The NBA: Predicting the Individual Awards

The 2012-13 NBA season will officially start in less than two weeks! Are you ready to see if the Miami Heat can repeat? Or can the Lakers give Kobe his 6th ring? Or will Durant and Westbrook have their revenge? There are so many stories to look forward to in the upcoming season and some of them will include the Individual Awards Race (MVP, ROY, etc). With that in mind, here are predictions for this season.

KD and LBJ won a gold medal together. They will compete
for the MVP gold for the 2nd straight year
(Image by Sports Illustrated)

Most Valuable Player
The MVP can mean different things to each person. It can be the best player on the best regular season team (examples: Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki), or it can be the most dominant player in the league (Shaq, Duncan). It can be the best player on a winning team that makes everybody else better (Steve Nash) or simply the best player in the league on a winning team (Jordan, LBJ). My preferred definition of MVP borders on the best player in the league (offensively and defensively) who plays on a winning/playoff team. 

  1. LeBron James, Miami Heat | If you watched the Finals and the Olympics, you saw how dominant and talented LBJ was. He is currently the best player in the world and he had an impressive year last season with multiple awards. He is injury-free and still in the prime of his career so it's a safe bet that the MVP is a very winnable award for him again this year. LBJ can dominate both offense and defense which puts him above everybody else at this time. 
  2. Kevin Durant, OKC Thunder | He finished second last year in MVP votes and lost in the Finals. Durant shared a gold medal with LBJ and trained with him again during the off-season. KD is 4 years younger than LBJ and he will surely get his MVP once LBJ has moved on. Right now, Durant can win the MVP if the Thunder comes away with the best overall record and we see a much improved all-around game and defensive pressure from Durant.
  3. Chris Paul, LA Clippers | The best PG in the league will always be in the MVP conversation as long as the Clippers remain a playoff team. The Clippers added a bunch of new players (Hill, Crawford, Odom, Barnes, Green) and it's up to CP3 to lead this team and integrate all the players into a cohesive unit. If the Clippers become a top 3 team in the West, Paul has a shot at the MVP award. 
  4. Dwight Howard, LA Lakers | Kobe has declared that the Lakers are still his team but the best player is Howard (if healthy). Dwight can control both offense and defense which Kobe can no longer do. A bigger TV market and media attention would also definitely help Howard make a push for MVP assuming that the Lakers win the West.
  5. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets | A major accomplishment for the Nets will be to make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs and have a better record than the NY Knicks, Williams will certainly get MVP love. The Nets will also have an influx of new players (Johnson, Watson, Blatche, Evans) which gives D-Will more responsibilities and more chances of winning. 
Sleepers: Rajon Rondo, Andrew Bynum, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph, Dirk Nowitzki

Rookie of the Year
The ROY is an easier award to evaluate. It only requires that you are playing your first year in the NBA, regardless of age or professional experience overseas. The ROY generally favors the rookie with the best numbers (and most minutes) and does not put much stock into team success (Ex: Kyrie Irving). The draft class of 2012 appears to have a deep and talented bunch which does not assure that Anthony Davis wins the ROY without any competition from others. 

  1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets | The overall 1st pick will be a franchise player in the near future. Right now, he can be a decent starter where he is expected to play heavy minutes for the Hornets. Davis can shoot and he can block shots but his post game needs work and he has to bulk up more to play against stronger and bigger centers in the West. Big men also tend to develop slower than guards so having lower statistics compared to small forwards or guards could hurt him.
  2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats | MKG will get his minutes and numbers with the Bobcats. It's feasible for him to average a double-double. He is already arguably their best player on both sides of the floor. On the other hand, the Bobcats are almost assured of being the worst team in the NBA. How much of an impact (good or bad) will their record be on the minds of voters? 
  3. Harrison Barnes, Golden State WarriorsBarnes can shoot (has three-point range) and can defend against wing players with his length and athleticism. If the Warriors make the playoffs (GSW has better chances than the Hornets) and Barnes can provide decent numbers (15 ppg, 7 rpg), he can surely win ROY. Barnes can also be a playmaker with his high basketball IQ coming from playing in the North Carolina system.
  4. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers | Lillard will be the starting PG for the Blazers. He was spectacular in Summer League where he averaged 26 ppg, 4 rpg and 5 apg. He is more of a scoring guard with three-point range. His usage rate will be high which could give him an edge in overall stats. The NBA has also awarded point guards the ROY in 3 of the last 4 years. 
  5. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards | Beal is the projected starting SG for the Wizards. With John Wall missing probably a month from injury, that could mean more minutes for Beal and more shots. He can play some PG but he is more of a combo guard in the mold of an Eric Gordon. 
Sleepers: Royce White, Evan Fournier, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Ross, Thomas Robinson

Dwight Howard will hide the defensive inefficiencies
that plague Gasol, Nash and Bryant
(Image by ESPN)

Defensive Player of the Year
This awards tends to focus more on a player's numbers (rebounds, blocks and steals) instead of looking at a team's success or efficiency on the defensive side of the ball with a specific player on the court. Individual assignments or players that can "shut down" or guard opposing players with ease are often unrecognized. My predictions focus on the overall impact of a defensive player on the team's success and his effectiveness when guarding other players. 

