Which superstars will take home the hardware in 2016-17?
We are less than a week away from the start of a new NBA season, which means it's time for predictions.
Guessing who will make the NBA Finals isn't any fun, of course. Barring something extraordinary, we're getting a Warriors-Cavaliers rubber match. And we can all blame Kevin Durant's move to Golden State.
Thankfully, that same decision injected some much-needed drama into the chase for the MVP. Will one of the Warriors' stars emerge as the dominant leader? Will they split votes? And if so, who might claim the game's top individual honor?
Before we get to that, let's run through the rest of the NBA's awards -- plus the scoring champion and All-NBA first team for good measure.
Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Celtics
Honorable mention: Quin Snyder, Jazz; Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves
Most Improved Player: D'Angelo Russell, PG, Lakers
Honorable mention: Steven Adams, Thunder; Devin Booker, Suns
Russell is going to thrive under Luke Walton, but that's only half of the equation here. There are people out there who genuinely questioned whether he's a good basketball player last season. Those lowered expectations will set him up nicely for this odd award.
Embiid's minutes restrictions are obviously a concern, as is his health. Given what we've seen so far in the preseason, however, Embiid seems like the best pick to fill the void left by Ben Simmons' foot injury.
I'm expecting the Jazz to have a big year, and Gobert will be a big part of it. 2016-17 should serve as his introduction to a national audience.
Executive of the Year: Bob Myers, Warriors
Honorable mention: Danny Ainge, Celtics; Sam Hinkie, The Process
This one's easy. The GM who signed Kevin Durant this offseason wins the award for the game's top executive.
(Note: That Hinkie honorable mention is in recognition of Joel Embiid's preseason performance and the overall bright future in Philly. Trust the process.)
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Scoring champion: James Harden, PG, Rockets
Honorable mention: Russell Westbrook, Thunder; Kevin Durant, Warriors
Westbrook will be out to destroy the world this season (more on that in a second), and KD will still get his buckets despite sharing the ball with two other elite scorers (and Draymond Green). Yet it's going to be incredibly difficult for any player to outscore Harden in a Mike D'Antoni offense.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
MVP: Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder
Honorable mention: Kevin Durant, Warriors; James Harden, Rockets
Let's run through this with some of the big names, one by one.
LeBron James will rest too much this season; he knows he has to save his best for a potential Finals rematch with the Warriors. Kyrie Irving will be outstanding, but voters will still give LeBron the credit for the Cavs' success.
Kawhi Leonard's defense and increased usage won't be enough to persuade voters to his side -- and there's the outside chance the Spurs take a step back this year. The Clippers might be the second-best team in the Western Conference, but Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will split votes.
Obviously, that will likely be the case for Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry as well. Harden's a solid choice for MVP, until you consider Houston's defense. The Rockets might not win quite enough games for voters to give the bearded one his just due -- especially if his own defensive foibles continue.
Then, there's Westbrook. We're about to embark on 82 games of the Thunder point guard unleashing fury on the rest of the league. His team is built to maximize his production, like a revamped version of Allen Iverson's best Sixers teams. You can argue that OKC's ceiling as a team might be a problem for Westbrook, but I think voters are likely to look past that because of Durant's departure — so long as the Thunder are in the hunt for the fourth or fifth seed.
And when in doubt, trust Las Vegas. Westbrook is the betting favorite to win his first MVP award, which sounds right to me.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY SportsMark D. Smith
First team All-NBA
G: Stephen Curry, Warriors
G: Russell Westbrook, Thunder
F: LeBron James, Cavaliers
F: Kevin Durant, Warriors
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
With apologies to James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, the first four players seem self-evident. At center, I will continue to pound the drum for Towns, despite this being his second year in the league. He's going to be elite; he's already awesome.