Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NBA Predictions

With the NBA season around the corner, it’s prediction time.

Atlantic Division:
It’s pretty clear that the Celtics are the frontrunner in this division. Rondo is severely underrated and the Big Three play off of each other better than most people expected. KG is still the best big man in basketball and Paul Pierce has been underrated for a long time (I will assume that has changed after last year). The Celtics might be pushed by two division foes, Philadelphia and Toronto. How will Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal fare together? If those two mesh well, with Calderon distributing the ball, Toronto can pose an interesting challenge to the Celts. The Sixers have a solid nucleus with Dalembert and Brand up front and Andre Miller and Iguodala on the perimeter. The Celtics will win the division, but Toronto and Philly might make things interesting.

Central Division:

I like Cleveland to win this division even though the Pistons have won six of the last seven division titles. The Cavs continue to show their toughness in the playoffs and it will finally translate to a more consistent regular season this year. Mo’ Williams was a good pickup for this team and losing Larry Hughes only makes them better. The Cavs are above average defensively and are a great rebounding team, both antidotes to solving the Pistons. I also think that the Cavs will trade Wally Szczerbiak and his expiring contract for some help, which will get them over the hump that is the Pistons. The other three teams in this division suck, but I’ll be interested to watch the progress of Derrick Rose. Rose is amazingly athletic and if he develops a better midrange game he can be dangerous.

Southeast Division:

This division is tough because Orlando, Washington, and Atlanta can all be good this year. It seems the trendy pick is Orlando, but I’m predicting the Hawks to put it together and pull off the division title. Joe Johnson took a step back last year, but he began to get back to form at the end of the season. With more time playing next to Bibby, Johnson will have a big season. Added to that are the constantly improving Al Horford and Josh Smith. Atlanta is the pick because I don’t see Orlando and Washington improving much, if at all. This division has many points of interest: Will D-Wade stay healthy? How good will Michael Beasley be? What will Arenas do to improve his already stellar track record of awesomeness? Will Caron Butler start to be recognized as one of the best players in the league?

Eastern Conference Finals:
Celtics over Cavaliers. The Cavs are a tremendously tough playoff out, as they proved last year. James will put up some big numbers, but so will Pierce and the Big Ticket. Boston will knock Cleveland out of the playoffs again, this time in the conference finals.

Northwest Division:
The Jazz will win this division and it won’t be all that close. The Nuggets will drop off this year, the Wolves are a few years away, and the Nothing Interesting Geographically About Us's suck. The Trail Blazers might do some good things this year, and could very well win an NBA title in the near future, but they probably won’t fully put it together this year. The Jazz are stacked and experienced. Deron Williams is in the discussion for best point guard in the league, Boozer is a brute, Okur drives a yellow Ferrari Maranello, and AK 47 does a little bit of everything, including one woman a year as approved by his wife. What holds the Jazz back is their interior defense. Okur can defend occasionally, and Boozer plays matador defense. If the Jazz improve in this area they could legitimately challenge for the NBA Championship.

Pacific Division:

The Lakers are the class of the Pacific, with the only potential challenge coming from the Suns. The Suns-Lakers rivalry just keeps getting better, especially with Shaq now added to the mix. Amare was ridiculous toward the end of last season and could lead the league in scoring this year, and Nash is still a top 3 or 4 point guard. But the Lakers are just too talented and deep. Kobe, Odom, Gasol, and Andrew Bynum is a pretty sick quartet. Add to that Fisher, Farmar, Vujabic, Walton, and Ariza, and you have an impressively deep team. The Lakers are the class of the division - and the conference.

Southwest Division:

This is the toughest division to forecast. How will the Rockets fare? Will T-Mac or Yao actually stay healthy? Will Artest fit in well? Can the Spurs bounce back? Are the Hornets just a flash in the pan? Will Kidd finally mesh with the rest of the Mavs and give them a chance to take the division? My gut tells me to pick the Spurs, but I’m going to ignore it and go with the Hornets. I just can’t pick the Spurs with Ginobili out for a while. New Orleans will again be good and Chris Paul is expanding what is expected of point guards in the NBA because he does everything. I kept waiting for this team to fall off last year but it never happened. They got needed playoff experience and will again make a nice run.

Western Conference Finals:
Lakers over Jazz. I like the Spurs to be the toughest matchup for the Lake Show, but that will happen in the second round after New Orleans wins the division. I am predicting the Lakers to be the top seed in the West and have the homecourt, which is especially valuable in this matchup. The Jazz match up well with the Lakers and have experience, but in the end Kobe returns to the Finals.

NBA Finals:
Celtics over Lakers. I go with Boston to repeat for several reasons. The last team to win the NBA championship after losing in the Finals in the previous season was the 1989 Detroit Pistons, and I don’t expect L.A. to buck the trend. Kobe is attempting to play out an entire season with an injured finger. How will Bynum fit into an offense that worked so well without him last year? The Celtics showed their mettle last season by winning two game sevens and then beating Pistons and Lakers teams that many thought would win each series, and Boston is better defensively and on the glass than are the Lakers. The Celtics will hang another banner in the rafters.

League MVP:
LeBron James. LeBron is off the charts statistically, and with the help of Mo Williams this season the Cavs will win the Central Division. James just keeps getting better and the sky is the limit - which is insane. James will beat out Kobe and Paul to win the MVP this year.

Best rookie:

Greg Oden. He won’t win the rookie of the year award (Beasley’s stats will be too impressive), but he’s a game changer on both ends of the court. Oden is a tremendous rebounder and shot blocker with an expanding offensive game. He’s going to score in double figures just off of offensive rebounds, so what happens when he develops more of a post repertoire? He’ll take his licks early, but Oden has already proved that he responds to challenges: He went for 25 and 12, with 4 blocks in the NCAA Championship game against Joakim Noah and Al Horford, both lottery picks. Oden is the real deal.

Breakout Star:

Al Thornton. Thornton put up 12.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg as a rookie last year, and with Corey Maggette moving to Golden State, Thornton’s game and numbers will improve. Of course, this is assuming that he gets some touches while playing next to a chucker like Baron Davis.