Much too early reactions to the NBA award race

Mark Suchy, Sports Editor

NBA Champion: This is the sad reality of an anti-ambiguous National Basketball Association (NBA). The Eastern Conference is a complete laughing stock when compared to their “mighty” big brother of the West. Granted, the East has a few teams that will make some noise and help to make an eventful season for basketball junkies like myself (looking at you Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and dare I say… Milwaukee?).
While the West has the ambiguity us junkies crave, it is a 29 team league at this point. The Golden State Warriors have separated themselves from the pack to the point where we can basically hand them the title without much controversy.
Many teams have made a valiant effort to catch up to the greatest team ever assembled (my apologies to any Jordan fans) but at the end of the day they still have five All-Stars including three Most Valuable Trophy (MVP) trophies among them and several finals MVPs (shout out Andre Iguodala).
“Nobody can compete with a healthy Golden State roster,” avid NBA fan, Charlie Doxzen (’19) said. “The chemistry, roster depth, and elite starting five you can’t compete with that.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Hereford’s other resident NBA expert, Mason Greenspan (’19).
“This team is too dominant to be stopped, and they only got better with the offseason addition of Boogie,” Greenspan said.
“Boogie” refers to All-Star center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, who signed a one-year deal with Golden State. This deal practically set the NBA Twitter world ablaze and virtually sealed the fates for the league’s other 29 teams. It’s Golden State’s world and we are all just living in it.

Dark Horse: A dark horse candidate for any award in the NBA is someone/something that nobody would expect to compete for a certain award.
In the NBA, the typical “title threats” for the Warriors are the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, and possibly the Los Angeles Lakers.
But, there is a scrappy young team emerging from the powerhouse Western Conference, and they are quite high on their chances this year.
The Denver Nuggets have a strong young core built around their 7’0” Serbian, pass-first, point-center, Nikola Jokic.
Jokic has emerged as the new-era NBA center. He is just as deadly in the low post, armed with an array of turnaround jump shots, baby-hooks, and deadly drop-steps, as he is sniping from downtown, with his beautifully arced jump shot.
Of course Jokic, is not the sole reason the Nuggets are a dark horse in a stacked Western Conference; the Nuggets’ front office has strategically built a young core of players around Jokic, including Baltimore’s own Will Barton, Michigan State shooting guard Gary Harris, and the gritty stretch four, Paul Millsap.
With a combination of youth and a strategically built team, the Nuggets are a dark horse for this year, and a team built for the future.

MVP: Since the wonder-kid Wardell “Stephen” Curry transcended the league by winning his second, and first unanimous, Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in the history of the Association in 2016, the race for the prestigious MVP has become tighter and tighter every year.
In the simpler years, the trophy could be handed to the league’s leading scorer, or that kid from Akron, LeBron James, but as the Warriors begin to separate themselves from the rest of the league, the race for MVP becomes closer and closer.
And that is why my favorite for MVP this year is Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo. Since the Greek Freak graced the league with his presence as the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft his stock has skyrocketed.
Antetokounmpo has steadily increased his points per game (ppg), rebounds per game (rpg), assists per game (apg), steals per game (spg), and blocks per game (bpg). That is five major categories, not to mention Giannis led his team in all of those statistical categories last year!
“Giannis is an absolute game changer. He is lengthy but also can dominate from all five positions. It sounds silly but he reminds me of a young Magic Johnson,” Charlie Doxzen (’19) said. “That is the type of player we are talking about.”
The past two MVP winners have been first time award winners— Russell Westbrook in 2017 and James Harden in 2018. Why not make it the year of the three, with the Warriors and Giannis?

Dark Horse: What I am about to say seems silly to me. It does not sound right to say that one of the best players on one of the best teams is a dark horse for MVP, but this NBA season is unlike any other. Stephen Curry is my dark horse for MVP this year.
The reasons he should win the award are obvious: he is the greatest shot creator of all time, one of the greatest shooter of all time, a leader on a team poised to win their fourth NBA championship, and is arguably one of the best playmakers in league history.
The reasons that Steph is a dark horse are not as clear cut. Curry is on the outside of some of the clear-cut MVP candidates. This is only because of the team that he plays on; the Warriors are so deep, and are typically leading every game which hampers Curry’s stats.
He also is behind candidates like LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who is poised for a huge next step.
“LeBron should be handed the MVP award every year,” self-proclaimed LeBron lover, Owen Sabia (’20) said. “Quite frankly it’s stupid that he is not. He is the greatest to ever play.”
LeBron should not be denied greatness, for that is what he is. However, that is what separates him from being a dark horse candidate, and catapults him into MVP favorite territory.
Curry should be a shoe-in for MVP favorite, but because of his stacked Warriors roster, he is a leading dark horse candidate.

Rookie of the Year: The 2018 NBA Draft class was stacked with talent— internationally and stateside. I must preface this by saying I am patriotic and do support all my American ball players, but the talent gap between Luka Dončić and the rest of the rookie class is too large.
Dončić is an absolute stud and he has more experience against better competition; he played last year in Euro League (the second best professional basketball league in the world), won Euro MVP, Euro Finals MVP, and led his team to a win in the championship, all shortly after turning 19.
On draft night Dončić also got placed into a fortunate situation; he was picked third overall by an atrocious Atlanta Hawks team, but shortly after was traded to the stable organization of the Dallas Mavericks. The type of stability and historic basketball tradition that the Mavericks have become accustomed to is always beneficial for a rookie.
Pairing Dončić with the uber-athletic Dennis Smith Jr will give other teams nightmares. For every methodical pick and roll that Dončić runs, Smith Jr will throw down a jaw-dropping dunk.
“I just love the yin and yang that the Mavs have with these two. Dončić is clearly superior to all the other rookies in this class, and that’s not to say this is a bad class. Dončić is just that good,” Doxzen said.
Dončić will certainly go through some rough patches and fatigue, as expected in a rookie’s first time experiencing the grueling 82 game NBA schedule, but when push comes to shove, it’s Dončić’s award to lose.

Dark Horse: It feels a bit unusual to say the number two pick in the draft is the dark horse for Rookie of the Year, but as previously stated, this is not a normal NBA season. The top four candidates for Rookie of the Year have to be Dončić, DeAndre “the Bahamian Beast” Ayton, Trae “Baby Steph” Young, and Collin “Young Bull” Sexton.
This leaves the chance for Marvin Bagley III of the Sacramento Kings to be my dark horse for Rookie of the Year.
Bagley III played in countless primetime games in his lone season at Duke, giving him invaluable experience and preparation for the next level. Add in his freakish athletic ability, polished interior moves, and smooth left handed play style, and the only thing holding Bagley III from being a serious contender is his struggles from behind the arc.
At Duke, Bagley III shot an abysmal 39% from three on only 58 attempts. On the surface this is not horrific, but add in the extra distance that accompanies an NBA three point line and this could be Bagley III’s biggest weakness.
It obviously will not hamper him from being a major contributor on a Kings team that is in desperate need, but it may affect the legitimacy of his Rookie of the Year bid.