2011-12 NBA Predictions
At one point, it appeared we were not going to have an NBA season as players and owners simply couldn’t come to an agreement. Cooler heads prevailed, and we will now be having a shortened 66-game schedule. The first day of the regular season will be on December 25th with several key match-ups on tap. That includes an NBA Finals rematch between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat.
With a new season upon us, it’s now time to make my predictions on where every team will finish in their respective divisions. I will also list which teams I believe will come out of the East and West, while also predicting who will be your 2011-12 NBA champion. Let’s take a look.
1. Dallas Mavericks – The 2010-11 champs shouldn’t miss a beat. While they lose J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler in free agency, they have Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and Delonte West to replace them. This team should pick up right where they left off last season.
2. San Antonio Spurs – There’s only so much more these old legs can take. San Antonio worked really hard to finish with the best record in the West last season at 61-21 to earn the No. 1 seed. What do they have to show for it? A first-round exit at the hands of Memphis. Look for the Spurs to monitor their veteran’s minutes more this season. Having a well-rested, healthy team entering the playoffs becomes priority No. 1.
3. Memphis Grizzlies – The Grizzlies made some noise last year by making it to the second round of the playoffs after upsetting the Spurs in Round 1. This is a young team on the rise with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph leading the way inside. Memphis did lose key veteran Shane Battier in free agency, but they have everyone else back.
4. Houston Rockets – Yao Ming has retired, meaning this franchise can finally move forward. They have a solid nucleus to work with, but they will certainly miss Chuck Hayes, who has left in free agency. Luis Scola and Chase Budinger are two of the most underrated players in the league, and Kevin Martin can light up the scoreboard. Houston traded for Johnny Flynn (Minnesota), which means they are looking for this kid to take the next step.
5. New Orleans Hornets – The loss of Chris Paul cannot be overstated. This guy was a franchise player and he will be missed. Throw in the fact that they lost their second-best player (David West) in free agency, and the Hornets are clearly in rebuilding mode. They have some nice new pieces to work with in Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon, and Al-Farouq Aminu from the Clippers, but it’s going to take some time.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder made it all the way to the conference championship last season, eventually losing to Dallas. I have every reason to believe that they will get back again this season, and I expect them to make the NBA Finals. OKC only loses Robert Vaden from last season, who they traded to Minnesota for Lazar Hayward. They also managed to re-sign 3-point specialist Daequan Cook. With everyone back, this is the team to beat in the West.
2. Portland Trail Blazers – Year in and year out, the Blazers come into the season with arguably as much talent as everyone. However, they have been plagued by injuries that have prevented them from seriously competing in the West. They signed Greg Oden to a one-year deal, so this will be his last chance to prove he can stay healthy while being a factor on the court. I like the addition of Jamal Crawford in free-agency, who is one of the best sixth men in the business. This is the second-best team in the Northwest, barring injury of course.
3. Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets have a lot going on this offseason. Free agents J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin all elected to play in China to make sure they still got paid incase of a lockout. They are in contract through March, and who knows if they’ll be back before then. Denver’s top priority was re-signing Nene, and they managed to get that deal done. They also added Andre Miller, Corey Brewer and Rudy Fernandez via trade. George Karl knows what to do with a new roster, and he’ll get the most out of his team.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves – The Timberwolves have the potential to be one of the most improved teams in the league. Of course, that’s not saying much after a 17-65 campaign and the worst record in the NBA a year ago. They drafted Derrick Williams with their No. 2 pick, welcome in Ricky Rubio who was their No. 5 pick in 2009, and have traded for J.J. Barea from the world champion Dallas Mavericks. This is clearly a team on the rise with Kevin Love holding it down inside.
5. Utah Jazz – The Jazz simply could not get anything going after trading Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets last season. It was a move that came with the resignation of head coach Jerry Sloan, who is one of the best coaches in NBA history. This is a team in rebuilding mode, and unfortunately they don’t have enough pieces to be competitive this season. Their only moves in the offseason were drafting Enes Kanter and Alec Burks. Utah didn’t go out and get anyone in free agency.
1. Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers are still the team to beat in the Pacific Division. They lose Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks, but they still have a solid core group that consists of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. This trio trumps just about any other trio on any team in the league. They also added Josh McRoberts (Pacers) and Jason Kapono (76ers) to provide some depth. If they can somehow trade for Dwight Howard, then the Lakers would become my choice to win the West.
2. Los Angeles Clippers – The Clippers were certainly the biggest winners in free agency this offseason. They managed to trade for Chris Paul, while also signing Caron Butler (Mavericks) and Chauncey Billups (Knicks) in free agency. They really only lost Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu, which is a small price to pay for what they got in return. It will be exciting to watch the Paul to Blake Griffin combo at work this season.
3. Golden State Warriors – The Warriors will be able to score with just about anyone in the league. They have four dynamic scorers in Monte Ellis, Stephen Curry, David Lee and Dorell Wright. They added another scorer in rookie Klay Thompson with their No. 11 overall pick. The problem with this team is defense, where they gave up 105.7 points a year ago. First-year head coach Mark Jackson will help them become more defensive-minded, but they just don’t have the personnel to stop opponents consistently.
4. Phoenix Suns – The Suns are in rebuilding mode after trading away Amare Stoudemire to the New York Knicks last season. Phoenix did finish second in this weak division, but with a 40-42 record nonetheless. With the Pacific improving, the Suns are in trouble this season. They did manage to sign Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price and Sebastian Telfair in free agency, but they lost a lot in Vince Carter (Mavericks) and Aaron Brooks (China). Steve Nash only has a few good years left, and he’s not going to be able to carry this team to the playoffs.
5. Sacramento Kings – The Kings quietly had a pretty solid offseason. They signed Chuck Hayes (Rockets) and traded for J.J. Hickson (Cavaliers) and John Salmons (Bucks). They also managed to re-sign scorer Marcus Thornton, who finished with a bang last year. Jimmer Fredette was the top scorer in college basketball last season, and they drafted him with their No. 10 overall pick. Like Golden State, this team will tear up the nets offensively, but they won’t be able to stop a lick on defense.
1. Boston Celtics – This team is certainly running out of time to win another title. However, I believe they have at least one more run in them this season. The Celtics have added some key role players in Brandon Bass and Keyon Dooling via trade, while also signing Marquis Daniels and Chris Wilcox in free agency. Rondo, Pierce, Garnett and Allen still have that championship hunger, and provided they can stay healthy, Boston will be playing deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs.
2. New York Knicks – The Knicks have made some key moves this offseason to become a serious contender in the East. New York already had Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to build around, but they also went out and traded for Tyson Chandler (Mavericks). This move will allow Stoudemire to focus more on offense rather than stopping people on defense. Chandler has the ability to erase defensive mistakes, and Dallas arguably wouldn’t have won the title without him last season.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – Doug Collins did an excellent job in his first season with the 76ers. After a slow start, Philly would have a huge second half to make the playoffs with a 41-41 record. This young team suffered a first-round exit, but they will certainly learn from their experience. Their only loss this offseason was Jason Kapono, who can only shoot the occasional spot-up 3-pointer while not playing any defense. This is my sleeper team in the East this season.
4. New Jersey Nets – The Nets made the right move when they went out and traded for Deron Williams midway through last season. However, they have not been able to surround him with talent this offseason. They are certainly a heavy player in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, but so far nothing has gotten done. New Jersey drafted Marshon Brooks No. 25 overall to help their scoring, while also snagging Jordan Williams No. 36 overall to help defense and rebounding. This team is at least another year away unless they get Howard.
5. Toronto Raptors – The Raptors are the laughing stock of the Eastern Conference. Since letting go of Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat, this team just hasn’t been the same. They added Gary Forbes, Rasual Butler, Anthony Carter, Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire in free agency, but unfortunately this team is comprised of nothing more than role players.
1. Chicago Bulls – The Bulls earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season. They managed to make the Eastern Conference Finals after two hard-fought series, but in the end they were no match for the Miami Heat. With Derrick Rose leading the show, this team has a chance because he can do it all. The Bulls went out and added a perimeter shooter in Richard Hamilton (Pistons) to help space the floor. This team should be improved and will make another run at the Heat this season.
