We are about a quarter of a way into the NBA season and it’s time to re-assess some of those pre-season predictions with light of the small chunk of the season we’ve seen so far. 20 games is a small sample size, but already we’ve seen some things which help inform the way things are going to turn out by the end of the season.
Basketball writer Daniel Eade, who pens his thoughts for Gaze Hoops (amongst other places), chatted with me about our predictions for the NBA season awards and end of season standings.
I am predicting this season’s MVP race to be one of the closest we have ever seen. At the moment you’ve got people raving about Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant as the two stand-outs. But you then have got to remember LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavs are going to win 60 plus games, so you’ve got keep his name in the debate. And if Orlando and Boston win 60 or more, are we going to put up someone from their respective teams for the top individual honour? Dwight Howard isn’t the same Dwight Howard from twelve months ago, but Orlando are winning because of, hmm, Vince Carter? In the Garden are we going to take Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or Rajon Rondo? Of course there is no way on Earth that Carter or Rondo would ever be considered seriously, but the teams with 60 wins or more are usually where you find the MVP. Atlanta have been great and Joe Johnson has been superb, Steve Nash is playing in the same environment that netted him back-to-back MVP awards, and Dirk Nowitzki is the star on a very good Dallas team.
I think, if I had to pick one who I think will win it, it’s Anthony, because a lot of the times you find the media searching for a “new” MVP and he would be not only be deserving but fit into the “new” category. But I believe the one to watch out for will be LeBron, or Kobe.
I tried to give you one, but I gave you three!!
My pick, without any influence from peer group pressure is LeBron.
Every year the media salivates with the new NBA season so much, that they try to crown a season MVP in week one and this season was no different. Already in his first couple of games on court I was hearing national game commentators putting Carmelo Anthony’s name out there as the MVP this season. I find that kind of talk ridiculous and I must say that it infuriates me how the media somehow controls who the awarded player is every season through their hype levels (which are at an all-time high with the internet age we live in). That said, I do believe that the first half of the season becomes irrelevant when it comes to MVP talk, with the second half, leading into the playoffs what remains fresh in peoples’ minds. Thus, we need a bit of crystal ball gazing here and can’t really take what has happened to date as a pure indicator of who hoists the award.
My tip is Kobe Bryant. I am far from a Kobe fan, but I just believe that the combination of factors will fall in his favour this season. I believe that the Lakers (with Ron Artest on board) are looking solid and set to have a sizeable regular season record. They’ll potentially finish out the season top of the standings and Kobe will be the factor behind that. In addition, the Kobe-hate has become less fashionable over the years, as he has become less of a selfish player and trusted the likes of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom more. His main rival will of course be LeBron James. I just see the Cavs falling short of expectations with the integration of the Big Witness and I fear that James will cop the brunt of that disappointment, with the added footnote that Shaq takes away but a teaspoon of LBJ’s star power. Steve Nash has been playing brilliantly. Will he keep that up? I’m not sure, but I have a feeling that the masses have tired of seeing his name on the MVP trophy and will not award him regardless of what type of season he puts up.
So, Kobe it is for my tip. Oh, as for Melo? I think he will die off a bit in peoples’ minds as the Nuggets battle their way through the NorthWest to look mediocre and Anthony himself will reduce his level of play as the season goes on. There, I said it.
The Rookie of the Year race is an interesting one too… what do you think?
Well up until the last week it was Brandon Jennings this and Brandon Jennings that, but as his cold patch got longer and longer, the name Tyreke Evans started coming up and all of a sudden there was a new boy on the block.
But I don’t think either of them will win it, and I’m going to put my vote behind Blake Griffin the number one pick in the draft who is yet to suit up for a real game due to injury.
This guy is a freak, he is so athletically gifted and more importantly, co-ordinated, that he is going to run amok when he gets healthy and joins the other LA team in a few weeks.
Back in the 80’s Patrick Ewing won rookie-of-the -year and only played 50 games if my memory serves me correct, so Griffin playing 50-55 games, with possibly 20-10 averages, should see him surprise many and come home the strongest. On the proviso no more long term injuries keep him out for weeks on end.
The Rookie of the Year situation is a really interesting one. On one hand, we have Brandon Jennings putting up numbers that he has no right to in Milwaukee, on the other hand meanwhile there’s Tyreke Evans producing man-size portions of stats in Sacramento each night — possibly going ignored to an extent due to the hype-love for Jennings. Then we also have to remember that everyone’s initial ROY selection, Blake Griffin, is on his way back as well.
This is possibly a much stronger rookie crop than many predicted it to be, especially in the backcourt. More than this however, there are also a number of solid, yet unspectacular frontcourt players getting big-time rotation minutes like David Andersen, DeJuan Blair and Jonas Jerebko of Sweden.
