Sunday, December 25, 2011

Guide To The 2011-2012 NBA Season

(Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Durant and the Thunder are the team to beat in the West.  Their season begins
when they play the Orlando Magic on Christmas Day.

Welcome to the official 2011-2012 guide to the NBA season. The season kicks off Christmas Day with five matchups featuring the best teams in the league. In this guide to the season, all 30 teams will have a quick preview, as well as answers to who will win MVP and ROY. Predictions will be made for conference winners, and all final lingering questions will be answered.

First off is a preview of every NBA team. The system will go as follows: Title Contenders, Next in Line, Past Their Time, and Few Years Away.

Western Conference:

Title Contenders

Dallas Mavericks: No better way to start off then with your defending champs. The Mavericks will pick off where they left off last season, and can make a serious push to win back-to-back titles. The Mavericks lost Tyson Chandler, who signed with the Knicks, but also gained Lamar Odom from the Lakers. They also lost JJ Barea, but as long as Jason Kidd stays healthy, they won't need too much help at point. If Dirk can compete at the same level as he did last year, the Mavericks are bound for success.

Oklahoma City Thunder: This year's favorite to win it all, according to the media, is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Leading the Thunder could be this season's potential MVP, Kevin Durant, who has led the league in scoring the past few years. Durant will get a lot of help this season from his teammates Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins, and James Harden. Harden is the preseason favorite to win 6th Man of they Year this season. His efficiency per minutes played ranks in the top 20 in the league. The Thunder were two wins away from advancing to the Finals last season, but this season could go all the way.

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs might have lost last year in the first round of the playoffs, but don't be surprised if Duncan and the gang make one final push come May and June. Manu Ginobili, who might of been the best player on the team last year, was injured late in the season for San Antonio. If the Spurs don't deal Parker mid season, and rest Duncan to give him energy left in the playoffs, the Spurs are serious contenders for the title as usual.

Los Angeles Lakers: The final team of this section, the Los Angeles Lakers, are still contenders despite a sloppy offseason. This offseason was marred by trades, and lack of trades by Los Angeles. First it looked like the Lakers were getting Chris Paul from New Orleans, but after the trade was vetoed, they were forced to deal an angry and betrayed Lamar Odom to Dallas. Kobe Bryant didn't have a great offseason too. Not only did Kobe's wife recently file for divorce, but the Lakers superstar tore ligaments in his wrist. Nonetheless, Kobe will be Kobe on the court, and will continue to be one of the most clutch players in the league.. Two keys for the Lakers this season are how healthy Andrew Bynum will be, and how the Steve Blake/Derek Fisher point guard situation will work out. Despite a terrible offseason, it's impossible to rule out the Lakers when talking about winning.

Next in Line

Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers got heartbreaking news when they found out Brandon Roy was retiring due to career long knee injuries. They also were told that Greg Oden could be out again this season, but then again that is no surprise. Good news for Portland is that they have one of the best power forwards in the league in LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as the NBA's most underrated and hardworking athlete, Gerald Wallace. The Trail Blazers also signed Jamal Crawford over the offseason. Portland doesn't have a star player, but they have 7-8 guys who can seriously ball.

Memphis Grizzlies: Just like Portland, the Grizzlies don't have a star but they have a ton of guys who can make serious impacts on the team. The Grizzlies have one of the best starting five's in the NBA. Zach Randolph had a spectacular postseason for Memphis last year, and if he can carry that talent on to this season, the Grizzlies will be in great shape to make a deep playoff run.

Los Angeles Clippers: Winners of the 2011 NBA offseason, the Clippers will have a huge turnaround this season. They were 18 games under .500 last season, but could be at least 10 games over .500 in a shortened season. It will be super exciting to watch Chris Paul put on a clinic, and throw spectacular passes to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers swept the Lakers in the preseason, and even though it is the preseason, it still says a lot. If the Clippers can finish out better than the Lakers, they will finally come out of their "big brother's shadow".

Denver Nuggets: Just like Portland and Memphis, the Nuggets do not have a star ever since losing Carmelo Anthony, but have one of the deepest rosters in the league. Even with Kenyon Martin, JR Smith, and Wilson Chandler stuck overseas, the Nuggets still go nine guys deep. Danilo Gallinari is set to have a breakout year, and help Denver lead the league in scoring again.

