Kobe Bryant

Top Five: Shooting Guards

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A shooting guard scores the bulk of a team’s points and heavily contributes to his team’s
overall success.  A few days ago, I ranked who I believe are the five best point guards in the NBA.  Now, I will rank who I believe are the best shooting guards.

5.  Stephen Curry- Curry is in his fifth year with the Golden State Warriors.  The 24 year old sharp shooter is averaging 21 points per game, shooting 45.2 percent from three point range.  Curry is the leader of a young, high-powered Golden State team that is on pace to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.

4.  Dwayne Wade- Unfortunately, Wade’s prime is in the past.  The 31 year old has been affected by injuries throughout his career, more notably in the past three years.  However, Wade remains an astonishing player, with two championships on his resumè.  In his 10 year career, Wade is averaging 24.9 points per game along with 6.1 assists and 5 rebounds.  This year, though, Wade is recording his lowest figures since his rookie season.  Come playoff time, Dwayne normally steps-up his game and significantly increases his effort.  Wade and the Miami Heat are first and the Eastern Conference.

3.  Andre Iguodala- In his career, Andre has been averaging 15.2 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. In recent years, the two time Olympic gold medalist has not been playing well. This year, he is only scoring 13.4 points per game and does not put up impressive numbers in other categorites.  He may not put up the highest stats, but Andre Iguodala’s presence impacts the game as much as any player in the NBA.  His defensive awareness and all around effort make Iguodala one of the top guards in the league.  Iguodala is leading an uprising Denver Nuggets squad towards the playoffs.

2.  Kobe Bryant- Over the course of his 17 year Hall of Fame career, Bryant is averaging 25.5 points per game, and three of those years he had averaged over 30.  This year, Kobe is putting up 28.1 points per game to go along with 4.3 rebounds.  Plus, Bryant is starting to pass more than shoot.  At a late time in his tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe is beginning to expand his game even more in order to help his team win ball games.  The struggling Lakers are currently four games back of a playoff spot, as Kobe Bryant attempts to give L.A. a late push.

1.  James Harden-  This may come as surprise to most people.  To me, I see no reason as to why Harden is not the best shooting guard in the NBA.  Last year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden was the guy with the beard who had a tacky celebration after hitting a three pointer.  Now, he has the Houston Rockets on track for a playoff spot.  In just months, Harden has adjusted and matured his game.  He went from averaging 16.8 points per game last season to 25.9 this year.  Harden is also averaging 3.5 rebounds per game and 4.4 assists per game.  He may have the team on his shoulders, but with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, James Harden is trying to carry the Rockets to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

NBA.com
NBA.com

Some notable mentions are Paul George and Joe Johnson, but they are yet to establish themselves as dominant guards in the NBA.  The shooting guard is typically the X-Factor in games, but the NBA has been dominated by the small forward position in recent years.  Next, I will rank the top five small forwards in the league.

Drew Agnello

Is It That Bad?

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When Steve Nash signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on July 11th of last year, Kobe Bryant finally received the true point guard he needed.  After Dwight Howard signed in early August, the Lakers had a roster that seemed to guarantee a Finals appearance.  They would once again run the NBA.  Today, the Clippers have taken over Los Angeles, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the title as the best team in the NBA, and the Los Angeles Lakers have fallen to a 17-24 record.

Metta World Peace believed this Laker team had a serious opportunity to finish with a 73-9 record, never done before in the NBA.  However, that dream was shattered on December 4 against the Houston Rockets, their tenth loss of the season.  Kobe Bryant even said, “Obviously this isn’t working.”  The situation has left many fans of the game scratching their heads, with such a high caliber team, why are the Lakers losing?

Image from Chicago Tribune
Image from Chicago Tribune

The team is fifth overall in the NBA in points per game, scoring an average of 102.6.  They are third in rebounds per game with 45.6.  However, the Lakers turn the ball over an average of 15.4 times per game.  A more notable aspect of the game that the Lakers seem to be struggling with is free throws.  The team shoots an average of 69.4 percent from the line, which is second worst in the NBA.  There have been many instances this season in which missed free throws have cost the Lakers a shot at victory late in games.

