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Oct 3, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) shoots over Brooklyn Nets forwards Paul Millsap (31) and LaMarcus Aldridge (21) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-22 NBA season is finally here. Before the 75th campaign in league history tips off, we've looked into our crystal basketballs to let you know what's in store for the next seven months — starting with our picks for the postseason.

NBA playoff predictions

West finals East finals NBA Finals Finals MVP
Sandeep Chandok Lakers over Clippers Nets over Bucks Lakers over Nets Anthony Davis
Joe Lago Lakers over Suns Nets over Bucks Nets over Lakers Kevin Durant

OK, let's move on to the individual award winners. Envelopes, please ...

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Nets

Sandeep Chandok: The Slim Reaper came back with vengeance last season averaging 26.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.3 blocks per game following his Achilles injury. He defied the odds and looked like the KD of old, but now that we’ve seen that, the league’s best scorer will be on a mission to prove to everyone that he is also the league’s best player. Not LeBron James, not Stephen Curry and not Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose Bucks knocked Durant’s Nets out of the playoffs. KD will be on a rampage in 2021-22 with or without Kyrie Irving in the lineup. There’s a reason Durant once said, “You know who I am.”

Luka Doncic, Mavericks

Joe Lago: Durant has regained the title of “best player in the world,” but the Nets’ MVP votes figure to be split between Durant and James Harden. That creates an opening for Doncic. It still might be too early for the 22-year-old to win his first MVP, but Jason Kidd’s master plan to turn Doncic into a more well-rounded player (i.e. play some defense) and become more of a leader will complete his MVP resume. We’re also banking on Kidd learning from past mistakes working with an emerging basketball talent in Milwaukee as well as from two seasons on the Laker bench with Frank Vogel. J-Kidd being Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luka’s Luke Skywalker seems like a reasonable scenario and as strong of a bet as any.

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Oct 6, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) in action during the game between the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Player of the Year

Draymond Green, Warriors

Chandok: I swear, if Rudy Gobert wins DPOY again I will lose my (bleep). Gobert rebounds and blocks shots as good as anyone in the NBA, but he can only guard bigs (and he can barely do that; just ask Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid) and gets cooked on the perimeter by guards. Draymond, on the other hand, can guard all five positions and is like a linebacker in football, calling out plays and signaling to his teammates while also getting in the passing lanes and contesting shots at the rim. The Warriors will be fighting hard to get back to the playoffs this year, too, and they will. So the former DPOY has even more reason to play hard, not that he needs it.

Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Lago: Green is a really good call. He enters the season with renewed focus thanks to a reloaded Golden State roster with veterans who can actually contribute. Plus the Warriors’ return to contender status (provided that Klay Thompson can be Klay Thompson again) will have Green locked in defensively throughout the 82 games. But while looking around for top DPOY candidates, my search always fell back to Gobert. Yes, the 7-footer was exposed in the playoffs, but he’ll make another strong case for winning a fourth Defensive Player of the Year award in five seasons because the Jazz will likely win a ton of games and finish with the West’s best record again. But most of all, I want to see Sandeep lose his (bleep).

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Oct 15, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) defends against Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) during the third quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Sixth Man of the Year

Tyler Herro, Heat

Chandok: If the preseason was an indication of what to expect from Herro this season, the Miami Heat are in for a treat. Following a sophomore slump in 2020-21, Tyler Herro impressed in five exhibition contests, averaging 22.4 points in 27 minutes per game. He’ll be the first man off the bench for Erik Spoelstra and is itching to make a name for himself after recently saying he belongs in the ranks with Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Ja Morant.

Patty Mills, Nets

Lago: Kyrie Irving’s absence — however long it lasts — means that shots will be available in Brooklyn’s backcourt, and who better to take them than Mills, arguably the biggest coup among mid-level exception signings in the offseason. As he showed at the Tokyo Olympics, where he was Australia’s vocal leader and top scorer (23.3 points per game), the 33-year-old Mills still has plenty of fire and brings plenty of championship experience from his 10 seasons with the Spurs.

