Here are some questions to consider with the NBA kicking off tomorrow afternoon.
1. Which LA team is Better?
The new-look Clippers may be winning over new fans left and right, largely because they emerged victorious in the recent Chris Paul trade saga, however the Lakers are still the team to beat in Los Angeles. Before too many people hop on the Clippers’ bandwagon, I think it is important to note that last year’s Lakers had very real aspirations of “Three-Peating” until they were bounced from the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks, who were en route to their first ever NBA Championship. The Clippers have a lot of young talent, but Paul does have a very serious history with knee problems, and it will be a challenge for him to stay healthy during this rigorous condensed season. Meanwhile, the Lakers continue to be contenders that should not be overlooked, and if healthy, I believe Kobe could still flip the switch in the postseason, and prove that in the battle for Los Angeles, the Lakers haven’t yet been dethroned.
More Questions After the Jump...
2. Who Got the Better End of the “Big Baby” Trade?
If Glen Davis could assume his inherent role as a big man, and continue to play as well as he did this preseason, then the Magic should have gotten the better end of the deal... However, that is a massive “If” since the biggest complaint about Big Baby has always been his tendency to abandon the paint and settle for outside jump shots. Brandon Bass is a very suitable replacement for Davis, as they are very similar players in terms of size, age, and skill. The main difference is attitude, and with the right attitude Bass will likely become Boston’s best option off the bench, as well as a serviceable starter when KG or JO needs rest. I think that Bass will be a great fit for this team, and that more Celtics’ fans will eventually find themselves forgetting about Davis rather than missing him.
3. Will the Knicks be a Legitimate Threat?
The New York Knicks looked great on paper last season, but could barely muster a .500 record in the regular season, and were swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, thus proving that Knicks’ Coach Mike D’Antoni’s strategy of scoring in bunches without really playing defense is no recipe for success in the NBA.
The acquisition of Tyson Chandler will be an interesting experiment in New York, as last year’s most inconsistent defense will now be anchored in the paint by a defensive minded center, who pushed the Mavericks over the hump and into the promised land last season with a commitment to physicality and tough defense. Chandler has the ability and leadership to be a difference maker for essentially any team, though I do not believe he will flourish in D’Antoni’s system, and unless he can significantly improve their defense like he did with the Mavericks, the Knicks will likely fall just short of 40 wins during this shortened season.
4. Can Mark Jackson Save the Warriors Franchise?
The Golden State Warriors have a lot of raw talent, but have consistently displayed one of the worst defenses in the NBA over the last few seasons. Nevertheless, their big three of Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, and David Lee is nothing to overlook, and even fellow starter Dorrell Wright became a legitimate scoring threat last season. New Head Coach Mark Jackson will look to revive this team, and vows to do so with an improved defensive mindset. If he can also teach his players to distribute the scoring load, and refuse to let Ellis try to carry the entire team on his back offensively, then this team could very well be fighting for a playoff spot come summertime. Even as a rookie head coach, Jackson has a deeper understanding of this game than most, and he could potentially mold the individual raw talents in Golden State into a playoff caliber basketball team. Hopefully the ankle sprain that Curry suffered in their final preseason game does not sideline him for long, since their offense is not nearly as versatile without him running the point.
This could be the year of the rookie point guard, as young talents such as Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, and Brandon Knight will all likely log significant minutes this season. These rookie point guards could very well emerge as the leading vote-getters for Rookie of the Year, and Rubio’s debut in Minnesota will likely overshadow that of teammate and this year’s second overall pick, Derrick Williams.
Look for Irving to be the biggest contributor of all rookies, and solidified into the starting role for Cleveland by midseason, especially with the help of fellow top-5 pick and athletic big man Tristan Thompson. I would like to see Kemba Walker crack the starting lineup as well in favor of or alongside D.J. Augustin in Charlotte, as he could potentially develop into the explosive scoring threat that he was in college. However, due to the lack of talent around them, both Irving and Walker will likely have questionable assist numbers this season, and will have to make up for it in the scoring department.
6. Who Will be This Year’s MVP?
I believe that with the shortened season, this could be the Oklahoma City Thunder’s year thanks to their young legs, and their superstar forward in Kevin Durant. Durant seems to improve every year, and is coming off a postseason in which he averaged over 28 points and 8 rebounds per game. Durant is absolutely one of the premier superstars in the league, and at only age 23, he is going to keep improving, and will be fighting for some serious hardware this season. Other candidates could include reigning MVP Derrick Rose, or maybe even Chris Paul if he can lead the Clippers to a respectable playoff seed in the West. However, LeBron and D-Wade will likely continue to cost each other votes in Miami, while Durant will continue to rise.
7. Is This LeBron’s Year?
With LeBron James entering his ninth season, expectations for him and the Miami Heat have never been higher. If you take a look at the ESPN predictions, 25 out of 30 analysts picked the Heat, who are the nationwide favorites to win the NBA Championship this season. Also, the fact that the South Beach trio made it to the finals in their first season together means that they are definitely guaranteed a return to the Big Stage this season… right?
Wrong. The comparison of LBJ to MJ is becoming increasingly ludicrous every year, as Jordan led his team to a championship in his seventh season while James seeks to be an accomplice for one in his ninth season. LeBron has consistently demonstrated an uncanny ability to disappear in the biggest games, and while I do not question his desire to win, I think it is imperative to question his hatred for losing, or lack thereof. The Heat look spectacular on paper, just as they did last year, but ultimately they will not emerge as champions until they have a must-win mentality rather than the mentality of a team that has already won.Jon Jacobson 12/24/2011 04:45:00 PM Tweet