The NBA season starts on Tuesday and we here at HSH know that all of your concentration has been either on football or the World Series. We know that means you haven’t had time to really think about the NBA quite yet, and you’re probably not sure which teams to look out for. Sure, we know that the Heat and Lakers will make the playoffs unless they catch the plague. What you don’t know is who will fill out the bottom half of the playoff bracket or who will win season awards. But that’s ok. HSH has your back.
We’re putting out a quick-read guide to the NBA this season along with our predictions, and they go a little something like this:
1. Miami Heat
The Heat are the defending champs and are favored to repeat. They still have the South Beach version of the Big 3 in Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They added sharp-shooter Ray Allen in the off-season, to come off the bench. Rashard Lewis, who also signed as a free-agent, will also open up the paint when he’s on the floor by demanding a big man to cover him, and camping behind the three point line.
2. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are one of those teams who never seem to be quite good enough, but they always match up well against other playoff teams. They traded their biggest star, Joe Johnson, to the Nets for 4 players, two of which should contribute positively on at least a somewhat regular basis (I’m looking at you Jordan Farmar and DeShawn Stevenson). They also acquired Devin Harris, who was once considered to be the best young point guard in the game, from the Jazz. The two big men, Josh Smith and Al Horford are the team leaders and will have to improve on their team play to be a contender. Too often, the Hawks look like they’re playing 1 on 1 or pick up basketball.
3. Boston Celtics
The Celtics had quite the off-season. With Ray Allen taking his talents to South Beach, the C’s signed Jason Terry to replace him, which is a solid trade off. They did get two big guys in the draft. Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger should learn from Kevin Garnett for the next couple of years so they are ready to take the reins when he retires. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are still the leaders of the team with Rondo starting to take hold on the steering wheel.
4. Chicago Bulls
Derrick Rose’s knee exploded in to a million tiny pieces in the playoffs last year and the Bulls were bounced back to the Second City. They have a solid supporting cast, but this team goes as Rose does. If healthy, Rose has already shown he’s an MVP caliber player, having won the award in 2010-2011. If the Bulls can hang on for long enough in the beginning of the season while Rose rehabs his knee and adjusts to playing at the NBA level, the Bulls will be dangerous come playoff time.
5. New York Knicks
The Knicks are a team that, before last season, people expected to contest with Miami for the Eastern Conference title. Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire now have Jason Kidd instead of Jeremy Lin, which will be an improvement. The Knicks don’t need a play making point guard; they need a facilitator, and Kidd is just that. Under his leadership, plus Tyson Chandler’s defending his defensive player of the year title from last year, the Knicks will be far improved over the side show they were last year.
6. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers were the surprise team out of the East last year. No one saw them finishing 3rd in the conference, much less pushing the Heat to the edge in the Eastern semifinals. Roy Hibbert is emerging as the player he was supposed to be coming in to the league as a 7’2 Yeti. Danny Granger is by far the best player on the Pacers, but they won’t have the luxury of nobody thinking the Pacers can actually win.
7. Brooklyn Nets
New Jersey Brooklyn Nets are a top heavy team. The starters have the star power to really make a push to be a higher seed, but the bench looks thin on paper. Any time you have to bring in Jerry Stackhouse’s skeleton to eat minutes off the bench, you’re in trouble. Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Kris Humphries are the starting 5. A new stadium in a new city in a new state should shake the cob webs off the lowly New Jersey Nets.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers were part of the blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers. In order for that to happen, LA had to make room for the big man. Out goes Andrew Bynum to Philly. Out of Philly went their best player, Andre Iguodala to Denver. Bynum really started to come on the playoffs last year to the point where people were ready to crown him the best big man in the NBA. We will certainly see if that’s the case this year without him having the crutch of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to lean on.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe, Dwight, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash. Forget a Big 3, LA has a Fantastic 4. With this roster, they are the favorites to meet the Heat in the finals. The question is whether Steve Nash’s up-tempo style will gel with the half court set that Kobe, Pau, and Dwight flourish in. Nash is smart enough to know when slow down and when to push the team up the floor. If Nash can get Dwight Howard out ahead of traffic, the Lakers could beat every team by 300.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Western Conference defending champs were being disrespected by not being the favorite, and that was before they traded James Harden to Houston late Saturday night. Kevin Durant is arguably the best player in the league. If he’s not #1, there’s no denying who #2 is. Russell Westbrook is one of the best guards in the league and he’s only 23. Serge Ibaka is a budding super star, and will complete the Thunder’s version of the Big 3.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Can you ever count out the Spurs? As long as they have Mr. Dependable, Tim Duncan, the answer is an emphatic NO. Tony Parker is one of the most consistent players in the league. The Spurs have the closest thing the NBA has to a dynasty right now. They can compete for the title every year, and they find themselves right in the thick of things come playoff time.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
CP3 to Blake Griffin is the combo that gets it done for LA’s 2nd team. It’s the second coming of Nash to Stoudemire in Phoenix. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league, and Griffin is the highest flyer. This pick and roll combo is beyond lethal. Adding Lamar Odom could be huge, if his head is back in the game. DeAndre Jordan was a good compliment to Griffin last year, and if he can continue his maturation, the Clippers could shake up the landscape of LA basketball.
