Friday, September 11, 2009

NBA: The Arms Race to the Top ...

A few days ago ESPN made a pick of who they think will win it all this upcoming season. Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers were chosen as the slight favorites; after all, they still are the defending champs. Needless to say I'm a Spurs fan but with my bias aside, let me try to give you guys a closer look at what I think (or most people think?) are the top teams (or the 'Super contenders' as Tim Varner of 48MoH puts it) that will compete for the NBA crown this coming season.

Let's start with the Los Angeles Lakers:
Projected starting lineup
PG: Derek Fisher
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Ron Artest, will NOT agree coming off the bench. Lamar Odom will.
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Andrew Bynum

Bench rotation
Lamar Odom, Luke Walton , Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell , Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, D.J. Mbenga and Adam Morrison.

Off season moves: They bring back all their pieces from their championship squad (except for Ariza) but they get Ron Artest in return. Most people think that he is an upgrade over Ariza but I'm not on that bandwagon just yet. How will he fit in to the Lakers is going to be key, because right now I don't see him accepting his role effectively as the team's 3rd or 4th option (I could be wrong...). Also, the return of a healthy Andrew Bynum is a welcome news.

Frontcourt: Boasts 3 long limbed big men that can man the paint in Gasol, Odom and Bynum. Pau Gasol proves that he can play tough in last year's Finals and on the posts he is highly effective as he averages close to 57% on his FG's. Lamar Odom seems to accept his role off the bench fairly well his energy and hustle on the boards clearly helps the Lakers cause, but with Artest getting a fair share of his minutes, I suspect his effectiveness and numbers will take a dip. Although he might get more time playing at Power Foward if the Lakers decides to play Gasol at Center. As for Bynum, he needs to stay healthy. He certainly has the talent and skills, but bottom line is he needs his time on the floor and produce consistently to prove his worth.

Backcourt: They have one of the game's best in Kobe Bryant and he finally won his first title without Shaq last year, and his hunger to win another title one is on an all time high. One thing that the Lakers has to improve though is at the point guard position. Derek Fisher is getting old and although he has still some big shots left in him, I think this season they need more productive minutes from Jordan Farmar and maybe Shannon Brown.

They still are the team to beat. They are the defending champs so you have to give them that respect but it's a lot closer than most people think.

San Antonio Spurs:
Projected starting lineup
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Roger Mason Jr. (Manu is one of the best coming off the bench)
SF: Richard Jefferson
PF: Tim Duncan (He's a forward right?)
C: Antonio McDyess

Bench rotation
Manu Ginobili, George Hill , Michael Finley, DeJuan Blair, Marcus Haislip, Malik Hairston, Ian Mahinmi, Matt Bonner, Theo Ratliff and Marcus Williams.

Off season moves: Traded Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto for Richard Jefferson to improved their depth at the SF position. Picked rookie DeJuan Blair in the draft, then added veterans Antonio McDyess and Theo Ratliff through free agency.
Frontcourt: They have one the game's best big man in Tim Duncan(hope he returns healthy). Gets additional post presence and veteran smarts in Antonio McDyess, I also think he's a perfect fit for the Spurs (San Antonio McDyess? anyone?) and luckily picked rebounding machine and 'Space Eater' DeJuan Blair. That's not to mention they have additional depth in players like Ian Mahinmi and Marcus Haislip.

Backcourt: The tandem of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili looks scary; Parker is still on the rise, although we have to see how Manu recovers. Their depth at the backcourt looks good too with an ever improving George Hill, sharp shooting Roger Mason and veteran presence in Michael Finley. The addition of Richard Jefferson provides athletiscm and depth they badly needed at the wing position.

A very talented team on paper, that has upgraded their frountcourt and tremendously improved their athletiscm. How will the new pieces fit in remains to be seen, but looking at how well run this organization is, we have all the reasons to be optimistic. But then of course, the Spurs need a healthy 'Big 3' to be able to get it done. Having said that, when healthy; I like the Spurs chances, but I'm open to the possibility that they might impove their lineup just around the February trade deadline to add another piece if they felt the need.

Boston Celtics:
Projected starting lineup
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Ray Allen
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Kevin Garnett
C: Kendrick Perkins

Bench rotation
Rasheed Wallace, Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, Eddie House, Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen, Shelden Williams, J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker

Off season moves: Signed Rasheed Wallace and Shelden Williams through free agency, re-signed Glen Davis and added backcourt depth after getting Marquis Daniels.

Frontcourt: It's going to be nasty with the addition of 'Sheed as he provides more defense and lenght to the already stingy Celtic's frontcourt. The tandem of Garnett, Wallace and Kendrick Perkins is comparable to the Laker's Gasol-Odom-Bynum combo. They also have considerable depth after re-signing 'Big Baby' Glen Davis and adding Shelden Williams.

