FINALLY! Last night, the most anticipated season in NBA history kicks off as the Boston Celtics hosted the Miami Heat and their new Big Three and the Lakers got their rings before taking on the Rockets. As BSO’s resident NBA expert, I have waited months for this week, and in honor of the new NBA season I give you a three-part predictions series on what to expect this year in the East, the West, and the NBA Awards.
Without further ado, I present to you my regular season Awards predictions:
Most Improved Player:
Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Anthony Randolph (New York Knicks)
Michael Beasley (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Coming into every NBA season, there is always one player who makes a big jump in performance from the season before. Sometimes it’s a guy going from average player to star (see: Arenas, Gilbert) and sometimes it’s a guy in his contract year going from no-name player to overpaid (see: Simmons, Bobby). That being said, there are a couple of guys that can take this award this season.
Kevin Love is a player who spent the summer on a roster filled with rising stars at the World Championships and who has a skill-set that can take him to the next level as a player. Love is a beast on the boards, who has one of the best passing touches of any big man in the league already. If he can pick up his scoring, Love is an All-Star candidate this season and could make a big impact for Minnesota.
Anthony Randolph is a young guy who has all the physical tools to be a great pro. The problem for him was that he was stuck in Golden State playing under Don Nelson, and never got the chance to show what he can do. We only saw his talent in glimpses. Now that Randolph has been sent to the Knicks he will be on a team where he will get plenty of opportunities to play in a fast-paced offense and really have an impact. That is if he doesn’t get traded to Denver for Melo anytime soon.
Michael Beasley was going to be on this list, until he started talking trash to me on Twitter for saying his career wasn’t looking too hot in Minnesota, and I realized that he probably hasn’t done anything more than sulked since he got traded from Miami.
Winner: Kevin Love
Defensive Player of the Year:
Lebron James (Miami Heat)
Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics)
The DPOY is slowly becoming like the MVP award, a popularity contest that is more about the highlights than the stats. We can blame this partly on the fact that ESPN shows us every single fast-break block that Lebron James has, but doesn’t show us all the times he misses going for steals and puts his team in a bad position. Regardless, it is an award that is highly-regarded by most players.
You can’t start a conversation about candidates for DPOY without mentioning the man who has won the past two, Dwight Howard. Using his unbelievable strength to grab boards and his even more unbelievable leaping ability to alter any shot that comes his way in the paint, Howard has become a monster defensive presence for Orlando. But like the MVP award, voters tend to get bored giving the same award to one guy year in and year out, otherwise Michael Jordan would have had 10 MVP’s. Howard will need some superhuman numbers to win the award for a third straight season.
Speaking of superhuman, if you only watched SportsCenter highlights you would think that Lebron is a defensive monster who swats every fast-break shot that he sees. But the reality is, Lebron is a good defender, but not great. However because he is Lebron James, and because we will see him in those highlights, he will definitely be a candidate for the award. James does play good one-on-one defense and because of his size and strength is able to lockdown most players in the league.
My dark horse pick in this whole thing is Rajon Rondo of the Celtics. Rondo plays for a defensive-minded squad who wins game because they can shut down opponents, not because they outscore them. With his speed and length, Rondo is a threat to steal the ball every time down, and with so many great guards in the league today, a couple of big defensive games against guys like Derrick Rose and Deron Williams could catapult Rondo into the front-running for the award.
Winner: Rajon Rondo
Rookie of the Year:
John Wall (Washington Wizards)
Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers)
Demarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)
What will probably be the most competitive award race this season, and that’s saying something with all the MVP candidates we have, is the Rookie of the Year award. This year presents a rare case where we will have two number one picks in their rookie seasons because of Blake Griffins knee injury last year. The ROY race will fun to watch all season.