  1. LeBron James, Miami Heat | LBJ can guard all five positions. He can rebound, block and is a monster on passing lanes. He can defend the post adequately and he can check opposing guards. Who else can do that? No one. He is the best player on offense and defense. 
  2. Dwight Howard, LA Lakers | We know he can block shots and he can rebound. The best part of having him in LA is that he can save/hide all the defensive problems that players around have him have. Gasol, Nash and Bryant can focus more energy on offense with Howard patrolling the paint.  
  3. Serge Ibaka, OKC Thunder | He led the league in blocks and was top 20 in rebounds last season. Ibaka has spectacular timing when it comes to weak side help. As a post defender, he still needs a lot of improvement.
  4. Tyson Chandler, NY Knicks | He won DPOY last year due to the improvement of the Knicks as a defensive team. It would be very hard to win again without having the personal numbers to back him up. Last year, Chandler was only top 20 in blocks and top 10 in rebounds.
  5. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics | He is a very good perimeter defender who can rebound (best rebounding PG) and gets a lot of steals. He just needs to be focused and motivated every game.
Sleepers: Dwyane Wade, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, Chris Paul, JaVale McGee

Sixth Man of the Year
This award goes to the bench player who produces the best numbers when not starting games. It looks at points per game as the best way to measure how effective a Sixth Man is to his team. 
  1. James Harden, OKC Thunder | There are only two ways Harden does not win this award: if he gets injured and misses too many games; if he is elevated into a starter role. Harden is easily a top 25 player and is definitely a starter on other teams and even on the Thunder.  
  2. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs | Manu has been missing out on this award due to missed games because of various injuries. If he stays healthy, Manu can give Harden stiff competition for this award. 
  3. Jamal Crawford, LA Clippers | All Crawford does is shoot the ball and he does it well. He has unlimited range and he can heat up in a heartbeat. He also has a fantastic crossover that frees him up for a jumper off the dribble. 
  4. Jason Terry, Boston Celtics | The Jet is a smaller version of Crawford without the same crossover. Still, Terry is pretty good at getting open and running through screens. 
  5. Ray Allen, Miami Heat | Rayray wont be starting games for the Heat. He will be their sixth man and if Allen gets his shots and his minutes, his numbers should be good enough to be considered a candidate. 
Sleepers: Thaddeus Young, MarShon Brooks, Jarrett Jack, JR Smith, Antawn Jamison

Most Improved Player
This is the hardest award to predict since there's no way for us to tell how much a role player/bench player improved his game during the summer. Sometimes, all the player needs are minutes and touches. Sometimes, a new team and coaching system helps and even an injured teammate provides added opportunities for someone else. The most basic way of finding a candidate is to see significant improvement in points scored per game. I will predict MIPs by assuming that these players will get a boost in minutes played, thus giving themselves the best chance of having better numbers than last year. 

  1. Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers | With Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams gone, Evan Turner just became the starter. The former #2 pick in the 2010 draft had averages of 9.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg in only 26 minutes. Those numbers will be easily improved with the added minutes and shots. Turner also has the talent to be an all-star in the East if he becomes a consistent player.  
  2. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors | Klay Thompson will start with Steph Curry as the back court duo of the Warriors. Klay is an excellent shooter with size and he is a more efficient scorer than Monta Ellis. He had decent numbers of 12.5 ppg with 41% shooting from threes.  
  3. Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns | Dragic is the starting PG of the Suns with Nash out of the picture. He should be able to eclispe his 12 ppg and 5 apg with the added usage and minutes. He used to back-up Nash and Kyle Lowry so he had pretty good mentors.
  4. Paul George, Indiana Pacers | George is an atletic wingman who can defend and shoot. His height and length can help him get easy buckets near the rim. He was already a starter last season when he average 12 and 6. 
  5. Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets | Faried became a starter halfway into last season. His hustle and energy delivered double-doubles and he finished the year averaging 10 and 8 even though he was undersized at PF, generously listed at 6'8". 
Sleepers: Lou Williams, OJ Mayo, Jeremy Lin, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe

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