Kurt Helin

Getty Images

Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man, and more: Our NBA awards predictions

12 Comments

Yesterday, the PBT staff gave you our MVP predictions for the upcoming NBA season. There was a lot of love for LeBron James.

Today, we turn our attention to the other end-of-season NBA awards, pull out our crystal balls, and make predictions we will look back on as foolish come April.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
This feels like a wide-open year for the award because a lot of rookies will have the ball in their hands and the opportunity to put up numbers. Lonzo Ball will be good in Los Angeles, Dennis Smith Jr. will be explosive in Dallas, but Simmons will rack up numbers (especially highlight assists) on a team that will make the playoffs (if the Sixers can get 50+ games out of Joel Embiid). That will put him over the top.

Dan Feldman: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is highly talented and will have a big role. Plus, an extra year of seasoning doesn’t hurt.

Dane Carbaugh: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is finally healthy for the Philadelphia 76ers and it seems like he is in a position best to stand out on a team that could be without some of its stars due to injury. Simmons should be a good penetrator, dribbler, and passer in transition. If guys like JJ Reddick can hit the 3-pointers after Simmons scoops them a dish, I think the LSU product grabs it.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)

Once again Draymond Green will be incredibly versatile and key to what the Warriors do. Once again Kawhi Leonard will be the best perimeter defender in the game. But with Gordon Hayward now in Boston, Utah will not take as big a step back as many people think and the reason will be their elite defense anchored by Gobert. That credit will get him this award.

Dan Feldman: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
It took a pointed effort by Draymond Green and bad luck for Leonard for the Warriors forward to unseat Leonard last season. Odds are against that happening again.

Dane Carbaugh: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Gobert probably should have been the recipient of this award last season. He is the best defensive center in the NBA, and with Hayward now in Boston he is now the franchise centerpiece for the Jazz. Gobert will be a monster just like he was last season, and with added responsibility and visibility, the Utah big man should grab it this year.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Kurt Helin: Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)

This is the hardest award to predict preseason because it is basically the guy who surprises us with his improvement. It often goes to a guy who was good and just got an opportunity, and that is sort of the case with the improving Turner, who averaged nearly 15 points a game last season when Paul George was on the team and is now going to have the offense run through him.

Dan Feldman: Rodney Hood (Utah Jazz)
The Jazz guard is in line for a bigger role with Gordon Hayward gone. It will also help that Hood’s season will be compared to last year’s injury-plagued campaign, not 2015-16, when he showed more of the promise I think he’ll build upon this year.

Dane Carbaugh: Karl-Anthony Towns (Utah Jazz)
It’s sort of ridiculous to say that a guy like Towns will be the most improved player given his already stellar track record. However, that is typically where is this award has gone in recent seasons. Think CJ McCollum. With a better roster around him and a playoff spot for the taking, Towns should be the head and shoulders favorite for this one.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat)

Another award that could go a lot of different directions. Andre Iguodala has been the most important sixth man for a few seasons now. We know Jamal Crawford will put up numbers in Minnesota, same with Lou Williams in Los Angeles, and what about Rudy Gay getting into the Spurs system and running their second unit. But I’m going with an unconventional pick where the player — Olynyk — has a skill set that perfectly fits his new team. He’s going to get minutes (mid-20s), play the four and the five, and space the floor. I think he could surprise with the numbers he puts up.

Dan Feldman: Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors)
Iguodala has been the NBA’s best sixth man the last few years. Will the 33-year-old remain so? Will he impact the game as much as others with more to prove? There’s at least a clear path for the Warriors forward.

Dane Carbaugh: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers)
The Clippers will absolutely need a top performance this year from former six man of the year Lou Williams just to fight their way through the Western Conference. If LA makes it to the playoffs and Williams is a big piece of that, I think he should be the one to garner this award.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
This award either goes to the coach whose team most outperforms expectations, or a sort of “lifetime achievement” award. While Tom Thibodeau’s team will make a leap in Minnesota, and while Gregg Popovich is always the man in San Antonio, it feels like Stevens turn for his work in Boston. This is a talented Celtics team I think will come together more in the second half of the season and get him the award.

