NBA Awards Predictions ’12-13
Dishing out awards for the upcoming season—both real and fake.
COACH MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED FIRST
Scott Skiles, Bucks
The Bucks have had some real talent on their team over the past few years, but Skiles hasn’t been able to maximize it, compiling a 146-166 record in four years as head coach. Yes, they’ve suffered some injuries—mainly to Andrew Bogut—but so has everyone else.
This year Milwaukee will feature Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in the backcourt for a full season for the first time, and with Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh and Drew Gooden in the frontcourt they should be fine down there. Rookie John Henson and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should make them very strong defensively on the wing.
The Bucks have players, but were sub-.500 in each of the last two seasons. If they get off to a slow start, Skiles’ job could be in real danger.
Runner Up: Keith Smart, Kings
PLAYER WHO WILL HAVE THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON NEW TEAM
Andrew Bynum, Center, 76ers
The Sixers landed Bynum in the deal which sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, and I expect his impact to be more noticeable than Howard’s in L.A. Howard is a better player, but the gap between Bynum (when healthy) and Howard isn’t as big as some think. But Philly swapping Andre Iguodala—a useful but not great player—for Bynum has massive potential.
Last season, the Sixers had a versatile, young team, but they weren’t really a title contender despite a strong regular season. They lacked a big man who they could count on for points late in games as well as strong defense and rebounding. They now have that guy. Acquiring Bynum comes with risks—he’s injury prone and can walk after this season—but Philadelphia is now about as good as any team in the East other than the Heat.
Unfortunately, it appears he’s having small knee troubles (if there is such a thing) right now. He may not be ready for the opener, but if he doesn’t miss more than a few games and is healthy come Playoff time, the Philadelphia will be just fine.
Runner Up: Steve Nash, Point Guard, Lakers
MOST IMPROVED TEAM: Brooklyn Nets
Even if the Nets don’t enter Brooklyn with a bang this season, they’ll probably still be the League’s most improved team. After winning one-third of their games last year (22-44), they figure to finish in the 45-50 win range this year. Their roster-remake—with the trade for Joe Johnson and re-signings of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace—has been well-documented, so I won’t bother to go into that.
The offseason was great, but the team will need to gel, especially on the defensive end, to be taken seriously. Pre-season results have been a mixed bag for Brooklyn, but they should end up toward the top of an open Eastern Conference.
Runner Up: Toronto Raptors
BEST PLAYER WHO WILL BE TRADED MID-SEASON
Al Jefferson, Forward-Center, Jazz
Typically, the only times All-Star caliber players are moved are when they’re veterans stuck on a team going nowhere or when they’re in the final year of their contract. There aren’t a whole lot of All-Star player stuck on the League’s worst teams (Kevin Martin sort of fits that bill), so I’ll go with a to-be unrestricted free agent in Jefferson.
The Jazz are loaded in the frontcourt moving forward with youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter a year away—if that—from being ready to shoulder big minutes. They have a logjam down there with Paul Millsap (also a UFA a year from now) also in the mix, so moving Jefferson for a pick or two would make sense. Plenty of teams could use the 27-year-old who posted nearly 20 & 10 to go along with 2 blocks per game last season.
Runner Up: Josh Smith, Forward, Hawks—better player, but less likely to be moved.
EASTERN CONFERENCE: LAST TEAM INTO PLAYOFFS
I expect the Heat, Sixers, Pacers, Knicks, Nets, Bulls and Celtics to make up the top-seven seeds in the East in some order. That leaves one spot for two real Playoff contenders (Atlanta and Toronto), three could-be contenders (Milwaukee, Washington and Cleveland) and three, let’s just say, non-contenders in Detroit, Charlotte and Orlando.
The Hawks traded away Joe Johnson, but replaced him with a very capable scorer in Lou Williams. With a healthy Al Horford back in the fold, Atlanta should still be pretty solid. Once again they’re not good enough to make a deep Playoff run, but look like a Playoff team nonetheless.
Runner Up: Toronto Raptors
WESTERN CONFERENCE: LAST TEAM INTO PLAYOFFS
The Lakers, Thunder, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Nuggets are the seven best teams in the West, and there’s a pretty steep drop off after them. There are four teams which should be competing for the last Playoff spot—Minnesota, Utah, New Orleans and Portland, who I think will surprise some people with a rebound year. Phoenix, Houston, Golden State and Sacramento have the potential to enter the race but probably won’t.
Minnesota will be without Ricky Rubio for much of the season and now Kevin Love for the first month-or-so, but they still have enough guys to get it done in the meantime.
They signed Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved and traded for Chase Budinger. They also have guys like Nikola Pekovic, Luke Ridnour, JJ Barea and Derrick Williams who were around last year. That’s a lot of pieces.
If they’re fully healthy down the stretch (a big “if” since two guys are already down and Roy never holds up), they can be as good as just about any other team in the West save for the Lakers and Thunder.
FINALS PREDICTION: Los Angeles Lakers over Miami Heat
Picking the Heat to come out of the East is easy to explain. The conference has a bunch of good teams, but the Heat are great. Nobody has a Big Three like Miami—not Boston, not New York, not Brooklyn—not anybody. The supporting cast got much stronger this offseason with the additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and I expect Norris Cole to take big strides forward this season. For the record, I like the Knicks to have only a pretty good regular season but get hot and reach the Eastern Conference Finals.
Picking the West winner is tougher. The Thunder are a very, very good team, but there’s something holding them back from being great. Maybe it’s that Kevin Durant doesn’t always get the ball enough late in games. Maybe it’s that Kendrick Perkins is one of the most ineffective players I’ve ever seen. Most likely it’s that they need more punch off the bench (I don’t count Harden—he plays starters’ minutes).
Teams like the Clippers, Spurs, Nuggets and potentially the Grizzlies are really good, too, but simply aren’t as good as OKC and L.A. If the Thunder and Lakers face off in the Western Conference Finals, I’d expect an amazing series, but one that would ultimately favor L.A. Onto the Finals!
Ah, finally the LeBron-Kobe matchup we’ve all been waiting for. In the past six seasons, either James or Bryant has been in the Finals each time, but they’re yet to face off. But the two are destined to clash in 2013.
LA-Miami would be quite the powerhouse matchup. LeBron James is, again, the best player in the League, and sidekicks Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are elite talents. The bench is pretty deep with perimeter guys like Allen, Lewis, Shane Battier and Mike Miller available to rotate. Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony will likely shoulder the load in the post alongside Bosh.
The Lakers are just as strong. With Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant in the backcourt and Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in the post, their starting five is off-the-charts. Metta World Peace rounds it out at small forward, but Antawn Jamison will surely get plenty of minutes off the bench. There isn’t much talent past Jamison, unless you count Steve Blake and Jordan Hill, but come Playoff time, starters log big minutes. With Nash, Kobe, Jamison, Gasol and Howard, nobody can put a better group of five players on the floor than the Lakers—not even the Heat.
But the big reason I’m picking Los Angeles over Miami in the series is because of two matchups—Nash vs Cole/Chalmers and Howard vs Bosh/Haslem/Anthony. Miami has struggled to beat teams with great point guards (think Boston), and Steve Nash is still in that category. They’ve had the same problems against elite centers, and Dwight Howard owns that category.
The Heat can create mismatches of their own, but the Lakers should have the personnel to slow them down defensively. And don’t forget that it never hurts to have the League’s best closer in Kobe. Lakers in seven.