Given the offensive struggles, you couldn’t think it could get much worse.  Then you look at the team’s defense.  They are giving up 101.4 points per game, and sport a 1.4 assist to turnover ratio.  With so much size down low, and debatably the fastest backcourt in the division, one still wonders, why aren’t they getting it done?

After 41 games, the answer is simple: the Lakers are not motivated to win.  Their lack of effort on both sides of the ball have cost them numerous games this season.  Those games could come back to haunt the Lakers as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.

Drew Agnello

NBA’s Best Scorer

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As I hopped into conversation with a friend about who is the best scorer in the NBA, it is clear to me that there is not a definite answer.  In my opinion, if LeBron James wanted to average over 35 points per game, he could easily do it.  The difference between James and players like Carmelo Anthony or Kobe Bryant is LeBron doesn’t need to score 30 a night for his team to win.

Scoring title

While Kobe Bryant does lead the league in scoring, I would not have him in my top three for best scorers because of how many attempts he takes.  This makes his stats inflated, averaging 29.7 points and averages 21.5 field goals attempted per game.  When looking at all the scoring categories, one can knock Kobe out of the top spot on the list for best scorer.  He ranks 46th in the NBA for field goal percentage and 59th for three-point percentage.  The stat that really stood out to me was that he was 22nd in free throws. I was surprised because this is a major drop from being one of the top 5 free throw shooters in the league in years past.  Another aspect that has lost his credibility is his post up game.  While he is extremely savvy in the post, when he is playing small forward he is unable to shoot over the top of taller defenders.  I believe this player is a true scorer.

The real “scoring machine” is Kevin Durant.  With Durant winning the scoring title in the past three seasons, it is hard to take the belt away from his this year.  He is currently third behind Kobe and Carmelo Anthony for points per game with 27.9. The difference is Durant’s efficiency. He is currently 16th in field goal percentage. Durant is known for his shooting, but he has made huge strides in cashing in at the free throw line where he is shooting at .904 percent.  This ranks him at 5th in the NBA.  Along with free throw shooting, he is he is 16th in the league for three point percentage.  Durant has been labeled a scorer because of his shooting ability, but if you watch his game closer it is mostly because of his positioning ability.  He is able to anticipate in transition and set him self up for wide open three pointers.  Along with his vision is his height. He is an extremely difficult cover for other small forwards because he is 6’9” and can rise over defenders to utilize his stroke from anywhere on the court.  One aspect of his game I would like to see improve is his offensive rebounding.  He averages less then 1 offensive rebound per game. This is mostly because he is not asked to rebound at the small forward position, but if he were able to get cheap buckets in the paint like Carmelo Anthony, his stats across the board would sky rocket.

You can't go wrong with any of these Gold medalists.
You can’t go wrong with any of these Gold medalists.

Overall, I think LeBron James could be the league’s best scorer, but Kevin Durant still holds the belt in my mind as the best scorer in the league.  An honorable mention is Carmelo Anthony because he can score in bunches better then anyone in the league.  Another scorer would be James Harden because scoring is nearly all he is known for.  With his extended role with the Rockets he has been asked to average over 25 points per game.  The lefty still needs to work on his mid range game.  In the end, I believe Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league, and should be for awhile.

Spencer Montgomery

NBA Superstars and their Superhero Counterpart

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First off, I am a huge nerd, both for the game of basketball and for the world of science fiction. This short piece gives me an opportunity to combine my two favorite things, NBA basketball and superheroes. So indulge yourselves, give it a read, and see if you agree with the comparisons I’ve drawn. If you don’t, there’s always the comments section.

Mr. Fantastic – Rajon Rondo – First, I must include my disclaimer on Rajon Rondo. For the past 4 years you’d be hard pressed to find someone who thinks as highly of Rondo’s talent as I do. I’ve ruined parties and almost friendships because I think he’s the best point guard in the NBA today.  That said, aside from Rondo’s poor 3 point and free throw percentage, he’s nothing short of a fantastic basketball player. Rondo’s physical gifts allow him to do much more than the traditional point guard can.  With his Mr. Fantastic-like 6’9” wingspan, Rondo is able to more with the ball than any point guard we’ve ever seen. Paired with his gargantuan hands (9.5 inches long, 10 inches wide), Rondo is able to pinpoint his passing to anywhere on the floor and gives him the ability to be a menacing on and off ball defender. Don’t believe me? Just check out this Sports Science clip: Sports Science

Daredevil – Russell Westbrook – If there’s any one player that plays with absolute fearless abandon in the NBA, it’s Russell Westbrook. With his menacing dunks and erratic style of play, there’s no better superhero counterpart than Daredevil. He attacks the rim with such ferocity and violence it seems like he has a score to settle with it. He may take more risks that the average point guard, but as we know, higher risks brings about higher reward, and many times we, the fans, reap the benefits.

