My favorite season of all is almost upon us. In five long days, the NBA season kicks off with the defending champ Miami Heat taking on the try-hard Chicago Bulls, but this time with a theoretically healthy Derrick Rose. Should be a good one to start the season.
With the tip-off in sight, it seems like a good time to present my picks for the upcoming season.
Now, just a little disclaimer. I try to be as unbiased in my picks and analysis as possible, but I am, in fact, a die-hard Bulls fan. And I am excited about this season’s prospects, and my preview will likely reflect that. But I do earnestly believe and respect my own picks as an objective observer.
I will be counting down the eight teams in each conference that I believe will be playoff teams, I will give my picks to win each conference, the league awards, and most importantly, the NBA champion.
8. Washington Wizards
Let me preface this by saying that the eastern conference looks to once again be very top heavy. I do not really consider any of the bottom four teams to really compete for an NBA title. That being said, I suppose once a team makes the playoffs, anything can happen. I believe that Washington will have a losing record, as every Eastern Conference eight seed seems to do nowadays, but I also believe that the Wizards have a couple potential all-stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. They have a fine rookie prospect in Otto Porter. Their veteran front court can bang the boards a little bit. I am not saying they will set the world on fire, but the Wizards should have enough to be a playoff team.
7. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons made the splashy moves in the offseason, getting Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. They also brought back a legendary figure in Detroit in Chauncey Billups, though that figures to not impact the team that much. The big factor in Detroit’s season will be the development of their two young big men, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. All signs point to them being a quality set of twin towers, but for now, there is still a lot of raw to their game, especially Drummond. I would not be shocked if Detroit jumped ahead a few years in development and grabbed a four or five seed, but I think the project is still another year or two down the road, and I think Josh Smith is more than likely going to cost the Pistons as many games as he wins them, like he did in Atlanta.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
This pick is 100% dependent on two things: Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett. More specifically, their development. I have not been terribly impressed with Anthony Bennett in the number one pick sense, but he has a lot of potential, especially on the boards. Waiters as a rookie had a lot of flash, so I expect to see a little more offense out of him. We know what we will see out of the two big names, Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum. Irving will be one of the league’s top players and Bynum will continue his downward spiral into obscurity. The energy and rebounding of Anderson Varejao represent a poor-man’s Joakim Noah, so you know I love that. The big pick up for the Cavs was Jarrett Jack, who had the best season of his career last year in Golden State. He can score in bunches on occasion, he can facilitate, he is a great guy to have coming off of your bench. A lot of my faith in Cleveland is based on big questions, but I believe that they can get it done.
5. New York Knicks
In terms of style of play, there is no team I hate watching more than the Knicks. It is a ton of isolation and one-on-one by their three main scorers, Carmelo, JR Smith, and Raymond Felton. The addition of Andrea Bargnani will open up the lanes a little for Melo, since he is a big man who plays almost exclusively away from the hoop, but I know what I will see offensively from this team. Defensively, they have three really nice players in Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, and Metta World Peace, but they do not contribute a ton offensively. I think the best way to describe the Knicks is like a football team: they have a squad to score points and a squad to play defense, but neither squad can do what the other does. They have the star power to win forty-five games, but don’t expect serious contention from the Knickerbockers.
4. Brooklyn Nets
Last year, this was a team of underachieving superstars and all-stars. This year, with the addition of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Kidd pacing the sideline, they will not be allowed to underachieve. The problem is their big pickups are no longer major difference-makers. They will be difference makers, but they do not push the Nets over the edge. What could do the trick is Deron Williams limiting his three-point shooting and Brook Lopez getting just a little bit of clue of how to play defense. Also, for a seven-footer, Lopez is not much of a rebounder. Theoretically, KG will help fix this. The Nets have a deep bench with Jason Terry, Andray Blatche, and Andrei Kirilenko, and Joe Johnson still sometimes is the Atlanta Joe Johnson, so I cannot rule the Nets out as a major contender in the Eastern Conference. But I do not see a huge improvement from last year’s Nets team that lost to a depleted Bulls roster in round one of the playoffs.
3. Indiana Pacers
There are two differences of significance between this year’s Pacers team and last year’s. One, Danny Granger returns, which should only help their offense, since Lance Stephenson offensive game could be described as erratic at best last year. The only negative effect it could is if Granger wants to immediately return to being the guy in Indiana, which he clearly is not anymore. This is now Paul George’s team, and if Granger’s on board, he will be dangerous. The other difference is Roy Hibbert’s unending confidence from the Miami series. Look at his regular season stats from a year ago and nothing really stands out. But those who saw the playoffs suddenly say Hibbert is the third best center in the NBA (looking at you, ESPN). Though I do not agree with that assessment, I do think Hibbert will be more consistent and make Indiana a powerhouse. They are a pesky team with only one real all-star for the time being, but they always give good teams fits.
2. Miami Heat
They will be the two seed regardless of Dwyane Wade’s health. I will explain why in the next section. However, as long as they have the best player in the world and a supporting cast that at least played ball in high school, Miami will be the favorite in the East. They did not make any huge acquisitions,–the biggest one probably was probably Michael Beasley–but that is because they have won two straight titles with this group. I think it may be the last hurrah for the Big Three, but they still got this season, even though I believe that Wade’s gimp will make them more of a Big Two and a Half.
1. Chicago Bulls
Here is why they will be the one seed: As long as Thibodeau is in the NBA, he will do everything he can to win every single game. And as long as Derrick Rose is healthy, Thibs will succeed more often than not. With a healthy Rose, the Bulls now have both the top defensive team in the league and an offense that no longer looks pathetic. Though it is only the preseason, the Bulls have yet to lose in the warm-up contests and Rose has looked fantastic. They added a shooter in Mike Dunleavy, they drafted some shooters who probably will barely sniff the floor, and they still have Luol Deng and Joakim Noah as the backbone of the team. The Bulls top seed is also going to be pretty reliant on Jimmy Butler’s continued emergence as both one of the league’s premier defensive stoppers and a guy who can contribute ten to fifteen points a game. Taj Gibson also needs to be more like his 2011-2012 pre-contract self. All that falls into place, even with Thibs resting Rose five to ten games this year, the Bulls could and should win sixty games.
Eastern Conference Finals
Chicago vs. Miami
Chicago wins in seven games.
So there are my Eastern Conference picks and previews, as impartial as I possibly could.
Check in soon for my Western Conference preview and Award picks.