Thoughts on ESPN’s Predictions

» September 3, 2008 5:00 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

The four-letter network is at it already.  Twenty-five of ESPN’s writers, editors and contributors offered their outlook on the upcoming NBA season.

I probably won’t make any predictions until the start of the season, so I thought I’d take some time to poke holes in ESPN’s observations while making no hard-line predictions of my own.  It was that or write about whether or not Monta Ellis injured himself playing basketball.  Aw, the joys of NBA blogging in September.

Not surprisingly, ESPN has Boston ranked number one in the East and Los Angeles ranked number one in the West.

Boston had one of the finest team defenses in NBA history last year.  But I don’t know if they have the drive that it takes to repeat.  I’ll never question KG’s intensity.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I think Paul Pierce will regress next season.

The Celtics are trailed by Detroit, Cleveland, Orlando, Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington, and Miami rounds out the top eight.

I was surprised to see the Pistons back as the second seed, but the Eastern Conference is marked with a lot of uncertainty heading into the 2008-2009 season.

Cleveland appears primed for a run at the championship after taking the Celtics to seven games last year.  But they’re still one prolonged LeBron James injury from the lottery.  Mo Williams is a solid addition, but he’s not a legitimate second option.  And that’s why I won’t be categorizing the Cavs as championship contenders at the beginning of next season.  Championship contenders are still playoff teams without their star player.  The Cavs are terrible without James.

If Cleveland advances to the Finals, it will be due to an extraordinary effort from the King.

I think Philadelphia — with newly acquired Elton Brand — will leap frog Orlando.  Toronto could surprise if Jermaine O’Neal remains healthy.

Washington and Miami are going to play a similar helter-skelter style.  Both teams are dominated by three guards/forwards who are perimeter oriented.  The Wizards possess a slight advantage at the five and two spots with Brendon Haywood patrolling the paint and ballhawker DeShawn Stevenson defending perimeter scorers, but all things being equal, the Heat have Dwyane Wade.

Wade even received a vote as the 2008-2009 MVP.  I was impressed with Wade’s explosiveness in the Olympics, and he’s obviously put on some muscle since last season.  (I recall a play against Greece where Wade drove to the basket and was met in midair by Sofoklis ‘Baby Shaq’ Schortsanitis and Schortsanitis took the brunt of the impact.)  But I didn’t see Wade score in ways I haven’t seen before.  And he’ll need to score in different ways with NBA defenses focusing on stopping him from getting to the basket. Shaq may have been a shell of his former self in Miami, but opposing defenses still game planned to stop him.  I think Wade is going to have a great individual season — but the MVP isn’t an individual award — it’s a team award.  It requires a 50-win season — which isn’t happening in Miami.

Missing the playoff cut in the East is Chicago and Atlanta in ninth and tenth place.  I think the Bulls and Hawks will push for a playoff birth.  And let’s be honest — it won’t take a super-human effort for them to make it.  Two of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams last year possessed sub .500 records.

In the West, the Lakers are trailed by New Orleans, Houston, Utah, San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, and Portland.

Andrew Bynum’s return makes the Lakers the team to beat in 2009.  Bynum was averaging a career-high in points and rebounds and was leading the league in field goal percentage before he went down with a season ending injury.  And yet the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals without him.

New Orleans is going to be a force and will remain a force as long as they have Chris Paul.  Paul’s court awareness is off the charts.  He has an inate sense of the game that is impossible to teach and a joy to watch.  I stand by my assertion that the Hornets overpaid for James Posey.  But he will undoutebly pay dividends come playoff time.

Houston has a triumvirate that’s as good as any in the league.  But as always, the health of their two injury prone superstars (McGrady & Ming) will determine their fate.

The Jazz were the second best team in the West last year and will return all of their key players.  San Antonio isn’t going anywhere.  Although the Spurs are going to need an All-Star season from Tony Parker and consistent effort from Tim Duncan to remain afloat until Manu Ginobili returns to action.

Phoenix and Dallas are the two biggest question marks in the West.

New coach Terry Porter will emphasize defense in the Valley of the Sun.  But defense is about effort and will power — two qualities that are foreign to Shaq, Nash, and Stoudemire on that end of the floor.  I love Phoenix’s acquisition of Matt Barnes.  Barnes slid under the free agent radar because of a subpar showing in 2007-2008.  But he displayed the ability to excel in pressure situations in Golden State’s first round upset of the Mavericks in 2007.

