One Bold Prediction for Top 20 NBA Stars Heading into 2012-13
By now you've seen plenty of predictions about the 2012-13 season, both concerning top teams and top players.
But the truly bold forecasts, such as those ahead in this slideshow, make you scratch your head and think, "Can this actually happen?"
Well, yes. They all can.
While this article identifies the top 20 NBA stars heading into next season's action, it does not rank them. Please don't think that I'm trying to call Deron Williams the best player in the league.
What it does do is give one bold prediction for each player that will come true by the end of the year.
Note: Derrick Rose will not be included in this article because he is rehabbing at the present. He will undoubtedly be a top-20 player when he returns.
LaMarcus Aldridge Averages 20 Points and 10 Rebounds Per Game
LaMarcus Aldridge has blossomed into one of the best power forwards in the game during recent years, but he's going to take yet another step forward with the Portland Trail Blazers next season.
During the 2011-12 season, the former Texas Longhorn averaged 21.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, both of which were down from his previous campaign. However, that was primarily due to the lingering effects of the lockout and a decrease in playing time. His per-36-minute numbers actually went up.
Aldridge has exceeded 20 points per game during each of the past two years, but he hasn't managed to break past 8.8 in the rebounds per game category.
This is the year where he averages at least 20 and 10.
While Aldridge had to play alongside a notorious rebound grabber in Marcus Camby last year, he's now going to be crashing the glass with J.J. Hickson and Meyers Leonard. The onus will be on him to lead the charge on the boards.
Carmelo Anthony Helps the New York Knicks Win a Playoff Series
The New York Knicks haven't won a playoff series since the 1999-00 season, when they were defeated in the Eastern Conference finals by the Indiana Pacers. They've only won three playoff games since then—two in 2001 against the Toronto Raptors and one last year against the Miami Heat.
Now that he's going to have had a full offseason to mesh with his new and old teammates, Carmelo Anthony will help the Knicks actually advance to the second round of the postseason. That's as far as they'll go, but it's still better than anything that's happened in Madison Square Garden for over a decade.
Melo played with an increased level of defensive vigor while maintaining his offensive prowess during the end of last season.
Expect more of the same in 2012-13.
Kobe Bryant Averages Less Than 25 Points Per Game
Kobe Bryant has been one of the best scorers in basketball since the turn of the century, averaging 28.5, 25.2, 30.0, 24.0, 27.6, 35.4, 31.6, 28.3, 26.8, 27.0, 25.3 and 27.9 points per game since the 2000-01 season and proceeding to the present.
You may notice that he's broken the 25-point barrier during all but one of those seasons, the injury-slowed 2003-04 campaign. Well, get ready to make it two.
One year after sitting out of the final game of the regular season and essentially conceding the scoring title to Kevin Durant, Kobe is going to average just under 25 points per game for the Los Angeles Lakers.
This is not an indictment of Kobe's skills. If anything, he's going to be better next season despite the lower level of output.
Simply put, Kobe doesn't have to worry about carrying the team on offense anymore. Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are all capable of scoring points in bunches—Nash to a lesser extent.
Kobe is one of the smartest basketball players in the NBA. He's fully capable of recognizing that he needs to take a bit more of a backseat.
Andrew Bynum Has a PER over 25
As he's grown slightly more mature, Andrew Bynum has improved his PER during each and every one of the last four seasons.
Now he's going to take a big jump and improve it from last year's 22.9 to at least 25.0. He's going to have to in order to please the relentless and ruthless fans of the Philadelphia 76ers.
While he took a backseat to Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers, the Sixers are almost immediately going to become his team.
Bynum and his fantastic post moves are going to be on full display as he narrows the gap between himself and Dwight Howard yet again.
Kevin Durant Averages over 30 Points Per Game
Kevin Durant has won each of the last three scoring titles, so it wouldn't exactly be bold for me to predict a fourth crown.
Therefore, I'll go a step further and predict that Durant ups his scoring average enough to break the 30-point barrier.
Durant might be surrounded by great offensive weapons in Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but his game is still getting better, hard as that may be to believe.
Utilizing an even more deadly shot from behind the three-point arc, Durant is going to light up the scoreboard on a nightly basis.
Pau Gasol Finishes Second on the Lakers in Assists Per Game
The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to run the Princeton offense quite a bit throughout the season, and when they do, Pau Gasol's importance to the team will skyrocket.
That system requires a versatile big man who can pass the ball with ease to cutters, finding the open man on a moment's notice. Enter Gasol.
One of the more well-rounded power forwards in the league, Pau is perfectly comfortable with the ball in his hands. He'll thrive in the Princeton system.
