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Last year’s Big Preview didn’t go so well–probably because I was guzzling #TheReturn kool-aid like a fat guy takes oxygen after a defensive touchdown. But have no fear, readers. This year I’m back, hardened and wise. AKA I won’t be picking the Bulls to win the Finals.
I’ve learned my lesson picking against the Spurs. Whatever your argument against this team might be has been invalidated over the last few seasons. Despite holding his stars to around 30 minutes per game and routinely sitting them, Coach Popovich has proven that his rosters go 10-12 deep, even in the playoffs. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker should all be able to contribute as they did last year. Kawhi Leonard is a budding star, and the second youngest Finals MVP ever after Magic Johnson. As for Cleveland, it’s just difficult to imagine any other team in the East taking them down. While Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving’s playoff inexperience (zero combined games) could be a huge factor, I can’t forget LeBron single-handedly shutting Derrick Rose down in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. Combine an offense that could be historically great with the defensive potential of LeBron guarding the opponent’s best player, and you get a near unbeatable team. However, if any coach and system can take advantage of the flaws that year one in Cleveland expose, it’ll be the Spurs and Pop.
As my friend Spencer explained so very well, it will be nearly impossible for Kevin Durant to win this season’s MVP because of the broken bone in his foot. That makes LeBron a heavy favorite with the added narrative of the prodigal son returning home. Steph Curry makes the list because he is fantastic and the Warriors look to take a step up. The same goes for Blake and the Clippers; a Chris Paul injury would make Griffin a serious contender. As for Rose, the narrative will be overpowering if he returns to form as part of a #1 seed Bulls team. How could I leave him off?
Defensive Player of the Year
I’m stealing my reasoning from last season: “Dwight is the best defensive player on Earth and now that he’s (presumably) healthy again everyone will remember.”
Sixth Man of the Year
Taj deserved to win this award over Crawford last year. But points are usually voted for more than defense, so the same could happen once again.
Coach of the Year
I’m feeling a big season from the Mavericks, and I think Coach Carlisle will (deservedly) get his share of the credit. Thibs, Pops and Doc are perennial candidates while Budenholzer has a chance to make a name for himself with a healthy and talented roster.
Rookie of the Year
Last year I didn’t even have Michael Carter-Williams on my roster, but that was a fluky season. Jabari figures to get the most minutes and scoring opportunities, so he’s my favorite. Nerlens should put up big numbers too, but he’s not as much of a scorer so he’s less likely to snag the award. You already know about Andrew Wiggins, and Elfrid Payton is the experts’ dark horse. Normally I would laugh that off, but these are the same people who were whispering about Damian Lillard before his rookie year. Marcus Smart should get plenty of minutes in Boston, especially if (when) Rajon Rondo gets traded.
Points: Kevin Durant (we’re going by averages)
Assists: Chris Paul
Rebounds: Andre Drummond
Steals: Chris Paul
Blocks: Anthony Davis
PS: this was the category I did the best in last year. Anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed/were engraged by my predictions and I welcome anyone to sound off in the comments or on Facebook/Twitter. The season begins tomorrow on TNT with Dallas @ San Antonio!
Some quick predictions from Bikshorn:
Steph Curry will win MVP
LeBron is a fine and noble choice, but I get the sense King James is going to let the other young stars on his team get theirs. Everyone and their grandma knows MJ won six rings but not many people can tell you how many MVPs he won (five). LeBron understands this and I predict he lets his game flow naturally on the Cavs rather than take over for big stretches.
Steph is my choice for a couple of reasons:
1. He is The Man. There is no bonafide second superstar on that team. They go as he goes.
2. His style of play. Bombing threes, breaking ankles and dropping beautiful dimes. Voters watch Sportscenter too.
3. His new coach. People who defend Mark Jackson, do you realize the Warriors were 12th in offensive efficiency last year? I think Kerr, despite his inexperience, will unleash Curry, allowing him to reach heights we’ve never seen from a point guard.