Captain america

Captain America – Tim Duncan – Tim Duncan, the Big Fundamental, represents all that is good with basketball.  He’s not flashy, he’s not outrageous; he does, however, get the job done. He’s the prime example of how to play the game and play it the right way.  Like Captain America, he’s durable and his superb endurance has allowed him to play at the top of his game since his emergence into the league 15 years ago. At 36 years old, he’s still able to play as one of the elite frontcourt players in the league, but also accepts a diminished role at times, much like Captain America and his role with the heralded Avengers. He is the type of guy you point to and say,  “That’s how you play the game.” Because, honestly, what’s not to love about Tim Duncan?

The Incredible Hulk – Dwight Howard – Dwight Howard is a freak, much like the Hulk. At 6’11”, 265 pounds, he is one of the most feared centers in the history of the league. With a rugged offensive game that focused on powering down his opponents with his inordinate strength and leaping ability, Dwight Howard is a force to be reckoned with. And you definitely don’t want to make him angry, as evidence by his messy break-up with the Orlando Magic and subsequent departure to the Los Angeles Lakers.

lebron-james-315-595x474

Batman – LeBron James – You’d be hard pressed to find an athlete in the history of sports that has had a faster fall from grace than LeBron James. Much like the Caped Crusader in the Dark Knight, LeBron James fell to a role of villainy after his departure from Cleveland. He became the anti-hero of the NBA, a villain in every city he visited except for his new home in Miami. He was, however, the villain the NBA needed at the time. In his inaugural season in South Beach, the NBA saw a meteoric rise in ratings and was once again peaking the interest of the average sports fan once again. Everyone loved hating LeBron, just as the people of Gotham came to hate Batman after he took the fall for the death of their White Knight, Harvey Dent. But after capturing an MVP, a NBA title, a Finals MVP, a gold medal at the Olympics and the coveted Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award all in 2012, James has risen again into the graces of sports fans across the country, like the Caped Crusader did after rescuing Gotham from the wrath of Bane and Talia Al Ghul in the Dark Knight Rises. Much like you should never doubt the Dark Knight, never doubt the resilience and talent of the King, LeBron James.

Iron Man – Kobe Bryant  – There is perhaps no other superstar who is more outspoken and more polarizing than Kobe Bryant, which is why he so perfectly draws a comparison to Tony Stark’s Iron Man. Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy who also takes time to save the world, is never short on his controversial remarks. Kobe has had his fair share of controversial remarks as well, including saying he would rather play on Pluto than be involved in a rebuilding effort with the Lakers after the 2006-2007 season. Like Tony Stark, for Kobe it’s either his way or the highway, and the Los Angeles Lakers have certainly taken note of that in his 16 seasons with the franchise. Along with similar personalities, Kobe also shares some physical Iron Man traits. His most notable is his durability and ability to play through injury. While Kobe does not require an arc reactor or artificial nervous system to survive like Stark, he has played through injuries his entire career. His notables include playing on a bum ankle in the 2000 Finals against the Pacers, suffering through back injury in 2007-2008, toughing out a torn wrist ligament last season, and dealing with a broken index finger on his shooting hand for the past several seasons. If that doesn’t scream Iron Man, I don’t know what else does.

Professor Xavier – Gregg Poppovich – Professor Xavier relied on the powers and abilities of his mind. Gregg Poppovich, with his methodical approach to the game of basketball, possesses one of the greatest minds in the history of the NBA. With 4 NBA championships and 2 coach of the year awards under his belt, Poppovich is truly a maestro of basektball. His emphasizes toughness, patience, and good passing as his keys to success, and after 16 years with the Spurs, it appears as if has found the winning formula.

