NBA Predictions: Projecting Top Award Winners and Finals Matchup
As much as the fan and former front office employee in me wants to sit here and write that the New York Knicks are going to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the team's last NBA title by doing it again in the 2012-13 season, the writer and realist in me isn't going down that path.
It's just not going to happen this year.
But that's not to say that there won't be reason for celebration at Madison Square Garden because the "World's Most Famous Arena" will once again be home to the recipient of a major NBA award, but it won't be Tyson Chandler repeating as Defensive Player of the Year.
Let's take a look at who will be taking home the most gaudy hardware available in the NBA when the 2012-13 season comes to its triumphant end.
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
Anthony Davis is the favorite for this award, and with good reason, but it's going to be the sixth overall pick in this year's NBA draft out of Weber State who brings home the bacon as the NBA's Rookie of the Year.
Lillard is a hybrid. He has the passing ability of Chris Paul and the basket-attacking skills of Russell Westbrook—a complete player who makes his teammates better. If he doesn't utilize his speed to drive the lane, he can step back and drain a jumper in a defender's eye.
With LaMarcus Aldridge commanding a double-team down low whenever he's on the floor, Lillard will have ample opportunity to rack up gaudy numbers, both in points scored and assists, with a plethora of sharp-shooting wing players at his disposal.
Davis will average a double-double on the season, but it's Lillard who will lead his team to a high seed and a deep playoff run in the Western Conference—no small feat considering the competition he'll be going against on a nightly basis.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
He won the award in 2010-11, leading the Bulls to a 60-22 regular season record, and Tom Thibodeau is poised to show the world that he's a phenomenal basketball coach once again in 2012-13.
Without all-world point guard Derrick Rose on the floor for the beginning of the season—and with no guarantees of how effective and explosive Rose will be once he returns—Thibodeau will have his hands full in trying to win the award once again.
I watched him hone his craft as an assistant under Jeff Van Gundy with the New York Knicks in the mid-1990s first hand, and back then people around the league talked about how good he was. With years of experience under his belt, he's only gotten better.
Not only does he know the game inside and out, but he's a master motivator, able to get more out of his players than even they themselves thought possible.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
There's a reason why Howard won this award for three consecutive seasons before last year's injury-shortened campaign, and Dwight Howard is poised to remind people of what that was.
People don't want to challenge him in the lane, because aside from Howard's ability to alter and block shots, he's built like a tank and running into him is a painful experience.
Plus, Superman is annoyed that he didn't win it last season, as he told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin:
I thought I should have won it last year, to be honest with you. I was a little bit upset about that.
I felt like I did my job to win it. I also feel like I didn't because of the whole situation (with the Orlando Magic). That played a factor in it.
Howard is motivated to prove people wrong and he's not only in a situation to succeed, but in a contract year as well. Superman will be bringing his award back home and taking it with him wherever he decides to fly to next season.
Sixth Man Award: Jason Terry, PG/SG, Boston Celtics
This isn't an unfamiliar award for Jason Terry, who was named Sixth Man of the Year back in the 2008-09 season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks.
You don't necessarily think of Terry as a playmaker, a facilitator—he's a scorer, first and foremost, averaging at least 15 points per game in 11 of his 13 NBA seasons prior to this year. He also averages nearly five assists per game, adding another dimension to his game that other traditional shooting guards don't have.
Coming off of the bench on a team that features future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Terry is once again in a situation to shine, whether it be as instant offense off the bench or as someone to give Rajon Rondo a breather.
Most Improved Player: Evan Turner, SF, Philadelphia 76ers
With Andre Iguodala no longer in his way, Evan Turner will finally get a chance to show off his considerable talents on a regular basis—talents that made him the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
He's a dominating rebounder on the defensive end and has a solid mid-range game. While he doesn't attack the rim anywhere nearly as often as you'd like and he's a horrific three-point shooter, Turner is a far more talented player than people give him credit for.
We saw glimpses of what he's capable of last year, as he moved into the starting lineup for Philadelphia down the stretch and in the playoffs. With nobody in front of him and no real threats behind him, Turner will build on last year's experience and have his breakout campaign this season.
MVP: Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
There's little question that the Knicks are Melo's team, and he knows that the spotlight's on him to prove the naysayers wrong.
Anthony has the ability to do everything on the floor and do it well. He's as explosive a scorer as there is in the NBA. He can rebound and he's an adept passer with the ability to get his teammates involved.
The biggest criticism he's faced has been that he doesn't play defense, and it's a fair point.
However, he's shown that he can play excellent defense when he wants to, and that want is going to be on display each and every night, especially with Amar'e Stoudemire on the sidelines and likely relegated to a reserve role upon his return.
A renewed dedication to defense coupled with averaging more than 25 points and 10 rebounds per game will land Melo the first MVP award of his career.
NBA Finals: Miami Heat over Portland Trail Blazers
Unless the Heat suffer a catastrophic injury—translation: LeBron James missing an extended period of time—they'll be winning their second consecutive NBA championship.
But they'll do it over an upstart Portland team that has a chance to come out of a Western conference that features aging squads in the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs along with last year's conference champs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, not quite the same after dealing away James Harden.
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