Man, I love the holidays. You can’t beat a Christmas movie with Joe Pesci getting his head set on fire (personally, I think Gerry Bamman deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of Uncle Frank in Home Alone). This year Christmas will be extra special because it marks the start of the much-anticipated 2011-2012 NBA season.
I always like to say that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. Well, this year it’s a sprint. Each team has to play 66 games … in only 123 days. That’s a lotta hoops. So put on your best running shoes and let’s go. Your 2011-2012 NBA Season Preview coming to you in five, four, three, two, one …
Who is the best point guard in the NBA?
Derrick Rose: Rose wasn’t just the best point guard in the league in 2011: he was the best player in basketball. Rondo and Chris Paul might be better distributors but neither of them can take over a game like Rose can. Rose is an expert finisher in traffic (he probably led the league in circus shots last year) and 2011 was his best season as a shooter. He’s young (just turned 23), durable (only missed one game last year), hungry and he’s the best point guard in the game.
Dwyane Wade: D-Wade has finally surpassed Kobe as the best two-guard in the association. He’s a lethal scorer, plus he has all the intangibles that you’d want in a veteran leader. Clutch is this dude’s middle name: he was the one keeping Miami’s title hopes alive while LeBron was struggling in the Finals last season. He’s cheetah-fast and at this point, a better option at shooting guard than the aging Kobe Bryant.
Best small forward?
LeBron James: I was tempted to slot Kevin Durant here because he’s such an explosive scorer but Durant just doesn’t offer the complete skill set that LeBron James shows us night in and night out. I always think it’s interesting when people compare LeBron to Michael Jordan because they’re such different players. MJ was more of a finesse scorer: LeBron’s game is all power. LeBron’s strength is incredible: he’s like a slam-dunking rhinoceros with tattoos. He passes well, he shoots threes, he’s a ferocious defender and rumor has it he even developed a post game in the offseason. You don’t have to like him but you have to respect LeBron’s game.
Top power forward?
Blake Griffin: Power Forward is a stacked position in the NBA. Dirk, Amare, Pau and Zach Randolph are all playing at a high level right now. But can any of them jump over cars? It’s scary to think about how many defenders Blake Griffin is going to posterize this season with Chris Paul throwing him alley-oops on a nightly basis. Welcome to Lob City everyone.
Dwight Howard: There’s no question that Superman is the biggest, baddest center on the planet right now. He’s a shot-blocking machine and an absolutely unstoppable force in the low post. His muscles have muscles. The only question is whether or not Howard will still be in a Magic uniform come March 15th, the date of this season’s trade deadline.
Underrated player to watch for this season?
LaMarcus Aldridge: He’s the best power forward you’ve never heard of. After putting up respectable numbers for the Blazers during the first four years of his career (16 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest), Aldridge blew up in 2011, leading Portland in scoring at just under 22 points a game. He stepped up his game on the rebounding front as well, averaging nearly nine boards per game. He’s tall (6’11), surprisingly mobile and he’s got a sweet midrange game for a player his size. Aldridge was the reason Portland made the playoffs a year ago and with Brandon Roy retiring and Greg Oden still sidelined by injury, this is his team now. Look for the former Texas Longhorn to be even more dominant in 2012.
Carmelo Anthony: Carmelo is a volume scorer, meaning the only reason he was third in the league in scoring a season ago was because he took a TON of shots. Carmelo took an average of 19.5 shots per game in ’10-’11 (only Monta Ellis, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose shot more frequently) and many of these shots were ill advised: that’s why only 45.5% of them went in the hoop. He was making threes at a pretty decent clip with the Knicks last season (a career-best 42.4%) but don’t expect him to keep that up: he’s only a 32% shooter from three-point range in his career. Carmelo also plays NO defense whatsoever but still, the biggest knock on him has to be that he is not a proven winner. His move to NYC was supposed to transform the Knicks to elite status: yet New York’s record was just 13-14 in games he played in last season (13-18 if you count the playoffs). Overall Melo’s been on the winning side of just two of the ten playoff series he’s played in throughout his career and three of those losses were four-game sweeps. Melo’s not the savior New York thinks he is.
Who wins the Eastern Conference?
Miami Heat: I hate these guys … with every fiber of my being. They’re pure evil. But they’re a terrific basketball team. Plus the Heat have two things working in their favor this year that they didn’t have in 2010-11: a healthy Udonis Haslem and the scrappy play and veteran leadership of Shane Battier. This could be LeBron’s year.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Durant is a leading MVP candidate and Russell Westbrook is right up there with Rose, Paul and Deron Williams in the discussion for best point guard in the league. James Harden was a beast off the bench during the playoffs and Kendrick Perkins provides OKC with some defensive muscle in the low post. After getting their feet wet in the postseason the last two seasons, OKC is finally ready to show the West what it’s really made of. Expect them to edge out Dallas in a conference finals rematch from a year ago.
Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis has dark horse written all over it. The Grizzlies are quietly loaded. They’ve got stud power forward Zach Randolph (20.1 ppg and 12.2 rpg), freaky athletic swingman Rudy Gay (19.8 ppg), sweet-shooting seven-footer Marc Gasol and one of the best defensive players in the league in Tony Allen. Remember the Grizz took the Thunder to seven games in the Western Conference semi-finals a year ago … and that was without Rudy Gay. If Memphis stays healthy, they’re going to be right in the thick of things out West. These guys are sneaky good and with an average age of less than 26 years old, the Grizzlies could be a contender for years to come.
Team that will disappoint in 2011-2012
Los Angeles Lakers: The offseason was not kind to the Lakers. They failed to land either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard and L.A. also lost coaching legend Phil Jackson to retirement. Lamar Odom was dealt to Dallas a week ago, another crushing blow to L.A.’s thinning roster. Kobe says he’s going to play through his wrist injury but how effective can he be? Ron Artest/Metta World Peace is a year older and a year worse. The stench from last year’s crushing loss to the Mavericks still lingers. There’s a lot of negative energy in Tinseltown right now. With the Clippers on the rise, I’m not sure the Lakers are the best team in Los Angeles anymore.
Miami Heat: John Elway eventually won his Super Bowl. Kobe finally won his ring without Shaq. Phil Mickelson won the Master’s after years of trying. A-Rod won his title. Heck, even the Red Sox got over the hump at some point (still waiting on the Cubs). This is the year it happens. LeBron finally gets his ring. Seriously though, please just win it so we can stop talking about it already.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy NBA season! Oh yeah, and one more thing … keep the change, ya filthy animal.
All photos were taken from ESPN.com.