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NBA awards predictions: Defensive Player of Year, Coach of Year, Sixth Man

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It’s that time of year — prediction time. While we understand that making NBA preseason awards predictions is the equivalent of nailing Jell-O to a tree, but we soldier ahead in the face of futility anyway. Because that’s what we do.

Monday we made our picks for MVP and Rookie of the Year.

Now we move on to the defensive player, coach, and sixth man awards.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers). He came close last season (missing those final eight games while Rudy Gobert was on a tear hurt) but this season he is fully healthy and if he plays more than 63 games (*knocks on wood*) he can win this award. Beyond that, with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup instead of J.J. Redick (at least to start the season), the Sixers should be an elite defensive team, maybe best in the league, and Embiid will be its anchor. One other candidate to watch: Kawhi Leonard.

Dan Feldman Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz). The NBA’s three best defenders are Gobert, Draymond Green, and Kawhi Leonard. I’m more convinced Gobert will be healthy and motivated during the regular season than I am with Green and Leonard, though I wouldn’t be surprised if either Green or Leonard wins this award. Green especially could chase it to become eligible for a super-max extension. But he also has his eyes on a long playoff run. Coming off his injury last season and one season from free agency, Leonard is a mystery.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks). The Bucks have been loaded with talent for a while now but the past few years they have played too slowly, not shot enough threes (or had enough three-point shooters), and played a defensive system the best teams could easily exploit. Coach Bud is going to change all that, Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to look even more like an MVP candidate, and Budenholzer will get credit for the improvement.

Dan Feldman Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee Bucks). Budenholzer is a good coach in position to prove it. The Bucks needed a coaching upgrade, so they give him a chance to shine. Jazz coach Quin Snyder is another strong contender, but he might have set his bar too high last season. Arguably the NBA’s best coach, Gregg Popovich has a path to winning the award this season if he guides the reworked Spurs into the playoffs.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: J.J. Redick (Philadelphia 76ers). This pick is based on the presumption that Markelle Fultz will stay in the Sixers starting lineup for most, if not all, of the season (an experiment that may not last that long). Redick will get second unit time with T.J. McConnell and Fultz (who I think will play with that unit a decent amount each night), and they will love feeding him as he curls off screens that second-team defenders can’t or won’t follow him through. Tyreke Evans is my second choice here, I think he’ll have a big season in Indiana.

Dan FeldmanLou Wiliams (Los Angeles Clippers). Last season, Williams was the rare reserve to receive All-Star consideration. He has figured out how to come off the bench, play within himself and contribute to winning. Importantly, he does it through scoring — the area voters care most about.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.

Zion Williamson signs shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand

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Russell Westbrook. Jimmy Butler. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul.

And now Zion Williamson has joined them as a Jordan Brand athlete. Williamson announced that he had signed with Jordan on his Instagram.

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Let’s Dance #JUMPMAN

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Williamson was probably the biggest shoe free agent on the market this summer. While still a rookie, he already is a huge marketing presence — Summer League in Las Vegas sold out to see him the first two nights (people ended up disappointed) — and it was estimated he would make north of $10 million a year on his rookie shoe deal.

While we have not heard official numbers yet, the rumors are he did get that money.

If true, this is the second-largest rookie shoe deal in history. LeBron James got seven-years, $87 million, however, Williamson is second and bumps Kevin Durant to third (seven years, $60 million).

There are rumors Puma had offered even a larger contact, but Williamson wanted to be a Jordan brand guy.

“I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Jordan Brand family,” Williamson said in a statement. “Since I was a kid, I dreamed of making it to the league & having the type of impact on the game Michael Jordan had & continues to have today. He was one of those special athletes I looked up to.”

“Zion’s incredible determination, character and play are inspiring,” Michael Jordan said in a statement. “He’s an essential part of the new talent that will help lead the brand into the future. He told us he would ‘shock the world,’ and asked us to believe him. We do.”

Nike continues to dominate the NBA and basketball shoe market, with more than two-thirds of NBA players wearing Nikes. Even still, landing Williamson — who will play for the New Orleans Pelicans — was such a big score that Nike stock jumped up one percent on the news. He has the potential to be the next LeBron or Durant for Nike, if he can live up to the hype and weight of being the most discussed No. 1 pick in a decade.

He’s the kind of player who could sell a lot of shoes, and Jordan is betting on just that.

Al Horford calls Celtics’ reported tampering allegations ‘ridiculous’

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The Celtics have reportedly complained about the 76ers tampering with Al Horford.

Horford opted out, and it seemed he could return to Boston. But more than a week before free agency officially began, a report emerged he’d leave the Celtics while expecting a four-year, $100 million contract elsewhere. He committed to the 76ers on the first day of free agency, getting $97 million guaranteed and up to $109 million over four years.

What did Horford make of tampering allegations coming from Boston, where Danny Ainge runs the front office?

Horford on The Dan Patrick Show:

It’s pretty ridiculous. But it is what it is. Danny – I love Danny. Danny was always really good to me. I know that he’s definitely frustrated with things didn’t work out with us.

Notice the lack of a denial.

But Horford is right: It’s ridiculous. Because the Celtics are hypocrites who locked up Kemba Walker before free agency officially began.

Though Boston’s specific complaints don’t hold water, there are legitimate issues with the wider landscape.