Dimes All Around
Ten predictions for 2010. Argue away…
by Doobie Okon
And welcome everybody to the Tens. Or Teens. Or Tenties. Or Decies (I read it somewhere)…all I know is we have another decade-moniker issue on our hands, that’s for sure. But as the new year is finally upon us, we are still early enough in the NBA and NCAA seasons that anything is up for grabs. So, its only appropriate here at Doobie’s Dime to present to you ten predictions for the rest of 2010. Feel free to bash.
1. NBA Champions: Boston Celtics
I’ve gone back and forth between several teams, but ultimately I keep thinking about last year’s Playoffs and how impressive the Celtics looked without one of their biggest stars and defensive stalwarts in Kevin Garnett. Many, including myself, think the postseason would’ve gone down much differently had he been healthy. Now, I certainly am playing with fire here since the Boston Geriatrics are probably the most susceptible to injury out of any of the NBA’s elite teams and could face another disaster before the 2010 postseason begins–but if all their cogs are standing come April, the Celtics will be crowned.
Their defense continues to be deadly, giving up only 92+ points per game which is good for second in the league. While “defense wins championships” might sound like the most cliche sports phrase out there, it’ll remain an extremely significant factor in the coming Playoffs given how much scoring has increased in the NBA.
Sure, the Lakers, Cavs, Magic, Mavericks and Spurs are all strong defensively and I wouldn’t be surprised if any of those teams took home the title. However, what separates the Celtics in my eyes is their balance and depth makes them unpredictable. Kobe, LeBron, Dirk, Melo–they’ll be sure to get the rock in crunch time, but as far as Boston goes, they are willing to go outside their three headed monster when the game is on the line. Rajon Rondo is only improving with each season, and although Sheed’s production is down due to his reserve role, his tenacity will translate into a more passionate Celtics team come Playoff time.
2. NCAA Champs: Texas Longhorns
It’s difficult to infer much on a national scale before conference play begins, but my early season pick goes to the Horns. Picking Xavier Henry’s Jayhawks or John Wall’s Wildcats is tempting, but I’m going to ride Texas’ Damion James to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
I watched James lead a four man barrage against ninth-ranked UNC, each scoring at least 20 points in a 103-90 victory at Cowboys Stadium. James, the 6’7” senior out of Nacogdoches, also added 15 boards that game for the number one rebounding team in the nation. So, not only can they score and rebound on all fronts, they are prime for big games. The Longhorns have already beaten UNC, Pitt, Michigan State and USC–all by double digits. And James has played his best in the spotlight, averaging 22 points and 12 boards in those four tough matchups.
How good is that Kansas-Texas matchup looking on February 8th?
3. NBA MVP: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
I feel bad for Carmelo Anthony. I really do. He’s a scoring machine this year for a first place Denver Nuggets team in the hardest division in the league (although the Southwest is up there as well). But even though Anthony’s been the NBA’s leading scorer up until a few days ago, one could say that seven other players, LeBron, Kobe, Dwight, Nash, Dirk, DWade and Duncan, are all more deserving of the NBA’s most distinguished individual award. It’s most evident when Chauncey Billups is out because the Nuggets just aren’t the same team–and that diminishes Melo’s overall value to Denver just a tad.
And when you talk about value, LeBron James defines it. He is the reason the Cavaliers put up Ws. He can play all five positions on any given night. His vision makes him a great passer. His size and speed make him a lethal scorer. His defense can be suffocating. He can post you up. He can step back and nail any shot. His work ethic is undoubtable. He excels at every aspect of basketball. If you take him off the roster–the Cavaliers are irrelevant. Here’s the thing though–the entire world knew all of this five years ago.
But even after taking home MVP honors last season, LBJ is currently enjoying the best overall shooting and three-point percentages of his career at 50.2% and 36.3%, respectively. He continues to average in the 29-7-7 range, as he’s done most of his career, but his effect on the Cavaliers goes way beyond the numbers. He brings an unbelievable charisma every night and the Cavs respond by having fun and playing for each other. Cleveland only has three players in double-digits this year, yet sits in first place in the East at 27-8 simply because LeBron is able to make his entire team better. Aside from James, the Cavs have a nice roster but it’s nothing special. Put any semblance of an NBA squad around LeBron James and he will make them special. No player means more to a team and a city than LBJ. He’s the definition of value.
4. NBA Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
“Back goes Cerrano – he’ll need a rocket up his ass to catch that one.” – Harry Doyle, Major League
That’s what I thought about a month ago, when the world was ready to crown Brandon Jennings as the next MJ. It seemed ridiculous to think any other rookie would catch Jennings as ROTY as he was being hyped like few before him and the Bucks had been playing well through the first couple weeks of the season. BJ posted seven games of 20+ points in his first eleven (including the 55-pointer), but only has four in his last 19 games where the Bucks are 4-15 in that stretch. And although he might be the best player on Milwaukee, the dip in his shooting percentage(37.6% in December) is unsettling. What’s even more perturbing is his recent comments about being ‘cursed’ by the 55 point game. That shouldn’t be his mentality as he’s only creating more pressure for himself to deliver miracles every night.
