Editor’s note: Willie also gave his picks for Rookie of the Year, Most Improved, and Sixth Man which you can read here.
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 couple of days.
Let’s take a look way forward at who could win the awards for the upcoming season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
As the saying goes, offense wins games, but defense wins championships. You can have an off night on the offensive end, but there are no off nights on the defensive end. That’s because effort is the main component of a good defense. Defense travels, meaning when teams are playing on the road, at an unfamiliar gym, and shooting on an unfamiliar rim, they should always be able to lean on their defense to carry them through those road games.
That’s why there’s no doubt in my mind that Bam Adebayo will be the best defensive player in the NBA next season. Versatility is the most important aspect of an NBA defender and Adebayo puts that on display every game. The Miami Heat’s fourth-ranked defense is built around him, as he anchors their 2-3 zone defense by shutting down the paint. Because the Heat switch so much against ball screens, it won’t be surprising to see him matched onto a guard and utterly lock him up. The only thing that kept Adebayo from winning the award last season was his injuries, but even if he missed a chunk of the season, he still managed to finish fourth in voting. I’m looking at this being the year Adebayo wins my favorite award.
Coach of the Year: Jason Kidd (Dallas Mavericks)
The criteria for the Coach of the Year winner aren’t difficult. It’s mostly determined by a team’s improved record from the previous year. When teams surpass expectations, a lot of that credit is placed on good coaching. I’m going with Jason Kidd here because I feel the Dallas Mavericks fit that criteria this season.
This team can hit 55 wins next season, possibly even eclipse 60. In last season's playoffs, we saw the Mavs win their first playoff series in 10 years. We also were able to witness the Mavs take out the top-seeded Phoenix Suns with a 33-point blowout in Game 7. Last season was the team’s first 50+ win season in seven years, and the switch from Rick Carlisle to Kidd is a major reason for that turnaround.
Kidd is a players’ coach that has the full trust of his locker room. His players would run through a brick wall for him. He had a roster that was in flux the entire season with stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in and out of the lineup. They even pulled off a major trade at the deadline. But he was able to work through all the instability and guide his team to the 4th seed in the West. In the absence of Doncic, he turned Jalen Brunson into a star which ultimately led to Brunson getting a big bag with the New York Knicks. He turned the Mavs into the seventh-ranked defense, a 14-spot rise from their previous season’s ranking. The sky's the limit for this team, especially with my pick for the Coach of the Year leading them.
Most Valuable Player: Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
The NBA MVP award is one of the most celebrated awards in all of sports. The impact one superstar player has on every possession in a game is enormous as this power will determine the performance of his team. The winner of this award will need crazy stats and display his impact on a team, meaning how well his team performs when he is on the floor. I feel this is Luka Doncic’s season to win the MVP award.
The Mavs built a team to magnify his game with last season's acquisition of Spencer Dinwiddie and the offseason arrival of Christian Wood. Those two players give this team a better chance of winning. Doncic is also in a better position this season because he will benefit from the departure of Brunson. He will assume a heavier playmaking load, just like what we saw from last season's winner, Nikola Jokic.
Doncic is the most complete basketball player in the world right now, possessing a combination of size, skill, and aggressiveness. He bodies defenders that are too small or when defended by players his size or bigger, he displays skill that far exceeds his 23 years of age. When all else fails he leans on his patented crossover-to-step-back 3-point shot. He tallied 28.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game last season even as he admitted his fitness wasn't where it needed to be. But he appears to finally be taking his offseason work more seriously than in years past. That’s bad news for the rest of the NBA.
Luka was named to the All-NBA First Team last season. Expect to see him be part of that group again, and maybe even take home more hardware. A well-conditioned Doncic can very well average a 30-point triple-double for the entire season to lead the Mavs to win north of 55 games, earning at least third seed in the West. Next season, he will become the face of the NBA and get the MVP award that he was destined to win the moment he was drafted.