With the NBA season less than a week away, it is an appropriate time to predict the yearly award winners for the six major NBA Awards. Each year analysts attempt to predict who will take home the awards prior to the start of the season. This task, though fun, is extremely difficult and many picks turn out to be incorrect due to a variety of factors. A lot can change over the course of a full 82 game NBA season. Injuries occur, teams fail to meet expectations, other players step up and perform better than had been anticipated. With this in mind, let’s take a look at my predictions for who will take home the awards this upcoming season.
Most Improved Player of the Year
For the last two seasons, Eric Bledsoe had been the back up point guard for Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers. Bledsoe excelled in this role by providing a spark off the bench and was given the keys to offense for the Clippers’ second unit. The twenty-three year old Kentucky product averaged a modest 8.5 PPG last season, but showed glimpses of his potential throughout the entire year. The young point guard shot 40% from behind the arc and 45% from the field while averaging nearly four assists.
An offseason trade sent Bledsoe to the Phoenix Suns, where he will immediately step in and be the focal point of their offensive attack. The run and gun style offense perfectly suits Bledsoe’s speed and athleticism. As a team, the Phoenix Suns will finish towards the bottom of the Western Conference, but with no real leaders on offense aside from himself, Bledsoe’s numbers will significantly rise with the increase in playing time. Bledsoe has the potential to average fifteen points per game and be among the leaders in assists and steals this season. For this reason, Eric Bledsoe will have a break out season and take home the Most Improved Player Award.
Competition for the Award: Evan Turner, Anthony Davis, Nikola Vucevic
Sixth Man of the Year Award
The winner of the Sixth Man of the Year Award will be a member of the Golden State Warriors this season. However, the winner of this award will depend on if head coach Mark Jackson decides to bring Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes off the bench. With the addition of Andre Iguodala, the Warriors will now have to decide whether Thompson should play the shooting guard position along with Iguodala at the three, or move Iguodala to the two guard and play Barnes at the three. Either one of these line ups will be scary good for the Warriors and will leave the “loser” of the position battle to dominate off the bench.
Overshadowed by teammate Steph Curry’s shooting performance, Klay Thompson made up the other half of the SplashBrothers. Thompson averaged close to seventeen points for the Warriors last season. He finished third in the league with 211 three pointers made and shot 40% from behind the arc in just his second season. Early reports from the Warriors camp is that Thompson is embracing the opportunity to be the sixth man. He would provide instant offense off the bench for this team on a nightly basis with his ability to hit the three ball and convert on mid range jumpers in the pick and roll game. If Thompson does come off the bench for the Warriors, he could put up James Harden type numbers from a few years ago, which would make him the front runner for the award.
In Harrison Barnes’ rookie season, the twenty-one year old struggled early on to consistently convert jump shot opportunities. As the year went on, he became more comfortable with his role and showed why he was deserving of being a lottery pick in the 2012 draft. By year’s end, Barnes finished with a scoring average of nine points per game. Coming off the bench could benefit the second year man out of North Carolina by allowing him to be the focal point a the second unit that saw Jarrett and Carl Landry depart this offseason. Barnes’ athleticism and ability to get into the lane can create easy opportunities for him to score as well as hitting the three ball. Barnes has the potential to put up big numbers off the bench for this team.
Contenders for the Award: J.R Smith, Danny Granger, Manu Ginobli
Defensive Player of the Year
The 2013-2014 season will finally be the year when Lebron James rightfully wins the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Last season, many felt that James had been robbed of the award when voters selected Memphis center Marc Gasol as the winner of the award.
Let’s just get this out of the way now by saying that Lebron James is the best player on the planet, and it’s not even a close race. All the talk about Lebron is about his dominance on the offensive end of the court with his emphatic dunks, ability to finish in the lane, play in the post, and shoot from deep. Put those together with his speed and court vision, and you have one freakishly athletic, dominant scorer.
Lebron’s defense, however, is almost just as good as his offensive game and is sometimes overlooked and undervalued. Heading into his eleventh season, Lebron has finished in the top ten in steals six times. He has established himself as a top-notch perimeter defender and guards the passing lanes extremely well for a guy his size. Keep in mind that the chase down block on a fast break has been named after this man as well. James has also finished in the top ten in Defensive Win Shares for six consecutive seasons. Defensive Win Shares are an advanced analytical statistic that is valued greatly among NBA executives. Statistically speaking, Lebron is a beast defensively and is one of the best in the NBA. This upcoming season will be the year Lebron is finally recognized for his defensive accomplishments.
