N.B.A. 2020-21 Predictions: LeBron vs. Luka for M.V.P.

The last time the sports staff of The New York Times and assorted friends gathered to make the annual set of N.B.A. preseason predictions, we got some things right.

Ahead of the 2019-20 season, several of us thought that Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks would repeat as the N.B.A.’s most valuable player. (Yawn.) Others predicted that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have a surprisingly successful season after a summer in which they traded Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, and that the Memphis Grizzlies’ Ja Morant would win the league’s Rookie of the Year Award over Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans.

But no one predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers would win the championship — let alone advance to the N.B.A. finals. (The Clippers were the unanimous choice to come out of the West.) Or that the Lakers’ title run would come after the arrival of something called the “coronavirus,” which would suspend the season for four months and before resuming in a spectator-free bubble at Walt Disney World outside Orlando, Fla.

The point being: Predictions are difficult, and sometimes impossible. But that is not about to stop us from trying again.

Here is a look at some of our highly unscientific picks and prognostications for the season ahead:

(The New York Times does not permit its staff to vote for the official N.B.A. awards.)

The predictors:

Jonathan Abrams, sports reporter

Harvey Araton, Hall of Fame sportswriter

Elena Bergeron, assistant sports editor

Jonah Bromwich, staff writer

Scott Cacciola, sports reporter

Sopan Deb, sports reporter

Evan Easterling, senior staff editor

Shauntel Lowe, N.B.A. editor

Marc Stein, Hall of Fame sports reporter

Most Valuable Player

Abrams: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Araton: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

Bergeron: LeBron James (Lakers)

Bromwich: Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Cacciola: Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Deb: LeBron James (Lakers)

Easterling: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

Lowe: LeBron James (Lakers)

Stein: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

Why Curry? “He’s back. The Warriors won’t be title contenders without Klay Thompson. But they’ll be in the thick of the playoff race with Curry putting on nightly shows.” — Cacciola

Why Lillard? “The smart pick here is Kevin Durant or Luka Doncic, but I love Lillard, everyone else loves Lillard and if the Blazers crack the top five in the West, he’s got a great chance at it.” — Bromwich

Rookie of the Year

Abrams: Obi Toppin (Knicks)

Araton: Immanuel Quickley (Knicks)

Bergeron: LaMelo Ball (Hornets)

Bromwich: Isaac Okoro (Cavaliers)

Cacciola: Tyrese Haliburton (Kings)

Deb: James Wiseman (Warriors)

Easterling: LaMelo Ball (Hornets)

Lowe: LaMelo Ball (Hornets)

Stein: Deni Avdija (Wizards)

Why Ball? “More offense will run through Ball than rookies on teams that are closer to contention, like James Wiseman in Golden State, or joining ready-made tandems, like Anthony Edwards, who’ll play alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell in Minnesota. In limited preseason action, he showed signs his passing ability will translate to the N.B.A., a skill that will be augmented by playing with Gordon Hayward and Devonte’ Graham.” — Easterling

Defensive Player of the Year

Abrams: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Araton: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Bergeron: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Bromwich: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Cacciola: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Deb: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Easterling: Joel Embiid (Sixers)

Lowe: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Stein: Anthony Davis (Lakers)

Sixth Man of the Year

Abrams: Dennis Schröder (Lakers)

Araton: Caris LeVert (Nets)

Bergeron: Danilo Gallinari (Hawks)

Bromwich: Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets)

Cacciola: Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets) or Caris LeVert (Nets)

Deb: Caris LeVert (Nets)

Easterling: Tyler Herro (Heat)

Lowe: Caris LeVert (Nets)

Stein: Caris LeVert (Nets)

Why the best sixth man will come from the Nets: “Whichever guard — LeVert or Dinwiddie — Coach Steve Nash chooses to bring off the bench is going to produce big numbers for a team that has all the components for a title run.” — Cacciola

Most Improved

Abrams: Lonzo Ball (Pelicans)

Araton: Tyler Herro (Heat)

Bergeron: Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

Bromwich: Deandre Ayton (Suns)

Cacciola: Deandre Ayton (Suns)

Deb: Rui Hachimura (Wizards)

Easterling: OG Anunoby (Raptors)

Lowe: Tyler Herro (Heat)

Stein: Christian Wood (Rockets)

Wild Predictions for Houston:

“John Wall will have a bounce-back season, leading a James Harden-less Houston Rockets team to fringe playoff contention.” — Abrams

