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Roundtable: Early Picks For NBA Awards, Suns’ Chances

As the season opener nears, our staff discusses awards and whether they could be painted orange.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Well, as quickly as it arrived, the offseason has passed. The holiday season — er, 2020-21 NBA season — is here.

For Suns fans, it’s almost like the gifts came early. After a decade of, uh, misery I guess would be the nice word for it, things are looking much brighter. Let’s hope the meal, er season, is just as hot as the aroma leading up to it.

With the opener rapidly approaching, it’s time for the crew here to make our initial picks for the NBA Awards and also how we see the Suns’ chances at bringing in some hardware.

1. Who do you think will win MVP this season? What do you think are Devin Booker’s chances of bringing it home?

John Voita: Could it be three in a row for Giannis? If so, it would only be the fourth time ever (Russell 1961-63, Chamberlain 1966-68, Bird 1984-86). All instincts say, “yes” given the dominance he has displayed these past two seasons. He truly is a unicorn. But NBA sportswriters and broadcasters (a.k.a. the voters) become weary of the same narrative quickly. Therefore I am putting my money on Anthony Davis.

As for Booker’s chances, I believe they are slim. Does he have the ability to get some votes? Sure. But so many things need to happen for him to earn it. I’ll give him 50/1 odds. Now maybe an All-NBA Team, that is within reach for the young star.

Zona: It’s going to be an odd year so I’ll go slightly off the grid with my MVP pick. Anthony Davis has the best year of his career and leads the Lakers (along with that LeBron guy) to the best record in the league, thus securing the honors of MVP. My prediction for Booker is that he will finish in the top 10 in MVP voting after the Suns secure a top-six seed in the West, but ultimately MVP winners are reserved for players on top-five teams in the league historically speaking, and as high as I am on this Suns team that seems to be out of reach unless quite literally everything goes their way.

Dave King: I’ll be the one to say that Luka Doncic has a great chance to be the MVP this year for many reasons. He is one of the most marketable players in the league, puts up some of the highest numbers across the board and his team will be fighting for a high playoff seed all year. That’s all a player needs to get the votes for MVP. And there will be Giannis-fatigue this year. The biggest contenders, I think, will be from the LA teams — LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. If Devin Booker makes the top 5 in voting, then the Suns are having a really really really good year. So, pray for that!

Khaleel Abdullah: I think both Giannis and AD are solid answers and likely the favorites for MVP prior to the season. You can’t count out LeBron, either. However, I’m going to go another direction here. There is a lot of hype surrounding the Brooklyn Nets and if that’s going to be validated then Kevin Durant needs to lead them to where they’re trying to go. I hope he’s healthy because he’s going to have a lot of weight on his shoulders. Wouldn’t it be great to see him come back from an injury like the one he had to win MVP?

Book will continue his rise and he should be in the conversation if all goes well for the Suns. I don’t see him getting it yet but I do see it in his future. Making an All-NBA Team is my goal for him this season.

Matthew Lissy: Nikola Jokic. In past season he has always been a thought in many basketball minds in being a sneaky pick. He is by far the best all-around player for the Denver Nuggets. Jamal Murray will need to be a 1-b in this situation and lived up to that expectation in the bubble. Like the Suns, can he continue to play with the same passion and consistancy? Jokic is on the new Dario Saric diet and his all around play at center will put the Denver Nuggets in the 1-seed this year in the west.

Booker is a one more full year away from squeaks about an MVP nod. This year will be full of ups and downs but mostly ups. A second year with Chris Paul and playoff experience going into the 2021-22 season, expect magic from Booker.

Brendon Kleen: It’s a weird year without a clear-cut consensus, but because of that, I believe this year’s awards will favor players around the NBA who individually or within their team have something to play for. So I discount the Lakers a bit, or the Clippers, or even the Bucks, all teams whose goals are basically “title or bust.” For all these reasons, my pick is Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets are bit thinner than they were in 2019-20 and could see a real opportunity to seize the No. 1 seed if they play consistently well in the regular season. I’ve seen marked improvement from Jokic as a defender and scorer over the years and he has earned enough respect around the NBA that it could be his year.

