Sunday, October 31, 2010

NBA 2010-11: Stories, questions and awards

Every year around this date I put on a blindfold and throw some darts at a dartboard to help me make some NBA predictions. Who will win the championship? Who will win the individual awards? Will Shaquille O'Neal ever retire?

There are always some stories that fly under the radar. Of course, we know that the last two years saw the Lakers winning the championship and LeBron James earning the league's MVP award. But did you know that the Raptors' Jose Calderon set a major record two years ago -- a record that will probably never be broken!

In the 2008-09 season, Calderon made 151 of 154 free-throw attempts, good for 98.1% percent. The previous record of 95.8% was held by the Rockets Calvin Murphy and set back in the 1980-81 season. In other words, a record that lasted for 28 years was beaten by a pretty good margin. (keep in mind that a player must make at least 125 free throws in order to qualify for records or league-leader status).

In that same '08-'09 season, Rudy Fernandez made 159 3-pointers to set an NBA rookie record, one more than the previous record set by Kerry Kittles in 1996-97. In a neat coincidence, Fernandez and Calderon are teammates for the Spanish national team that won the 2006 World Championship and was runner-up to the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics.

So what will be the big questions this season? Obviously a lot of that focuses on the Miami Heat and their trio of stars. How will they do in their first season together?
Another team to watch would be the defending champs. Can L.A. three-peat?
I won't take the time to go into more detail, but ESPN has a pretty good post with 20 questions for the NBA season.

In keeping with tradition, I will unveil my picks for the NBA's regular-season individual awards.

Most Valuable Player -- the last couple of years I picked LeBron James and ended up being right. This year I am sticking with tradition by going with the safe pick again. That means Kevin Durant is my pick. KD became the league's youngest-ever scoring leader last season and is likely to make it two straight scoring titles. He is also coming off an MVP performance at the World Championships of Basketball, where he was the top player on the gold-medal winning team. While the game's best all-around player, LeBron James, may still be in the running despite playing with two perennial All-Stars, Durant looks to be leading the pack heading into the new season.
Rookie of the Year -- We have the last two No. 1 overall draft picks gunning for this award. Clippers forward Blake Griffin (drafted No. 1 in 2009) is back after missing all of last season because of injury. John Wall, this year's top overall draft pick, looks to lead the Wizards from the point guard position. I see this as a pretty good ROY race, but I will take Wall mainly because he should have an easier time getting opportunities to have the ball in his hands and make plays. While Griffin will likely have to share shots with Eric Gordon, Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, Wall will clearly be the featured player on the Wiz. Gilbert Arenas hasn't played much in recent years because of injuries and suspension, and Washington has cleaned house to start fresh. This means Wall will have the figurative keys to the Wizards' figurative car (sorry, Arenas, JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche).
Defensive Player of the Year -- Dwight Howard appears to be the safe pick. I will go with Superman even though history is technically not on his side. No player has won this award for three consecutive seasons. Dwight could become the first.
Sixth Man of the Year -- I could see a previous winner of this award duplicating the feat. Manu Ginobili apparently is beginning this season as a starter, so that eliminates him from consideration, unless Coach Popovich makes some lineup changes during the season (entirely possible). Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford and Leandro Barbosa are some of the other recent winners. I'll pick the Mavericks' guard.
Most Improved Player -- Ick. How do you predict this one? It usually goes to someone who has a big increase in the role they play for their team, which sometimes has less to do with improvement, and more to do with additional playing time and shot attempts. Whatever. I'll take Reggie Williams of the Warriors (not the one who played with Denver in the mid-'90s). He was called up from the D-League last year and put up some pretty good numbers for Golden State. If this pick is looking stupid at mid-season, feel free to laugh -- but not until then.
Coach of the Year -- This one is a shot in the dark (just like the MIP award), but I'll go with Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls. The first-year NBA head coach was credited as the mastermind of the Boston Celtics' recent defensive dominance when he was an assistant in Beantown. Will see how well he does as the head man of a team with a couple of young stars and some nice offseason additions.

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