Backcourt: They have one of the best young point guard in the league in Rajon Rondon, sweet shooting Ray Allen at the 2 spot, they still have Paul Pierce and have added new comer Marquis Daniels.

Like the Spurs, this teams success depends so much on the health of their main guys most notably Kevin Garnett. I also think that Rasheed will fit in nicely with the C's on and off the court. The addition of Daniels and re-signing of Davis are all important moves as it gives them more depth on their rotation. It could also be argued that this current lineup is better than the 2008 championship team and if healthy, this team could represent the East.

Cleveland Cavaliers:
Projected starting lineup
PG: Mo Williams
SG: Delonte West
SF: LeBron James
PF: Anderson Varejao
C: Shaquille O'Neal

Bench rotation
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Daniel Gibson, Leon Powe, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Daniel Green, Darnell Jackson, J.J. Hickson and Jawad Williams

Off season moves: Acquired center Shaquille O'Neal for forward/center Ben Wallace, a second-round selection in the 2010 NBA draft and cash considerations. Re-signed Anderson Varejao, added Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe and Daniel Green through free agency.

Frontcourt: The addition of Shaq gives them a legitimate post presence (although he is aging already). Zydrunas Ilguaskas can still produce as a backup and hardworking Leon Powe added depth at the Power Forward position.

Backcourt:Mo Williams and Delonte West will continue to man the backcourt, but added depth by signing Anthony Parker. The acquisition of Jamario Moon is intriquing because he will add athleticism and lenght at the wing position (maybe a defender ala Ariza or Pietrus), also Gibson needs to be consistent. And oh! I amost forgot, they got a guy named LeBron James.

For a team that won 66 games last year during the regular season, you would think they don't need to improve right? Wrong! the Cavs struggled in the playoffs mainly because they don't have an answer for Dwight Howard that's maybe the reason for the Shaq trade. IF Shaq can defend the post with consistency, they're in good shape. Otherwise they will encounter the same problems they had last year. Noteworthy additions to this team in my opinion are Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon because they will provide something that the Cavs lacked last season.

Orlando Magic:
Projected starting lineup
PG: Jameer Nelson
SG: Vince Carter
SF: Rashard Lewis
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Dwight Howard

Bench rotation
Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Johnson, J.J. Redick, Jason Williams and Adonal Foyle

Off season moves: Acquired guard Vince Carter and forward Ryan Anderson from the New Jersey Nets for guards Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and center Tony Battie. Re-signed Marcin Gortat, added Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes and Jason Williams through free agency.

Frontcourt: They have arguably the best young center in the league in Dwight Howard, but still he needs to develop his low post moves to be more effective. Gasol looked so good on the defensive end in last season's finale mainly because Howard is predictable (ask Kareem). The addition of Bass is nice as it will allow Lewis to play his normal position. They also retained the services of Gortat, although he seems unhappy with how things played out... But if you're being paid millions just to play 10-15 minutes a game, you should be happy right?

Backcourt:Jameer Nelson will be their point man, although their backcourt looks thinner with the departure of Alston and Lee. Anthony Johnson proved he can play well given the minutes and Jason William provides veteran presence, but I suspect they will miss Lee's thougness and defense. And no matter what most people might think; in my opinion, Vince Carter is an upgrade over Hedo on offense. Signing Barnes added depth at the wing and they still have defensive specialist Mickael Pietrus.

This team beat Cleveland team last year mainly because of defense and mismatches. Reaching the NBA finals for 2 straight years could be tough. But their froncourt looks more formidable with Bass in the lineup and if Vince Carter 'tries' to play his game this team is so dangerous and can give Boston and Cleveland a run for their money.

So who's gonna meet in this year's NBA Finals? that's to early too tell (I'll try to make follow up articles on this topic as the season goes on); chemistry could be an issue and injuries may happen along the way. But if all these teams managed to stay healthy, we could see familiar faces in the Finals. Although we still have to consider the "dark horses" in Portland, Dallas, Denver and Hornets,yes in THAT order...

8 comments:

Bentley said...

I like the in-depth analysis of each "Super Contender" I think they present pretty legitimate points. So here is my take on each team.

