It’s that time of year — prediction time. While we understand that making NBA preseason awards predictions is the equivalent of nailing Jell-O to a tree, but we soldier ahead in the face of futility anyway. Because that’s what we do.
Monday we made our picks for MVP and Rookie of the Year.
Now we move on to the defensive player, coach, and sixth man awards.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kurt Helin: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers). He came close last season (missing those final eight games while Rudy Gobert was on a tear hurt) but this season he is fully healthy and if he plays more than 63 games (*knocks on wood*) he can win this award. Beyond that, with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup instead of J.J. Redick (at least to start the season), the Sixers should be an elite defensive team, maybe best in the league, and Embiid will be its anchor. One other candidate to watch: Kawhi Leonard.
Dan Feldman: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz). The NBA’s three best defenders are Gobert, Draymond Green, and Kawhi Leonard. I’m more convinced Gobert will be healthy and motivated during the regular season than I am with Green and Leonard, though I wouldn’t be surprised if either Green or Leonard wins this award. Green especially could chase it to become eligible for a super-max extension. But he also has his eyes on a long playoff run. Coming off his injury last season and one season from free agency, Leonard is a mystery.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Kurt Helin: Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks). The Bucks have been loaded with talent for a while now but the past few years they have played too slowly, not shot enough threes (or had enough three-point shooters), and played a defensive system the best teams could easily exploit. Coach Bud is going to change all that, Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to look even more like an MVP candidate, and Budenholzer will get credit for the improvement.
Dan Feldman: Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks). Budenholzer is a good coach in position to prove it. The Bucks needed a coaching upgrade, so they give him a chance to shine. Jazz coach Quin Snyder is another strong contender, but he might have set his bar too high last season. Arguably the NBA’s best coach, Gregg Popovich has a path to winning the award this season if he guides the reworked Spurs into the playoffs.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
Kurt Helin: J.J. Redick (Philadelphia 76ers). This pick is based on the presumption that Markelle Fultz will stay in the Sixers starting lineup for most, if not all, of the season (an experiment that may not last that long). Redick will get second unit time with T.J. McConnell and Fultz (who I think will play with that unit a decent amount each night), and they will love feeding him as he curls off screens that second-team defenders can’t or won’t follow him through. Tyreke Evans is my second choice here, I think he’ll have a big season in Indiana.
Dan Feldman: Lou Wiliams (Los Angeles Clippers). Last season, Williams was the rare reserve to receive All-Star consideration. He has figured out how to come off the bench, play within himself and contribute to winning. Importantly, he does it through scoring — the area voters care most about.