Hey kids. It's that time again isn't it? The 2011 NBA season is about to begin in a few hours and no matter how you feel about the Miami Heat, you will be keeping some sort of eye on the game tonight if you consider yourself an NBA fan. I think David Stern is smug and looks like Doc Bullfrog from Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, but he is absolutely right when he says that this might be the most entertaining year the NBA has seen for awhile. Let's hope it's so entertaining that it propels the league and owners into warm feelings and an agreement in the new CBA. Don't hold your breath.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about all the lame "experts" who have been sleeping on the Jazz and now it's my turn to become one of those lame prognosticators. And at Basketball John's request, I changed my Jazz prediction and put them right in the middle of the pack, not too low, and not too jinxably high. So that's why I did that. Without further ado...
1. LA Lakers (55-27)- The Lakers are going to slip a little this year, just like they did the year before that. While I don't expect them to drop 8 more games like they did between the 2009 and 2008 seasons, they are older, unhealthier and Odom has even more extra games on his body than the rest of the team, since he played in the World Championships. With all of that said, they are the defending Western Champions until someone else says so, and they have 40 virtual wins already on their schedule due to the bottom feeders of the league.
2. Dallas Mavericks (53-29)- No matter how you feel about this team as a championship contender, they are built for the regular season and they win regular season games. While their bevvy of talent may not translate from paper to reality, their depth will allow them to compete better on back to back and road games. Dirk Nowitzki is still playing top-notch basketball and they have a couple of centers who can play some defense. I am glad they didn't acquire Al Jefferson after all. I don't love the Mavericks in the playoffs, but they are going to win games.
3. OKC Thunder (52-30)- Don't believe the hype. This team isn't going to challenge for the NBA title this season. But at the same time, they aren't going to wilt to new NBA pressures either. They are a little deeper and a little older. I think a 2 game improvement is certainly probable. And you can hand Kevin Durant the MVP right now. He's good and getting better. Glad the Blazers took Greg Oden.
4. Utah Jazz (52-30)- Right in the middle of the pack...like a snake...laying low...waiting to strike. I've said enough about this team this offseason. You know how I feel.
5. Portland Trailblazers (52-30)- The Trailblazers are a very good, very deep team, with lots of height and length, even if Greg Oden isn't healthy. On paper, you can see why people think they are the best team to take over the #1 spot in the West. However, this team is arguing behind the scenes. Or at least they hate each other and are acting sullen. They will win games, despite the bad chemistry, but they won't blow everyone away. I can't wait for the VH1 "Behind the Music" on the Blazers in 10 years.
6. San Antonio Spurs (52-30)- If you are paying close attention, you may have noticed that the 3rd through 6th seeds all finished with the same record. This is how it's going to happen. The West is still really close and really competitive. And I like the Spurs a lot. They will be a little better with added depth and a healthy Tony Parker. If Richard Jefferson ever returns to form, then...well you can imagine. My advice: Pay close attention to this team this year. I have this sinking feeling that if the 2011-12 season doesn't happen, this will be the last we ever see of Tim Duncan. He is one of the all time greats.
7. Houston Rockets (48-34)- This team is going to live at the free throw line. Yao Ming and Kevin Martin are both so good at drawing fouls, it will be frustrating to play them. While they will be good offensively, at least efficiency-wise, they have huge question marks defensively. Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks provide a shaky defensive backcourt. Shane Battier and his furrowed brow can only play so much fantastic defense. Oh, and Yao can only play 24 minutes a game. I hope he does okay. The league is better with him.
8. New Orleans Hornets (47-35)- Even if Chris Paul stays healthy, this team has issues. The shooters on the wing and Ariza are an upgrade, but they still lack size with David West and Omeka Okafor and then...Aaron Gray? Is that their next center? For their sakes, I hope not. Haven't we been saying that the Hornets need size for 11 seasons now?
9. Memphis Grizzlies (46-36)- I like the Grizzlies. They have a good starting five, especially if Mike Conley improves, but just take a look at their bench. I think rookie, Xavier Henry might be their best bench player. Not a good position to be in. And I don't think you can expect Zach Randolph to be as good this year as he was last. They will improve, but not playoff improve.
10. Phoenix Suns (42-40)- The Suns are my 2nd favorite Western team, so it pains me to drop them this low, but they are going to have struggles. They will still be fun to watch and Steve Nash is still one of the most dynamic stars, personality-wise, teammate-wise, awesomeness-wise. But when Hedo Turkoglu is your key offseason addition, I think you are asking for trouble.
11. Golden State Warriors (33-49)- They will be better just due to the absence of Don Nelson. That's a given. But they are still weirdly put together. Curry is fantastic. Ellis is overrated. David Lee is the Warriors' version of Carlos Boozer and Andris Biedrins shot like 14% from the free throw line last year. I'm simplifying things, but they aren't making the playoffs, no matter what Basketball Prospectus' numbers tell us.
12. LA Clippers (33-49)- The Clippers will be improved. Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin are certainly two of the most entertaining guys to watch in the league. But they still have Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, no Marcus Camby and most importantly, Vinnie Del Negro. How do guys like him get a job after looking so mediocre at their last job? Billy Knight, Vinnie D, David Kahn,. They have jobs for life in the NBA.
