Project Spurs writers looked through their crystal balls yet again in hopes of finding out who would win the NBA's awards this season and seeing exactly how far this Spurs team will get this season. These are our picks. Be sure to leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments.
Michael De Leon
MVP - Kobe Bryant
I've got Kobe repeating as MVP. In my opinion, he is still the best player in the NBA and I expect him to make another trip to the NBA Finals. Whereas we may see Lebron's numbers dip a bit with the addition of Shaq, I'm not seeing the same for Kobe with the Artest signing. If anything, Kobe's assist numbers should improve a bit now that he has several options. Look out for Carmelo Anthony as my darkhorse pick.
ROY - Blake Griffin
While you might expect me to make the homer pick of DeJuan Blair here, after watching Griffin this preseason, he seems ready to make an impact for the Clippers immediately...well after he comes back from his injury. Griffin impressed me with an array of low post moves and athleticism.
DPOY - Dwight Howard
Anytime you average 2.9 blocks per game, you really don't need to do much more to be worthy of this award. But Howard also also averages close to 10 defensive rebounds and one steal per game. More importantly than stats, though, is the fact that he changes the game when he is in. Players become aware of him as soon as they try to get into the paint and his blocks make players second guess or alter their shots.
6th Man - Lamar Odom
With the addition of Artest, it looks as though Lamar Odom will be coming off the bench for the Lakers. Odom should inject some life into the Lakers' second unit and if he stays focused and confident, he may even improve off of last season's numbers. If his personal assistant keeps enough candy stocked, the sky is the limit.
Most Improved - Anthony Randolph
While I had Aaron Brooks penciled in here, I think Anthony Randolph will end up winning this award. He looked good towards the end of his rookie season and if the preseason is telling of his season, he'll have a breakout sophomore year. If given starters numbers, I think you can expect about 16 and eight a night and possibly two blocks to go with that.
Spurs 09-10 Record: 60-22
As David Thiessen says later in this post, the Spurs will look to start slower at the beginning in hopes of bringing it all together and having everyone healthy for a deep playoff run. I see some improvement in the wins category from last season with the pieces added over the offseason, but I can't see them getting past 60 since they will drop a few games here and there while sitting the big three.
Finals Matchup: Lakers vs. Celtics
The Spurs will take the Lakers to seven games in one of the best Western Conference Finals matchups we will have seen in the last decade, but as much as I would love to see the Spurs go on to win a fifth ring against the Celtics, I think the Lakers will end up winning game seven but going on to lose to the Celtics.
MVP - Lebron James
He IS the Cavaliers. They will only go as long as he goes. He will lead them to a top seed in the East and capture the MVP trophy. But will it be enough for him and the Cavs to come out of the East?
ROY - Blake Griffin
The complete package. He has the strength for the low post and the athleticism for perimeter play. A lot is riding on this Rookie's shoulders for the Clippers now and into the future.
6th Man - Marquis Daniels
A very "under the radar" pick up by the Boston Celtics but a vital one for the Celtics. He will provide instant offense off the bench as well as present match-up nightmares for opposing teams.
MIP - Aaron Brooks
. No T-Mac. No Ming. Brooks will have to lead the Rockets and keep them afloat until T-Mac returns. Because of this expect his minutes and numbers to increase.
COY - Nate McMillian
Now that he will have a healthy Blazers squad, expect him to lead the team to a better record they had last year and challenge the West's elite teams.
Spurs - 59-23. 1st in Southwest Division.
MVP - Dwyaye Wade
If healthy, Dwyane Wade might be the best scorer in basketball and the Miami Heat will call upon him to carry them again. Not only can he score but he can also rebound and distribute the ball. The only real knock on him is that he can't shoot the three. I see LeBron's numbers dipping slightly as the Cavs will not need to rely on him and the voters will want to reward Wade.
ROY: Blake Griffin
Griffin is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the rookie class, even our beloved DeJuan Blair. Griffin's game still needs work, particularly his jump shot, but he is an athletic beast who could approach 20 and 10 this year with the Clippers leaning on his athleticism around the basket.