Given Griffin’s likelihood of missing time until at least early January with his patella injury sours me to his chances. I hear you on his crazy talent levels and I was singing his praises before the season, but I am unsure as to what the precedents are like for guys missing sizeable chunks of the season like that winning the ROY. He definitely has the potential to put up 20-10 numbers though and as you say, if he does, he should have a solid grip on that award. Injuries permitting (he says with one eye on a picture of Greg Oden lying on the court, clutching his patella).
The early hype was ALL Jennings, despite the solid play of Evans in Sacto. Of course, it’s hard to ignore a rookie putting up 55 points. When we initally discussed this, I thought that the Jennings hype might win it for him, but the more I think about it, I’m going to put my betting dollar behind Evans. The guy has an NBA body and despite leading a terrible team, he does it well pretty much every night. At this point he is averaging 19.9ppg, 4.9apg and 5.0rpg and there is no reason to believe that will let up. I vote ‘Reke as the potential ROY this season.
Regarding your point on Ewing winning ROY after missing much of the season. Good point — however the only footnote I’d put on that would be the fact that his was a fairly weak draft class from memory with him standing head and shoulders above all other rookies. This year we have a few solid contenders.
The 1985 draft, where 4 white guys were taken in succesion 5-8. Koncak, Kleine, Mullin, Schrempf.
Karl Malone was in there too at 13.
I was more eluding to the fact, that even though Ewing only played in 50 games he wasn’t deamed to have not played enough.
Yes, fair call. From memory Malone put up a decent rookie season too — on checking the stats, he 14.9ppg and 8.9rpg which is quality — but Ewing was just too dominant and after they invented the lottery due to his arrival, he almost had won it from the get-go.
Coach of the Year is always a tough one — who have you got?
There should be a rule, that you cannot win Coach of The Year if your team fails to make the playoffs. Now I need the rule in affect, because I like Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City but they need to make the playoffs for his name to stay on my ballot. They are a chance, but in all likely-hood this young team will fall off as the second-semester rolls along and will have the month of May to do other things.
My reason for Brooks is quite simple, I think the Thunder were on a journey and everything was going extremely well as they stockpiled with youth, built around Kevin Durant, and then in the blink of an eye Brooks came in, a little unexpected at first, and he revved up the engine of the team and where they expected to be 12 months from now is where they are now.
It could get even wilder if Sacramento make the playoffs, not only do I then alter my Rookie-of-The-Year vote (which has no clause that states a players team must make the playoffs, unlike the MVP/Coach award in my eyes but if Evans leads the Kings to the playoffs then I am on the Evans train) but you then have to starting putting Paul Westphal names up there with Einstein and Newton.
In my wildest dreams though neither side will make it to the post-season, so under my rules I eliminate them from my ballot.
You then have Alvin Gentry, who reverted Phoenix back to the way they had played with during their most recent success. Phil Jackson, who won’t win because anything less than 72 wins isn’t good enough. Stan Van Gundy, who is set to be the first coach to miss a game because he has lost his voice, still is doing wonders with Orlando. Doc Rivers and Mike Brown.
I have got to go with Mike Woodson in the A-T-L. Lock it in. It took him long enough, but finally he got through to Josh Smith that firing up from the outside wasn’t in the teams best interest. He has put Joe Johnson in a position to be MVP (although it will never happen) and he given a second life to Mike Bibby, who did appear to be drifting away with the fairies before he arrived in Atlanta. This team is going to win in excess of 50 games, most likely finish fourth in the East, and be classified as “The Team nobody wants in the second-round.”
Coach of the Year is always a really tough one to call I think. Even more so than the MVP award, this one is not necessarily about who is the best coach out there… it’s about who can drag a terrible team into relevance I believe. This year, that man appears to be Scott Skiles in Milwaukee. The Bucks found themselves in a deep pothole at the start of the season, with top contributors Richard Jefferson wearing silver and black, Michael Redd in street-clothes, Charlie Villanueva in Motown and the Ministry of Sound Ramon Sessions being remixed in Minnesota. Somehow the wily Skiles managed to mould rookie Jennings, big man Bogut, “unpredictable” Hakim Warrick, Luke Ridnour (yes…) and Ersan Ilyasova into a team that currently sits sixth in the East.
Assuming that things slide into a pit for the Bucks and all of their tyres puncture in that same pothole, other coaches vying for the award would have to be Mike Woodson in Hotlanta — due to their constant ability to surprise — and two others that might not come to mind for many: Nate McMillan and Jay Triano.
McMillan has been handed a jagged pill in Portland with challenge after challenge. The first off-season question was, how do you integrate Andre Miller into this Blazers lineup and can you keep him happy on the bench? Secondly he was given the conundrum, how do you manage all of this deep talent and keep them happy with playing time? And now, not only has Nate himself gotten injured, but he’s had injuries to Greg Oden, Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez and rookies Patty Mills and Jeff Pendergraph — and the season is only an infant. If the Blazers turn into a contender, Nate Dogg deserves more than a pat on the back.