13. Denver Nuggets (30-52)- This is piling on the Nuggets, but i just don't see them keeping this team together. Something you have to realize is that the Nuggets are like the Jazz in that they won't spend money to not make the playoffs. They are over the luxury tax line and they have to play little brother to the Denver Broncos in that town. They have no Kenyon Martin and no Chris Andersen to start the season, so Candace Parker's husband is getting the start instead. So what happens if they are 10-15 or 8-17 when they finally get healthy? I am assuming that they bite down and eventually trade Carmelo Anthony. And if they do that, then Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups won't be far behind. And then you are left with a bad, bad team.
14. Sacramento Kings (29-53)- I think the Kings will be very, very fun to watch. And I suspect they will take 2 games from the Jazz this season, one in Utah. The Kings are just one of those teams.
15. Minnesota T-Wolves (20-62)- My apologies to Kevin Love who blogged that they will win 30 games, but someone has to be really bad. This year, it is the Wolves still. And David Kahn will retain his job under the premise that he only needs Ricky Rubio to make his team a real winner.
1. Miami Heat (65-17)- Don't jump on me yet. I don't think the Heat are going to magically waltz into a championship this year. But night in and night out, when you can't prepare for them, Lebron James and Dywane Wade will be just too much for almost every team to handle.
2. Orlando Magic (56-26)- I love the Magic. I like watching them play. I like their chances to make the NBA finals. i like that they stick to their gameplan. I like that their head coach is a walking cartoon character and that he looks like one of the most well known pornographic actors of my parents' time.
3. Boston Celtics (50-32)- I also like the Celtics, more than I like the Heat, to make it to the NBA finals. They have greater depth, Shaquille Oneal looks in shape and Rajon Rondo is going to make a leap. But age will keep them from a top 2 seed. And Luke Harangody. Even if he doesn't get minutes, you can't replace Brian Scalabrine with Luke Harangody and not be affected.
4. Atlanta Hawks (50-32)- The Hawks are the Jazz of the East, not the Bulls. They have maxed out their potential and need to go in a different direction to make the next leap. I believe the Jazz did that this season and that the Hawks did not. Still a good team. They'll get swept by the Heat though.
5. Chicago Bulls (48-34)- Nothing is more appropriate than for Carlos Boozer to talk championships in Chicago and then lead his team all the way......to the 2nd round at best.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (46-36)- Milwaukee is the Eastern team I will be keeping the closest eye on. They are young, talented, and will play defense. Corey Maggette will average 17 free throws a game and score 18 points a night on 6 shots.
7. New York Knicks (40-42)- The Knicks will be improved, but if you have seen them play then you know that they are just a watered down version of Dantoni's teams in Phoenix. Raymond Felton is no Steve Nash and Anthony Randolph is no Shawn Marion. Amare is great, but his huge contract won't turn him into a defender or a rebounder all of the sudden. They are lucky they are in the East.
8. Charlotte Bobcats (39-43)- My current home team. Nobody in North Carolina likes them. They aren't flashy. They win ugly many times. They will miss Felton. But, they still play in the East. Honestly, can you imagine two sub-500 teams making the playoffs in the East? I can.
9. Indiana Pacers (36-46)- What can I say about the Pacers? They will be better, but on most nights, I will continue to forget that they exist. No, that's not fair. That sounds like what many people would say about the Jazz. Collison, Granger and Hibbert will all be very good this season. There.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (35-47)- This seems like too low of a projection for the 76ers, but I just don't see them being really good either. I just don't think they have the roster to slow it down and play halfcourt offense, or get out and run, unless they just sit Elton Brand for almost every game. They could prove me very wrong, but they are starting Jason Kapono on opening night, so I might be very right.
11. Cleveland Cavaliers (30-52)- The Denver Nuggets of the East. They will blow this team up midway through the season. First will go Varejao. Then Jamison. Then Williams. Then wins.
12. Washington Wizards (30-52)- Four players to certainly watch. John Wall, Andray Blatche, Javale Mcgee, and Gilbert Arenas. Watch Wall to see his speed and freakish athleticism. Watch Blatche to see if he tries to miss purposely to get his own rebound for a triple double. Watch McGee to see if he improves. And watch Arenas to see if he smiles... even once. They would love to trade him, but there are literally no takers, no matter what you hear out of Orlando.
13. Detroit Pistons (25-57)- They are in the middle of being sold. They lost their energy guy to a preseason achilles injury. And Tracy McGrady is on the team. Like Iverson before, McGrady will foolishly think that he is the only one who can save the team and shoot them out of it too many games. And I am more and more relieved that the Jazz didn't land Greg Monroe in the draft. I was never sold on him.
14. New Jersey Nets (20-62)- I know it seems mean to still project the Nets as a horrible team, but when Troy Murphy is your best offseason acquisition, I think it is nice of me to give them 8 games. Mikhail Prokhorov's promise to make the playoffs, seems as funny as Dan Gilbert's rant that the Cavs will win a championship before Lebron James.
15. Toronto Raptors (14-68)- So sorry Toronto. Your team is going to be bad. But you have some of the greatest NBA bloggers in The Basketball Jones guys. So that's cool.
MVP: Kevin Durant
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
Coach of the Year: Erik Spoelstra
Most Improved Player: Darren Collison
6th Man of the Year: CJ Miles, why the h not?
Rookie of the Year: John Wall, although it should be Blake Griffin