NBA Award Predictions for the 2011-2012 Season
It's December 1, and that means that the NBA season is just 24 days away. With just 66 games being played, this season will be different than most.
Regardless, there is no dearth of headlines as we approach Christmas Day: Will LeBron finally get his first championship? What are the futures of Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard? Have the respective championship windows of the Celtics, Spurs and Lakers closed?
There are also questions surrounding this year's major awards. Who will take home the hardware?
Here are my predictions:
Rookie of the Year: Jimmer Fredette
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I'm going out on a limb here, but I think Jimmer has what it takes to succeed in the NBA. Although many are trying to fit him into the Adam Morrison/ J.J. Redick mold, I see Fredette as a different player.
Beyond his obvious ability to knock down shots, Fredette is a crafty player who--plain and simple--knows how to score. He may not possess elite athleticism, but the BYU alum can find ways to knife between defenders and get off shots.
Defensively, Fredette will likely be a liability. But paired with the more-athletic Tyreke Evans, he won't have to matchup the opposing team's most explosive guard.
Fredette and Tyreke Evans will form one of the best scoring backcourts in the West. And don't forget about scoring guard Marcus Thornton, who provided valuable minutes for Sacramento after he was dealt from New Orleans last February.
With defenses focusing on Evans and Thornton, Fredette won't be asked to shoulder too much of the load right away. Jimmer will have free reign to catch and shoot.
More importantly for Sacramento, though, the rookie will sell tickets. The Kings need a jolt, and Jimmer will provide that.
Sixth Man of the Year: James Harden
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Harden stepped up for Oklahoma City in this year's postseason, averaging 13 points and just under four assists per game. When he was on the floor, the Thunder had three legitimate scoring threats. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Harden were able to exploit opposing defenses with ease. Dallas just happened to be a little better...
In his third season, Harden is poised to take that next big step. He will become an even larger part of the Thunder's offense. At 6' 5'', 220, Harden is a matchup nightmare for most opposing 2-guards.
While he is known as a shooter, Harden has the ability to create his own shot as well. While teams focus on Durant and Westbrook, Harden will get his fair amount of clean looks.
With San Antonio and Los Angeles are both aging, Oklahoma City is primed to stake their foothold atop the Western Conference. Harden's role on this team will be a key part of Oklahoma City's rise to prominence.
These major awards tend to go to players on the best teams, which bodes well for Harden--considering that the Arizona State alum. will be playing for a team that will contend for the best record in the Western Conference this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler
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Tyson Chandler told ESPN.com in a phone interview Wednesday night that he is likely leaving the Dallas Mavericks. But wherever the 2001 2nd overall pick lands, he will make a huge impact on defense.
Chandler was the key behind Dallas's championship run last season. Prior to last year's playoffs, the Mavericks were labeled a "soft" team. This was partially due to Dirk Nowitzki's reputation as a "soft" player. But another aspect of the criticism was pointed directly at Dallas's lack of strong interior defense.
As a feared shotblocker and talented post defender, Chandler provided the Mavericks with a strong presence inside
Part of the reason that LeBron James underperformed in last year's Finals was because of his inability to penetrate. With Chandler manning the paint, LeBron wasn't able to drive the lane like he's accustomed to doing.
If he leaves Dallas, Chandler will provide that same interior presence for whichever team signs him. Dwight Howard has won the award three years in a row, but expect his reign to end this season.
Most Improved Player: Paul George
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The Pacers are a team on the rise. They were the 8-seed in last year's playoffs, but expect Indiana to make major improvements this season.
With his combination of length and athleticism, George is a superb on-ball defender. He has the versatility to guard virtually any position on the floor.
He's still developing offensively, but George showed flashes of scoring ability last season--including a 23-point performance vs. the Wizards on March 6 and a 17-point performance at Denver on January 23.
Picking this award is far from an exact science, but I think George has all the tools to make huge strides this season.
MVP: Kevin Durant
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I mentioned this earlier, but I truly believe that Oklahoma City is a likely candidate for the one seed in the Western Conference.
Durant will be the key to OKC's success this season. The Thunder will go as far as Durant takes them.
The two-time scoring champion is now one of the league's most recognizable stars. If he leads the Thunder to the league's best record, Durant will be regarded as the league's most valuable player.
Durant acts as a father figure for one of the league's youngest teams. He will oversee it's rise atop the Western Conference.
There's no reason why Durant can't repeat as scoring champion. Although his defense still needs work, Durant's pure scoring ability will be too much to ignore.
Because he's paired with two stars, LeBron will never garner enough support to win the coveted award. Derrick Rose is a legitimate candidate, but I don't expect him to replicate his numbers from last season.
Of course, someone like Dwight Howard or even Blake Griffin could very well be in the running. But Durant's supreme talent is undeniable.
He's been recognized as the league's best scorer for the last two seasons. This is the year where he's recognized as being the league's most valuable player as well.