Cameron Larkin .com

Who in #NBA 2011-12?

NBA 2011-12 Preview

The 66th season of the NBA stated with a lockout and resulted in 88 regular season games shortened to 66. It is highly anticipated and expected to be one of the best in many years.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder finished last season with 55 wins, five more than 2009-10, ending with an average of 104.83 points-per-game (ppg) and allowed an average of 101.04 points-per-game to opponents.

Oklahoma City are a young and dynamic team with eight out of their top 12 players being 24 years or younger. Kevin Durant’s team will being carrying greater expectations going into the 2011-12 season and go further come playoffs after dropping out in the conference finals.

As I wrote above, this is KD’s team. This guy is so, so athletic and deadly in transition. He isn’t the most physical player, mostly due to his lean frame, and he struggles to get open against physical and tight defense, but Durant’s reach and awesome skills enable him to consistently record big numbers and have the crowds in awe.

At the point guard (PG) spot, Russell Westbrook has so much potential and even more room for improvement in him that could lift him into the absolute star category. The UCLA graduate who was selected fourth in the 2008 draft, Westbrook needs to improve his shot percentage and selection and bring more consistent of a defensive effort. The PG finished last year with 21.9 ppg (up 5.8 from the season prior), 8.3 assists-per-game (apg), 4.6 rebounds-per-game (rpg) and 1.9 steals-per-game (spg).

The Thunder’s next best for me is their sixth man, James Harden. He is probably the OKC’s best offensive player after KD. Harden has been described as “a poor mans Manu Ginobili.” Awesome with the pick’n’roll and an improving defender, the one area for Harden to focus on is lifting his three-point shooting percentage. When the Thunder made trade moves last season, Harden gained more court time and his scoring average after the All-Star break went from 10.3 ppg to 17.7 ppg … young talent time right here.

The role players in the team are shooting guard (SG) Thabo Sefolosha – a very strong defender who ranked seventh in the SG position in both blocks and steals per minute as well as having the fourth best rebound rate among all SG. Thabo isn’t very good shot, ball handler and mover off the ball but with KD, Westbrook and Harden off the bench, he will provide the solid D.

Power forward (PF) Serge Ibaka averaged 9.9 ppg and 7.6 rpg last season. He is a big time shot blocker who gained his starting position after the Jeff Green trade to Boston. A lot of development here … must improve his post game.

Kendrick Perkins at the center (C) position looks trimmer than last season and will provide a solid post game to the young team if he is at full health.

OKC has a solid bench to assist the stars on the court. I’ve mentioned Harden but he demands another line. Solid big man yet undersized Nick Collison with Maynor, Cook and Mohammed to provide some minutes and support.

If the Thunder don’t make it or win the championship, questions about their ‘no-bid’ for Chauncey Billups will grow stronger. ‘Mr. Big Shot’ would’ve brought in the veteran experience and outside shooting skills.

Los Angeles Lakers

Here’s my question to you all. Who is the Lakers fourth best player? I’ll throw Josh McRoberts up as that player. Wow … the Lakers may be in for a season they haven’t experienced in a very, very, very long time.

The Lakers have several concerns that will limit their ability to win it all. The PG position is the first that comes to mind. Derek Fisher and Steve Blake are the two PGs. In the 2010-11 playoffs, the Fisher/Blake combo was the worst out of all the teams contending for the championship rings.

Andrew Bynum is the second factor. He misses the first five games due to suspension and how many more will he sit out with injuries? Touchwood that the big guy is injury frees this season. Bynum is a huge post weapon and went 72.7 percent in the basket area last season.

What do the Lakers need to win? Kobe Bryant must remain healthy and needs to lead Pau Gasol and Bynum. Their bench stinks and they have to get comfortable with and execute new coach Mike Brown’s new game plan.

Let me finish my discussion on the Lakers by stating that the Lamar Odom trade was terrible. If Bynum goes out, they will be kicking that they traded the 6’11’’ Odom.

Los Angeles Clippers

WOW. How exciting has this team been (in preseason) so far and will they be in the 2011-12 season.

This team went from not being on this list to being one of the main contenders with the acquisition of floor general Chris Paul. Add Billups and the Clippers have an excellent backcourt.

