(Photo: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
It’s no secret that Lebron James is looking for a change of scenery this summer. Lebron has a strenuous relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It’s rumored that he has been touring prep schools in Los Angeles and Philadelphia for his kids to attend. While the Sixers and the Lakers would be great destinations for the King, I’ve been wondering where the best place for Lebron to go would be.
Last seasons rookie class took a big hit with Ben Simmons missing the entire season and Joel Embiid getting hurt about halfway through the season. It was definitely one of the least exciting Rookie of the Year votes in recent memory, but this season is going to be much different. I mean, when Malcolm Brogdon (who I love) wins the award and Buddy Hield finishes fourth, after basically not existing in New Orleans until the All-Star break, behind Joel Embiid, who literally missed half of the season, it’s a bad year. But we move forward. The top 5 this year is a great class and should make this a great race as long as everyone stays healthy.
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia Sixers
Last seasons expected winner of the award is expected to be back with a force this season, and he’s got some talent around him. Embiid proved what he could be last season in his limited time, and if he stays healthy, will help Simmons and fellow rookie Markelle Fultz bring the Sixers back to prominence. I will go ahead and say, Fultz isn’t on the list. If anyone wins it from the Sixers, I believe it will be Simmons, and I think there’s a chance that if both perform well, they’ll split some votes anyway. Either way, it’s clear the Sixers were smart to Trust the Process.
2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
A lot of the ROY award is attributed to who gets opportunities. Simmons and Fultz are going to start, and the same can be said about most of the players on the list. Smith Jr. is in that category. Yogi Ferrel was a fun experiment, but DSJ is the future and if he can embrace coach Rick Carlisle’s system, he could become a force quickly in the league. He has better talent around him than they do in Philadelphia and if he plays his cards right, he could be going on stage to receive the award in June.
3. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers
The last starter that I believe has a real chance at winning the award, Ball displayed his potential in Summer League. I would expect to see similar stat lines in the season (low scoring triple doubles and double doubles) and if the Baby Lakers make a bit of a jump, expect to Lonzo in the conversation at the very least.
4. Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets
Monk is not a starter this year, and barring injury, which isn’t unlikely given Michael Kidd-Gilcrest’s history, won’t crack the starting lineup. However, he is a dangerous offensive player and could earn a lot of minutes coming off the bench. If he can light people up on the second unit and work his way into 20-ish minutes a night, Monk could jump into the conversation.
5. Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns
The way I see it, there’s a slim chance Jackson wins the award. But it’s a chance. He’ll have to come in playing lockdown defense on the perimeter, stabilizing the Suns defensive efforts. In addition, he’s going to have to be an aggressive scorer in an offense surrounded by talented scorers and prove that he has put in the work in the offseason on that end. He doesn’t necessarily need to be draining three’s and knocking down mid range jumpers, but he does have to show glimpses of at least becoming, one day, a version of DeMar DeRozen. But it is a long shot to be sure.
One of the most unpredictable awards is also my second favorite (behind Rookie of the Year). I love this award because there is nothing better than a player making the leap from good to great and making himself someone to be taken seriously. Or maybe he just got more minutes this season. Either way. Regardless, I am really intrigued by all five players on my list and think they could all be making a jump this season.
1. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Ingram is so raw that there is a lot of room to grow for him. That helps. What else helps is having someone with the vision and pass-first mentality of Lonzo Ball as your new point guard. The Baby Lakers are going to be a lot of fun to watch and they could even win a handful of games if the young guys gel around Brook Lopez. What might be crazier is I have three players from last years Lakers on my list.
2. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jaylen was raw last year as well, but come the playoffs, he showed flashes of his potential on defense in particular. He has the defensive potential to be one of those few players that could bother Lebron (although by the time Brown gets to that point, James won’t be peak Lebron anymore). I think the Celtics best move is to start Brown this season, so I think the combination of additional minutes plus more development could launch Jaylen to the MIP award.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets
(Former) Laker #2. I love Russell’s potential and given his fresh start in Brooklyn, I’d like to see the Nets turn the keys over to him and let him fly. The Lakers weren’t big on Russell as everyone knows by now, and it was obvious that they weren’t letting him reach his full potential. I still expect big things from D’Angelo.
4. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
And Laker #3. Normally this is an award directed toward younger (yes I know Randle is only 22) players, mostly second year players. But I’ve been hearing that Randle has put in crazy work this offseason and could be a monster this year. I really hope so. Randle seems like one of the genuinely great people in the league and I’d love to see him make that leap into a real force at the 4.
5. DeAndre Bembry, Atlanta Hawks
Bembry was turning some heads last season, before the Hawks lost Tim Hardaway Jr., Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard and went into full rebuild mode. He won’t start, but the Summer League standout will earn significantly more minutes this season and if he continues to impress, could sneak away with the award.