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Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro (14) drives to the basket as Charlotte Hornets forwards Miles Bridges (0) and Cody Martin defend during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Most Improved Player

De’Andre Hunter, Hawks

Chandok: The forward was limited to just 23 games in his second NBA season due to a knee injury, which also caused him to miss Atlanta’s deep playoff run. But when he was on the court, Hunter played extremely well, averaging 15.0 points on shooting splits of 48.4/32.6/85.9 and defending the opponent’s best players. Said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan: “You don’t find many (good) two-way players in this league, and Dre is one of them. He’s going to defend just as hard as he’s going to look to score. He plays the game the right way. He’s unselfish.” Look for Hunter to have a bounce-back season in Atlanta.

Jordan Poole, Warriors

Lago: Michael Porter Jr. could very well win this award if he explodes into the stratosphere while the Nuggets await Jamal Murray’s return from knee surgery. An All-Star breakthrough alongside Nikola Jokic would be difficult to ignore. But here’s what would be more entertaining and aesthetically pleasing: burying 3-pointer after 3-pointer while flourishing in the space created by Steph Curry. If the preseason is any indication, Poole is set to detonate as the new Splash Brother after averaging 21.8 points per game. His scoring average increase from 12.0 points in 2020-21 will make for a very compelling case on what could be a revitalized Golden State squad.

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Oct 14, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward De'Andre Hunter (12) shoots past Miami Heat forward Micah Potter (20) in the second half at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie of the Year

Cade Cunningham, Pistons

Chandok: There’s several reasons why Cade Cunningham was selected No. 1 in this year’s NBA Draft, but it simply comes down to this — he was the best player in the 2021 class. The 6-8 combo guard has been NBA-ready since he was at Oklahoma State and plays with a poise not often seen in young players. A three-level scorer, Cunningham joins a Detroit squad that has long been searching for a franchise star. He is that guy and will have the ball in his hands plenty, night in and night out.

Jalen Green, Rockets

Lago: The 2021 draft class, while talented at the top, does not have a sure-fire ROY favorite. None of the lottery picks are ready to make an immediate impact like the last four winners (LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons). The winner very well could be in the Malcolm Brogdon mold as a solid first-year contributor on a winning team. Toronto’s Scottie Barnes and Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell could win it with that type of substance-over-style resume. But let’s go bold. Let’s roll with Green, who will get the chance to put up numbers on a rebuilding Houston team. Green, the No. 2 selection, surely will get to run-and-gun with Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood. Just don’t look at the shooting percentages.

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Oct 11, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (0) moves the ball against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Coach of the Year

Billy Donovan, Bulls

Chandok: It’s OK if you didn’t get to watch the Chicago go 4-0 in the preseason. You can watch them go 82-0 in the regular season. This team is going to be good on both sides of the court and it will be one of the funnest teams to watch. The Bulls move the ball well, defend at a high level and now have a ton of talent. Donovan will get the best out of newcomers Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso. Those three versatile players — along with star guard Zach LaVine, center Nikola Vucevic and second-year forward Patrick Williams — give Donovan various lineups to implement and the ability have multiple playmakers and scorers on the floor at once, something Chicago has lacked for a few years now. Donovan’s Bulls should easily surpass last season’s 31-win mark and finish in the top half of the East, earning him strong COY consideration.

Monty Williams, Suns

Lago: The Lakers are the betting favorite to win the West, and that’s understandable with LeBron James and Anthony Davis rested and ready to make another title run with new Laker star Russell Westbrook. But Frank Vogel will need time to figure out how this Big Three can excel together. That means the more established teams in the West will thrive in the regular season. One of those teams is coached by Williams, who some believed should have won Coach of the Year last season instead of New York’s Tom Thibodeau. Well, if you felt that deeply about last season’s COY voting, the wrong will be corrected this season with Williams when his Suns edge out the Jazz for the West’s best record.

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Oct 10, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to Suns guard Landry Shamet (14) in the second quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

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