Tyreke Evans’ stock, on the other hand, has gradually risen as the season goes on and as the Kings have played surprisingly well despite several key injuries on such an average roster. And to show you how amazing a rookie season Evans is having so far, we’re going to play a little game. So far, Evans is averaging 20.3 ppg/5.1 rbg/4.9 apg. To compare that with three other players’ rookie seasons–Player A: 30.5 ppg/10.1 rbg/9.7 apg. Player B: 20.9/5.5/5.9. Player C: 28.2/6.5/5.9. The only three players in NBA history to average at least 20/5/5 in their rookie seasons. Can you guess ‘em? If Tyreke can stay consistent, he has a chance to be the fourth. And even if he just barely misses out on history, it’s easy to see why the ROTY award would go the former University of Memphis star.
[Oh ya, here are the answers: A) Oscar Robertson. B) LeBron James. C) Michael Jordan. Yeah. Who knows how good this kid will be.]
5. NBA Coach of the Year: Rick Adelman, Houston Rockets
Let’s play another game. The 2000-2001 Lakers are considered to be one of the best teams of the decade, not to mention in history, featuring a most lethal 1-2 punch that was Mamba-Aristotle. So, what if Shaq and Kobe both went down before that season started? Would a team of Rick Fox, Horace Grant, Brian Shaw, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher and Mark Madsen have even made the Playoffs under coach Phil Jackson, the man with both hands full of bands?
No. Well, highly doubtful. Now, granted Los Angeles would’ve picked up a couple guys due to the holes on their roster which could’ve helped. And, if you compare them to the current Houston squad, one could say that Rockets minus T-mac/Yao are actually much better the ‘01 Lakers team without Kobe/Shaq. But don’t discount the toll it takes on a franchise to lose not one, both both of their top stars. More than once.
Even after the inspiring postseason run the Rockets demonstrated last season–ending with a scintillating seven-game, second round series loss to the Lakers after having Yao go down in game 3 with McGrady already out since mid-season–few were expecting head coach Rick Adelman to get this team back to the Playoffs.
But, almost halfway home now, the Rockets are contending for the Southwest title, and its because of the two major injuries that Luis Scola has emerged as a force, Aaron Brooks has developed into solid scoring point guard especially in the last couple of weeks, and Purdue’s own Carl Landry is thriving as a fourth-quarter fiend. Whatever coach Adelman is doing, Houston is buying into it with no superstar. What more could you want from a team that has changed their blueprint and entire identity in less than a year?
6. NBA Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Hawks have the best overall top six (starting five + sixth man) in the NBA. In his first season with Atlanta, Crawford is coming off the bench but you wouldn’t even know it. He plays just as many minutes (31.1) as the starters. He’s the second leading scorer (16.9 ppg) on the team behind Joe Johnson. He’s led the team in scoring in ten games already. And he’s done it all by accepting his new niche with no complaints.
The Hawks have been on the rise the last couple years after a rather horrible decade, and this year they have transformed themselves into Eastern contenders after it seemed like the three headed monster of Orlando, Cleveland and Boston were going to reign again. And the main difference between the Hawks of 08-09 and 09-10? One talented sixth man sharpshooter. As long as Crawford remains healthy and the Hawks don’t fall into some mid or late season swoon, the voters should have an easy time with this award.
7. NBA Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
The NBA is a league of unbelievable physical specimens. You and I may gawk at the 7-footers in the paint, but NBA players are used to these freak athletes since they go up against them night in and night out.
But when you talk about the Orlando Magic’s 6-11, 265 pound monster in the middle, you do talk about size. You talk about it, well you marvel at it because he is an imposing force even to the league veterans who’ve seen plenty of giants in their day. Anti-stats minds will agree with me here, as the numbers don’t really do any justice to defense. Sure, Howard is currently leading the league in blocks (2.5) and rebounds (13.3), including 5 games of 20+ boards in the last month, but it is the things that don’t show up in the box score that make this guy special.
He is so athletic and quick for his size that he can defend almost any player in the paint. Sometimes, the offense will become sloppy because they can’t get anything going down low so they have to overwork the wing, another tribute to Dwight Howard’s mere presence. When you think of guys that change shots and possessions just by being there, you think of Dikembe Mutombo, Kevin Garnett, Ben Wallace and Hakeem Olajuwon, to name a few. Howard’s up there. So it isn’t numbers alone, although he has no problem posting fantastic ones anyway.
Watch a Magic game, see how he alters shots and dominates the lower paint area. A double-double’s a given ’cause he’ll board all day. Hell, maybe you’ll even get to see him reel off a triple-double, he came two short of this feat on December 16th against the Raptors. Two blocks that is.
Should be a lock for the DPOY repeat barring an injury.