The Clippers lack depth and defenders however their starting five is extremely good. CP3 and Billups at the PG and SG spots, the newly acquired Caron Butler, last seasons rookie of the year Blake Griffin in the four spot and C DeAndre Jordan.

Paul and Griffin are the keys for the Clippers, especially Griffin who will contend for the MVP award.

There is so much to look forward to with this team. Can they finally step out of the Lakers shadows? Only time will tell. Oh and please Mr. Sterling (owner), don’t stuff this up.

San Antonio Spurs

Hello? Does anyone remember us? Let me remind you who we are. The San Antonio Spurs … we won the most game in the western conference last season. Yes we lost in the playoffs but our best player was hurt.

The Spurs will again be around when the playoffs commence and as usual they will quietly be notching up wins. San Antonio is still a highly offensive team who do lack when it comes to defense as well as a big inside. Not having a solid presence cost them in the playoffs when Zach Randolph torched the Spurs. Griffin, Pau and Bynum, Dirk and Greg Oden could pose a serious threat to their potential of making it to the finals series.

We all know what the three stars, Duncan, Parker and Manu, can do night in night out. This year the Spurs will unleash some youth, thus expect more minutes from rookie Kawhi Leonard and 2010 first-rounder James Anderson.

Roles players on this team are Jefferson and Blair. Jefferson may not be there comes playoffs time if the Spurs management decide to get rid of his large contract. With Blair, I refer back to my line about opposing big men hurting the 2007 champs, he is a defensive liability who is undersized and must improve his conditioning. Opposing PFs who lined up on Blair racked up big numbers.

The big question with the ever-consistent Spurs is how much do they have left? This team is still Tim Duncan’s however the most important is Manu and they will need his high tempo play to move further in the playoffs.

Denver Nuggets

A long shot in the west. The Nuggets has the depth with their bench to contend this year. Denver fans will not be seeing Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler and JR Smith as they all signed contracts in China. To go deep into the playoffs, the Nuggets need to bring in another big.

Denver’s biggest advantage is their home court. The altitude factor comes into play and they would be expected to win just under 30 games at home and if they can go just under .500 on the road then their set.

Starters for the Nuggets are Lawson at the point that got his go after Billups was traded. Lawson is a good shot from the outside and even better when driving to the hole. At the two spot is Arron Afflalo, a tough defensive-minded guard who is also an excellent spot up shooter. Danilo Gallinari, Denver’s starting SF at 6’10’’ may well be set for a breakout season, as he will fill the Chandler and Smith void. PF Al Harrington seems to have left his game in New York. His first season with Denver last season was statically poor – his shot percentage was down, turnovers were up, he only had 10 blocks for the entire season and was 58th in the PF position for rebounds. Factor in his large contract, poor condition and when he was on the court, the Nuggets gave up an extra 3.23 points per 100 possessions. Nene fills the C position. He had a career best season in 2010-11 and led the league in field goal percentage. Nene is an unselfish player and solid defender.

The outsider in the west and if they can get home court advantage in the playoffs, watch out.

Dallas Mavericks

The reining champions opted to let Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea walk and instead brought in Lamar Odom from the Lakers. The Mavs are a no-brainer playoff team. I am particularly looking forward to the Odom and Dirk combo – they will certainly cause headaches to rival teams.

Dallas without Chandler does mean that they will more than likely take a hit on the defensive end. They are paying big bucks to Brendan Haywood (why?) and yet utilized the talls on minimum wage to win the finals series.

Coming back for another season is 38 year-old Jason Kidd. Despite Kidd’s numbers dropping last season he still remains a great passer who can hit the three. More importantly, the old stager is a very good defender and held his own in finals series against LeBron and D. Wade.

Vince Carter has entered the lineup at the three spot; Jason Terry and Delonte West will provide points from the bench.

Big picture for Dallas is the 2013 season. They will have the cap space and trade options to target big name players.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Miami Heat

With LeBron, Wade and Bosh all coming back for the Heat, they immediately become a finals series contender. We all know that this team will have a very good regular season, the big question is how will they go in the playoffs and will their performance against the Mavericks in last seasons final series have on them, especially King James?

