With less than a week to go before the real Christmas (obviously I’m talking about the NBA season), it’s time for that special opportunity to dangle your pride on a string. That’s right, it’s bold prediction time! See what I did there?
In a few days, The Skyhook will release our more “standard” predictions. You know, the standings, the playoffs, the awards… all the good stuff. And the Weekly Power Rankings will launch shortly thereafter. For now, in the spirit of being radical, here are 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season, along with some “rationale” (which you can determine how loosely that word applies on your own).
So. Here. We. Go.
The Chicago Bulls will miss the playoffs (the Toronto Raptors will make it).
Yes, you read that lineup correctly. Unfortunately for you Windy City natives, that means that there will be no running of the Chicago Bulls in my projected postseason. Seven of the teams on this list are really anything but bold predictions, in fact they are quite common among the “experts.” The bold element comes with not only saying the Bulls aren’t going to make it, but that the Toronto Raptors will make it into the playoffs.
Obviously with the Bulls, I’m assuming Derrick Rose doesn’t make it back before even the All-Star break. I just think this team downgraded the entire roster this offseason, it’s a radically different team. That luxurious point guard depth they had last year with C.J. Watson and John Lucas III? That’s gone. I’m sorry, but Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson do not make up for that. They lost two above-average defensive players in Omer Asik (having a great preseason in Houston) and Ronnie Brewer. Their best pure shooter, Kyle Korver was also shipped to Atlanta. Instead, they brought in Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and Vlad Radmanovic. Throw in the injury risks to Luol Deng/Richard Hamilton and the added responsibility on Carlos Boozer to be a major scoring option at this point in his career and I really don’t like this team.
On the other hand, the Raptors seem to be going in a different direction. Without a true superstar like Rose in the equation, they’ve collected enough talent through a series of moves and draft picks to be at least “interesting.” Kyle Lowry a game-changing, quick, tough point guard playing with a chip on his shoulder is a big deal in Toronto and as a hard-nosed on the ball defender, he fits perfect into what Dwayne Casey is trying to do with this team defensively. Jonas Valanciunas, the anti-Bargnani, is only similar in size and European decent. He loves to bang inside, hustle and play defense, which the Raps need. New additions Landry Fields and lottery pick Terrence Ross should also serve as upgrade from what the Raps were sending out last year. Another small step forward for DeRozan and a hopeful (at least I am) minor breakout from Ed Davis would put this team in the East playoffs, which is what I think is what will happen.
DeMarcus Cousins will make his first All-Star team. So will Kyrie Irving. So will Greg Monroe.
“Boogie” Cousins WILL be an All-Star this year. The NBA’s recent announcement to remove the “Center” position from All-Star balloting helps his case even more. But aside from position technicalities, Cousins will prove to an even greater extent this season that he’s one of the best power forwards in the West, and in the entire league. He averaged a double double with 18.1 points per game and 11.0 rebounds a game (good for 4th in the league). Apart from the slightest dip in rebounding (11.3 to 10.6), all of Cousins’ numbers were improved post-All-Star break, meaning he improved over the season. I’m expecting him to be at a 20 and 12 this year, making his All-Star selection a no-brainer, despite him playing on a bad Kings team. This will be the true beginning of the Western Conference big man youth movement with guys like Duncan and even Dirk on the way out. It’s time for Boogie, whether you like him or not.
Kyrie Irving makes the leap this year. He turns into a 20 point, 8 assist, 2 steal per game guy that carries his team on most nights. Just check his 4th quarter stats and highlights from last year, this kid just has it. It wouldn’t surprise me if he took it further than that and warranted many Most Improved Player votes. Expect him to represent the Cavs at the All-Star Game in Houston.
I think Greg Monroe, given the simple fact that he’s the number one big man option in Detroit now, will make the All-Star team this year. While his numbers won’t be eye-popping, I think the coaches will appreciate what he will do with limited resources around him. If he goes 18 and 9 with close to 2 blocks, that gets the job done.