As for Devin Booker, here I was thinking it was a cool take to say the Suns’ star player would earn a few MVP votes in 2021. His odds of actually winning should probably be among the tier of players currently listed at +6000, meaning it’s highly unlikely, but the fact that he will get some down-ballot love and is on the outskirts of this conversation is intriguing anyway.

Justin Morris: Give me Luka Doncic all day. The guy nearly averaged a triple-double at age 21, and gave guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George buckets throughout the NBA’s restart in bubbleville. He hasn’t seen a challenge he doesn’t like, and that has to be a scary sight for NBA players much more seasoned than he is (at least in the American game). I think that Giannis has a chance, but unless he develops a substantial jump shot, his chances are slimmer than a beef jerky stick – too many teams have figured out how to stop him.

D-Book was absolutely magical during the Suns’ 8-0 Orlando run, but it’s just too early to vault him into the MVP conversation just yet. Give him a couple more years. But CP3 as his right hand man will do wonders for a game that rivals Doncic in terms of seasoning beyond its years. Let’s not forget he dropped 70 (!) at age 20.

2. State your ROY pick. Where do you think Jalen Smith will rank among rookies?

JV: To earn ROY honors, you need two things: ability and opportunity. This draft class brings countless question marks relative to star talent. Plenty of quality role players exist, but how many eventual All-Stars are in the mix? Time will tell. I’ll go on record stating that Killian Hayes will win Rookie of the Year. He’ll have plenty of opportunity, he has the skill set, and, if Detroit can shock some people and win some games, he’ll get the attention of the voters.

Jalen Smith is a solid pick for the Suns. Although I’m not sure if he’ll get any All-Rookie Team love. His impact on the game may not translate to sexy box scores or flashy highlights. What we should hope for is that he assists in the most important stat: team wins.

Zona: I’ll go with LaMelo Ball. He’s going to get a chance to play a significant role on a sneaky decent Charlotte team that will surround him with some talented young pieces in Graham, Bridges and Washington along with the big offseason splash in Gordon Hayward. They do have Rozier and Graham in their backcourt already, but I still see him carving out nearly 30 minutes a night and making dozens of dazzling highlight plays combined with the occasional triple-double thus separating himself from the competition due to the mainstream media being enamored with his flashy style of play along with the counting numbers he should produce.

There are about 7-8 rookies I think have a chance to realistically win it this year though, so make no mistake it’s wide open. Jalen Smith will probably not get enough playing time or the raw numbers to finish on either of the All-Rookie teams, but I think he should provide solid minutes off the bench and show flashes of being a useful rotation big that can stretch the floor for years to come.

DK: I feel like it’s LaMelo Ball’s contest to lose. He bought bling for his teeth as his first big expense, now he needs to put the bling on his NBA game. Remember the year Michael Carter-Williams won the ROY out of a non-star-ready draft, or the year Malcolm Brogdon did? Could be that kind of year in the NBA since there’s no true star ready to dominate. Ball will get all the minutes and playing time he could want in Charlotte and raw numbers is all it takes.

Jalen Smith’s role, I believe, will be very similar to Cameron Johnson’s a year ago. He will get minimal minutes at the beginning of the year in a clear, small role — probably as a backup five to Deandre Ayton, and next to Dario Saric as the roller/pick-setter, playing 5-10 minutes a game. And then the role can expand over time if he plays well. That doesn’t add up to winning any rookie awards. If Cam didn’t even make second team All-Rookie, neither will Jalen.

KA: Killian Hayes and LaMelo Ball will both be in the running but they’re not my picks. If the Knicks want to start climbing out of the pit of the East, they’ll need a good season from Obi Toppin. He’s also not my pick. Alright, instead of telling you who isn’t, I’ll say who is. I’m going with… Devin Vassell. Come on. It only makes sense for a player the Suns could have had to win it, doesn’t it? We will enjoy Jalen and the winning this team does but we’ll talk about how we missed out on Vassell and could have had a Devin and Devin show at some point. I HATE that he’s on the Spurs!

I think Jalen Smith is going to just narrowly miss out on making an All-Rookie Team and that’s OK. As long as he shows that he belongs, contributes and helps the team win, that’s all I ask. He will have some highlight plays but big men take a little longer to show out.

