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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.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.