NBA predictions panel: Who will be crowned champion? Win MVP?

Eric Smith and Michael Grange discuss Pascal Siakam’s new contract and the Raptors beginning their title defence.

The Association returns Tuesday evening with the Toronto Raptors raising their first-ever championship banner and receiving their rings before taking on the New Orleans Pelicans at Scotiabank Arena, followed by a much-anticipated new-look battle of L.A. between the Lakers and Clippers at Staples Center.

This is only Day 1 of a near-eight-month-long journey, but let’s be real, in sports it’s never actually too early to look ahead and make a few predictions.

Before the ball tips on the 2019-20 season, Sportsnet polled some of its foremost basketball experts to predict some of the major award winners and who will win it all.

Note: Many of these answers were compiled before word of Zion Williamson’s knee injury and the subsequent time he’s estimated to miss.

Donnovan Bennett, Staff writer and digital host:

Sixth Man of the Year: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Coach of the Year: Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
Most Improved Player: Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Rookie of the Year: R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
MVP: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Biggest sleeper team: Indiana Pacers
Finals matchup: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Golden State Warriors
NBA champion: Golden State Warriors

Brad Fay, Host of Sportsnet’s Raptors television broadcasts:

Sixth Man of the Year: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Most Improved Player: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rookie of the Year: R.J. Barrett, New York Knicks
MVP: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Biggest sleeper team: Toronto Raptors
Finals matchup: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
NBA champion: Los Angeles Clippers

Michael Grange, Senior basketball insider:

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Most Improved Player: Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rookie of the Year: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
MVP: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
Biggest sleeper team: Miami Heat
Finals matchup: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
NBA champion: Los Angeles Lakers

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Steven Loung, Section editor:

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
Coach of the Year: Mike Malone, Denver Nuggets
Most Improved Player: De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
MVP: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Biggest sleeper Team: Utah Jazz
Finals matchup: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Denver Nuggets
NBA Champion: Denver Nuggets

Arden Zwelling, Senior writer:

Sixth Man of the Year: Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz
Most Improved Player: Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets
Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Rookie of the Year: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Biggest sleeper team: Utah Jazz
Finals matchup: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Los Angeles Clippers
NBA champion: Los Angeles Clippers

JD Bunkis, Host of Sportsnet 590 the FAN’s Good Show

Sixth Man of the Year: Probably Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers again, but let me take this time to say someone sign Jamal Crawford!

Coach of the Year: Mike Malone. The Denver Nuggets are gonna be good. Real good. Like maybe finish-the-regular-season-with-the-best-record-in-the-West good. If they finish top three I like his chances.

Most Improved Player: The Toronto Raptors’ OG Anunoby. It’s a homer pick, but I don’t care. The kid’s gonna get minutes, the shot’s there and if the handle follows he can be something.

Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Anteokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks. Voters might get fatigued with Rudy Gobert and Draymond Green’s gonna have to focus on adding more on offence. Plus, they can’t give Kawhi Leonard both…

Rookie of the Year: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans. His numbers were off the charts in the glorified scrimmages of pre-season. His athleticism is rare, his instincts around the rim are elite and he has a solid team already geared towards accelerating his growth.

MVP: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers. He’s on a heater and has already stated there won’t be as many games lost to load management. Leonard is now easily the best player in the NBA that doesn’t have a regular season MVP to his name, and my bet is he’s highly aware of this fact.

Biggest sleeper team: The league hasn’t been this wide open in a good while, so let’s pick someone fun. How about the Dallas Mavericks. Kristaps Porzingis looks healthy, Luka Doncic is an emerging star, plus they have a bunch of depth that includes shooters and some underrated players that know their roles. If Porzingis is healthy and Doncic takes a step, why not?

Finals matchup: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers. I don’t want to see Leonard there. I’m not ready for that.

NBA champion: Philadelphia 76ers. I loved their off-season and they’re in a weaker conference. Just playing the odds on something everyone will forget, but I can brag about if I’m right.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Ashley Docking, Host of Sportsnet 590 the FAN’s Lead Off:

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. Always and forever.

Coach of the Year: Mike D’Antoni, Houston Rockets. If he gets James Harden and Russell Westbrook to co-exist successfully and efficiently how can you deny that?

Most Improved Player: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. “I’m not a great shooter, I am getting better though.” Self-awareness is the most important quality that a person can possess. If Simmons is ready to shake his reputation as someone whose 15-foot jumpers have the same percentage chance of going in as a half court shot, he’ll be lethal.

Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers.

Rookie of the Year: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans.

MVP: Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers. He was spectacular and got the Raptors to the Finals where teamwork really did make the dream come true for dedicated and rabid hoops fans in Toronto. He was never going to win league MVP with the Raptors, though, as he didn’t play enough. But off load management with Paul George as a complementary piece? It’s the “fun guy’s” award.

Biggest sleeper team: Miami Heat. Jimmy Butler has been looking for a place to make home since leaving Chicago. He didn’t fit with the Timberwolves, and the culture and future were already set in Philadelphia with Joel Embiid and Simmons. But in Miami, with promising rookie Tyler Herro alongside the careful tutelage of Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley, the Heat are ready.

Finals matchup: Phildelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Clippers. I’ve seen what Leonard can do, on both sides of the ball so I don’t think it should be a surprise to anyone if he’s back in the Finals with his new team — even playing now in a tough tough Western Conference. But how fun would it be to see the re-tooled Sixers get a chance at redemption after the four-bounce fiasco that the Philly faithful are still feeling to this day?

NBA champion: Los Angeles Clippers.

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Eric Smith, Raptors play-by-play announcer on Sportsnet 590 the FAN

Sixth Man of the Year: Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

Coach of the Year: Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

Most Improved Player: Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets

Defensive Player of the Year: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

MVP: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

Biggest sleeper team: Utah Jazz. Not sure that they’re a true sleeper, though. You’re sleeping on them if you don’t already know how good they are. But in the West, while everyone is talking about the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Warriors and more, the Jazz are coming on strong after an impressive off-season of moves.

Finals matchup: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Champion: Los Angeles Lakers

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