DPOY: Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard won this award last season by winning 542 of the maximum 595 points in the voting process. The runner up was LeBron with 148 points. The voters love big numbers and Howard provides them with his blocks and rebounds. I expect him to dominate this award for many years to come. 6th Man: Manu Ginobili This award is always hard to predict because you never know who will play at 6th man all year. I would say J.R. Smith but I expect him to start most of the season. In the end I think it will come down to either Jason Terry or Manu Ginobili, and I'll go with a healthy Ginobili.
Most Improved: Anthony Randolph
This is another tough one to predict. There are many different interpretations and ways to go with this award, but I'll go with Anthony Randolph taking a huge step from his rookie campaign to his sophomore campaign. From everything I've read he is finally out of Don Nelson's doghouse, and if that's true he could have a monster season statistically. He can score, rebound, and block shots and has been compared to Kevin Garnett.
Coach: Scott Brooks
I'm a fan of what the Oklahoma City Thunder have done so far and I think Scott Brooks did a great job after taking over for P.J. Carlesimo. If Brooks can somehow get the Thunder into the playoffs, which is a big if, then he should deserve this award.
Spurs 09-10 Record: 57-25
I think the Spurs will start the season slowly and drop a few games they shouldn't because it will take a while for the current roster to jell. There will be a learning curve with the Big Three sitting most of preseason and not playing much with the new faces. Eventually they will figure things out and finish the season strong and winning the division, but I don't see them cracking 60 wins.
Finals Matchup: Spurs v. Cavs
The Spurs will meet the Lakers in a much anticipated and hotly contested Western Conference Finals, but the Spurs will be able to pull through. In the finals they will meet an improved Cavs team, with the Spurs winning their fifth title.
MVP - Dwyane Wade
There's been this LeBron James/Carmelo Anthony hype going around for the past couple years (with good reason), but people seem to forget there's a third slice in the NBA's triangle of the future - his name is Dwyane Wade. He played phenomenal last season and if the Heat can come up even a couple of notches in the East, it will be enough to stir up a strong D-Wade for MVP campaign.
Rookie of the Year - Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin can flat out play. He's got an NBA ready body and a decent base set of moves in the post. I'm not exactly predicting spectacular things from him, but with the Clippers he will get plenty of opportunities and he'll play well.
Defensive Player of the Year - Dwyane Wade
Yes, I'm being controversial on purpose. I don't take the DPoY award seriously. Bruce Bowen never won it once, therefore it loses all credibility. People base the award on stats, not defensive impact. D-Wade affects the game defensively beyond just his statistics, he takes his defensive with pride and tenacity and before Jermaine O'Neal joined the squad he was his team's best shot blocker as a guard. He won't win it, but honestly no one should care who does.
6th Man - Rasheed Wallace
This is always a tricky one because, with the except of Leadnro Barbosa of the Suns, highly talented players can come in and out of the starting lineup frequently. I think for the most part 'Sheed will come off the bench, finish games, take big shots, provide solid D and generally get starter level minutes. And even if he doesn't get enough shots in Boston to rack up big stats, the NBA hype machine will churn out a vocal campaign for another Celtics drenched award season any way it can.
Most Improved - Rodney Stuckey
I have reservations about Stuckey's game, in particular his decision making and occasionally shot selection. That being said, the void left by the departure of Allen Iverson means Stuckey's role with the Pistons is going to expand and he'll get more opportunities to make plays. The Pistons believe this guy can be a big player for them and Stuckey is either going to ride that to a big year or a huge bust - if I had to bet, I'm going with the former.
Coach of the Year - Gregg Popovich
People casually throw out the idea that Gregg Popovich could win coach of the year every year, but that somehow that would be unfair. Well fine, but he hasn't won one in a while and I'd like to start testing all this lip service he gets paid while tallying a bunch of third place votes every year. He maintains the best system in basketball and continues to prove his ability to switch in interchangeable parts year after year. Plus when he grows his beard out he can part large bodies of water with a staff - he deserves more than one coach of the year award for his career.
Spurs Record: 60-22
I think on paper the Spurs are a much better team than last year. They have more adaptiveness and depth to respond to injury. Richard Jefferson will take his time feeling a way into the system, but his additional offense will still buy us a couple of extra wins. If Roger Mason blossoms (likely) and DeJuan Blair can contribute (I think so), that counts as gravy. I wouldn't be surprised if we pace for last year's record most of the year and go on a tear to end the season heading into the playoffs.