8. Feel Good Story of the Year: Oklahoma City Thunder
Ugh. If the season ended today, the Charlotte Bobcats would clinch the 8th seed in the East with a 14-18 record. Since the NBA expanded in 1989, the worst team to make the Playoffs was the Boston Celtics in 1995 with a 35-47 record. I’m just saying–be ready to see a new low this year–even the Knicks have postseason aspirations with that solid 14-20 mark.
Sorry. It’s never too early too bash the worst conference in sports. But if the Bobcats did manage to squeeze into the postseason with some abominable record, it would still be a great story for Larry Brown, Michael Jordan, Robert Johnson and the entire six-year old franchise.
Over in the West, though, the Thunder are proving that the future many predicted for them may come sooner than expected. A good amount of experts proclaimed the Thunder to be a contender in the next few years, that is if Kevin Durant lives up to lofty expectations. Only in his third year at age 21, Durant is playing out of his mind and has the Thunder off to an impressive 18-14 start. The rebuilding process in the NBA can be quicker than other leagues–you just need to get lucky by drafting a franchise centerpiece to build around. The Thunder should be thanking their stars that Portland selected Greg Oden instead of the former Longhorn.
Durant’s first year in Seattle was a learning experience; the Sonics finished last in the conference with a 20-62 record. The move to Oklahoma City was hectic, financially and emotionally, and only resulted in three more wins last season and another last place finish in the Northwest. But this year, with Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green each continuing to come into their own, the professional Sooners are not only thinking Playoffs but division title as they are right on the heels of Denver, Portland and Utah. Twelve of their fourteen defeats have come at the hands of the NBA’s best, including three losses each to the Lakers and Rockets. But that also means that the Thunder are taking care of the mediocre-to-bad teams rather handily, and that might be all they need to sneak in. It’d be quite a turnaround if they are still standing come April. Here’s to Oklahoma City; I’m rooting for ya.
9. Best Remaining Regular Season Game: Spurs at Mavericks, April 14th
We’re still about ten games away from midseason so you can be sure a myriad of exciting and important matchups remain on the schedule, especially later in the season. And sure, it might be a little naive of me to assume this Texas two-step will be relevant on the last day of the season, but consider this: In the last five years, only three times did a division end with the first and second place teams a game apart. And guess what? All three instances occurred in the Southwest division ['04-’05, '07-’08 (3 teams), '08-’09]. Not much has changed since ’04-’05 when San Antonio bested Dallas; both are still perennial powerhouses and will be fighting each other and Houston for the top spot going into the postseason. And even if we don’t get so lucky to have this game decide the division, there’s a great chance it will still hold playoff seeding implications.
10. The 2010 Summer Free Agency Bowl: Staying or Going?
Joe Johnson, Hawks: Going. I’d like to see the Hawks keep him, but he declined a huge extension from Atlanta before this season began and is going to get some nice offers from teams in need of a shooting guard (Dallas and Houston for instance?) Atlanta will have the money, but they’ve also got a nice backup in Jamal Crawford if Johnson does decide to depart.
Chris Bosh, Raptors: Going. Toronto did put some pieces around Bosh this past summer, but unless the Raptors have some kind of miracle run in the Playoffs, Bosh will probably take a max contract from a contender in need of a front-court help. He’s one of the best big men in the league but takes a backseat to Howard, LeBron, DWade and other stars because he’s north of the border. We know this. He knows this. Chris Bosh is coming to America.
Amar’e Stoudemire, Suns: Going. Amare has an option for next year at $17.7 million, but is certain to opt out as he will get max offers like Bosh. After all, the NBA has become a league of guards these days, so dominant big men are in high demand. I’m sure he loves playing with Steve Nash, who probably inflates Stoudemire’s numbers a bit, but he might have a Wade or LBJ duo on his mind.
LeBron James, Cavs: Staying. Here’s all I have to say about this. We all know about the New York possibilities for James, but if he’s smart he will stay in boring, old Ohio. Sometimes, this game needs to be more than money and marketing. This is about respect. This is about a city. His home state. At only 26 years old, he’s already a legend for Cleveland and he hasn’t even gotten a ring yet. So imagine when he finally does take the Cavs to the promised land? That’s your mission LeBron. You’ll dominate the game individually whether you’re in Cleveland, New York, Memphis, Toronto, Dallas or Oklahoma City. That’s not a question. The thing is, you’ll lose respect if you succumb to the New York lure and ditch Cleveland, a city who needs its sports savior.
Dwyane Wade, Heat: Going. I know this is the prediction I’ll get the most ‘heat’ for. Bring it. Yes, Miami is in position not only to extend Wade but to sign another superstar. Yes, who wouldn’t want to live in South Beach and make millions playing ball? Yes, most people think Dwyane is staying. But despite the fact that Dwyane shot down NYC as a possibility, when New York realizes LeBron is a no-go, they’ll focus all efforts on Wade and a big man, and Wade will bite. Just a feeling. Bring it.