Way too early Dark Horse Season award predictions!

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There’s nothing I love more than making bold predictions before the NBA season even starts. We all know the consensus frontrunners for each award already like LeBron, Curry, and Westbrook for MVP. Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green are the favorites to go at it for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Now, I can go on and talk about which guy I think will prevail out of the front runners for these awards but, in my personal opinion, that’s not so fun. So instead of doing that, I have compiled a list of players that fly under the radar this season and can compete for these awards.

Most Valuable Player - Paul George (Indiana Pacers)

Paul George MVP

Now I know he himself might not agree with this choice, but my dark horse for MVP is Paul George. George has already stated to the media that he believes this is his season in winning MVP. Last season we got to see George make a comeback and play his first full season after tragically breaking his leg. He averaged 23.1 points per game on 41.8% shooting, 7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists.

One of the keys for George to be able to contend for the MVP award is to be much more consistent this season in terms of scoring. In 31 out of the 81 games he played last season, he scored 20 points, which can’t be done if you’re the superstar of your team. If George can become a more consistent scorer and the Pacers finish top 3 in the east, he will have a legitimate chance of winning MVP.

Rookie of the Year - Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

Joel Embiid new season 2017 76ers

After two seasons of sitting on the bench and rehabbing his foot, Joel Embiid will finally play in the NBA. The Kansas standout was a can’t miss pick for the 76ers in 2014 with the highest ceiling out of any big man in the class. Right now the 76ers have 3 young big men in their roster still less than a month till the start of the season, which is a problem.

If Embiid comes out and shows the same promise he did two years ago, he will not be one of the ones traded and he will ultimately gain more minutes in the process. The one main concern for him is his health. Being a big man and having foot problems can really hurt a player like Embiid’s career, but if he can stay healthy he has a great shot at stealing the Rookie of the Year award away from the 2016 NBA Draft class.

6th Man of the year - Brandon Jennings (New York Knicks)

Brandon Jennings knicks

The winner of the 6th man of the year award is usually the top scorer off the bench. I feel like Brandon Jennings could easily contend for this award. Jennings will be backing up Derrick Rose this season and the Knicks will look at him as their main scoring option off the bench. Jennings averaged 6.9 points per game and 3.5 assists last season in 48 games. He has definitely had his rough patches throughout his career when it came to scoring consistently, but he will get a lot more chances this season with the Knicks, especially with concerns of Rose’s health.

Defensive Player of the Year - Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)

Rudy Gobert wingspan

Last season Rudy Gobert showed the rest of the league how great of a rim protector he is. In 61 games last season, he averaged 2.2 blocks per game and .7 steals. Without Gobert last season, the Jazz wasn't as good on the defensive side with opponents having an offensive rating 2.8 points higher and shoot 1.8% higher with him off the court. Coming into the 2016-2017 season, I look for Gobert to improve his rim protection and stay healthy for this Jazz team. If he does stay healthy, he will give a Kawhi and Draymond a run for the Defensive player of the year award.

Most Improved Player of the Year - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Hornets)

Michael Kidd Gilchrist Charlotte

Kidd-Gilchrist is entering his 5th season in the NBA for the 2016-2017 season. With not being able to remain healthy the last couple seasons, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is showing a lot of improvements from when he first came into the league. His shot from when he first came into the league to last season has improved drastically, and he’s still the best perimeter defender for the Hornets. Last year we got a very small a sample size of his improvements;

In 7 games he averaged 12.7 points on 54% shooting and averaged 6.4 rebounds. Obviously a stretch of 7 games won’t define how he will perform this season but, with the major strides he has shown in his game, he can really make a huge impact for the Hornets this season, and he could really turn some heads with consistent play to battle for the Most Improved Player of the Year award.

Coach of the Year - Quin Snyder (Utah Jazz)

Quin Snyder coach Utah

This year the first 3 seeds in the Western Conference have basically been decided already, with the Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers being the favorites. This leaves the 4th spot wide open for the taking and I think the Jazz can battle for it. Last year the Jazz went 40-42 and missed the playoffs. The offseason additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson will give the team some much-needed veteran help and more diverse scoring options.

The Jazz has a very solid front court with Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors. If Favors and Gobert can stay healthy this season, I think they have a really good shot at getting home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. If this happens Snyder would be a very worthy candidate for Coach of the Year.