2006 NBA Predictions
by Drew Mangione - 10/17/2006
Sure, Dwayne Wade won the NBA Finals MVP. He deserved it. He averaged almost 35 points per game and dropped 36 or more in each of the Miami Heat's four wins over the Dallas Mavericks. He's a truly magnificent player, but while he was the MVP of the series he was not the reason the Heat won.
In football, experts say that to win, you must run the ball and stop the run. Yet, every team is looking for that next great quarterback to light up the scoreboard. In baseball, it's pitching and defense. Yet people question a team's commitment to winning if they don't stock up on sluggers. Well, NBA championships are won in the post, yet it's the high-flying theatrics and long-range bombs that get all the accolades. Let's face it, fans like offense and they like seeing it in its most artistic form.
However, art doesn't always win games. If you look at the last 25 years of NBA champions, all but one franchise had a dominant offensive post game and every single one could defend the post. The Lakers had Kareem. The Celtics had Bird, McHale and Parrish. The 76ers had Moses Malone. The Bulls had Jordan and the Triangle. The Rockets had Hakeem. The Spurs had Tim Duncan. And both the Lakers and Heat had Shaq. The Pistons, in each incarnation, had little post offense, but could defend the block like no one else.
So when you start looking at contenders this year, think about the post. Everyone wants to compare LeBron James and Dwayne Wade to Jordan, but they cannot be invincible until they play in the post like MJ did. The post game just gives you the tools to win. After that, you need to control the ball, hit open shots and find someone to make that necessary big play.
With that in mind, let's look at some 2006 NBA Predictions:
1) San Antonio Spurs (17-to-4): This team is considered the safest bet to win the championship in 2007, but take a deeper look. Tim Duncan may be the best all-around big man in the game but he's not so young anymore. He averaged less than 20 ppg for the first time in his career partly because he's fallen in love with that 15-foot jumper and his FG percentage shows it (.484, compared to .508 and .513 in his MVP years). Rasho Nesterovic and Nazr Mohammed aren't around anymore to help defend the post, but Duncan should bounce back to help his solid young backcourt of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, and the bench is still deep.
2) Dallas Mavericks (9-to-2): The maturation of Dirk had him down low more than ever and actually putting in some effort on defense. However, I think these guys might be a sucker bet. The odds aren't great and this team has issues. The backcourt is small and the bench is overrated (Jerry Stackhouse, Austin Croshere, Devean George, Anthony Johnson). Dirk can get better, but it will be Josh Howard's maturation that determines how far this team goes.
3) Miami Heat (9-to-2): Oh, if Patrick Ewing had Dwayne Wade. This team is built just like the Riley Knicks teams: A great center, scoring at the two guard, a confused small forward, an overrated point guard, and a tough, rebounding power forward. This team goes as Shaq's health goes come May. If the big man is running strong it's over. Wade is Jordanesque in all but the post game, but he showed signs when Shaq daddy was out last year. Look for Walker and Wade to put their backs to the basket WHEN, not if, Shaq misses time early.
4) Phoenix Suns (5-to-1): Don't be surprised if Mike "I'll win by coaching any style" D'Antoni and Steve Nash, both of whom are legit, exorcise the demons of past posers: Paul Westphal and Kevin Johnson. This looks good because of Amare Stoudamire's injury, which gave him a year to sit out. No doubt that slowed him down some, but it also gave a young player a chance to study the game. This team will have the best record in the West, and if they stay healthy they may wrap that trophy in purple.
Here are some long shots with talent to contend, but just a shade more questions:
1) Detroit Pistons (7-to-1): Short of stealing away Shaquille or Duncan, center Nazr Mohammed may have been the best move to replace Ben Wallace. He's Ben with half the energy, but he can catch the ball in the post. His unselfish nature keeps him from being a top-line center but makes him someone with whom the longtime Pistons will mesh. However, his lethargic look fits in alongside Duncan but may not fly in the Palace where fans expect more. In the marriage of the "Flips," Murray will supply much needed bench offense. But I feel bad for Saunders: The run is over.