Contenders for the Award: Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Chris Paul
Coach of the Year
Since taking over the Indiana Pacers in 2010, Frank Vogel has transformed this team into an Eastern Conference powerhouse that could unseat the Miami Heat this season. In each of the last two years, the Pacers have given the Heat a run for their money in the playoffs including a seven game series in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The Indiana Pacers have flourished in Vogel’s defensive scheme over the last few seasons. This year, with Roy Hibbert manning the paint and Paul George guarding the perimeter, the Pacers could repeat last year’s defensive excellence. Indiana ranked second in the league holding opponents to 90 points per game. The problem for the Pacers has been scoring the basketball consistently. New additions Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, along with the return of a healthy Danny Granger, should improve the team’s offense. Now loaded with a new offensive attack and a stellar defense, Vogel will coach the Pacers to a top record in the Eastern Conference and take home his first Coach of the Year Award.
Contenders for the Award: Doc Rivers, Scott Brooks, Kevin McHale, Mark Jackson
Rookie of the Year
The Rookie of the Year Award is the most difficult to predict in part because it is tricky to figure out which rookies will play significant minutes and how their game will translate in to the NBA. With that said, Victor Oladipo, the second overall pick of the Orlando Magic, will take home the award. The Magic will give him every opportunity to play and develop this year since the team is playing for the future.
Victor Oladipo is a talented wingman who can score in a variety of ways. During his tenure at Indiana University, Oladipo showed that he could penetrate the lane for easy buckets and step outside to hit a jump shot throughout the course of a game. The Orlando Magic desperately need offensive production from the wing position this season to go along with third year man Tobias Harris and center Nikola Vucevic. These three could make a very formidable big three in the future. Oladipo will also have the opportunity to run the offense at the point guard position as well. The team decided to try it out in the summer league and Oladipo thrived in the role. Through five preseason games, the rookie has averaged 11.6 PPG and 3.5 APG.
Oladipo is known to be an outstanding perimeter defender as well. With the combination of his offense and defense, the rookie will see plenty of playing time. Oladipo will be a leader offensively for this team and put up modest numbers of 15 PPG and 5 APG for the Magic this upcoming season, which will earn him the honor of being the Rookie of the Year.
Contenders for the Award: Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr.
Most Valuable Player
After three consecutive years of finishing second in the Most Valuable Player voting, Kevin Durant will overtake Lebron James as the MVP of the league. Durant, who had voiced his displeasure of constantly finishing second to Lebron earlier this offseason in a Sports Illustrated article, has the chance to show the league that he can be just as dominant as Lebron James.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook will be out for the first few weeks of the season, or perhaps longer, as he attempts to recover from a knee injury he suffered last year. Combine that with the loss of Kevin Martin, and suddenly the Thunder are missing a big part of their offense. Kevin Durant will have to step up for this team in Westbrook’s absence to shoulder the offensive load for Oklahoma City.
Look for Durant to have the ball in his hands a lot more this year, and attempt to play more as a point-forward for this team. It will be his responsibility to score and make plays to set up easy buckets for players like Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb. No player in the NBA has a higher scoring average than Kevin Durant over the last four seasons. The four-time All-Star has shot the ball with video game like efficiency over the last few years, including last year when he became just the sixth player in NBA history to join the 50-40-90 club by shooting 50% from the field, 40% from behind the arc, and 90% from the free throw line. Durant is capable of scoring 40 points or more on any given night and will do so often this year for the Thunder.
While it is true that Lebron James will put up similar or better numbers for the Heat next season, James will have more help than Durant. Miami is loaded with talent from top to bottom. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh will provide scoring help in the starting line up while Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and other talented players will come off the bench.
There’s no doubt that Lebron will be the best player in the league once again next year, and is rightly considered the favorite to win the MVP by many executives around the league, but if Lebron were to miss time for the Heat, the team would be able to sustain the loss until he returned because of Wade and Bosh. Durant will not have the luxury of having his All-Star point guard playing along side him for most of the year against the loaded Western Conference. If Durant were to miss time, the Thunder would be in serious trouble. That is why Kevin Durant will be the Most Valuable Player to his team and in the league this season over Lebron James.
Contenders for the Award: Lebron James, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Paul George
Well there you have it folks, the predictions for the 2013-2014 NBA regular season awards. We will revisit these predictions during the All-Star break and see how they are holding up. Until then, feel free to share your own opinion and predictions on the award winners for this upcoming season.