by Pat Gunther
With the NBA season upon us, there are many new factors that will make for an exciting and entertaining year. The Big Three in Miami, the up and coming teams, and defending champion Lakers have all made for exciting off-season news. With only six days left, it’s time for my predictions for the 2010-2011 NBA season.
MVP- Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant is coming off an extremely impressive season averaging 30.1 points per game. Although this may be a popular pick for MVP, but with good reason. Kevin Durant is one of the most electrifying players in the league. Standing at six foot eleven, Durant moves with the quickness of a point guard, and can shoot the ball like very few can. This rare combination of skills has never been seen before.
Defensive Player of the Year- Ron Artest, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
After an amazing season, Artest still has something to prove. Although Artest was snubbed from first team all defensive last year, he still has the shut down ability that he is known for. Some may say Artest is aging, and possibly losing a step but, in my opinion he is still one of the best if not the top perimeter defenders in the NBA. Artest shut down Kevin Durant (my MVP pick and leagues leading scorer last season) in the first round of the playoffs last season. Artest silenced every team’s main scorer including Paul Pierce in the NBA finals. Artest is poised for another great defensive season.
Most Improved Player- Raymond Felton, PG, New York Knicks
Felton is coming off of an impressive season, averaging almost ten points a game while leading the Bobcats to the playoffs. In the summer, Felton was traded to the New York Knicks, a perennial bottom feeder in the East. With the addition of big man Amar’e Stoudemire, be sure to see Felton’s numbers increase. Using the pick and roll with Stoudemire could be a huge advantage for Felton as far as assists go. When teams catch on to the pick and roll, however, Felton could capitalize on wide open shots and looks at the basket.
Rookie of the Year- Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin is coming off of surgery on his ACL, which caused him to miss all of last season. Griffin is the overwhelming pick for this award this year rightfully so. In the preseason, Blake looks like the best player on a Clippers team with proven players such as Chris Kaman and Baron Davis. Griffin can rebound like no other rookie, and is already one of the top ten power forwards in basketball. If Blake Griffin lives up to the hype he’s received, there’s no telling where he can end up at the end of his career.
Although winning these awards is always a plus, none of it matters come playoff time. The defending champion Lakers look to win their third title in a row, while the super-power Miami Heat look to help LeBron James and Chris Bosh win their first rings. The playoffs are never guaranteed, but experience and talent definitely help down the stretch.
Western Conference Seeding
1. Los Angeles Lakers
In a diluted western conference, the Lakers appear to be unmatched yet again. Although Dallas is arguably the second best team in the west, they are no match for LA. Coming off back-to-back titles, Kobe Bryant and co. are willing to defend their title at any cost.
2. Dallas Mavericks
Although the up-and-coming Thunder could take this spot, the Dallas Mavericks experience and talent will propel them to the two seed. Dirk Nowitzki is still one of the best players in the league, while the addition of Tyson Chandler adds defensive prowess and toughness to the Mavs.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant and the young Thunder team can definitely take the three or even the two seed. The Thunder is emerging as one of the premier teams in the league, even though their oldest player (veteran Morris Peterson) is only thirty three years old. Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka played very well in the playoffs last year against the Lakers, and should be an X-factor down the stretch this season.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
Shooting guard Brandon Roy was injured in early April of last year, causing him to miss the remainder of last season. With Roy back in action, the Trail Blazers could be a real contender in the west. Center LaMarcus Aldridge showed flashes of brilliance last season, and if he can play on a consistent basis the Blazers could be dangerous.
5. Utah Jazz
The Jazz finished fifth in the west last season, and have made some improvements over the summer. The addition of center Al Jefferson gives the Jazz a dominant inside scorer, while Raja Bell helps them tremendously on perimeter defense. Deron Williams is arguably the best Point Guard in the league and will lead the Jazz back to the playoffs.
6. San Antonio Spurs
The aging Spurs have had some problems in the past years. Tim Duncan is still one of the league’s best big men even though he is well past his prime. Manu Ginobili contemplated retirement this off-season, but ultimately decided to come back for one more year. Manu will remain a productive bench player, and second year center DeJuan Blair will play a much larger role this season.