The Clippers will represent the West in the Finals
I’m predicting a monster year from Blake. Last season’s injury to Chris Paul was the ultimate blessing in disguise, giving the former top pick the opportunity to develop as a ball handler and distributor. Darren Collison may have been penciled in as point guard on the lineup card, but Blake was running the show.
Griffin is not content with just adding one new facet to his game. Blake spent the summer refining his jump shot, smoothing out what was one of the least asthetically pleasing things in the NBA. Combine that with his rebounding, post game and the aformentioned handling skills, and you’re looking at a force of nature.
Oh btw Chris Paul is on the Clippers too.
The Cavaliers will represent the East in the Finals
It pains me to write this, but it’s true. The concerns in regards to defending the paint are real, but not real enough that I see anyone in the Eastern Conference winning four out of seven against Cleveland.
The Cavaliers are going to be terrifying on offense. They are the perfect blend of modern NBA philosophy, employing superstars who either a) get to the rim b) shoot threes or c) all of the above. If LeBron can add horse whisperer to his resume and convince Dion Waiters that being Jamal Crawford is super cool, there will be no stopping these guys.
The Cavs will win the NBA Finals
Three superstars > two superstars
The Bulls will annihilate the Pacers on 11/15 and I will enjoy every second of it.
My girlfriend got us tickets for my birthday and I cannot tell you how excited I am. The Pacers are going to be garbage this year, especially early in the season when George Hill will still think he’s a threat driving to the basket.
I despise the Pacers and everything that they stand for. Being able to witness, in person, the carnage that the Bulls will leave behind at the UC is going to bring me so much joy. This might not be a great game to watch on TV, especially on a Saturday night, but I urge you to watch until the end so that you don’t miss my victory dance. I’m going to put Marlins Kid to shame.
Hello fellow hoops fans! I just got home from a terrific FIBA World Cup exhibition match-up between Team USA and Team Brazil at the United Center in Chicago. Obviously the big story was Derrick Rose playing in front of his home (and hometown) crowd for the first time in nearly a year, but there were lots of interesting tidbits from USA’s 95-78 victory.
Coach K’s squad started Rose, Steph Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis while Team Brazil sent out Tiago Splitter, Nene, Leandro Barbosa and two guys you’ve never heard of. Anderson Varejao came off Brazil’s bench and played a lot of minutes, though. There were a lot of big names in attendance, including Bulls legends Scottie Pippen and Bob Love, former NBAers Kendall Gill and Jalen Rose, current players Shawn Marion and Jabari Parker, and rapper Common. The US players received nice ovations during introductions, while Nene and Varejao received some healthy boos. Fellow Cleveland Cavalier Kyrie Irving caught a nice smattering of boos himself as well, while Anthony Davis received quite the ovation in front of his hometown crowd. Tom Thibodeau received a huge cheer from the Chicago crowd also. Derrick Rose, of course, received the largest ovation: a booming, long standing one that drowned out the PA announcer. It was emotional.
The first player to make an impression on USA’s de facto All-Star team was Steph Curry. Showing off some sexy dribble moves, Steph drained a few jumpers early on to remind everyone just how special of an offensive player he is. The great thing about Curry is that he makes slicker passes than just about anyone besides CP3 or LeBron, but he’s a totally legit off-guard when playing with another ball-handler. He and Rose will have some fun together in the FIBA tournament.
Anthony Davis made the biggest impact of anyone on the floor. Davis looked like he borrowed the trampoline from the Jesse White tumblers on some of his athletic dunks and blocks. He led the team with 20 points and chipped in five ferocious blocks as well. Davis was a key member of the 2012 London gold medal team and looks like the best player on this year’s team. Outside of Serge Ibaka, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the tournament being able to guard him. Davis left in the fourth looking a tad gimpy, but there doesn’t appear to be a serious issue.
Rose was mostly passive (as he often is in All-Star/international play), but his speed was clearly there. He finished the first half with a beautiful buzzer beater floater off the glass, and just missed an explosive dunk in traffic that probably would’ve destroyed the United Center. Maybe it was better that way. Derrick chipped in another trademark lay-up and got to the line a few times as well. He played 24 minutes, including the whole third quarter, and when the fans started a “We want Rose!” chant five minutes into the final quarter, Coach K immediately signaled the hometown hero back in for the duration of the game.
