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Predicting the NBA's 2017-18 season awards

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Predicting the NBA's 2017-18 season awards (collage photos courtesy of the Associated Press)

The NBA has reached the playoffs, so the regular season is already in the rearview mirror. Teams are thinking of nothing more than making the Finals and winning a championship.

But while the regular season awards won’t be announced for weeks, the voting is still fresh. And while predicting the winners of these awards is largely a fool’s errand, well … everybody plays the fool.

Here are some thoughts on who might be hoisting the hardware:

Most Valuable Player: James Harden, Houston Rockets

Harden’s going to win the award that he probably should have won last year. He’s had one of the best seasons for a guard in a generation or more – scoring over 30 points per game, dishing out 8.8 assists and pulling down five-and-a-half boards to boot. More importantly, he has been the key component of a Houston Rockets team that won 65 games and has a real shot at crashing what was presumed to be a Golden State Western Conference coronation in the preseason.

Harden should win, but if LeBron – who is having a spectacular year in his 14th season, playing all 82 games to the tune of 27.5/9.1/8.6 – gets the nod, that’s a reasonable choice; guys like Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant will be the third and fourth choices of a lot of voters.

(Honorable mention: LeBron James; Anthony Davis; Kevin Durant; Damian Lillard; Giannis Antetokounmpo)

Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis has somehow managed to spend his six seasons in the NBA being underappreciated. He’s recognized as a star, but it’s tough to understand just how dominant he is. His defensive presence has been huge; after six seasons, he’s due to win this award. He’s able to alter shots from anywhere on the floor and led the league in blocks per game for the third time. His ability to defend every position shows a versatility that will be rewarded.

There’s a lot of love for Rudy Gobert of the Jazz, and with good reason – he’s been a game-changing defender when he’s been on the floor. But he only played in 56 games – not enough to pull this award. Joel Embiid made the leap this season; he’s been great, but not great enough.

(Honorable mention: Rudy Gobert; Joel Embiid; Kevin Durant)

Rookie of the Year: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons has been one of the most impressive players of the season despite not really having a jump shot. He’s scored nearly 16 points a game anyway, along with averaging eight-plus assists AND eight-plus rebounds. That assist number puts him fifth in the league; his 1.7 blocks per game ranks eighth. You can argue that the year he spent on the bench due to injury negates his rookie status, but as far as the rules are concerned, he’s a rookie.

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell certainly makes a case – he scored over 20 a game in leading Utah to greatly exceed expectations. I have homer love for the excellent year put up by Jayson Tatum for the Celtics on both ends of the floor. Plus they can both shoot the ball. Still, this one belongs to Simmons.

(Honorable mention: Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Lauri Markkanen)

Most Improved Player: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

The turnaround for Oladipo has been remarkable; he was an afterthought in Oklahoma City, standing around waiting for Russell Westbrook. As a Pacer, he’s been a revelation, scoring over 23 a game while also dishing four-plus assists and pulling five-plus rebounds. He’s played solid defense and been the best player on a surprisingly good team. After he spent his first years in the league spinning his wheels, this leap forward has been great fun to watch.

This award tends to move different things to different people. Boston’s Jaylen Brown is probably the best alternative candidate – he added a scoring touch to his already-strong defensive game. Still, there’s no way anyone other than Oladipo wins this.

(Honorable mention: Jaylen Brown, Clint Capela, Steven Adams)

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

All Lou Williams does is come in off the bench and get buckets. He pulled 32 minutes a game leading the second unit for L.A. and scored 22.6 points per game. He dropped five-plus assists and grabbed a couple of rebounds per game as well, but his job was to score … and that’s what he did. From all over the floor. This will be his second Sixth Man win – he also won in 2014-2015 when he was playing for Toronto.

(Honorable mention: Eric Gordon, Fred VanVleet, Will Barton)

Coach of the Year: Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics

There are plenty of guys who could be potential winners of this award – the season saw some pretty serious coaching being done. But it’s tough to pick anyone other than Brad Stevens, who managed to take a team whose best players struggled with health issues and turn it into an efficient winner on both ends of the floor. Losing Gordon Hayward (in the first game) and Kyrie Irving (two-thirds of the way through the season) would have torpedoed most teams – Stevens and company just soldiered on.

Brett Brown of the 76ers and Dwayne Casey of the Raptors have been great. Mike D’Antoni. Gregg Popovich. Quin Snyder. There are a LOT of good coaches. But Stevens edges them out.

(Honorable mention: Brett Brown, Dwayne Casey, Mike D’Antoni, Gregg Popovich, Quin Snyder, Nate McMillan)

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