Much has been made of Jason Kidd’s decline in skills.  Kidd has clearly lost a step and was unable to contain Chris Paul in Dallas’ first round loss to the Hornets last year.  But who can contain Chris Paul?  Bruce Bowen and the Spurs couldn’t.  And Bowen was a first team All-NBA defender last season.  Kidd remains one of the NBA’s finest playmakers.  Like most point guards, he needs to be utilized in a system that can benefit from his strengths and hide his weaknesses.  I think Rick Carlisle will provide him with an opportunity to extend his career for a few more seasons.  At the very least, Kidd will remain productive until he joins up with good friend LeBron James — wherever that may be.

The team I’m most excited to watch next season is the Portland Trailblazers.  Portland finished the 2007-2008 season with a surprising 41-41 record.  That record would have tied them with Toronto for the sixth seed in the East, but kept them out of the playoffs in the West.  I know I said I wasn’t going to make any hard-line predictions — I lied.  Greg Oden is my pick as Rookie of the Year.  Beasley is the odds-on favorite for the award.  And with good reason, the kid can put the ball in the hole and his scoring ability will be needed in Miami.  But I think Oden’s impact on the defensive end will be immediate.  In fact, I expect him to contend for Defensive Player of the Year too.

Oden’s shot blocking is enhanced by his ability to block shots with either hand.  This gives him a tremendous advantage because he rarely has to turn his body to protect the basket.

Rounding out the top ten in the West are Golden State and Denver.  I understand the pessisism for the Nuggets after the departure of Marcus Camby.  But Camby was extremely overrated defensively.  Blocks are a terrible measure of defensive prowess.  Unfortunately, they’re one of the few defensive statistics we have.  The Nuggets are going to experience some growing pains without Camby, but I think they will actually improve defensively as long as Kenyon Martin and Nene remain healthy.  Why?  Because Carmelo and company won’t play defense with the mentality that a shot blocker will erase their mistakes.

Well that was fun.  Let’s do this again next month.


5 Responses to “Thoughts on ESPN’s Predictions”

  1. Tsunami Says:

    My early thoughts on the East:
    Some teams are built for the regular season, some are built for the playoffs, others are built for both. Some recent examples: The Phoenix Suns are built for the regular season. So are the Detroit Pistons. The Cleveland Cavaliers are built for the playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs are built for both.

    In the East, I like Boston to grab the top spot. Too much talent. But they won’t repeat this year. It’s too easy to defend them in crunch time, and their defense won’t be as physical without Posey. Also, they’re an injury from their big 3 away from mediocrity. 58 wins.

    Detroit wins regular season games – that’s just what they do. They play solid D, every player on their team is an offensive weapon, but they have a ceiling. They will win 55 games and lose in the 1st round of the playoffs.

    I like the Cavs number 3 this season. I think last season showed them that you can’t screw around in the regular season. You need everyone in training camp – you need continuity, and you need home court advantage as often as possible in the playoffs. The Cavs limped through most of the season and because of it had to play Boston in the 2nd round. Had the Cavs had home court advantage in that series there is no reason to believe they wouldn’t have gone to the finals. Mike Brown is going to have Mo Williams playing D. Speaking of Mo, after 5 years, the Cavs finally have a point guard that can get into the teeth of the defense. I expect the Cavs to suffer some injuries and finish with 54 well earned wins.

    Toronto Raptors – This is where it starts getting difficult. I like the Raptors acquisition of Jermaine Oneal. When healthy, they have the best offense in the East – even better than the Wizards. A healthy Oneal provides some toughness on the low post that Chris Bosh lacks. I could see the Raptors winning 50 games, but reality probably puts them at or around 47.

    Orlando Magic – The Magic Still have Dwight Howard, but it just felt like everything went right in Orlando last year – with Hedo going bonkers all the time. I felt like they overachieved last year, but I still think they are a good regular season team. Expectations will be high – we’ll go with 46 wins.

    Philadelphia 76ers – Everyone is really high on the 76ers. I’m not. Andre Miller can’t play forever, expectations are incredibly high, and the injury bug seems to hurt the run and gun teams the most imo. If completely healthy, they have enough talent and depth to WIN the East. I just keep thinking something bad is going to happen to them. Karma I guess. I’ll go with 44 wins.

