Clap Clap ClapClapClap / Listeria: My Ten Most Outlandish Predictions for the ’08-’09 NBA Season
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 29, 2008
Knew it all along
Well, supposedly we’ll be getting back to baseball sometime this month, but in the meantime, we do have an NBA season starting up which I’m just as excited for. And while everyone rushes to predict another Lakers/Celtics finals–and barring a miracle season where everything goes right for the Rockets, frankly, it’s hard to find fault with that line of reasoning–I’m more interested in the things we don’t really see coming. Last season the Bulls and Knicks were predicted by many to make the playoffs while the Hornets and Sixers were not, and the Lakers were expected to merely creep into a #7 or #8 seed. Even though it seems like so much this season is already pre-determined, there are going to be little outliers like this, and I’m gonna try to call ’em. I’ll be lucky if I get three of ’em right, but hey, at least those two’ll be on record.
10. Against all odds, the addition of James Posey will not automatically make the New Orleans Hornets a championship team. OK, started off with an easy one. But I still don’t get why anyone would think this signing is that big a deal–either the loss for the Celtics or the gain for the Hornets. Yeah, Posey was a big part of two of the last three championship teams, and he adds a lot in the defense and leadership departments, but he’s also just a backup in his 30s that averaged less than seven ppg in the playoffs last year when all was said and done. Tony Allen and Eddie House can combine to cover his role on the C’s without much difficulty, and the Hornets need a whole lot more backing up Chandler, West and Paul to get over that hump in the West.
9. For the first time in his career, Kobe Bryant will miss 20 games in the regular season.
The ankle tweak he got in that pre-season game against the raptors seems something of a portent–between that, the pinky, a full ’08 season and a very busy summer, as well as Kobe now entering his 30s, it just seems like it’s about time for him to start missing chunks of season every now and then. Luckily, the Lakers are now strong enough without him that they can probably just bump Odom back into the starting lineup and play at least .500 ball in his absence, sacrificing no more than a seed slot or two in the process. And honestly, if Kobe stays healthy all season, it’s hard to imagine how this isn’t a 70-win team.
8. The Washington Wizards will miss the playoffs. This one hurts me a little, because I love this team and few things would make me happier than to see them finally get through the Cavs and go on the deep post-season run they’ve been unfairly denied since their Big Three was assembled. But with Agent Zero already missing half the season, Jamison bound to go down for pieces at some point (and unlikely to match last year’s career season anyway), Thomas and Heywood back to fighting over the center slot, and no particularly promising young’ns in the pipeline, all the Tough Juice in the world might not be enough to get them in the picture in what I expect to be a much more competitive East.
7. Dwight Howard officially becomes the most overrated player in the NBA. There’s no question he’s one of the fantasy and Sportscenter elites at this point, but now in his fifth season in the NBA, this is the year where we ceased to be wowed by D-12’s Superman antics and start to wonder when he’s going to emerge as a true leader on a championship-level team. Stat lines aside, he’s looked out of his depth whenever he’s had to face up to real competition, be they the Pistons of last year’s playoffs or the better international teams of this summer’s olympics. He’s still crazy young–not even a year older than me, scarily enough–but on an Orlando team that got worse if anything over the summer, he’s going to have to start maturing sooner rather than later. And I think this is the year where we realize how long he still has to go.
6. All the big men coming back from big injuries–Brand, Oden, (Jermaine) O’Neal, Bynum–will have statistically disappointing seasons. None of these guys are going to be the franchise saviors that many of their fans want or expect. I doubt any will average more than a 15 and 8, and Bynum and Oden especially might be well under that. However, in all cases, I think their respective teams still get a huge boost from their mere presence and threat of greater production–especially in the case of O’Neal, whose effect on Bosh in Toronto will be tremendous. I think Bosh becomes one of the league’s elite this year anyway, but with O’Neal around to take care of some of the dirty work inside and allow Bosh to stray from the post and be the versatile threat he can be, it’ll have the galvanizing effect that the other O’Neal’s arrival had on Amare in Phoenix last year. The Blazers is the one team that worries me–based on their play tonight especially, it’s hard not to think of them as the Cleveland Browns of the NBA this year.
5. Speaking of Oden–neither he, Derrick Rose or Michael Beasley wins Rookie of the Year. It’s being looked at as a three-horse race, but Beasley’s superficial contributions are going to be slightly underwhelming (especially compared to the whirling dervish that will be D-Wade this season), you’re not going to get much more out of Rose yet than 11/8 lines like he had against the Bucks tonight, and who knows how much of the season Oden is even going to be around for. My money would either be on Russell Westbrook, who despite formidable competition from Earl Watson should be able to grab the not-Sonics’ starting point position and have fun running with Kevin Durant in front of an appreciative OKC fanbase, or Eric Gordon, who could shoot the lights out on a gloriously dysfunctional Clipper team. Maybe those goofy Lopez twins’ll split it, who knows.
4. The Denver Nuggets will be this year’s New York Knicks. How in the hell did this team make the playoffs in the West last year? Oh yeah, that’s right–they have maybe two of the ten best players in the league. Still, it’s hard to remember that when you see what a hot mess the Nugs are on the whole, especially now that they’ve traded away their one decent defender without even getting scraps in return. The breakdown in D, the incompatability of the key pieces, the bad attitude, the coach whose players wouldn’t listen to him if he told them to tie their shoes…remind you of anyone? The only question that remains is how fans at the Pepsi Center decide what syllables to stress to make “Fi-re George Karl!” sound catchy. Oh, and also…
3. Allen Iverson swings a team’s playoff fortunes by getting traded midseason. It makes sense, doesn’t it? It won’t take the Thuggets long to realize how disastrous ’08-’09 is going to be for them, and the next logical step will be to deal the aging Iverson, whose 20 mil coming off the books will go a long way towards rebuilding around Melo and J.R. Smith, the two pieces of that team worth holding on to. Meanwhile, AI is still a potent enough offensive force to make a bubble team playoff-bound, or a playoff team championship bound. Personally, I’m hoping the Pistons end up taking him–that team needs to get broken up but badly, and shuffling around their lineup to include Iverson will either sink ’em or make ’em the legitimate unstoppable force they’ve always believed themselves to be.
2. The Suns finally beat the Spurs in the playoffs. Or if they don’t beat them directly, they at least get on further than San Antonio does. Basic pattern recognition says that the Spurs should be a championship team this year–’03, ’05, ’07, ’09–but basic logic says that they’ll take an unequivocal step backwards, with Manu already missing the first trimester, and everyone but Tony getting another step slower. Meanwhile, the Suns are still one of the most talent-loaded teams in the NBA, and though they might be even older, they’ll finally be learning to play Spurs-style ball a little under Terry Porter, and they’ve still got two of the league’s best twenty-somethings in Amare and the underrated and under-utilized Boris Diaw. Shaq won’t be a difference maker, but he’ll learn to get in the way less, and I have to believe Nash has one more great season left in him. It’s a stretch, but in a West where a lot of once-mighty teams will be struggling, I think the Suns will remain the strongest of the old guard.
1. The New York Knicks make the playoffs. I’m not even going to try to justify this one. Just remember me when it actually happens next May.