In fact, Gasol will thrive to such an extent that he'll trail only Steve Nash in assists per game. Last year, he fell short of both Ramon Sessions and Kobe Bryant.
Eric Gordon Finishes 2nd in Scoring
Every bold predictions article needs a boldest prediction.
In his first full season with the New Orleans Hornets, Eric Gordon will score enough points to trail only Kevin Durant in the race for the scoring championship.
Last year, Gordon averaged 20.6 points per game in an extremely small nine-game sample size during his first post-L.A. campaign. If he'd played enough games to be eligible for the crown and maintained his scoring average, then he would have trailed only Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and Blake Griffin.
With increased chemistry and the role of go-to player firmly established, Gordon will average right around 26 points per game. He's that talented on offense, and a jump like that is by no means out of the question as he's only 23 years old.
That average would have left him behind only Durant, Kobe, James and Love last season. With the exception of Durant, the other three players all have more offensive weapons to work with and should experience at least a slight decline in scoring.
Westbrook was the next-biggest threat at 23.6 points per game, then Melo at 22.6.
As I said, this is bold. It's by no means out of the realm of possibilities though.
Blake Griffin Averages 2.5 Stocks Per Game
Using his ferocious dunking ability and deadly spin move, Blake Griffin has proven capable of putting up 20 points per game. He's done so during each of his two seasons in the NBA.
His rebounding is stellar, and his passing game is quite advanced for such a young big man.
Now he just needs to work on his defense. Last season, he averaged 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks per game while constantly getting beat on the low block.
This year, a renewed focus on that end of the court will result in at least 2.5 stocks (steals plus blocks, a stat category created by Bill Simmons in The Book of Basketball) per contest.
James Harden Goes Back-to-Back
Historically speaking, it's far easier to win back-to-back scoring titles, consecutive MVPs or multiple Defensive Players of the Year in a row than it is to take home the Sixth Man of the Year title twice in two campaigns.
James Harden is going to achieve the impossible though, joining Detlef Schrempf and Kevin McHale in this exclusive club.
Unless the Oklahoma City Thunder suddenly start Harden over Thabo Sefolosha, "The Beard" is the prohibitive favorite for the award.
Don't be dissuaded by his lackluster NBA Finals showing; this dude is still a stud.
Dwight Howard Is the Best Player on the Lakers
This is only a bold prediction because of the presence of Kobe Bryant: Dwight Howard will assume the title of "Best Player on the Los Angeles Lakers" by the end of the season.
Obviously, I'm assuming that D12 returns from his back injury at full strength. If he's limited in any way, then The Black Mamba will still reign supreme.
Howard is much younger and still has nearly unlimited athleticism. The offense will start to run through him, and he'll be the true anchor on defense, competing for Defensive Player of the Year once more.
Honestly, I'm not so sure that this is really that bold.
LeBron James Uses Rogaine
LeBron James just enjoyed one of the most fantastic years in NBA history. He won his first title, was named league MVP, won the Finals MVP trophy, won an Olympic gold and was considered for Defensive Player of the Year.
At this point, there's very few sane basketball predictions that would be bold. I could say, "LeBron will win another title, both types of MVP awards and the DPOY," and it wouldn't be that bold.
That's why I'm going a different route.
Bold prediction: LeBron will start using Rogaine, and his hairline will un-recede enough to allow him to ditch the ever-growing headband.
Kevin Love Leads Minnesota Timberwolves to a 7-Game Playoff Series
It wouldn't be bold enough to predict that Kevin Love would lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to the postseason. On the flip side, it would be too bold to say that the Wolves could take down one of the favorites in the Western Conference.
I'm going to boldly play it safe and say that Love's greatness will spur Minny on and allow the team to take their opponent to seven games during the first round of the postseason.
Love is still improving, as hard as that may be to wrap your head around. The Wolves are too.
Led by Love and with a talented supporting cast of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and others, Minnesota is going to be a tough out in the playoffs.
Dirk Nowitzki Watches the Playoffs from Home
I hate to be the bearer of bad news for the Dallas Mavericks, but they won't be making the playoffs in a brutally difficult Western Conference unless Dirk Nowitzki turns the clocks back about six or seven years.
There are only so many spots in the postseason, and there are far more quality teams competing for them.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies are all but guaranteed to advance past the regular season. Six spots down, two to go.
Competing for those final berths in the playoffs are the Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors.
The Wolves stand out in that bunch, and it would be a smart gamble to bet on the Jazz to claim the final spot after the return of Mo Williams.