Pat Riley brought in Shane Battier once the lockout entered due to his defensive skills. He can also shoot from the outside also.

However, the depth question remains … Juwan Howard is the second big off the bench. Norris Cole will more than likely see extra minutes and they do get the heart of the club, Udonis Haslem back after injuries. If any of the three stars get injured then we will see how strong they really are.

The Miami Heat should and will be favourites in the East to make it to the finals series.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls were very good last year and they will need to keep up the intensity plus some to go that extra step come playoffs time. Chicago has the potential to be the leagues second best team.

Can they overcome the Heat? That is the main question that the Bulls players and staff need to think long and hard on how to do that. In last seasons playoffs LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the Heat shut them down.

In the offseason, the Bulls signed ‘Rip’ Hamilton who will add the extra scoring component. Expect improvement from Joakim Noah, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson.

Last seasons MVP Derrick Rose will be another who will augment his skills and show us all why he was awarded the trophy. Recently, Rose signed an extension with Chicago for a further five years. Rose is a dynamic scoring PG, solid rebounder, good defender and outstanding finisher.

Rip will start at the SG spot – a good mid-range shot that is an excellent mover without that ball. Luol Deng, not yet an All-Star but becoming one of the best SF in the NBA, last season cut down his turnover rate and shot more three pointers and defensively, it was his best yet. Deng is also a strong rebounder and will be vital to the Bulls run into the playoffs.

For the Bulls to win the East, PF Carlos Boozer must improve from last season and pull down more rebounds and pick up his defensive game. Offensively, Boozer is solid, he is a productive four man but Chicago will need to call on him to lift. Boozer missed 23 games last season due to injuries.

Another who sat out with injuries is Noah, who missed 34 games. The former Florida Gators college star continued his development and is becoming a very solid C. He ranked tenth in rebound rate among others in the C position. Noah doubled his rate of steal and improved his shooting percentage. The big man is a good defender who regularly helps out his teammates.

Taj Gibson, a key yet underrated factor in Chicago’s rise last season is solid on the boards, a good shot blocker and would average a double-double if starts, will be joined by Bogans who will hit the threes and Asik as a back-up C to come off the bench.

It all comes down to those around Rose however. In the series against the Miami Heat, Rose was heavily targeted and the result was a Heat ticket into the next round. Chicago must plan for this.

Boston Celtics

Chris Paul didn’t want to join the big three of KG, Piece and Ray Allen. David West Chose the Indiana Pacers. Now Jeff Green (Celtics back-up three man) is out of the entire season with an injury related to his heart.

This Boston team is veteran, they’re old however highly experienced and still very productive and competitive. The shorter season will help this team.

The C’s acquired Brandon Bass just before the preseason in a trade where they sent Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis to the Magic. Boston probably won that trade. They need more and will most likely see more from Jermaine O’Neal on his effort last season.

For Boston, defense is key. Last season they tied for 17th in offensive efficiency. A big positive for Boston is that they signed their most valuable free agent, coach Doc Rivers.

Just like Dallas, the Celtics will be better next year. They will have the cap room to play with and with two first round draft picks, Boston will build and build well I am predicting.

Orlando Magic

This is what the fans and Orlando management should be repeating. We must keep Dwight Howard. We must keep Dwight Howard. We must keep Dwight Howard.

Otherwise, they have no hope. Also, Howard needs to play at MVP level.

I enjoy watching Jameer Nelson play, a very good PG from his days in college and now in the NBA he has delivered. The Magic requires more steals per game from Nelson in the 2011-12 season.

Jason Richardson at the two provides value however last season J-Rich had career lows in points and rebounds per minute in 2010-11. A must improve for Orlando.

SF Turkoglu continues to see his stats decline.

Glen Davis, acquired in the Boston/Bass trade, is a poor rebounder and must pull down more plus he doesn’t block enough. As I mentioned earlier, Boston won the trade.

The key for Orlando is at the C spot … Dwight Howard. A dominant physical force who overpowers opponents and an awesome defender who has been awarded the leagues best defensive player three times. If they lose D-12, the lose big time.

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