Kenneth Faried was aggressive as a surprise starter and did a pretty good job on the glass against an NBA-caliber front-line. The USA is going to struggle a bit against teams with legit big men (Spain); Anderson Varejao killed us at times on the glass. DeMarcus Cousins sat the exhibition out with a small ankle issue, while Andre Drummond didn’t see any action. Mason Plumlee played a surprising amount of minutes, and was unsurprisingly mediocre.
Damian Lillard played less than two minutes, while Chandler Parsons and Kyle Korver saw barely any more. Gordon Hayward and DeMar DeRozan did not get into the game. Kyrie Irving looked really smooth as the third guard, and I would expect him to make the final team and see some minutes. James Harden quietly had a very solid game, while Klay Thompson was mostly underwhelming. Rudy Gay had some moments, but he’s also still Rudy Gay. Overall, the roster is shaping up nicely, considering the loss of its top two players in Paul George and Kevin Durant. Team USA has every reason to believe it is the favorite in the upcoming World Cup tournament.
The Pelicans, or as Zach Lowe says, the Pellies, had a pretty poor season last year, finishing second to last in a tough Western Conference. Unfortunately for the franchise, first overall pick Anthony Davis was sidelined throughout the season with various injuries and Austin Rivers may have had one of the worst statistical seasons of all time. And don’t forget Eric Gordon has barely played since he’s came to New Orleans. Whether he actually has a knee problem or he just really hates the franchise, they still have not been able to see the talented shooting guard at all. Remember, Gordon was pretty upset when they matched the Suns offer. Is his knee that bad? Who knows.
The Pelicans made a few puzzling moves this past offseason. They added the “quite talented yet can’t seem to put it all together” Tyreke Evans and also traded their rights to Nerlens Noel and a top five protected pick for young star guard Jrue Holliday. Assuming Gordon will be healthy, this gives the Pellies three players that like/need the ball in their hands at all times.
How is a team like this going to co exist? Can this very talented group of guards be able to play on the floor together? Although a three guard lineup may work out well in NBA 2k, lineups like that normally won’t fly in an ACTUAL NBA GAME. These are some issues that head coach Monty Williams is going to have trouble addressing.
Another thing I look forward to watching with this Pelicans squad is the emergence of Anthony Davis. Besides the injuries in his rookie season, Davis did have a pretty good year. When he was on the court, he averaged 13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG, and 1.8 BPG, very respectable for a rookie. AD seems like a hard worker, so I will not be surprised if he takes another step this upcoming season. (He looked awesome in the Team USA Select Game.)
This Pelicans team will most likely not make the playoffs next year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be an entertaining League Pass team.
Like any red-blooded American, I love the US men’s national basketball team. The best players on the planet teaming up and playing an entertaining brand of basketball is something that turns even the most casual fans into die hards for a couple weeks every four years. The Dream Team and the Redeem Team are two of the most popular sports teams in American history and now as we are at the beginning of a new four-year cycle, it is time to start thinking about who will be on what is arguably the toughest team in the world to make. Next summer is the World Cup of Basketball, formerly known as the world championships, and will prove to be a good indicator of who will be on the roster when the 2016 Olympics in Rio rolls around.
What we know already: Black Kevin and White Kevin have committed to play in 2014! We also know that the thing named LeBron (I mean this with this utmost admiration as he is definitely not a human man and is some type of specimen that we have never seen before) is likely done playing for the US at the international level. That leaves us with 10 spots and lots of deserving candidates.
Locks: Kevin Durant, Kevin Love
They obviously just committed to playing in this tournament and look to be the cornerstones of USA Basketball for the foreseeable future. In fact, USA Basketball chairman and U of I alum (gotta throw in any Illini reference I can) Jerry Colangelo described Durant as the face of the program going forward. After seeing Durant making a mockery of the FIBA three point line (which they have now changed because of his performance) and have a phenomenal Olympics, I see him as the perfect player to build around.