5. Dallas Mavericks
Jason Terry and Jason Kidd are gone, and that’s big news. The bigger news is that they still have Dirk. They have also added the memory of what Vince Carter once was, Elton Brand’s hospital bill, and Chris Kaman. They also brought in OJ Mayo, who has to be happy to get out of Memphis. The Mayo/Dirk duo is a dangerous point scoring combo. The Mavs problem will be the same as it is every postseason; when you don’t play defense, and your offense goes cold, you’re in trouble.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
This is a team that could either surprise everyone and really take the next step in becoming a legitimate playoff team, or fall off and resume the expectations of Memphis Grizzlies basketball. The Mike Conley to Rudy Gay combo has blossomed over the past couple of season, and with Marc Gasol playing like the better of the Gasol brothers, and Zach Randolph proving that pudgy is power, the Grizz will make the playoffs and be a decent team to watch all season.
7. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets were players in the Dwight Howard trade, and actually got Andre Iguodala out of the deal, which instantly improves their team over last season. Ty Lawson is perhaps the fastest player in the league, and this team has the make up to get out and run up and down the floor on teams.
8. Houston Rockets
Linsanity! Fear the beard! The Rockets have so many choices when it comes to over used catch phrases. Houston acquired Jeremy Lin based on what he did last year, which was create instant offense when he was finally put in the game for the Knicks. Unfortunately, that trend will slow down once he gets full time play over the course of an entire season. The Rockets brought in James Harden for the same reason. This experiment has a chance to blow up in their faces, but it also has the chance to mix just right and create a really special atmosphere in Houston.
Lakers over Heat in 7 games
Steve Nash finally gets a ring because of the Kobe takeover in the finals. The Lakers have three of the premier defenders in the league (Kobe, Howard, and aka Ron Artest) who can match up with Miami’s Big 3. We spend all offseason talking about how LeBron choked, even though he averaged 27 pts, 8 rebs and 5 assists in the finals. Chris Bosh gets traded in the offseason. D Wade somehow escapes any shard of blame. Again.
MVP – Kevin Durant – SF – OKC Thunder
KD finally gets love after leading the league in scoring 3 out of his first 4 years in the league, and making the
Sonics Thunder one of the best teams in the league. LeBron James is the favorite to repeat and Kobe Bryant is always in the mix, but this is Durant’s year.
Defensive Player of the Year – Dwight Howard – C Los Angeles Lakers
Howard felt slighted when he had better stats than winner Tyson Chandler. Look for Superman to leave no doubt about who wins the award this year. Howard is a rebound and block machine, and on the Lakers, who are already a solid defensive team, all the pressure won’t be on Howard. His numbers may slip a little, but his impact will still be felt.
Rookie of the Year – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – SF Charlotte Bobcats
MKG wasn’t in as big a spot light as he, and many around the country, would have been in his one season at Kentucky. That was due to Anthony Davis taking over as the face of the college game last year. Kidd-Gilchrist is on the Bobcats, who had the worst season in NBA history last year. Any improvement upon that gives him instant credibility.
Sixth Man of the Year - Ray Allen – SG – Miami Heat
This will be Allen’s first full season coming off the bench, and he’ll be entering the game for one purpose: stand in the corner and shoot 3’s. Allen’s defense goes unnoticed, but the Heat, for all that offense, are actually just as good on defense. Jesus Shuttlesworth’s first season in SoBe will be a sign of how long he has left in the league.
Most Improved Player - Ty Lawson – PG – Denver Nuggets
Lawson is poised to have a breakout season. The addition of Andre Iguodala will help Lawson’s assist numbers. He’s got the moves and aggressiveness to make plays around the basket. He’s fast enough to be pesky on defense. If he puts it all together, watch out.