Taking home hardware



The Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki shoots as the Boston Celtics’ Jeff Green defends in the third quarter at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Friday, March 22, 2013. Dallas won, 104-94. 

With the NBA season starting Tuesday, attention will begin to shift back to basketball.

In addition to this season’s story lines, including the end of the “things to return before Derrick Rose” jokes, it is never too early to make predictions for the end of the season’s five prestigious awards.

It is pretty to chalk up a third straight MVP award for LeBron James, but here are the other players that will stroll into summer with new hardware:

Most Improved – Jeff Green, Celtics

When Celtics legend Paul Pierce and inspirational leader Kevin Garnett were shipped off to the Brooklyn Nets, this left Boston with a vacancy in the scoring department – the perfect role for swingman Jeff Green to fill.

With frequent injuries to both Pierce and Garnett last season, Green was counted upon to be that No. 1 scoring threat, and he did not come up short.

Green scored 20 points or more in about ten games last season, with many of his opportunities coming off the bench. As Green enters the starting lineup at the beginning of the season, he will continue to be the Celtics primary scorer, as well as a veteran leader in the locker room for a rebuilding franchise.

Sixth Man – Tyreke Evans, Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans not only had an image makeover this offseason (going from the Hornets to the Pelicans) but a roster makeover as well. With the additions of Evans and all-star guard Jrue Holiday to a roster that already had scoring superstar Eric Gordon, the Pelicans’ backcourt only has room to start two of those three players.

Holiday and Gordon will get the nods to start because of their experience and defensive ability, which means Evans will be the first one off the bench.

Evans brings to the table a scoring mentality, something he was not able to do as a point guard for the Sacramento Kings. Now that Evans does not have to worry about being a distributor, he can focus on being the high-volume shooter he has always wanted to be.

Although Evans has not had an eye-popping shooting percentage over the years, he also has not been featured in a role that plays to his strengths.

With an inexperienced second unit and a need for scoring because of it, Evans will rise to the occasion and give New Orleans the scoring punch it needs off the bench.

Defensive Player of the Year – Serge Ibaka, Thunder

Ever since Ibaka entered the league in 2008, he has been a force to be reckoned with.

Because of his unique ability to block shots- 2.6 per game over his career- he has earned the nickname “Serge Iblocka.”

Although Ibaka is known for his shot blocking, he is also extremely athletic, which helps him rip down rebounds; something extremely important for a Thunder team that does not rebound well.

Ibaka also has the uncanny ability to contest shots and disrupt passing lanes without fouling, meaning he is on the court a lot longer than opponents want.

As Ibaka continues to play more minutes each season, his defensive numbers will only get better. For a guy that is in consideration for Defensive Player of the Year on a consistent basis, this will be the year his name sits alone atop the voting.

Rookie of the Year – Victor Oladipo, Magic

The sky is the limit for the number two overall pick in this past year’s draft, a limit obtainable for a guy that can leap out of a gym.

Orlando does not have a lot of depth at the guard position, and certainly does not have many scoring threats, which bodes well for Oladipo.

Oladipo will enter the starting lineup, which should give him multiple chances to be featured in the offensive scheme alongside up-and-coming guard Arron Afflalo.

Due to a relatively weak draft class, and many of those players receiving reserved roles this season, Oladipo has the best chance of solidifying himself as this season’s top rookie.