The new NBA season is finally underway. Fans everywhere are already on the edge of their seats as this season has the makings to be one of the best we have ever seen. Some of the questions that have been floating around this season include: Will Jokić win his third MVP while trying to lead Denver to back-to-back championships? Is Victor Wembanyama the next young player to take the league by storm? Who is going to surprise us and bring home Most Improved? What about Dame in Milwaukee, Beal in Phoenix, Harden in LA? 

The answers are far from us right now. But amidst all the chaos and all the headlines, I offered my picks for each major regular-season NBA player award. 

Most Valuable Player

Drumroll please. Dududududududu… Luka Dončić. 

Not Nikola Jokić? No, and hear me out.

Now in his fifth season in Dallas, Dončić is just now finally entering his prime. The Dallas Mavericks were aggressive in the offseason, retooling the roster to make it the most talented one Dončić has been a part of, and a full season alongside Kyrie Irving should further elevate the Slovenian superstar’s game. But in a stacked Western Conference, Dončić is going to have to put up historically dominant numbers if he plans to carry them into the playoffs — similar to those of Russell Westbrook during his MVP-winning campaign in 2017. Dončić balled out for Slovenia during the FIBA World Cup this past summer, averaging nearly a triple-double through eight games, and appeared to be in the best shape he has ever been in since coming to the NBA. There is a lot on Dončić’s shoulders this season, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to find a way to exceed all expectations.

Increased wins. Better numbers. More at stake. All of those things point to Luka Dončić taking home the MVP crown this season.

Rookie of the Year

Opposite of the MVP, I am sticking to the no-brainer choice: Victor Wembanyama. The 7’5” Frenchman is the greatest prospect the league has ever seen since LeBron, and if the preseason was any indication, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Post game? Check. Threes? Check. Handle? Check. Blocks? Check. 8-foot wingspan? My goodness … Check.

Simply put, if he reaches the 65-game threshold, the award is his to lose. And do not be surprised if he ends up winning Defensive Player of the Year, too!

Defensive Player of the Year

Jrue Holiday. After being named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team in 2023, where he also finished tied for seventh in Defensive Player of the Year voting, Holiday now spearheads a Boston Celtics defense that looks to top the league this year. Arguably the most versatile perimeter defender at the guard position, Holiday defends positions one through four and is tasked with guarding the opposition’s best player. With fellow All-Defensive guard Derrick White alongside him, I would not be surprised if we see Holiday be more aggressive on that side of the ball. Marcus Smart won the award two years ago in Boston. I see no reason why an even better defensive player in Holiday can not do the same.

Sixth Man of the Year

I am going to go with a bit of a sleeper pick here: Cam Thomas. Say what you want about his size or demeanor, Thomas is an elite bucket-getter. The Brooklyn Nets enter the season without a bonafide superstar, so look for Thomas to be relied on for some much-needed scoring. Thomas was the youngest player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in three consecutive games, and he set an NBA record for most points off the bench in a season-opener with 36 points this very past week. Heading into his third NBA season, Thomas’s role for this season remains undetermined, but if he is able to capitalize on his opportunities, “Instant Hot” should find himself among the league’s best reserve players. Plus, I see too much of Lou Williams (3x NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner) in his game not to give him the nod for this award.

Most Improved Player

Scottie Barnes. Again, another pick out of left field, but I think the Toronto forward is primed for a breakout year. After somewhat of a sophomore slump, Barnes now has the opportunity to be “the man” in Toronto (with Fred VanVleet gone and Pascal Siakam seemingly on his way out). Already touted as one of the most promising young defenders in the NBA, I think the former Rookie of the Year will take a huge step forward in his offensive game, maybe averaging somewhere around 20 points and seven assists per game, all while shooting upwards of 45% from the field. If he even starts to improve on his shaky three-point game, that would be the cherry on top of it all.

Under new head coach Darko Rajakovic, I think Barnes not only has a huge opportunity to win Most Improved honors but also make his first-ever All-Star and All-Defensive appearances and cement himself as one of the most versatile two-way players in the NBA this season.

Clutch Player of the Year

Jayson Tatum. There are so many guys that I could have gone with here. But for some reason, my gut is telling me Tatum. He is just one of those guys with that stone-cold killer mentality. Tatum’s scoring ability is second to none, and the Celtics are primed to finish the season atop the East. Tatum is going to be leaned on as the closer in Boston, and now, with Dame in the East, Embiid hungrier than ever, and Miami always in the fold, expect the fate of many tightly contested games to fall into his hands.