7. Houston Rockets
The Rockets made the playoffs last year, despite losing center Yao Ming for the entire season. With Ming back, the Rockets can clinch the seven seed this season with ease. Point Guard Aaron Brooks is an emerging star, who can pose serious problems for multiple defenses.
8. Denver Nuggets
Star forward Carmelo Anthony has caused some controversy over the off-season. The trade to the Nets fell through, and Carmelo remains in Denver. Anthony has been injury prone the past few seasons, and an aging Chauncey Billups is not as effective as he used to be. Despite the Nugget’s problems, they can still make a run for the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Seeding
1. Miami Heat
The Heat have made noise this summer, having possibly the biggest offseason in the history of sports. With the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Heat have jumped from a four or five seed to the number one seed in the east. Everyone is picking the Heat to win the east and possibly the NBA championship. Only time will tell how the Heat fare.
2. Orlando Magic
The Magic, who made the finals two years ago, are only improving. The return of point guard Jameer Nelson last season played a big part in their regular season success. Dwight Howard, the league’s best center, is always a factor in games and can carry the Magic into the playoffs.
3. Boston Celtics
After an impressive post-season run last year, the Celtics look to make it back to the NBA Finals. The addition of Shaquille O’Neal adds defensive toughness and experience to the already aging Celtics. Point guard Rajon Rondo showed everyone why he was the best point guard in the league last year, displaying a wide array of skills. The Celtics may not make a run at the finals, but they will definitely be in the upper echelon of the eastern conference.
4. Chicago Bulls
Carlos Boozer was quite possibly the most underrated off season pickup for any team. In the shadow of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Boozer provides the Bull’s with a powerful scoring forward. Derrick Rose is an up and coming superstar, and will capitalize on the addition of such a versatile player.
5. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are essentially the same exact team as last season. Acquiring Xavier forward Jordan Crawford in the draft gives the Hawks a potential scorer who can take some of the load from Joe Johnson. Look for improvement from second year guard Jeff Teague while the Hawks soar into the playoffs.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have spent many years as the bottom-dwellers of the eastern conference. Led by second year point guard Brandon Jennings, the Bucks made the playoffs as last season’s Cinderella. With the addition of Drew Gooden, the Bucks have made subtle improvements this season. If Andrew Bogut can stay healthy, the Bucks’ could be a wild card in the playoffs.
7. Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in their brief history last season. With Michael Jordan taking over as majority owner, the Bobcats can only improve. Although they traded point guard and my most-improved player Raymond Felton, they still have the dynamic duo of Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace.
8. New York Knicks
After a very disappointing decade, the Knicks will finally make the playoffs. Although they did not land LeBron or Chris Bosh in the off season, they settled with former Phoenix power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. Stoudemire gives the Knicks a big man who can rack up the points in bunches, and rebound like very few. The addition of Raymond Felton will create a dangerous pick and roll with Stoudemire, while shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike can knock down those long three-point shots.
Western Conference Champions: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are looking to three-peat for the second time in Kobe Bryant’s career, and the fourth time in legendary coach Phil Jackson’s. Coming off of three straight NBA Finals, the Lakers will advance to the finals yet again. Going virtually unmatched in the west, the Lakers can advance with relative ease. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol cause problems for most teams in the Western conference, and can take over a big game when they need to.
Eastern Conference Champion: Miami Heat
Although it seems like the popular pick here, the Heat have enough talent to make up for their lack of chemistry. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are both top five players in the NBA, while Chris Bosh can be a force down low. The production off the bench will be a big question for Miami, but with the experience of Wade and LeBron, the Heat can definitely make it this far.
NBA Champion: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will capture their third title in a row in a tight series with the Miami Heat. Although both teams have improved in the off-season, the Lakers length and experience will be too much for the young Miami Heat team. Kobe Bryant will capture his sixth ring, solidifying his place among the best to ever play in the NBA.