2) New Jersey Nets (12-to-1): The emergence of center Nenad Kristic and the reemergence of Vince Carter make this team a decent bet for the surprise representative of the East in the Finals. Both of those guys provide the Nets with a serviceable post presence. However, going from a good team to contender hinges on a pair of rookies. If Josh Boone blocks shots and supports Jason Collins with defense and rebounding, and if Marcus Williams is a fast study behind the aging Jason Kidd, this team could smack around some contenders.
3) Cleveland Cavaliers (12-to-1): LeBron is great. No doubts there. He may be the most talented player in the game, but he's not the most complete. He needs to use that monstrous frame for some easy low block shots and maybe that's why the team is stocking up with four point guards to throw the entry pass. The Larry Hughes experiment could bear some fruit, though it was 46 games played, 7 ppg, and maybe as many as 10 wins short of success. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is the oldest 31-year-old in the league. But if he's healthy and Mike Brown commits to working the ball through the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian, LeBron may find himself hoisting a banner in Quicken Loans Arena.
4) Chicago Bulls (15-to-1): Don't waste your money. This is the hot pick of 2006 and before you go crazy wagering on this team take a deep breath and look at the roster. P.J. Brown and Ben Wallace have never produced much offense and at 37 and 32, respectively, their defense may fall off some. I know they're trying to duplicate the '03-'04 Pistons, but who is as good as Hamilton, Billups or Rasheed Wallace? Ben Gordon is good and Hinrich may be the best floor leader not named Billups, Kidd or Nash, but those other point guards have a strong supporting cast than the former Jayhawk. Wait a year or two more for when Luol Deng or Tyrus Thomas arrives as a superstar. Then get excited.
5) Los Angeles Clippers (28/1): Sam Cassell makes this team a playoff team, but if Shaun Livingston lives up to the potential that made him the 4th pick of the 2004 draft, he'll make the once-lowly Clippers a championship contender. He's shown signs, including early in the preseason, that could have him challenging Mobley for the SG slot. The depth at forward with Elton Brand, Tim Thomas, Chris Kaman and swingman Corey Maggette could benefit from a two-point guard lineup.
Now for a quick word on long shots that might be worth dropping a 20-spot on a whim, but really present no true chance:
1) Houston Rockets (22-to-1): Let's imagine Tracy McGrady stays healthy, Yao Ming grows a set of balls and the rest of the team actually listens to Jeff Van Gundy, then you might want to think championship.
2) Los Angeles Lakers (33-to-1): If Kwame Brown wakes up on Halloween believing he has become Patrick Ewing and Kobe Bryant decides he wants the team to win the game, not him, Phil Jackson may win number 10.
3) Denver Nuggets (40-to-1): I love these odds. Carmelo Anthony continues to improve. He's the most complete offensive threat from the '03 class and George Karl's team defensive strategy cleans up his deficiencies there. If Nene comes back strong and has the 18-points 10-rebound averages it looked like he might be on the verge of two years ago, Kenyon Martin will be traded for a shooter and this team will make a run.
4) Milwaukee Bucks (66-to-1): I love the way this team is being built, though the season might start rough without T.J. Ford. The little guy brought this team up last year, but they got Charlie Villanueva for him and as long as he stays motivated it should open things up for Andrew Bogut. Michael Redd is a sharpshooter extraordinaire and the inside out combo has this team on the rise.
5) Orlando Magic (75-to-1): Finally a season that doesn't hinge on Grant Hill being healthy. Dwight Howard, despite his big mouth, is legit and will be a force on the glass and down low. Jameer Nelson and Carlos Arroyo are capable of quarterbacking this franchise and J.J. Reddick may have been the best pick in the draft in terms of a team's need. Playoff team, guaranteed. Championship? Only if Darko compliments Howard with 18 and 7.
(All odds courtesy of Canbet)