Predicting Winners for Every Major 2013-14 NBA Award, Training Camp Edition
Now that we're in the full preseason swing, it's time to dish out our 2013-14 NBA awards predictions.
There's no overwhelming favorite for awards such as Rookie of the Year or Most Improved Player, so a half-dozen or more candidates will be scrapping for those honors.
In the MVP race, you know who the front-runners are, but who will come out on top?
For each major individual accolade, we break down the winners and separate them from the contenders. Find out which standouts will hoist trophies come springtime.
*All statistics gathered from Basketball-Reference.com.
Most Improved: Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Contenders: Eric Bledsoe, Kawhi Leonard, John Henson, Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb, Iman Shumpert, Jimmy Butler
Several exciting breakout players will battle for Most Improved Player honors, and most of them are guards and swingmen.
But it's a big man who gets the nod and the hardware.
Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas will earn a starting role and see a huge uptick in playing time, because the club is far from loaded in the post. If his offseason work in the Vegas Summer League and EuroBasket are any indication, he'll thrive in his sophomore campaign.
Expect him to grab more rebounds per minute, convert more close-range attempts and enjoy a higher usage rate in 2013-14 (his 2012-13 usage percentage was 16.9).
Head coach Dwane Casey is high on Valanciunas' potential, as he told Robert MacLeod of The Globe and Mail that JV is ready to turn heads going forward: "He went through some growing pains, but we had to force feed his growth.
"But as the year went on, he really got better, we started going to the post to him, he was producing, he was creating double teams."
Valanciunas is increasingly confident in his low-post footwork and touch, and he's only getting better as a passer and mid-range shooter. The Raptors need him to produce in the post if they want to get close to .500, so he'll likely exceed 15 points and nine rebounds per night to edge out Eric Bledsoe for the award.
Sixth Man of the Year: Jarrett Jack, Cleveland Cavaliers
Contenders: Harrison Barnes, Andrei Kirilenko, J.R. Smith, Tyreke Evans, Lance Stephenson, Jamal Crawford
Kyrie Irving is nearly a superstar already, but he's going to need some help off the bench if the Cleveland Cavaliers want to clinch a playoff berth.
Eight-year veteran Jarrett Jack is just the kind of backup who can come in and keep the pressure on opposing defenses. He's dangerous from deep, creates for teammates off the drive and has a game-changing quality to his basketball DNA.
He averaged 17.2 points and 4.7 assists on 51 percent shooting off the bench in the 2013 playoffs, and he'll look to transfer that momentum to his change of scenery. Don't expect those kind of numbers throughout the six-month regular season, but it gives you an idea of how talented he is.
There are a bunch of potent weapons on this Cavs club, and when Jack checks into the game, he'll fit in nicely and keep things clicking.
Andrew Bynum and Anthony Bennett were the big-name pickups for Cleveland this offseason, yet Jack may have a more critical role in the team's fate. His Sixth Man of the Year campaign will be closely linked to the Cavs' postseason appearance.
Executive of the Year: Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets
Contenders: Chris Grant (CLE), Billy King (BKN), Kevin Pritchard (IND), Joe Dumars (DET), Dell Demps (NO), Neil Olshey (POR)
Led by general manager Daryl Morey and head coach Kevin McHale, the Houston Rockets brass quickly constructed a dangerous team that's poised to contend for the next half-decade.
Morey's surprising trade for James Harden last year helped set up his landmark acquisition of Dwight Howard in 2013. Now, the Rockets have the potential to be better than any team Howard has played for. They could be the 2009 Orlando Magic on steroids.
All the excitement surrounding this franchise is a big reason why Morey has the edge to win the award. NBA.com's Fran Blinebury notes how much more marketable Houston is:
...Before they even chalk up one “W” in the standings, Morey has put a headlock on the award simply by making the Rockets franchise relevant again for the first time in years...A year ago, they were on national TV once. Now they have 10 appearances on ESPN, nine on TNT, one on ABC and even made it into the Christmas lineup with a date at San Antonio.
With young cornerstones and a deep supporting cast, McHale is blessed with a phenomenal roster situation for the foreseeable future. Morey's work to turn assets into superstars made it possible.
Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Contenders: Kevin McHale, Erik Spoelstra, Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau, Mike Brown, Scott Brooks
Although the Los Angeles Clippers are deeper than ever and own two of the most dangerous stars in the Association, it's not going to be easy for them to make a deep run in the West.
That's where Doc Rivers comes in.
The longtime Boston Celtics coach is rock-solid on both sides of the ball. He'll give the Clippers a killer instinct and the discipline necessary to execute the X's and O's.
Last year, L.A. was an unselfish unit, but in 2013-14, it will be more efficiently unselfish. Count on Chris Paul to thrive in Rivers' half-court offense, and expect far fewer mistakes on the defensive end. Doc is far superior to former coach Vinny Del Negro when it comes to defensive sets and in-game adjustments.
After being swept from the second round in 2012 and dispatched during the first round in 2013, the Clippers are looking for something more than a hot regular season or even "Best Team in L.A." honors.
They want a championship, and Doc will give them a darn good shot at one.
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Contenders: Anthony Bennett, Trey Burke, Ben McLemore, C.J. McCollum, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk
How does a guy who averaged little more than 10 points per game in college emerge as a prime Rookie of the Year candidate? A year ago, I would never have pegged Victor Oladipo as my choice.
In a draft class that doesn't boast elite pedigree or surefire superstars, Oladipo can stand out with his versatility and multifaceted impact for the Orlando Magic.
He's not a lock to be a top-tier point man, but he will, undoubtedly, be a high-octane playmaker as a combo guard. Jacque Vaughn will give him substantial time at the steering wheel, hoping to mold him into a more polished ball-handler and shooter.
Oladipo averaged 19 points and five assists per contest during summer league, and he also swiped three steals. He struggled with turnovers and shooting efficiency, but he consistently attacked and got to the free-throw line.
He'll shoulder a sizable responsibility throughout 2013-14, and his two-way influence will result in him being the most productive and valuable rookie.
Defensive Player of the Year: LeBron James, Miami Heat
Detractors who still think LeBron James is overrated defensively are cherry-picking his worst possessions and forgetting the big picture.
He's a tremendous on-ball stopper, off-ball defender and weak-side helper. And even though he might not be able to guard every center or every point guard in the league, he's still amazingly versatile.
The coaches (you know, the ones who do the most film study and game-planning each week) see that versatility firsthand, and they gave LeBron the most All-Defensive First Team votes in 2012-13.
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra may ask even more from him in 2013-14, especially at the 2 and 3 positions. "King James" will be up for the challenge, and he will maximize his defensive talents more than ever.
To earn a three-peat, LeBron must slow down an increasingly dangerous pack of Eastern Conference contenders, so you can expect his absolute best.
MVP: LeBron James, Miami Heat
That's right, LeBron James will accomplish the rare feat of winning Defensive Player of the Year honors and the MVP award in the same season.
Only Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon have pulled it off, so James will be joining an ultra-exclusive club.
As long as he stays healthy and focused the entire year, there's no one who supplies what he does night after night. He will be even more valuable to the Miami Heat this season as they try to claw their way to the top one more time.
He's still in the prime of his career, his offensive efficiency is at an all-time high, and he's becoming more savvy when it counts.
Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony are all extremely valuable to their squads, and they will also be colossally productive. But none of them influences the game quite like James when he's in top form.
Follow Dan O'Brien on Twitter: @DanielO_BR
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