I agree that Los Angeles has to be the favorite coming out, but I think one of the first players I would've made sure I kept was Trevor Ariza. They say that Trevor Ariza isn't as offensively skilled as Artest, which I agree with. But I believe he provides more energy and hustle and makes those important plays in which help his team win, as was evident in the Houston, Denver, and the Finals series versus the Magic. I don't think Artest will be able to replace effectively what Ariza brought, because those two don't play the ame type of basketball. So I think if L.A doesn't make it to the finals, its because they let Ariza walk. They did the same to Robert Horry, and when he left, the Lakers stopped winning, not because they didnt have enough talent, but because they didn't have that one role player who could make key plays on offense or defense

We all know the Spurs have a great shot to win. As long as we develop team chemistry and Pop figures out what kind of game he can play with the "new toys" he has, then we will be in great shape come playoffs. But it all rests on whether Ginobili and Duncan can stay healthy. Duncan needs to be close to 20-10, while Ginobili needs to be that slasher and 3-point threat that we're accustomed to seeing. I am so excited for our season.

I think Boston has a great shot to come out of the East because of their veteran toughness. But their aging core could also be the reason why they don't come out. Pierce, Allen, and Garnett have all lost a step and they will need to be healthy, because the Cleveland and Orlando have much more experience, and they're going to be tough outs in the East.

Cleveland will probably be the favorite in the East, they added on to what was a very good team last year that went 66-16(39-2 at home)LeBron will always be LeBron, but the addition of Saq is a huge risk, while he will make penetration harder for opposing teams and provides a decent postgame, he may not be able to guard the movile centers of the league, and might be a liability on the defensive end. This remains to be seen.

Orlando made a great pickup in Bass, who I think is one of the most underrated 4-men in the game, although he is slightly undersized, so he may have trouble guarding the Duncan's and Garnett's of the league. Vince Carter is offensively superior to Hedo, but as of right now I don't think he will be a better fit to the Magic's offense. There are 82 games to change my mind though. Rashard Lewis will be the X-factor, if he has a great season, the Magic will have a great season and potentially repeat to the Finals.

Robby Lim said...

Bentley,

Agree on most of your points, I like your take on the Lakers. If Artest acts up, that's gonna be a big problem.

If you noticed, When healthy, I'm leaning towards a Spurs-Boston Finals... But you do have valid points on Boston's aging core. 'Sheed could be their answer to Howard as he has been effective defending him in the past. And 'IF' KG returns healthy there is a fairly strong chance they'll come out East.

The Spurs window in my opinion is still 2-3 years (and yes it depends on Duncan and Manu's health) also we have to consider how will the new players fit in....
But I don't think Duncan needs to be a 20-10 guy anymore (with all due respect, I also suspect his minutes will be down a bit). I think RJ will pick up some slack on the offense department.
McDyess and Blair can provide some offense upfront and if Ian breaks into the rotation and contribute that's a bonus.

Regarding the Cavs, getting Moon could prove to be just a important as it will provide them added defender on the wing. And with LeBron trying to win a ring with Shaq they could be tough.

Orlando, in my opinion is the most talented team out East and their depth at each position (except point guard)is fairly strong so if their lineup can play as well as they could play....

But you're right, we have 82 games to see on how things pan out... Thanks for the comment I appreciate it... By the way I'm working an article about Parker right now just so you know...

Bentley said...

Your right about Duncan not having to produce those numbers anymore, and I feel as if his defense will be a lot better because now he has a more skilled frontline to surround him.
I'm just confused as in to what the rotation might be. I agree with your starting 5 for the Spurs, and I see Hill, Manu, and Blair coming off the bench...but the rest is a mystery to me.

Getting Moon as a perimeter defender will help the Cavs in some instances. But the reason they lost to the Magic was essentially because they couldn't guard Dwight Howard, so I'm not sure how much they helped their case for the Finals, because if LeBron averaged over 40 a game in that Finals series last year and they lost, what else does he have to do for them to win?

Until I see a few games though, I wouldn't be too sure who's coming out of the East, I'm leaning towards Boston, but I'm definitely not ruling out Cleveland or Orlando.

And an article on Parker would be very interesting

Robby Lim said...

Bentley,
We still have Mason and Finley in the rotation, but after that I don't know either... and I agree we have to see a few games first.
Points to consider in the East:

Cavs: If LeBron can play his game like last year and Shaq can defend the post it's a different story.

Celtics: If KG is healthy, Rasheed fits in as I think he would, Allen continues his sweet shooting.

Magic: Does Dwight develop a reliable post move yet? Can Bass be a reliable starter at the 4? and more importantly will Vince Carter show up? If the answer is yes, yes and yes... then there you go...

Ken said...

Boston will win it all without a doubt!

Robby Lim said...

Ken, Boston is great team if healthy... But I still like my Spurs chances cheers!

Ken said...

We will see, but I'm high on the acquisition of 'Sheed, the way I see it he'd be a great fit. By the way YOUR Spurs missed out on him!

Robby Lim said...

Ken,

I know that... but in my opinion, having McDyess instead ain't too bad and I really think Antonio is a better fit for us...

By the way, thanks for the comments... Keep it coming!