Sports Break: Basketball Predictions

Okay, let's take a momentary break from the serious stuff and talk a little basketball. The NBA season starts next week and the college basketball season a couple weeks later and, as everyone knows, basketball is my favorite sport. I'm gonna make a few predictions for both the college and NBA seasons, starting with the NBA.

1. The Pistons will be better this year without Larry Brown. I know, Brown is a legend. I know, he's the only coach ever to win both an NBA and NCAA championship. He's also entirely too rigid and doesn't adjust how he coaches to the players on the roster. We know the Pistons play great defense, and that will continue. But Brown held them back offensively and didn't get the maximum out of the offensive talent. Flip Saunders will run a much more up tempo offense, with a lot more screens to free up the big men. Same defense and improved offense means a better team.

This is also a much deeper team than it has been the last couple years. Antonio McDyess is a co-starter. Darko is showing signs of becoming a beast finally, playing very aggressively in the preseason now that he has a coach who will let him play, and let him play to his strengths. Carlos Delfino also looks great coming off knee surgery. Carlos Arroyo is a solid backup at the point and Maurice Evans will be instant offense off the bench. Their second team could go .500 in the Eastern conference. Mark it down, this team will be better.

2. The Miami Heat will be worse.. I've heard all of the praise thrown at Pat Riley for going out and signing Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, James Posey and Gary Payton in the offseason. It's all nonsense. He blew up a team that was one game away from the NBA finals last year, and likely would have made it had Shaq not been hobbling through the Pistons series with a quad injury, and replaced them with a bunch of big name losers. Jason Williams and Antoine Walker are classic NBA team killers and they've been that way their whole career, so Riley has no excuse for thinking otherwise.

Jason Williams is a shoot-first point guard who can't shoot. His career shooting percentage is 39%, three pointers only 31%. He's capable of being a team player but shows little interest in it. His passes are as likely to bounce off the scorekeeper's head as they are to find a teammate in position to score. Antoine Walker is all of that and worse. His career shooting percentages: 41% overall and 32% from three point range. Yet he takes an average of almost 19 shots a game! That's more shots per game than Shaq takes and Shaq shoots 58% from the field. 19 shots in 38 minutes per game is one shot every two minutes. Assuming an average possession 20 seconds, that's a shot every third time down the court, yet he's only making a little over 1/3 of them. How many times have you seen Walker have a stat line like this: 6-27 from the field for 18 points and 10 rebounds, with 5 or 6 turnovers? On top of that, he's a cancer in the locker room. He thinks he's a superstar and he's not. I wouldn't have him on my team if he paid me the league maximum to be on the roster.

James Posey isn't a bad pickup. Good defensive player who doesn't need to score to help the team win. Gary Payton is virtually fossilized and will be injured by midseason. This team will start off slow, which will give Riley the excuse he needs to kick Van Gundy off the bench and name himself the coach again. But that won't help this team win. Last year they were set up the right way. Two superstars in Shaq and Wade and a bunch of role players who knew their place and relished it. Udonis Haslem was the perfect complement to Shaq on the front line. They could have used the expiring contract of Eddie Jones to go out and sign a solid outside shooter or two and this team would have been poised for another deep run in the playoffs. Won't happen with this team. Too many guys whose egos and lack of understanding of the game won't let them play second fiddle to the team's true stars.

3. The Spurs are still the team to beat. The Spurs also went out and made some big changes in the off season, but they did it smartly. They added veteran guys who are good team players. Michael Finley will be a great addition to the team. Nick Van Exel has proven the last couple years that he doesn't mind coming off the bench and he'll do well as Parker's backup, coming in to provide instant offense and push the tempo up with the second team. They can now throw a very different look at you when they go to their bench and that's a valuable thing.

Now, on to college basketball. This is truly my favorite sport. I'm not going to make specific predictions here other than this one: Duke is the #1 team going in to the season and they'll be the #1 team at the end as well. This is exactly the kind of team that is built to win the NCAA championship. They've got 2 first team all-americans in JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, and they're both seniors. They've got the #1 freshman big man in the nation in Josh McRoberts to play next to Williams and they've got depth at every position. Unlike the last few years, this Duke team will go 9 or 10 players deep instead of 6 or 7.

