By Chris Le
I don’t really have the time or the patience to write a flowery introduction that captures the essence of the nascent NBA season. So how about we jump right into the meat of things and head straight to the predictions.
Here we go.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Cleveland – Simply put, King James is the best player in the league. And he’s just barely scratched the surface of his potential (I still don’t know why he hasn’t developed—not to mention his jumper—any semblance of a post-up game. Come on, ‘Bron, you’re fucking huge! Back these fools down!). Kobe Bryant may be more skilled all around, but nobody—I repeat, nobody—effects and takes over a game quite like LBJ. The most unstoppable being in the NBA. Hands down. His play is god like. I have high hopes for this improved Cleveland squad and fully expect James to propel them to a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. This should be the first of many Maurice Podoloff Trophies for James.
Honorable Mention: Chris Paul, New Orleans; Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles
Defensive Player: Shane Battier, Houston – It’s about time a perimeter defender won this award; and, had KG not gone to Boston and completely transformed the Celtics into the best defensive team in the NBA, Battier would’ve had a shot last year. With Bruce Bowen missing barely half a step, Battier takes the mantle as the game’s top wing harasser. A nationally televised lockdown of Kobe or LeBron, like he did in 2007, would be a serious campaign boost.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Garnett, Boston; Marcus Camby, Los Angeles
Rookie of the Year: Greg Oden, Portland – This one comes with a caveat: Oden needs to stay healthy. And with his track record and the severity of microfracture surgery, this is a big if. (See the nosedive that is Kenyon Martin and the slightly less pathetic examples of Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway, and Darius Miles—though Miles sucked even before the surgery, so that might be a bad barometer). However, if he manages to play 65-70 games, no one else will have a shot, as I wholeheartedly anticipate Oden to show almost consistent dominance, particularly on defense. Beasley will score at ease on a slightly improved Heat squad, but no rookie—or team—will be as dangerous as Greg Oden and the Trailblazers.
Honorable Mention: Michael Beasley, Miami; Derrick Rose, Chicago; O.J. Mayo, Memphis
Sixth Man: Lamar Odom, Los Angeles – There’s a solid chance that he will be reinserted in the starting lineup. But if he isn’t, this will be a one man race. Odom, with his versatility and size, would probably start on 95% of the NBA’s teams. But Los Angeles is loaded with offensive talent—even more so than last year when they reached the NBA finals. Odom may not start games, but I expect him to finish them, while playing and posting starter-like minutes and numbers.
Honorable Mention: Leandro Barbosa, Phoenix; Ben Gordon, Chicago; Manu Ginobili, San Antonio
Most Improved Player: Julian Wright, New Orleans – To be completely honest, this one is the mother of all gut picks. The Clipper’s Al Thornton is shaping up to be a stud, Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey showed how valuable he can be in the 2007 postseason, and Devin Harris should run wild on a horrifically bad Nets team. Plus, starting the season with a sprained right ankle doesn’t help Wright’s cause, but I saw twinkles of brilliance from this kid during last year’s playoffs. With a shaky bench, Wright should see a quantum leap in minutes (11.2) and points (3.9). He’s just too talented to be contained.
Honorable Mention: Al Thornton, Los Angeles; Rodney Stuckey, Detroit; Devin Harris, New Jersey
Head Coach: Maurice Cheeks, Philadelphia – Seeing how everyone, from the media to the boys at your local barber shop, are on Portland’s balls, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that they are a dynasty in the making; and this indeed might be the year Nate McMillan coaches his Trailblazers to the playoffs and scares the hell out of a top seed, but no team will see a more significant jump in total wins than the Sixers. Having finished under .500 last season (40-42), thanks to the addition of Elton Brand to a squad that already seeps athleticism, the 76ers will be a top-four team in the East. Bank on it.
Honorable Mention: Nate McMillan, Portland; Rick Adelman, Houston
Surprise Team: Atlanta Hawks – This isn’t merely a knee-jerk reaction to the Hawks nearly making the new look Celtics a bust in last year’s first round. I look at their starting five, which is just saturated in freakish talent (I’m talking about sideshow type athleticism), and I see a top-five Eastern team. But then I look at the bench and realize why expectations are so low. I’m trusting that the loss of the treasonous Josh Childress won’t be as debilitating as most think, and that the initial five will be able to offset their complete lack of depth, ultimately finishing sixth in the East.
Honorable Mention: Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers
Most Disappointing Team: Utah Jazz – When I say Utah will be disappointing, I don’t mean they’ll take a page from the Miami Heat and drop off the face of the planet; I mean they’ll be the proverbial team that looks awesome on paper, but somehow lays an egg when it matters most. So pretty much they’ll be the Rockets of the last few years. My crystal ball foresees a drop in overall production for Jerry Sloan and his Jazz. Firstly, Utah christens the new season with a slightly banged up Deron Williams, and he’ll need an MVP type season to keep the Jazz afloat. Secondly, even if they have the best home-court advantage in the league, I simply don’t trust a soft team with an average defense that underperforms on the road. But I could be completely wrong.
Other Miscellaneous Prognostications…
- Andrew Bynum will improve the Lakers…but not that much. Contrary to what I’ve read online the last few weeks, the word “force” has no business being in the same sentence as Andrew Bynum. Not yet. Not anytime soon. Look, I’m no hater—ok, maybe a little bit—he definitely opened some eyes last year, but come on, all this hype is based on, what, 30 or so decently played games? As a natural born skeptic, I need more proof than that.
- The Ron Artest experiment will work…until the postseason. The parallel may be hackneyed, but it works: Ron Artest is like the NBA’s Terrell Owens. Both are prodigious talents, and both are bonafide nut jobs who can’t control their emotions for the extent of a full season. I initially thought having Rick Adelman, whom Artest played for and respected in Sacramento, would be beneficial for the troubled star. But with one first round loss after the other, Houston already has a history of being mentally fragile—bringing in Artest isn’t necessarily fixing the problem.
G Chris Paul
G Kobe Bryant
F LeBron James
F Kevin Garnett
C Dwight Howard
Hornets in 6 over Spurs – Fuck you, Lakers fans! I need to see more defense and toughness to fully buy into your team. Don’t sleep on the Spurs. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will keep things afloat in San Antonio the first few months; then, just in time for a playoff push, a healthy and rested Manu Ginobili will provide some offense that was lacking late last year. Unfortunately for them, that won’t be enough against the younger and better Hornets squad. Hell, they were younger and better in 2008 when they lost to the Spurs, but now New Orleans has a bench, with a consummate winner in James Posey and an improved Julian Wright.
Cavs in 6 over Celtics – Boston has to be the favorite to win it all again, but I just can’t bet against LeBron. He’s that crazy. He’s so good, I’m not going to give any further explanation as to why I think the Cavs will beat the Celtics. I’m not going to explain X’s and O’s or provide any type of insights. I’m just going to say LeBron James. To any question you have, my answer is LeBron James. End of discussion.
Cavs in 7 over Hornets — The future is now, I guess. I’m going out on a limb here, but this is the match up I see come this June. We have Chris Paul and LeBron James, two young studs whose wills just can’t be denied, and both will be battling each other for MVPs and titles for the next decade. The Hornets are the more talented, better rounded team. But the Cavs are better defensively and, more importantly, have more experience—NBA Finals experience—on their squad. A slight offensive boost in the form of Mo Williams makes the Cavs better than they were the last two years. And if you forgot, the Cavs went to the Finals in 2007 and James almost single-handedly beat the eventual champion Celtics in 2008.