If Raymond Felton rolls an ankle and the Knicks need Prigioni to play a lot of point guard with Jason Kidd as his shooting guard, could he win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award?
Probably not, though I caution you to expect the unexpected when it comes to the New York Knicks.
And as for the unexpected, we should all realize that each of the NBA’s annual end of season awards could be instantly impacted if and when there’s an unexpected roll of the ankle, tear of a muscle, or firing of a coach.
So without further ado, here are some dark horse candidates for the NBA’s annual end of season awards.
Most Improved Player
Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers, despite overachieving last year, came back this season without four of their top players from 2011-2012. Elton Brand (Dallas Mavericks), Jodie Meeks (L.A. Lakers), Lou Williams (Atlanta Hawks) and Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets) all have new homes. Turner may be the biggest beneficiary since he will have an opportunity to be the Sixers’ primary offensive wing option and should get a copious amount of easy looks thanks to defensive collapses on Andrew Bynum and playmaking by Jrue Holiday.
Entering his third season, it’s make or break time for Turner. My opinion? He has all of the tools to be a great offensive weapon in the NBA, he’s just lacked the opportunity… until now.
Sixth Man of the Year
Devin Harris, Atlanta Hawks
This is a real dark horse, mainly because it’s difficult to imagine a Sixth Man of the Year coming from a team that wins 30 games. But though Harris is coming off of a few mostly disappointing years, he’ll be Jeff Teague’s primary backup at the point guard spot. Though the Hawks have a few options at the shooting guard spot in Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Deshawn Stevenson and Anthony Morrow, Harris will be the primary playmaker off the bench and he’ll have ample opportunity to score the ball. That’s probably the role that fits him best.
For what it’s worth, Harris is still just 29 years old and is entering the final year of his contract. This season, he’ll be trying to earn one last contract on a team that will need him to score off the bench. I’d say he’ll have a shot if the Hawks manage to sneak into the seventh of eight spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Rookie of the Year
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Though big things are expected of Lillard, it seems that anyone not named Anthony Davis should be considered a dark horse for the Rookie of the Year award. Long story short with Lillard is that he’s exactly what the Trail Blazers need from their point guard. He’s young, athletic and can create opportunities for his teammates. Even more, the Trail Blazers will have a guy who can help them play faster and help Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge get out in transition and be a more effective run-and-gun team.
Defensive Player of the Year
Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets
It’s difficult to anoint any member of the Denver Nuggets as someone who will actually play some defense, but here’s the thing about Iguodala: that’s what he’s best at. For years, he’s been miscast as a go-to scorer and offensive facilitator in Philadelphia. Now that he’s in Denver, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee will focus on scoring the ball.
Iggy, on the offensive end, will simply get his when it’s there. As for the defensive end? He’ll routinely pull the opposing team’s best offensive wing and with his size and agility, he can cover all three perimeter positions. If the Nuggets win 45 games and Iguodala averages anywhere near the 1.8 steals per-game he has for his career in the NBA’s Western Conference, he’ll have a shot to win this award.