Friday, December 23, 2011

Season Predictions

Posted By on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 at 10:42 PM

Saturday morning I'm getting on a plane for Minnesota, where I'll be spending the week between Christmas and New Year's, missing not only Wednesday's home opener with the Thunder but also Friday's home game with the Houston Rockets. Thanks for starting the season during the holidays, NBA!

So there may not be much activity in this space for the next week unless there's significant news outside the scope of the games themselves. But, you know what? I'm betting there's significant news. As I wrote in my post on new signee Dante Cunningham, I think a trade to further address the team's frontcourt depth is inevitable, whether it comes in the days leading up to Monday's season-opening game at San Antonio or later into the season. Signing Cunningham does not address the team's lack of a backup center, but, given that Cunningham gives the team a longer option at small forward in addition to a Darrell Arthur replacement at power forward, the signing is a useful precursor to a deal that would send out a wing player (Xavier Henry? O.J. Mayo?) for a big.

I now think a deal of some sort could happen sooner rather than later. Given my track record, it might happen while I'm in an airplane tracking up the Mississippi.

But before I head out, I need to go on the record with some predictions for the league in general and the Grizzlies in particular. Given the compressed and shortened schedule, the number of older teams with shoddy depth, and the looming uncertainty over the fate of arguably the league's second best player (Dwight Howard), forecasting the NBA seems even more difficult than usual this season. I predicted over/unders for all 30 teams on the Chris Vernon Show earlier in the week and am already shading several of my predictions from that show up or down.

But here's my best shot:

EAST:

I think seeds 3-7 here could go any which way and think there could be as many as nine teams in the West capable of finishing third in the East. Chicago and Miami, potentially the two best teams in the league, should dominate the conference. I'm sticking Orlando third by default based on the notion that Dwight Howard might not get traded at all. I think Atlanta is ready to slide and Detroit is a sleeper team, though not really a playoff contender.

1. Chicago Bulls
2. Miami Heat
3. Orlando Magic
4. New York Knicks
5. Indiana Pacers
6. Boston Celtics
7. Philadelphia 76ers
8. Atlanta Hawks

9. Detroit Pistons
10.Milwaukee Bucks
11. Toronto Raptors
12. Washington Wizards
13. New Jersey Nets
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
15. Charlotte Bobcats

WEST:

If the East looks wide open starting at #3, the West looks wide open starting at #2, with the Oklahoma City Thunder the conference's only sure thing.

Before the Darrell Arthur injury, I was toying with putting the Grizzlies second. After the injury, I was considering moving them down to #8. That says a lot about how fragile the Grizzlies are given their lack of frontcourt depth, but it also says a lot about how competitive the battle for playoff seeding in the West could be.

Two things brought me back up on the Grizzlies: 1. The realization that at least half the contenders in the West — especially the Mavs, Lakers, Spurs, and Clippers — are similarly fragile. 2. The expectation that the team will bolster its frontcourt via trade before too long.

Realistically, I think the Grizzlies could finish anywhere between #2 and #9. I'm splitting the difference here by putting them at #5. The surprising pick will be the Blazers at #2. Like all the playoff contenders below the Thunder, I wouldn't be surprised if they finished as low as #9, but I think Nate McMillan is one of the league's best coaches, Lamarcus Aldridge is an emerging elite player, and the addition of Gerald Wallace and his ability to play a superb small-ball four will foster some devastating unconventional lineups. I could easily see this team piling up regular season wins a la last year's Spurs before under-performing in the post-season, where I think teams like the Mavs, Grizzlies, and the two L.A. squads are potentially better equipped for a deep run.


1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Portland Trailblazers
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Los Angeles Clippers
5. Memphis Grizzlies
6. Denver Nuggets
7. San Antonio Spurs
8. Los Angeles Lakers

9. Houston Rockets
10. Minnesota Timberwolves
11. New Orleans Hornets
12. Sacramento Kings
13. Utah Jazz
14. Phoenix Suns
15. Golden State Warriors

East Finals: Heat over Bulls
West Finals: Thunder over Mavericks
NBA Finals: Heat over Thunder

MVP: Kevin Durant (Runners-Up: Chris Paul/Lebron James, Sleepers: Lamarcus Aldridge/Zach Randolph)

Rookie of the Year: Ricky Rubio (Runners-Up: Kyrie Irving/Brandon Knight, Sleeper: Norris Cole)

Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan (Runners-Up: Rick Adelman/Lionel Hollins, Sleeper: Lawrence Frank)

The Leap: John Wall, Rudy Gay, James Harden, Danillo Galinari, Jrue Holiday.

The Mini-Leap: Greg Monroe, Paul George, Ty Lawson, Demarcus Cousins, Ed Davis.

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