By SHAWN MCFARLAND

The start of the 2010 NBA season has finally arrived. With that, so too has change.

Many players have switched teams or roles, while some coaches have begun, resurrected or ended their careers. The one thing that hasn't changed: the skill on the court.

Today's game is probably the best it has been in years. I know some people (like my father) won't watch three seconds of the NBA. They think it is all one-on-one play or there is an un-called travel every time down the court. Well, there isn't. Now-a-days teams do win with defense and the refs will call a walk if it aides a player dramatically.

Yes, sometimes players take the ball and try to drive through three people or chuck up a terrible shot. Who hasn't? But it doesn't happen nearly as often now.

The game as a whole is better from the standpoint that there are so many great basketball players. 20 years ago there was MJ, Larry, Magic, Malone and Stockton. Today we have LeBron, Durant, Wade, Kobe, Dwight, Chris Paul, Dirk, KG, Duncan and Steve Nash. In 15 years, I can see all 11 of those guys being considered as some of the best at their positions. Of all-time.

Some of those guys are so good that they will be winning awards at the end of this season. Here are my predictions as to who is going to win which award this season. Some of my choices won't surprise you, but some of them may.

Sixth Man Award: With Manu Ginobili and Jason Terry being in the starting lineups on opening night, they can't really 'come off the bench.' That leaves only one solid choice. Atlanta's Jamal Crawford.

I know Crawford can be the epitome of a chuck, but he has shot 45 percent over the last two years. He comes off the bench and is 'instant offense' whether the Hawks need it or not. That's what his job is. He is the spark off the bench that keeps the offense going while some of the starters are out. Plus, Mike Bibby is getting up there in age, so Crawford may be subbing in a lot sooner as the season wears on.

Most Improved Player: At first I was going to go with the Sixers' Jrue Holliday or the Blazers' Nicolas Batum. However, as I was looking over my fantasy team I was slapped in the face by the Pacers' Roy Hibbert.

Holliday will see an increase in minutes as Doug Collins' starting PG. That, and running with Iggy, Turner, Williams and Young, will allow him to blossom this year.

Many of the readers probably have never heard of Batum, but they will soon. Batum is a 21-year-old, 6-8 small forward that can shoot. Kind of like a Durant, but not as nasty. He is currently 6-of-12 from three and is averaging 17 points and 8.5 boards up seven and five from last year. I know it is only two games, but it's hard to stop size, speed and shooting ability all at the same time.

Still, Hibbert takes the cake. Being a Panther, it's hard for me to give a Hoya some props. Wednesday night against San Antonio Hibbert went 10-for-17 from the field, 8-of-8 from the line and finished with 28 points, nine boards, three assists and two blocks. He has good post moves and has become the Pacers' offense along with Danny Granger.

Coach of the Year: I'll go with the Nets' Avery Johnson. New Jersey won 12 games last year. If Johnson were to win 30 this year it would be amazing.

Johnson is a good coach and should have never been fired by Dallas. It may be hard for a player to concentrate and not laugh when he hears Johnson talk in the huddle, but he can tune it out and watch him draw up a play.

As of Thursday afternoon, New Jersey was the Atlantic Division leader at 1-0. Last year the Nets didn't get their first win until Dec. 4. This pick a lock.

Rookie of the Year: After watching him Wednesday night, Blake Griffin should run away with this award. I know John Wall will get some consideration, but Griffin did everything. He was crashing the glass, catching oops, throwing down tip-dunks, attacking the basket and making good passes.

It didn't hurt him to sit and watch for a year, but he looks angry for having done so. As long as he stays healthy you will see him on the ESPN highlights every night.

Defensive Player of the Year: You already know. D-wight Howard.

Where should I start? He has led the league in rebounding the last five years. He has led the league in blocked shots the last two. Put that together and you get the only player in NBA history to lead the league in rebounds and blocks in the same season twice let alone in consecutive years. The others to have done it once: Ben Wallace, Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Howard seemed to be in the opponents' heads even before the game started last year. When it did, he helped the Magic hold shooters to an NBA-low 43.8 percent.

If you are going to bring it bring it strong. But even then you might get thrown back out.

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant.

In three years, Durant will be the best player in the league hands-down. If you watched the FIBA World Championships you saw why.

He can do absolutely everything. The thing that gives him the nod over LeBron, Kobe and Dwight is the fact that he has made the Thunder a contender practically by himself. He will lead the league in scoring this year and will shoot over 46 percent from the field and 90 percent from the line all while leading his team to 55 wins.