So for the five zillionth and first year in a row, the Competition Discussion series never got off the ground. This year, I hope (I think) I had an excuse, since I was doing team previews for SBNation.com as part of our NBA Blog Preview series (you can check them all out here). It was tough to do both, and since I had a boss directing me to do the SBNation.com series, that won out.
(Also, check out this countdown of the 25 most important people in the NBA this year).
But with the season starting tomorrow, this is as good a time as any for us to make some non-Wizards predictions. Below the jump, I and the other Bullets Forever editors will do just that.
15. Toronto Raptors (22-60): No, Chris Bosh isn't worth 18 wins all by himself literally, but the Raptors lost him for nothing and didn't do anything to advance their team toward any sort of identity. Sure, Bosh was a poor defender, but is Amir Johnson and his fouling really much better? As long as Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon remain fixtures in the rotation, this team isn't stopping anybody, and without Bosh, it's hard to see how they'll duplicate their strong offensive showing from a year ago.
14. Detroit Pistons (24-58): Covered them here.
13. New Jersey Nets (25-57): I can't help but think that Avery Johnson is the wrong coach for these guys. Do you really trust Avery to get the most out of Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors when he's never coached a good big man in his life? Do you really expect Devin Harris to like him again after hating him on his way out in Dallas? I'm a bit dubious. That said, Avery is a good coach in general, and there's some talent here. I'm just not sure if it's enough to be talking playoffs yet.
12. Cleveland Cavaiiers (27-55): Covered them here.
11. Philadeiphia 76ers (29-53): Doug Collins tends to do well in his first season on jobs, but I really hate this mix. Evan Turner continues to struggle for many of the reasons I figured he would (not athletic, not a great dribbler, not good at playing off the ball, not a good shooter, etc.), and unless he turns it around, we're going to see more of Andre Iguodala trying to be a star instead of being the fill-in guy he was for Team USA. Collins also hates to run, so we won't see these athletes fly in transition. Throw in a really thin frontcourt that's counting on Elton Brand to rejuvenate himself, and I'm not finding a lot to like.
10. Washington Wizards (30-52): There's so much newness that needs to sort itself out, so a playoff berth is asking a hell of a lot. It'll be a fun 30-win season though.
9. Indiana Pacers (37-45): Covered them here.
8. New York Knicks (38-44): I might be undershooting them a bit, to be honest. If there's any team capable of making a jump to the middle of the pack, it's the Knicks. I think Amare Stoudemire will have a big year, proving that he wasn't just the product of Steve Nash, and there's something really intriguing about the possibility of a Stoudemire-Danilo Gallinari-Anthony Randolph frontcourt. But Randolph is struggling, my man Kelenna Azubuike (who should start at shooting guard) is still hurt, and Raymond Felton isn't very good. I say they sneak into the playoffs here.
7. Charlotte Bobcats (44-38): Covered them here.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (44-38): Everyone loves Milwaukee, but I'm a little worried. Scott Skiles teams tend to flame out by Year 3, and there are a number of odd personalities mixed in with this group (Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Drew Gooden). Andrew Bogut is also not 100-percent healthy, and they lost their point guard security blanket when Luke Ridnour departed for Minnesota. Of course, none of this matters if Brandon Jennings makes a leap, to the point where his play matches his reputation. I'm not sure he can, but you never know. Regardless, with a strong point guard and strong center play, this is a team nobody will want to play in the playoffs.
5. Atlanta Hawks (45-37): Covered them here.
4. Chicago Bulls (49-33): Covered them here.
3. Boston Celtics (51-31): Covered them here.
2. Orlando Magic (56-26): This is the one team that can mess everything up. Miami has no answer for Dwight Howard, whether he improves his post game or not. They just need to find a way to get past Boston and any of the other teams that actually have post defenders that can stop Howard. Putting the ball in Jameer Nelson's hands and taking it out of Vince Carter's will also make a difference.
1. Miami Heat (68-14): It's a stars league, and the Heat have stars. Can they win the title, though? If they get Boston, I think they'll reach the Finals. If they get Orlando, they will struggle. And we haven't mentioned LA yet.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-65): Kevin Love needs a new team badly. Without any efficient scorers, Love will have to do more scoring than ever, and it's just not his strength. Seventeen wins is probably generous, especially because Michael Beasley will have free reign to launch all the terrible shots he wants.
14. Golden State Warriors (28-54): I'll admit that I'm a bit intrigued, but I'm not understanding why people think the stink of Don Nelson will suddenly be erased merely by replacing him with Keith Smart. Smart is Nellie's guy and has been the de facto coach for two years. Why wouldn't you see the same old Warriors?
13. Los Angeles Clippers (30-52): Yeah, I know, everyone's going crazy and picking them to make the playoffs because of Blake Griffin. Griffin is a monster, there's no doubting that. But I'm not placing my faith in the Baron Davis/Vinny Del Negro duo, not if my life depended on it. The difference between Davis and Gilbert Arenas is that Davis is the guy setting everyone up. Arenas is merely a piece, a finisher. As long as Davis is the on-field general, the Clippers will continue to be inconsistent.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (37-45): It's too bad, because Memphis has talent. They're just stuck in a deep conference. I'm also not loving the fact that three key players (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo) are playing for contracts after the other key player (Rudy Gay) got massively overpaid.
