NBA Award Predictions: Jokić for MVP?

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is continuing its season. By sticking to strict social distancing guidelines and postponing games when necessary, the league is doing everything it can to avoid another suspended season.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is continuing its season. By sticking to strict social distancing guidelines and postponing games when necessary, the league is doing everything it can to avoid another suspended season. Although the pandemic is surely affecting players’ productions and their availability for certain games, there are still players showcasing their incredible abilities to take home the prestigious NBA awards at the end of the season. Here are my predictions for this season’s award winners:

Most Valuable Player (MVP):

Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets

While other notable candidates like Lebron James and Luka Dončić are having incredible seasons, Denver Nuggets Center Nikola Jokić is still my frontrunner to win the MVP award this season. The Serbian big man is currently averaging a near triple-double (double-digit numbers in three major statistical categories) with 26.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. Averaging a triple-double would make him just the third player, and the first big man, in NBA history to do so. Aside from the statistics, however, Jokić is incredibly entertaining to watch. He flings the type of passes that are featured on Instagram pages for days—whether it be a full court one-handed pass, or a behind-the-back no-look. With the major role social media plays into player popularity these days, the hype for Jokić will inevitably increase as the season progresses. Although the Nuggets look mediocre so far, they were the third seed in the stacked Western Conference and even made it to the Conference Finals last year, which proves just how valuable Jokić is to the success of the team. He scores the ball efficiently, rebounds at a high level, sets up his teammates with all sorts of passes, and is even top five in the league for steals this year. If the Nuggets can repeat their regular season success from the past season, Jokić will have a strong case as the next European MVP. The last player to average a triple-double won the award, so why not the Joker?

Rookie of the Year:

LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

Similarly to my MVP pick, LaMelo Ball is the most versatile player in his class. The trend of today’s NBA leans towards bigger guards who can shoot, pass, and defend at high levels. Although he can be extremely streaky, shooting eight for 12 one game and one for seven the other, Ball can do it all and even looks like a future All-Star when he is at his best. His efficiency is his biggest concern, but it is not uncommon to see rookie guards struggle in their first few seasons. His immediate impact, however, is clearly felt as the Hornets, who went 23-42 last season and had a 35 percent win percentage, has won ten of their 21 games this season and could possibly make the playoffs. Ball’s competition, or lack thereof, for the award also helps his case. The first pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Anthony Edwards, is looking more like the second coming of Andrew Wiggins than the superstar player we expected to see. In other words, he takes horrible shots and makes very few of them. The second pick, James Wiseman, has shown flashes of his potential, but is not much more than Stephen Curry’s screener at the moment. Other candidates such as Tyrese Haliburton and Cole Anthony have had decent starts to their careers, but do not match Ball yet in production. To top it off, Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double on January 10 against the Atlanta Hawks. It’s hard to beat that.

Defensive Player of the Year:

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

Myles Turner has always been one of the best defensive players in the NBA. This season, he has reached another level. His defensive real plus-minus sits at +2.4, which is top five in the NBA. He is averaging a league-leading 3.9 blocks per game so far, which is 1.2 more than the runner up. Regarding Turner’s defensive ability, Houston Rockets guard John Wall commented, “He’s a guy that can change a lot of shots. He does a great job coming from the weak side and blocking shots.” Simply put, Turner is playing like the best defender in the league so far. If the Pacers can stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, which it seems like they will, Turner has a high chance of taking home the prestigious award.

Most Improved Player of the Year:

Christian Wood, Houston Rockets

This time last year, not many NBA fans knew who Christian Wood was. It is already a testament to Wood’s progress that now, most NBA fans know his name—and readily praise it. The Rockets big man has had a hot start to the season, increasing his scoring average from 13.1 ppg to 23.3 ppg and his rebounding average from 6.3 rpg to 10.7 rpg compared to the 2019-2020 season. He is the perfect big man for the modern NBA as he can score both inside and outside the paint, and occasionally even splash threes. Critics may predict that his production will die out as the season progresses, but Wood’s rise to stardom already started in 2019 as he turned in eerily similar numbers at the end of last season on the Detroit Pistons. If he keeps up numbers even similar to his current averages, Wood will most likely win the award.

While the players I predicted to win the awards are all having stellar starts, the NBA season is still at the beginning stages and it is impossible to tell how player productions might fluctuate—especially during this pandemic. Some players might be sidelined for days due to contact tracing and some might even contract the virus. The outcome of the season, then, largely depends on how teams and players take care of themselves and, more than anything, luck. Nevertheless, the 2020-2021 NBA season will be like no other in the history of the league and will be interesting to watch.

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