MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo might have a legitimate debate on who is the best talent in the NBA right now, and both are legitimate MVP candidates — again. Don’t rule out Steph Curry with a possible resurgence by the Warriors. But the pick here is to a young player just starting to hit new levels, one who will be urged on by a coach who helped in Antetokounmpo's early years. Jason Kidd will now be running the show in Dallas, and under his tutelage expect Luka Doncic to take the next step and earn the honors. The pick: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
The players who likely will make the greatest impact on winning could be the ones who showed that in college - Jalen Suggs and Cade Cunningham. But the player who will be on the highlight shows, putting up huge numbers, will be Jalen Green in Houston. It may not be the right choice, but he’s the likely choice. The pick: Jalen Green, Houston Rockets.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Julius Randle took this last season as he moved from good to second-team All-NBA, and a teammate he overshadowed last season, RJ Barrett, could move into consideration this time around. But more likely are the players who will put up huge numbers this season. Consider Kevin Porter Jr. in Houston, but let’s go with the player who will put up the numbers in a key role on a contending team. The pick: Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets.
Jordan Clarkson will get consideration as a repeat winner and Jordan Poole is expected to emerge with Golden State, although he’ll likely start until Klay Thompson is ready. But in New York there is one veteran who figures to play huge minutes and be a key piece of whatever success the Knicks have this season. The pick: Derrick Rose, New York Knicks.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Anthony Davis has gotten a lot of hype for this, but how about his teammate, LeBron James, who is going to be in attack mode after a disappointing exit last season? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and Ben Simmons (if he plays) each could win this award. But if Simmons is out of the way, Matisse Thybulle could emerge. Still, it’s in the voter’s hands in the end, so who will get those? The pick: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Often about expectations and exceeding them (see Tom Thibodeau deservedly earning the award last season), the frontrunner this time around might be a coach who saw his team struggle last season and should return to its former successes - Erik Spoelstra in Miami. But if Dallas can rise in the West and get back in the playoff pictur,e Jason Kidd could be the pick. But we’ll go with the coach who might not be the most brilliant strategist but could lose a star and still win the East. The pick: Steve Nash, Brooklyn Nets.
Predicted playoff seeding:
2. Los Angeles Lakers
4. Golden State
7. Los Angeles Clippers
11. New Orleans
12. San Antonio
14. Oklahoma City
Phoenix provided a breath of fresh air, ascending to the NBA Finals, and even if they were led by one of the league’s elder statesmen in Chris Paul, the Suns povided a new face for title contention. While Phoenix, Denver and Utah all have shots at representing the West, it’s hard to rule out the legends squad assembled by the Lakers, who seem set on taking a shot at a title before settling for Ice Cube’s Big 3 League. Still, it’s hard to imagine that everything breaks right, even for LeBron James with something to prove again. The pick: Utah Jazz.
Predicted playoff seeding:
7. New York
The great plans put in motion by Brooklyn are now stalled by Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status. Philadelphia's "Process" has been derailed by Ben Simmons' unwillingness to feel the brotherly love of the city. Milwaukee, the defending champion, has quietly made its way through the summer and fall without the drama of those two. Is that enough to hold onto the East title? The guess is yes. The pick: Milwaukee Bucks.
If the free-throw countdowns couldn’t rattle Antetokounmpo and the dramas surrounding most teams bypassed them, what can stop the Bucks from repeating? Losing P.J. Tucker will hurt, but returning Donte DiVincenzo from injury will help. Led by the happiest superstar in the game, it’s enough to overcome a deep and versatile Jazz squad. The pick: Bucks in six.