Hammering Dunks since entering the NBA
Hammering Dunks since entering the NBA

Thor – Blake Griffin – This one was easy. Since breaking into the league in 2010, Blake Griffin has excited fans with his ferocious dunks and brute style of play.  His thunderous dunks and alley-oops resemble the god-like super hero from Norse world of Asgard, Thor. Thor was graced with superhuman speed, strength, agility and reflexes, gifts Griffin possesses on the court as well. Any doubters should ask Pau Gasol, Kendrick Perkins or Timofey Mozgov what it feels like when Griffin brings the hammer.

Superman – Kevin Durant – Thus far in Kevin Durant’s career, he’s proved he’s able to do it all. His ability to score the basketball appears otherworldly and he’s nearly an unstoppable force with the ball in his hands. His gangly figure in no way lends itself to the jacked physique of Superman, but he excels in arguably ever facet of the game. He’s an explosive slasher, a deadly shooter, a lockdown defender, fluid passer, and even recently developed ferociousness for rebounding.  He’s been the clear MVP so far in his 2012-2013 campaign and it seems as if the skies the limit for the Durantula. His kryptonite thus far in his NBA career has without a doubt been LeBron James. During their match-up in the finals last season it appeared as if KD had finally met his match in James, arguably the one of the greatest players to play the game. As the season unfolds, we will have to wait and see if Superman can once again reach the finals and overcome his greatest weakness.

Flash

The Flash – Kyrie Irving – Kyrie Irving, in just one season in the NBA, has become a menace with the ball in his hands. With perhaps the best crossover-spin move in the NBA, opponents need to watch out for Irving when he has the ball in the paint. Much like the Flash, Irving possesses and inordinate speed and quickness, making him one of the elite point guards in the NBA after just one season. So move over Dwyane Wade, there’s a new speedster of the league.

Human Torch – Carmelo Anthony – Much like the Human Torch, Anthony has the ability to heat up offensively, and heat up fast. Anthony is arguably the best pure scorer in the NBA, able to either power down opponents in the post or finesse past them from outside the key. During the Olympics this summer in team USA’s game against Tunisia, Anthony connected on 6 of 6 shots in only 12 minutes of action en route to Team USA’s 47 point victory. In the Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs last year, Anthony erupted for 41 points against a lethal Miami squad. His ability to catch fire has also rubbed off on his teammates in New York as well as the Knicks began the season a perfect 6-0 and remain at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 15-5 record and no losses in Madison Square Garden.

Tommy Randolph

The Rest of the NBA Preview

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for basketball fans at least. The 2012 NBA season opens with arguably the most excitement and parity than any other season in the last decade. Dwight Howard’s debut with the Lakers, James Harden’s debut with the Rockets, the resurgence of a new Big 3 in Boston, and the Miami Heat going for a repeat title performance are just a few of the headlines that will be in the spotlight this season. That said, this has the makings of an exciting season. Let’s go ahead a breakdown the biggest questions for each team after first two weeks of NBA action.

Eastern Conference

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks – Can the Hawks win post-Joe Johnson?

The answer is yes. In fact, the Hawks were able to do some addition by subtraction by unloading Johnson’s huge contract and bringing in some more supporting pieces to surround their dangerous front court of Josh Smith and Al Horford, who is back after missing nearly all of last season. By bringing in Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris they have filled the void left by Johnson. Lou Williams was arguably one of the best players in the NBA coming off the bench last year, Morrow and Korver provide lethal threats from beyond the arc, and Devin Harris is a spark plug who can pick up the offensive load when necessary.

Prediction: 46-36; 2nd in the Southeast, 6th in the East

Charlotte Bobcats – Will the Bobcats remain in the cellar of the league for another season?

I’ll start by saying that the only NBA game I saw in person last year was a match up between the Bobcats and the Hornets in New Orleans. I wish I could say I felt like I was watching a match-up of two young teams moving in the right direction, but I can’t. The execution was terrible, the offense for both teams looked horrendous, and you could tell both rosters were completely devoid of any talent.  To top it all off, I had to endure watching Boris Diaw playing basketball. This game was on March 12th. They Cats would go on to win just one game after the narrow 73-71 victory over the worst of the West. However, after two games this season, the Bobcats don’t appear poised to be the laughing stock of the league once again.  Kemba Walker has begun to show marked improvement after one season and will need to continue to step up to give the team a lift offensively. Henderson, Haywood, Gordon and Sessions appear to be reliable veterans who can help lead the Cats to some additional victories and Gordon will be need to shoulder some of the load offensively.  Finally, experts and fans a like (myself included in both categories) are gushing over the physical skills and talent of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Look for MKG to be a defensive menace this season while he works on his offensive game.

