All-Star Analysts

Way-too-early NBA Awards predictions (Part 1)

Published October 12, 2022, 11:00 AMWillie Wilson
Willie Wilson

Who says it’s too early to predict the NBA Awards winner? Not Coach Willie Wilson. Here are his picks to win the Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, and Sixth Man of the Year awards.

The 2021-2022 season is in the books. The NBA Summer League has wrapped up, with a multitude of exciting rookies giving us so much to look forward to. Free agency is done, and some of the biggest names in the NBA have already changed teams. All eyes are now firmly set on the 2022-2023 season starting in a week. 

With that, let’s take a look way forward at who could win the awards for the upcoming season.

Rookie of the Year: Jabari Smith, Houston Rockets

Every team hopes to have drafted their franchise player and a future star, and the Rookie of the Year award is a good place to start that discussion. 

For this season, I have to go with the No. 3 pick, Jabari Smith. He didn’t have the most exciting Summer League but don’t overreact given that a player's performance there isn’t always the best indicator of regular season play. 

Smith's subpar shooting at the start of the tournament was for the most part a result of the forward's struggle to create separation off the dribble. No need for concern because his pairing with Jalen Green should lessen that portion of his game. Smith shot a red-hot 42 percent in his college freshman season from 3 on 5.5 attempts a game. He has a high release point that at 6-foot-10 makes him tough to cover. Shooters make optimal screeners, that’s why expect to see Smith screens for Green and popping into space for open jump shots quite a bit this coming season. 

What separates Smith from the rest of his class is his play on the other end of the floor. It’s on defense that Smith has been the most formidable. He possesses a 7’1” wingspan, which makes him look as long as any big man in the league. Coupled with the lateral quickness of a guard, Smith can work off of any switch and not get burned. That is something last season's league-worst defensive team desperately needs. With the departure of Christian Wood opening up endless time on the court, his defensive versatility, and his offensive game, which is tailor-made to complement Green, I predict Jabari Smith will win Rookie of the Year.

Most Improved Player: Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers

This award was the most difficult for me to predict. There are so many factors affecting the way a player can win this award. Which players are we now looking at? Are we looking at players that changed teams and are expected to receive a much bigger role? Are we looking at a player whose teammate left via trade or free agency, and now he will step into a much bigger role? Enter Tyrese Haliburton, the Indiana Pacers’ point guard of the future. 

Drafted 12th overall in the 2020 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings, he made the All-Rookie First Team with a 13-3-5 line. In his second season, he improved his averages to 15.3 points, 8.2 assists, and 1.7 steals over 77 games last season. Haliburton was traded at the deadline and immediately paid dividends for the Pacers by raising his numbers even further, averaging 17.5 points, 9.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 steals in 26 games.

With Malcolm Brogdon already shipped to Boston, and possibly more to follow (Buddy Hield, Myles Turner) the table has been set for him to step into a much bigger role. He will be the unquestioned primary ball handler, a role he is very comfortable with. He can now fully showcase his pinpoint passing and high percentage shot-making ability, especially from 3-point range. 

His best ability has been his availability, missing only five games last season. He will have a full year playing for offensive genius Rick Carlisle. I’m very excited to see his further improvement that will be on full display this season. I know Indiana Pacers fans feel the same way.

Sixth Man of the Year: Jordan Poole, Golden State Warriors

The criteria for winning this award is very simple, you must be a player coming off the bench. I know the winners are usually sparks off the bench, or more commonly known as bucket-getters. That’s why I predict Jordan Poole will take home this award. 

My other choices were the past two winners, Tyler Herro and Jordan Clarkson. I believe with Victor Oladipo looking more like himself in last year’s playoffs, Herro won’t be putting up the same stats. As for Clarkson, he gets eliminated because the Utah Jazz are in rebuilding mode and might miss the playoffs this season. 

That leaves Poole. He is coming off a career year where he finished fourth for the Most Improved Player Award and was adopted as a new Splash Brother. Poole could be a starter on most NBA rosters, but because he plays with the legendary Splash Brothers, he will be the spark coming off the bench, and he will be rewarded for his sacrifice by winning this award. 

The third-year combo guard out of Michigan was outstanding last season, averaging 18.5 points per game, in 30 MPG. He was a starter while Klay Thompson worked his way back from injury. Once Thompson returned, he moved into the team’s primary bench spot. In the 17 games he played coming off the bench he still got buckets averaging 15.8 points per game. With Thompson back, he’s set to come off the bench next season and continue to do what he does best: get buckets.

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