Dan Feldman: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Brad Stevens is widely regarded as one of the NBA’s best coaches, but he has never finished better than fourth in Coach of the Year voting. Keeping the Celtics, who have so many new faces, humming could be his ticket.

Dane Carbaugh: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Stevens is slated for a big year in Boston after adding Gordon Hayward and Kyrene Irving. The Celtics will be a good team in the Eastern conference the season, which has been severely weakened. The team will rely on young players to help them When it comes to depth, and if they are successful that could be the tipping point for Stevens.

Joel Embiid says he wanted to stay another season at Kansas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s an annual dance brought on by the silly one-and-done rule: Elite college basketball players talk about how much they love their school, how tough it would be to leave (even as they are skipping classes in the spring semester that they don’t intend to finish), but their dream has always been to go to the NBA and they are going to pursue it.

Joel Embiid was a one-and-done player for Kansas. Except he says he almost wasn’t one-and-done, he came very close to staying a Jayhawk for another season, as reported by David Skretta at NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“It was a great feeling,” Embiid said of Kansas after the workout, sweat still dripping from his face. “When I was here, I don’t think anybody knows this story, but I actually decided to stay. I loved this place so much. I was actually pushed to leave. But I loved this place so much.”

So who did the pushing?

“I’m not going to say,” he said with another smile, “but it was a tough choice. I still have a lot of love for Kansas, and every time I have a chance to represent, I’m going to do it.”

That doesn’t sound like hyperbole. Embiid landed at Kansas fairly fresh out of his native Cameroon and started to develop there, and he averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. There’s also a sense of unfinished business, remember a stress fracture in his back late in the season kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and the NCAA tournament. He may well have wanted to return.

But having just signed a $148 million contract extension with the Sixers, he’s probably pretty happy with his decision to head to the NBA.

With Lakers thinking cap space, don’t look for Julius Randle extension

Getty Images
2 Comments

The Lakers’ plan is no secret: Spend this season developing the young core — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma and on won the list — while hoarding cap space, create more with trades, then next summer get at least one and maybe two max contract players to come in and start winning.

The cap space part of the plan means don’t expect the Lakers to extend Randle before the season starts, even though he is eligible. They would like to keep him, but they want to keep his cap hold down, and Los Angeles has the rights to match any offer next summer.

Randle doesn’t sound like he expects a deal, speaking to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“If it is right for both sides, we’ll see,” Randle said of trying to get a contract extension done early. “All I can really focus on is playing basketball. I can’t really focus on the contract situation.”

“At the end of the day, I am letting my agent handle all of that,” Randle added. “We have great communication and we are on the same page and he is in communication with the front office about that. Because if I think about that day in and day out, I will drive myself crazy.”

There’s not going to be a deal. Cap space is the priority for Los Angeles, a contract for Randle would cut into it. If the Lakers keep him beyond this season, it’s because the two sides reach a deal next summer, or the Lakers match another team’s offer.

That means Randle is playing for his next contract this season — and it’s not going to be easy. He’s in a battle for the starting four spot with Nance, and that plus the play of Kuzma could mean fewer minutes. Randle plays with power, his handles are improved, but he doesn’t have much shooting range (77 percent of his shots last season came within 10 feet of the rim), and his defense needs to be more consistent.

Don’t be shocked if Randle’s name comes up in trade talks. The Lakers would like to move off Luol Deng‘s contract — cap space, cap space, cap space — and that will require a sweetener. The Lakers might be willing to package Randle in that kind of a deal (although other teams will likely ask for Ingram).

Kyrie Irving says playing in Boston feels like “I’m really playing in a real, live sports city”

Getty Images
7 Comments

This isn’t going to play well in Cleveland.

Kyrie Irving is an East Coast guy, he grew up in New Jersey (which is on the East Coast even if the rest of the states there don’t want to claim it). He likes the pace of life there. Now, after six years in Cleveland, he is back on his preferred coast in Boston.