Prediction: 23-59 ; 4th in the Southeast, 13th in the East

Washington Wizards – Will John Wall finally live up to the hype and his projected potential?

With Wall currently out while recovering from a knee injury, all we can do at this point is speculate as to what Wall can bring to the table this season. It’s beginning to seem like that’s been the case every years since he entered the league. Wall has shown flashes of brilliance and leadership at times, but too often follows it up with lackluster performances. Hopefully Wall comes back this year with a refined shooting stroke, along with more leadership and consistency. Only then can the Wizards begin to start moving in the right direction.

Prediction: 27-55;
3rd in the Southeast, 12th in the East

Orlando Magic – Who will step up as the go-to-guy in Orlando?

For the time being, no one will really be the go to guy in Orlando. The Orlando Magic are not completely devoid of talent as some will make you believe, but this is a team that is a couple years away from finding any sort of identity after the Dwight Howard era. Look for the Magic to do away with their remaining assets this season (JJ Redick’s expiring contract, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, or basically anyone else with value left on this team) and start rebuilding. Long story short, it’s going to be a tough year for the Magic.

Prediction: 24 – 58;
4th in the Southeast; 15th in the East

Miami Heat – Can the Heat repeat as champs?

I’ll keep this one short as well by saying, simply, yes. Unless LeBron James suffers some sort of devastating injury or has a catastrophic drop in performance (see 2011 Finals), I don’t see any way that this team doesn’t reach the Finals for the 3rd straight year. There is simply far too much talent on this team. For them not to repeat or at least compete for another title in June would be a disappointment. It will  be up to Eric Spoelstra, LeBron and Dwyane Wade to keep this team focused.

Prediction: 63-19; 1st in the Southeast, 1st in the East

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Northwest Division

Dallas Mavericks – Can the new look Mavericks compete in the increasingly stronger Western Conference?

The Mavs this year have possibly the oddest assemblage of talent of any team this season, with inconsistency written all over it. By signing Darren Collison and OJ Mayo, the Mavs have signed two players with so much talent, but a severe lack of consistency. Elton Brand, Vince Carter, and Shawn Marion are each shells of their former selves, and Dirk is not getting any younger or any healthier for that matter. If this team does make the playoffs, I have a feeling they will be limping into it. However, rookie Jae Crowder may be the spark plug necessary to get this team going. They will certainly need strong play from him in order to keep their head above water while Nowitzki is out with injury. NBA fanatics will be sure to keep an eye on the Mavs this year. You should too.

Prediction: 42-40; 3rd in the Southwest, 9th in the West


Denver Nuggets –
Can the Nuggets finally put it all together and go on a deep playoff run?

Despite starting of the year 0-3, Denver has rattled of four straight, making the Nuggets my dark horse team. With arguably the best compilation of young talent in the league, I would not be surprised to see the Nuggets pose a real threat to Los Angeles and Oklahoma City for supremacy in the West. With the progression of Lawson and McGee, the addition of Iguodala (who is still figuring out where he fits in on this team), and the frontcourt combination of Gallinari, Faried, Koufos and Chandler, the Nuggets could potentially finish with the best record in the conference and with their youth, could outmatch some of the aging talent in the West come playoff time.  Look for Lawson to be the X-Factor for this team all season.

Prediction: 54 -28; 2nd in the Northwest, 3rd in the West

Minnesota Timberwolves – Can the Timberwolves stay healthy enough to have a legitimate chance at a playoff spot?

So far this season the Timberwolves have been without their two stars, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Despite their absence, the Timberwolves have been able to keep their heads above water with a stalwart defense capable of keeping them in close games. This team though has proven to be too injury prone to put all the pieces together at once. I still think this team is a season away from a playoff berth despite their hot start. The West is just too strong this season.

Prediction: 39-43;
4th in the Northwest, 10th in the West

Portland Trailblazers –
Is Damian Lilliard the missing piece the Portland puzzle?