ML: James Wiseman. The stats and the wins will be easy for the young man. The Golden State Warriors, even without Klay Thompson, will have their flare back. Wiseman is in a place where he can put up the stats and contribute to winning. In the future, I see Wiseman with garbage time stats and five Sports-Center top-10 dunks. Is that still a thing?

Smith will surprise everyone, but not enough to crown him young-king. His play will continue to develop like Cam Johnson last year but will be low-key compared to the rest of the Suns stuning roster.

BK: I’m sticking with my pick from draft night, as I still think he has a chance to produce big numbers and look more alive on the NBA court after a shortened training camp than most of the other rookies in this class: Obi Toppin. The Knicks’ new toy is an efficient scorer and smart player who is likely to start right away and at least put up counting stats, and that’s what we tend to value in the ROY race.

JM: Jalen Smith is going to serve a learner’s role under Deandre Ayton’s helm. I believe he’s going to come in and do exactly what he was drafted to do, which is the mantra James Jones has followed for years since he’s manned Phoenix’s front lines business-wise. I see him coming into to and integrating himself in a manner similar to Cam Johnson, as a few guys above me mentioned.

My ROY is the guy who I feel like will be leaned on most heavily as a rook: Lamelo Ball. He’ll have kingly alpha duties as he tries to salvage the remnants of the absence left by Kemba Walker for Michael Jordan’s Hornets.

3. Name who you think will win DPOY. Do you think any Suns (Mikal Bridges or Deandre Ayton) have a chance at the award or an All-Defensive Team selection?

JV: I can see Giannis repeating here. He has the length, he has the numbers, and he has the eye of the media on him. Being a big man doesn’t hurt; the last guard to win DPOY was Gary Payton in 1996. No reasons outside of injury to think Antetokounmpo won’t add some more defensive hardware to his trophy case.

I do believe that both Mikal and Ayton have a shot to make All-Defensive Teams. Brook Lopez earned a second team nod last year, and if Ayton progresses the way we think he will, that could be a spot he takes. Bridges may be a year away from getting the credit he deserves. As long as he continues to start and personify “The Warden” nickname, however, his chance to be recognized for his defensive efforts exists.

Zona: I’ll go with Giannis here. Adding Jrue to that vaunted Bucks defense should solidify them as one of the best defensive teams in the league yet again, led by none other than the Greek Freak.

Mikal Bridges will make the All-Defensive 2nd team this year. That is my hottest take. Ayton should be knocking on that door hopefully, and if he takes another massive leap it’s certainly not out of the question.

DK: DPOY? Not anyone on the Suns. Probably Giannis or AD. Could Ayton or Bridges make an All-Defense team (i.e. top 15 across the league)? Maybe. Possibly. Again, the Suns would have to be a top-5 seed to get consideration for most of these awards. My gut says Bridges over Ayton as far as votes are concerned, if either player gets votes.

But guess what’s even more likely than anything else: Chris Paul making the All-Defense team ahead of either of his teammates. Dude’s made so many of them and he will look good as the head of the defense for the Suns with Bridges, Ayton, Crowder covering for him.

KA: Giannis is one of my favorite players in the league and you can’t count him out here. However, I’m going to pick another name and that’s Robert Covington. The Blazers traded for him this offseason for a reason and a huge part of the appeal is how much he’ll help them on the defensive end. RoCo averaged 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocks in the playoffs and can guard multiple positions. A 2018 All-Defensive First Team selection, he definitely has it in him.

I expect to see huge strides from Ayton continuing where he left off last season and Mikal will get more credit with added spotlight and a starting role. Bridges has a legit shot at being named to an All-Defensive Team and DA should be right there as well.

ML: Paul George. Oh yeah! After “earning” his max contract, George will be lock down and not take a night off for the Los Angeles Clippers. He might seem like a joke to some because of his Playoff-P performance, but his seasoned defense is still effected. Giannis? This is a sit or trade year for Giannis. Don’t expect the gaudy seasons from the former two-time MVP.

The Suns team defense will be more proven than individually and like I said with Booker before, one more full season with the experience, players like Bridges and Ayton will gain more attraction going into the 2021-22 season from NBA experts.

