Wednesday, October 17, 2007

NBA Preview #1: Northwest Division

Last Year’s Standings:

Utah 51-31
Denver 45-37
Portland 32-50
Minnesota 32-50
Seattle 32-50

Utah—I like this team. Not much needs to be said about Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Williams made a quantum leap last year, and if Boozer can stay healthy again, there's no reason to expect he won't put up similarly impressive numbers. They have a surprisingly nice third scorer in Mehmet Okur. The loss of Derek Fischer doesn't hurt them too much; even with him, they didn't get much production from the two-guard position, and the early returns on second-year shooting guard Ronnie Brewer have been promising. If he turns into a productive player, Utah will have really scored in the 06 draft, having already laid claim to that draft's sleeper in Paul Milsap. (Of course, the bastards didn't realize they'd made another steal in the late 2nd round and ended up forcing my man Dee Brown to play in Turkey this year. Jerks.)

The X-factor, of course, is Andrei Kirilenko. If they had an award for Most Degraded Player, Kirilenko would have been last year's hands down winner. I don't know the whole story behind his fall (and don't particularly care to find out), but just looking at the numbers, it looks like his minutes and his number of shots fell significantly, and his 3 pt. percentage (already bad) plummeted. Despite that, however, his TS% actually rose slightly. My guess from afar is that Boozer's increased role in the offense and the team in general cut into his shots and minutes, which probably hurt his confidence, since he's apparently something of a headcase. Still, Kirilenko performed incredibly well in this summer's Eurobasket tourney and right now the Jazz are making all the right noises about working through his earlier trade demand. (Jerry Sloan, it seems, was offended by Kirilenko’s idea that basketball should be fun.) I figure he'll either revert back to his previous fine form this year, or Utah will manage to trade him for Shawn Marion. Either way, it should work out nicely for the Jazz.

Prediction: 54-28

Denver—Optimism is a mile-high in Denver, with some players claiming they’re going to get 60 wins this season. Call me Captain Bringdown.

Denver, which won 45 games last year, went 25-20 with Melo and Iverson in the lineup, a percentage that over a full regular season would lead to...46 wins. The obvious counter to that is that the two needed some time to feel each other out, which is why they started out 15-19 together. Then, however, tings started clicking and they ended the season 10-1. My response to that? Enh. Seven of those Ws were against Seattle, the Clips, Minnesota, Sacramento, a Lakers squad in a late-season swoon (twice) and a meaningless last game against the Spurs, in which Duncan, Ginobli, Parker, Melo and AI all sat out. If you're fighting for a playoff spot, you'd better win those games.

Still, it seems possible that AI and Melo can productively co-exist. But as for the rest of the team, I don't see much there. Their only semi-legit two guard, J.R. Smith, recently had to tell his teammates that he's "not trying to be a team cancer." In other words, he might be a cancer, but he’s not trying to be one. (Man, I wish the Bulls still had that guy.) Meanwhile, the Nugs' main bigs are going to be K-Mart, Nene and Camby. When those three are playing well, that's a very nice frontcourt, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The problem is, they're rarely playing. Martin has played 58 games combined over the past two years and hasn't played more than 70 since 02-03. Nene hasn't been much better, playing a total of 65 the last two seasons, and he hasn't played in more than 64 since 03-04. Compared to these two, Camby is a rock, averaging only 16 missed games each season the last 4 years, and that's easily the sturdiest 4-year stretch of his career. Odds are, two of these three will be missing some serious time this season, and after that, it's Linas Kleiza and Stephen Hunter. Yikes.

Nevertheless, there's going to be a better than average chance that on any given night, the Nugs will have the two best players on the court on their squad. Is that good for 60 wins? No. But it should be good for 50.

Prediction: 50-32

Portland—Yeah, it’s a shame about Oden, but this team should still improve without him, assuming last year’s ROY, uh, Roy, can stay healthy. (Easier said than done.) The Blazers don’t have a stunning frontcourt, but word out of their camp is that LaMarcus Aldridge is looking very good, and they should be able to have a nice inside-outside game going with him teamed up with Channing Frye. (I’m still trying to figure out how a 7-footer who averages 4 points and 5 rebounds makes $5 mil a year, but I suppose it’s good for Aaron Gray that he’s got a bona-fide inspiration in Joel Przybilla.) The other positive news out of Blazers’ training camp is that Martell Webster has looked good, scoring 28 in their first preseason game (although since 22 came in the second half, any optimism should be tempered). If he doesn’t work out, though, maybe the Blazers can trade a couple of their point guards to pick up a decent three. Between Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake, Sergio Rodriguez and my main man Taurean Green (who David Thorpe is “absolutely convinced” is “starting material, ultimately”), the Blazers have four decent points. With Oden, Aldridge, and Roy, simply decent play from the point might have been enough for this team to battle for the West’s 8th spot, but with no Oden and the question marks surrounding Roy’s heel, I think the Blazers are going to struggle unless Aldridge just brings it and Martell can consistently score. I see improvement, but not a ton of it.
Prediction 36-46

Seattle--I don’t know what to make of Kevin Durant, the only player who even remotely interests me on this team. Some reports have him as one of the best players on the floor during the U.S. Olympic Team training sessions this summer in Las Vegas. Then Kevin Martin absolutely schools him in his first preseason game, prompting this column that suggests there are real concerns about both his position (he’s playing the 2 for now) and his defense. And then the next time out on the floor, he shoots 5 for 22 against the Cavs. So I think the wise thing to say is that he’ll be consistently inconsistent, dominant in some games, woeful in others, and perhaps fluxuating wildly between them at times in the same game. Since he’s now Seattle’s best player, this, I think, doesn’t bode well for their present, but obviously he’s one of the best pieces you could possibly have for the future.

Prediction 28-54; and despite his up-and-downs, Durant wins the ROY

Minnesota--Let’s see: Last year, Boston won 24 games, and they had Paul Pierce. Now, Minnesota’s roster is essentially Boston’s from last year, except instead of Paul Pierce, they have Ricky Davis, a, uh, mercurial player who is not as good as Pierce and who, regardless, is rumored to be on the move. Oh, and the West is much, much better than the East. Take away Davis, and I think Corey Brewer’s Florida team could beat this lineup. Seriously, let’s matchup their starters:

Taurean Green v. Randy Foye: I’d give the edge to Green here, but maybe it’s a wash.
Lee Humphrey v. Rashad McCants: The edge goes to McCants, but if Humphrey gets hot from distance, this could easily go the other way
Brewer v. Brewer: Wash
Horford v. Jefferson: I don’t care how good a 2nd half Jefferson had last year; Wash
Noah v. Corey Blount: Edge to Noah, for running the floor, passing and finishing strong at the rim.

This is going to be really ugly.
Prediction: 20-62


Blogger Hot Shit College Student said...

way to set the bar really high. i was hoping the first preview would include a goofy jpeg and some links to youtubes that have nothing to do with basketball.

the przybilla monster has probably blocked more shots in 7 seasons than gray could dream of doing in 15. his salary isn't bad for a 7 footer who's outstanding at one thing, and not bad at a few others. the length of his contract is a drawback.

foye had a promising rookie season. i don't see why he wouldn't be minnesota's starting point guard. i was shocked to see green is actually smaller than foye.

9:38 AM  
Blogger BenGo07 said...

I think I mixed up Foye with that Lowry kid on Memphis. So, yeah, I set the bar real high with this one.

10:20 AM  

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