By John Schmeelk
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For some reason putting three superstars on one team has made this one of the most anticipated NBA seasons in recent memory. I’m not quite sure why, but one thing is sure – with all the player movement in the offseason there will be a pretty large shift in the NBA power structure this year. Here are some division by division breakdowns and some postseason and awards predictions.
1. Boston Celtics – They are old… very old, but still very good. The team probably takes another mini step back this year, but they are still far and away the best team in the Atlantic Division. Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal won’t give them much, and they’ll be pining for Kendrick Perkins to come back from his knee injury sooner rather than later. Once that happens, don’t be surprised to see Shaq, one of the worst defenders in the NBA to be glued to the bench. Expect Kevin Garnett to have a better season, a full year removed from his knee injury. They’re still a fifty-win team and one of the teams to beat in the East.
2. New York Knicks – The preseason has not been encouraging, but the upgrades should be good for another ten wins, which will put them at about the 40-win mark. Stoudemire is THAT much better than David Lee, and Felton is a starting quality PG. Chris Duhon was… not. The team desperately needs consistent shooting and scoring from the wing. That person should be Danilo Gallinari, but his preaseason was inconsistent. Carmelo Anthony would fit that role well if they can figure out a way to pry him from Denver.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – There’s a ton of talent on this team, but that has been the case the last few years. Doug Collins has not proven himself to be a difference maker as a NBA coach, and the improvement of Jrue Holiday and addition of Evan Turner won’t be enough to get the team to .500. Andre Iguodala simply does not have enough help, unless Thaddeus Young turns the corner or Elton Brand plays like it’s 2005. Nope, not going to happen.
4. New Jersey Nets – If the Knicks had a disappointing offseason, the Nets had a disastrous one. They threw their money at mediocre players like Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow. The biggest addition was Avery Johnson, who will get the Nets playing playoff caliber defense. Brook Lopez is already a top center, but Devon Harris is more of a scorer from the point guard position than a playmaker. Carmelo Anthony would vault them into the playoffs, but from the looks of things he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
5. Toronto Raptors – This is a bad basketball team. Andrea Bargnani is the top dog, but he’s content to launch three pointers all game. Leandro Barbosa can score, but Jarrett Jack, Linas Kleiza, Demar Derozan, Amir Johnson and Reggie Evans do not inspire confidence. Who’s scoring points? They’ll be right there for the first pick in the draft next year.
1. Miami Heat – Contrary to what people are saying, three great players do actually make a team an automatic championship contender. LeBron James won 50+ games with a bunch of scrubs in Cleveland, imagine how many he’ll win passing to guys to like Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, Carlos Arroyo and Mario Chalmers aren’t a bad supporting cast either. The scary thing is that this team will play defense, and with the scoring load on the big three relaxed, they can spend more energy on the defensive end. Despite what others think, Erik Spoelstra should keep Pat Riley off the sidelines this season, as long as the team doesn’t bomb. If they don’t win a title, however, all bets are off next season.
2. Orlando Magic – The Magic are a very good, just not a great basketball team. They still lack a true “go to guy” down the stretch, with Dwight Howard limited offensively, Vince Carter over the hill, and Rashard Lewis now a one-dimensional three point shooter. Defense is their biggest strength. They’ll be good, but not good enough to get past Miami or Boston.
3. Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks probably won’t get to 50 wins this year, even with a new coach. They bring back the same team they had last year, except the conference is a lot stronger. Mike Bibby is washed up at point guard and Jeff Teague doesn’t look ready to take over for him. Larry Drew isn’t a difference maker as their new coach. The team’s best hope is for Al Horford to take a huge step forward and become a dominant post threat. That’s unlikely.
4. Charlotte Bobcats – Larry Brown doesn’t handle mediocre teams well, and he has a very mediocre team on his hands. Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson are solid, but not good enough to carry a team. DJ Augustin is a downgrade from Raymond Felton, and Tyrus Thomas won’t do much to improve this team. 35 wins.
5. Washington Wizards – It’s year one of rebuilding in Washington and they have a great piece to build around in John Wall. He might be the fastest guy with the ball in the league. Andray Blatche had a breakout year last year, but let’s see him play that well on a good team. What will this team do with Gilbert Arena, who is a wacko and has the worst contract in the league?
