Rookie Of The Year
This is a toss-up. With one of the most hyped rookie classes in recent memory, the league enjoyed an influx of ready-to-play talent. Two big-time contenders for the Rookie Of The Year Award come from this year's class (Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith), while a third (Ben Simmons) was drafted the year prior. Simmons is eligible for the honor based upon his lack of participation a season ago.
Ball won't put up gaudy stats -- an aspect usually integral in winning the award. If he leads the Lakers to the playoffs, averaging somewhere in the 14-9-6 range, we may have a different story. However, Smith will be given the keys to the Dallas car from the start. A high-volume scorer, it'd be a surprise to see him not average at least 17 points a contest. Smith has the explosion and fearlessness to be a dominant player in this league from the start.
Most Improved Player
As is the case with every single award within the piece, we're projecting a bit. The Summer League isn't the greatest barometer for success within the NBA, but we sure liked what we saw from Brandon Ingram. In only one appearance for the Lakers' squad, he scored 26 points before bowing out with a cramp issue. Ingram averaged a modest 9.4 PPG on 40.2-percent from the floor as a rookie. He endured a rough first couple of months -- as he was routinely pushed around due to his slight frame. However, as the season progressed, one saw Ingram's confidence grow in a big way.
There were glimpses of the playmaker Ingram may eventually develop into. In the summer league, we saw a much more aggressive player from a year ago. The former Duke star also displayed an improved physique -- with notable gains in both strength and muscle. Ball's ability to pass the ball will make Ingram's life much easier heading into his sophomore campaign. Conventional wisdom suggests a sizable leap-up from year one to year two. With all of the factors trending in Ingram's direction, look for him to become the go-to man within Luke Walton's team.
Sixth Man Of The Year
Usual suspects Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams are now in new situations. Crawford will be asked to shoulder the load for the barren Minnesota bench -- whilst Williams could be forced into a starting role with the Clippers (should Austin Rivers fail to perform well). Reigning Sixth Man Of The Year Eric Gordon will be back yet again to pile up the numbers in D'Antoni's free-flowing offensive scheme.
While the trio listed above are the big-time favorites for the award, we will go out on a limb and predict that Will "The Thrill" Barton will come away with the upset victory. The 6'6" swingman averaged 17.3 PPG per 36 minutes last year. It's a rather impressive total -- considering he shares minutes in a crowded Denver backcourt featuring Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, and Jamal Murray.
The addition of Paul Millsap and the emergence of Nikola Jokic should force the opposition to throw extra bodies in the post on occasion. During these instances in which double-teams and help-side coverages are utilized, the perimeter will be opened up. One should also take into account that Barton will be a free agent next season. As we see on an annual basis, those playing in a contract year usually put up numbers above their career averages.
Coach Of The Year
Since the 1999-2000 season, only two coaches (Doc Rivers, Sam Mitchell) have won the award with their respective teams winning less than 50 games. We expect this trend to subside a bit heading into the 2017-18 year. We like Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone as a potential candidate. The Nuggets increased their win total from 33 to 40 in Malone's two years with the franchise. He's known as an excellent x's-and-o's head coach, and has plenty of young talent to work with.
Additionally, we have mainstays such as Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, and Mike D'Antoni (among others). It wouldn't be a shock to see any of the aforementioned quartet win the award. As is the case with Carlisle, leading the baby Mavs to the playoffs would certainly be compelling. However, we see Tom Thibodeau ultimately garnering the status of Coach Of The Year.
Minnesota has not been to the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. It's been an abysmal run of dysfunction and sheer ineptness. Though the Timberwolves went 31-51 a year ago, the team has two true building blocks in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Duly, Thibodeau went out this offseason and acquired the likes of Jimmy Butler, Jamal Crawford, and Jeff Teague. Coupled with the fact that the Wolves have a year of "Thibodeau tutelage" under its collective belt, the team is primed to snag one of the eight postseason slots.
Most Valuable Player
The usual cast of characters will yet again comprise the MVP pool. This includes the core group of LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden. One new entry into the mix could be Kyrie Irving -- though we have some doubts over whether he can effectively lead a team to greatness as the No. 1 option.
James could have a Herculean effort during the regular season -- though in recent years we've seen him somewhat conserve his energy for the playoffs. If he wanted to win the MVP award on an annual basis, he most certainly could. As he continues to age gracefully, we see him opting to hold off on trying to pad his stats.
As such, we see the Warriors' Durant taking home the MVP trophy this upcoming season. At only 28 years of age, he's currently amidst his prime. The confidence he accrued from beating James in the Finals simply cannot be overstated enough. We see Durant taking yet another step in his lofty career -- as he's likely to be even more comfortable in Year 2 with the Warriors.
Defensive Player Of The Year
There are three players that stand out among the best when it comes to the defensive end of the floor: Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Rudy Gobert. Green's versatility makes him one of the league's most fascinating players. He can literally guard every position on the floor, and possesses immense intelligence as it pertains to reading the offense.
Gobert is a walking vacuum cleaner -- inhaling anything that comes near the rim. His combination of length, timing, and lateral quickness makes him the league's best rim protector. Then...we have Leonard. A dogged competitor, Leonard is excellent at getting into wing players. His gigantic hands make him a terror when deflecting passes and preventing cutters from getting open. Physically gifted, there really isn't a player Leonard can't defend with some level of success.
Via a vote, NBA players decided that Leonard was the best defender in the league this past season. At only 26 years of age, there's no reason to think that he won't win the Defensive POY award for the third time in four years.
First Team All-NBA: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden
Second Team-All NBA: Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler
Third Team All-NBA: John Wall, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Draymond Green
Image Sources: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports, Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports, Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports, Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports