Monday, October 28, 2013

2013-14 NBA season predictions

Last post I wrote, I said that the next time I'd write on this blog, I'd do some predictions. In a way, that's entirely true, since this post will be dedicated to predictions about the upcoming NBA season. But last post was 362 days ago, which means it was written before LAST season. I didn't write anything for a whole season. To be honest, it was not because I didn't watch basketball (I did. A lot) and not because I didn't had anything to say about it (Same). I just didn't have time to do it. Whatever the reasons are why I didn't have the time, I just didn't. So this year I'll make an extra effort to write regularly on this blog. I swear.

Anyway, these predictions will be all over the place. I'll do some awards, league-leaders, win totals, playoffs qualifiers, eventual deceptions, comeback years and other random stuff.
The Los Angeles Clippers will have the best record in the West (60+ wins), but won't make the NBA Finals. 
They won 56 games last year with Vinny Del Negro as a coach. I think this speaks to the talent level on this team. However, this is a team built for the regular season and I honestly don't trust their bigs to perform in high-stakes games when the playoffs come around. Teams like OKC and San Antonio will give them a lot of trouble even if they might have "less" talent overall. They will be fun to watch though.

Stephen Curry will make the West All-Star Team and will probably start. At the same time, John Wall will do the same out East (but will not start).
Look, it's a travesty he didn't make it last season, and he made it clear after the mid-season break. He averaged 26 points on 48% shooting, including 46% from 3-point land (and more than 4 makes per game...), 7.4 assists in 39 minutes per game. And he had a postseason for the ages, even his team didn't make it past the second round. The absence of Kobe might make room for him and enable him to be voted on by fans. As for John Wall, he was very good when he came back last season. Now that he has a whole season and he's getting older - at his age, older is better - I expect him to flirt with Chris Paul-like numbers of 20-10 (let's say 18-8 to be realistic) and make the All-Star Game 10% more entertaining by himself.

Kevin Durant will average (at least) 32 points per game and win the MVP award.
Westbrook will miss the first few weeks of the season, which might force KD to take over more often than he would do usually. I wouldn't go as far as Jalen Rose did when he said he would average 38, but he certainly is capable of it. He's the "easiest" scorer in the league (more than Carmelo, I'd argue), averaging massive percentages (the famous 50-40-90 club) and has virtually no weakness on offense. And everything I read and watch lately speaks of how much he's focused and "angrier" coming into this season. I wouldn't be surprised if his average jumped to 34-35. As far as his case for MVP is concerned, I think voters are getting tired of voting for LeBron, like they were in the 90's when Barkley and Malone both won MVPs in seasons where Jordan was clearly the best player in the league. This will come into play.

Brooklyn won't get past the second round of the playoffs.
I think the Nets will finish fourth or higher in the Eastern Conference, but I don't see them beating Chicago, Indiana or Miami in any 7-game-series anytime soon and they will have to face one of these to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Not only that, I think they might blow it up after this season if they don't make it to the ECF, considering they're waaay over the salary cap and that Garnett/Pierce duo might not last very long.

The New York Knicks will implode.
I've said for more than a year that this Knicks team was doomed to implode at some point. They don't have a "true" leader in Carmelo Anthony, they have maybe the two worst defensive forwards in the history, their owner doesn't look overly competent (that's an understatement), they're paying 16 millions in luxury tax, they're wildly inconsistent, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if they fell to the 7th spot and get blown out by Chicago 4-0.

Stephen Curry will try 650 3-pointers.
The current record is 678 by George McCloud. Steph tried exactly 600 last season, but shot close to 9 trifectas per game after the All-Star Break. I think this continues and he shoots a lot more, and still hits a very high percentage, and maybe, just maybe, drill 300 of them and shatter his own record set this past season.

JaVale McGee will be a serious contender for the MIP. 
I don't know why, but I feel like McGee has massive potential in this league, even if he's a very strange man with a very peculiar history of doing weird s*** on the court. So we've got a slightly mad, über-athletic big man with massive potential. I like this combination.

The Thunder will acquire a "real" third option.
They just have to.The lack of Harden showed too much last season for them not to act. They need someone else than Durant or Westbrook to produce something on offense. Who? I don't know, but they will act.

