Andrew Feinstein, Jeff Morton, Colin Neilson, and I take a look at the NBA landscape and offer up our takes on who will go home with some hardware after the season ...
Andrew Feinstein: LeBron James. Simply put, we are finally witnesses to just how good this guy is. Now that Dwyane Wade has taken a large step back and has ceded leadership of the Heat to LBJ; The King is cementing his legacy and that will result in his fourth MVP this season.
Jeff Morton: LeBron James. Until proven otherwise he is the best player of his generation. Last year was his official "beast mode" year and I see that continuing for the immediate future.
Colin Neilson: LeBron James. James had a transcendent year last year en route to his first Finals championship. He'll continue to improve and most likely carry the Heat to another top seed in the East this year.
Nate Timmons: LeBron James. He's the most talented player in the league and from everything I've been hearing, he is more motivated than ever. I could see Kevin Durant giving James a run for his money and maybe even Kobe Bryant, but it's James' award to lose.
Nugget to consider: Ty Lawson. While he likely won't get a lot of national buzz for the NBA MVP, he will be the Nuggets' MVP. Lawson's success this season will carry the Nuggets as far as they will go. Will he be able to find the consistency that George Karl preaches? For the team's sake, they better hope so.
Defensive Player of the Year
Jeff Morton: Tyson Chandler. He is injured, you shout from the mountain top, you are fool! I may be a fool, but there is no player in my opinion who affects his team as positively on the defensive end as Chandler. When he returns I believe it will be more of the same for he and the Knicks.
Colin Neilson: Dwight Howard. If Dwight's back surgery was a success, he's still probably the best defensive player in the game. Omer Asik and Tyson Chandler will be close runners-up.
Nate Timmons: Dwight Howard. Opposing point guards are going to be blowing by Steve Nash all season, but with Howard patrolling the paint he will put up some impressive stat lines and that will insure him the trophy.
Nugget to consider: Andre Iguodala. This is a big man award (typically) and JaVale McGee has stated he wants to be considered for DPOY, but Iguodala is the key to the Nuggets defensive success. Can he help the bigs learn to cover the pick-and-roll? Will we see better perimeter defense? Can Iguodala help contain the high-octane offenses in the West? Defense is a big part of the reason the Nuggets brought in Iguodala and now he'll show us what he can do.
Sixth Man of the Year
Andrew Feinstein: Kevin Martin. You have to assume that Martin will fill in for James Harden in Oklahoma City and will thus succeed Harden as the NBA's premier sixth man. If Jason Terry comes off Boston's bench he could compete for the top sixth man, as well.
Jeff Morton: Manu Ginobili. Even last year I thought Ginobili should have been in the running for this award. He does so many things (many of them infuriating) and in my mind he is still a force and it will be acknowledged.
Colin Neilson: Kevin Martin. With the recent trade of James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the dynamic, flop-tastic Kevin Martin will flourish in OKC's freewheeling system. With Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha to cover up for Martin's risky, high-usage style, he will provide an excellent scoring punch off the bench all season.
Nate Timmons: Jamal Crawford. With Chris Paul running the show in L.A., Crawford will be asked to do one thing off the bench ... score. He's a gunner and will have a fine bounce back season and be the boost that the Clippers bench desperately needs.
Nugget to consider: Wilson Chandler. Losing Al Harrington, the Nuggets will rely heavily on what Chandler can bring off the bench. He won't start the season 100-percent, health-wise, but he must find his form and become the contributor he was a couple seasons ago and be Denver's lethal scorer off the bench.
NBA Rookie of the Year
Andrew Feinstein: Anthony Davis. This will be no contest. At least it better not be because I reached for Davis in the third round of my fantasy basketball draft.
Jeff Morton: Anthony Davis. No brainer here. Seems to be impressing even before he plays a regular season game. True number one pick. Keep a special eye on Damian Lillard from Portland, he looks like a game changer at point guard.
Colin Neilson: Jared Sullinger. Sullinger has shown flashes of brilliance already on the Celtics and is proving to be a solid interior presence in the preseason. If his skills in the post can translate to the NBA, the 6'9", 285 pound power forward will be a scary backup to the aging Kevin Garnett.
Nate Timmons: Anthony Davis. We saw back in the day with LeBron vs. Melo that the No. 1 pick has the inside track to this popularity contest. Unibrow will have a nice season for the Bugs down in New Orleans and he will take this one home.
Nugget to consider: Evan Fournier. Most people expected the 19 year-old from France to play overseas this season, it turns out the kid can play now. Karl has been raving about the rookie and nobody should be surprised to see him get some court time sooner rather than later.
Most Improved Player
Andrew Feinstein: Klay Thompson. Second year players don't usually get this award, but I see Thompson making huge leaps this year.
Jeff Morton: Danilo Gallinari. (shocking right?) I believe that Gallo will take that next leap this season. While he must share the spotlight with Lawson and Iguodala, I believe in a fully healthy season Gallo will put up the numbers to make him most improved player.
Colin Neilson: Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs very own version of Kenneth Faried (with a 3 point shot!) is going to surprise a lot of teams this year. As a rookie, Kawhi averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds in a lockout-shortened season, shooting 50% from the field, 78% from the line, and 38% from three-point land. With Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Ginobili declining, he's primed to become an impact player for the Spurs.
Nate Timmons: Gordon Hayward. Rarely will a veteran take home this award, Hedo Turkoglu bucked the trend winning the award in his 8th NBA season during his 2007-08 campaign. The last four winners (Danny Granger, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Love, and Ryan Anderson) all took home the award within their first four years in the league. Hayward is entering his third NBA season and should improve upon his 11.8 points per game as he continues to see an expanded role in Utah. He shoots a high percentage from the floor for a wing at 46.5% and with an expanded role, he should see expanded numbers on a surprising Jazz team.
Nugget to consider: Kosta Koufos. If Koufos goes from averaging 5.5 points and 5.4 rebounds to a double-double this season (not a stretch), he should get serious consideration for the MIP award (not just from the Nuggets' perspective). At just 23 years-old, the Nuggets might have a blossoming center one their hands. Oh, and if Karl let Koufos extend his range - he could score even more. Check out this video of Koufos at Ohio State, he's nailing three-pointers! Click here.
All-NBA First Team
Andrew Feinstein: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard.
Jeff Morton: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard. No change from last season.
Colin Neilson: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard. Same as last season.
Nate Timmons: Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard. The only change I see from the 2011-12 season is Williams in place of Chris Paul. If the Nets are to have any hopes this season, it rides on Williams returning to form.
Nate_Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Nate_Timmons