The 2014 NBA playoffs are on the horizon, with the regular season set to come to a close on Wednesday. All of the 16 postseason berths have been clinched, but several players, who are about to see their seasons come to an end, still have something to play for. It’s one more chance to make an impression for the regular-season awards.
Below are predictions for the 2013-2014 season NBA individual awards. All stats are reflected through the first 81 games.
For the first time in three seasons, LeBron James isn’t the clear-cut choice to be named the MVP. Kevin Durant was a distant No.2 in 2012 and 2013, but 2014 looks to be his year.
At just 25 years old, the Oklahoma City Thunder star has put up one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory. With one game left in the regular season, he leads the NBA with 31.9 points per game, and has done so, incredibly efficiently. He’s shooting over 50 percent from the field, as well as over 39 percent from three-point range. While Durant’s scoring average is usually higher than James’s, his rebounding and assist numbers are also comparable, at 7.4 and 5.5 per game, respectively. James is scoring an average of 27.1 points on a career-high 56.7 percent from the field, registering 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per contest.
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Durant has also led his team to a better record, helping the Thunder win 58 games in the tough West, compared to Miami’s 54 victories in a weak Eastern Conference. The voters are likely tired of giving the award to James, so Durant could win by a landslide.
Prediction: Kevin Durant
Rookie of the Year
Of all the awards, this one may be the easiest for the voters to make their decision. Michael Carter-Williams leads all rookies in points, rebounds and assists per game. His 1.9 steals per game also leads first-year players, and ranks him fifth among all NBA players. The point guard has struggled from the field, shooting just 40.6 percent, and he’s a part of a Philadelphia 76ers team that sports the league’s second-worst record, but he’s the most viable candidate.
Victor Oladipo will get some votes, as well. He ranks in the top three in scoring, assists and steals, among rookies, and has been more efficient than Carter-Williams this season.
Prediction: Michael Carter-Williams
Defensive Player of the Year
For much of the year, this looked like Roy Hibbert’s award to lose. As the season comes to a close, the Indiana Pacers center may have let another take hold of the honor. Joakim Noah is Hibbert’s biggest competition for the award.
Indiana has been pedestrian in the last few weeks, losing 13 of their last 22 games. In that time, Noah has been of the NBA’s best players, leading Chicago to a 48-33 overall record. Strong arguments can be made for both players, as they lead the top two defensive units in the league. Despite his recent struggles, Hibbert has been a more dominant force in the paint, holding opponents to a 41.5 field-goal percentage at the rim, compared to Noah’s 46.7 percent. The Bulls center, though, has done a much better job on the boards, grabbing 62.5 percent of potential rebounds, while Hibbert comes in at just 49.8 percent.
Even though the Pacers are the No.1 seed in the East, much less was expected from the Bulls. That, as well as the players’ performance down the stretch, could give Noah the edge.
Prediction: Joakim Noah
This may be the most difficult award to hand out. Several candidates have proven themselves worthy to receive first-place votes.
Manu Ginobili and Taj Gibson appear to be the top two candidates. Ginobili is part of the best team in the league, and has been integral in leading the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA’s best record. He plays less than 23 minutes per game, but has an incredible impact when he’s on the court. Not only is he averaging 12.4 points and 4.3 assists per game, but he ranks ninth in basketball with a 6.4 plus-minus rating, according to sportingcharts.com. Gibson has been an integral part of the Chicago Bulls, who’ve been without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng for much of the year. His 13.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, as well as above-average defense, make him a contender for the award.
Arguments can also be made for Jamal Crawford and Markieff Morris. Crawford’s 18.4 points per game leads all potential candidates, and Morris has been a big reason why the Phoenix Suns are the NBA’s most surprising team.
Prediction: Manu Ginobili
Coach of the Year
A few head coaches have helped their teams far exceed expectations in 2013-2014. Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls and Dwane Casey’s Raptors are tied for the third-best record in the East, while Jeff Hornacek’s Suns have improved from last year’s record by more than 20 wins. However, one coach stands out from the rest.
Gregg Popovich has been at the helm of the San Antonio Spurs for 18 seasons, but this may be his most impressive performance. The four-time NBA champion has led his team to the best record in all of basketball. A victory would tie him for a career high with 63 victories. The likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Ginobili are some of the league’s top players, but none put up eye-popping numbers. Popovich has managed to give his players ample rest, making sure they’ll be at full strength in the postseason, while still claiming the No.1 seed. Parker, Duncan, Leonard and Ginobili have sat 51 total games.
Prediction: Gregg Popovich