Archive for the ‘2011-12 NBA Previews’ Category

This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder
When making a case for the Thunder finishing at the top of the Western Conference this season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook obviously come first to mind. But even though they’re each just 23 years old, I feel like if they’re haven’t quite reached the peak of their potential, they have to be pretty close. It’s their supporting cast that I expect to rise up and help take this team to another level.

I’m talking about James Harden, who surely can’t be kept out of the starting lineup for much longer. I’m talking about Kendrick Perkins, who brings the interior defense and toughness they’ve been missing. And I’m talking about Serge Ibaka, who could prove to be their secret weapon if they end up meeting the Heat in the Finals. Who else on this team could guard LeBron? This is the most complete team in the Western Conference, and first place is theirs to claim.

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This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.

9. Memphis Grizzlies
Because of their impressive depth and shocking first-round upset of the Spurs in the 2011 playoffs, the Grizzlies have become a sexy pick to possibly make the Western Conference Finals this season. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have begun making a case as one of the top two or three frontcourts in the NBA, and the return of Rudy Gay to the lineup gives the Grizz a pair of threats to average 20 points per game in Randolph and Gay.

Memphis’ backcourt has a few more question marks. While Mike Conley has improved to the point that he’s a league-average starting point guard who doesn’t make too many mistakes, O.J. Mayo has been a big disappointment considering the hype surrounding him when he entered the league. In contrast, Tony Allen was a revelation as a lockdown perimeter defender — he managed to finish fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting in spite of the fact that he only averaged 20.8 minutes per game. As unpredictable as he can be both on and off the court, coach Lionel Hollins will be selling his team short if he doesn’t give Allen the opportunity to show that he’s even more valuable at 30-plus minutes per game than he is a 20.

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This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.

12. San Antonio Spurs
Pop quiz, hotshot: Which team won the championship in the NBA’s previous lockout-shortened season? It was the San Antonio Spurs in Gregg Popovich’s third season coaching the team. 22-year-old Tim Duncan played all 50 regular season games in the truncated schedule and averaged 39.3 minutes per game. In the 17 playoff games it took the Spurs to win the title, Duncan averaged 43.1 minutes per game.

It would be pretty funny and amazing if Popovich and Duncan led the Spurs to another lockout-season championship and then both retired so they could perfectly bookend their careers. But let’s face facts: Timmy is 35-years-old now and will be 36 by the time the playoffs arrive. His per-game playing time has declined for five straight seasons to the point where he averaged less than 30 minutes last season. He’s now in the role that David Robinson played in ’99 as a fading (but still very capable) big man who needed the young upstart to help carry him to glory. Sadly, there isn’t anyone to play the “young Tim Duncan” role on this team. And of course there isn’t. He’s the greatest power forward of all time. Cloning technology isn’t quite there yet.

The Spurs will make the playoffs because Popovich will make sure they do. In 14 full seasons as head coach of this team, they’ve never failed to make the post-season. Barring a drastic roster move, the Spurs’ gradual defensive decline will likely continue as Duncan fossilizes — their points allowed per 100 possessions has increased in each of their last seven seasons. Worth noting: They were still 11th in the NBA in that category last season.

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This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.

15. Phoenix Suns
If Marcin Gortat hadn’t broken his thumb last night, I might have used this space to talk about how blessed the Suns are to have two starting-quality centers in Gortat and Robin Lopez who only make around $10 million combined. I don’t know how much time Gortat will miss but I don’t imagine he’ll sit out more than a handful of games. He’s a tough mofo.

I know I rank the Suns higher than most people would, but I just really like their 10-man rotation and the various skills guys like Jared Dudley and Hakim Warrick bring to the table. Shannon Brown was a nice free agency addition, rookie big man Markieff Morris should improve the team’s defense if he gets some burn, and Aaron Brooks will likely rejoin the team from China in March. Of course, there may be more than a little sentimentality here on my part — I’d really like to see Steve Nash and Grant Hill in the playoffs at least one more time.

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This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.

18. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets were the feel-good story of the end of the 2010-11 regular season when they went 18-7 after the Carmelo Anthony trade. Unfortunately, I don’t see how they can sustain that level of success with key players Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith stuck in China due to contractual obligations to their teams. As great a coach as George Karl is, I just don’t think they have the manpower to return to the post-season.

Things aren’t entirely desolate in the Rocky Mountains. The Nuggets re-signed top-10 center Nenê and Arron Afflalo is back to provide his tenacious defense and long-range shooting. Elsewhere, Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson both show potential to become top-10 players at their positions. Even if the Nuggets don’t crack the top eight in the West this season, there’s a lot of reason to believe that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the near future.

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This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.

21. Utah Jazz
There is a decent possibility I am severely underestimating this team. Sure, their 8-21 finish to last season didn’t inspire a lot of confidence regarding the immediate future of the Jazz, but there are a few things I like about the Jazz. They have a deep frontcourt, including third overall pick Enes Kanter, sophomore small forward Gordon Hayward raised some eyebrows with his late-season scoring exploits, and Mehmet Okur’s return after playing just 17 games last season will definitely improve their outside shooting.

But the one player to keep an eye on in Utah this season is second-year power forward Derrick Favors. If head coach Tyrone Corbin can find minutes for him, he could have a significant impact on improving the team’s 23rd-ranked defensive efficiency from last season. Now that Deron Williams is gone, Favors will soon be considered the face of this franchise. Comparisons to Karl Malone will be inevitable, and unfair. But with some added offensive polish, I see All-Star appearances in Favors’ future.

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This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.

24. New Orleans Hornets
Can an NBA franchise build around Eric Gordon? That question won’t be answered this season, but a lot of people will begin to think so when he finishes in or near the top five in scoring. This is his team, for better or worse, and while he might not be thrilled about his new situation, he’ll have the opportunity to rack up some impressive numbers and possibly even earn himself a max contract in the summer.

The rest of the roster is likely to be less than the sum of its parts, and I’ll be surprised if Emeka Okafor is still a Hornet past the trade deadline. This is a team adrift, and they’re even less likely to contend for a playoff spot than they are to receive any kind of worthwhile fan support. If they extend Gordon after the season, they’ll be able to complement him with a pair of top 10 picks in a talent-heavy draft. Hopefully, they’ll attract a suitable buyer before next season so they can develop a real identity, whether it’s in New Orleans or elsewhere.

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