Remember at the beginning of the NBA season, when I wrote an article tracking the boldest predictions made by some notable basketball prognosticators for the year to come? Probably not, but I sure haven’t forgotten, and with the conference finals finally underway, every one of the predictions mentioned in that article has officially either come true or proven a bust. Unlike some people, we here at TBJ still believe very strongly in accountability, and that those who do not have the past obnoxiously rubbed in their faces are doomed to repeat it, so let’s check back in to see how all of our hoops soothsayers fared with some of their more jaw-dropping (jaw-opening, anyway) predictions.
Sports Illustrated (print only): Knicks in conference finals
So close, SI. This was the longest holdout of the unlikely prognostications I tracked this year, and damned if it didn’t look like a pretty good bet to cash in up until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis. Whoever the professional guesser was behind those Sports Illustrated predictions was probably as excited as I was when Iman Shumpert made those three treys in the third quarter on Saturday night, and as infuriated when Kenyon Martin was whistled for that foul with a minute left to ice the game for Indiana. Bummer.
Basketball Prospectus (Via ESPN the Magazine): Atlanta Hawks second, Knicks third, Pacers eighth in East / Nuggets first, Timberwolves third, Spurs fifth in West
Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope, though partial credit to BP/ESPN for at least predicting a resurgent Knicks and a regular-season-dominant Nuggets, even if the exact placing was off. The Hawks, Pacers and Spurs predictions look just as nutty at season’s end as they seemed at season’s beginning, though it’s hard to give them too much crap for the Wolves guess, given how catastrophic their season was on the injury front. If they’d even been 50 percent healthier, it seems like they could have at least made a push for home court. Kudos to the BP dudes (and/or their computer readouts) for going big on some of these, in any event.
Zach Lowe of Grantland (26 Bold Predictions): Memphis is done, Nikola Pekovic will be a borderline-household name, Phoenix will be league’s most disappointing team
I guess we can give Zach one for three on this one. Despite their poor showing in Game 1 on Sunday, I’d say Memphis has more than put to rest any premature rumors of their demise. And Nikola Pekovic, while having a very solid year, wasn’t really even mentioned for All-Star contention, and probably didn’t make his name known to too many more casual fans than were already familiar with the Montonegrin Madman. But whether or not Phoenix actually was the league’s most disappointing team — again, it depends on if you had any expectations at all for them in the first place — there’s no doubt that they were pretty damn bad, finishing last in the West, so it’d probably be petty to get too particular on this one.
Since Grantland’s No. 1 hoops guy made a whole bunch more of these, and all were at least slightly interesting, let’s do a quick run down of a handful of ones he hit on impressively, and some more that haven’t held up so well:
1. Lousy market for expiring contracts
2. Omer Asik and Andrei Kirilenko living up to their deals
3. Kevin Durant joining the 50-40-90 club
4. Orlando trading JJ Redick, Thunder shopping Eric Maynor
5. Earl Clark getting minutes for the Lakers
6. Andris Biedrins making more than one foul shot (4-13!!)
Juuuust a bit outside:
1. Thunder re-signing James Harden with less-than-max deal before Oct. 31
2. Gerald Green, one of the season’s feel-good stories
3. Bobcats becoming League Pass darlings
4. Jonas Jerebko, Detroit’s best small forward
Bleacher Report (25 Bold Predictions): Jrue Holiday will emerge as a top 10 point guard, Jimmy Butler will be in running for Sixth Man of the Year, Omer Asik will be the worst free agent signing
Another one for three here, this time for Bleacher Report’s Roy Bunton, though he probably deserves a little extra credit for being right in spirit on another one. Jrue Holiday becoming a top 10 PG was the one he nailed, as Jrue made the All-Star team and proved himself a star in the making. Holiday might have even had an argument for top five status early in the season (especially with D-Rose out and D-Will struggling badly), though his lousy post-All-Star campaign dropped him comfortably back into the 6-10 range. (Personally, I’d have him at No. 9 currently, behind Paul, Parker, Rose, Westbrook, Curry, Williams, Irving and Conley.)
The Jimmy Butler one is a tough L for Roy, since though his prediction looked unsurprisingly outlandish at season’s beginning, Butler came on in such a strong way that he was starting by season’s end, and looks not only to be an important part for the Bulls’ future, but a possible star in the making. That said, his overall stats for the year weren’t hugely impressive, and he didn’t receive a single vote for Sixth Man honors, so while we give Roy a hearty pat on the back for this one — especially since I had no idea Butler was even gonna be in the Bulls’ rotation at season’s beginning — he can’t get full credit here.
