Dime’s NBA season predictions were announced earlier this week, but due to some technical difficulties, my voice was not heard. As we were tallying up the predictions of editorial staff, mine were lost in somebody’s Spam inbox. My forecasts weren’t enough to swing the majority in any category, but would have made a notable change to one:
While the rest of the Dime unanimously picked Kevin Durant to win the league’s MVP — as inevitable as seeing rats in a New York City subway station — I beg to differ. This is the year Dwight Howard gets the award.
Dwight is the most dominant big man in the League. There is no denying that. He scores at a good rate (18.3 ppg, 61% FG last season) and there is no one who dominates the glass (13.2 rpg) or swats more shots (2.8 bpg) than Howard. He has a lock on the Defensive Player of the Year award, as well as the rebounding title for the foreseeable future. And he’s only getting better.
Durant is a great player, don’t get me wrong. All of the love he is receiving going into this year is well-deserved. He does all of the right things on and off the court and is role model type of athlete. However, outside of scoring, Durant’s stat lines are pretty modest. For a 6-foot-10 forward to average 7.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks shows there is still room for improvement for the new golden child. And for a player who dominates the ball so much for the OKC Thunder, KD’s 2.8 assists per game is low. There are still a lot of holes in Durant’s game.
In the meantime, expect D12 to take his game to the next level. Throughout his career he has been criticized for relying on his athletic dominance on offense instead of developing fundamental skills. It has worked pretty well to this point, but the big buzz during the offseason was Dwight’s improvement on his low-post game from his practice sessions with Hakeem Olajuwon. We will get our first real look at the new and improved D12 tonight when the Orlando Magic host the Washington Wizards in their season opener (TNT, 8 p.m. EST).
A large part of Durant’s rise to superstardom has been his team. The fact that Oklahoma City made it to the playoffs last year as a surprise entrant has many pegging them as a dark horse championship contender this year and Durant as the MVP front-runner.
Orlando can pull off a similar surprise, and therefore enhance Dwight’s MVP case. Everybody is picking the Heat and/or Celtics to dominate the East, so if Orlando — which has won more games over the last two years than Boston or Miami and went to the Finals in ’09 — cracks that top two in the conference, they’ll be showered with praise.
And there’s no reason to believe Orlando can’t be that good. Their core has played successfully together for quite some time, and Vince Carter has a year under his belt in the system. Rashard Lewis is a matchup nightmare for power forwards around the League. Jameer Nelson is an All-Star. J.J. Redick has improved each year, as he is mastering his role in the rotation, and the rest of the Magic bench is full of capable veterans who can step in and make noise night in and night out.
With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade needing some time to learn to play together, the Southeast Division is still Dwight’s to win. Durant will get his points, but will he bring other parts of his game to the table? With that in mind, Dwight Howard is set up the most to walk away with the MVP this year.