Signed: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stephen Zimmerman, Andrew Bogut
Resigned: Tyler Ennis
Received in Trade: Brook Lopez
Drafted: Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Thomas Bryant
Free Agents: Tarik Black, David Nwaba, Thomas Robinson, Metta World Peace, Nick Young
Traded: D’Angelo Russell, Timofey Mozgov
Projected Starting Lineup
- Lonzo Ball
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
- Brandon Ingram
- Julius Randle
- Brook Lopez
The MIP is is typically an award reserved for second year players making the adjustments learned from their first year in the league and bench players finally given the opportunity to start (sometimes a combination of both). This year is not much different, with one exception. We’ll start by looking at the exception.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Adams is one of my favorite players in the NBA due mostly to his personality and look. He looks like a pirate and it’s fantastic. Last season he averaged 8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and had a slightly above average PER of 15.5. He made a difference in the playoffs for the Thunder and, in my opinion, cemented himself as the starting center on this team. Eyes Kanter is offensively talented, but depending on how much Russell Westbrook is relied on as the primary (and possibly only) scorer on the team, they may want to go with the defensive anchor of Adams over Kanter. If that’s the case, look for Adams to have a monster year.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Kyle Singler, Ersan Ilyasova, Steven Adams
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Turner flashed his low post dominance last season, getting to a 15.4 PER despite only putting up 10.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Turner projects as a defensive anchor for the Pacers going into the future, and given the opportunity to start, should flourish. The presence of Al Jefferson will give Turner an experienced old head to learn from and grow his offensive abilities.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
Before we go on, let me say this. All four of the players on this list are players I really enjoy watching. Russell is someone I have really high hopes for and I think that he has matured and grown a lot since the nightmare that was his rookie season. Russell averaged 13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 3.3 apg last year, but only had a 13.2 PER with 0 win shares. Advanced metrics don’t love Russell, but his growth should change things in that department.
Ideal Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Probably the most intriguing player from last seasons draft, Porzingis could be in for a big time season. Averaging 14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg and earning a PER of 17.7 in your rookie year is no small feat. The additions of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the offseason have elevated expectations in an already hungry New York market. Add in Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks fans are understandably excited. Look for the Knicks to sneak back into the playoffs this year potentially.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis
My Pick: D’Angelo Russell
Well, this race got very interesting. Before Ben Simmons’ injury earlier this month, the wide belief was that he would have the award essentially locked up. He’s one of the few rookies that were expected to start right away, and his talent is undeniable. However, in the wake of his injury, that leaves a thin field of options due mostly to the fact that most of the rookies in this years class aren’t expected to start.
Regardless, there will be a Rookie of the Year awarded this season, and I have my top four most likely candidates, as well as my pick for who will win the award.
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Considered, along with Simmons, to be one of the most talented prospects in the draft, Ingram is coming off a great freshman season at Duke. He averaged 17.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 2 apg. He’s a legit threat from outside, and his long frame should at least make things difficult for opposing players. The downside for Ingram is that he’ll be starting the season behind Luol Deng to start. He could play his way into the starting lineup with the rest of the Lakers youth movement, but until that time, I wouldn’t bank on Ingram for the award.
Ideal Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov
Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves
Dunn has a similar problem as Ingram. He’ll start the season behind Ricky Rubio, but could outplay Rubio. Minnesota seems bullish on him, but if Rubio doesn’t start hitting some shots, it’s going to get a lot tougher to justify keeping him in the starting rotation. Enter Dunn. Dunn averaged 16.4 ppg and shot 37% from behind the 3 point line. He’s an NBA ready point guard that one would assume is the future at the position for the Wolves.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns
Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans
Hield will get a slight leg up on the competition to start the season due to Tyreke Evans’ knee injury. Also, the unfortunate situation with Jrue Holiday and his wife will leave the backcourt fairly inexperienced, as Langston Galloway looks to fill his role on the team until Holiday feels it’s the right time for him to return. Hield had a phenomenal senior year at Oklahoma, averaging 25 ppg and shooting 46% from 3 point range. Hield will have to adjust quickly, but if he can find the spark early, he could make enough noise to earn the trophy.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Terrance Jones, Anthony Davis
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia Sixers
By now, everyone has been tipped off to this, but Embiid is now a favorite to win the Rookie of the Year. The talent is there, it’s always been a matter of his health. He’s healthy entering the season, and if he can stay healthy, he has an excellent chance at winning the award. Embiid has looked great thus far in preseason games, and has added a 3 point shot to his skill set. He could develop into one of the best bigs in the league, and everyone has been put on notice.
Ideal Starting Lineup: Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid
My Pick: Joel Embiid