NBA Awards Race: Predictions for MVP and Every Major Award
It's almost the end of the season, and enough basketball has been played to predict who will win each regular-season NBA award.
It's been an exciting year, but most of the award winners will be running away with their hardware this season, and rightfully so.
With fantastic years from many players, advantages have been lost and gained, and some of the races have really heated up coming down the stretch.
Here are my predictions for each NBA regular-season award winner.
Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving
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Kyrie Irving is the first of the runaway winners. This race would have been more interesting to pay attention to if Ricky Rubio was able to stay healthy and had not gotten injured midway through the season.
The No. 1 overall pick has done everything he can to prove all of his critics wrong. Many said that he wasn't experienced enough for the NBA, yet he came in and tore the league apart from day one.
He's played well in all areas, scoring at an impressive rate while setting up his teammates.
Give him credit, because he might just single-handedly bring relevance back to the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.
Most Improved Player of the Year: Andrew Bynum
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Although he's shown immaturity at times throughout the season, Andrew Bynum is most deserving of the Most Improved Player award.
He has cemented himself as the second-best center in the NBA and has quickly become a threat that coaches need to plan for. The best part is that he is still in the earlier stages of his career, meaning he has lots of time to improve.
This award was perhaps the hardest to determine the winner with a three-way race between Bynum, Ryan Anderson of the Orlando Magic and Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks.
Lin fell out of favor due to a late start to his improved season and a late-season injury, and Bynum was the better of the remaining two—no offense to Ryan Anderson, who I have the utmost respect for as a player due to his versatility and skill set.
Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden
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Another runaway winner, James Harden is a huge reason the Oklahoma City Thunder have been considered contenders now more than ever.
Harden is like the LeBron James of bench players—he is the best and most versatile player that starts games on the pine. He can score from deep, take his man off the dribble and set up teammates on offense.
He's no slouch on defense either, as he uses his quick hands to bother the opposition and rebounds the ball extremely well for his size.
He's provided Scott Brooks with a leader off the bench, and a guy who can contribute in multiple ways when given the keys to the offense.
No one is even within striking distance of Harden when it comes to the Sixth Man award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
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Who else did you expect to see on this slide?
Dwight Howard is the most intimidating force in the entire NBA on defense, and his numbers show it. He's leading the league in rebounds and is a top-five shot-blocker.
The advantage he has over many shot-blockers is his intimidation factor. Few dare to drive all the way to the hoop knowing Dwight is protecting the rim.
Howard alone makes Orlando one of the better defensive teams in the league. Remove him from the equation and Orlando becomes a bottom dweller on that side of the court.
He's just that much of a difference-maker on defense.
Most Valuable Player Award: Kevin Durant
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Kevin Durant has become an absolute monster on the court.
He's rounded out his game with much-improved rebounding, raising his average to nearly eight per game.
He matches LeBron James in that category, and bests his counterpart in free-throw shooting, three-point shooting, scoring, shot blocking and protecting the ball.
The real difference-maker in this race is that Miami is falling off with the season winding down, while Oklahoma is still going strong as the first seed in a tougher conference top to bottom.
Add in that Durant has been a consistent leader, and he deserves the MVP award for the 2011-2012 NBA season.