With the NBA season coming around the corner, it’s time to overreact to training camp and the preseason with a few predictions for my NBA award favorites, including my title favorites.
Rookie of the Year
This year’s draft class doesn’t seem as deep as the last, and two of the top five picks are already injured, one of whom will not be playing for the entire year. Out of the other three featured in the Summer League, Jabari Smith Jr. looked completely incompetent with the ball, even with his esteemed raw athleticism, leaving us with Keegan Murray and No.1 pick Paolo Banchero.
Murray honestly surprised me — he displayed excellent vision in transition, shot the three ball extremely well, and his wingspan allowed him to play smothering defense on the ball — and I believe he could help propel the Kings into a play-in appearance. Nevertheless, Paolo is Paolo — the definition of the “NBA ready” draft prospect. In their duel against each other, Murray hit every clutch shot, even sending the game into OT, but Banchero showed composure under the brightest lights. I was mostly impressed by how Banchero was unfazed by double teams, making the right reads every time, which eventually led to his game-winning assist. Murray will be an incredible spark for the Kings, but Banchero could become the face of the league in the next five years. Paolo will be the Rookie of the Year.
Most Valuable Player
The last four MVP races have been dominated by international players. The last two races were won by Nikola Jokic, with Joel Embiid falling short right behind him. Third time’s the charm, right? I believe the international player trend will continue, but with Luka Doncic.
Ever since his rookie season, Luka has been averaging MVP-caliber numbers, carrying his team to the playoffs where he has consistently shown up against all-time great players — and he’s barely 23. There is no doubt in my mind that Luka is a top 5 player in the league at this point, yet he has still not been able to truly carve out a place for himself in the MVP race.
While the award claims to be an individual one, the success of a candidate’s team might just be as important as their impact on the court. Out of the past 20 MVPs, 17 out of their 20 respective teams have been the first or second seed. The Mavericks have not placed above 4th during Luka’s tenure but have quietly had one of the best off-seasons in the NBA. Last year, the introduction of Jason Kidd propelled this team to defensive-juggernaut status for the first time in quite a while, but they were still missing a defensive anchor. Now, they signed Javale McGee and traded for Christian Wood. As an unlikely three-time NBA champion, McGee only protects the rim but is extremely efficient at it, directly filling a much-needed role. On the other end of the court, Wood is a stretch big who could be the perfect pick-and-roll partner for Luka while serving as another shooter to spread the floor for him. They drafted an incredible high school prospect in Jaden Hardy, who fell to the second round only because of an injury-riddled college season, and Tim Hardaway Jr. is coming back from an injury that kept him out all of last year. This team is complete and much better than it ever has been. They will get the first or second seed in the west, propelling Luka to his first MVP at the age of 23.
The Boston Celtics will win the 2022 NBA championship. If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have been a little more confident in my pick, considering the turmoil this team has recently experienced. And, of course, it’s no secret that the Celtics are my own home team. Nevertheless, they have all the ingredients to win the chip, and they will do so.
Earlier this summer, the Celtics traded for Malcolm Brogdon, the former Rookie of the Year and the starting point guard on a top-seeded Bucks team from a few years ago. While he has suffered from some injuries, it seems people have unjustifiably forgotten how good Brogdon is, and the Celtics gave up nothing for him. As a defensive-minded guard, he’s the perfect fit to lead this team’s second unit.
The Celtics originally signed Danillo Gallinari on a cheap deal as an extra scoring big off the bench, but he has suffered another ACL tear and will not return this season. On the other hand, the team added former All-NBA player Blake Griffin, who should offer some much-needed center play off the bench in Robert Williams’ absence. GM Brad Stevens extended Sam Hauser to an extremely cheap three-year, $6 million deal, and he has shown he can become as good of a shooter as any wing in the league.
The roster is talented across the board, but their unified defensive front is what propelled them to the NBA Finals last year. While the Celtics have lost head coach Ime Udoka, interim head coach Joe Mazzulla has been credited with orchestrating the defense last season, so there is little reason for the defense to suffer in Udoka’s absence.
Most importantly, however, is the two-headed beast that leads this team — Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. These two players led their team to the finals last year at the age of 24 and 25, respectively, they haven’t even reached their primes yet, and the team around them is significantly better. With both improving within an even more talented roster that has already brought them to the Finals, it would be ridiculous to even suggest the Celtics will not at least win the Eastern Conference. Look forward to Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, 60 wins, and a Jaylen Brown Finals MVP.