By: Adam Pasternak
The NBA season is only a week old, but there have been a couple players, and teams, who have already left an impression on me. Each NBA team has only played three or four games, yet we’ve seen multiple players score over 30 points in a game already, Anthony Davis score 95 points in the first two games, the Warriors lose their season opener, and Joel “The Process” Embiid taking the NBA by storm. Entertainment is at an all time high right now in the NBA, with tons of scoring and highlight plays each and every night. I don’t know if the NBA can keep this level of play and entertainment up all year, but if they can even come close, this will be one of the best seasons of NBA basketball yet.
Regardless, all the greatness that has come from the NBA’s return last week got me thinking some crazy thoughts. Here are my probably unrealistic NBA award predictions.
DeMar DeRozan will lead the NBA in scoring:
Fresh off a new 5 year max deal, the Raptors star shooting guard hasn’t let the money get to his head. It’s almost as if he still feels like he has to prove to everyone that he is one of the best two-guards in the NBA. Instead of cashing in his cheque and coasting, like Lance Stephenson may or may not have done in Charlotte two years ago, DeMar has scored 40, 32, and 33 points in each of the first three games for Toronto on a very efficient 53% shooting. To quote Danny Chau of The Ringer, “DeRozan dropped 40 without hitting a 3, which, spiritually, is the same as J.Cole going double-platinum with no features”. He’s gotten to the line and has continued to channel his inner-Kobe and hit his ridiculous mid-range jumpers. I read that Russ and Kawhi, among others, worked with Kobe in the offseason – but to me, I see more of Kobe in DeMar than any of those guys. Not even just the difficult, fading jumpers, but on his drives to the basket and specifically on his floaters. DeMar has been able to get into the lane and get the ball up and over the big men, which we used to see a lot from Kobe in his prime as well. They both do it with such grace and with a scorers touch. The ball just rolls off the tips of their fingers, gets high up in the air, and drops down into the net making a perfect sounding “swish”. I don’t think anyone else can make a floater look as sexy as DeRozan does now, and Kobe did back in his playing days. DeMar has also shown he can use his left-hand as well, even being able to quickly shift the ball from one hand to the other while in the air to avoid defenders and get to the rim. I don’t see why he can’t keep this level of play up all year. He’s proven over the last two years that he can get to the line with the best of them, he’s made two-all star teams, and he’s led a team from the basement of the East to game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron and his Cavs. He’s established himself in the NBA now, and as the year goes on he will only get more confident in his ability to score. I think he’ll hover around 28-29 points per game – and when it’s all said and done, he’ll be this year’s scoring champion.
Damian Lillard will win MVP:
Damian Lillard is winning life right now, folks. He’s got a huge contract, a couple signature shoes with Adidas, two straight years with first round victories in the playoffs, a successful rap album (shoutout to Dame D.O.L.L.A…straight fire), and now an electric start to his 2016/17 campaign. In three games to start the year, Dame is averaging 34 points, 4.5 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game, with his Blazers at a solid 2-1 to start the year thanks to his game winner against Denver last week. He’s the clear leader of this young and exciting Blazers squad, and he’s definitely doing his best to lead by example. He’s scoring a ton of points, but he’s not being selfish either. He’s taking the shots when he’s open and he’s done a really great job thus far at using his small frame and electric speed to weave around defenders on his way to the rim. He’s managed to get 6+ assists in two out of the three games so far this season, and so the ball definitely isn’t sticking to his hands too much.
Lillard is a guy who loves to overcome adversity and prove people wrong. It’s essentially what he’s been doing his whole life. In high school, he wasn’t a top prospect or recruited by any big-time schools, settling on Weber State. From there, he went on to put up 20+ point per game seasons in college, finally earning some recognition from the big time networks and NBA scouts. When the draft came, the Blazers took him 6th overall. Even being a lottery pick didn’t shut out the haters. People thought he was too small, or was a score-first type of point guard and that he wouldn’t pan out in the NBA. So what did he do next? He proved them wrong again. Finally, he enters this season with the respect he deserves and you can seen just how comfortable he feels. He, and everyone else who is a fan of basketball, knows how good he is and knows the sky is the limit for him. I think he leads the Blazers to a top 5 seed in the West, claiming the MVP title along the way. Watch out LeBron and Steph.
P.S. I’m not joking when I said his album is “straight fire”. He’s got features from Lil Wayne and Jamie Foxx, just to name a few. He tells great stories in his verses and has definitely put out the best NBA-player rap album (sorry, Shaq and Shump). It’s called The Letter O and it’s on Apple Music. Get it now!
Joel “The Process” Embiid will win Rookie of the Year:
Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker. Remember when those three names were supposed to be the future of basketball? When Embiid actually gave Wiggins a run for that number one spot? Flash forward to now, and Embiid is entering his first NBA season while Wiggins is entering his third, and coming off a 20+ point per game output last season. People wrote off Embiid as a bust pretty soon after it was announced that he would miss yet another season at this time last year. Some people even went as far to compare him to Greg Oden (who, on another note, officially retired from basketball last week…so sad). Well, we’re now a week into the NBA season and Embiid has people talking that good talk again. He’s opened just about everyone’s eyes, including Dwight Howard, and is soon going to have to open the 76ers’ cheque-book. He’s just having fun out there, happy to finally be playing on an NBA court, and he’s redefining the centre position along the way. He’s shown he can shoot the three ball, has the moves down in the post to compete with the best of them, and he’s got the size to provide Philly with some much needed rim-protection. The only question that remains is can he stay healthy for a full season? He’s averaging 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as of today, and if he can stay on the court and keep those numbers up…he will be this year’s Rookie of the Year.
Tyler Johnson will win Most Improved:
When I heard that the Brooklyn Nets offered Tyler Johnson a 4 year, $50 mil offer-sheet, my first reaction was, “Who the f*** is Tyler Johnson?” And then I saw a picture and was like, “Oh, that non-athletic looking, very average bench warmer for the Miami Heat. He just got a $50 mil contract offer?!?!?!” But the madness didn’t end there. The Miami Heat then chose to match the Nets offer-sheet and bring back the sparingly used Johnson for 4 years, and $50 mil. Fast-forward to now, and Johnson finds himself as the backup point guard to Goran Dragic averaging 15.3 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Whether coach Spo was forced to give him minutes to justify the contract, or whether he knew Johnson could be this good, doesn’t really matter at this point. That 15.3 points per game is a big jump from his 8.7 points per game last season and he’s proving all the doubters (including myself) wrong thus far. While his contract might be a little too hefty for what he is, the Heat felt they couldn’t let him go regardless of the cost, and I can now see why. It’s unfortunate that players can be often judged by how much they earn, in most cases it’s too much, and the critics just rip these guys (and their GM’s) to shreds. But you have to remember it wasn’t Johnson who went around asking for a $50 mil contract. The Nets offered him the deal, and the Heat didn’t want to lose him. That is why he is being paid what he is. Is he really worth that much money? Not a chance. But losing him wasn’t a chance the Heat were willing to take. If he was making the minimum, we’d be talking about how underpaid he is. The point is, Tyler Johnson is playing great basketball, and is well on his way to becoming the NBA’s Most Improved come seasons end. Don’t let the contract fool you, this is a player on the rise.
What do you think of my predictions for this season? Let me know in the comment section below!
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