1. Chicago Bulls – The Bulls had a pretty disappointing offseason, using all their available cap space on Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans and Kurt Thomas. Boozer is often injured, and is already out until December with a fractured hand. Luol Deng must stay healthy as well. Tom Thibodeau will get the team to focus on defense, and will provide the team a good base from which to win games. Trading Kirk Heinrich will turn out to be a mistake. The Bulls should be a top four team in the Eastern Conference.
2. Milwaukee Bucks – Scott Skiles overachieved with this group last year, and was dealt a bad hand in the playoffs when Andrew Bogut got hurt. Brandon Jennings should take a step forward this year, and improve his shot selection and distribution skills. Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden and John Salmons round out a solid, and overpaid starting five. Skiles will have the team play top flight defense, which should keep them in the playoff picture.
3. Indiana Pacers – The Pacers should show improvement this year, largely due to the addition of Darren Collison. He is undersized, but a legit starting playmaker in the league. Roy Hibbert should improve and Mike Dunleavy healthy for an entire season should make a big difference as well. Danny Granger is very quietly one of the better players in the league. Now, only if Larry O’Brien can get the Pacers to play a little defense.
4. Detroit Pistons – The starting five has solid players, but the mix isn’t great. Charlie Villanueva is a black hole, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are often hurt, and Rodney Stuckey is a shoot first point guard. Ben Gordon off the bench will score, but that’s about it. Bad mix of players put together by Joe Dumars.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers – The Cavs performance this year will show everyone exactly how good LeBron James was. They will right in the mix for worst record in the league. I honestly feel bad for Cleveland fans. It will be a LONG season.
1. Miami Heat
2. Boston Celtics
3. Orlando Magic
4. Chicago Bulls
5. Atlanta Hawks
6. Milwaukee Bucks
7. New York Knicks
8. Philadelphia 76ers
1. Dallas Mavericks – I tried to figure out a way to not pick Dallas to finish in first place in the division after their playoff bust last year, but they are the most talented team top to bottom. Caron Butler will fit in better in his second season with the team, and Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood should rebound and play defense enough to be very useful at center. Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry all have enough left to make another run. This team is a lot better than people think.
2. San Antonio Spurs – Health, health, health. Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker both missed a lot of time last year. Richard Jefferson was an absolute disaster. Tim Duncan saw some serious slowdown. Some of these should reverse course in 2010 and the Spurs will be better off for it. They aren’t championship caliber anymore, just a notch below. Tiago Splitter could be a darkhorse difference maker on this team.
3. Memphis Grizzlies – The Grizz have a chance to finish in the playoffs this year, if they get more progress from their young players like Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay, who received a ridiculous contract this offseason. All four should get better, and with the consistent numbers of Zach Randolph, this team could hit 50 wins. There’s a great mix of talent that now needs to commit to the defensive end of the floor.
4. Houston Rockets – The big man is everything for this team. If Yao Ming can stay healthy the Rockets can contend out west. If not it could be another mediocre season around .500. If Yao can play 75 games, they’ll finish in second place. I just don’t buy it. Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks will be one of the highest scoring and fastest backcourts in the league.
5. New Orleans Hornets – The duo of Chris Paul and David West can only bring this team so far. Peja Stojakovic is a shell of his former self, and other starters Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza can’t score. Marco Belinelli is in his 4th year and there’s little reason to think he’ll be able to give consistent production. Another bad season will hasten Chris Paul’s exit.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder – They have a top five player in the league that might be top three before the season is over in Kevin Durant. Expect improvement from Russell Westbrook, especially with his jumper and decision-making. Jeff Green is a perfect complimentary player. James Harden could take a huge jump in his second year in the league. Nenad Krstic is a solid center and Thabo Sefolosha is a good wing defender that can take the pressure off Durant. The future is now.
2. Utah Jazz – Never count out Jerry Sloan. The team lost Carlos Boozer but they bring in a low post scorer to replace him in Al Jefferson. Paul Millsap moves into the starting lineup and will fill up the stat sheet. If Raja Bell and Andrei Kirilenko can stay healthy they are two excellent perimeter defenders. Deron Williams is a top two-point guard in the league. Everyone knows the Jazz play great defense. It will be another ho-hum fifty-win season in Salt Lake City.