The 2009 number one overall pick, Blake Griffin will make his long awaited debut FINALLY this season after sitting out all of last year dealing with a knee injury, also known as the Clipper curse. With his blend of strength, speed and hops, Griffin will be a human highlight reel on the fast-break and an instant top-10 power forward in the league. Because team success isn’t very key to this award, Griffin will not have to worry about being a Clipper for once. The only thing that could hinder him is Baron Davis, if he decides to turn into Me-First BD, then Griffin will get less touches than the other candidates and could fade in this race.
This years number one overall pick is one of the most exciting players to enter the league in recent memory. If you haven’t watched John Wall yet, do yourself a favor and tune into the Wizards this season. Wall brings unbelievable athleticism to the point guard position, and also will instantly be a top-10 point man who will give the Wizards a mismatch on most nights. Like Griffin, Wall has a teammate who could hinder him this season, Gilbert Arenas. If the Wiz aren’t able to ship Arenas out, he is a head-case who could go into a mode where he blocks out Wall altogether. It will be interesting to see how those two play together this season.
The dark horse candidate for ROY is a guy who dropped in the draft because of attitude concerns, DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins was a unanimous top-three talent in the draft, and some scouts even said he was the most talented player to come out of college. But his work ethic and mental attitude caused him to fall to the Kings, who will be looking to have their second consecutive Rookie of the Year. Unlike Wall and Griffin, Cousins could excel with the help of Tyreke Evans, the reigning ROY has the ability to make Cousins the favorite for this award.
Winner: John Wall
Most Valuable Player:
Lebron James (Miami Heat)
Kevin Durant (OKC Thunder)
Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers)
And now to the biggest individual award of them all (in the preseason at least), the Most Valuable Player award. While this is a huge honor for anyone who wins it, this award has slowly become a popularity contest, often times going to the best player on the best team rather than the best overall player. As mentioned earlier, if this award really went to the Most Valuable Player, nobody not named Michael Jordan would have won it in the 90s, you know when Jordan wasn’t playing baseball. That being said, this years award could signify a number of different things depending on who wins it.
The first person to talk about is the man who has won the last two MVP awards, Lebron James. This year could prove to be the toughest yet for James to win the award, and should he win it it will no doubt be earned. Since his “Decision” James has quickly become the most hated player in the NBA. With his popularity down, it will be hard for James to get votes from those who choose the winner of this award. Especially since he’s won the past two. James will need to post some ridiculous numbers to win this award. And the fact that his numbers from the past two seasons have been nothing short of unbelievable, shows you just how hard it will be for James to win it.
The player who seems to be the consensus pick to win the award is the reigning scoring champ and everyones new favorite player, Kevin Durant. Durant had one hell of a year, averaging over 30 points a game last season, becoming the youngest scoring champ ever, and carrying his Thunder to their first playoff birth since moving to OKC. He capped off that impressive NBA season by leading Team USA to Gold at the World Championships, and cementing himself as one of the top five players in the game today. Durant is only getting better at scoring, and 35+ points a game this season is not out of the question. Should Durant put up those type of scoring numbers and carry the Thunder to a top-3 seed in the West, it will be hard to keep him from winning the award.
But should Durant’s Thunder team falter in a stacked West under heavier expectations, the man who stands to gain the most is Kobe Bryant. What a run Bryant has had in the past three seasons. Three Finals appearances, two championships, two Finals MVP’s, a regular season MVP and a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. Add that to the fact that his popularity skyrocketed even more after James left the Cavs for Miami, and Kobe is currently living on top of the NBA world. With James needing to average close to a triple-double and his Heat needing to get close to 70 wins just to make him a favorite for the award, Kobe automatically becomes a top-two candidate for the award. If the Thunder struggle this season and don’t make much of a leap in the standings, Durant’s aspirations could take a hit as well. And if Kobe can keep the Lakers at the top of the West and over 60 wins again, it will be hard to stop Black Mamba from getting his second MVP award.
All that being said, too many is for Bryant to take the award, and I don’t think Durant and the Thunder have anywhere to go but up from here.
Winner: Kevin Durant