Suns

On one hand, you have to like what the Phonix Suns have done this offseason. Even more so if you include their perfect 8-0 record in the bubble. They took their slide in the draft thanks to the lottery in stride, landing Jalen Smith, a veritable Jonathan Isaac clone, out of Maryland 10th overall. Chris Paul comes with hopes of recreating some of his magic from Oklahoma City. Crowder brings toughness and perimeter shooting along with E’Twuan Moore and Damian Jones is a good backup for Deandre Ayton. It’ll be up to Paul and Devin Booker to prove Oubre wrong.

3. New Orleans Pelicans

David Griffin, you clever so-and-so. Not one to be overshadowed by the Prestis and Moreys of the world, the former Cavs general manager continued his facelift of the New Orleans Pelicans centered around phenom Zion Williamson. Gone are, Moore, Jrue Holiday (via four-team trade), Derrick Favors (FA to Utah), and Jahlil Okafor. Griffin replaced them with Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe (both via the Holiday trade), and guard Kira Lewis Jr. (13th pick). He also extended Brandon Ingram. This will be a tough defensive group at worst.

2. Portland Trail Blazers

This has to be People’s Champ for best NBA offseason. The Portland Trail Blazers brought back Carmelo Anthony (yes, there is some bias here) and Rodney Hood. They also brought rebounding savant Enes Kanter and potential-laden Harry Giles to bolster their big rotation along with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. They also signed Derrick Jones Jr, but the piece de resistance is Robert Covington. One of the absolute best 3-and-D players and just what Portland needs behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The rich get richer. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers are still celebrating their championship while reigning Executive of the year Rob Pelinka is right back at it. Securing Dennis Schroder early was smart. Who knows what Presti could have extracted out of him further along in the process. “Stealing” Montrezl Harrell from the “rival” Los Angeles Clippers is a work of art. Granted, Harrell wasn’t going back to the Clippers after this past season played out how it did. But he will be motivated by what he clearly saw as slight from them. Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews bring good defense and enough outside shooting.

We also have to look at what Pelinka kept and got rid of. Moving Danny Green’s deal while bringing back Markieff Morris shouldn’t go unnoticed. Unsung playoff-hero Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returns as well but, as a Klutch Sports client, duh. Ditto for the best “free agent” available in Davis. And they didn’t have to move Kyle Kuzma or Talen Horton-Tucker to do any of it. Losing Rondo and Howard can be overcome with the moves made. And they get to run it back with an integral piece from their Staples Center sub-lessee. The Lakers didn’t have many teams to be concerned over in the first place. It’s hard to imagine any team did enough to beat this squad fully-healthy.

 

Triple Zeros: The Next Generation

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Triple Zeros

‘The Next Generation’

In this Triple Zeros, Josh talks about NFL Week 11’s most interesting storylines and plays playoff matchmaker. Then things switch over to the NBA as he overreacts to some draft picks and wonders if the Nets are planning on splitting up already. All that and much more!

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