By Nick Schweitzer
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard stands alone ready to reap the rewards. Where other teams have two or even three players with transcendent ability, Kawhi has players past their prime. Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili are a year or two away from a retirement community. Tony Parker will miss a quarter of the season with a quad injury and LaMarcus Aldridge who doesn’t fully grasp the concept of defense.
That leaves Kawhi Leonard with the task of dragging the Spurs to the playoffs. Kawhi is a force on both ends of the floor where he can take the opposing team’s best player completely out of the game while dropping 30 points on the offensive side. When Kawhi is on the floor, the Spurs run their system through him and fans should expect an uptick in his assist numbers this year. Expect similar production this season that concludes with some new hardware for his mantelpiece
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Simmons will be a matchup nightmare for teams in the NBA. He is a 6’10’’ point guard with an otherworldly passing ability who can waltz to the rim at any moment. The Sixers will allow their rookie to handle the ball at every opportunity and expect him to put defenses in uncomfortable situations. Look out for highlights involving the Sixers on the fast break because Simmons is a wizard in the open court, finding open cutters for rim-rattling dunks. In the half court, expect the rookie to look for open shooters because of his inability to hit jumpers. Simmons sat out his first year with a foot injury allowing himself to acclimate to the torrid pace of the NBA schedule. This advantage will prove fruitful, as most rookies won’t be able to handle the workload of a full NBA season.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green is the best defender in the NBA. He can guard all five positions on the court while only being 6’6”. Studying the nuances of the game, Green can anticipate and destroy actions before they even happen. As an undersized power forward he uses his high basketball IQ and his obsession with winning to thwart most offenses in the league. While Curry and Durant are the offensive firepower propelling the team, Green is the shield protecting the team from unwanted attacks. His tenacity and his ridiculous 7’1” wingspan allow him to be an outstanding rim protector although he is the size of a shooting guard. Next time the Warriors are on television, focus on Draymond to marvel at his defensive awareness and playmaking ability.
6TH MAN OF THE YEAR
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
This award is usually given to the best scorer off the bench but I believe it should go to the best all-around player. Iguodala, “Iggy”, is the glue holding the warriors bench unit together. He always does what is asked, whether guarding the opponent’s best wing player or orchestrating the offense. As an essential piece of the most devastating lineup in recent NBA history, Iggy uses his passing and cutting ability to always create space and opportunity for the other Warriors on the court. His offensive numbers will never stand out because Iggy is not here for stat padding. Iggy is here to win and destroy your spirit along the way.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens is an X’s and O’s maestro showcasing his ability to diagram plays and sets with a wide the variety of talent on his roster. His late game, out of bounds plays has won the Celtics multiple games and his attention to detail has allowed multiple players to flourish under him. Especially, since Gordon Hayward is supposed to miss the entire season with a gruesome ankle injury, expect Stevens to depend on his younger players for extra production. If Stevens turns Kyrie Irving, known ball hog, into a team first guard who leads the Celtics to over 50 wins in a depleted east, the award will be more than justified.