Monday, February 26, 2007

Revisiting My Preseason NBA Predictions, Part 1

Back in October I made some pretty bold forecasts for the 2006-2007 NBA season. Time to check up on how I'm doing past the halfway point of the schedule.

Awards
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (original prediction), Dirk Nowitzki (revised prediction)
Voters will have Steve Nash fatigue after selecting him for back-to-back MVPs, but even if they didn't LBJ would get their votes. With the Cavs now being amongst the elite teams in the league, LeBron is in an perfect position to put up the individual numbers and have the team success to secure his first MVP trophy. The Lakers will not have enough wins for Kobe to contend, and voters feel Dwayne Wade's production is largely assisted by Shaq.

Two factors all but eliminate King James from POTY honors. Firstly, his team isn't very good. For right or for wrong MVP voters love to go with a winner, usually a player who plays for an upper-echelon squad (55+ wins). The Cavs at their current pace won't even get to 50 wins. And that's while playing in arguably the worst conference in sports history. The second reason LeBron won't win is because the team's lack of success and failure to play an uptempo offense (perhaps the two are correlated). James' effort and intensity have regressed this season. While his numbers are as outstanding as ever they won't be enough. It's a two-man race between Dirk and Steve Nash with Kobe trying to spoil the party.

Rookie of the Year: Brandon Roy, Brandon Roy
Roy will likely supplant Martell Webster or Jarrett Jack early in the season. He was the best prospect in the draft and will prove it with his play. Randy Foye of Minnesota is also in contention for the ROY, as he should get significant tick.

Brandon is starting to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Randy and Andrea Bargnani have picked up the pace for a so-so rookie class, but Andrea has yet to crack the starting rotation in Toronto and Randy has been inconsistent since taking the PG role from Mike James.

Defensive Player of the Year:
Ron Artest, Marcus Camby
Artest is simply the best defender in the league. Ben Wallace, Bruce Bowen and Andrei Kirilenko take a backseat to Tru Warier's tenacious guarding. As long as he stays on the court, Ron will dazzle people with his defensive skills. A dark horse contender is Gerald Wallace, who averaged a ridiculous two steals and two blocks per contest last season.

Ron, not surprisingly, has been dazzling on the defensive end. His ferocious D has him leading the league in steals. Camby leads the NBA with 3 blocks per game and is fourth in rebounds per game. If the big guy stays healthy, he'll get the nod over Tru Warier.

Sixth Man of the Year: Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa
Livingston will continue his apprenticeship under Sam Cassell, but that doesn't mean he will have a limited role. Because of his size, Shaun can and will play multiple positions. He's a marvelous passer and good rebounder. As his jump shot continues to improve, so will Shaun's status as one of the league's best coming off the bench. Look for his numbers to take off.

Shaun continues to struggle with his jumper. The problem is compounded when coach Mike Dunleavy puts Cassell at the point and Livingston at the two guard. At that point Shaun idly watches from the wing while the offense runs through Sam. Barbosa have been sensational this season, averaging 17 points and 4 assists while coming off the best of the league's most thrilling team.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Van Gundy, Jeff Van Gundy
The much-maligned Van Gundy can lead the Rockets to 15 more wins than last season. A healthy Houston team stands to be the most-improved squad in the league, and Van Gundy will earn his share of credit, whether he deserves it or not. Other candidates include Chicago's Scott Skiles, Utah's Jerry Sloan and even New York's Isiah Thomas.

The Rockets are on pace to win 52 times this season, an 18-game improvement over 2006. Considering Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady have both missed significant time this year makes Van Gundy's a near-lock for the award. The Jazz are heading toward a 14-game improvement under Sloan. Thomas has brought credibility and moderate successs back to Gotham basketball.

Most Improved Player: Darko Milicic, Kevin Martin
If Darko plays substantial minutes, the productivity will be there. He's already one of the best blockers in the league. Darko bulked up ten pounds over the summer, which bolds well for an emerging interior game to complement his perimeter play. Box scores of 12/8/3/3 should be a regular occurrence for Milicic.

The bungling of Brian Hill has all but wrecked not only Darko's playing minutes but also the immediate (and possibly long-term) future of the Magic. Milicic hasn't taken full advantage of his time on the court, leading to inconsistent play. Meanwhile Martin has nearly doubled his scoring average from a year ago. Virtually all his statistics (including FG%, 3P% and FT%) are career highs. He's gone from a decent player to near All-Star.

Executive of the Year: Carroll Dawson, Carroll Dawson
The Executive of the Year Award tends to go to the GM whose team improved the most from the previous year. Dawson should be the recipient in 2007, considering the Rockets will be that team (again, assuming they stay healthy). The decisions to acquire Shane Battier and draft Steve Novak will also pay immediate dividends.

The Battier acquisition was nothing short of brilliant. His numbers (10 and 4 a night) don't tell have the story. Shane's the kind of strong-character, high-energy, constant-motor guy needed to make a good team great, and Dawson knew that when he brought Battier over. Surprisingly neither Novak nor Bonzi Wells have made an impact.

Part 2 will take a look at how the playoffs might unfold.

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