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Predicting The Major NBA Awards — Part 1
Posted By Moke Hamilton On September 27, 2013 @ 9:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The 2010-11 NBA season shall remain the primary exhibit of why the game needs to be played.
After LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, the HEAT were expected to dominate. Absolutely nobody expected Derrick Rose to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record and become the youngest MVP in league history.
That year, nobody had Dirk Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks besting the star-studded HEAT in the NBA Finals.
Last season’s meteoric ascent by the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol earning the honor of being named the Defensive Player of the Year are only the most recent examples of not counting eggs, or awards, before they hatch.
So with NBA training camps rapidly approaching, in the first of this two part installment, HOOPSWORLD takes a very early look at some of the candidates that may emerge for this season’s end of year awards.
Rookie of the Year
Last season’s Rookie of the Year taught us to expect the unexpected. Damian Lillard won the award, despite many believing that Anthony Davis would easily emerge as the top rookie. Lillard—the sixth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft—also beat out Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond. That Lillard was able to effectively manage the Portland Trail Blazers’ offense as a rookie was especially impressive. He received all 121 first-place votes and deservedly so.
This season, a sweep of all of the votes may not be as likely, but there are three rookies who are likely to split the gross majority of them.
3. Kelly Olynyk (C, Boston Celtics): With the Celtics in all-out rebuild mode, Olynyk perhaps represents one of the first building blocks for the future. With an overall dearth of offensive firepower after Jeff Green and a hole in the middle that only gets bigger with the absence of Kevin Garnett, Olynyk should have plenty of opportunities to play and learn. Better yet for him, there are no immediate expectations for the Celtics to rise above the fray in the Atlantic Division. That is a formula for success for most rookies.
2. Victor Oladipo (SG, Orlando Magic): Year two after Dwight Howard’s departure is set to begin in Orlando after impressive output by both Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic last season. Oladipo may not be a complete offensive weapon, but he is a tenacious defender and a hard worker. His explosive athleticism and slashing ability will come in handy for head coach Jacque Vaughn. Oladipo should have little difficulty being productive in the NBA, and with a rebuilding team that wants to see what it has in its young guard, he will have opportunity to show his stuff. For a rookie, that is half the battle.
1. Trey Burke (PG, Utah Jazz): Like Lillard last year, Burke is walking into a situation that is good for a rookie point guard. With the departure of Mo Williams, the way has been cleared for him to assume ownership of the Jazz’s offense. He will join a core that includes Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward. Surprises happen fairly often in the NBA, but for now, it certainly seems as though the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Award is Burke’s to lose. His minuscule stature is a bit disconcerting, but Burke is roughly the same size as Kyrie Irving, and he does not seem to be having much of a problem excelling in the NBA. His poor performance during Summer League play will be a distant memory by Thanksgiving.
Defensive Player of the Year
Of all the awards, the Defensive Player of the Year may be the most difficult to predict. Although the league’s statistical revolution has heavily benefited the ability to measure a player’s offensive efficiency, there is still a major gap at it relates to measuring defensive effectiveness. Forced misses and deflections are still not official statistics, for example.
So, as a result, there is no quantifiable metric upon which one can defend a vote. It often boils down to the “eyeball test.” Dubbing a particular player a defensive juggernaut is often a subjective exercise.
But objectively, there are a few players whose defensive abilities stand out.
3. Kawhi Leonard (SF, San Antonio Spurs): In last year’s NBA Finals, Leonard impressed everyone with his poise and calm demeanor. His offensive contributions during the Finals, though, actually overshadowed the brilliant job he did guarding LeBron James during the series. Like one of his predecessors, Bruce Bowen, Leonard is supremely disciplined on the defensive end. Athletically, he is superior to a great many small forward in the league and has abnormally large hands and long arms. In short, he has everything necessary to be a top defender. After opening everyone’s eyes last season, the public will be watching.
2. Dwight Howard (C, Houston Rockets): It is easy to forget how dominant of a defensive force Howard can be when he is fully healthy. Remember, he won three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2009 to 2011. This season, he will probably have a renewed focus after spending an utterly forgettable year as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. There certainly is a reason why quite a few teams put themselves in position to bid on Howard’s services this past season. Though his offensive fluidity and repertoire have increased significantly since entering the league, he is still miles ahead as a defender. Howard wants to prove his critics wrong, so it should not shock anyone to see him apply himself anew this season.
1. Tony Allen (SG, Memphis Grizzlies): If not for Allen’s contributions on the defensive end, the Boston Celtic may not have won the 2008 NBA Championship. Despite being widely regarded as perhaps the top defender in the league, Allen has never won the award. Surprisingly, his teammate Marc Gasol won that honor last year. The odds of teammates winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in two consecutive years seems remote, but if there ever was a time it would happen, it is probably now. Allen is a major catalyst for the Grizzlies on the defensive end, and we have seen one defensive culture-changer in Tyson Chandler win the award already. Allen is due.
