As we embark on the 2011-2012 NBA season, we find that the contenders for the title, for the most part (with the exception of Chicago), find themselves weakened, while the defending Eastern Conference Champions are pretty much the same. We have slight improvements to the New York Knicks and a vast improvement to the Indiana Pacers. We have a much improved Clippers team out west and the natural progression of teams such as the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder make them teams on the rise.
We are set for a memorable season, as the Miami Heat set out to win the first championship for the “Big Three”.
1. Miami Heat (50-16) Key Addition: Shane Battier. The Miami Heat, in a shortened, more compact season, will rely on their veteran presence and familiarity. Chris Bosh will benefit greatly from having a year under his belt as should Head Coach Erik Spoelstra. It is never easy, and it won’t be for year two of the Big Three, but it will definately be “easier” than last year, which places them back in the NBA Finals.
2. Boston Celtics (45 to 48 wins) Key Additions: Brandon Bass. The Celtics with their age, should be hindered in a compact 66 game season, but their experience, as well as a slight regression from the Chicago Bulls, will find them as the number 2 seed in the EC. Age and a lack of depth will come back to bite them again, as the Celtics last hurrah falls a bit short.
3. Chicago Bulls (43 to 46 wins) Key Addition: Rip Hamilton. Last year, the Chicago Bulls gained the overall #1 seed, but I project a step back, as players that had near career years last year, should return to the mean. Come playoff time however, the Bulls will be formidable, and a rematch with the Miami Heat in the EC Finals, is a realistic destination.
4. Orlando Magic (40 to 43 wins) Key Addition: Glen Davis. On Dwight Howard Watch all year, it has to take it’s toll, and a lack of improvement on the roster, will find them on a continued downward trajectory. Another 1st round, knockdown, draggout series awaits, as another 1st round exit is certainly possible.
5. New York Knicks (38 to 41 wins) Key Addition: Tyson Chandler. Arguably the best front line in the NBA, the second year of the Melo/Amare combination will bear fruit, as the Knicks will be vastly improved with a year under their belt. Landry Fields, should be a more consistent contributor and the Knicks natural front Line advantage, will lend itself to many regular season wins. Come playoff time, their deficiencies in the back court and perimeter defense will be exposed.
6. Indiana Pacers (36 to 39 wins) Key Addition: David West. Under 1st year Head Coach Frank Vogel, the Pacers caught a nice roll to get into the playoffs, and then push the Chicago Bulls in their first round series. Their defensive style, and good shooting will lend itself to alot of regular season success, which will put them in a position to be the NBA’s most improved team.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (33 to 36 wins) Key Addition: None. A young energetic team that gave the Heat some trouble in the 1st round last year, find themselves in year two under Head Coach Doug Collins. A slight improvement is in the cards, and I project that we will finally see the Sixers fans “dream” matchup of a Celtics/76ers 1st round tilt. I expect Thad Young to challenge for the most improved player award.
8. Atlanta Hawks (33 to 36 wins) Key Addition: Tracy McGrady. Another team on a never ending downward trajectory, that managed somewhat of a upward tick last year, winning two games versus the Bulls in the second round. The Hawks remain a piece away from serious contention. A piece, it seems, that they will never gain.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (48 to 51 wins) Key Addition: None. It’s popular to go with the young team progressing, and say that they will naturally take the next step, so allow me to join the chorus. OKC will relieve the Mavs of the Western Conference crown, and it could be theirs for the foreseeable future. It usually takes a year and a half for players to fully recover from Torn Ligaments in the Knee, and Kendrick Perkins should be rounding back into form this season.
2. Dallas Mavericks (46 to 49 wins) Key Addition: Lamar Odom. The loss of Tyson Chandler was big, as he made all the difference in the Mavs Zone defense. The Mavericks should be improved offensively with the addition of Lamar Odom, and they will rebound just fine, but I feel Brendan Haywood is a severe departure from what Chandler brought them.
3. San Antonio Spurs (43 to 46 wins) Key Addition: None. In what could be Tim Duncan’s final charge for one last title, the Spurs will be plenty good in the regular season. Gregg Popovich will marshall his resources well, and the Spurs’ three point shooting, will be condusive to regular season success. Come playoff time, rebounding could become an issue and keep them from going deep into the playoffs.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (42 to 45 wins) Key Addition: None. They will still be the Lakers, which means that they will have Kobe Bryant and a formidable front line. Mike Brown will stress defense, and the offense will most likely come from alot of Kobe Bryant freelancing. it won’t be pretty, or coordinated as the triangle, but effective enough, for Kobe’s last stand.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (38 to 41 wins) Key Addition: None. The Grizz were the story of the 2010-2011 NBA Playoffs as they threatened to reach the WC Finals from the #8 seed. A tough team on their front line, that is getting back near all-star Rudy Gay. I would expect them to improve and for the development of PG Mike Conley to continue. They have the look of a team that could be challenging the OKC Thunder for the WC Crown for many years to come.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (37 to 40 wins) Key Addition: Chris Paul. The Clippers had a very good offseason, adding Superstar Point Guard Chris Paul in a trade, Caron Butler in Free Agency (if healthy) and retaining Most Improved player candidate DeAndre Jordan. There will be a Buzz in the Staples center year round, and it will make for some very interesting Laker / Clipper matchups. Maybe even in the playoffs.
7. Portland Trailblazers (34 to 37 wins) Key Addition: Jamal Crawford. Portland was pretty strong on the perimeter last year,ang it will be no different this year. In Nic Batum, and Gerald Wallace, The Blazers possess just the right type of wing players to compete with the bevy of Lengthy wing players in the Western Conference. They will be a tough out.
8. Denver Nuggets (33 to 36 wins) Key Addition: None. The Nuggets post Melo Trade were pretty impressive, especially at the pace they were able to play at, night in and night out. The Nuggets play hard, and have a favorite of mine emerging this year to take over the PG duties (Ty Lawson). They will be fun to watch, and as long as they can tread water till the “China Two” (Wilson Chandler, JR Smith) come back, a return to the playoffs is likely.
The Miami Heat Defeat The Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2 in the NBA Finals.
NBA Most Improved Player:
DeAndre Jordan – Los Angeles Clippers. After cashing with a nice contract, DeAndre Jordan will produce at a level that was expected. A 13/10 season, plenty of highlight Lob dunks, and 2 blocks a game, will net him the award. The most athletic 7 footer in the league (interesting how he shrunk to 6′-11″ in listed height), now becomes a useful player, and near all-star.
Rookie of the Year:
Kemba Walker – Charlotte Bobcats. Tempted to take Derrick Williams, but he has a minutes crush in Minnesota, Kyrie Irving’s game is not polished enough, and Enes Kanter will also have a minutes crush. So that leaves us with a looter in a riot on the leagues worst team, filling up the scoring column for rookie of the year.
Sixth Man of the Year:
Udonis Haslem – Miami Heat. UD finally gets his due. Puts in a 11/9 season, and gets the notice of the national media. It translates to a much deserved award. Udonis Haslem will have the perfect storm in order to win the award this year. In my opinion, only health can derail him.
Coach of the Year:
Scott Brooks – Oklahoma City Thunder. Politics, and a good record, will hand Coach Brooks the award. An even, steady, regular season performance and a #1 seed is enough. Brooks is the pick here.
Executive of the Year:
Neil Olshey – Los Angeles Clippers. The Chris Paul trade, and a vault from obscurity to the playoffs and national prominence, will make Olshey a name that will be mentioned for the award. He wins, based on the teams’ winning percentage improvement.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Dwight Howard – Orlando Magic. The voters are too comfortable voting for prolific shot blocking centers that have gaudy rebounding numbers. The intelligent NBA fan would give serious consideration to guys such as LeBron James and Gerald Wallace. But they (the voters) won’t.
Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder. Process of deduction. Chris Paul’s team won’t be good enough. Same for Dwight Howard. LeBron James will split votes with Dwyane Wade. That leaves us with Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, and Kobe Bryant as serious contenders. A #1 seed and another scoring title wins Durant his 1st NBA MVP award.