The league MVP voting will finish in this order: 3. LeBron James 2. Kevin Durant 1. Rajon Rondo.
Yes, Rajon Rondo will win the MVP of the league this year. He’s simply ready for that kind of year. Could LeBron or Durant win the award? Yes, of course, they will both be incredible again this season. In fact, it’s more likely that one of them win. But picking Rondo to straight up win the MVP is highlighting the “bold” part.
This Celtics team is no longer a “big three” team, this is Rondo’s team now. Coming off an absolutely bad ass performance in last year’s playoffs only proved what we all thought… that he is completely fearless. The fact that he’s a nightly triple-double waiting to explode also helps his case.
I like this Celtics team even better than last season, which means the wins will help Rondo stack up to LBJ/Durant. At this point, the Jason Terry and Courtney Lee combination is an upgrade over the gimpy Ray Allen, the successful return of Jeff Green will be another dimension to the offense, and I do like the potential Bass/Sullinger combination in the frontcourt. This all means assists upon assists for Rondo. I think he will have a Nash MVP-esque season, easily lead the league in assists, but instead of sparkling shooting percentages, he will play more meaningful minutes, increase his scoring (he’s been working on his shooting again) and attribute more on the defensive end and rebounding. To go a step further, I’ll put Rondo down for 14.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 12.1 assists per game and 1 MVP award.
The new Flopping rules will actually not be a flop.
Of course there are a million opinions floating around about the new Flopping rules and how effective they can truly be. Personally, I think the new Flopping rules and penalties will be good for the league. I was happy to see the extent to which players can be punished for being so ridiculous (I’m looking at you Reggie Evans). Watching these guys flop around from minimal, meaningless contact is the one part of the game that truly frustrates me.
I think the opportunity for the league to dip into the players pockets will ultimately be a threat to the players and will have them being subconsciously conscious of contact (I know, that doesn’t really make sense, but it does). Players don’t want to lose lumps of paychecks for something so stupid. While it seems outrageous to them, even the most serial offenders will eventually back down on the issue relatively quick.
I also think it will go the other way as well. I think once the season is in full swing, refs will become a little more lenient on the calls, if only to avoid the scrutiny and attention the media will bring to it. I would be surprised if we get to the point of a suspension (6th flopping violation = 1 game suspension), but we will definitely see some fines handed out. All in all, the “threat” of flopping punishment will slightly raise the awareness of an issue that really does make the game less enjoyable to watch.
The new “Battle of New York” inner city rivalry will end in a tie, but not really.
Ah yes, the next great inner city rivalry is upon us.
Now, by “tie” I mean exactly that… but exclusive to the regular season. They will have the exact same record of 46-36. When it then comes to playoff seeding, the Nets will have the advantage and will get the 4th seed in the East. The kicker, is that if the Nets are 4 and the Knicks are 5, they will play each other in the first round of the playoffs, which the Nets will have home court and win. People will always talk about the atmosphere at The Garden for the Knicks, but I think this will be a pretty hyped up Brooklyn fan base, especially in the first year and especially if the team is winning. That will be enough to win a playoff series again them.
In terms of the rosters, there are enough storylines, unpredictability and polarizing players to create a case for either team to outperform the other. The bottom line is the New York the state, wins. I’m sticking with a tie.
The race for the NBA scoring title will come down to a battle between two Kevins. Correction: Durant wins the scoring title again.
Update: The next day after I posted this, Kevin Martin was dealt TO the Thunder as part of the James Harden deal, making his run at the scoring title completely impossible. So much for my favorite reach.
Now THIS is bold. But think about it, isn’t Kevin Martin in the perfect situation to pull this off? 1. He’s in Houston where he’s the definite number one scoring option (sorry, but Jeremy Lin is NOT the number one option). 2. He’s in a contract year and 3. Historically, he’s always been a very efficient (and wildly under the radar) pure scorer. So in what should be the peak of his career, barring injury, and having to carry the Rockets on any given night (which could end up being most nights), why couldn’t he be upwards of 28-30 points per game? I think he does it. I think Kevin DURANT wins the scoring title yet again with a 29.4 average, while Kevin MARTIN finishes second at 28.9 per game.
