Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.
Over the last couple seasons, as the Warriors became an historically great team, they began to lose the favor of NBA Awards voters who were looking for players and coaches that did not have the same incredible support around them. There also was a sense of voter fatigue, as voters perhaps became a bit bored casting ballots for a Warriors squad that had been so dominant for multiple years.
But as the dynamic of the league has changed, and the Warriors are no longer prohibitive favorites to win the title after a massive roster overhaul, some of Golden State's household names are now being thrust back into the NBA Awards conversation for next season. Earlier this week, we examined the MVP, Defensive Player and Coach of the Year preseason NBA Awards watch lists. Now, let's take a look at some Warriors who -- if they elevated their games -- could become darkhorse candidates for NBA Awards this coming season:
Most Improved Player: Kevon Looney
The stars are aligned for Looney to take a major leap in playing time and production this season, and with that could potentially come some awards attention.
Looney has already played four seasons in the NBA, including some high-profile playoff runs, and yet will only be 23 years old to start the season. The Warriors prioritized bringing back Looney for the next couple years in order to see him grow into the player they think he is on the brink of becoming. Last season, Looney averaged 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in just under 19 minutes a game.
With Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins no longer with the team, and Klay Thompson injured, there will be plenty of opportunities for Looney to shoot the ball. He only attempted four shots per game last season, and converted a fantastic 62.5 percent of them. If his playing time is raised to somewhere between 25-30 minutes per game, it's not difficult to envision Looney shooting 10-plus shots per game next season. If he is able to mix in some 3-point shooting into his arsenal and get to the line more often, the potential is there for Looney to become a 12 to 15-point scorer, while collecting eight to 10 rebounds on a nightly basis.
If he is able to raise his game to that level, and couple it with his consistently strong defense, then you can assuredly assume his name will be in the conversation for the Most Improved Player in the NBA next season.
Sixth Man of the Year: Alec Burks
Over the last five seasons, the Warriors have had a surefire Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Andre Iguodala. His exceptional all-around game and high basketball IQ were highly regarded around the league, but his modest scoring averages kept him from convincing voters to give him the award. This season, the Warriors will have a quintessential bench scorer in Alec Burks, and if he can approach the type of numbers he was putting up in Utah a few seasons ago, he may have an outside chance of entering the conversation.
Burks has not had a season in which he has averaged more than 14 points per game, but if there ever was an opportunity to do so, it will be this coming year. The Warriors have a gaping hole at the wing position, and a void in scoring off the bench. If Burks can come in and fill the wing spot for about 25 minutes per game, he will have plenty of opportunities to attack on the offensive end. Staying healthy has been an issue for Burks throughout his career, but if he can put a full season together, the chances will be there for him to shine.
Rookie of the Year: Jordan Poole or Eric Paschall
This NBA award is a longshot for the Warriors' rookies, not because they lack the talent to be considered, but simply because they will not have the same opportunity as other top picks.
The teams picking at the top of the draft typically are void of top-tier talent on their rosters, so their respective selections are in a better position to get more playing time and on-court responsibilities. Poole and Paschall are joining a team that still has Steph Curry, Draymond Green, D'Angelo Russell and, eventually, a returning Thompson. To be able to crack the rotation and play enough to be considered for hardware at the end of the season, Golden State's rookies will have to blossom early and impress right off the bat.
Instead of competing for the Rookie of the Year award, Poole and Paschall could instead set their sights on another lofty goal: being selected to an All-Rookie team. Minutes at the wing position and backup guard spot are up for grabs, so if Poole or Paschall can play well enough to earn meaningful minutes, they will have the benefit of the Golden State spotlight to jump into the All-Rookie conversation.