A way-too-early look at the Warriors and the awards race

A way-too-early look at the Warriors and the awards race

We’re about eight weeks away from the start of the 2023-24 NBA season. The discourse surrounding the Golden State Warriors is fairly predictable: can they bounce back to win a championship, which would be their second in three years, and their fifth in the last decade?

Team success is the most important thing, but it’s fun to look at individual success, too. So, with that said, let’s take a far-too-early look at the various awards in the NBA and see what the Warriors might be able to do.

MVP

The contender: Steph Curry

No surprises here. The Warriors have one MVP on their roster and he’s the only player who can win it again this year. Curry has spent time in each of the last two seasons near the top of the MVP ladders before injuries have hurt his case.

Curry winning MVP is still a long shot … there are so many talented players in the league, and between injuries and load management Curry may not even reach the requisite 65 games to be eligible. But if he plays the way we all expect him to, and the Warriors bounce back? He’ll be a name in the discussion, without a doubt.

Others of note: None

Draymond Green and Klay Thompson both got down-ballot votes earlier in their career. But the path towards them getting MVP votes again requires the Warriors to be the clear-cut best team in the league while they turn back the clock. Love them, but no.

Defensive Player of the Year

The contender: Draymond Green

Again, no surprises here. I don’t expect Green to end up in the discussion at the end of the year, for similar reasons to Curry and MVP. Injuries and load management may make him ineligible for the award, and he’s at a point in his career where he understands the value of working smarter, not harder. He simply may not empty the tank as much in the regular season as some other players will.

But at the same time … I still believe that, for any given game, Green is the best defensive player in the NBA. Many of the other top contenders for the award, such as Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard — are injury prone. And Green surely has a massive point to prove this season after the offseason narratives.

He could make a run at it.

Others of note: None

The Warriors have some other good defensive players (more on them in a moment), but I don’t really see a path towards any of them getting DPOY votes.

Rookie of the Year

The contenders: None

Others of note: None

Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis might impress, but neither player will be good enough to earn a role large enough to win ROY. Only three times in the history of the award has someone won it while playing fewer than 30 minutes per game, which is a mark neither player will sniff this season.

Coach of the Year

The contender: Steve Kerr

Well, this one is fairly obvious, isn’t it? Obviously Kerr is the only name to consider here, despite what the bizarro Twittersphere desires.

Kerr winning is a serious long shot. COY usually goes to a player in a new situation … Dwane Casey in 2017-18 was the last time a coach won the award outside of their first three seasons with a team. And the fact that Kerr has a lineup stacked with future Hall of Famers might make his job easier, but it makes winning a second COY trophy a bit harder.

Still, if the Warriors seamlessly integrate Chris Paul into the fold and end the year as the consensus best team in the league, he’ll have a chance.

Sixth Man of the Year

The contender: Whichever player is the odd man out

A recent ESPN poll predicted that Paul will win 6MOY. If he doesn’t end up being a starter, he’s a great contender. If Andrew Wiggins doesn’t end up being a starter, he’s a great contender. If Kevon Looney doesn’t end up being a starter, he’s a great contender. If Klay Thompson doesn’t end up being a starter, he’s a great contender.

You get the picture.

Most Improved Player

The contender: Jonathan Kuminga

Kuminga profiles as the perfect player to win this award. So often it goes to a highly-touted prospect who took a little while to find their footing and then exploded on the scene. In fact, the last four players to win the award were all lottery picks. Two of them — Lauri Markkanen and Julius Randle — were even taken with the No. 7 pick, same as Kuminga!

I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be a breakout year for Kuminga. The third year is usually a good one for quality NBA players, and Paul’s arrival will help him. So will Green’s public acceptance that he needs to form a better relationship with Kuminga and be a better leader. Things are in place.

Could also win it: Moses Moody

Moody could win the award for all the same reasons as Kuminga, the odds are just not as much in his favor.

Dark horses: Dario Šarić, Kevon Looney

Šarić should fit really well in the system, and while it’s unlikely, if you squint you can see a world where he comes off the bench to average 15 points and shoot 45% on threes. If no young players take a leap to stardom, that could be enough for this award. As for Looney, if there are no traditional candidates, and he takes another step forward, he could fit into the lifetime achievement category as a perpetually under-appreciated player who finally gets his flowers.

All-NBA

The contender: Steph Curry

Really don’t need to explain this one. The last time Curry was healthy and didn’t make the All-NBA team, Kerr was unemployed.

Could also make it: Draymond Green, Chris Paul

Green and Paul have very difficult paths. There are so many quality forwards in the league to block Dray’s path, so he’ll have to have a DPOY-quality season while also having the Warriors be a 55-60 win team. Some injuries from other players would be helpful, though we obviously don’t wish for it. Paul made All-NBA as recently as the 2021-22 season, so the talent is clearly there. Will his role and health allow him to make the team for a 12th time? Probably not. But it could happen.

Dark horse: Klay Thompson

I’m not sure that Klay has a 26-PPG, 42% on threes, decent-defense season left in him. But if he does….

All-Rookie

The contender: Trayce Jackson-Davis

While I expect the Warriors first-round pick to be a better player long-term than their second-round pick, TJD has a better chance of being a contributor this year. All it takes is having a role and putting up some numbers and you have a chance. Remember, Eric Paschall was first-team All-Rookie in the 2019-20 season, while Kuminga was the first player to miss the cut in 2021-22.

Could also make it: Brandin Podziemski

Podziemski has the feel of someone who might not really contribute for a few years, but when you can shoot and pass — and the lefty can do both — then you’re never too far away from having things click into place.

All-Defense

The contender: Draymond Green

Again, no description needed here. Green has played 50 or more games in seven of the last nine seasons. He’s made the All-D team all seven times, and in one of the two years where he didn’t play 50 games, too.

Could get votes: Chris Paul, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney

Paul is a seven-time selection, but hasn’t made the team since 2016-17. Wiggins is a highly-regarded defensive player who just isn’t at the All-Defense level. Looney is starting to earn respect as a great defensive player, but there’s just too much depth in the frontcourt for him to have a chance.

All-Star

The lock: Steph Curry

Health permitting, Curry will be an All-Star. Really no doubt about that one.

The contenders: Draymond Green, Chris Paul

If the Warriors are one of the better teams in the league come February, they’ll likely be rewarded with two All-Stars. Green and Paul are both deserving players who made the team in 2021-22. If Green is healthy, playing with fire, and in the DPOY discussion, he has a great chance. If Paul is healthy, meshing with Curry and the system, and playing 30-plus minutes a night, he has a great chance.

Could also make it: Klay Thompson

The best thing you can do if you want to be an All-Star is score a lot of points and be popular. Klay does both of those things. If he has a bounce back year he’ll have a great chance, especially if the Warriors are winning a lot of games.

Deserves mention: Andrew Wiggins

I don’t really see a path for Wiggins to make the All-Star Game this year, unless some of his teammates get injured. Realistically he’s the fourth option on this team, which is a far cry from 2021-22, when the team didn’t have Paul and mostly didn’t have Thompson.

Still, Wiggins is an ultra-talented two-way player, and I can’t exactly omit a 28 year old who was an All-Star starter in 2021-22 from this list.

In summation, give Mike Dunleavy Jr. his Executive of the Year award.

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