The Cleveland Cavaliers will make the playoffs.
They just have to. I don't know what else to tell you. If they don't make the playoffs with a healthy squad I think my brain might explode.

Luol Deng won't lead the league in minutes played per game. 
I know Thibs tends to overplay his core players, but the rise of Jimmy Butler will allow Deng to sit a few more minutes per game on the bench and take a breather. This may not look like a bold statement, but Deng led the leagues in minutes per game for two straight seasons.

The Mavericks will miss the playoffs again.
I was very tempted by Bill Simmons' idea that Dirk is poised for a big year. That may be so, but the man is 35 and the other components on the team haven't really improved if you ask me. Monta Ellis will be taking shots away from Dirk (bad idea) and I somehow trust him even less than OJ Mayo. José Calderon is a competent leader, but that's about all you can say about him. Samuel Dalembert is a decent shotblocker, but can't really help them elsewhere. The Mavericks will be a non-factor once again.

Two 2013 All-Stars will be traded during this season.
My guesses would be Rajon Rondo and LaMarcus Aldridge, but David Lee might not be part of the Warriors' future either.

Frank Vogel will win Coach of the Year.
Up until midway through the ECF, Frank Vogel was still a very underrated NBA coach. Considering how impressive the Pacers were last year and the fact that they added bench support this off-season, I'm expecting a 55+ wins season from the Pacers and accolades for this young coach.

The Miami Heat will not threepeat as NBA Champions. 
I cannot tell you who I think will win the 2014 NBA championship, because I have no clue (There are 4, and maybe 5, real contenders for me). But everything tells me Miami, who barely got past Indiana and San Antonio last playoffs, won't repeat, and here's why :

- I will not go as far as calling their triumph of last season's championship "luck", because that would be disrespectful to what this team has accomplished since they won fair and square, but let's just say the odds for the circumstances surrounding the Heat's triumph last season would be 10 000 to 1.

- This year will be a lot harder. History taught us that the third year after back-to-back titles is exponentially tougher than the two others. With that much success, motivation will be an issue. I don't think it will be an issue at the top (Pat Riley and LeBron James, mainly), but for the supporting cast, it definitely can be.

- Wade is clearly on the way down and their old supporting cast is getting even older. And this is a case where older is clearly "smarter", but not necessarily "better".

- I would not be surprised if they win, because they do have a 4-time MVP at his peak on their squad, but I would put their chances at 30-35% amongst all NBA teams. Which would be higher than any other team, obviously, but this is the first year since the Three Amigos joined forces that the Heat are not favorite against the "field", at least for me.

Please don't take this like a personal attack on LeBron James. Yes, I never was a big LeBron fan, but anyone with a working pair of eyeballs can see he's the best overall basketball player on the planet. I think he alone makes them a threat to win it all each and every year. But the rest of the Heat concerns me. And I think this might play against him wanting to stay in Miami when his contract expires after this season. I think there's more than a 50% chance he'll stay there, but that's about as high as I'm willing to go. As great a player as he is, he still needs 11 other men around him to make it to the top again. He said it himself, the 2013 Championship run was a lot harder than in 2012. And 2014 looks to be even harder.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New season, new beginnings!

It's been a while... for more than 5 months I haven't written a single thing on One Handed Bounce Pass. And it's not like there has been nothing to write about, with all those trades and free agents signings in the off-season, the genuinely intriguing draft class and the start of a new, potentially historic, season. In fact, the past few weeks have been filled with podcasts-listening, previews-reading and solid arguments with my friends (two of my best friends are mad NBA fans as well, one is a Lakers fanatic and the other loves LeBron and the Heat) about this upcoming season.

This year I've decided to buy NBA League Pass Broadband. Why? First : so I wouldn't have to browse around for a decent streaming link on some illegal website for games I wanted to watch. Second : to "force" myself to actually watch more basketball (since I cancelled my cable subscription, I haven't been tempted to watch as much basketball as I used to) and stop being lazy playing videogames (for more on that, see gerudofortress.blogspot.com).

Anyway, I'll try and write each week, if not more often, about what's happening around the league, which games I watch (Tonight I'll focus on Denver-Philly) and my predictions (always fun to do, always useless in the end... ^_^).

Next post will be about season predictions!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How I stopped hating the San Antonio Spurs

Back when I was in high school (1999-2004), I hated the Spurs. I hated Tim Duncan. I hated Manu Ginobili, even if some people compared my recklessness on the court to his. I called them boring every other sentence. I thought they were overrated. I thought they were lucky to have won in 1999 (lockout), 2003 (Lakers started imploding), 2005 (Big Shot Bob going crazy and being outscored by Detroit in the Finals) and even 2007 (Amar'e and Diaw getting suspended). They were easily my most hated team in the league. Even two years ago, when I made a most-loved and most-hated teams "rankings" (not on this blog though), they were still third in the most-hated list after Dallas at #1 and Miami at #2. It was - somewhat - an improvement, but it tells you how little I appreciated what the franchise has accomplished in the past 15 years.

(Truth be told, I still think about that 2007 title when Phoenix really could have (and likely should have) advanced to the Finals... Though that's not especially against the Spurs, but against the way the league handled the whole thing. Let's just stop talking about that.)

Being older and having a better understanding of how things work (at least on the surface) inside a NBA team, I started to appreciate, in the past year, how astonishing San Antonio's run in the NBA elite has been. The numbers (Yes I usually dislike numbers, but here we're talking the only number that matters in sports : Wins) speak for themselves. In the past 15 years - or since Tim Duncan has joined the team - the Spurs have maintained a winning percentage higher than any other professional team in North America over the same stretch: over .700. Unlike many, many organizations, the Spurs haven't been attracted by major trades or free agents signing (unless you count Richard Jefferson as "major"). They obviously never had the chance to get a lottery pick in 15 years, so they drafted role players who complemented Duncan's Hall of Fame abilities perfectly.

In other words they went a direction with Tim Duncan and Popovich and never wavered from it. That's both incredible and admirable.

Sure, they might not have as many titles as the Lakers over that same stretch or their high-profile players. And they certainly haven't got the rock-band-on-tour feel that the Heat has. And they might not have all the drama the Knicks have year after year or their star-studded crowd.

But they win. And keep on winning. No GQ cover. No national headlines. No SportsCenter segment. No controversies (except in 2007, if that's a controversy). They just win.

And for that, I stopped hating the Spurs and started to have an enormous amount of respect for what they achieved since 1997.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

NBA Finals predictions

This is not a Finals predictions like most of what you and I read weekly, if not daily, over the Internet. I'm not going to predict WHO will make the Finals, but simply how each potential match-up would end. To do that, I'll take each of the 4 remaining Western Conference teams and match them up against each of the 4 remaining Eastern Conference teams. Simple, no?

*Note : I consider, for these match-ups, that all teams are perfectly healthy when the Finals comes.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat
Result : Miami in 6
I think Miami's perimeter defense will erase the Spurs advantage beyond the 3-point line, and that there just aren't enough good defensive players on the Spurs to effectively guard LeBron, Wade AND Bosh.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Boston Celtics
Result : Spurs in 7
This could very well break the record for the oldest teams to meet in a NBA Finals, and we would get to see an epic duel between very old foes, most notably Duncan vs. Garnett (it's 2003 all over again!). The Spurs depth and shooting ability will give them the edge.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Result : Spurs in 6
I do think the 76ers would match up fairly well to the Spurs but, inevitably, experience and execution will outlast youth and athleticism. Also, no one would watch this.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Indiana Pacers
Result : Spurs in 6
Almost the exact same thing as the 76ers'. And no one would watch either.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Miami Heat
Result : OKC in 6
OKC's dynamic duo would basically cancel Wade/LeBron and Bosh won't stand the physicality and depth of the Perkins/Ibaka/Mohamed/Collison monster frontline. That, AND James Harden.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Boston Celtics
Result : OKC in 6
Boston will give OKC a rough test, expect hard fouls in the lane and many, many flagrants by both frontlines. However, OKC's sheer athleticism will get the best of the old Celtics.

