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Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man, and more: Our NBA awards predictions

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Yesterday, the PBT staff gave you our MVP predictions for the upcoming NBA season. There was a lot of love for LeBron James.

Today, we turn our attention to the other end-of-season NBA awards, pull out our crystal balls, and make predictions we will look back on as foolish come April.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
This feels like a wide-open year for the award because a lot of rookies will have the ball in their hands and the opportunity to put up numbers. Lonzo Ball will be good in Los Angeles, Dennis Smith Jr. will be explosive in Dallas, but Simmons will rack up numbers (especially highlight assists) on a team that will make the playoffs (if the Sixers can get 50+ games out of Joel Embiid). That will put him over the top.

Dan Feldman: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is highly talented and will have a big role. Plus, an extra year of seasoning doesn’t hurt.

Dane Carbaugh: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is finally healthy for the Philadelphia 76ers and it seems like he is in a position best to stand out on a team that could be without some of its stars due to injury. Simmons should be a good penetrator, dribbler, and passer in transition. If guys like JJ Reddick can hit the 3-pointers after Simmons scoops them a dish, I think the LSU product grabs it.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)

Once again Draymond Green will be incredibly versatile and key to what the Warriors do. Once again Kawhi Leonard will be the best perimeter defender in the game. But with Gordon Hayward now in Boston, Utah will not take as big a step back as many people think and the reason will be their elite defense anchored by Gobert. That credit will get him this award.

Dan Feldman: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
It took a pointed effort by Draymond Green and bad luck for Leonard for the Warriors forward to unseat Leonard last season. Odds are against that happening again.

Dane Carbaugh: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Gobert probably should have been the recipient of this award last season. He is the best defensive center in the NBA, and with Hayward now in Boston he is now the franchise centerpiece for the Jazz. Gobert will be a monster just like he was last season, and with added responsibility and visibility, the Utah big man should grab it this year.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Kurt Helin: Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)

This is the hardest award to predict preseason because it is basically the guy who surprises us with his improvement. It often goes to a guy who was good and just got an opportunity, and that is sort of the case with the improving Turner, who averaged nearly 15 points a game last season when Paul George was on the team and is now going to have the offense run through him.

Dan Feldman: Rodney Hood (Utah Jazz)
The Jazz guard is in line for a bigger role with Gordon Hayward gone. It will also help that Hood’s season will be compared to last year’s injury-plagued campaign, not 2015-16, when he showed more of the promise I think he’ll build upon this year.

Dane Carbaugh: Karl-Anthony Towns (Utah Jazz)
It’s sort of ridiculous to say that a guy like Towns will be the most improved player given his already stellar track record. However, that is typically where is this award has gone in recent seasons. Think CJ McCollum. With a better roster around him and a playoff spot for the taking, Towns should be the head and shoulders favorite for this one.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat)

Another award that could go a lot of different directions. Andre Iguodala has been the most important sixth man for a few seasons now. We know Jamal Crawford will put up numbers in Minnesota, same with Lou Williams in Los Angeles, and what about Rudy Gay getting into the Spurs system and running their second unit. But I’m going with an unconventional pick where the player — Olynyk — has a skill set that perfectly fits his new team. He’s going to get minutes (mid-20s), play the four and the five, and space the floor. I think he could surprise with the numbers he puts up.

Dan Feldman: Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors)
Iguodala has been the NBA’s best sixth man the last few years. Will the 33-year-old remain so? Will he impact the game as much as others with more to prove? There’s at least a clear path for the Warriors forward.

Dane Carbaugh: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers)
The Clippers will absolutely need a top performance this year from former six man of the year Lou Williams just to fight their way through the Western Conference. If LA makes it to the playoffs and Williams is a big piece of that, I think he should be the one to garner this award.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
This award either goes to the coach whose team most outperforms expectations, or a sort of “lifetime achievement” award. While Tom Thibodeau’s team will make a leap in Minnesota, and while Gregg Popovich is always the man in San Antonio, it feels like Stevens turn for his work in Boston. This is a talented Celtics team I think will come together more in the second half of the season and get him the award.

Dan Feldman: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Brad Stevens is widely regarded as one of the NBA’s best coaches, but he has never finished better than fourth in Coach of the Year voting. Keeping the Celtics, who have so many new faces, humming could be his ticket.

Dane Carbaugh: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Stevens is slated for a big year in Boston after adding Gordon Hayward and Kyrene Irving. The Celtics will be a good team in the Eastern conference the season, which has been severely weakened. The team will rely on young players to help them When it comes to depth, and if they are successful that could be the tipping point for Stevens.

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.