Triano entered the season with a United Nations cast that included nine new rotation players. That’s a lot by the way. If he can bring out the potential in this squad (only seen in flashes so far this season), accolades should surely be considered for him.
We’ve both gone with vastly different opinions here, which I think reflects how wide open this award is almost every year! I agree with your assertion that non-playoff teams should be pretty much discounted… you should at least be able to bring your team into an eighth seed!
Who do you predict to finish the regular season tops in the East and the West? I think the West is a given though…
In the West I would love to say the Phoenix Suns. I could watch them play everyday of the year but at the moment they have one huge obstacle, they cannot beat a very tall and very athletic LA Lakers team. Now if in some bizarre turn of events unfolded and another team knocked the Lakers out in an upset, then the Suns would become a possibility. But you never know with Phoenix and how successful “7 Seconds of Less” really is when crunch time comes. Phoenix I believe, could, on a good day beat any team in the West, except the Lakers. On the other hand, this Phoenix team just doesn’t have something and they are playing the pipe-dream all season.
I’m not going to say the Lakers, I’m going to go with a left field selection despite the fact this LA team is better than the one last season.
I would love to say Denver but they are Conference-Finalists at best, and I just can’t see them being able to win in LA to move any further if that’s what it all came down to.
I think the best chance we have of a team knocking the Lakers out are Dallas.
The Mavs just appear to be the team most equipped at giving the Lakers match-up problems, either with a small back-court or Dirk Nowitzki at centre. Of course, when they do that the Mavs are then compromised at the defensive end of the floor.
I think there would be that outside chance that an unusual Dallas line-up could force the Lakers to shift into a direction they have not gone through the season, and that’s where Dallas might find their greatest strength.
Who am I kidding, until further notice Lakers.
And I can’t believe I didn’t even consider San Antonio. They look old and stale, and that includes the young guys.
In the East, no longer the Least, Boston, Orlando and Cleveland are the legitimate threats. Forget about the others.
Can we really see LeBron and the Cavs winning another 60 games and not advancing to the Finals? I just have a feeling about the Cavs this season, that when push comes to shove, they will not take a backwards step.
It really is a difficult choice though, because you can make such a strong case for both Boston and Orlando as well.
Boston have added depth and experience, it is getting close to a last hurrah and these guys might… Oh I can’t go on any further… I’ll end up with 50 reasons why the C’s are a chance and the team to beat.
The East is a lucky-dip at the moment, but whoever gets through, I only see Boston defeating the Lakers in a Finals Match-up.
As much as it pains me to think LeBron will be left ring-less for at least another 12 months, if Cleveland or Orlando get through to the Finals they will both lose to the Lakers.
In the West, the race is currently surprisingly close. Closer than it was last season, as the Nuggets, Suns, Mavs and Blazers are all within four games of the Lakers. However, by season’s end, I think it is apparent to most that the LakeShow will take precedence and pull away for a handy lead in the West. The integration of Artest is working nicely and the Lakers’ second unit continues to build a nice identity. Adam Morrison even scored a basket this season!
The East however sees a much more interesting race. Orlando, Boston and Cleveland all sit within one game of each other right now and it’s pleasingly symmetrical that each of them lie in a different division. Atlanta of course is one game behind the Cavs too, but despite the hype, I believe they are merely pretenders, not contenders. Sure, they’ll claim some prize scalps along the way, but their brand of basketball is not playoff basketball (yes, I’m following that old mantra) and the likes of Josh Smith are far too inconsistent to lead a team as a star force.
Much of this race could come down to injuries. For the Cavs, it’s their big guys, the Shaq and Big Z. The Magic can’t afford to lose a key cog like Jameer Nelson again this season. The Celts meanwhile, have their fingers crossed that their Big Ticket is still punchable come playoff time. Assuming that all of the above remain out of the doctor’s chair, I lean toward the Magic taking that next step by the end of the regular season and finishing with the best record amongst these three. They have the inside-outside weapons and they have the dynamicism (is that a word?) of Vince Carter providing a standalone scorer that they could have done with last season. The Celtics are stacked with depth, with the likes of Rasheed Wallace ready to catch KG if he falls and the Cavs have the star power of LeBron and his Big Witness, but I just feel that the Magic have the right combination of experienced youth and team unity to find themselves at the top of East at the end of the regular season — even if by a game or two.
I’ve been burnt by the Spurs too many times in the West. I keep believing in their experience and the skill of their Big Three, but they really do seem to have reached that point where they are too injury-prone and need a slow walk to the retirement home. So I can’t consider them in the equation either.
Huge thanks to Daniel Eade for the chat. We’ve got a wide range of topics to be discussed in the future — if you have any ideas for topics that need dissection, let us know in the comments. Check out Daniel’s writing further at Gaze Hoops.