NBA Awards: Predicting the MVP and Every Other Regular-Season Award
With the 2011-2012 NBA season underway, it's time to predict the winners of the end-of-the-season awards. My picks are purely speculation, as I have no more access to experts than my readers do, so do not be surprised to see my picks go wrong.
However, in my experience, it's always good to get your picks down early so that you can look back and laugh at the end of the season.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
Without further ado, here are my picks:
Rookie of the Year
5. Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz
Kanter is a center prospect who is very skilled offensively and a solid defender. We did not get to see him last season in college because of eligibility issues, but he should surprise some people in Utah, especially since he is the only true center left on the roster.
4. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
I am going to start things off by saying that I am not a Ricky Rubio fan in the slightest. I think he has no offensive game, and his defense will be fairly terrible in his first couple of seasons, especially when you think about all the talented and athletic point guards in the game he will have to guard like Derrick Rose, John Wall and Russell Westbrook.
However, the Timberwolves don't really play any defense anyway so he won't look as bad, and they have plenty of offensive options who should bump his assist totals. I don't think Rubio will ever be anything more than an average point guard, but he should thrive on this team.
3. Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
Williams is probably the most talented and NBA-ready player in this class. However, even though he is, he will not have the opportunities on the Timberwolves. Michael Beasley and Kevin Love are probably two of the players who could take touches away from Williams the most, and that will hurt his numbers.
2. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving was the first overall pick in the draft, and should develop into a successful pro after a shortened stint at Duke due to injuries. Kyrie is a player who should be a very solid player in the NBA, but may come up short of being a superstar. His court vision and speed looked very good at Duke, and his offensive game looked quite refined.
The question is whether Irving's game will be able to compare to the more athletic point guards in the league like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, and the answer to that is likely no. However, Irving will be an above-average starting point guard in this league for years to come.
Winner: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
Last year at UConn, Kemba was the best player on the team that won the national championship. He is a deadly scorer who has the ability to attack the basket or shoot the mid-range jumper, while also being at least a serviceable distributor for a combo guard.
The Rookie of the Year award usually goes to a player who has the most opportunity, not necessarily the player who will end up being the best NBA player.
Take a look at Charlotte's roster. Who is going to take shots away from Kemba Walker? D.J. Augustin? Corey Maggette? Those players are the past. Walker will get every opportunity to be the future in Charlotte.
In addition, Walker is a flat-out winner. Now the Charlotte Bobcats have the worst roster in the NBA, so don't expect that they will be even a decent team; they're going to be horrible. However, don't be surprised to see Charlotte win a couple of games on the back of Walker, and that should be enough to win him Rookie of the Year in a relatively weak year.
Defensive Player of the Year
5. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
Last year, Tyson Chandler was the player that put the Dallas Mavericks over the top to the championship over the Miami Heat. The Mavericks team followed Chandler's lead, and turned into a more-than-solid defensive team to go along with their overwhelming offense.
Can Chandler do the same for the Knicks? Probably not. But his impact on the New York defense will be felt, and that along with the New York media singing his praises, should be enough to get him some consideration.
4. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics for years have been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA, and this is very much because of the presence of Kevin Garnett. Even though Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and especially Rajon Rondo have developed into solid defensive players, KG is the cog that makes this defense work.
I don't think that he will be able to keep up the high level of play he has managed to maintain for so many years, but he will still receive lots of credit and deservedly so.
3. LeBron James, Miami Heat
The Miami Heat proved last year in the Eastern Conference finals that they have the ability to absolutely shut down any player in the league, even the MVP of the league. The defense has developed into one of the top in the league, and analysts will be quick to credit LeBron.
2. Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
Last year, the NBA's best defense was the Chicago Bulls. Unlike Orlando, there is no one player who "is" the defense on the Chicago Bulls; it is a team effort. However if there is one player who is a quarterback of the defense, it is Joakim Noah.
Noah's job is to read the offense, and in many cases pick up the slack of poor defensive forward Carlos Boozer. If the Bulls are able to finish with the best defense for the second year in a row, Noah should receive more consideration for the award.
Winner: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
If I am being totally honest, there is not a single player in the NBA who can compare to Dwight Howard on the defensive end. For years, he has been the whole Orlando defense, playing next to such weak defenders such as Gilbert Arenas and Rashard Lewis, while keeping the Magic as an above-average team defensively.
We do not know what is going to happen with Howard in terms of final destination this season, but we know for absolute certain that wherever he goes, that team will improve considerably on the defensive end. No matter where he ends up, I think he wins Defensive Player of the Year for a fourth straight season.