As for my other favorite team, MSU, they are certainly the favorites to win the Big Ten and will be a final four contender. They lost the 3 seniors from last year, but I think that will make the team better. This is now Drew Neitzel's team and he'll be very solid. Paul Davis is a senior and has the talent to be an all-American. Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager are lightning fast guards and a matchup nightmare. And remember this name: Marquise Gray. He redshirted last year as a freshman, at his own request so he could put on some muscle and get acclimated in the classroom. He's a 6'8" power forward who can jump out of the gym and Izzo says he's the most athletic big man he's ever recruited. Look for him to step into the starting lineup at the 4, giving the Spartans a much more defined lineup than they've had the last couple years.

So that's it, my basketball season preview. Let's get the ball in the air, I'm ready.


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How about the Lakers? With the signing of Kwame Brown from Washington, Kobe has a brand new player not to pass the ball to. Plus you get Phil Jackson back. Does this make them at all competative?

Dave S wrote:

How about the Lakers? With the signing of Kwame Brown from Washington, Kobe has a brand new player not to pass the ball to. Plus you get Phil Jackson back. Does this make them at all competative?

I think it's a decent start. I actually do think the Lakers will improve this year, but it all depends on whether Kobe has grown up and accepted that he has to work within the offense. This really is a crossroads for him. If he accepts Jackson's coaching and works to play within the triangle offense, the team will get a lot better and Kobe will have gone a long way toward resurrecting his reputation. This guy still isn't 30 years old, so there's time for him to win more championships and go out in a blaze of glory.

I expect Kwame Brown to have a decent year for them. I think he really did need a change of scenery and I've seen enough flashes of his talent to know that it's all a mental game for him. He's got all the skills in the world, but his confidence is fragile. I think Phil Jackson will handle this kid well and boost his game a lot. And if Kobe does the right thing, I expect Lamar Odom to get back to his all-star level of 2 years ago as well. Odom is an incredible talent who has never been in the right situation to show it consistently. The triangle offense is perfect for his skills and I think he can be a 20-10-5 guy in that system provided Kobe isn't hogging the ball all the time.

If Andrew Bynum becomes what he can become as a big man, this team could be a title contender again in 3 years. It's all up to Kobe, really. He either makes everyone forget the last 2 years of controversy, or he digs himself a hole that will bury his career.

The offseason acquisitions by the Spurs and the Heat show why one team has rings and the other does not -- character.

The Spurs scout and hire people who are professionals, people who represent the team well in the community, people who understand at a fundamental level what it means to be a teammate. It started with David Robinson and continued through the likes of Avery Johnson and Tim Duncan. And with a guy like Greg Popovich running the organization, that's not going to change any time soon. They understand that a team is more than 12 (or 15 this year) guys with a lot of talent -- a team is 12 guys with a lot of talent who value being good teammates for each other.

Look at Stephen Jackson. The guy helped them win a championship, but they didn't hesitate to let him go in the offseason. As he showed in that Detroit fiasco, he's not a good-character guy. He's a brawler and a thug, who looks to himself before he gives a thought to anyone else on the court. He didn't buy in to the team concept, so they let him go, even though doing so could have cost them a chance to compete for another championship.

Let's contrast that to the Heat. They bring in a group of guys who never met a shot they wouldn't take, guys who care about how good they look and how bright the spotlight is on them. They got really good when Dwayne Wade, one of the classiest, most unselfish, team-first guys in the league, came on board to show Shaq that it's possible to play WITH four other guys on the floor and not AGAINST them. And then they acquire Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, and Jason Williams?! I agree with you Ed, that was a huge step backwards for that team.

My prediction is that the Spurs win a ring again this year, primarily because basketball is a team sport, and they're one of the few organizations that seems to care about building an actual team instead of a disparate band of prima donnas whose only connection happens to be that they all wear the same uniform a few hours a night.

Jeff in Texas (can you say "homer"?)


I think you hit it right on the head. The Spurs understand that you win by playing as a team, not by having great individual players. So they bring in a guy like Finley, who can do just about everything on the court but has always been about doing what the team needs. They've got guys like Bruce Bowen, who just does one thing well but completely understands his role with the team. I agree with you, the Spurs are the favorites, though I think the Pistons can beat them. It was a 7th game nailbiter last year and I really do think the Pistons will be better. But I also think the Spurs got better in the offseason. I think it'll be a rematch of last year. I think Indiana will be the second best team in the East and Miami will be number three. I love Dwayne Wade, the guy should be the NBA's poster boy for the next decade. But that supporting cast is a disaster waiting to happen.