Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NBA Predictions and Fantasy League Picks

The bad tooth writer (and if you don't know who that is, I'm not telling) posted last week that if you pick against the Spurs this year, you're just doing it because they won last year, and you're going for a shock pick. Not the case here. While I give the Spurs all props, the simple fact of it is that I don't see Parker, Duncan and Ginobili (especially the last two) staying healthy, and the Spurs don't get out of the West without all three, because without all of those guys, they become defensible.

That's really all there is to it. The NBA is decided, on a very large part, by the ability of its star players to stay healthy and motivated, in large part because injuries on a team are highly, highly contagious. One guy gets hurt, another guy tries to do too much to become the man, the team starts to lose and the guys with questionable character start to see the playoffs slip away, and suddenly those day-to-day ankles become 15 to 30. And if you don't believe that, ask anyone who had the misfortune of watching Warriors Basketball for every year in the past 15, save the last one.

The other big thing that happened in the NBA this off-season is that now that the draft is over and David Stern has given the smackdown to end all smackdowns by fixing the draft for the non-tankers, the bottom half of the East is going to try again. (It also helps that there will be no Oden/Durant hype this year.) So, without further ado, your top to bottom rankings for next year...

Eastern Conference (by record)

1. Detroit - Sheed's lighter, they signed Billups, and the bench is better than it has been in years

2. Chicago - Will wear teams out in waves of athleticism, and low-post scoring doesn't matter so much when you defend better than everyone else

3. Miami - Shaq won't go out with a whimper, and Ricky Davis will help them tons

4. Boston - Will win the Atlantic, but will put too many minutes on their Big 3 to do it; vulnerable in the playoff due to possible injury risks

5. Toronto - Will not go away unless Chris Bosh gets hurt; one of the few teams in the East that will go up-tempo

6. New Jersey - Kidd and Carter won't let them slip much farther than this, but the key to this team is whether or not Krstic and Jefferson can come back from injury

7. Cleveland - Severe regression here unless Larry Hughes can channel his pre-contract ankles

8. Washington - Agent Zero in a contract year will drag them into the playoffs, but last year's team had everything go right until he got hurt, and they were still a .500 team

9. Orlando - Some people like the Lewis signing in the short term, but I'm not one of them... and the bench is terrible, and Jameer Nelson isn't the answer at PG

10. Milwaukee - Will challenge all year, but the front court will keep them from the post-season

11. Atlanta - Too young to make The Leap yet, but they're coming, especially if Acie Law can finally give them a point guard

12. Charlotte - The best team in their history, but it's hard to imagine J-Rich, Okafor and Wallace all staying healthy

13. New York - A train wreck defensively with wildly unrealistic expectations; Eddy Curry will be able to go into the witness protection program by the time Zach Randolph is done dominating the ball

14. Philadelphia - They'll try, but scoring in the half-court just isn't going to happen, and the conference just got a heck of a lot better

15. Indiana - The over/under on games until Jermaine O'Neal quits on the team and/or demands a trade is 25

Western Conference (by record)

1. Phoenix - Does anyone really think they are going to miss Kurt Thomas? Boris Diaw not being fat helps them a ton, and 60 games of Grant Hill will fit them like a glove

2. Houston - They'll care about the record enough to have the Dallas year of last year, with Ming and McGrady finally healthy and working with a point guard (or six)

3. Denver - No one remembers that they went 10-1 in April before running into the Spurs buzzsaw; this year, they'll have a healthy Nene and some useful minutes out of Kenyon Martin

4. San Antonio - 55 wins on auto pilot and while trying to get healthy for the playoffs

5. Dallas - Just not right that a team with that shocking of a collapse didn't shake things up in the off-season; this will be the first year in his career that Dirk doesn't get better

6. Utah - Deron Williams won't let them slide, but the playoffs last year exposed Okur and Kirilenko; it helps that their division has two good teams and three that aren't ready

7. Lakers - Kobe gets all the headlines, but this team will only go if Lamar Odom can recover from his nightmarish personal year, and if Andrew Bynum doesn't get frozen out by the guards

8. New Orleans - Could move up this list if they get a significant portion of the old Peja Stojakovic back, but I'm not counting on that, and neither should they