2. Indiana Pacers – The Pacers were certainly winners this offseason. While they lost Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford, and Josh McRoberts, they added David West and George Hill. West is one of the most underrated players in the league, and Hill is an up-and-coming star. After a one-and-done last season in the playoffs, the Pacers could be a potential second-round team this year.
3. Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks lost some key players in Corey Maggette, John Salmons and Keyon Dooling. However, I like what they replaced them with. Mike Dunleavy (Pacers) comes over via free agency, while Stephen Jackson (Bobcats), Shaun Livingston (Bobcats) and Beno Udrih (Kings) were all traded here. The Bucks are in better shape heading into this season after a disastrous 35-47 campaign a year ago.
4. Detroit Pistons – Detroit simply hasn’t been able to get much going since Joe Dumars took over the personnel decisions. They did have one of the best draft classes this offseason by bringing in Brandon Knight, Vernon Macklin and Kyle Singler. They were also able to re-sign Jonas Jerebko and Tayshaun Prince. But they lost Richard Hamilton, and watched Tracy McGrady and Chris Wilcox walk in free agency. This is still a team in rebuilding mode.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers – The Cavaliers haven’t been able to overcome the departure of Lebron James. They are coming off a 19-63 campaign in 2010-11 which saw them lose an NBA-record 26 consecutive games at one point. Cleveland loses J.J. Hickson and Baron Davis, and they don’t bring in much new talent with only Omri Cassini (Kings) coming in. They did manage to draft Kyrie Irving (No. 1) and Tristan Thompson (No. 4) for two huge building pieces going forward.
1. Miami Heat – The Heat didn’t really need to do much this offseason as they were only a few games away from winning the NBA Finals last year. But they refused to stand pat, going out and getting Shane Battier and Eddy Curry in free agency. Zydrunas Ilgauskas has retired, while Mike Bibby and Jamaal Magloire have left in free agency, but their best days are behind them. Miami is my choice to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals once again.
2. Orlando Magic – If they can manage to keep Dwight Howard, the Magic remain a contender in the East. As of this writing, it appears Howard is going to remain in Orlando. They re-signed Jason Richardson and Earl Clark, while also bringing in Glen Davis and Von Wafer in exchange for Brandon Bass in a trade with the Boston Celtics. The Magic waived Gilbert Arenas as well. Look for this to be a Top-4 seed in the East if Howard stays.
3. Atlanta Hawks- The Hawks finally got over the hump last season and beat the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs. However, this team remains too inconsistent to be a serious title contender. They lose perhaps the best sixth man in basketball in Jamal Crawford, who joined the Portland Trail Blazers in free agency. Atlanta’s only additions this offseason have been Tracy McGrady (Pistons) and Vladimir Radmanovic (Warriors), who both cannot be trusted. This team will take a step back in 2011-12.
4. Washington Wizards – If it’s not this season, then the Wizards are only a few years away from becoming something special. They have a very young nucleus that consists of John Wall, Nick Young, Andre Blatche and JaVale McGee, who should all get better with time. They traded for Rashard Lewis late last season, and he and Jordan Crawford are pure scorers. They added Roger Mason Jr. (Knicks) in free agency, and came up with a solid draft class in Jan Vesely (No. 6), Chris Singleton (No. 18) and Shelvin Mack (No. 34).
5. Charlotte Bobcats- It’s starting to feel like Michael Jordan is never going to build a contender in Charlotte. He keeps overhauling the roster, and that has happened once again this offseason. While I like the additions of Corey Maggette and Reggie Williams, they are letting a lot go in Stephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston and Kwame Brown. Jordan is hoping rookies Bismack Biyombo (No. 7) and Kemba Walker (No. 9) can make significant contributions right away. I simply don’t see the Bobcats making much noise this season.
Western Conference Champion – Oklahoma City Thunder
Eastern Conference Champion – Miami Heat
NBA Finals Winner – Miami Heat
If you want to see you is leading the charge for all of the NBA awards this season, check out the NBA Bible.