Damian Lilliard has wowed fans thus far this season and appears to be the front-runner for rookie of the year in the first two weeks. His elite play as both a distributor and a scorer gives fans hope for the future in Portland. Don’t be surprised if Portland shows some rapid maturity in the coming months, allowing them to sneak into the playoffs behind the play of LaMarcus Aldridge and Lilliard. On the other hand, their youth and inexperience could lead them to another poor finish in the West.

Prediction: 33-49; 5th in the Northwest, 12th in the West

Oklahoma City Thunder – Can Kevin Martin fill the void left by James Harden?



In terms of point production, Kevin Martin and James Harden are nearly even. But there will certainly be some intangibles that Harden provides that Kevin Martin will lack this season. Harden was able to take pressure off of Westbrook at times with his ability to command the offense from the point. Martin works better in isolation and spotting up for his shot. The pressure will now fall onto Westbrook to be the initiator more often for this team. The growing pains will be there for the Thunder (currently rank 28th in turnovers) but look for the Thunder to hardly skip and beat this season and remain a title contender.

Prediction: 59-23;
1st in the Northwest, 1st in the West

Utah Jazz – Who stays and who goes in the Utah frontcourt?

There’s no doubt the Jazz have a problem on their hands, but in no way is it a bad problem. Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson make up possibly the deepest frontcourt in the entire league. With Favors beginning to live up to expectations and Kanter beginning to show more polish at the center position, look for the Jazz to try to move Millsap or Jefferson before the trade deadline, bringing in perhaps another player at the wing to provide more help offensively for Mo Williams.

Prediction: 46-36; 3rd in the Northwest, 7th in the West

Pacific Division

Sacramento Kings – Where will their next home be?

It seems like a down year again for the Kings, with subpar play on both ends of the court. The Tyreke Evans saga continues as he appears to still be in regression after his rookie season. DeMarcus Cousins still hasn’t learned the lesson of “cooler heads” prevail after his most recent run-in with Sean Elliot, broadcaster for the Spurs. So while the Kings continue to sputter, the biggest question mark is where the Kings will call home in the foreseeable future. Both Virginia and Seattle appear to be the front-runner for the franchise, with the Kings having already been in talks with the governor of Virginia. Basketball purists, however, would love to see the NBA return to Seattle, where there is already a very fervent fan base. In the mean time, look for the Kings to be a bottom feeder of the league this year.

Prediction: 19-63; 5th in the Pacific, 15th in the West

Golden State Warriors – Will Curry and Bogut stay healthy long enough of the Warriors to reach their potential and make the playoffs?

The overall success of this Warrior team will ultimately come down to a pair of ankles, Stephen Curry’s right and Andrew Bogut’s left. Both have proved problematic for both players and this team in the past. Neither has been able to remain on the floor long enough for the team to pick up any momentum and as a result the Warriors have been on the outside looking in for the past 6 seasons. There’s no doubt that this team is talented and, if they can remain healthy, look for them to end their six year playoff drought.

Prediction: 43-39; 3rd in the Pacific; 8th in the West

Los Angeles Clippers – Will the injury to Blake Griffin prove problematic to Lob City?

So far this season, Blake Griffin has shown little signs of his burst bursa sac in his right elbow and his neck strain slowing him down. The fact is, Griffin is one of toughest players in the league and he doesn’t really rely on a deadly shooting stroke to be effective. He still has his legs underneath him and his freakish athleticism. Look for this injury to be a non-issue as the Clippers coast towards the playoffs.

Prediction: 51-31; 2nd in the Pacific, 6th in the West

Los Angeles Lakers – Can the Lakers get all the pieces to fit?

For the sake of having SportsCenter cover something else this season, I hope so. It seems as if everyone but the Lakers is hitting the panic button at this point. The fact is the Lakers will not continue to win 1 out of every 5 games for the remainder of the season. Howard is still trying to find his rhythm with this team, Nash needs to get healthy, and Mike D’Antoni needs to find a way to fit all of these pieces around Kobe Bryant, which will happen as soon as the Lakers get familiar with playing with each other.  Once they do, the rest of the league better watch out.

Prediction: 57-25; 1st in the Pacific, 2nd in the East

Phoenix Suns –Can the Suns find their identity as a team?

