Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Very Merry 2012 NBA Preview

Here are some of my picks and predictions for the upcoming 66-game NBA season.

NBA Champion:  Miami Heat
I don't see them being denied.  They got better in the offseason by obtaining Shane Battier, and they apparently will run a better offense predicated on player movement.  With a more balanced offense, a ball-swinging Battier, health, and an improved post-game from LeBron James, the offense should be fine, even without a PG (though Norris Cole has looked OK).  Defensively, they are still missing a big man to control the paint against big centers, but their ridiculous wing defense should allow them to overcome that.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will give them a great NBA Finals though.

Chicago and Dallas are the viable candidates to take out Miami or OKC this year.  The Los Angeles teams are my sleepers.

KD vs. CP3 will likely determine the MVP race this season.  
NBA MVP:  Chris Paul or Kevin Durant
Chicago has a target on their back now.  I see them having a mini-2009-Hornets season, which drags Rose's MVP shares down because the Bulls don't meet the same gaudy expectations that carried over from the slight overachievement of the season prior.  New York's stars are too even to win MVP.  Kobe and the Lakers are getting older, LeBron and D-Wade hurt each other, and Dwight Howard is a complete wild card for MVP.  There's a good chance he switches teams midseason; I highly doubt they'll give him a league MVP award.

That leaves Paul and Durant.  By picking up where he left off last season- on a new team that sucked last season, no less- Paul's narrative is set for the MVP race.  It won't matter that Blake Griffin is on the team- Paul is established.  The voters will see it as Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire all over again.

Durant has a shot, as I see him running away with another scoring title and OKC being the best regular season team in the West.

My sleeper pick is LeBron James.

Defensive Player of the Year:  Dwight Howard
Dikembe Mutombo won this award in 2001 after switching teams.  This award is based more on ability, reputation, and defensive stats, as opposed to narratives and team success, which sort of govern MVP voting.

Sixth Man of the Year:  A Maverick
The best Maverick coming off the bench has the best chance.  That team is deep.
If James Harden is a sixth man- please, Scotty, let him start- then he's the favorite.

Tracy McGrady is my LULZ pick.

Most Improved Player:  John Wall
This had a Denver Nugget written all over it until they all left for other parts of the world.  I think Wall has an all-star worthy season this year.  Perhaps next year, he'll make a D-Rose leap.  This year's improvement will be good enough for the award.

Serge Ibaka and even James Harden have a shot at this as well.

Rookie of the Year:  Kyrie Irving
I'm taking Irving since he'll have control of his team, but Brandon Knight and Ricky Rubio are possibilities, too.  

Deron Williams is N.J.'s anchor.  
Sleeper teams:  Nets and Suns
I was a lot more comfortable with this Nets pick before Brook Lopez got injured, but Mehmet Okur softens the blow.  Deron Williams has become a hugely underrated player after being traded last season and being shrouded in darkness while Paul and Rose have gotten the positive point guard headlines for the past year.  Williams is a top-7ish player in the league, and the Nets aren't a terrible group.  I think Williams elevates his team to the playoffs.

Steve Nash finally has a Suns team that defends and fits.  But it's too late now.  Phoenix won't be a contender, but they've got a great chance at making the playoffs.  Nash guarantees a good offense, while Marcin Gortat and Grant Hill provide balance with strong defense.  Phoenix is a solid team.

Those are my picks.  Merry Christmas, and enjoy the NBA season!

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