Tuesday, 31 October 2006

2006 NBA Preview: Awards and Playoff Predictions

Hopefully you won't all hold it against me that the full preview is out a day after the start of the regular season! But that's a chance I had to take because things were busy. By the way, other good season previews are here or here over at WBRS if you're interested. In case you missed the division previews, here they are:

Atlantic Division
Central Division
Southeast Division
Northwest Division
Southwest Division
Pacific Division

So let's move on from there, to the Conference predictions. If I recall from what Pradamaster told me, the division winner is only guaranteed a top 4 seed, unlike the top 3 seed from last year, which is a big and welcome change. So without further ado, here's my top 8 in each conference.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Detroit Pistons
3. Miami Heat
4. Boston Celtics
5. Chicago Bulls
6. Washington Wizards
7. New Jersey Nets
8. Orlando Magic
Next in Line: Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers

1. Dallas Mavericks
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Phoenix Suns
4. Denver Nuggets
5. Houston Rockets
6. LA Lakers
7. LA Clippers
8. Utah Jazz
Next in Line: NO/OK Hornets, Golden State Warriors

Before we get to the predictions, let's go through some awards, both real and fictional, because it's my blog and I can make up awards if I want to.

(5) Dwyane Wade - This isn't a slight to Dwyane Wade as much as its respect for everyone else above him. I think Wade could potentially wear down a bit as the regular season goes on, and that, combined with the overall greatness of the guys above him puts him at 5.
(4) Kobe Bryant - Much the same for Kobe as for Wade. If he won the MVP, it wouldn't be at all surprising. But he'll be out probably the first week with a knee injury, plus I think his game will be changed a lot from last year.
(3) Tim Duncan - He had a foot injury last year and was still unbelievable in leading the Spurs to the best regular-season record in the West. This year, all reports say that the foot is feeling great, and he should have a new focus after their early ousting in the postseason.
(2) Dirk Nowitski - He was great last year, and continues to improve and vary his game. He added an unstoppable post game from 15 feet last year, and just continues to improve his offensive game.
(1) LeBron James - I thought he was the best player in the NBA last year, and I think he will be again. We all know about his game... 30, 8, and 8 is not out of the question.

Rookie of the Year
(5 TIE) Jordan Farmar - I think that as the season goes on, he'll start to earn more and more playing time for Phil Jackson. Farmar's a tough PG who just knows the game well, and is a great leader on the court. I'm not big fans of Smush Parker (more on him later) or Sasha Vujacic, which is why I think minutes may be there for Farmar's taking.
(5 TIE) Rodney Carney - With the sad state of Philly, Carney should be starting before too long. He's solid defensively which is a rarity in Philly these days, and can knock down open shots. And Philly doesn't have a whole lot of other options.
(4) Tyrus Thomas - The most athletic player in the draft, I think he'll have an immediate impact defensively. He's a great shot-blocker off the weak side, and he'll get up and down the floor.
(3) Randy Foye - I think it'll take him a little while to adjust, but he's got great game. He can shoot from the outside, get to the basket, and play good defense. With defenses focusing their attention on KG Foye could thrive if he gets the minutes.
(2) Rudy Gay - Gay should get a decent amount of minutes, and with his enormous talent, that's all he needs to be effective. He can finish on the break, has a great pullup jumper, and should pull down rebounds. Passion & Pride likes him as their 6th Man of the Year... I'll settle for #2 on the Rookies list.
(1) Brandon Roy - I think he'll have the best opportunities of all the rookies to contribute, and he's one of the most NBA ready. Portland's got young talent, but they won't be contending, which is why Roy will get a lot of minutes at the 1 and 2 guard. He's got an NBA jumpshot, and he'll be able to get into the lane.

6th Man of the Year
Leandro Barbosa - I just love his game offensively. He can score off the dribble, get out on the break with his blinding speed, and hit the open shot from downtown. He excels in the 1/2 man off the bench in the role that the Suns use him, and he should average at least 10-15 points per game off the bench for the high-scoring Suns. I think that will be enough to edge out Andres Nocioni for the 6th Man of the Year Award.

Most Overrated Players
Peja Stojakovic - On a team with many very good players he thrives. This is what happened in Sacramento when they were winning all of those games... he can stay out of the way and just hit jump shots. Which is nice, but he's sure getting paid a lot to do it. He'll knock down open shots, but I'm skeptical about his ability to create for himself. Of course, with Chris Paul he may not have to.
Smush Parker - He's an average to slightly above average 3-point shooter. That's it. He doesn't create many shots for himself or others, he's not a great ballhandler, and he's not a great defender. He's solid as a guard off the bench, but as a starter, I think he's very overrated.
Ben Wallace - Before you bit my head off, I think he's a bigger offensive detriment than people realize. Last year in the playoffs it was a 4-on-5 offensively for Detroit every time they had the ball. He doesn't score, and he's terrible at the line. The defense is obviously great, and Chicago is certainly better off with him, but I really think the offensive ineptitude is understated.

Most Underrated Players
Gerald Wallace - He contributes in all areas of the game. He's a high percentage shooter and excellent rebounder at his position. But mostly he's excellent defensively. He steals (to the tune of 2.5 per game) and blocks shots (2.1 per game). And at only age 24, he should keep improving as long as the Bobcats don't try to push Adam Morrison ahead of him.
Andres Nocioni - He was my 2nd choice for 6th Man of the Year. He gets overshadowed a bit because Luol Deng plays his same position, but Nocioni is a weapon. He averaged 13 and 6 per game off the bench last year, and is a threat behind the arc. He'd be starting on a lot of teams.
Yao Ming - People obviously know about Yao, but I'm not sure that everyone realize how good he really is. He has become a veritable weapon down low for the Rockets, which makes them a real threat with a healthy T-Mac. After the All-Star break last year he averaged 25.7 PPG and over 11 RPG. He's certainly the top Center in the NBA and probably one of the top 10 players in the game right now.

Playoff Predictions
Cleveland over Orlando in 5
Detroit over New Jersey in 6
Miami over Washington in 6
Chicago over Boston in 4

Dallas over Utah in 5
San Antonio over LA Clippers in 6
Phoenix over LA Lakers in 7
Houston over Denver in 5

Cleveland over Chicago in 7
Miami over Detroit in 7

Dallas over Houston in 6
San Antonio over Phoenix in 7

Cleveland over Miami in 6
Dallas over San Antonio in 7

Dallas over Cleveland in 6

I was tempted to pick San Antonio or Phoenix in the West, but I just think Dallas it the most versatile team... more offensively potent than San Antonio, better defensively than Phoenix. That combo is enough for them to finish the job this time.

Well, how wrong am I?