2005 NBA Basketball Preview
The NBA season has arrived once again and we see more of the same. The Western Conference will continue to dominate and will win the NBA championship next summer. Some players have moved, which will alter the preseason power rankings a bit, but not much. I look for teams like Golden State and the Chicago Bulls to come of age this season, while the Denver Nuggets should push San Antonio for the regular season top seed out West. Miami and Detroit are once again the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference. There are interesting story lines all around the NBA. Phil Jackson returns to coaching and it will be interesting to say the least to see how he does this go around. There will be no stocked rosters for him this go around but one thing will remain the same – Kobe. The most crippling loss of the season was Joe Johnson to Atlanta. The Suns now have a gaping hole on the perimter and along with the loss for much of the season of Amare Stoudamire, will make it very tough for the Suns this year.
San Antonio Spurs– San Antonio did not need to get better this off-season, but they did. They added Michael Finley at the two. While Finley is on the downside of his career, he is still an elite shooter and all around scorer at hist position. He will come off the bench in San Antonio. Argentinian star big man Fabricio Oberto joins Ginobli, and should quickly develop into another premier post player for the Spurs. This team is simply loaded and can beat you in so many ways. Barring injuries, they should win another NBA championship.
Detroit Pistons– Chauncey Billups has developed into the premier point guard in the NBA, and his supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at. Detroit was only a couple of plays away from winning the NBA championship last summer, and the NBA’s most blue collar team will put themselves in position to contend again this season. Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace provide mental and physical toughness, which seperates them from the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Denver Nuggets– This may be a bit bold I know, but no team was better than the Nuggets after George Karl took over as coach last winter. The whole team is back and has a great chemistry on the court. The front court of K-Mart, Camby, Nene, and Najera is the deepest and most agile in the league. Melo is in the best shape of his professional career and look poised to take the next step into elite status in the NBA. One question surrounds this team. Nene is a free agent at the end of the year, and if the team stays healthy along the front line, do not be surprised if they deal Nene and a guard to add a dynamic two guard along the line of Paul Pierce which has been previously rumored. Denver should run away with their division but will again have their hands full with the Spurs in the playoffs once again.
Miami Heat– Miami added Antione Walker this off-season to try and ease some of the scoring burden from Shaq and Dwayne Wade. This is Wade’s team and this is something to keep your eye on. Walker is an absolute ball hog, and will chuck it up from anywhere on the court. This move could backfire on the Heat if Walker can’t get along with Wade and Shaq.
Teams That Will Disappoint
Philadelphia –Allen Iverson and Chris Webber…nuff said right? Not so fast. This team has two superstars but very little grasp of the team concept of basketball, and they have been horrific on defense and from the perimeter which has killed them the past two seasons. The talent is present to contend in the East but Webber has not looked healthy since his arrival in the City of Brotherly love. If he is healthy, the Sixers should improve, but if not, they’ll likely struggle once again this season.
Los Angeles Lakers– Kobe’s team is now Phil’s team and that alone has many in Los Angeles thinking in the clouds heading into this season. There are way too many holes on this roster as of now for this team to truly contend this season. Phil and Kobe’s differences are well known, and we see this as a looming cancer for this team. Kobe is a great player but he thrives when he is not the only go to player on the court. He struggles mightily last year at times and I see more of the same this season. Jackson’s presence should help the Lakers into the playoffs but I see an early departure in round one.
Teams that will Surprise
Golden State Warriors –This could be the year when the Warriors finally return to a sort of prominence. They were a good basketball team after they acquired Davis last year in a trade, and have added some additional nice pieces to the puzzle in Monta Davis, Aaron Miles, and Chris Taft. Jason Richardson will continue to provide points and hi-lites on a nightly basis, but this team will only go as far as Baron David takes them. He may be the most underrated player in the NBA. I see big things from him this year, and the Warriors could be great value plays early on this season.
Indiana Pacers– This is not much of a stretch, but the fight is finally passed this team, and Artest, who is the heart and soul of this team, is back. As a result, Indiana will once again contend for the Eastern Conference crown. Reggie Miller has been replaced by Saranas Jaskevicious, who has been the best player in Europe for two years. You may remember him torching the US Dream Team in the last Olympics for over thirty points…twice. Newcomer Danny Granger should fit right in and makes the Pacers front line very formidable. David Harrison looks ready to be a major contributor as well. This team has all of the pieces and it will be interesting to see if they can put it all together. They have some strong peronalities in their locker room and how those personalities mesh will likely determine the outcome of their season.
