Charlotte Observer NBA writer Rick Bonnell takes a stab at predicting 2017-18 champions, superlatives and awards:
Outcome of NBA Finals
The Golden State Warriors repeat in five games over the Cleveland Cavaliers. This will likely end LeBron James’ second coming with the Cavs.
Who will be season’s MVP?
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James Harden, Houston Rockets: Just a gut feeling that Chris Paul will help Harden hit yet another level, and the Rockets will challenge the Warriors for top seed in the West.
Harden, Rockets: He goes to his left as well as any NBA player, and now defenses can’t focus as much attention on him.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: He can be more of a distributor now with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony acquired as finishers.
LeBron James, Cavaliers: His ballhandling and decision-making will get most out of what Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose have left to offer.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: Through no fault of his, the Pelicans have accomplished little since drafting Davis No. 1 overall in 2012.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks: Having to guard this guy with center height and backcourt skill is a miserable experience.
3 poised for breakout seasons
Willy Hernangomez, Knicks: He plays with great hustle. The Knicks have plenty of playing time with which to develop this Spanish player
Dennis Schroder, Hawks: The Hawks blew up an experienced core. Point guard Schroder is just about the only established player left, and he can blow by defenders.
Kris Dunn, Bulls: He needs to fix his jump shot, but he has major potential as a point guard, particularly on defense.
Who will be rookie of the year?
Dennis Smith Jr., Mavericks: He’s slated to be a starter at point guard from his first game, and he won’t be overwhelmed by that opportunity.
All-NBA Rookie team
Smith, Mavs: Dallas needed a more explosive, athletic point guard, and they drafted just that out of N.C. State.
Malik Monk, Hornets: A creative scorer who could occasionally move over to point guard in certain matchups.
Ben Simmons, 76ers: He lost last season to injury, so he is eligible this season for all the rookie honors.
Lonzo Ball, Lakers: Could have a handful of triple-doubles his rookie season; he will play lots of minutes.
Jayson Tatum, Celtics: Will have a major role on a team that could win the Eastern Conference regular season.
Who will be Defensive Player of the Year?
Rudy Gobert, Jazz: He has an athletic, wirey body and tremendous instincts for anticipating shot-block and rebound opportunities.
Coach of the Year
Tom Thibodeau, Timberwolves: If he gets this roster to embrace defense, the Timberwolves could win 50 games.
Sixth Man of the Year
Marcus Smart, Celtics: He complements starter Kyrie Irving at the point, and he has the size to fill in at the wing positions in a pinch.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell