Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Very Merry 2012 NBA Preview

Here are some of my picks and predictions for the upcoming 66-game NBA season.

NBA Champion:  Miami Heat
I don't see them being denied.  They got better in the offseason by obtaining Shane Battier, and they apparently will run a better offense predicated on player movement.  With a more balanced offense, a ball-swinging Battier, health, and an improved post-game from LeBron James, the offense should be fine, even without a PG (though Norris Cole has looked OK).  Defensively, they are still missing a big man to control the paint against big centers, but their ridiculous wing defense should allow them to overcome that.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will give them a great NBA Finals though.

Chicago and Dallas are the viable candidates to take out Miami or OKC this year.  The Los Angeles teams are my sleepers.

KD vs. CP3 will likely determine the MVP race this season.  
NBA MVP:  Chris Paul or Kevin Durant
Chicago has a target on their back now.  I see them having a mini-2009-Hornets season, which drags Rose's MVP shares down because the Bulls don't meet the same gaudy expectations that carried over from the slight overachievement of the season prior.  New York's stars are too even to win MVP.  Kobe and the Lakers are getting older, LeBron and D-Wade hurt each other, and Dwight Howard is a complete wild card for MVP.  There's a good chance he switches teams midseason; I highly doubt they'll give him a league MVP award.

That leaves Paul and Durant.  By picking up where he left off last season- on a new team that sucked last season, no less- Paul's narrative is set for the MVP race.  It won't matter that Blake Griffin is on the team- Paul is established.  The voters will see it as Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire all over again.

Durant has a shot, as I see him running away with another scoring title and OKC being the best regular season team in the West.

My sleeper pick is LeBron James.

Defensive Player of the Year:  Dwight Howard
Dikembe Mutombo won this award in 2001 after switching teams.  This award is based more on ability, reputation, and defensive stats, as opposed to narratives and team success, which sort of govern MVP voting.

Sixth Man of the Year:  A Maverick
The best Maverick coming off the bench has the best chance.  That team is deep.
If James Harden is a sixth man- please, Scotty, let him start- then he's the favorite.

Tracy McGrady is my LULZ pick.

Most Improved Player:  John Wall
This had a Denver Nugget written all over it until they all left for other parts of the world.  I think Wall has an all-star worthy season this year.  Perhaps next year, he'll make a D-Rose leap.  This year's improvement will be good enough for the award.

Serge Ibaka and even James Harden have a shot at this as well.

Rookie of the Year:  Kyrie Irving
I'm taking Irving since he'll have control of his team, but Brandon Knight and Ricky Rubio are possibilities, too.  

Deron Williams is N.J.'s anchor.  
Sleeper teams:  Nets and Suns
I was a lot more comfortable with this Nets pick before Brook Lopez got injured, but Mehmet Okur softens the blow.  Deron Williams has become a hugely underrated player after being traded last season and being shrouded in darkness while Paul and Rose have gotten the positive point guard headlines for the past year.  Williams is a top-7ish player in the league, and the Nets aren't a terrible group.  I think Williams elevates his team to the playoffs.

Steve Nash finally has a Suns team that defends and fits.  But it's too late now.  Phoenix won't be a contender, but they've got a great chance at making the playoffs.  Nash guarantees a good offense, while Marcin Gortat and Grant Hill provide balance with strong defense.  Phoenix is a solid team.

Those are my picks.  Merry Christmas, and enjoy the NBA season!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tyson Chandler: A Redemptive, Transformative Acquisition for New York

With all of the Dwight Howard/billionaire Russian tampering and CP3/rigged NBA talk traipsing around ESPN, message boards, and the blogosphere, Tyson Chandler's move to the New York Knicks has almost been pushed aside.  A top-5 defensive center in the NBA joining forces with two of the league's best scoring forwards gives New York its most formidable front line since Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason were anchoring all-time great defenses in the mid-'90's.

Tyson Chandler will give N.Y. some much needed defense and heart.
Though this squad won't be nearly as dominant defensively as their predecessors, they've got great overall potential.  What kind of team is this though?  

Given the news that N.Y. will acquire Chandler via sign-and-trade, I'm going to assume Chauncey Billups still becomes an amnesty victim, leaving Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Landry Fields, and presumably Toney Douglas as New York's starting five.  Coach D'Antoni has indicated that Douglas will bring the ball up the floor while Melo acts as a Larry Bird-type of facilitator.  Obviously this is mere Twitter fodder, words Mike came up with for some lulz, because Melo has never shown himself to have the type of court vision Larry Bird had.  Different players, different skill sets.  

So how does this offense work?  How should it work?  Where will the new Knick fit?    

Well, Chandler has already proven himself to be one of the best role player-centers in the entire league offensively, combining ultra-efficient catch-and-score paint offense (so low role- no ball domination necessary) with elite offensive rebounding and no turnovers (so he gives his team more chances to score).  He's had his greatest offensive successes with either a superb playmaker in Chris Paul giving him gimmes or elite spacing in Dallas, mainly through the game of Dirk Nowitzki.  

New York doesn't have Paul - let's see where the U.S. Supreme Court says he should end up in the coming months - but they do have some sweet spacing of their own.  Amar'e is one of the great off-ball big men in NBA history.  Not only is he great from mid-range, but he also gets into the paint through dives from the perimeter and off curls at the high-post.  Melo, Fields, and Douglas are sufficient threats from range.  Chandler is primed for another efficient year offensively- as long as his minutes are handled correctly and New York slows their pace down.  These two caveats are integral.    

Chandler had a big year in 2008, then two injury-filled years.  Last year was a big year, but in reduced minutes (less than 28 per game) and on a slower, methodical team.  N.O. in '08 ran a methodical style of play as well, capitalizing on Paul's efficient use of Chandler and shooters.  That same methodical style should apply to New York this year as well, and not just for Chandler's sake.    

It'd serve Melo and Amar'e well to slow the pace down as well in my opinion.  Although they are great iso scorers, they are at their best as finishers, especially Amar'e.  Without a true distributor, using Douglas to get the ball to these scorers in a frenetic offense seems like a recipe for bad half-court offense and lackadaisical transition defense.  Instead, slow it down.  Put Amar'e in pick-n-rolls with Douglas and Melo and put Melo in the mid-post.  Execute.

More importantly, make Amar'e and Melo more aware of their defensive responsibilities, especially in transition.  

I liked Ian Thomsen's article on how Chandler can change the defense and the culture of New York like a KG-lite, especially with Mike Woodson preaching defense, too.  What Thomsen didn't mention was that 2008 Boston had Kendrick Perkins serving as the brick wall supplying backup to KG's motion-sensor horizontal mid-range defense system- basically, KG played help D all over the floor, but if anybody got to the paint, KP laid wood on them or blocked their shot.  Chandler's PF is Amar'e, and his backup is Amar'e.  What has to change?  

One is Amar'e's defensive intensity, and two is N.Y.'s backup C plan.  Even Chandler had big ole' Brendan Haywood last year backing him up.  The Knicks just need another big body to spell Chandler and move people around in the paint.  Anybody but Eddy Curry...

So, New York needs another big frontcourt body and league-average point guard who concentrates on distributing and can hit open 3's.  That sounds doable.  

New York fans deserved the Chandler signing, and they deserve the feeling of happiness that comes with it.  People love to spew vitriolic rants aimed at the Knicks, but they had to suffer through the Isiah Thomas-era and the crap that came along with it.  

In the middle part of last decade, Thomas obtained Curry, the wrong Baby Bull- the one that only added to his considerable baby fat.  Now they're counting on the mature, achieving one to be that key component to fully transform them.