BK: I’m not sure where you guys are going with all these wing players winning DPOY. That doesn’t happen. Outside of, like, Gary Payton or Andre Iguodala or Kawhi Leonard, this award goes to dominant big men every single year. I don’t see a wing or guard who’s in a scheme or situation that would allow them to put together a season like those three elite defenders. My pick is Anthony Davis, as I expect the Lakers to again be one of the better defensive teams in the league and for Davis to keep being the glue that holds their versatile, overwhelming unit together.

(And yes I believe Bridges will sniff All-D Second Team in 2021, but not Ayton... yet)

JM: I want AD to win it this year, and that’s partly because I feel like he should’ve had a much higher stake in the claim for the award last year (but despite another Laker’s chagrins regarding award voting, they did walk away from the bubble with the game’s ultimate prize).

We don’t always get what we want though. While Davis will undoubtedly be dominant as his sidekick role in helping La La Land’s finest repeat continues to transform into an equally-yoked one, and eventually an unquestioned leadership position, it’s hard to stray away from Giannis. He just doesn’t have many weaknesses in his game, and his unicorn length makes him a problem for most offensive opposers – regardless of position. I don’t see a Sun coming close to DPOY, and with the addition of Jrue Holiday, I have to say without doubt that it’ll be Antetokounmpo.

4. Who is your early favorite for MIP? Which Sun do you think has the best odds of the title and what do they have to do to get it?

JV: This is always a tough one. It comes down to two options: who will make the biggest jump or who was injured last year and came back impactful. I think that the love affair people had with Tyler Herro during the NBA Playoffs will rub off on voters and he’ll get the award.

Mikal Bridges could be the member of the Suns to be considered if his offensive game blossoms. He has the defensive skills, but if his new three-point stroke isn’t a mirage and he can average around 18 points-per-game (9 more than last season), don’t be surprised if he gets some love.

Per Odds Shark, Deandre Ayton is currently in second at +1200.

Zona: I have an odd gut feeling that Marvin Bagley is going to have a year that catches the league by surprise after only starting 10 games in his first two NBA seasons after struggling both on the court at times and battling health issues. Him and Wendell Carter are two names that stand out the most.

Mikal Bridges would be my favorite pick out of Suns players just because he has the low points per game total to build off of, and with the jump in national exposure due to their high number of televised games, if he can get around the 14-16 PPG mark along with playing his usual stifling defense I could see him taking it home or at the very least getting recognition.

DK: I’ve never been a big fan of this MIP award. It usually goes to someone who had a great jump in opportunity from one year to the next, and usually a young player who is growing into his skills and body. The latter fits Ayton to a T. Yes, he will improve this year a great deal and might get into contention, but this award is like a Sixth Man award and those kind of awards usually go to ball handlers and exciting wing/guard scorers. But like Booker and the MVP, if Ayton is in contention for MIP, the Suns are doing great things!

KA: Zona, that’s a good one right there. Bagley! Man, I hope he can get healthy and show how good he is.

Does John Wall count? I mean he’s a FIVE-TIME ALL-STAR but at the same time he hasn’t stepped on the court in TWO YEARS. Having him produce at even 80 percent of what he was then would be such a great story and honestly, I think he can.

If Wall isn’t an acceptable pick, I’m going with Michael Porter Jr. He likely won’t make this big of a jump over the duration of an entire season but this shows just how much of a leap he could make.

2019-20 Season: 1.1 3Ps Made, 9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds
1st 7G of Bubble: 2.7 3Ps Made, 22 points, 8.6 rebounds

For the Suns, it would take an awful lot for Ayton as a number one pick to get MIP as much is expected of him from the start. If Mikal continues to live up to “The Warden” nickname, with all these games on national television, he’d just need to increase his scoring by 5 or 6 points per game to have a shot at it.

ML: Lonzo Ball. When Ball and Brandon Ingram are traded for James Harden to start the season, Ball will ball in H-Town. A let down year for the Houston franchise will lead to Ball putting up stats that we expected from him last year but in a more free-flowing shooter friendly offense.

For the Suns, Bridges can make the biggest leap because his stats are very under average from last year. This year, an increase in points, rebounds and 3-point% should give him some more looks.