Tony Parker Averages 20 Points Per Game
It's been four years since Tony Parker broke through the 20-point barrier. Throughout the 2008-09 season, the Frenchman averaged a sensational 22.0 points per contest, the first and only time in his career that he'd done so.
This year, he's going to double down.
Parker has upped his scoring average during each of the past three seasons as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili continue to age.
With declined outputs from this two members of the Spurs' "Big Three," Parker's contributions are going to become even more important and therefore, more common.
He might have to trade efficiency for volume, but it's an adjustment that the point guard who runs the Spurs system to perfection should make during the 2012-13 season.
Chris Paul Averages 20 Points and 10 Assists Per Game
Chris Paul averaged 19.8 points and 9.1 assists per game during his first season with the Los Angeles Clippers, but this year the Staples Center is going to be filled with plenty of 20-point, 10-assist games for the league's best point guard.
That's right—CP3 will up his numbers in both categories and average the elusive 20-10.
The floor general is surrounded by more talent now that Chauncey Billups is healthy and Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford have joined forces with the Clippers.
He'll be able to distribute the ball to a plethora of options, but none of the options are stellar enough to force his control over the rock to diminish. When Paul wants to score, he'll still be able to score.
The 20 points per game is going to be harder to come by than the 10 assists per game, but both are achievable.
Rajon Rondo Makes a 3-Pointer Per Game
It would be too easy to predict that Rajon Rondo leads the league in either assists or triple-doubles.
Let's go with something far more outlandish.
While leading the Boston Celtics to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, Rondo will show off the jumper that he occasionally hit during last season's playoffs. He's going to make at least one three-pointer per game.
The wizard with the ball has never averaged more than 0.2 triples per game in his career and is coming off a postseason in which he made 0.4 per game.
He's going to shoot more as his role in the offense continues to grow. His jumper will grow as well.
Josh Smith Is an All-Star
Josh Smith has been playing at an All-Star level for the past three seasons, but he's still yet to be selected to the squad. He has been quite prominent on the lists of snubs that come out every year, but if anyone could get snubbed from those, it would be J-Smoove.
Without Joe Johnson in an Atlanta Hawks uniform, Smith becomes the leader of this team. Given his attitude and decision-making troubles during the past few years, this might not be a great thing. However, it could be if Smith accepts the responsibility and excels.
Smith's scoring numbers are only going to get better, even if his rebounds go down due to the presence of a healthy Al Horford.
It's going to be awfully difficult to keep him out of the midseason game this year.
Dwyane Wade Makes Fewer Than 10 3-Pointers
Last season, Dwyane Wade decided not to fire away from behind the three-point arc, preferring to slash and shoot mid-range jumpers. He only attempted 56 triples during the season, making 15 of them.
This year, he'll only hit nine or fewer shots from downtown despite having an additional 16 games to work with this season.
As great as Wade is on the offensive end of the court, he's just not an excellent shooter from the outside.
The Miami Heat's number of scoring options is only increasing after the additions of Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen, as well as the expected development of Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers. Shot selection is going to be of paramount importance if the Heat hope to maximize the output.
Part of this maximization process is eliminating the three-pointer from Wade's arsenal.
Russell Westbrook Averages Less Than 3 Turnovers Per Game
If you dig below the superficial stats, Russell Westbrook has actually gotten more and more careful with the basketball as his career has progressed. Although his turnovers per game have fluctuated during his four seasons since he left UCLA, his turnover percentage has declined each and every year.
That means that the number of times Westbrook coughs it up per 100 possessions has gone down. He's being more careful but being used more heavily.
Westbrook will continue to improve his turnover percentage, but he'll do so to such an extent that he finally averages less than three turnovers per game.
The point guard's shooting percentages also indicate that he's showing more selectivity with his game. This is the year that he makes the jump in the turnover department and becomes even more elite than he already is.
Deron Williams Shoots 50 Percent from the Field
Don't let the last few seasons fool you into thinking that Deron Williams is a shot-chucker who's incapable of shooting a high percentage from the field. Instead, try to convince yourself that he's an ultra-talented offensive player who has been forced to shoulder a ridiculously large scoring burden.
Now that he's surrounded by Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and a potentially healthy Brook Lopez, no such limitations exist.
Williams won't have to shoot 17.5 times per game, as he did last season. He'll be far more selective and focus on facilitating for his teammates to a much larger extent. The success of the Brooklyn Nets depends on it.
D-Will is one of the league's best point guards, and he'll prove it this season by shooting at least 50 percent from the field, just as he did five years ago with the Utah Jazz.