    Washington Wizards – The Wizards are absolutely the most pathetic excuse for a basketball team in the NBA. They think they are better than they are, they choke in big situations, they talk trash when they get their butts kicked, and they have the mindless DC media that fuels a culture of excuses. Arenas will bounce back from last years injuries, they will win a few games 160-158, and they will get bounced in the first round (again) by the 76ers. 42 wins.

    Miami Heat – Beasley will be the first rookie since LeBron, Melo, and Wade were off and running ‘03 to make an all-star worthy contribution in his rookie season. With Shawn Marion and a healthy Wade, they have one of the best trios in the NBA. If Wade gets hurt, they will shut him down, trade Haslem, and grab a top draft pick next year – but I don’t see that happening. 41 wins. Wade would have given them 25 wins last season, but they tanked so they would get a draft pick.

    Indiana Pacers – They will surprise a few teams and squeak into the last playoff spot. They have a high octane offense that will win a lot of regular season games. They will lose 4-0 in the first round to the Celtics.

    Rest of the pack (in no particular order)

    Chicago addressed their need of low post scoring in 2007 by drafting a big that can’t score – Joakim Noah. They addressed their need of low post scoring in 2008 by drafting a point guard. Maybe in 2009 they will address low post scoring, but for now, Drew Gooden is their best low post threat, and that’s not going to be enough, unless Luol Deng plays like an all-star for 82 games. Especially not in the east, where all the good teams play physical defense.

    Milwaukee has been an above average team the last 3 years when everyone is healthy – the problem is that almost never happens. Redd looks like he’s lost a step and trading away Mo Williams pretty much makes these guys lottery bound.

    Atlanta – Losing Josh Childress did more than hurt the talent pool on this team – it hurt the franchise psyche. They are doomed. Josh Smith and Joe Johnson aint that good.

    Charlotte – Every year I pick Charlotte to make the playoffs, so this year I’m not – maybe they will actually make it. They have a nice starting 5, but they always have injuries to key players.

    New York Knicks – Worst Team Chemistry in the NBA. They are going no where fast. I’d be interested to see if they try to find a buyer for Zach Randolph.

    New Jersey Nets – sold their present for a shot at the future. They will have trouble winning 20 games.

  2. xphoenix87 Says:

    Tsunami – bold prediction, to have 9 teams going to the playoffs :P

    By my early analysis so far (subject to change :P), there are 15 teams that are all but locks for the playoffs, and 9 contenders (a few more than last year, and much more balanced between conferences). As I’ve said before, I’d be shocked if the West’s top 8 aren’t LA, NO, Hou, SA, Utah, Pho, Dal, and Por. The drop-off after those teams is just too big (I know you like Denver Hoff, but I think you’re off your rocker). For the East, there’s an even bigger gap between the top 7 and the rest, that top 7 being Bos, Cle, Det, Was, Tor, Phi, Orl. The only team that could jump into that echelon is Miami, but I’m not willing to put them there until I see Beasley produce as a rookie and Wade play more than 50 games.

    Early list of contenders: NO, LA, Hou, SA, Utah, Bos, Cle, Tor, Phi

    The ones I least like among those are Utah and Philly. Philly I think is too young still, but I like the construction of their team. They’ve got good balance and a solid bench, but I’m not sure Thaddeus Young will grow up fast enough, or if I really believe in Andre Miller. Utah has no post defenders, and that worries me. They’re a terrific offensive team, but nobody on that team scares you on the defensive end. I like the Raptors if Jermaine O’Neal makes the bounce-back I expect. If he goes down with injury again though, they’re out.

  3. Brandon Hoffman Says:

    Tsunami,

    You said, “Had the Cavs had home court advantage in that series there is no reason to believe they wouldn’t have gone to the finals.”

    Maybe so. But you would have faced the Celtics later in the playoffs. And Boston got stronger with each round of the postseason.

    Who do you have making the playoffs?

  4. Brandon Hoffman Says:

    xphoenix87,

    I think Toronto and Philly are going to be good. But I don’t think they’ll contend for the championship.

    I think the Jazz are going to remain as contenders. They really were the second best team in the West last year. But Boozer disappeared in the playoffs.

  5. Tsunami Says:

    Whoops – ok, scratch that. It’s really hard to make predictions since so many teams tank these days.

    Playoffs:

    West: same as last year but replace Dallas with Portland
    East: In no particular order – Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, Orlando, Philly, Washington, Miami

    The east will be much more competitive this year. The separation between seats 4-10 will be no more than 7 games.

    Parity in the NBA continues to grow – you know that means, defense still wins championships.

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