Updated: Oct 9, 2021
The offseason hasn't really taken off yet, as the NBA Draft and free agency are about two weeks away. Still, it's never too early to guess who will take home some hardware next season. Here are my predictions for the league's major awards next year.
Most Valuable Player: Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks
Dončić's rise to NBA superstardom has come even faster than most initially predicted. Drafted third overall in 2018 after three years in the Euroleague, the Slovenian won Rookie of the Year and set countless records. Dončić was just the fifth player in NBA history to average 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in their rookie season. He was able to improve his statistics mightily in his sophomore year, averaging 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game.
Dončić has made an immediate impact on the Mavericks and in the league; his play demands respect from any opponent. The scary thing is that he's nowhere close to his ceiling; he hasn't shot with the efficiency you would expect from the league's elite. Although he's had some problems with ankle sprains, Dončić is steadily improving his conditioning to play big minutes every night. We can expect an impressive season from the young star as he and the Mavericks continue their quest towards becoming a title contender.
Honorable mentions: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Nikola Jokić
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
There are always a few constants for DPOY each season, but sometimes it just depends on team success. Giannis Antetokounmpo ended up taking the defensive hardware last season as well as Most Valuable Player, in no small part for Milwaukee's league-best record of 56-17. He and the Bucks were stifling in the regular season, but looked quite vulnerable in the postseason, hence their second-round sweep at the hands of the Heat. Conversely, Davis and the Lakers were marginally less effective on defense in the regular season, but it played a major factor in their journey to the championship.
I give Davis the edge going into next season because of his consistently impressive defensive statistics. Last season, he put up 1.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game, roughly his career average. There may be more focus on his impact due to potential offseason departures (Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, etc). If he can maintain -- and potentially improve upon -- his effectiveness on defense, Davis will add his first DPOY award to his ever-growing trophy case.
Honorable mentions: Rudy Gobert, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, Kawhi Leonard, Bam Adebayo
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Edwards, Georgia Bulldogs
Put simply, Rookie of the Year is the most difficult award to predict every season. You never know who will make a profound impact on their team in their first year in the league. Karl-Anthony Towns won the award after being selected first overall in 2015. A year later, Malcolm Brogdon won after being selected 36th overall. Even undrafted point guard Kendrick Nunn was a finalist for last year's ROY award after averaging over 15 points for the Miami Heat.
With that being said, there's a fair chance that Edwards -- the potential first pick in this year's draft -- will take home this season's award. The shooting guard has elite athleticism and a smooth jumpshot that should yield some immediate scoring output. On his best days, Edwards can pour on 33 points in a half (he did against Michigan State!). He has some kinks to work out in terms of efficiency and turnovers, but Edwards should have a relatively bump-free transition to the pros.
Honorable mentions: James Wiseman, Onyeka Okongwu, LaMelo Ball, Deni Avdija, Kira Lewis Jr.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Human microwave Lou Williams has won Sixth Man of the Year three times in his career, so why not add a fourth? He is 34 years old but he can score it as well as anybody. With Montrezl Harrell potentially leaving in free agency, Williams will need to lead the Clippers bench offensively.
The truth is that the Clippers need another point guard to assume facilitating duties. Until then, Williams has proved his playmaking ability off the bench, averaging over five assists in his last three seasons. This season, who knows who may be a bright spot off the bench in the league? 6MOY runner-up Dennis Schröder may improve even further upon last season's performance, so there's a chance he gets inserted into a starting lineup. It is yet to be seen, so the reliable Williams gets the nod.
Honorable mentions: Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, Marcus Smart, George Hill, Shake Milton
Most Improved Player: Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Michael Porter Jr. proved his scoring ability in the Orlando bubble, but lost his spot in Denver's starting lineup because of his poor defensive performance. He is lethal on all three levels of the floor and can pile points on in a hurry. It also helps that opposing defenses need to keep their eyes on Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić.
Porter Jr. only averaged 9.3 points per game in the regular season, but we've seen what he can do in a bigger role. He can prove to coach Michael Malone that he deserves a starting role if he can steadily produce offense and utilize his wingspan on defense. Additionally, forwards Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant may sign elsewhere this offseason, opening the door for Porter Jr. to display his talent.
Honorable mentions: Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Tyler Herro, Cam Reddish, Coby White
Coach of the Year: Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets
If Lou Williams as Sixth Man of the Year is this article's safest pick, consider Nash as Coach of the Year the riskiest. Over the last two months, the Nets have assembled a squad of former players, assistants, and head coaches to lead their players next season. From Amar'e Stoudemire to Mike D'Antoni to Ime Udoka, there surely will be many bright minds on the Brooklyn bench.
The best case scenario is that Nash is able to forge strong relationships with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, especially the former. Keeping Irving pleased and invested in the team is vital if Brooklyn wants to contend for a championship. There is a chance that Nash struggles earning respect in the locker room as a first-time head coach. But his transcendent understanding of the game and calm demeanor could fare well for Irving, a star who has tended to crumble as a team's primary offensive weapon. Let's take a chance on Nash for the league's best coach; the results could be a gift for the Nets.
Honorable mentions: Michael Malone, Doc Rivers, Steve Kerr, Rick Carlisle, Brad Stevens