With NBA preseason under way and the start of the regular season only a few weeks away, Kyle Baillargeon makes his predictions for NBA awards and playoffs below:
2013-14 NBA Postseason Award Winners
MVP - LeBron James, Miami Heat
I wouldn't be surprised to see Derrick Rose here if he leads the Bulls to one of the best records in the league, if only because MVP voters have shown that they tend to grow tired of giving the award to the same person over and over again. That said, LeBron is the clear frontrunner for MVP. The Heat will be in the championship hunt once more, but Dwyane Wade isn't getting any younger, and this team still looks pretty thin outside of LeBron. I expect James to have the best statistical season of his career, with his fith MVP to boot.
Most Improved Player - Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Leonard already started to make the leap last year, especially in the playoffs. With the Duncan/Manu/Parker era winding down in San Antonio, Leonard stands to become the face of the franchise's next era of basketball. Entering his third year in the league, he has plenty of room for improvement and could very well become a household name before the season is over.
Sixth Man of the Year - Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans
Evans could certainly start in New Orleans, but a backourt rotation of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Evans could be devastating. The big question would be if Evans is willing to sit to start each game. But if he can get over that, then he would be a huge contributor off the bench.
Don't be surprised, however, if a member of the Brooklyn Nets winds up with this award. The expectation is that one of either Paul Pierce or Andrei Kirilenko will come off the bench this year. If it turns out to be Pierce, then the award will be his.
Rookie of the Year - Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
McLemore will have plenty of opportunity to light it up on the court, and that's what he does best. Greivis Vasquez will be looking his way often. The Kings still have work to do to become a contender, but McLemore will prove himself to be a great piece to the puzzle.
Defensive Player of the Year - LeBron James, Miami Heat
James is so good at everything, that it seems easy to overlook how dominant he is on the defensive end. One of his personal goals has been to win the award, and hopefully voters will finally recognize what many smart observers in the league already know: LeBron James is unquestionably THE best defender in the league.
NBA Finals Predictions
Eastern Conference Finals - Miami over Chicago in 7 games
As long as LeBron James is at the height of his powers, there is no reason to believe that anyone will stop Miami. This Chicago team will have an overwhelming defense, and combined with a returning Derrick Rose could very well go on to a number one seed in the East. I fully expect both teams to pummel their competition all the way to one of the biggest heavyweight battles the NBA has seen in years. This one could go either way, but ultimately the tie-breaker goes to the team with the greatest player of the last 25 years.
Western Conference Finals - San Antonio over Los Angeles Clippers in 6 games
It might be a little overzealous to send the Clippers to the WCF in Doc Rivers' first year at the helm, but this team does have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, along with a good bench. Once Doc figures out his rotation, and as long as the team buys in to playing legitimate defense, the Clippers could knock on the door of the title. That said, the Spurs will not go down without a fight. Greg Popovich is smart enough to understand exactly what his team needs and when, and his team should be healthy and well-rested leading into the playoffs. He knows he needs to save the firepower for the playoffs, and they should be able to make it through the tough Western Conference one more time in their Big Three era. Once these two squads meet, Popovich's knowledge of his own team, combined with Tim Duncan's front-court dominance and Tony Parker's ability to go toe-to-toe with Chris Paul, will lead the Spurs to victory.
NBA Finals - Miami over San Antonio in 7 games
It may seem like a cop-out to go with the repeat in the Finals, but after last year's amazing seven-game set, is anyone going to complain about seeing it again? As stated before, it wouldn't make sense to pick against LeBron James. He is the best in the world and will lead the Heat to victory again.
Soon, we will release our 2013-14 fantasy basketball rankings.
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