Past Their Time

Houston Rockets: The Rockets got awful news this offseason when they found out their franchise player, Yao Ming, retired. The Rockets are somewhat led by Kevin Martin and Luis Scola, but the Rockets are trying to ship both players and start from scratch. Just a few years ago, the Rockets were playoff contenders year in and year out, but now their glory days are behind them.

Phoenix Suns: The only reason the Suns don't win less than 30 games each year is because of Steve Nash. Due to the shortened schedule, the Suns are bound for an under 30 win season, but in comparison to the rest of the conference, they will be in the bottom half. Just two years ago, the Suns were two games from advancing to the NBA Finals, now they will be lucky to finish in the top 10 of their conference.

New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets could fall under the Few Years Away section, but what separates them from the rest, is the fact that they have seriously competed in past years. That being said, the fun playoff times the Hornets had under the Chris Paul era are now over, as Eric Gordon and a bunch of role players will try to win some games. The Hornets aren't as bad as every thinks; they still have Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman, Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack, and a bunch of youth. Either way, New Orleans was 10 games above .500 last year, and will probably find themselves at least 10 games below .500 this year.

Few Years Away

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves are in better shape than all the rebuilding teams in the Western Conference, and are only a year or two removed from being playoff contenders. The Twolves had a great offseason, bringing in JJ Barea, finally getting Rubio from Spain, and drafting Derrick Williams. Kevin Love will be the next KG in Minnesota.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz lost Deron Williams last season, and lost a few more players this offseason. The Jazz have some talent on the team, and shouldn't finish in the bottom third of the West, but definitely aren't a playoff contender. The Jazz need to find themselves a new superstar, as well as turn their young talents Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, and Enes Kanter into future stars.

Golden State Warriors: The Warriors have one of the youngest and most offensively talented teams in the league, but they play no defense whatsoever. New coach Mark Jackson will try to enforce some defensive tactics this season, but odds are they won't work. The Warriors will not win games with Monta/Steph. Trading one of them for a defensive big man (D12?) seems like a smart option.

Sacramento Kings: Well, at least they have Jimmer. The Kings are by far the least talented team in the Western Conference, but at least they have a bunch of young stars. Boogie Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Jimmer are all exciting young players to watch, but truth is they won't be winning too many games. It's good that the fans of Sacramento are loyal, and that they fought for them to stay in Sacramento, but those fans won't have too much to root for these next few years.

Eastern Conference:

Title Contenders

Miami Heat: The Heat had very few excuses to why they didn't win it all last year. This year they have none. There is no reason why Miami shouldn't win the NBA Finals this year. They have two of the top five most talented players in the league right now, as well as a top 10 big man. As long as LeBron doesn't choke, the Heat have to be huge favorites to win it all this year.

Chicago Bulls: If anyone is to beat the Heat in the East, it's Chicago. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose is still bitter over their loss to Miami last year, and will do anything to get revenge. Two big key for the Bulls this season are whether Carlos Boozer can return to all-star form, and whether Rip Hamilton can be a serious upgrade at shooting guard. If both keys for Chicago work out the way they should, the Bulls have a great shot at winning their first title since the Michael Jordan days.

Next in Line

New York Knicks: The Knicks are borderline Title Contenders. The only problem with the Knicks is that coach D'Antoni might play Amar'e and Carmelo too much to make a statement in the regular season, and totally burn them out when the playoffs come around. Signing Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis this offseason were huge pickups for New York, and raised their title stock higher. The Knicks aren't just quiet ready this year, but starting next year, the Knicks will serious NBA Finals contenders.

Boston Celtics: The Celtics technically fall under the category Past Their Time, but they are still playoff contenders, therefore, are next in line after the Title Contendes. The original Big Three + Rondo are still together, but are on their final legs. A key for Boston this season will be their health. With Jeff Green already out for the season, the Celtics need to keep Garnett, Pierce, and Allen all healthy and set for the playoffs, where they can do their damage.

Atlanta Hawks: The only offseason move for the Hawks was switching Jamal Crawford with Tracy McGrady. The Hawks find themselves in the same situation every year: Not good enough to make a deep playoff run, but not bad enough to miss the playoffs, especially in the East. The Hawks season really depends on Joe Johnson. If he can return to the all-star form he was playing at, before his huge contract, the Hawks can finally take their next step in the playoffs. Josh Smith and Al Horford make a great front-court for Atlanta, it's whether or not their guards can keep up.

