NBA 2012: Story lines, predictions

Dwight Howard-Ray AllenJust think, a year ago we were all telling jokes about how LeBron James had no rings, no killer instinct, and couldn’t put the team on his back.  Now after he won the NBA Championship, MVP, NBA Finals MVP, and an Olympic Gold Medal in the past year we are now asking what’s next?  Can LeBron take himself to MJ levels?  Can he be the greatest of all-time?  And that has to be the main storyline for the upcoming 2012-13 season.

The Miami Heat:  The Heat come into 2013 as the defending champions and all the pressure is on them to take control of the NBA like they did last year.  The big storyline is can they repeat?  If so, can they go on a historic run like Jordan did with the Bulls and win multiple titles in a row?  Miami not only has the best player in the NBA, LeBron, but they now surrounded that man with shooters all around him signing the best 3-point shooter off all-time, Ray Allen.  Last year in the Playoffs, the Heat figured out who they are and it only took them two years to do it!  The Heat run an unprecedented offense with “no positions”, it will consist of LeBron doing whatever he wants and surrounding him with shooters.  The Miami Heat are clearly the team to beat in the NBA.

Los Angeles Lakers: Arguably the next biggest storyline of the off-season was the Lakers making trades to give a three-year window to allow Kobe Bryant to at least (and hopefully surpass) Michael Jordan’s six NBA Titles.  The Lakers shocked the world by not only getting Steve Nash (the best point guard that Kobe will ever play with), they traded for the much maligned and best Center in the NBA, Dwight Howard.  The Lakers are now four-deep in their starting lineup with potential Hall-of-Famers, and the Artest formerly known as Ron, Metta World Peace will only have to be a spot up shooter and play defense.  The question is can this team gel and do they have enough in their legs to last a grueling 82 game season with a long playoff run?  Dwight Howard is the great equalizer and one of the best defenders in the NBA who can clog the middle.  The Lakers will be learning to play with each other on the run and are installing the new Princeton offense.  The Lakers will start slow but will hit their stride later in the season, don’t panic if the start off around .500.

James Harden Trade:  The Los Angeles Lakers main competition to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals to a big step when the Oklahoma City Thunder abruptly traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets.  As a small market team, the Thunder “said” they couldn’t have three max players and decided to low-ball James Harden after paying Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge  .  In the short-term, the Thunder are hurt by this trade in the Western Conference, they get a big-time scorer in Kevin Martin and a developmental two-guard with Jeremy Lamb, but that won’t replace the Sixth-Man of the Year.  In the long-term the Thunder might be better off.  Westbrook and Durant are still in their early 20′s and will eventually have to sign another contract, Sam Presti and the Thunder want to make sure that the talent they have will get better and they know in three years that the Lakers will potentially be without Nash and Bryant. Read more…

Are the 2012 NBA finals good versus evil?

LeBron JamesThe annual NBA passion play is about to start. I’m talking, of course, about the NBA Finals. This years version has Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh reprising their role as villains and Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook will step in as the basketball savior.

The story goes something like this: the Heat are the basketball equivalent of the Death Star, wreaking havoc throughout the NBA Universe. If they are allowed to win an NBA title all hell will break loose and their reign of terror will last forever. Everything that is good and holy is at stake.

The Miami Heat has assembled a team of mercenaries with a singular focus: bring a title home to the Evil Empire…I mean South Beach. They have stockpiled a team of supreme talent fragile egos that has been the scourge of the NBA. The OKC Thunder, on the other hand, has quietly built a championship-caliber the old-fashioned way, through the draft and nurturing young talent.

It’s a classic tale of good and evil, right and wrong. Read more here…

NBA Western Conference Finals: Spurs v Thunder

James Harden

There are several certainties when it comes to this powerhouse matchup in the West. These aren’t only the two most complete teams in the Western Conference, but in the entire league. There are stars all over the floor for both teams, and both squads are coming into this series firing on all cylinders. This matchup will be fascinating to watch, and if it doesn’t go at least six games, I’d be absolutely shocked.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (2) Oklahoma City Thunder

As far as predictions go, I’ve been thinking about this matchup ever since the Thunder had the Lakers down 3-1 in their series.Not even close. In my mind, one of two outcomes will happen. Either the series goes seven games and because the Spurs will be at home, and are the veteran team, they’ll have the advantage and win in seven. Or, the Thunder steal a game in San Antonio, defend their home court, and win the series in six at home before a daunting game seven can occur. 

Read more here…

Redrafting all 32 teams of the 2009 NBA lottery

Blake-GriffinBlake Griffin, Ricky Rubio and James Harden all correctly went in the top 5 in 2009, but Hasheem Thabeet at #2 overall is one of the worst draft picks in NBA history. With the value of hindsight, here’s how the draft would look today, with who they actually took in parenthesis:

1. Los Angeles Clippers – Blake Griffin, PF (Blake Griffin)

He’s been a human highlight reel since returning from his knee injury his rookie season, and there’s little doubt the future is very bright for Griffin in LA. Kevin Love is more effective, although not nearly as flashy, but Griffin is certainly in the discussion for being the best power forward, even if he isn’t quite there yet.

