The new season is finally here! Now we finally get to see the return of D-Rose with the Bulls, how Dwight Howard will mesh with James Harden in Houston, and whether or not the Miami Heat have the ability to three peat. While every NBA fan waits for big moments from every exciting team, they also are curious about who will be this season’s Most Valuable Player or who’s going to be this year’s Rookie of the Year. For the purposes of this article, I will list my predictions for the winners of this year’s NBA awards.
Most Improved Player: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs G/F
Kawhi Leonard’s impact in last year’s NBA playoffs was enormous for the Spurs. In 21 playoff games, Leonard averaged 13.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 54.5% from the floor and 39% from three-point range. In addition, he was tasked with guarding LeBron James during the Finals, a task daunting even for NBA veterans. How’d he do? He managed to hold LeBron to just 45% from the field down from his regular season average of 57%. Also, Kawhi has had the privilege of starting his career with a first-class organization that seriously contends for the title every single year with some unselfish veterans (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker) and one of the greatest coaches in NBA history (Greg Popovich), so he’s had just the right leadership from day one to get him started as a rising star in the NBA.
Last year, Kawhi Leonard averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game in just 27 minutes of play per game. This season, with his supporting cast getting older and unable to play the same kind of minutes that they used to, we will see Kawhi average at least 32 minutes per game, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Pop played him more than 36 minutes per game. Given his added minutes and the natural decline of the veteran cast around him, Kawhi will be able to average somewhere around 19 points and 7 rebounds a game while playing excellent defense, making him possibly a sleeper All-Star candidate.
Honorable mentions: Jimmy “Buckets” Butler, Iman Shumpert, Anthony Davis
Coach of the Year: Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
This man has led his team to two consecutive NBA titles while coaching a number of big egos. Some may argue that he has been blessed with a fantastic roster, but you can tell with his rotations and crunch time lineups how much this man knows about the game of basketball. I know he has a four-time MVP on his roster, but no single player is good enough to lead a team to a 27-game winning streak. That takes coaching.
In addition, the Miami Heat have a lot of older players on their roster. Battier is 35 years old, Rashard Lewis is 34 years old, Ray Allen is 38 and Udonis Haslem is 33. Managing minutes for all those guys and still getting a ton of production out of them is no simple task, and I think Spoelstra doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it. Also, if you discount his achievements as a coach because of the amazing talent he has around him, then you would have to discount the achievements of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Greg Popovich. He deserved this award last year, and he should finally get it this year.
Honorable mentions: Mark Jackson, Greg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau
Sixth Man of the Year: Jarrett Jack, Cleveland Cavaliers G
He finished third in this award last season with the Golden State Warriors, averaging 12.9 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 45% from the floor and 40% from three-point range playing alongside Steph Curry, one of the elite point guards in the NBA. Now he’s in Cleveland playing with Kyrie Irving, also on the list of elite point guards. He’s not great on defense, but his unselfishness, explosiveness, and ability to make big time buckets will make him an incredibly important veteran contributor to a very young Cleveland Cavaliers team.
Honorable mentions: J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Tyreke Evans
Defensive Player of the Year: LeBron James, Miami Heat F
Everyone knows it; LeBron is probably the best all-around defensive player since Scottie Pippen. He can guard 7-foot power forwards and 6-foot point guards with relative ease and is always the player you want defending your opponent’s best player, regardless of position. This defensive dominance is nothing new for LeBron James: since the 2007-2008 season, James has averaged at least six defensive rebounds and 1.5 steals per game and has racked up 30.8 defensive win shares. That’s more defensive win shares in that span than Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, and Kevin Garnett, all of whom have won defensive player of the year at least once since the 2007-2008 season. All of those players are big men as well, and would never find themselves guarding someone like Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, or Kobe Bryant.
It seems pretty obvious that LeBron should win this award at some point in his career, but his consistent MVP candidacy probably creates a certain level of voter fatigue, since many of the voters probably want to give somebody else a chance to win other awards. That said, I think this is his year to finally win this award and receive validation for his unrivaled defensive talent, effort, and versatility.
Honorable mentions: Dwight Howard, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Roy Hibbert
Executive of the Year: Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets
This award is more about how he was able to build this team over the last couple of years as opposed to just in the offseason. Before the 2012-2013 season, the Houston Rockets made some pretty significant and (expensive) changes to their roster. The signed Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik to pretty large contracts and made a trade for James Harden, who was seeking a large contract extension. The Rockets ending up being a playoff team last season and also one of the more fun teams to watch. Everyone was talking about the emergence of Asik as a legitimate starting big man in the NBA as well as Harden’s growth from Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 to All-Star and possible future MVP candidate in 2013. In addition, the Rockets also had several other young players that were very productive last year, including Chandler Parsons, Greg Smith, and Donatas Motiejunas.