Alvin Gentry (Suns) and Scott Skiles (Bucks) will be the first coaches fired, while George Karl (Nuggets) will win Coach of the Year.
The Suns, while expectations aren’t exactly high, will be bad. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of their players, but it’s such a uneven collection of players. Ultimately, Gentry will take the fall and they will make a change mid-season.
It’s a very similar situation for Scott Skiles in Milwaukee, as the clock seems to be running out. With the average coaching tenure being as low as it’s ever been, Skiles could be in trouble. He’s been with the Bucks since 2008 and hasn’t really accomplished anything of note. The East didn’t get any easier this offseason and unfortunately, the Bucks didn’t get any better. I expect Skiles to be let go close to the All-Star break when the Bucks are sitting 10-12 games under .500.
George Karl, on the flip side, is just one of those guys. He’s a guy that players, the fans and the league in general loves. Now, he’s got an extremely talented and versatile roster that’s been brilliantly put together. This team will win a lot of games this season. Their current Win total Over/Under is sitting at 50.5, which they should easily surpass. They led the league in offense last season and could easily do so again this year. They addition of Andre Iguodala and the development of Kenneth Faried should give them a little stronger backbone on defense. Toss in all the other unmentioned, talented weapons (Lawson, Gallinari, McGee, Brewer, Chandler, Miller) and the Nuggets suddenly have a trendy “outside contender” label cast upon them with a pretty flexible roster. Worst case the Nuggets win 50 games and aim for home court in the playoffs and best case, they chase 60 wins and Karl is almost a lock to win Coach of the Year. But I think mid-50′s will be good enough for him to get the nod over Spoelstra and Brooks.
All five Atlantic Division teams will make the playoffs and will be the league’s new “toughest division.”
Once considered the laughing stock of the league, the Atlantic Division (Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Sixers, Raptors) would appear to be the best division in the league right now. Operating under the “toughest division” logic, especially in terms of parity among it’s teams, I think only the Northwest Division (Blazers, Jazz, Nuggets, Thunder, T-Wolves) compares. Every other division has it’s 1-2 teams that are going to be stinkers, but in the Atlantic, it’s not that difficult to fathom that all five teams could finish over .500 for the season.
A re-tooled Celtics team, an Andrew Bynum-led Sixers squad and the star studded New York teams (barring catastrophe, which is always in play) should all finish above .500 and in the East, that means playoffs. Of course the Raptors may be the one argument against that theory. Personally I have them no worse than 41-41 and nabbing that 8th seed.
The Bobcats will NOT finish in last place.
It doesn’t get much worse than 7-59. Well technically, 6-60 is worse, but you get the idea.
I think the unfavorable distinction of NBA bottom-feeder this season will go to the Orlando Magic. Although the Bobcats are far from rebuilt, I do like what they did in the offseason. They didn’t whiff on their #2 overall pick by taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and they added some veterans like Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions and Brendan Haywood for depth. It might sound crazy, but I think Charlotte can get to the 20-win mark. With MKG and Kemba Walker runnin’ and gunnin’, Byron Mullins jacking threes from the center position and Bismack Biyombo blocking shots, this team could be very entertaining to watch.
For the Magic, this is going to be a rough ride. With a roster decimated after #Dwightmare, there’s no clear structure and is ultimately just a collection of guys that few people know anything about. I love Aaron Afflalo, Andrew Nicholson and even Big Baby Davis, but c’mon, the Hedo Turkoglu’s of the world aren’t fooling anybody.
In a head to head matchup on a neutral court, I would expect the Bobcats to win the game, so of course I’m going to favor them over the Magic in the standings as well. Keep in mind, these two teams play in the same division together as well, so whether it takes the Bobcats beating up the Magic four times to finish with the better record, then so be it. Bottom line: Bobcats > Magic.
Team Jordan FTW!