Oklahoma City vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Result : OKC in 5
Philly won't die easily, but there's no way it can match against that multi-talented Thunder squad. It could very well be a sweep, but I love Philly so I'll give them one game.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Indiana Pacers
Result : OKC in 5

Indiana would give OKC a test, but nothing more. Enough said.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat
Result : ???? in 7
This is it. The one I really can't decide. Will L.A.'s frontline show up and destroy Anthony, Turiaf and whoever comes at them? Or will the über combo Wade/LeBron disrupt the Lakers offense and punish the old team by running he fast-break like hell? And there's the never-ending Kobe vs. LeBron debate... Really, I can't decide. I'm sorry. But it will go 7 and will break TV ratings record.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
Result : LAL in 6
This one could also set a TV ratings record, and will make every NBA history fanatic delighted, me included. The Lakers's frontline will not be stopped by anyone on the Celtics roster.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Result : LAL in 5
The 76ers lack in size, that's no secret. And even if they defend really, really well on the perimeter, they won't stop the size of L.A.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers
Result : LAL in 5
Size. That is all.
In all seriousness, Hibbert is a big guy, but he's not as dominant as Bynum (when he's not a knucklehead) or a talented as Pau.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Miami Heat
Result : Miami in 5
The Clips aren't good enough on defense to even slow LeBron/Wade and their offense is lacking in every department if not for the brilliance of Chris Paul, who will win a game by himself.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Boston Celtics
Result : Boston in 6
Boston has 2 enormous advantages over the Clips : coaching and experience. Streaky shooters like Young, Foye or Mo will help make this a more competitive series than it really should be.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Result : LAC in 6
This is a tighter match-up than anyone would think, since Philly defends better and is better coached, but in the end, 4th quarter execution will kill the 76ers, who don't have Chris Paul.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Indiana Pacers
Result : Indy in 7
This was a harder call than I ever thought it would be. But in the end, hustle and coaching will get the Pacers the tiniest of advantages in the long series. And no one would watch or care.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bara_Chat's 2011-2012 NBA awards

Well this didn't take long. Not long at all in fact. It seems to me like the NBA season started only yesterday, but it's already over. It was a very interesting season, with very little difference (at least in terms of wins) between the top teams in the league. That'll make for pretty exciting playoffs, one would think...

But that's not for today!

First we have to distribute (imaginary) awards to the deserving players and coaches of the season. Let's start off with...

Rookie of the Year

Winner : Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)

This will likely be the less disputed award of the year, especially since Rubio went down with injury at the halfway point of the season. Irving had the lowly Cavs in the playoffs hunt for a good chunk of the season before Varejao and himself got hurt. A great scorer and an impressive clutch player, he will be an All-Start before long in this league.

Before we move on, let's me just take a second to point out how ridiculous and clueless were most NBA "experts/journalists/analysts" at the beginning of the season when talking about this rookie class. It was said to be very weak, with few notable players, blah blah blah.

Eventually those kids went out and proved everyone of those so-called "experts" wrong. In fact, with more than a dozen noteworthy players and a few future All-Stars, this could become one of the best classes in years. As I said when the season started, those guys (very often) don't know what they're talking about, since most of them never even played basketball, let alone on a high level. I'm glad their ignorance was exposed.

Runner-ups
2. Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings)
3. Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves)
4. Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets)
5. Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)

Sixth man of the Year

Winner : James Harden (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Another relatively easy choice for this season, James Harden became an All-Star caliber (and very nearly an actual All-Star) player coming of the bench. As it has been said countless times already, Harden could start on 29 of the league's teams. He's just that good. And from the few Thunder games I've watched this season, it often looks as if he is the team's best player, while playing with two All-NBA players! That's amazing in itself.

I want to give a shout-out to Lou Williams, of my 76ers, for giving Harden a run for this title at the beginning of the season, eventually finishing second (in my book) while leading his team in scoring (that's also pretty damn incredible). Thaddeus Young, author of a great season, could also get a few votes for 6th man.


Runner-ups :
2. Lou Williams (Philadelphia 76ers)
3. Al Harrington (Denver Nuggets)
4. Jason Terry (Dallas Mavericks)
5. Taj Gibson (Chicago Bulls)

Coach of the Year

Winner : Tom Thibodeau
First off, I want to say that I think that Gregg Popovich will win CoY this season, mainly because Thibodeau won it last season. And I think him and "Thibs" are in a very tight battle for that distinction, for similar yet different reasons. "Thibs" missed his best player for almost half the season, yet managed to lead his Bulls to the top of the East, beating a few contenders along the way, achieving all that with a bunch of role players. On the other hand, "Pops" lead his Spurs to the top of the West while carefully managing his old vets' minutes and wisely adapting his team's playing style to his new personnel. Really, you can't go wrong either way.