Sixth Man of the Year
Since the NBA began anointing a Sixth Man of the Year following the 1982-83 season, only two men have won the award in consecutive years: Kevin McHale (1983-85) and Detlef Schrempf (1990-92). Even without considering his recent knee surgery, that makes the odds of a repeat for the New York Knicks’ J.R. Smith quite slim. Smith enjoyed the best season of his career last year and was integral in the Knicks capturing their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. While he is perfectly capable of joining McHale and Schrempf as back-to-back award winners, the odds do not favor it.
3. Jamal Crawford (SG, Los Angeles Clippers): After winning the Sixth Man of the Year award back in 2010 as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, Crawford came quite close to winning the award for a second time last season, but was ultimately bested by J.R. Smith. One thing that has become quite clear with Crawford, though, is that he is a deadly scorer who can put the ball in the basket just as effectively off the bench as he can as a starter. Ultimately, head coach Doc Rivers must decide whether to install J.J. Redick or Crawford as the starter, but if Crawford is brought off the bench, he will continue to be one of the top reserve scorers in the league and will likely earn consideration for that honor once again.
2. Harrison Barnes (SF, Golden State Warriors): The acquisition of Iguodala by the Warriors raises questions as to Barnes’ immediate future with the organization. With his size, he can play either forward position and if he can be productive playing off of the bench, Barnes may emerge as one of the favorites for the Sixth Man of the Year award. After an impressive run in last season’s playoffs, Barnes seemed poised to make a leap in his second season, but after the franchise’s surprising acquisition of Iguodala, Barnes is likely to head to the bench. If so, he will certainly be one of the more adequate sixth men in the entire league.
1. Jarrett Jack (PG, Cleveland Cavaliers): As a member of the Golden State Warriors last season, Jack excelled playing as a reserve combo guard. He came in third place last season in Sixth Man of the Year voting, finishing behind J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, respectively. If the Cavaliers are to be as successful this season as many expect, Jack will be instrumental. He should quickly emerge as one of the most important rotation players at Mike Brown’s disposal and should mesh quite well with Kyrie Irving. Although he will be a reserve, he will play a starter’s minutes and that ultimately helps his quest to be named the league’s top reserve.
Most Improved Player
Paul George of the Indiana Pacers became a household name during last season and when it was all said and done, the 23-year-old was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player for 2012-13. For George, the route to the award was aided by the extended absence of Danny Granger and that underscores what the eventual winner of this award needs: opportunity.
With a number of teams blowing things up this past offseason, there will be quite a few young, talented players across the league being given additional responsibility on their respective teams.
3. Derrick Favors (PF, Utah Jazz): Favors is finally in the driver’s seat in Utah. The Jazz have an impressive core of youngsters and Favors will likely be the primary offensive weapon for the team. With Al Jefferson in Charlotte and Paul Millsap in Atlanta, Favors will form the frontline of the future in Utah with Enes Kanter. If he can fulfill the potential that current Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King saw in him when he selected Favors with the third overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft, he may rise up this season.
2. Nikola Vucevic (C, Orlando Magic): At this point, it is interesting to note the ridicule that Magic general manager Rob Hennigan came under for the package he received in return for Dwight Howard. After just one season, Vucevic has already been especially impressive. He played very well last season, but could not best the deserving Paul George of the Indiana Pacers for the Most Improved Player award. Whether or not he can actually raise his game another level remains to be seen, but after what he showed last season, it certainly would not be surprising. As one of the unquestioned building blocks of the Magic moving forward, Vucevic’s stock should continue to rise.
1. Eric Bledsoe (PG, Phoenix Suns): After spending the first three years of his career playing somewhat sparingly, Bledsoe became one of the most coveted prospects across the league. Despite his somewhat pedestrian career averages of 6.7 points, 2.6 rebounds and three assists, the Los Angeles Clippers feared that Bledsoe would attract too rich of an offer as a restricted free agent. After re-signing Chris Paul and investing heavily in Doc Rivers, the Clippers were proactive with regard to Bledsoe. Now, with a new lease on life, he will head to Phoenix and, as a member of the Suns, be counted on to be a solid building block for the future.
And of course, the future is what NBA fans are looking forward. With preseason hoops just over two weeks away, some of the persisting questions that the NBA universe has will begin their season-long process of becoming answered.
Part two of this two-part awards preview will be published on Sunday. Check back for Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, Scoring Leader and Most Valuable Player.
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