G – Saranas Jaskevicios – The Lithuanian guard is finally playing in the NBA much to the delight of Pacers fans everywhere. Not so much for the rest of the league.
PF – Fabricio Oberto – Argentinian star joins pal Ginobli and should have an instant impact with the Spurs this season.
C – Andrew Bogut – Utah center will provide Milwaukee with some instant scoring punch down low. He may take more time but he’ll be a good one. One of the more athletic big men to come out in a long long time.
Top Ten Players
Allen Iverson –Can score from anywhere on the court and has a knack for taking away the basketball in bunches. Without him, Philly is a mess, with him, they’re still a mess.
Manu Ginobli –Last seen acting like a soccer player in last year’s NBA playoffs. This guy is easy to dislike, but he is one hell of an all around basketball player.
Tim Duncan –The best center in the game right now. He has developed a nice offensive game and alters a ton of shots on the defensive end as well.
Tracy McGrady –Easily the most complete offensive star in the game today. He consistently rains down forty foot three pointers and can take it to the rack with the nest of them. If there is a knock on his game, it comes on the defensive end.
Kobe Bryant –Hate to do this, but he has tremendous skills on the court, and being a jackass as a person, has nothing to do with basketball. Kobe is one of the best players in the NBA, and plays at a high level on both ends of the court.
Dwayne Wade –Last year was his coming out party, as he looked better than Kobe did when he won two titles alongside Shaq. Wade will only get better with maturity, and last year’s playoffs was a great learning experience for him. Very reminiscent of Michael Jordan in many aspects of his game.
Shaquille O’Neal –O’Neal is a special player and a special person as well. He is the heart and soul of the city of Miami and has been there a little over one year. When he is healthy, there simply has never been a more dominant player in the history of them game. The free throw line is another matter.
Steve Nash –Nash took the reigns of a very talented Suns team last year and led them to a wonderful regular season. Gone is Joe Johnson, and Stoudemire is now hurt as well, so we’ll learn a lot about Nash this season. But he made some amazing plays last season, and makes every player around him better with this presence.
Baron Davis –This may be a bit of a strecth but I love Davis and what he brings to the Warriors. He is a complete offensive player with a deft touch from the outside, but he can also dish it out around the goal as well. He should have the Warriors in the playoffs this year, a place they would not be without him.
Western Conference Finals
San Antonio over Denver in Six
Eastern Conference Finals
Indiana over Detroit in Seven
San Antonio over Indiana in Six
With the Spurs regaining the crown after a one-year hiatus, Tim Duncan also re-established himself as the pre-eminent player in the NBA. But is No. 21 the top fantasy prospect for the 2005-06 season? Here’s a look an in-depth look at the top six players you cannot pass up and the rest of the players worthy of a first-round pick.
1) Kevin Garnett SF, Minnesota— Latrell Sprewell: gone. Sam Cassell: ditto. So who does that leave for Minnesota to rely on? None other than the manchild Kevin Garnett. K.G. will be without the talented supporting cast he had in years past, but also will probably have less headaches as Latrell and Sammy skipped town. That means huge fantasy stats for one of the league’s best power forwards who should not only see his point totals rise, but will be out to prove to the entire league that he can be the player to lead the T-Wolves to the next level, with or without an all-star backcourt. Garnett’s numbers were definitely top-five worthy last year, but the former MVP is heads above the rest just because he will be for the most part doing it all alone and will relish being the man again in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
2) Tim Duncan PF, San Antonio— Normally, I would be taking the Tim-Robot with the first pick, but unlike Garnett in Minny, he is not the team’s only viable option. With the all-star caliber emergence of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and the additions of Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel, the Spurs have more firepower than ever and may not need to rely on the back of Duncan so much. That doesn’t mean he still won’t be averaging 20 and 10, but I’d expect a lot more games where there could be other Spurs leading the team in points scored and taking the burden off T.D. as the focal point on offense.