Coach of the Year
5. Rick Adelman, Minnesota Timberwolves
Rick Adelman takes over the Minnesota Timberwolves after a mismanaged reign by Kurt Rambis under GM David Kahn. Even though Kahn is still a very poor general manager, he has managed to construct a team full of assets if nothing else. The offensive options on the team include Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley and many more. Ricky Rubio, even if he is not more than an average point guard in my eyes, could be the player who ties together all of these players.
If Adelman is able to get some more wins out of this team than expected, he could receive some consideration for Coach of the Year.
4. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Tom Thibodeau was the defensive mastermind behind the best defense in the NBA last season in Chicago. More than any one player, Thibodeau's defensive schemes are key to the Chicago Bulls' success on the defensive end.
Other than Derrick Rose, Thibodeau is the most valuable person under contract with the Chicago Bulls. It's very difficult to repeat as Coach of the Year, so he probably won't win, but he deserves high praise for his coaching job once again.
3. Mike D'Antoni, New York Knicks
With the new presence of Tyson Chandler and more time to mesh offensively between Amar'e and 'Melo, the Knicks should be one of the most improved teams in the NBA this season. Even though their defense will likely be subpar for a playoff team at best, the Knicks should score a lot of points this season, more than enough to beat the average teams in the NBA.
With the improvement during the regular season along with the New York media, D'Antoni should have a resurgence in popularity, will receive consideration for Coach of the Year and probably work his way to a new contract.
2. Eric Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Coach Spoelstra received all sorts of criticism last season after the Miami Heat came up short in the NBA Finals. However, even though the Heat did not reach their full potential last year, they will likely lead the NBA in wins this year. If they do, Spoelstra should get some of the credit.
He is one of the bright, young coaches in the NBA and he deserves credit for the great job he is doing in terms of controlling egos and coming up with sets that can take advantage of both of his very similar best players. He truly is a student of the game, and I hope that he gets all the credit in the world for it, even if he does not have the name appeal of Pat Riley, who has always been mentioned to coach this team.
1. Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers
In the first round of the 2011 Eastern Conference playoffs, the Indiana Pacers put up a tough fight against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls. Even though the Bulls escaped in five games, you saw that the Pacers posed a tough matchup for the top team in basketball last season. It was a surprise to see the Pacers under Jim Vogel turn into such a better team than they had been under Jim O'Brien.
Add former All-Star power forward David West. Add former San Antonio Spurs combo guard and hometown kid George Hill. Add two inches of height on talented Pacer Paul George. Add a full season under Frank Vogel.
This team should be one of the most improved teams in basketball this season. I would not be surprised to see the Pacers transform into one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference this season. From perennial doormat into upper playoff team? That is worthy of Coach of the Year.
Most Improved Player
5. Eric Gordon, Los Angeles Clippers
Gordon is one of the most underrated scorers in the NBA as it is. Last season the fourth-year shooting guard averaged 22.3 points per game on 45 percent shooting and 36 percent from three-point land, along with 4.4 assists—pretty solid for a shooting guard.
Now that Gordon has left Blake Griffin and has a team of his own, Gordon should thrive offensively. Even though he averaged 22 last season, don't be surprised to see Gordon finish in the top five in scoring this year, even though his efficiency numbers may slip a bit.
4. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Paul George was a 6'8" shooting guard who grew this summer into a 6'10" who-knows-what. He is one of the few players in the league who could legitimately play any of shooting guard, small forward or power forward, and guard and play offense against any of them.
The fatal flaw in most 2/3's is that they do not have the height to play the 3 and they don't have the quickness to play the 2, but George is far from that. He is one of the players in the NBA who can cause the most problems for teams on offense and defense. If he can assert himself more on an up-and-coming Pacers team, he could sneak his way to Most Improved Player.
3. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
DeMar DeRozan is one of the only bright spots on an otherwise horrendous Toronto Raptors team. He is the only player on the roster who has the combination of scoring, rebounding and defense. The one weakness to his game is that he has no long-range jumper to speak of, but he gets by with his slashing.
On a team with a decreasing number of options offensively, DeRozan should get a chance to shine.
2. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
In the second round against the Chicago Bulls, Teague came in for the injured Kirk Hinrich and caused problems for league MVP Derrick Rose, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. On a team that has so many jump shooters, Teague could be the slasher who balances the team offensively.
He is not a pure point guard, and he will not get the shots that will warrant winning this award, but he will be one of the most improved players this season.
1. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the best young teams in the NBA, and are one of only three teams that I consider to be true championship contenders in the league right now. The team has two bona fide superstars in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Harden is not quite a superstar, but this season he will take the next step to borderline All-Star. His role on the team will grow by quite a bit, and I fully expect Harden to embrace his new responsibilities. After averaging about 12 points per game last season, I expect James to jump up to around 18 to 20 points per game while having a greater impact on team success.
Sixth Man of the Year
5. Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks
The Jet has been one of the premier sixth men in the NBA, and that will not change this season. However, what will change is that the Mavericks likely will not be in as many games with the departures of Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J Barea and Peja Stojakovic. The Jet will still do his thing, but it's unlikely that he will be a true contender for the award.
4. O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies
O.J. Mayo is a very solid shooting guard for the up-and-coming Memphis Grizzlies, who upset the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round last season. With the Grizzlies on the rise, more attention should be paid to Mayo. If he can come off the bench and provide some good offense for the second rotation, the former USC star should thrive.
3. Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana Pacers
Psycho T has quietly become the Tim Tebow of the NBA: Everyone doubts his chances to succeed after college based on ability, but he somehow executes anyway. Last year, despite playing only 21 minutes per game, Tyler averaged 11 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
This season, Hansbrough will play behind All-Star David West and 7'2" center Roy Hibbert, but he will still come in and play a huge role both scoring-wise and on the boards.
2. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
Taj Gibson is one of the best players drafted in the latter part of the first round in the last couple of years. On almost half of the teams in the NBA, Gibson would be a starter without a doubt. However in Chicago, Gibson is a leader of the so-called "Bench Mob," the bench rotation of the Chicago Bulls that includes Gibson, C.J Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik. That rotation is the best defensive five-man rotation in the league, largely due to Gibson.
The one thing that may keep Gibson from being a serious contender is that he is part of a rotation rather than a traditional sixth man, and that may hurt his campaign.
1. Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat
The big difference between last year's team and this year's team is that you will hopefully have a full season from Udonis Haslem, who has always been a guy who can hit that mid-range jump shot, play some defense and do the dirty work on the boards.
The Miami Heat will likely be the best team in basketball this season, and that is much more despite their bench than because of it. Over his career, Haslem has been a player who can get you about 10 and eight in his minutes, and that is exactly what Miami needs right now when Chris Bosh leaves the floor. If the Heat finish with the best record, expect Haslem to get some praise.
Most Valuable Player
5. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
Like last season, Dwight Howard will likely carry an awful team to a pretty good record and then lose in the first or second round of the playoffs; this is unless he is traded. But the media really has to remember Dwight has almost no help defensively, and limited help offensively as well.
He really is the Orlando Magic, more than any other player is his team. However, his MVP chances will continue to be limited until he can play on an elite team.
4. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Similar to Derrick Rose last season, Blake Griffin is shaping up to be the "sexy" MVP pick for sportswriters this season. He is one of the best young power forwards in the league already, and his team plays in Los Angeles, one of the major NBA markets.
However, even though the Clips picked up All-Star point guard Chris Paul, I don't expect them to finish with an elite record and absolutely not the top record in the league like D-Rose and the Bulls did last season. Because of this, I have a hard time taking Blake seriously in the MVP vote.
3. LeBron James, Miami Heat
The Miami Heat will likely finish with the best record in the NBA this season; I feel comfortable saying that. LeBron James is without a doubt the best player in the NBA right now; I also feel comfortable saying that. When those two things happen together, that player should be at least a candidate for MVP.
I still think that having two other All-Stars on the team by him will hurt 'Bron's chances greatly, but you have to take him into account at least.
2. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
There was a reason Rose won MVP last season: Outside of maybe Dwight Howard, there was no player more crucial to his team's success last season than Derrick Rose. Rose was the Chicago Bulls offense last season, and he was a key cog to the Bulls' top-rated defense as well.
The Bulls managed to finish with the best record in the league, which only cemented Rose's status as the Most Valuable Player. This year should be much of the same, but it will be very difficult for Rose to win twice in a row.
1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
The award was Durant's to lose last year to start things off, and this season will be much of the same. There is no scorer more dangerous than Kevin Durant. He manages to come at you with all sorts of different looks offensively, and he is particularly adept at drawing fouls and knocking down the free throws.
In addition, the Oklahoma City Thunder are one of only three teams that I consider to be true championship contenders this season, the other two being the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, and the Durantula is most of the reason why. If the Thunder can finish with the top seed in the Western Conference, expect Durant to be hoisting the MVP trophy at the end.