After what is possibly the wildest off season in NBA history, we're a week into season 2019/20. It's time for me to put my neck on the line and make some predictions.
Defensive Player of the Year
Utah centre Rudy Gobert would be the obvious favourite for this award, given he's the two-time reigning champ, and his team look set to challenge for the top of the conference standings.
But early Jazz games have shown that teams are directing their offense away from the Frenchman. That's good for Utah as teams go away from their usual attack, but bad for Gobert's DPOY chances, as he'll not get the same counting stats that he has racked up in seasons past. Gobert has averaged over two blocks per game every season since his rookie year (when he played lass than 10 minutes per contest), but through three games he's only blocked one shot total. Of course, we can sound the Small Sample Size klaxon, but the eye test reveals that teams are simply not going into the paint nearly as often.
A similar thing happened to Kawhi Leonard a few years back. After becoming a waking nightmare for opposition wings teams simply started to move their offense away from whoever Leonard was guarding. I expect that won't change, but it does open the door for team mate Paul George to come into the conversation. A long armed and lithe 6'9” athlete with elite footwork, George is a defensive menace in his own right. The Clippers will make teams pick their poison and I bet they'll pick George. That added responsibility could, assuming injuries don't get in the way, increase PG's defensive stats.
Draymond Green believes he should have won every DPOY, since the dawn of time. Swagger aside, Green is a defensive genius, able to guard every position on the floor. There has never been a better defender of 2 on 1's. The Warriors vaunted defense has been gutted this season, putting so much onto Green's broad shoulders. Should the Warriors make the playoffs with a top five defense, Green might get the nod here.
My pick, however, is the man who has made it clear that he want this award: Joel Embiid.
If the Cameroonian's new fitness regime pays dividends, it will mean that not only do the Sixers have a rebound eating, shot swatting interior force, they'll also have a lighter on his feet, switchable big. It will also mean more game time over the course of the season. That alone translates to more counting stats. The on/off splits last season were ridiculous: a 93 team defensive rating with Embiid on the court, 120.1 when out. With defensive aces in new team mates Al Horford and Josh Richardson those splits won't be so stark, but they will make the Sixers defense incredibly scary.
If he's healthy, Embiid is my pick here.
Sixth Man of the Year
Lou Williams seems to win this award every year. This season won't be any different.
The Clippers flamethrower will, despite the presence of superstars Leonard and George, continue to be the man late in games. His pick and roll partnership with Montrezl Harrell remains borderline unstoppable. With killers like Kawhi and PG on board, and the defensive attention they'll draw, we might just drop the borderline. Through the start of this season, Sweet Lou is averaging over 20 points and 5 assists per contest, as he has in his last two campaigns. Maintain those numbers, and Williams claims this award for the fourth time.