As much I’d like to forgo making predictions until the beginning of training camp, ’tis the season. So without further delay, here is round one of my NBA forecast.
CP3 led the league in assists last season and there’s no reason to believe that will change in 2009. Paul is surrounded with a pass-first point guards dream in sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic on the perimeter and long-limbed pogostick Tyson Chandler down low. Steve Nash is Paul’s closest competitor. Nash was leading the league in assists last season until the Suns traded for Shaquille O’Neal.
Man-child Dwight Howard averaged a full rebound more than Marcus Camby last season. Like Paul, there’s no reason to believe Howard won’t repeat in 2009.
Wade is great at playing the passing lanes. His quick hands, anticipation, and incredible 6-11 wingspan make him a pick-pocket threat too.
I know, it’s a lot to expect a rookie to come in and lead the league in blocks in his first season. But Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 2.7 blocks in his rookie campaign. I expect Oden to have a similar impact with the Blazers. Marcus Camby — last season’s leader — will turn 34 next season, and the Clippers backcourt will not allow as much penetration as the Nuggets did.
Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade are capable of leading the league in scoring. But James gets the nod since Bryant, Anthony, and Wade will be surrounded by players with great scoring ability. James doesn’t have that luxury with the Cavs and will once again be depended upon to start and finish plays for his team to be successful.
Rookie of the Year
Michael Beasley is the popular pick. Beasley’s greatest attribute is his ability to put the ball in the hole. And with Dwyane Wade in Miami, Beasley won’t get the opportunities that were affored to Kevin Durant last year in Seattle. The Heat will win at least 25 more games than they did last season, and that could be enough to give Beasley the publicity he needs to capture the award. But the Rookie of the Year award has never been influenced by team success like the MVP award is. If voters decide to take into account team success, Oden will have the advantage there as well. With Oden down low and former ROY Brandon Roy on the perimeter, the Blazers have 50-win potential.
Oden may not average as many points as Beasley. But Oden will fill up the box score with blocks and rebounds while assuming a leadership position on the court.
Defensive Player of the Year
I went back and forth on whether or not DPOY is a team influenced award for all of about 30 seconds — the time it took me to remember former Nugget Marcus Camby’s selection in 2006-2007. Kevin Garnett was named Defensive Player of the Year last year as he helped the Celtics to a double-digit point differential in 2007-2008. The Rockets were the second best defensive team in the league last season and will be even stronger with the addition of former Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest.
It’s been four years since Artest was named DPOY. But at 28, Artest is still in his athletic prime. The last time Ron-Ron was surrounded by a championship caliber team, he was a wrecking ball on the defensive end. Paired with All-Star Jermaine O’Neal, Artest embraced his role as defensive stopper and allowed O’Neal to lead offensively. The Pacers were third in points allowed per 100 possessions that season.
A lot of people have expressed concern about Artest dominating the ball in Houston and disrupting their offensive chemistry. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. Feel free to question Artest’s sanity — I know I have — but the guy is a competitor. He’s going to do what it takes to win. And in Houston, that means regaining the form that made him the NBA’s best defender.