Dwight Howard and the Top 5 Candidates for MVP and Each NBA Award Next Year
Rose became the youngest MVP ever. Dwight Howard became the first three-peat Defensive Player of the Year. And many feel Blake Griffin had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time.
Each of those guys could be in line for more individual hardware next season. This slideshow will provide early candidates for each of the individual awards for the 2011-12 season...
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Coach of the Year
This is one of the hardest awards to forecast because of the ever-revolving coaching carousel. First-year coaches always get a lot of consideration and we don't know who any of those are yet.
5: Frank Vogel - Indiana Pacers: He did a solid job with the Pacers this season, and the team should improve next year. They proved they have a lot of upside during their first-round series against the Bulls.
4: Erik Spoelstra - Miami Heat: When countless people were calling for his head, Spoelstra kept his cool and the Heat eventually got right this year. They'll be even better next year and "Spo" will get some credit.
3: Rick Carlisle - Dallas Mavericks: He won this award back in 2002 as a first-year head coach with the Pistons. He's been great for the Mavs and may get some credit for it next year.
2: Avery Johnson - New Jersey Nets: Expect the Nets to take a big step forward next year. With Deron Williams on the team for a full season, they could make a run at 50 wins.
Winner: Lionel Hollins - Memphis Grizzlies: This team has easily been the most impressive No. 8 seed in NBA Playoffs history. They will continue to improve in 2012 and could win over 50 games next year.
Rookie of the Year
This one is also a tough call because a rookie's production is largely based on what team and situation he finds himself in.
A lot of rookies have to spend a lot of time on the bench during their first year, while others are given the green light right away.
5: Jimmer Fredette: I previously wrote an article in which I predicted he would win this award.
Even I have to concede that no matter how talented Jimmer is, most coaches are going to buy into the stigma and start this career on the bench.
4: Kemba Walker: His draft stock has been skyrocketing lately. Some feel he may end up being the best point guard from this class.
3: Kyrie Irving: Many feel Irving may be the only future superstar in this draft. He's already been compared to Chris Paul.
2: Derrick Williams: He's perhaps the most NBA-ready prospect this year. His great combination of size, athleticism and skill will help him be productive right away.
Winner: Alec Burks: This is my dark-horse candidate for the award and the guy I think will win it. I can see him sneaking up on a lot of people the way Brandon Roy did as a rookie.
Sixth Man of the Year
There are a lot of solid sixth men in the league these days. A lot of coaches love to reserve someone for offensive punch off the bench.
5: Lamar Odom - Los Angeles Lakers: I have him in here just because he won it this year, and so there must be a chance he could win it again.
Considering the changes the Lakers are about to undergo, he may not even be a sixth man next year.
4: Marcus Thornton - Sacramento Kings: A lot of people have the Kings drafting a point guard with their high lottery draft pick. If that happens, Thornton could move to the bench.
He averaged over 20 points a game as a member of the Kings this past season and demonstrated the ability to score in a variety of ways.
3: Jason Terry - Dallas Mavericks: As long as Terry remains in this role with the Mavericks, he'll be a threat to win Sixth Man of the Year.
2: Jeff Green - Boston Celtics: As the Celtics starters continue to age, Jeff Green may have to take on a bigger role. He proved that he could be a really good scorer with the Thunder.
Winner: James Harden - Oklahoma City Thunder: Why Thabo Sefolosha starts over James Harden is a big mystery to me. If Harden continues to come off the bench, he could very well win this award.
His offense is rapidly improving, and Scott Brooks may be forced to play him more minutes. The biggest obstacle for Harden being productive are his volume-shooting teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Howard has won this award in each of the last three seasons. It would be remarkable if he took home the award for a fourth straight season.
There are some other very legitimate candidates for the award next season.
5: Andrew Bogut - Milwaukee Bucks: He has quietly developed into an elite defender and led the league in blocks per game this past season.
4: Serge Ibaka - Oklahoma City Thunder: This is one of the most athletic, rangy interior defenders in the league. He's gaining confidence on both ends of the floor and will be a defensive force next year.
3: LeBron James - Miami Heat: We mostly talk about LeBron for his offense. He may be one of the most underrated perimeter defenders in the league.
He is the leader of one of the league's best defensive units in Miami.
2: Dwight Howard - Orlando Magic: When you win three Defensive Player of the Year Awards prior to your 26th birthday, you're obviously a threat to win a few more.
Winner: Rajon Rondo - Boston Celtics: As I mentioned when talking about Jeff Green, the Celtics are aging. The younger players are going to be assuming bigger roles.
Rondo is one of the best defensive point guards in the league, and I expect his rebounds to up next year.
Most Improved Player of the Year
5: Gordon Hayward - Utah Jazz: It took all year, but he finally started getting consistent minutes in April.
For the season, he shot 49 percent from the field and 47 percent from three-point range. In April, those percentages were 58 and 57, and he averaged 16 points a game for the month.
4: Chase Budinger - Houston Rockets: A lot like George, Budinger made his way into the starting lineup later in the year. His scoring and assists both nearly doubled after the All-Star break.
3: Jordan Crawford - Washington Wizards: Crawford averaged about four points a game with the Hawks and about 16 with the Wizards.
He'll have a decent-sized role on the team next season whether or not Nick Young leaves via free agency. If Young does leave, Crawford could jump to the top of this list.
2: Jeff Teague - Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague is one of the quickest players in the league. Now that he's finally getting some significant minutes, we're starting to see how devastating this quickness can be.
He could very well be the team's starting point guard next year, and I don't think it's a stretch to predict at least 15-16 points a game from him.
Winner: Tyler Hansbrough - Indiana Pacers: Hansbrough always produced when he was in the game this past season. For most of the year, he was in a very small role.
When Frank Vogel finally inserted him into the starting lineup, he became one of the league's best energy guys.
He could easily average around 17-18 points and seven or eight rebounds a game.
Most Valuable Player
5: Derrick Rose - Chicago Bulls: If the team doesn't get him much help this offseason, Rose may be forced to carry them once again.
Back-to-back MVPs seem like a long shot for him, but it's certainly possible.
4: Blake Griffin - Los Angeles Clippers: This team looked a lot better in the second half of the season. If they fill their need at small forward, they may even make the playoffs next year.
Of course, Griffin would have an awful lot to do with that. If they do make the postseason, he'll be a legitimate contender for the league's top individual honor.
3: Kevin Durant - Oklahoma City Thunder: The first thing he would need to do to get this award is find some way to reel Russell Westbrook in. His shot selection is out of control right now.
If someone can convince the team's point guard to actually be a point guard, Durant's numbers could be ridiculous.
2: LeBron James - Miami Heat: He has emerged as the clear-cut leader of this team. Next year, as they continue to develop together, they could approach a win total in the high 60s.
LeBron will be the biggest part of their success. He routinely leads the league in Player Efficiency Rating and is always among the leaders in scoring and assists.
Winner: Dwight Howard - Orlando Magic: Many feel Howard should have won the award this year. Just imagine how Orlando would look without him.
If he's playing for the Magic next year, expect him to have another monster year. It has become clear that they don't have many legitimate weapons after Howard, and he'll carry a huge load because of that.