He was talking about that move before a preseason game and said this, via the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s exciting to be back on the East Coast,” said Irving, who grew up in New Jersey. “It’s fast-paced. A lot of different cultures, food and people. You get it all, especially in Boston.

“You would go to Cleveland, and it would be at nighttime, and things would be going on, but you just see a vast difference.”

A difference, too, Irving said between Boston and Cleveland as sports cities: “Boston, I’m driving in and (thinking), ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’ ”

Real sports City? Did he mean to say that?

Is Boston a bigger city, does it offer more nightlife/entertainment options? Yes. Is it more culturally diverse? Yes (although Cleveland does better than people think in this regard.) Is the pace of life faster and more to Irving’s liking? Clearly.

But Clevelander’s love their sports teams. LOVE them. Even the Browns, who have done little to earn that love for years. Cleveland is a great sports town — and Irving will always be part of that legacy because he hit the series-clinching three over Stephen Curry that won the city its first pro sports title in five decades. He had to have seen the passion, the emotion that came with that.

Bostonians love their sports teams, too. They stuck with the Red Sox through a century of heartbreak. But is it a “real sports city” compared to Cleveland. Come on man.

Michael Jordan on Superteams: “28 teams are going to be garbage”

Associated Press
7 Comments

Michael Jordan was the heart of one of the NBA’s great super teams, a Chicago Bulls squad that dominated the 1990s with six rings. It also happened to be the NBA’s most popular era.

Today, Jordan is a smaller-market NBA owner (Charlotte is the eighth-smallest media market in the NBA), and from his new business perspective, he’s not a fan of NBA superteams. This summer saw a consolidation of power as Houston and Oklahoma City loaded up to go at Golden State, while Boston put itself in position for future runs at Cleveland. A lot of owners had hoped that the new CBA would flatten out the talent pool, but that has not happened.

Here is what Jordan told Cigar Aficionado (in an article where MJ says he smokes six cigars a day), with a hat tip to Ben Goliver of Sports Illustrated (who apparently is a cigar aficionado).

“I think it’s going to hurt the overall aspect of the league from a competitive standpoint. You’re going to have one or two teams that are going to be great, and another 28 teams that are going to be garbage. Or they’re going to have a tough time surviving in the business environment.”

Jordan isn’t the only small- or middle-sized market owner to make this argument, although few others use the word garbage. The argument is that the league is top-heavy with a few great teams and if smaller markets like Charlotte are merely “good” — and the Hornets should be a good team, a playoff team in the East, although the Nicolas Batum injury is a setback — it will be hard to draw fans, get big sponsors, get good local television deals, and make money.

Jordan’s concern also isn’t new. The NBA’s national television ratings always thrive when it can get its biggest names on its biggest platforms — LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry in the Finals last season meant the best ratings since the Jordan era — and that has always led to a challenge in other markets. Smaller market owners were making this very case in the 1980s when the Lakers and Celtics bi-coastal rivalry dominated the sport. Same during Jordan’s 1990s run (he’s just on the other side of it now), or when Shaq/Kobe dominated, or when LeBron was in Miami, or… you get the picture.

Some fans will argue this is different because the players are recruiting each other and teams aren’t “organic,” but it’s not because no matter how these super teams were put together the impact is the same.

Overall, I would argue super teams are good for the sport — and with that smaller market owners. Superteams drive popularity, and while Jordan may struggle to make an annual profit in Charlotte, those figures don’t include how much teams like Golden State and Cleveland (and Houston, and OKC) are driving up the value of all franchises in the league. The Rockets just sold for $2.2 billion. With a “B.” It is a rising tide that floats all boats — and it also leads to massive national television contracts that all owners share in.

And all that’s not even getting into the argument that Oklahoma City and San Antonio are small markets, but with well-managed teams they are doing just fine.

Jordan may be frustrated about team building and his Hornets not being in position to, or able to, draw a superstar player, but that’s not the system’s fault.