9. Golden State - Teams with Stephen Jackson as a captain, who are counting on health from Baron Davis, are not exactly setting their foundation on rock

10. Memphis - Friskier than expected with a motivated Gasol and better point guard play, but they're not very good defensively

11. Seattle - Best of the worst, with Green giving them a boost along with Durant; they need to cut bait with a lot of their 7-foot stiffs and decide on a point guard already

12. Portland - Aldridge and Roy will look good, but no Oden means way too much Joel Pryzbilla; they are two years away but coming

13. Clippers - Just a disaster until Brand comes back, and even after that; need a point guard that isn't 65 (Cassels), injury prone (Knight) or legally dead (Livingston)

14. Minnesota - I think they'll try, but Al Jefferson is not going to enjoy playing against big men that are as big and fast as he is (especially on defense)

15. Sacramento - Were going to be the worst team in the league *before* Mike Bibby got hurt; over/under on Ron Artest, possibly the most overrated player in the NBA, going insane is at 30 games

NBA Finals - Phoenix over Chicago

10 Undervalued (i.e., Sleepers)

1) Pau Gasol - Not usually considered a sleeper, but he's finally going to get big minutes, in an up-tempo situation, with a point guard that isn't horrible; he could post the best numbers in the game this year at 4/5

2) Andre Iguodala - Flying under the radar on a terrible Sixers team, he'll give you 20/5/5 and never get off the floor

3) Deron Williams - Took a step in the playoffs last year, and with Okur and Kirilenko looking exposed, his role will expand

4) Dwight Howard - He kills you in FT%, but with an actual outside threat in Lewis, he has to get a little more room to operate underneath

5) Ricky Davis - If Shaq can rehabilitate White Chocolate and Antoine Davis, what can he do with someone who actually has basketball skills?

6) Danny Granger - On an absolutely terrible Pacers team, he will be the ray of hope and the only player that they'll want to keep in the long term

7) Monta Ellis - Hyper-quick, just coming into his game, will be good before the inevitable Baron Davis injury and great after it

8) Andrew Bogut - I just have the feeling that he has more to show us, and the Bucks are actually going to try this year. Does need to get better at the line

9) Luke Walton - The poor man's Shane Battier; you'll be able to get him late and get good numbers all over the board from him

10) John Salmons - Will pick up the pieces in Sacramento and get a lot of minutes; do not confuse this with actually being worth a damn as a real player

10 Overvalued / Busts

1) Shawn Marion - Will continue to be phased out with Barbosa, Hill and Diaw having more to do; is becoming a high-rent energy player with decreasing hops

2) Ray Allen - Won't play as big of a role with Pierce and Garnett dominating the ball, and 32-year-old SGs are not a growth stock

3. Rashard Lewis - Big contract will come with big expectations, and he just doesn't have the game to get it done

4) Al Jefferson - Won't have a point guard to get him the ball, an outside threat to draw the double team, a conference full of weak defensive players at his position or a coach or organization that can stop eating paste

5) Chauncey Billups - Started to slip in last year's playoffs, and that was while he was playing for a contract. Pistons won't need him to be great to win in the regular season, but the playoffs are another story

6) Mo Williams - Post contract year on a team with a good back-up, and while he's very fast, he's not actually that good

7) Antwan Jamison - Just a hunch, but something's got to slip in DC with Agent Zero going for the monster contract year, and I think he's the odd man out

8) Ron Artest - As you can tell from the Sacramento comment, I'm not a fan, and even if I was, no Bibby is going to make everyone's life miserable, in that it will free him up to try even more Bad Idea 3's

9) Jason Terry - Never have liked his game, and he's on the wrong side of 30; won't take a lot of erosion to make his numbers pretty ordinary

10) Ben Wallace - On a per minute basis, he'll be the same old guy... but with his FT woes, you can't play him late, and as they just drafted the same guy (Joakim Noah) but younger, you have to think that he's going to start fading

Your chance to tell me just how out of it I am is in the comments. Go for it.


Rupert Entwistle said...

Nice preview. I like the sleeper choices, but personally I am trying out a new philosphy this year - just draft like it's last year.

With Malice said...

Nah... I pretty much agree with most of it. I think you under-rate the Spurs a lil', and overrate Miami a lot. But other than that spot on.
Nice article.

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