Philadelphia Sixers: The Sixers aren't ready to make a deep playoff run, but are one of the better teams in the East. Jrue Holiday is becoming a top point guard in the league, and can lead the Sixers into the playoffs again. The Sixers have a great supporting cast of Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, and the always explosive Andre Iguodala. Although Iguodala could be dealt before the deadline, the Sixers are still on the rise.

Indiana Pacers: The Pacers took a huge step this offseason in signing David West. The Pacers have put the pieces together over the years, and have formed one of the deepest rosters in the league. Think of them of the Grizzlies of the East. A starting five of Roy Hibbert, David West, Danny Granger, Paul George, and Darren Collision is as deep as it gets. Add in Tyler Hansbrough and George Hill off the bench, and you've got a very legit seven man rotation. In a shortened season, a deep roster is very important to keep legs fresh.

Past Their Time

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons are a mess. They won't admit to rebuilding yet, but aren't anywhere close to making the playoffs. Just a half decade ago, the Pistons were the best team in the East and won an NBA title, hard to believe. The Pistons have a few bright spots on their team, but ultimately are overshadowed by dark, fading spots.

Orlando Magic*: The Magic get a * by their name. If Dwight Howard stays, and if the Magic can even bring in another role player, the Magic jump from Next in Line, to possible Title Contenders. Dwight Howard means so much to the Magic and does practically everything except rack up assists. Even as it is now, the Magic have a pretty good supporting cast of Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Glen Davis, JJ Reddick, and the overpaid Hedo Turkoglu. If Dwight leaves though, the Magic will have seen their better days in the past, and are bound for years of rebuilding.

Few Years Away

Milwaukee Bucks: Probably the best team on this list, the Milwaukee has an outside shot at making the playoffs, sadly. The East is so bad that the 6-8 seeds are always a toss up. That being said, the Bucks are far from being a more than average team in the league. Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings make a fun pair, but they are far from being an above average one, two punch.

New Jersey Nets: The soon to be Brooklyn team's future depends on whether or not Dwight Howard joins them. If Dwight joins, him and D-Will become one of the top pairs in the league. If Dwight doesn't become a Net, Williams will likely opt out of his contract (even though he says he won't), and New Jersey will be doomed for another five years of failure.

Toronto Raptors: The Raptors have never been special, ever since the days of Vince Carter and his cousin T-Mac. Even through the Chris Bosh period, the Raptors were never an elite team, but instead a borderline playoff team. The Raptors are turning in the right direction though, and have a bright future ahead.

Washington Wizards: The Wizards could get another top pick in the draft this year. Instead of signing someone who can help John Wall, the Wizards drafted Jan Veseley, who looks like he's scared every time he touches the ball. The Wizards didn't sign anyone important int he offseason, but kept on to Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche. Great job by the GM!

Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs will need more than just a few years to return to a playoff team. It was great to see the Cavs get two top five picks in the draft, but the team doesn't have close to enough talent. Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson will be exciting to watch, but the team needs more time and more talent to return to normalcy.

Charlotte Bobcats: Don't be surprised if Charlotte lands the top pick in the draft next year. Right now the Bobcats will star a 6'8 Boris Diaw at center, along with Corey Maggette, Gerald Henderson, DeSagana Diop, and D.J. Augustin. At least they will have Biyombo and Walker coming off the bench, and eventually starting by mid-season. The Bobcats need help, and they need it soon, or else they might need to kiss their NBA butts goodbye.

MVP Candidates: No surprise here, these five players have been around for a while, and have separated themselves from the great to the elite.

Kevin Durant: Durantula has to be the frontrunner for the MVP this season. He is finally ready to completely take over the league, and not only lead the league in scoring, but lead the league in wins, and lead his team to a title. The sky is the limit for Durant, who can score at will from anywhere on the court. His shooting touch combined with his length and agility makes him one of the most versatile players in the league.

LeBron James: James is the most talented player in the league, no doubt, but sharing with Dwyane Wade has to lower his stock. If the Heat go completely nuts this season, and blow everyone out of the water, LeBron will win his third MVP.