3) Shaquille O’Neal C, Miami— Remember when Shaq was the lock for the No. 1 pick every year if the ping-pong balls fell in your favor? Well, he’s still a top-three option, nobody can fill up a stat sheet like the Diesel, and no one can be as dominant. But he has shown some wear as he’s gotten older and with Dwyane Wade staking claim as not only the best player from the ‘03 draft (no offense to LeBron James), but one of the best guards in the league, the Shaq-Fu is no longer needed to score as much as in the past. Throw in J-Will and Antoine Walker chucking up threes from every spot imaginable in America Airlines Arena and Shaq’s offense numbers should see a dip. Plus, there’s always free throws, but if you don’t mind the .461 shooting from the charity stripe, than he will more than make up for it with his career averages of 12 rpg and 2.5 bpg.
4) Tracy McGrady SG, Houston— So what if he’s never led a team out of the first round of the playoffs? If he’s still there in the first round and the big three are gone, then T-Mac should be your pick. He’s reportedly been working out like a madman in the offseason and no matter how much attention Yao Ming gets down in H-Town, McGrady is the top player for the Rockets. He should not only challenge for the scoring title, but see assists go up as he and Yao should work more cohesively in their second season together. Imagine a player who averages 25+ ppg, over 6 rpg, and nearly 6 apg who is only getting better. Yikes!
5) Amare Stoudemire PF, Phoenix— If a lot of big men go first, then you might be tempted to quickly snatch up Amare, but that may not be such a bad thing after all with his 26 ppg and 8.9 rpg averages last season. Forget the comparisons to K.G. or any other power forward — Amare is on his way to creating a class of his own, grabbing rebounds and dunking over everyone and everything on his way. Though some teams should catch up to Phoenix and not be so caught off-guard by their style of play this year, Amare should be just fine filling in stats across the board. Plus, he has never been that injury-prone and at 22, he may even be a safer pick than some of the older veterans.
6) Dirk Nowitzki PF, Dallas— With two of the Big Three gone in Steve Nash and Michael Finley, Dirk is the only player left from a Mavericks team that came within two games of the NBA Finals three years ago. It’s hard to ignore a man who averaged 26 and 9 last year. The Mavs have a lot of young firepower and Dirk will be relied on for many of the points, but could suffer some wear and tear with Doug Christie and Jerry Stackhouse trying to pick up the slack instead of Fin-Dog and Nashty.
7) Kobe Bryant SG, Los Angeles Lakers— So it wasn’t that easy in LWS (Life Without Shaq). But despite the awful win total, Kobe straight put up buckets night in and night out last year and with Zen Master Phil Jackson returning, his game should only get better. I wouldn’t expect great assist totals, but he just may end up with the scoring title and Phil will get every last amount of energy out of him to see his totals rise in other areas, as well. Not bad for a 26-year-old averaging 27 and nearly 6 and 6.
8) LeBron James SG, Cleveland— What do you do after your team completely collapses in the second half of the season and misses the postseason for the seventh straight year? You come out swinging and determined the next season and expect LeBron to continue to live up to the hype, especially now that he has the best supporting cast around him that he’s had in his pro career with the additions of Donyell Marshall and Larry Hughes. His assists should go up with valid scoring options Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas returning and his other offensive stats should do nothing but improve as he will be looked to carry the team scoring-wise in ’05-’06.
9) Jermaine O’Neal PF, Indiana— Ron Artest said he should have been MVP two years ago and if it wasn’t for the catastrophe that the Pacers roster underwent last year (and Jermaine‘s vicious overhand haymaker), he could have been the MVP last season. This year the former Trail Blazer bench warmer will take over the reigns as leader with Reggie Miller gone and should put up great numbers on both sides of the ball. A revamped Pacers roster with the return of Ron Ron should take some of the load off Jermaine, but that shouldn’t ward you off from selecting him if available. The kid is pure all-star material each season, putting up over 24 ppg and 8 rpg.
10) Jason Kidd PG, New Jersey— A lot of picks could round out the first round, but with every other position taken, it might not be a bad idea to select the best point guard available. With no disrespect to Nasty Nash, Jason Kidd will be the best PG option this season. With a healthy R.J. and Vince Carter, those alley-oops will be more frequent at Nets games than Joe Piscopo sightings and those months of rest this offseason should allow J-Kidd to fully recover from his knee injuries. That means almost double-digit totals in points and assists, more rebounds than any other guard in the league, and one of the top free throw percentages in the NBA.
Big Ben gets rebounds and blocks, Paul Pierce is one of the most dangerous scoring threats in the league, and the Matrix can do just about everything, but Jason Kidd should see a re-emergence to his form when the Nets ruled the East. .