3. Portland Trailblazers – Brandon Roy would be a top five player in the league if he could ever stay healthy. Unfortunately, his knee can’t be trusted. Neither can Greg Oden’s wheels. Andre Miller and Marcus Camby are two reliable veterans but there are simply too many questions to have faith in Portland to finish with a top record in a tough Western Conference.
4. Denver Nuggets – The Carmelo Anthony situation will hang over this team all year, and that makes it hard to predict how they will perform. I’m getting the feeling Denver is going to hold onto Carmelo as long as they can, and that will pad their record. Chauncey Billups is getting older, Kenyon Martin has bad wheels, and Nene is not an impact player. J.R. Smith is a walking time bomb. This is the year things blow up for George Karl in Denver.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves – This is a strange team. Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Corey Brewer and Luke Ridnour are all starting. Not a great sign. Kevin Love is an excellent player but he can’t carry a team. Jonny Flynn had a terrible rookie year and will probably need a new system to show what he can do on the pro level. How long before they trade Ricky Rubio?
1. Los Angeles Lakers – With the Suns Amar’e-less there’s no one in the Pacific that can challenge the Hollywood Fakers. Even if Kobe continues to suffer from attrition, Pau Gasol is a beast and Andrew Bynum will continue to improve in the middle. The Lakers are still the team to beat out west.
2. Phoenix Suns – The Suns still have enough left to hold off the young teams behind them, and finish second in the division. It will be hard for this team to get to the playoffs without an inside force like Stoudemire. Hedo Turkoglu will add another perimeter threat, but where are the easy baskets coming from. Who is Nash going to pass to on his high screen and roll plays? All good questions.
3. Los Angeles Clippers – Vinny Del Negro replaced Mike Dunleavy as head coach. This is the biggest positive the Clippers could have had. Del Negro will instill some discipline and defensive principles to a helter skelter team. Blake Griffin still looks like the real deal, and he has good talent around him in Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and even Baron Davis. Let’s see if Del Negro can convince Baron to pass a little bit, and actually be, you know, a point guard.
4. Golden State Warriors – Much like the Clippers, the best thing the Warriors did was say goodbye to Don Nelson. I don’t know what kind of coach Keith Smart will be, but he won’t be Nelson. That’s great news. That being said, the Warriors don’t have the personnel to be good defensively. Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry are both undersized, and David Lee is one of the worst defensive big men in the league. The team will improve but they aren’t ready yet.
5. Sacramento Kings – Another improving team, but unless DeMarcus Cousins shows up and dominates the low post, the team will have trouble scoring. Tyreke Evans needs to improve his jumper and Omri Casspi has to make a erious jump if this team wants to get significantly better. Carl Landry is a spark off the bench, but s there just isn’t enough scoring potential on the roster.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Dallas Mavericks
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Utah Jazz
5. San Antonio Spurs
6. Portland Trailblazers
7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. Houston Rockets
The Western Conference is still much deeper than the East. None of the 6-8 seeds in the East would make the playoffs out west. Logic tells me that the Lakers and Heat will meet in the Finals with the Lakers winning, but I’ll be a little bit different.
Eastern Conference Finals: Celtics over Heat in 7 games.
Western Conference Finals: Mavericks over Lakers in 6 games.
NBA Finals: Celtics over the Mavericks in 7 games.
The Celtics match up well defensively with the Heat, and their toughness could overwhelm Miami inside, and frustrate their penetrators. The old men have one more run in them. Out west, I thought the Mavericks were the best matchup for the Lakers last season before they fizzled out. That hasn’t changed, and I think Dallas will be even better this year with a full season integrating Caron Butler into Rick Carlisle’s system. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood will be huge defensively against the Lakers. Dallas won’t be able to match the Celtics’ toughness and rugged defense in the finals, and they’ll lose in 7 games.
MVP: Kevin Durant. LeBron James has too much help and Kobe Bryant is getting older. It’s Durant’s year to win it.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, with John Wall a close second.
Most Improved Player: Darren Collison
6th Man of the Year: Jason Terry
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
There’s the Low Post’s NBA Preview in 2010. Stay tuned for the Knicks preview tomorrow, and for everything on the NBA throughout the season be sure to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.