Column: Predicting the NBA’s award winners

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James answers questions during the NBA basketball team media day, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James answers questions during the NBA basketball team media day, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

We did this thing with the NFL in September, picking Dalvin Cook and J.J. Watt as award winners, among other questionable choices. Both players are out for the season. Knock on wood for these guys.

MVP: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

James doesn’t try in the regular season for the most part, but this year he may have extra motivation to compete in the doldrums of January, February, etc. and capture his fifth MVP award.

His co-gunner Kyrie Irving requested a trade to get away from James and Irving’s replacement as high-scoring guard will sit out much of the season with an injury. His Cavaliers let the No. 1 seed slip last season on their way to a frankly embarrassing 51 regular season wins. Cleveland was then whipped again in the finals by the Warriors and fellow superstar forward Kevin Durant.

Durant and teammate Stephen Curry will cancel out each other’s efforts. Russell Westbrook’s numbers will shoot down with the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Same goes for James Harden with the addition of Chris Paul. James is competing with Kawhi Leonard and I’ll take the world’s best player in a revenge season.

Most Improved Player: D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

If you know me, you know. If you follow me on Twitter, you know. If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you are most people.

As the Daily Campus’ resident sad-sack Nets fan, I own every single share of Russell stock. He’s a crafty scorer, an underrated passer and a legitimately talented playmaker. Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson will hand him the keys to the offense and push him on the defensive end. Expect an improvement on last year’s overshadowed numbers – 15.6 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds – and a trophy for my new main man.

Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons, right, goes up for a shot against Memphis Grizzlies' Brandan Wright during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons, right, goes up for a shot against Memphis Grizzlies' Brandan Wright during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Point guards Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. have captured much of the rookie hype, overshadowing baby LeBron in Philadelphia. As the healthiest engine behind the Process, Simmons will shoulder much of the playmaking responsibilities when Joel Embiid inevitably sits with an injury, as Fultz won’t be ready to dominate from day one.

Simmons has sat and rehabbed an injury for the last year, biding his time to enter the league and officially dominate lesser athletes on the court. Expect a season like Blake Griffin’s in 2010-2011, filling both the stat sheet and Twitter feeds while reminding everyone why he was a No. 1 pick the previous year. Just don’t expect wins yet.

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

The Jazz are going to surprise people this year. Losing Gordon Hayward was a big blow, but they have scorers on the perimeter to help make up for his absence and they bring back Rudy Gobert of the fulcrum of a defense that ranked fourth in defensive efficiency.

Gobert has not taken Hayward’s departure well. Gobert is angry. Gobert will swallow shots, and keep the Jazz a Western Conference threat despite the loss of firepower.

Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers

Sixth man like Lou Will. Williams won this award in 2015 with the Raptors. He could have won it with the Hawks. He was great for the Rockets last season and now, he’s moved again, back to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers.

Why continue to pass around someone who gets buckets so effortlessly? I don’t know, but the Clippers will reap the benefits this season as Williams backs up Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers. Expect plenty of 3-pointers, and a sneaky pick-and-roll game with DeAndre Jordan.

Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

Stevens is dealing with plenty of turnover as he tries to follow up last season’s impressive 53-win effort, but he came from great success in college. That’s what college coaches do.

The Stevens-Hayward connection will produce offensive magic from day one, Irving will slot effortlessly into the Isaiah Thomas role and young players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will make magic happen at TD Garden. Expect 55 wins and, at last, a trophy for Stevens.


Tyler Keating is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu. He tweets @tylerskeating.