And yeah, not happening on the Asik call. Two-ish out of three certainly ain’t bad, tho.
ESPN NBA Shootaround (Shooting Drill, on air): LeBron will average a triple-double (Jalen Rose), Anthony Davis will lead the league in rebounding (Michael Wilbon), Rajon Rondo will finish second in MVP voting (Bill Simmons)
Not so good, Al. You could maybe argue that injuries derailed Davis and Rondo from even having a shot at realizing these predictions, but Rondo was hardly on his way to a top-two MVP finish when he went down for the season, and there were only seven games this year where Anthony Davis grabbed more rebounds than the 12.4 that Dwight Howard averaged for the year, so there’s no partial credit there. LeBron came sort of close to the triple-double, but he always comes sort of close to the triple-double, and this year (26.0/8.0/7.3) wasn’t even the closest he’s ever come (29.7/7.3/8.6 in ’09). Again, props for scale of boldness here, but three swings and misses from the Countdown crew.
Scott Carefoot of TBJ: Nuggets 2nd in West and Hawks 3rd in East, monster year for Deron Williams, Hornets making the playoffs
Sorry, Scott. Like Basketball Prospectus, half-credit for being close enough with the Nuggets prediction, but like BP, he went a little too high on the Hawks. Deron Williams came on at season’s end, but his panic-inciting first half slump meant that he still disappointed on average for the year. And though in a perfect world, the Hornets would have had an outside shot at the postseason, with breakout seasons for Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez and impressive rookie years from Anthony Davis and Brian Roberts, injuries made it an impossibility this year, and the now-Pelicans will be watching tonight’s lottery drawing with great interest. Worth noting that Scott did nail the top two (Heat, Thunder) and bottom two (Magic, Bobcats) for his regular-season finish predictions, though.
And yeah, I made five of these myself, so let me congratulate and/or defend myself for these:
Steve Nash will have minimal effect on the Lakers season. I’m calling a W on this one. By season’s end, Nash was basically an afterthought on the Lakers, and though his final line was pretty good (13 and 7 on 50 percent shooting, 44 percent from deep), he gave a lot of that back on defense, and I don’t think you’d get a lot of people arguing that he helped the Lakers win a whole lot of games. I closed this one by saying that “Steve’s final stat line will probably resemble that of a slightly more efficient Ramon Sessions,” and when you compare it to the line Sessions posted for the Lakers last year (13 and 6 on 48 percent shooting and 49 percent from deep), I’d say I was pretty damn close.
Andrew Bynum will miss a whole bunch of games … and the Sixers will be fine. Well, the Sixers certainly weren’t fine without Bynum this year, free-falling into the lottery and depressing the crap out of anyone who dared have actual hope for the Liberty Ballers’ season. To be fair, though, when I said he’d miss a whole bunch of games, I was thinking like 20-25, rather than, y’know, all of them. If he’d come back after 20 games, he’d have returned to an 11-9 team, even at 25, they’d have been 12-13, definitely still in the playoff hunt. I’m not gonna give myself partial credit here or anything, but just saying, I wasn’t 100 percent off.
Kyrie Irving will underwhelm in his second season. Now here, I was 100 percent off. Apologies, Kyrie. Moving on.
The Hawks will barely get into the playoffs and will get crushed in the first round. Some “spirit” points here, since indeed, the Hawks entered the playoffs at a lower seed and were handily dismissed in the first round. But since they slipped rather comfortably into their sixth seed, rather than having to scrap for it at all, and actually did win two games in the playoffs, I can’t be too self-congratulatory. If they had made it all the way to No. 2 in the East, though, and actually contended for the conference finals, I might never have slept again.
The Nets will finish last in the Atlantic division. Oh well. I’ll maintain that my logic for thinking the Nets would underwhelm was sound — though Brook Lopez turned out to be a whole lot better than I gave him credit for — and I felt decently vindicated when they lost in that Game 7 to a MASH unit of a Chicago Bulls team. But they did still finish second in the Atlantic this year, five games back of the Knicks, and 15 ahead of both the Sixers and Raptors. No points for me here, giving me a total of about 1.33 out of 5 for my predictions. Not great, but given the degree of difficulty, not hugely embarrassing.
Thanks to all the basketball writers who put themselves on the line with their bold predictions here, and congrats to the lucky few that actually nailed one or two of them. Hope you guys let me look over your shoulder for these again next year.