I have to say that, considering the wild season we've just lived, a lot of NBA coaches deserve recognition for their excellent work. Apart from the eventual runner-ups, I want to congratulate Ty Corbin (Utah Jazz), Alvin Gentry (Phoenix Suns), Doc Rivers (Boston Celtics) and even Mike Woodson (New York Knicks) for their great work.

Runner-ups :
1b. Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
3. Lionel Hollins (Memphis Grizzlies)
4. Frank Vogel (Indiana Pacers)
5. Doug Collins (Philadelphia 76ers)

Most Improved Player

Winner : Jeremy Lin (New York Knicks)
This award is highly controversial, certainly due to its vague meaning. Many players seem to get better every year, but is it because they simply get more minutes? Is it simply because they were rookies last season and now they're getting used to the league? Is it because they were injured and now they're not? You get the point, it's hard to judge.

For example, one of the front-runners, Nikola Pekovic, went from 5.5 ppg and 3.0 rpg to 13.9-7.4. Quite the accomplishment, isn't it? But if you take his per-36 numbers, he went from 14.6 to 18.5 points per 36 minutes. That's still an improvement, but it's certainly less impressive. So did he get better because he got more minutes or he got more minutes because he got better? The same logic could be applied to many candidates.

That being said, it's very hard to get a better story than Jeremy Lin's. Sure he missed half the season, but that doesn't make him any less "Most Improved".

Runner-ups :
2. Nikola Pekovic (Minnesota Timberwolves)
3. Ersan Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks)
4. Andrew Bynum (Los Angeles Lakers)
5. Ryan Anderson (Orlando Magic)

Defensive Player of the Year

Winner : Tony Allen (Memphis Grizzlies)
It's pretty damn hard for a perimeter player to get even mentioned in the DPoY debate, except if said player is already a star (LeBron James would be the best example). Truth be told, a good perimeter defender doesn't affect a game as much as a dominant inside presence, and I accept that way of thinking. Nevertheless, there's no defensive player that has impressed me more this year than Tony Allen. Maybe I'm biased towards elite perimeter defenders, but he's my choice for this year.

To be honest, I think Tyson Chandler will win it, or perhaps Dwight. Although D12 has infuriated many fans and journalists with his off-court drama this season, and that will likely come to bite him in the a** when it comes to their vote.

Runner-ups :
2. Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks)
3a. Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
3b. Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder)
4. Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics)
5. LeBron James (Miami Heat)

Most Valuable Player

Winner : LeBron James (Miami Heat)

Yes, him. It's been his award to lose all-season long. He's been dominating, dictating games' outcomes seemingly at will for most of the season, except for that down period a month or so ago. Sure, you could point to his PER or any numbers you want, but he's just the best player on the court almost every game. Bear in mind also that Wade has missed 14 games this year and has been very average for some stretches. In other words, LeBron has driven this ship by himself for most of the season. What has impressed me the most is his decision making, especially regarding what shots he takes in a game. He takes fewer 3s (just over 2 per game ; while making a better percentage) and his FG% flirted with 55% all season before dropping to 53% at the end of the season. And he's an all-world defensive player. That kinda seals it. Now we wait for the playoffs to see if he can cement his legacy...

(I can't believe I've written praises of LeBron James, a player I don't really like. But hey, you have to give credit where it's due, he's been the best player in the league this year.)

Runner-ups :
2. Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)
3. Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs)
4. Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
5. Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Now why is Chris Paul higher than those other guys with better records this season? Simply because he's doubled as one of the best on-court coaches of the league. He also controls a game like very few can in this league. Paul has led this team to a very decent record despite having a mediocre coach and a wildly overrated supporting cast of role players and Blake Griffin (also wildly overrated). Sure, I hate his flopping (Flop City, anyone?), but he commands respect like very few players in this league.

A great season from Tony Parker was overshadowed by Pops' work with the Spurs. Kobe is still playing like a madman after nearly 1400 games (playoffs included). Durant grabbed the scoring title yet again in a fairly unexciting race, but he still won it, so congrats to him.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment!