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October 26, 2010
2010-11 NBA Preview
Our Picks

by Bradford Doolittle and Kevin Pelton

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The 2010-11 NBA season tips off tonight with a TNT double-header (featuring the debut of the new-look Miami Heat) and one other game. Just in time, Basketball Prospectus NBA analysts Bradford Doolittle and Kevin Pelton make their predictions for the season and player awards.

Division Winners

Atlantic - Boston
Central - Chicago
Southeast - Miami
Southwest - San Antonio
Northwest - Portland
Pacific - L.A. Lakers

Kevin Pelton: To the extent divisions matter--which is to say, not much--the races look interesting this year. Even Miami should be pushed by Orlando, while SCHOENE disagrees with two of my picks (the veteran Celtics and Lakers).

Atlantic - Boston
Central - Chicago
Southeast - Miami
Southwest - Dallas
Northwest Ė Oklahoma City
Pacific - L.A. Lakers

Bradford Doolittle: Youíre right--this may be the last time I consider divisions until we do this next year. Iím going against NBAPET in three races. My system actually has Milwaukee edging out Chicago in the Central, which I donít agree with, but itís not the most outlandish projection in the world. My simulations also had New Orleans winning the Southwest and Denver the Northwest. Iíve got a feeling about Dallas this year. The Mavericksí depth should make them a terrific regular-season team. I guess you have to pick Miami, but this list leaves off Orlando, which could end up with the leagueís best record.

Worst Team

Detroit Pistons
Detroit might have less upside than any other team. What exactly is the hope for the Pistons? That Tracy McGrady returns to All-Star form? That Greg Monroe becomes the team's best passer from the center position? Detroit is short on talent, and the talent that is on hand does not fit together.

Toronto Raptors
Detroit is in a bad position, canít argue with that. Just to be different, Iíll go with Toronto, the worst team in my simulations. From the roster to the coaching staff, this is a franchise primed for a fall. The Raptors are relying on players to step into roles for which they are not ready.

Most Surprising Playoff Team

Cleveland Cavaliers
Unless there are more trades in store, I simply do not understand the notion that the Cavaliers are going to be one of the league's worst teams. WARP benchmarks LeBron James' value at 25 Wins Above Replacement. The Cavaliers had the point differential of a 59-win team last year. That suggests Cleveland would win about 34 games even if all of James' minutes went to replacement-level talents (and Jamario Moon is better than that). Add in the heist of Ramon Sessions, J.J. Hickson's development and a defense that ranked second in the league on a per-possession basis in the preseason (per John Schuhmann's power rankings) and I think there's a chance the Heat could face Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. Wouldn't that be fun?

Philadelphia 76ers
My system didnít really project a ďsurpriseĒ team, but Iíll go out on a limb and take the Sixers for one reason: Doug Collins. They werenít very good in the preseason and I expect them to get off to a slow start, but Collinsí presence ensures that theyíll eventually be a good defensive team. Theyíll struggle for points, but theyíll get better on that end as the season progresses and Collins figures out how his pieces fit.

Most Surprising Lottery Team

Atlanta Hawks
Since even Steve Nash admits he'd pick the Suns to miss the playoffs, I suppose having them in the lottery is not all that surprising. Instead, I'll go with Atlanta. As I wrote in the debut of my new weekly Trends Watch feature, Larry Drew is risking trouble by fixing an offense that wasn't necessarily broken. With key impending free agents (Jamal Crawford and Al Horford, who still might get extended by Nov. 1) and Joe Johnson's big new contract on the books, I could see the Hawks blowing things up if they struggle in the first half of the season.

Denver Nuggets
There is so much uncertainty around the Nuggets, Iím not sure that you can call this a surprise, because part of my selection here is based on the feeling that Carmelo Anthony is headed elsewhere. Thatís something everyone already expects to happen. Still, the range of possibilities for the Nuggets is as wide as any team in the league, running from title contention all the way to lottery land.

Eastern Conference Finals

Miami over Orlando
Matchups could loom large in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Magic wants no part of the Celtics and a healthy Kendrick Perkins. I see Boston finishing fourth or fifth, which would mean a second-round showdown against the Heat and allow Orlando a much easier path to the conference final. The Magic could make a series against Miami very interesting, but ultimately I think the Heat's top-heavy roster would prevail..

Miami over Boston
A boring pick, I know, but there just seems to be an air of inevitability about the Heat. Iím really torn about Orlando. Itís hard to find reasons not to like the Magic, and it wouldnít be a surprise to me if they end up emerging from the East. I donít anticipate that the Celtics will be as disinterested in their seed this year, so I see Orlando-Boston in the second round. Tough call, but Boston is the team Miami will have to get through.

Western Conference Finals

San Antonio over Portland
While I don't think they will struggle anywhere near as much as SCHOENE suggests, I do think this is the year the Lakers' reign over the Western Conference comes to an end. As David Locke pointed out to me, just twice in NBA history has a team won its conference at least four consecutive seasons. That's not to say the Lakers won't do just that--a big reason why is that few teams win their conference three years in a row--but mileage has added up, combined with the Lakers' advancing age. Without the luxury of coasting through much of the regular season, will the Lakers be able to play at the same level during the postseason? Perhaps not. While I think the Blazers are the best bet to knock off the Lakers (they've long matched up well with L.A., especially at the Rose Garden), I'm not sure Portland is quite ready to reach the NBA Finals. Instead, I'm going with a San Antonio team that had the conference's second-best point differential, should have Tony Parker back healthy and made the biggest upgrade of any West power with the addition of Tiago Splitter.

L.A. Lakers over Oklahoma City
I would love to pick against the Lakers again, but I think this season for them could be similar to the last of the Kobe/Shaq championship teams. They might not be the top seed in the West and might be in a pack of three-four teams in the West entering the playoffs. But theyíll survive, then knock off an emergent power like Oklahoma City in the conference finals.

NBA Finals

Miami over San Antonio
While I cautioned yesterday that the Heat is still less likely to win the championship than to lose it on paper, Miami remains the favorite. Barring injury, the Heat's big three will achieve its goal of winning a title together sooner rather than later.

Miami over L.A. Lakers
You know the execs at ABC are already drooling over this possibility, right? (Thatís the same line I opened this section with last year.) I hate making this pick. Hate. Hate. Hate. Because I so donít want this to happen, thatís exactly why I think it will. There are plenty of good basketball reasons to pick against Miami, but in the postseason, I just think the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade combo is going to be too much to overcome. After this, the rest of the NBA will spend the next five years trying to figure out how to knock off the Heat.

MVP

Dwight Howard, Orlando
Yes, the media would love to vote for Kevin Durant, but his team has to cooperate. If the Thunder fails to gain ground in the Western Conference--something that appears quite likely based on last year's injury luck--that will make it hard for Durant to win MVP. If Dwight Howard shows any offensive improvement this year after working with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer, it's easy to see a storyline that would favor him over Durant and a third consecutive award for LeBron James.

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Havenít they already given this award to Durant? The LeBron vs. Durant storyline is already in motion and itís only going to gain momentum from here. Durant will win because the voters will squint hard to find reasons why he makes the Thunder so much better; theyíll do the opposite for James, who nonetheless will remain the worldís best player by a good margin.

Rookie of the Year

Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
This is convenient: I'm using last year's answers as a formatting guide, which allowed me to leave my ROY pick intact. As we detailed last week, all the numbers favor Griffin winning this award if he stays healthy. He finished just outside the league's top five in preseason WARP.

Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers
What you said. The guy is ready to step into a consistent, productive role. John Wall may have a Brandon Jennings-like effect on the Wizards, but the statistical difference will be too much for him to overcome.

Defensive Player of the Year

Dwight Howard, Orlando
Howard has entered the stage of his career where he will be the Defensive Player of the Year until further notice. Unlike the '90s, when several excellent defensive centers passed the award around, it's hard to see a serious challenger emerging to Howard any time soon.

Dwight Howard, Orlando
As long as he remains healthy, I donít see anyone beating Howard for a few years either.

Sixth Man Award

Corey Maggette, Milwaukee
I could see Maggette's preseason injury becoming an excuse to use him as instant offense from the bench in a sixth-man role that could suit his skills well. Maggette ranks second in projected scoring among guys who are likely to come off the bench, which should bolster his chances. The lone player ahead? New Orleans' Marcus Thornton, who could be devastating in the same role but was abysmal during the preseason.

Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers
I always have a hard time with this award. Iíll go with Odom, because heíll end up starting fewer that half of the Lakersí games but will again be an essential part of the Lakersí success, perhaps more so than usual this season.

Most Improved Player
Anthony Randolph, New York
I'm largely done with this award, but if I must pick someone, give me the darling of both statistical analysts and connoisseurs of potential.

Austin Daye, Detroit
As always, I target a second-year player for this award. Last yearís top rookies were all pretty accomplished, so much so Iím not sure how much theyíll be perceived to be ďimproved.Ē Iíll go with Daye because he didnít have a great rookie year, but has looked good in preseason and was handed a starting job by John Kuester.

Coach of the Year

Avery Johnson, New Jersey
If the Nets get into the playoffs a year after losing 70 games, Johnson has to win this award, right? He'll benefit from a favorable comparison to predecessor Kiki Vandeweghe as well as the improved talent the Nets have amassed.

Monty Williams, New Orleans
My system thinks the Hornets will be really good. Most people arenít so high on them. When results beat expectations, you have a Coach of the Year candidate. Williams should fit that bill, especially since he goes into the season as an unknown quantity.

First Coach Fired

Jay Triano, Toronto
This is a hard choice this year, since most coaches seem safe by virtue of being new to their positions, their track record of success or the likely performance of their team this year. Triano might be the easiest guy to scapegoat if his team struggles early, which is possible for the Raptors.

John Kuester, Detroit
I actually agree with you about Triano, but IĒll still offer up Kuester. Once itís apparent that Joe Dumarsí rebuilding plan still isnít paying dividends, itíll be time to deflect blame. I just donít think Kuester has the presence youíd like to see in an NBA coach.

Executive of the Year

Pat Riley, Miami
I'm not sure this one needs a lot of explanation.

Pat Riley, Miami
Ugh.

The 2010-11 Pro Basketball Prospectus is now available in paperback form on Amazon.com. For sample chapters and more information, see our book page.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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