BK: Boy is it bad luck to have my answers come after Matthew’s scorching takes. It’s always hard to predict MIP because of how much narrative plays a part here, so I’ll throw out two names: Andrew Wiggins and Lonnie Walker IV. Both are athletic wing scorers who should have increased roles in 2021 for teams with good developmental infrastructures who bring name recognition and flashes in the past and could put it together to contribute more consistently to winning basketball this season.

JM: Suns’ most improved? Give me Deandre Ayton. I feel like he’s slept on in so many ways, but all the while he’s been near a 20 & 10 average since stepping foot into the association. That’s like, really good for a center, especially in today’s run and gun style of play. Ayton missed 25 games last year for a boneheaded blunder I won’t mention here, but if he makes good on his full-year slate, he could easily find himself in that conversation.

Outside of the Valley, I like Herro for marketability alone, and with Kemba Walker absent for the Celtics as they open their roundtable, Jaylen Brown.

5. COY is the next award. Which coach do you think will get this? Does Monty Williams have a shot?

JV: Monty Williams has the inside track to win this award if Phoenix can get to the #4 seed or better. Heck, a trip to the playoffs might get him a nod. Steve Nash may rob him, however, if he can lead the Nets to the best record in the East. And I wouldn’t even be mad.

Zona: Monty should be one of the favorites due to the narrative based voting that is coach of the year. If the Suns are a top 5 seed I think you can hand the award over to him barring a crazy run from an unexpected team.

DK: Monty getting this award is the most likely of all these award possibilities so far, but I really hope it doesn’t happen because the COY award is the kiss of death. So no, I hope Monty doesn’t win the award.

KA: Monty is my choice to win Coach of the Year. With the unfathomable heartbreak he went through and having to put his dream on hold, it would be such an amazing story for him to get this recognition. It’s not just because of the sad story, though. He has been an amazing coach and one of the best that this franchise has seen in a long time. How he led his team through their struggles and that speech that he gave during the bubble are simply inspirational. He’s a real one and has a solid team to roll out so as he keeps them battling and as they enter the playoff picture with hopefully home court advantage, his name will come up. The only other coach that I think may take this from him is Steve Nash and though I would be sad for coach Monty, I’d be happy for M-V-Steve.

ML: Monty, for sure. After all is said and done this year, the Suns will be the most improved team and Monty will be the first coach in 50 years for the Suns to complete two full seasons.

BK: Things are certainly lining up for this award to go to Williams. Even Larry Fitzgerald said it today. I disagree with Dave’s idea that this is the kiss of death, though, as the past few winners aside from Dwane Casey were all long-tenured coaches who stuck around after winning, like Steve Kerr, Mike D’Antoni and Nick Nurse (presumably).

JM: Monty has a monumental chance to win it this year, because all signs are pointing to a stark increase in victories with Chris Paul’s arrival. He’s always been a heck of a coach, and even better person, and that dates back to his assistant days in OKC. But there are so many great masterminds in the association that it’s not presumably likely to see his name top the list of names called at year’s end. He’ll undoubtedly be in the conversation, along with Doc Rivers (comeback stories become the theme here), Steve Nash, Nick Nurse and Brad Stevens.

6. Who is your early pick to win Sixth Man of the Year? Do you think any Sun has a good shot at it?

JV: Let’s just go with Point Dario.

DK: I think the Suns best chance for a Sixth Man is Cameron Johnson, and only if he becomes a high volume guy off the bench. This award is always reserved for the highest scoring (or close to highest) bench guy in the league.

Zona: Dennis Schroeder (if he comes off the bench) has a good shot, as well as fellow Laker teammate Montrezl Harrell. They each finished first and second respectively in the voting last season, and being in the limelight on the Lakers should only increase their pub. As far as the Suns are concerned, I think Dario Saric will finish top-five in the 6MOY voting.

KA: There are a lot of names that can be thrown into this answer so it’s hard to pick one. However, if the Hawks indeed bring Danilo Gallinari off the bench in Atlanta, he’s my pick. Gallo provides so much offense and scoring like he does against starters, imagine what he will do to opposing benches.

