With the Olympics Games finally done and dusted, basketball fans now have to endure an excruciating two-month wait until the start of the new NBA season at the end of October.
Kevin Durant’s shocking departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder to Golden State has drastically changed the NBA landscape.
The signing almost guarantees that the Warriors will be one of the most lethal teams in the NBA, but does their offensive potential translate to an NBA title?
Moreso, which players are in store for a big season, and which ones are likely to end up playing overseas? Here’s my award predictions for the upcoming season, featuring the six traditional accolades alongside some of my own awards.
Most Valuable Player: Russell Westbrook
With Durant leaving for greener pastures, it opens the door for a Russell Westbrook breakout season.
While he may be the obvious choice for the award, Westbrook had an outstanding season last year, averaging 24 points and 10 assists with a team that seriously lacked a scoring punch outside of himself and Durant.
Now that Westbrook is carrying the load by himself, don’t be shocked when you see multiple triple-doubles spread across the entire season.
He finished last season with 18, which tied Magic Johnson’s record set in the 1980/81 season.
Let’s not forget that he notched an astounding seven triple-doubles in March this year, tying Michael Jordan for the most in a single calendar month.
Needless to say, Westbrook’s explosiveness and dogged determination put him pole position to take home MVP honours this season.
He is yet to properly comment on Durant deserting him for the Splash Brothers in Golden State, but this Jordan ad does the job pretty well.
Darkhorse picks: Anthony Davis, Paul George, Blake Griffin
Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan
To be completely honest, I thought DeAndre Jordan should’ve won the award last year.
Take nothing away from the phenomenal Kawhi Leonard, who’s the first wing to win the award in back-to-back seasons.
But DJ finished the season averaging 2.3 blocks and 13.8 rebounds per game, placing him second in both statistics behind Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond respectively.
Perhaps the most impressive stat for Jordan would be his rim protection, with Nylon Calculus finding that he contested 30% of all lay-ups while he was on the floor, greatly impacting the shot selection of opposing teams.
Furthermore, his time with Coach K at the Olympics will only improve his defensive positioning in the lead up to yet another championship push with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Darkhorse picks: Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert,
Sixth Man of the Year: Eric Gordon
Probably one of the tougher categories to pick; partly due to the season being so far away, very few teams having an obvious sixth man and partly because I really don’t want to give it to Jamal Crawford.
While the award could very easily be named after the 36-year-old veteran, I’ve opted for still relatively young Eric Gordon.
While definitely past his prime, an era where Gordon was heralded to be one of the next true superstar guards, the 27-year-old can still make a significant contribution for Houston off the bench.
The Rockets bench has been desperate for a scorer, with the likes of Corey Brewer and K.J. McDaniels unable to fill the cylinder this past season.
Gordon, who has never averaged less than double figures in scoring, would fit the Mike D’Antoni system perfectly.
Shooting nearly seven shots from outside the arc at a 38% clip is impressive, even with an undermanned and underperforming New Orleans Pelicans squad.
If Gordon’s scoring efficiency can translate well to the Rockets fast-paced system, then he can put himself immediately into contention for the Sixth Man award.
Darkhorse picks: Marcus Thorton, Brandon Jennings, Jared Sullinger
Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo
One of the trickier awards to predict, considering it’s trying to guess who’s going to have a breakout year after a relatively quiet season.
While I had fellow teammates Ersan Ilyasova and Enes Kanter in mind, it was Victor Oladipo who really stood out as a contender for the award.
As already mentioned, Russell Westbrook is going to be taking on most of the scoring load, but if Oladipo can compliment him with some good outside shooting and continue his stout defence, then he might just take home his first piece of NBA silverware.
Oladipo has never been known as a fantastic scoring guard, but given the fact that OKC is going to NEED someone to step up to the plate, the increase in minutes and usage might just be a recipe for success for the 24-year-old.
Darkhorse picks: Corey Joseph, Donatas Montiejunas, Jeremy Lin
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens
The Boston Celtics didn’t land Kevin Durant this offseason, but the signing of Al Horford isn’t a bad consolation prize.
Brad Stevens is seen one of the best young coaches in the modern NBA, with an uncanny ability to bring out the best from his young players.
Who thought Jae Crowder would ever amount to anything when he was playing garbage time minutes in Dallas?
With Horford joining an already impressive squad, there’s no reason why the Celtics can’t win upwards of 50 games this season.
While the Cavaliers and Raptors are going to battle for the number one seed again, don’t be surprised when the Celtics sneak into the third seed with some under-the-radar performance.
Did I mention they beat the Golden State Warriors at home to snap a 54-game winning streak at The Oracle Arena?
With Brad Stevens at the helm, there’s reason to believe the Celtics could very easily push for an Eastern Conference Finals berth.
Darkhorse picks: Mike D’Antoni, Luke Walton, Dwayne Casey
Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons
It’s hard to look past our very own Ben Simmons, but for good reason.
The first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft is expected to be a franchise-altering talent for the Philadelphia 76ers, having averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds throughout his one year at Louisiana State University.
But the most impressive aspect of Simmons’ game is his adept ball-handling ability and vision, two skills that aren’t often seen in 6?10? forwards.
While Simmons will ultimately need to improve his jumpshot if he’s to become an NBA superstar, his role as a franchise cornerstone for the 76ers will give him plenty of time to develop.
I expect Simmons to have a high usage rate but low production throughout his first NBA season, as he looks to continuously get his teammates involved.
While the numbers may not be staggering, there’s no doubt he passes the eye-test at first glance.
Darkhorse picks: Domatas Sabonis, Thon Maker, Buddy Hield
And now for my own award predictions for the upcoming season.
Most likely to end up playing in China: J.R. Smith
Traded on the deadline: Jonas Valanciunas
Returning player who drops 40 on his old team: Dwyane Wade
Coach who gets fired first: Earl Watson
I’m looking forward to yet another entertaining season, and can’t wait to see countless storylines surrounding Westbrook and Durant inevitably unfold into chaos.