11. New Orleans Hornets (38-44): Chris Paul is great, but is the rest of this roster really any better? Trevor Ariza kind of makes sense, but he wasn't worth sacrificing Darren Collison. Their depth is really weak, even after the recent trade for Jerryd Bayless, and they're working in a first-time head coach. How they honestly believe they can challenge the West's elite is beyond me.
10. Denver Nuggets (43-39): This assumes Carmelo Anthony is traded after December 15 for a good enough package to keep them relatively competitive until the end of the season. It'll be interesting to see if some of the lower-usage guys on the team, like Nene, Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, emerge once they get more shots. I think they very easily could.
9. Phoenix Suns (45-37): Steve Nash can work magic, but can he convince anyone other than Robin Lopez to grab a rebound? The Suns' rebounding issues will kill them all year, and I'm guessing they'll be enough to keep them out of the playoffs.
8. Sacramento Kings (47-35): This is an unbelievably bold prediction, and probably a foolish one. But we forget that Sacramento has some serious talent. Tyreke Evans is a jump shot away from being unstoppable, and you know he'll develop one now that he has to surrender some paint time to the dynamic DeMarcus Cousins. The surrounding pieces are intriguing too, especially if they can move either Jason Thompson or Carl Landry for another small guard. Paul Westphal isn't the best coach in the world, but he does his best work with teams with wacky personalities that rely heavily on isolations. For a year at least, I think he'll push the right buttons. It won't be a smooth ride, but it will be successful and entertaining.
7. Houston Rockets (47-35): 24 minutes a game from Yao Ming is enough to add five wins to this group. Most teams would have problems playing two styles, but the Rockets are deep enough to make it work. I guarantee you that nobody wants them in the playoffs.
6. Utah Jazz (48-34): This is a bit low for them, but I suspect there will be an adjustment period as Al Jefferson gets worked into this system. Jefferson is good, and he's healthy after not being healthy last year, but he's the antithesis of a Jerry Sloan player. It'll take time for Sloan to get Jefferson to compete on every possession and learn how to make quick decisions with the ball. When that happens, the Jazz will be dangerous, but I suspect it'll cost them a few regular-season wins.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32): Everyone's newest Western Conference challenger is getting a little overhyped this preseason. It's not because of Kevin Durant, because I've stopped trying to define a ceiling for him. It's not because of Russell Westbrook, who should make another big jump. It's because of everyone else. The Thunder were unbelievably healthy last year, and it's hard to believe that continues. They still lack good outside shooting, unless James Harden can supplant Thabo Sefolosha ... which would hurt their defense. Losing assistant Ron Adams is going to be a bigger issue than people think. I'm guessing OKC takes another step forward and wins a playoff series, but I don't see them being a contender until 2011-12.
4. Portland Trail Blazers (50-32): Despite an unprecedented number of injuries, the Blazers had as many wins as the Thunder last year. Expecting a team counting heavily on Brandon Roy and Greg Oden to stay fully healthy for a full year is a stretch, but there's no way things will be as bad as they were last year.
3. Dallas Mavericks (50-32): I have a bad feeling about this team, but they always find a way to win 50 in the regular season. There's no way they're getting past Utah in a playoff series, though.
2. San Antonio Spurs (55-27): Now, see, this is the team everyone is sleeping on. They had the fourth-best point differential in the NBA last year, despite Manu Ginobili being banged-up early and Tony Parker being very injured late. A lot went wrong for the Spurs last year ... and they still made the final eight. Now, they have Tiago Splitter, the big man Tim Duncan has needed for seven years, and the youngsters that stepped up last season (George Hill, DeJuan Blair) only have more room to grow. Throw in a better season for Richard Jefferson (he can't be any worse), and the Lakers should fear these guys. Nobody else has more size, experience and playmaking in the West.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (56-26): They made some good moves this summer to shore up their depth, which should allow them to amass enough regular-season wins to take the top seed even if Kobe Bryant starts slowly. Of course, when the playoffs roll around, they will still be the favorite.
MVP: Dwight Howard. Everyone loves a good narrative, and Howard turning into an actual post-up player with legit post moves is as good a one as any. I was tempted to give this to Durant, but I don't have OKC pegged for enough wins.
Rookie: Blake Griffin. As much as I wanted to give it to John Wall, becoming a good point guard in this league doesn't happen right away.
Coach: Paul Westphal.
Defensive POY: Howard.
Most Improved: Nicolas Batum. The flashes we saw at the end of last year are just the beginning.
Sixth Man: James Harden. I suspect the Thunder will keep starting Sefolosha, but Harden will be on the floor at the end of games.
First round: Miami over New York in 4; Orlando over Charlotte in 4; Boston over Milwaukee in 7; Chicago over Atlanta in 6; LA Lakers over Sacramento in 6; San Antonio over Houston in 7; Utah over Dallas in 6; Oklahoma City over Portland in 5.
Second round: Miami over Chicago in 5; Orlando over Boston in 7; LA Lakers over Oklahoma City in 7; San Antonio over Utah in 6.
Conference Finals: Miami over Orlando in 7; LA Lakers over San Antonio in 7.
NBA Finals: LA Lakers over Miami in 6.
BF editor predictions:
|Team||Mike Prada||CJ Hempfeld||Sean Fagan||Rook6980||Jon Kelman||Jake Whitacre|