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Sonny’s Side Note: 2016-17 NBA awards predictions (part one)

By Sonny Mulpuri, Digital Editor

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Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part opinion piece on the NBA 2016-17 awards. Digital editor Sonny Mulpuri offers ranked predictions for each award, and backs his rankings with reasoned arguments. Have your own opinions on the awards? Write a Letter to the Editor or leave a comment below.

Old faces are gone. New faces emerged. Familiar faces tried to make their mark in NBA history. Many surprising things happened in the league last year, from Stephen Curry being named unanimous MVP, to the Cavaliers battling from a 3-1 deficit in the finals against the Golden State Warriors and claiming the championship trophy. The cherry on top of the summer was a top-five player Kevin Durant leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the “Death Lineup” of the Warriors. Expectations are high for lottery-pick rookies along with the stars that are in their prime. Those expectations are expected to yield results like accolades and/or being a playoff team.

Most Valuable Player
1) Kawhi Leonard
2) LeBron James
 3) Paul George
4) Stephen Curry
5) Kevin Durant

With the success of the Spurs over the past decade, there has always been a man who takes the key to the team on the floor and this year that is Kawhi Leonard. He finished second overall in MVP voting last year, behind Stephen Curry, and made the first team All-NBA with a statline of 21.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 2.6 APG. With experience and a competent team, Leonard could shock many around the league by bringing home the MVP.

LeBron has said that, “My motivation, is this ghost I’m chasing. That ghost played in Chicago.” This could very well be James’s last year to catch Michael Jordan’s record of five MVPs. James is, arguably, coming out of his prime and as the older he gets, the less chance he has to put up MVP type numbers. If he doesn’t take it light this regular season and continues to dominate, he could surpass Leonard in the MVP voting, but many believe that he will save himself for another run at the championship.

Paul George comes in at number three because I think this is the year where he carries his team to playoffs as a top five seed and puts up superstar-type stats in the process. Bouncing back from a year-long injury, George looked motivated to show the league that he is a force to be reckoned with and I believe that motivation will continue into this year as he enters his prime.

I placed Steph Curry and Kevin Durant at four and five, respectively, because I don’t think they will both need to put their teams on their backs any more and put up huge numbers like they did in the past. They will still have exceptional numbers this season, but neither will stand out by himself, but only together.

Rookie of the Year
1) Brandon Ingram
2) Joel Embiid
3) Ben Simmons
4) Buddy Hield
5) Dragan Bender

With the departure of Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Brandon Ingram to fill that void in the years to come. The potential of the talented, young players the Lakers’ roster holds is a great fit for Ingram and the more games he plays, the more comfortable he will be night in and night out.

Joel Embiid is a curious case. He was drafted third overall in the 2014 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, but has never set foot in a NBA game before. This is because multiple surgeries in his right foot sidetracked his career. However, this year he is healthy and fans have seen a sample size of what he can as a starting center in this league with the preseason already underway.

Another fellow 76er Ben Simmons is number three. Simmons would be at number one or two in my predictions, but he is out the first three months of the season with a fractured right foot. The first overall pick in this year’s draft has drawn comparisons to LeBron James with his physique and awareness. When he comes back, Simmons could put up big numbers for a 76er team that is in need of a star and they might look to him to not only lead in the future, but this season.

Buddy Hield has received a lot of skepticism from people around the league saying that he doesn’t have what it takes to play at the NBA level. I think that he will and with his work-ethic he’ll keep improving himself throughout the season and become a smarter player. I’m not saying that he is a complete player, but he knows how to score and set up opportunities for himself even without the ball in his hands. He’ll put up decent scoring numbers for his team this season, but not ones significant enough to claim the ROTY.

As the best international prospect in the draft, Dragan Bender was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the fourth pick. The 7’1’’ power forward/center is the new type of center many teams are trying to incorporate into their system. His biggest asset is not his size, but his ability to shoot and stretch the floor. He’s also a very good ball handler and passer, but as a big man he needs to pull more rebounds. I don’t think Bender will hit full strides this season, just because he has to adapt to a faster tempo than he did overseas, but once he gets comfortable he’ll be a valuable asset for the Suns in the future.

Defensive Player of Year
1) DeAndre Jordan
2) Kawhi Leonard
3) Anthony Davis
4) Hassan Whiteside
5) Draymond Green

This is usually a big men favorite award with the exception of the past two year winner, Kawhi Leonard. However, this might be the year where DeAndre Jordan overtakes Leonard in the voting as Leonard will have to shift his focus more to offensive as the team’s first option. Leonard is still one of the best defenders in the league, if not the best and will put up numbers to contest with Jordan, but he will have to focus more on offense than he has in the past. Jordan had close to 14 rebounds a game and 2.3 blocks, which ranked second in the league, to go along with that. He’s a defensive presence and contributes significantly to his team on that end. I believe those stats will increase this season, letting him bring home his first DPOY.

Anthony Davis is one of the more complete players in the NBA and his defensive output is great. He had 10.3 RPG and 2 BPG last season in what was a down year where he didn’t make an All-NBA team. I expect that he will bounce back in a big way and increases all of his stats on the floor to a first team All-NBA level, but still not more than that of Jordan or Leonard.

As the leader in BPG with 3.7 last season, Hassan Whiteside made his mark around the league. He also pulled down close to 12 rebounds a game. He was in a contract year last season and that could’ve been his motivation for performing so high and with the new 100 million dollar contract he received from the Heat his summer, there might not be as much incentive this season. I still expect him to produce the same stats he did last season, but for him to hold this award up, he needs to pull down more rebounds.

Although Draymond Green finished runner up in the voting last year, I don’t expect him to replicate that this season. He averaged 9.5 RPG and 1.4 BPG last season, but that was without Kevin Durant. Also, Green had played at a higher intensity level last season because he wanted his team to break the all-time wins record. It doesn’t seem like he wants to do that again and with the addition of Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia more rebounds will go to them while Green won’t have to be relied on to be a rim protector.

These are some of the most talented players in the world and they’ve worked hard during the season and off-season to become the players they are today and put themselves in a position to win these awards.

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