Last summer? Morey managed to bag the hottest free agent on the market: seven time All-Star and three time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. The Rockets managed to sign Howard to a max contract while keeping Lin, Asik, and Harden. The rest of the offseason acquisitions were not major players, but solid role players who can help propel this team to Championship status (Omri Casspi, Terrence Jones, Francisco Garcia, Ronnie Brewer). Morey turned this team from a first-round exit team to a legitimate contender and has managed to work around the cap to maintain two top ten players and multiple other productive players.
Honorable mentions: Masai Ujiri (Toronto), Joe Dumars (Detroit), Larry Bird (Indiana)
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic G
The Rookie of the Year award is often argued about constantly because of how we evaluate rookies. More often than not, the award goes to a player drafted by a lottery team who puts up great individual statistics on a team that remains in the lottery for the next season. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Kyrie Irving in 2011 with the #1 overall pick, he won ROY the next season, and then the Cavaliers had two consecutive years with a top five pick. In that same 2011 draft, the Denver Nuggets drafted Kenneth Faried with the 22nd overall pick. Faried ended up starting for the Nuggets for 39 games averaging ten points and eight rebounds per game in just 23 minutes of play. Faried ended up finishing 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting, but many argued that since his team ended up incorporating him into the system properly and making the playoffs with him as a key contributor that he should have won over Irving, who played very well but could not really elevate his team to the playoffs or anything close to that.
It’s not fair to evaluate the value of a rookie by how well he plays for a playoff team, because in the NBA playoff teams normally stay playoff teams for a couple of years. Norris Cole was a great rookie addition to the heat during the 2011-2012 season, but he knew he wasn’t getting the ball in big situations nor was he going to have the opportunity to play more than 30 minutes a game too often. I think the type of rookie that shows elite talent early on while playing for a lousy team should win the award, which is why Victor Oladipo will win the award this year.
Last season, the Orlando Magic were an absolute disaster. They ended the season with the worst record in the NBA and took a very long time to find a starting lineup that made any sense. After the Dwight Howard trade, the Magic had entered full rebuild mode, which was obvious because of how terrible they looked last year. They didn’t have any real star players, Hedo Turkoglu missed most of the season with a suspension for using PEDs, Al Harrington and Glen Davis missed almost the entire season, and they traded J.J. Redick mid-season just so that they could get some value for his contract in Beno Udrih (expiring deal) and a promising young player in Tobias Harris. Oladipo is currently coming off the bench for this team, but you can tell already in this season that Oladipo is making a pretty significant impact. Of all the players in the 2013 draft, Oladipo has the highest ceiling, and the Orlando Magic present him with a wonderful opportunity to become one of the best shooting guards in the league.
Honorable mentions: Cody Zeller, C.J. McCollum, Ben McLemore
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Miami Heat F
This may seem like the easy pick, but it might be the easiest pick of all these awards. LeBron hasn’t just been great over the past few years; he’s been historically great. LeBron has led the league in PER for the past six seasons and total win shares for the past five. Player rating differential (offensive rating minus defensive rating) has been stellar in his time with the Heat and was at its highest last season at +24, meaning the team was about 24 points better per game whenever LeBron was on the floor. He is the only player to have won MVP four times in five seasons, and one of only five players ever to win the award four times at all. The other four? Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan. That’s right. LeBron has more MVP awards than Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Oscar Robertson, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Hakeem Olajuwon.
The award this year isn’t so much about LeBron, but more about his competition. Derrick Rose, the only player to have been named MVP other than lebron since before the 2008-2009 season, is finally returning to the court. James Harden and Paul George are budding into superstars on contending teams. Kevin Durant has proven himself to be an MVP level player for the past four seasons. Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the league and has turned a pathetic Clippers team into a Championship contender. Carmelo Anthony led the league in scoring last year and is one of the most clutch shooters in the league. LeBron has his fair share of competition, but none of them have the same all-around impact on a game. Some can score more than James, but can’t defend as well. Some can play great defense, but can’t pass as effectively. Some can make clutch shots in high pressure games, but can’t pass out of the double team. The fact of the matter is that the Most Valuable Player award should go to the best player in the league each year, and there is no doubt right now that LeBron is the best all-around player in the league.