Finals Matchup: Spurs v. Cavaliers, SAS def. CLE in six games
When the Spurs decide to retool the way they did this off season, people better take notice. I don't think they'll go into the post season as a favorite in the West (L.A will go in with the hype), but I think the additional offense will a) find stride after a full regular season and b) limit the physical wear on Tim Duncan, giving him more juice for a post season run. This might be the last time I call Cleveland for a Finals trip if they don't make it. I still think LeBron can will his team to that level and I still think Shaq is good enough to make a difference. I do think they'll need extra bursts of offensive help from different people to make it past Boston, but they can do it. What they can't do? Match up defensively with the Spurs. Spurs win the title in six games.
MVP - LeBron James
Over the years it has become clear that the W/L record of a player's team is just as important as the individual contribution of the player - and probably rightly so. So although Wade's value to Miami is probably even bigger than LBJ's to Cleveland (with Shaq in the middle now plus other reinforcements), the Cavs will probably win the East and Miami may struggle to get home court advantage (and maybe even the playoffs in general). And LBJ will probably continue to average crazy numbers in multiple categories. So it's an LBJ MVP repeat for me.
ROY - Blake Griffin
I'd love to say DeJuan "Rebounding Machine" Blair here. I think (and hope) that he will have some monster game, with Rodman-like rebounding numbers and even a couple of scoring sprees. However, he will not get enough regular minutes to allow him to produce great numbers on a nightly basis. Griffin seems NBA ready and on top of that arrives at a Clippers team that cleared the starting spot for him by trading Zach Randolph.
DPOY- Ron Artest
It's a shame not to have Bruce Bowen as one of the strong candidates anymore. Ron Artest is on a Lakers team that will need his defensive abilities more than anything else this year in order to try and repeat. He is unpredictable and probably adds uncertainty to the Lakers' title aspirations because of that, but noone doubts his defensive prowess and he'll probably focus on D more than anything else this season. Most importantly, being on a very visible platform in L.A. will undoubtedly help his cause even if he doesn't turn out to be the league's best defender this season.
6th Man - Manu Ginobili
We all know that the H word is permanently associated with Manu. If he's healthy, he's one of the best players in the league, period. It's a big IF, as we all know, but I have a good feeling this year and I am betting that he will produce one of the best seasons of his career. Some people view him as a starter this year, but I think that now with RJ in the starting lineup, it is even more essential that Manu comes off the bench to do the things that only Manu can do. Sorry Barbosa and Jason Terry - the crown goes back to a healthy El Contusion.
Most Improved - Trevor Ariza
I'm excluding Gilbert Arenas, simply because not playing a whole season at all, then playing great the next, does not consititue "an improvement" in my books, especially as he has already played great in years past. I think it's going to be Trevor Ariza because in Houston he will get a lot more opportunities to shine than in a loaded Lakers team, and even more so with Yao and T-Mac out with long-term injuries, hence allowing Ariza to be the go-to man for a big chunk of the season.
Coach - Doc Rivers
I'd love to vote for Pop here (and I would if I could influence anything!), however this is the regular season and I don't think the Spurs will be at their best then. The Celts, with KG returning to health and Rasheed Wallace providing additional firepower, will give the Cavs a run for the East crown and may even de-throne them if they stay relatively healthy. Rivers will be rewarded accordingly.
Spurs 09-10 Record: 54-28
This Spurs team has a potential to win 65 wins or even more, however there are a couple of things to remember. Firstly, this is the regular season. Pop will probably sit the Big Three in a couple of games (or even more). He may also have injuries to the key players here and there (I hope not, but let's be realistic). And most importantly, I think it will take time for the new players - and there are many of them this year - to gel and to play well together. Pop may also tinker with rotations quite a bit in the first half of the season, sacrificing another game or two in the process. Hence, for me, in the regular season it's another typical 50+ Spurs record.
Finals Matchup: Spurs vs Celtics
I think that come playoff time, the Spurs will be ready to rock and roll. They will have serious battles, of course, with the West being so loaded, but I really do believe they will prevail. Kobe and the Lakers will be tough, but they may not be as motivated as last year now that they've already won it without Shaq. In the East, I see the Celtics experience triumphing over the Cavs in a 7-game series. Spurs vs Celtics will be a series for the ages.