Handing out the hardware
Can LeBron James take home another NBA MVP Award?
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Predicting NBA awards a week before the season starts may seem like a silly exercise.
Unless you're good at it.
Not to toot my own horn, but before last season, I successfully predicted Paul George winning the Most Improved Player and correctly tabbed George Karl as Coach of the Year.
Those two might be the hardest two awards to prognosticate. Nailed them.
So let's give it a whirl again, although some modifications will be made.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - CODY ZELLER, CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
By now, you heard that this past draft class was a little lackluster. With that in mind, it was difficult choosing one of these guys to be the Rookie of the Year.
Last season, Damian Lillard was a trendy pick and it came to fruition.
If there is a fashionable pick this season, it's Victor Oladipo, the No. 2 overall pick by the Orlando Magic.
Sounds fine because Oladipo should see plenty of run at both guard spots, but this award might boil down to the rookie who gets the most minutes.
Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz made sense until a broken finger will cause him to miss some time.
Other than Burke, the most logical rookie to get big minutes is Zeller. He should become the starting power forward alongside Al Jefferson in Charlotte. Summer league performance generally doesn't mean a lick of spit, but Zeller was solid and somebody has to win, right?
Don't underestimate the low expectations factor for Zeller. Most thought he went way too high at No. 4, but we should never be surprised by anything Michael Jordan does. He could draft a leopard in the first round next year and most immediate thoughts would be, "not as bad as Adam Morrison."
With few thinking highly of Zeller's work, which is a shame because he showed great range and athleticism, the wow factor will work in his favor with electors.
(Here's how weak the class might just be, Zeller has yet to wrestle the starting job away from Josh McRoberts. It's that kind of year.)
Also in the Mix: OLADIPO, ORLANDO MAGIC; BURKE, UTAH JAZZ; Dark Horse: KELLY OLYNYK, BOSTON CELTICS
COACH OF THE YEAR - RICK ADELMAN, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Adelman fits a similar profile to Karl. Both won over 1,000 games and neither received this accolade. Karl took care of his end last season ... then got fired.
Adelman was on the fence about returning to Minnesota this season. His wife Mary Kay had serious medical issues last season, but her seizure condition is now in a relatively normal state.
With everything safe at home, Adelman decided to give it one more go with the Timberwolves. Last season was almost unfair for the Timberwolves. They lost 341 man games to injury, which would make me check the water in Minneapolis.
If everyone was healthy, Minny was probably a playoff contender.
"Everything just went backwards when we thought we were moving in the right direction," Adelman said at T'wolves media day. "But I think we've added some pieces this year and I'm looking forward to us making some strides ... I think we have the potential to be so much better offensively."
The Wolves will make the playoffs this season and Adelman will reap the benefits. Generally this award goes to a coach whose team wins significant more games than the season prior. Minnesota will show the biggest improvement.
Adelman will get his first, and probably only, Coach of the Year award.
Also in the Mix: FRANK VOGEL, INDIANA PACERS; DOC RIVERS, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS; MARK JACKSON, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS. Dark Horse: MIKE MALONE, SACRAMENTO KINGS
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR - ROY HIBBERT, INDIANA PACERS
After head coach Frank Vogel kept Hibbert out in the closing moments of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Pacers lost to the Heat, you can bet Hibbert will be standing in the paint from now on, matchups be damned.
And, this award will almost certainly go to a big man. It's been 10 years since a perimeter-based defender won the award. Some guy named Ron Artest, can't find anything about him anymore.
Hibbert finished fourth in the league last season in blocked shots and Indiana and Memphis were clearly the two best defensive teams in the league. The same should be the case with the Chicago Bulls in the mix as well.
That should help someone from one of those teams to win the honor.
Also in the Mix: JOAKIM NOAH, CHICAGO BULLS; MARC GASOL, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES; DWIGHT HOWARD, HOUSTON ROCKETS. Dark Horse: PAUL GEORGE, INDIANA PACERS
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR - ANDREI KIRILENKO, BROOKLYN NETS
This was the unsung move of the offseason. Brooklyn brought in three Hall of Famers, two to play and one to coach, but the Kirilenko signing might prove the most important.
And controversial considering some in the biz believe Kirilenko took some sort of off-the-books deal to help his comrade, Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of the Nets.
At 32, Kirilenko is still one of the most versatile players in the league. Last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, AK-47 averaged 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocked shots per game. That's sensational overall production.
Are the minutes there for Kirilenko with a starting five that has all been to an All-Star game? Yes, because new head coach Jason Kidd will need to limit minutes for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Plus, Kidd can play Kirilenko at the end of games if Joe Johnson is ineffective or hurt.
Also in the Mix: RAY ALLEN, MIAMI HEAT; HARRISON BARNES, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS; JARRETT JACK, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS. Dark Horse: VINCE CARTER, DALLAS MAVERICKS
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER - ANTHONY DAVIS, NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
This took one month to select. There are eight names still written on the board in my office. All are legitimate candidates and it came down to two.
The unlucky six were Bradley Beal, Jonas Valanciunas, Derrick Favors, Jimmy Butler, Ricky Rubio and Tobias Harris. Fellas, it wasn't you, it was me.
It came down to Davis and Kawhi Leonard. Seconds before typing this, Leonard was the choice based largely on the following quote:
"I think Kawhi is the new Parker, Ginobili, Duncan kind of guy. He's going to take over as the star of the show as time goes on."
The author of that quote was Gregg Popovich at Spurs media day. That's about as high praise as one can get in the NBA.
Leonard's Finals performance cemented Pop's prophesy. He averaged 14.5 ppg and 11.1 rpg and had the task of trying to stop LeBron James. Leonard registered four double-doubles, including big games in the final two.
But what swayed me to Davis is the room for growth.
Davis was good last season (13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 1.8 bpg). He played alongside Robin Lopez, but the Pelicans shipped him to Portland, so Davis is the primary big man.
New Orleans improved in the offseason and that will help Davis tremendously. Jrue Holiday is an All-Star point guard and there was once a point in time when Tyreke Evans was a good playmaker.
Davis has dazzled in the preseason and is a superstar in waiting. That leap has to come at some point, so let's bank on it coming this season.
Also in the Mix: EVERYONE LISTED ABOVE.
MVP - LEBRON JAMES
Clearly, James is the favorite to win the MVP and it's well-earned. Last season, I tabbed Kevin Durant for the honor, thinking voters might tire of voting for James.
That's one of the platonic things you have to love about James' game. He forces the writers to make him the MVP.
So, that should be the case again for 2013-14.
But that bores me. After 12 years as a golf writer, during Tiger Woods' prime, penning columns of superlatives about elite athletes makes me sleepy.
With that in mind, let's give the runner-up his due.
The Los Angeles Clippers are going to be very good this season. They should win the Pacific Division and finish with one of the top three records in the Western Conference.
Paul is someone who may not get his due for how good he truly is. Like everyone, I believed Paul to be the best point guard in the league, but it wasn't until I saw him in person that I was taken by how much of an impact he has on the game and his team.
Paul is an excellent defensive player who can cause havoc with his pressure. He's always in the top five in assists and, most importantly, he's brought a winning culture to the Los Angeles Clippers.
He will have to be better than he's ever been to supplant LeBron, but if anyone has a chance, it's Paul.