Dwight Howard: If Dwight stays in Orlando, leads them to a top five seed in the East, and dominates down low, Dwight will deserve the MVP. No one is "more valuable to their team" than D12. He is the best rebounder, shot-blocker, and low post scorer in the league. If he truly puts all his effort into a game, he can't be stop. No big man in the league has the size, strength, speed, and athleticism to stop Dwight Howard.

Chris Paul: Paul and the next candidate are the two best guards in the league. CP3 is very capable of posting a 20-13 this season, now that he has Griffin and Jordan to throw passes to. Not only will Paul's new team reflect how valuable he is, but his old team, the Hornets, will show how much they miss him. The Clippers and Hornets could have the two biggest turnarounds this season in the win/loss column. 

Derrick Rose: Repeat MVP? This one is unlikely, but if Rose picks up where he left off last season, he will prove to be the best guard in the league. Rose is a better scorer than Paul, and is physically bigger, tougher, and stronger. Paul might better passing abilities than Rose, but Rose is just as flashy and can take it to the basket better than anyone. If the Bulls win the East again, why shouldn't Rose repeat. Nash did it and didn't even lead the Suns to the top seed.

ROY Candidates: This one is not as easy to predict as the MVP. The 2011 rookie class has no stand out superstars, but instead a bunch of guys who have bright futures ahead.

Kyrie Irving: The obvious preseason favorite for the award, the top pick in this year's draft could follow in the footsteps of Griffin, Rose, and James by winning the award after going #1. If Kyrie can lead the Cavs and make them his team, he deserves it.

Tristan Thompson: Irving's counterpart has just as great as a chance to win the award. Many criticized the Cavs for drafting Thompson, and considered the pick a reach, but the Candian and Longhorn standout can prove the critics wrong with a big rookie season. To go along with Irving, if Thompson can post 16 points and eight rebounds a game, he could walk away with the Rookie of the Year. That could be asking for too much, but with no one else to score down low for Cleveland, a lot of pressure is on Thompson.

Kemba Walker: Walker led UCONN to the title last year in March Madness, but UCONN wasn't close to the best team. The Bobcats are arguably the worst team in the entire league, but Walker could get great opportunities to make the team his. Charlotte would love to take Walker under their wing, and make the him the next best scoring guard in a few years.

Derrick Williams: Definitely the most athletic player in the draft, Williams size, speed, and skill makes him a threat right away. Minnesota's depth might have him coming off the bench early in the season, but Williams should make his way into the starting five by the time the season ends. If the Twolves somehow pull off the eight seed in the West, Williams or Rubio should win the Rookie of the Year.

Eastern Conference Finals: Heat vs. Knicks

The Heat making it is a no brainer, the Knicks on the other hand, is not.  With the Celtics aging, the only other threat to make the finals are the Bulls. This one could be risky, but something tells me the Knicks will either not have to play the Bulls, therefore allowing the Heat to knock out Chicago, or they the Knicks will just out duel them. That being said, I think the Heat will beat the Knicks in six, and advance to the NBA Finals. Unless something goes extremely wrong, there is no way, LeBron is screwing this one up again.

Western Conference Finals: Thunder vs. Lakers

The Thunder are favorites to win the conference, but the Lakers are a surprise pick. With a lot of experts picking the Mavs, Blazers, or even the Clippers over the Lakers, a lot of them are forgetting that the Lakers still have the best fourth quarter player in the league. They are also forgetting that Lamar Odom came off the bench, and that the Lakers still have a big three in Kobe, Pau, and Bynum. The Lakers struggle at point guard, but that doesn't matter when Kobe takes over in crunch time. As for the Thunder, they have the best scorer in the league, to go along with a top point guard. Perkins had a great offseason, and along with Ibaka create some force down low. Ultimately though, I like the Lakers to return to the Finals. No one is better than Kobe when it comes to facing criticism. Ever since he was told he couldn't carry a team when Shaq left. Kobe responded with a scoring title, an MVP, and two rings. Durant and the Thunder have an extremely bright future ahead, but they will still need one more year before they can advance to the NBA Finals.

That pretty much sums up the 2011-2012 NBA upcoming season. I hope this guide to the season answered a few of your remaning questions about the season. 

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