The Suns need to figure out what type of team they are in fast. With basically no go to player on this roster, someone needs to step forward if they intend to be in any postion to battle for a playoff spot. The play of Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic will make or break this team. If they begin to reach a breaking point, don’t be surprised to see the Suns management hit the panic button and start from scratch.

Prediction: 24-58; 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the West

Southwest Division

Houston Rockets – Is James Harden enough for the Rockets to make a playoff push?

If they gave an MVP trophy after the first 3 games of the season, James Harden would win it. In the fist3 games this season Harden is averaging 35 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per contest. His numbers have began to steadily decline though since the Rockets hot start, but don’t be surprised to see more stand out play from Harden this season. The rest of the Rockets have had flashes of brilliance as well. Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin have both proved thus far that they may be worth the high price Houston paid for them over the summer. Luckily the season is 82 games long. Look for the Rockets to have some growing pains sometime between now and midseason. That said, the starting five of Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patterson, and Asik may be just enough to push them into the playoff picture.

Prediction: 34-48; 4th in the Southwest, 11th in the West

Memphis Grizzlies – Will the Grizzlies move Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph at some point this season?

While many critics believe that this is going to be the year that the Grizzlies move Gay or Randolph, I don’t believe that to be the case.  This is a young, talented team with proven veterans and a deep bench with young legs. Zach Randolph is the oldest player on the squad at just 31 and, when healthy, shows little signs of any age. Rudy Gay has continued to emerge as one of the best swing men in the league and Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol’s (arguably one of the best centers in the league) consistent play gives them one of the best starting 5’s in the league. Look for the Grizzlies to possibly push San Antonio out of first in the Southwest and grab a top 3 seed in the playoffs.

Prediction: 52-30;
2nd in the Southwest, 5th in the West

New Orleans Hornets – Can Eric Gordon stay healthy long enough to matter?

We have yet to see to the 23 year old Gordon be able to make it through a full NBA season without some sort of health issue. His games per season has steadily declined each season he’s been in the league, playing only 9 games for the Hornets in the his first season in the Big Easy. It won’t be long before the Hornets begin to think about whether or not Gordon can actually help them long or short term. That said, the Hornets have managed to play well thus far, with strong starts by rookie phenom Anthony Davis, 3rd year player Al-Farouq Aminu, and veteran Ryan Anderson. While the Hornets will certainly have some rough stretches this season, they certainly have a bright future.

Prediction: 28-54; 5th in the Southwest, 13th in the West

Phoenix Suns –Can the Suns find their identity as a team?

The Suns need to figure out what type of team they are in fast. With basically no go to player on this roster, someone needs to step forward if they intend to be in any postion to battle for a playoff spot. The play of Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic will make or break this team. If they begin to reach a breaking point, don’t be surprised to see the Suns management hit the panic button and start from scratch.

Prediction: 24-58; 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the West

San Antonio Spurs –
Will the aging Spurs finally show signs of decline?

Poppovich and the Spurs seem to have the winning recipe every single season. This Spurs team appears to have found the fountain of youth year after year after year. Tim Duncan and Ginobili remain consistent night in and night out and Parker is again playing at an MVP caliber.  If Kawhi Leonard continues to steadily improve as well, watch this Spurs team turn heads again this year.

Prediction: 54 – 28;
1st in the Southwest, 4th in the West

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Western Conference -1st Round
(1) Thunder over the (8) Warriors in 5.
(2) Lakers over the (9) Jazz in 5.
(3) Nuggets over the (6) Clippers in 7.
(4) Spurs over the (5) Grizzlies in 7.

Eastern Conference – 1st Round
(1) Heat over (8) 76ers in 4.
(2) Knicks over (7) Bulls in 7.
(3) Celtics over (6) Hawks in 5.
(5) Nets over (4) Pacers in 6.

Western Conference Semi-finals
(1) Thunder over (4) Spurs in 7.
(3) Nuggets over (2) Lakers in 7.

Easter Conference Semi-finals
(1) Heat over (5) Nets in 5.
(3) Celtics over (2) Knicks in 6.

Western Conference Finals
(1) Thunder over (3) Nuggets in 6.

Eastern Conference Finals
(1) Heat over (3) Celtics in 7.

NBA Finals Heat over Thunder in 7

Tommy Randolph