If they want to play, then they are in: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler
This is a large group and one made up of Derrick Rose, who would have been on the 2012 Olympic team if he were healthy, Blake Griffin, who was on the team until a late injury forced him off the squad, and the rest of the 2012 Olympic Team that is not KD, K-Love, Kobe (he is too god damn old and is coming off a major injury), and LeBron. If any of these people want to play, they have enough clout that they will be on the team. I suspect that Melo who is a veteran of three Olympics (like LeBron) is done playing internationally. I would also bet two time Olympians, Chris Paul and Deron Williams who are approaching thirty with injury histories are also likely done. Also please watch this video if you want to see the greatest moment of 13 year old Ben’s life and why I will always love Deron Williams. Chandler is getting old and also has injury problems and is likely done playing for Team USA as well. That leaves realistic options for next summer as Rose (a healthy Rose would love to play for team USA), Westbrook, Harden, Davis, and Iguodala. If you get 3 or more of those guys next summer than the US will be looking pretty good.
Very likely to be included if they tryout: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George
My love affair for Curry has been well documented (shout out to Michael Rosenson for sharing in this platonic love of Curry with me). He would be the perfect offensive player for the international game and if he is healthy than he would be a great asset. Kyrie is just plain filthy, but he too needs to stay healthy. He was the star of the recent mini camp, as discussed by my comrade Jake Weiner. He is looking like the point guard of the future for Team USA. Now time for a little horn-tooting. I knew Kyrie would be this good from the first time I saw him play at Duke and did not understand why there was so much doubt (other than injury concerns) about him being the number 1 pick and becoming star. If you can shoot, dribble, and pass that good, you are likely going to be a stud. George was the breakout star of the playoffs and would be an excellent, versatile option for this US team.
Intriguing options: Ryan Anderson, Harrison Barnes, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, Andre Drummond, Jrue Holiday, Larry SANDERS!, Klay Thompson, John Wall
These players are all intriguing to me for different things they bring to the table. Athleticism and rim protection (Drummond and SANDERS!), perimeter shooting (Thompson), versatility on the wing (Barnes), stretch 4 (Anderson), size and interior scoring (Boogie), shooting ability and can guard both guard spots (Holiday), and elite athletic ability and can guard both guard spots (Wall). These players are all intriguing to me and are all very talented players, but these players will all have to have good seasons as well as a good training camp next summer to be on the team.
Filling out the rest of the team: Everybody else in the player pool
There are some really good players I did not mention and really like. Players such as Damian Lillard, Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, and many more are extremely talented and have as good of a chance as the guys in the section above of them to make the squad. There is a year between now and the World Championships and players will emerge and have breakout campaigns between now and then. Two personal favorites of mine that I hope are given the opportunity are everyone’s favorite Chicago Bulls two guard-Jimmy Butler, and my St. Louis homer pick of Bradley Beal, who I have been watching play for 6 years and has the prettiest jumper I have ever seen in person. Another guy who would be a great fit to this team is Kawhi Leonard. You saw what he could do in the finals and no one would be surprised if he turns in an all star caliber season in 2013-14. Lots can happen between now and then and it will be fun to see how it shakes out.
Here is my prediction of the 12 man roster 2014 World Cup of Basketball Roster:
Guards/Wings: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard
Bigs: Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin
This squad is a bit small and that is definitely worrisome against the behemoth front line of Spain, but the versatility of this roster should offset those concerns. This team would have two rim protectors (Davis and Drummond) and two major glass cleaners/contrasting offensive weapons (Love and Griffin) on the front line. This team would also have three guys (Durant, George, and Leonard) who can guard both forward positions and play as an effective small ball 4. Westbrook and Rose would bring dynamite athleticism in the backcourt. Harden is a monster in the pick and roll and is a great all around offensive talent, while Irving and Curry would bring the necessary outside shooting strokes to space the floor. I constructed this team assuming ideal health and certain players opting or opting not to participate. Regardless, the US will enter next summer as the heavy favorite to win the World Cup of Basketball.