For Phoenix, it’s tough because there are so many variables. I think Jae Crowder starts so Cam Johnson and Dario Saric would be the two in the running for it. The Suns are going to look to get everyone involved and are loaded with shooters so it’s hard to say that either will have the opportunity that other players around the league will. That’s okay because team success comes first.

ML: Saric will win 6MOY. Write that down. I already did, so print it out and put it above your bed for motivation. He has a full beard (almost) and a fuller peach. The man is ready to ball.

BK: It’ll be either Spencer Dinwiddie if he stays in Brooklyn for the full season or, if not, Tyler Herro, who should be unleashed fully by Miami in his second season and fits beautifully into the Heat offense, as we saw in the Bubble.

JM: I don’t see a Sun taking this one home. Their bench is built around cohesion, not individual aptitude that can separate a lone performer apart for an award like this. My prediction: Montrezl Harrell for the repeat.

7. Last but not least is EOY. Who do you pick as the best executive for the 2020-21 season? James Jones has to be a real possibility, right?

JV: Fun fact: only one GM has ever won this award four times. The Suns’ Jerry Colangelo. We love what James Jones is doing and hope to see if our theories meet the hardwood. Until then, I don’t think James Jones has the reputation yet to earn this award. Okay, if the Suns shock the world and win a ‘chip, yes. I’ll put my guess in here just to see if it hits: Rob Pelinka.

Zona: Pelinka will be the favorite of course as many have already mentioned, but if the Suns make a surprise playoff run it's entirely possible Jones can take the crown from him.

DK: For sure, James Jones will be in the running if the Suns stay strong in the playoff race all year long. This is probably even more likely than Monty winning COY. But the real winner has to be the Lakers or Nets GM, unless their teams fall on their faces in real life. And LeBron’s teams don’t do that.

KA: James Jones is well-respected around the league and has put in quite the work here in the Valley. If what we are expecting this team to be able to do is turned into results and the Suns are indeed a playoff team in the West, hopefully with home court advantage, he could definitely be in the running. If not him, I’ll also go with Rob Pelinka.

ML: JVIII is right, Rob for the win. Lakers with a great off-season.

BK: I suppose Jones is a candidate here solely because he executed the Chris Paul trade, but I would also put Brooklyn’s Sean Marks into the mix after we finally get to see how the roster looks with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both playing. That of course gets a boost if James Harden is traded there. The other possibility is Daryl Morey after his solid turnaround of the Sixers’ roster.

JM: Daryl Morey did WORK for the 76ers throughout the offseason. Sean Marks pulled off a litany of calculative winning trades. But no one rivals Rob Pelinka right now. The Lakers are projected to repeat, and if they do, the Larry O’Brien trophy won’t be the only mantelpiece they’ll be hanging up in their trophy room.

Bonus: Predict the win-loss record for your Suns and how many All-Stars (who?) will be selected from this roster.

JV: The Suns will end 44-28, Devin Booker will be our only All-Star.

Zona: 44-28. Paul and Booker each make the All-Star Game.

DK: Over 72 games, I see the Suns winning 45 games (27 losses, that means). I just think Book and CP3 are going to run over people during the season with all that shooting around them.

KA: If we go off winning percentages from last season, the Suns would need to be around 44-28 to get home court advantage. I really want that for them so I’m going to say 45-27. Book it! Devin Booker should definitely make his second All-Star team and I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Paul or Deandre Ayton join him. It depends how good this team is. If they’re sitting at the fourth seed or higher, I’ll say two. If they’re somehow second best in the West, all three is a real possibility.

ML: 49-23, taking the 3rd seed in the west below the Nuggets-1 and the Clippers-2. Paul and Booker are sure All-Stars this year. Ayton will miss by not dunking and just laying the ball up. Just kidding! Ayton will be a reserve.

BK: I guess I have to throw water on everyone’s optimism to end the roundtable. That’s no fun. My prediction is they win 41 games (which is still equivalent to 47 wins in a regular season — that’s really good!) and only Devin Booker makes the All-Star team with Steph Curry and Damian Lillard both healthy again.

JM: 44-28. CP3 and Book (this time as a starter, not a replacement) are All-Star participants. *Sidebar: I want to see DBook take home a 3-point title as well, but he probably won’t partake in other All-Star weekend festivities should he be tabbed as a starter for the actual game.

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