“It’s not that wild: John Wall is going to ball out in Houston. He seems fully rehabbed and highly motivated to show out, and the fresh start will help him bounce back from a rough two years off the court.” — Bergeron

Coach of the Year

Abrams: Monty Williams (Suns)

Araton: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

Bergeron: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

Bromwich: Steve Nash (Nets)

Cacciola: Steve Kerr (Warriors)

Deb: Steve Nash (Nets)

Easterling: Michael Malone (Nuggets)

Lowe: Monty Williams (Suns)

Stein: Steve Nash (Nets)

Why Steve Nash? “The Nets and the Clippers remind me of each other a bit: superteams assembled in the last normal off-season, with sky-high potential and possibly combustible chemistry. The Nets will overcome the inevitable Kyrie Irving-related distractions and Nash will get credit for making it all run smooth-ish.” — Bromwich

Executive of the Year

Abrams: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Araton: Sean Marks (Nets)

Bergeron: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Bromwich: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Cacciola: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Deb: Daryl Morey (Sixers)

Easterling: James Jones (Suns)

Lowe: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Stein: Rob Pelinka (Lakers)

Wild Prediction: “Tired of paying mega-salaries for meager results, Michael Jordan cashes out as majority owner of the Hornets to go all-in on NASCAR.” — Araton

Best Record in the League

Abrams: Milwaukee Bucks

Araton: Miami Heat

Bergeron: Milwaukee Bucks

Bromwich: Milwaukee Bucks

Cacciola: Milwaukee Bucks

Deb: Milwaukee Bucks

Easterling: Milwaukee Bucks

Lowe: Milwaukee Bucks

Stein: Brooklyn Nets

Wild Predictions: What happens to James Harden?

Cacciola: The Rockets will wait until the trade deadline to deal James Harden. What’s the rush?

Deb: James Harden remains in Houston all season.

Easterling: The Indiana Pacers trade for James Harden.

Worst Record in the League

Abrams: Detroit Pistons

Araton: Detroit Pistons

Bergeron: Detroit Pistons

Bromwich: Knicks

Cacciola: Cleveland Cavaliers

Deb: Chicago Bulls

Easterling: Cleveland Cavaliers

Lowe: Cleveland Cavaliers

Stein: Cleveland Cavaliers

Wild Prediction: “In the preseason, I watched the Cavaliers surprise Indiana twice, and then totally missed them losing to the Knicks in their next two. That means I’m unjustifiably excited about the Cavs, particularly Collin Sexton and Isaac Okoro. My wild, semi-informed prediction is that Cleveland will be fun to watch for the first time since LeBron left, and — why not? — will sneak into a play-in game.” — Bromwich

Breakout Star

Abrams: Collin Sexton (Cavaliers)

Araton: Zion Williamson (Pelicans)

Bergeron: Christian Wood (Rockets)

Bromwich: Talen Horton-Tucker (Lakers)

Cacciola: Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

Deb: Devonte’ Graham (Hornets)

Easterling: Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

Lowe: Obi Toppin (Knicks)

Stein: Zion Williamson (Pelicans)

Why Williamson? “Fully unleashed on the league.” — Araton

Eastern Conference Finals

Abrams: Sixers over Bucks

Araton: Heat over Nets

Bergeron: Bucks over Heat

Bromwich: Nets over Bucks

Cacciola: Celtics over Nets

Deb: Bucks over Nets

Easterling: Heat over Nets

Lowe: Nets over Bucks

Stein: Heat over Nets

Western Conference Finals

Abrams: Lakers over Trail Blazers

Araton: Lakers over Jazz

Bergeron: Lakers over Mavericks

Bromwich: Lakers over Clippers

Cacciola: Lakers over Clippers

Deb: Lakers over Warriors

Easterling: Lakers over Mavericks

Lowe: Lakers over Clippers

Stein: Lakers over Clippers

N.B.A. Finals

Abrams: Lakers over Sixers

Araton: Lakers over Heat

Bergeron: Lakers over Bucks

Bromwich: Lakers over Nets

Cacciola: Lakers over Celtics

Deb: Lakers over Bucks

Easterling: Lakers over Heat

Lowe: Lakers over Nets

Stein: Lakers over Heat

Why the Lakers will win again: “I will never again bet against LeBron, even if he runs for president.” — Araton

Source: Read Full Article