By Jeffrey Tomik The Washington Post
The NBA playoffs start this weekend, but the most important games of the year won’t affect who wins this season’s awards. Even though the winners won’t be announced until next month, the voting is in. Here’s who we predict will bring home the hardware — and who deserves to.
Who will win: Kevin Durant. The Thunder forward put together one of the most impressive scoring seasons in NBA history. For 41 consecutive games, he had at least 25 points. Only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain had longer such streaks.
Who should win: LeBron James. He’s still the best player in the league and his out-of-this-world abilities are taken for granted. He shot a career-best 56.7 percent from the floor — fourth-best in the league in a category dominated by post players who only dunk.
Defensive Player of Year
Who will win: Joakim Noah. The Bulls have held their opponents to an NBA-low 91.8 points per game, and Noah has anchored that defensive unit. The center has averaged a career-high 7.7 defensive rebounds a game and will likely also finish in the top five in MVP voting.
Who should win: Noah. He’s worthy of the award, but perimeter defenders like Paul George too often get overlooked despite a much tougher nightly defensive assignment.
Sixth Man of the Year
Who will win: Taj Gibson. Noah gets most of the credit on the Bulls frontline and Carlos Boozer is the starting power forward, but Chicago turns to Gibson down the stretch of games. He’s averaged 13.1 points and played in every game this year.
Who should win: Manu Ginobili. The Spurs don’t have a single player averaging 30 minutes a game. And coach Gregg Popovich’s innovative rotation has limited Ginobili’s playing time, but he’s still managed to average 12.4 points and 4.3 assists a game.
Coach of the Year
Who will win: Tom Thibodeau. Chicago’s leading scorer has been D.J. Augustin — who’s probably the 30th best point guard in the league — and the Bulls are a top four team in the East. Despite Derrick Rose’s injury and trading away Luol Deng, they keep winning. That’s impressive.
Who should win: Gregg Popovich. He should probably win every year. The Spurs own the best record and no one gets more out of his players than Popovich. Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw have played great for him.
Most Improved Player
Who will win: Goran Dragic. The Suns guard emerged as an MVP candidate after nearly leading Phoenix to the playoffs. He’s upped his scoring average from 14.7 in 2012-13 to 20.3 this season, while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from 3-point range.
Who should win: Dragic. He’s made an improbable jump to the elite level and deserves the award. Others who have a case are Anthony Davis, Lance Stephenson, Gerald Green and DeMar DeRozan.
Rookie of the Year
Who will win: Michael Carter-Williams. The 76ers point guard led all rookies in points, assists, rebounds and steals. It’s been one of the worst rookie classes in NBA history, but at least Carter-Williams has the stats to back up this award.
Who should win: Victor Oladipo. Let’s keep in mind Carter-Williams put up those numbers on a 76ers team that tied an NBA record with 26 straight losses. The Magic weren’t much better, but Oladipo played well on a competitive team.