2. Memphis Grizzlies – James Harden, SG (Hasheem Thabeet, C)

OJ Mayo has fallen out of favor over the last few seasons in Memphis, and at this point he’s nothing more than instant offense off the bench. Harden would give Memphis a great backcourt partner to pair with Mike Conley, and Harden would fit in better with Rudy Gay as well.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Steph Curry, PG (James Harden)

This was a tough choice between both Rubio and Curry, but since Russell Westbrook came out before the draft saying he’d be upset if the team took a point guard, Curry would be an easier pick to spin. Curry could play the 2 guard at times with Westbrook running the point, although the defensive issues would likely mean they couldn’t play together for extended stretches. Read more here…

To tank or not to tank: When winning just isn’t all that important

Kobe-vs-DenverI was watching Lakers-Nuggets Game Five the other night.  You remember that game in Los the Staples Center where Kobe Bryant scored 43, yet his team still couldn’t close out the series? All anyone in the bar could talk about was whether the Lakers wanted to close things out that night, or whether it was more conducive for them to drop a game, let the series go a game or two longer, thereby allowing for the return of the oft-suspended, former defensive player of the year and recurring troublemaker, Metta World Peace. Peace (that just sounds so silly) was suspended seven games for catching the back of James Harden’s head with an allegedly, inadvertent elbow.  Accordingly, Los Angeles has had to play their opening series against the Nuggets without him.  After a Game Six loss, the series has gone a full seven games. Read more here…

What becomes of Sixth Men of the Year?

James HardenWikipedia definition of the NBA’s Sixth Man is…The National Basketball Association’s Sixth Man of the Year Award is an annual National Basketball Association(NBA) award given since the 1982–83 NBA season to the league’s most valuable player for his team coming off the bench as a substitute (or sixth man). This year has not been decided yet, but i’m pretty sure that most are thinking that it will be Oklahoma City’s James Harden. With impressive numbers 31.4 mpg, 16.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.0 spg, he has made a huge impact for his team off the bench. Not only with the numbers but his emotional leadership to create a spark for the Thunder, has them in talks for the NBA title. Even though this is a great award to get, lets take a look at the past 10 players that the NBA crowned with the 6th Man award and see what they did after in their career. Where they able to become effective starters? Read more here…

Sixth man of the year: Meet James Harden

James Harden

The Oklahoma City Thunder (18-5) are still atop the Western Conference even following a week in which they played .500 ball.  However, one can easily make the argument that any team in the league would be happy going 2-2 after four games against the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Antonio Spurs. On top of that, only the Grizzlies game was at home. All of these games have one thing in common; Thunder Small Forward James Harden keeping the Thunder in the game while some of the more scoring-oriented starters got their rest. Harden has grown into his niche rapidly this season and is the prime candidate for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year (SMOY) at this current juncture.

The SMOY is, in this era, a prolific scorer who can catch fire at anytime and takes command as the first option on the second unit during the first three quarters. Furthermore, a strong SMOY candidate typically plays in crunch time during the fourth quarter. To measure Harden up against other premier perimeter bench players, it seems most prudent to use points per game, true shooting percentage, and player efficiency. True shooting percentage gives us a clearer picture than field goal percentage because it incorporates free throws and weights three-pointers. This allows measurement of volume of scoring as well as efficiency. All data was found at hoopdata.com and is current as of February 6,2012

 

Player PPG TS %  EFF
Mario Chalmers 11.3 64.8 12.77
Lou Williams 15.1 52.7 12.58
Mo Williams 14.8 60.6 14.28
Jason Terry 15.2 55.7 12.36
James Harden 16.6 64.8 17.35

Clearly, Harden has snatched the torch from an aging Jason Terry as the top second unit player in the league. None of the five aforementioned players have more than a handful of starts and this unfortunately rules out Ty Lawson (no pun intended). Lawson’s numbers: 15.6 PPG, 60 TS%, and a 17.29 efficiency rating are indeed impressive and he’s really coming into his own on a suddenly gritty Nuggets squad. Chauncey Billup’s Achilles tendon injury will certainly push Mo Williams into a starting role and could drastically inflate his numbers the remainder of the season. Both Williams represent the only legitimate threats to Harden’s 2012 SMOY campaign and with how high-profile, not to mention successful, the Thunder are this year, it would be a huge surprise if Harden doesn’t take home the hardware.

From a non-statistical perspective, James Harden brings energy to the starting unit when they’re meshed together and always keeps the second unit humming along. He reminds the eye of a young Richard Hamilton in the sense that he’s always cutting, moving, and making his defender’s life excessively difficult. Harden also represents another set of willing hands when Russel Westbrook’s or Kevin Durant’s go cold. He also has the uncanny ability to create offense right when the Thunder need it; a vital talent that cannot go overlooked.

The SMOY has always been a very unique award for unique players (like Ginobli, Odom, and McHale) and also represents the last piece of a championship puzzle for many teams, including the Thunder.

Eric Eulau is an NBA writer for The Sports Blitz