NBA Preview: Top 15 Storylines for the 2010-11 Season
Coming off of the most hyped offseason in NBA history, it's now time to settle in and get ready for the actual games.
The NBA saw a lot of shakeup this offseason, not just with all of the superstars who switched teams, but a lot of other free agents left their teams and numerous other trades took place.
We're set to witness the most fascinating regular season in NBA history.
With all that in mind, let's explore the top 15 storylines in detail, as we prepare for the upcoming 2010-11 NBA season.
15. Kobe Ascends All Time Scoring List
Kobe Bryant will probably find himself sixth on the NBA’s all time scoring list by the end of the season.
5. Shaquille O'Neal 28,255
6. Moses Malone 27,409
7. Elvin Hayes 27,313
8. Hakeem Olajuwon 26,946
9. Oscar Robertson 26,710
10. Dominique Wilkins 26,668
11. John Havlicek 26,395
12. Kobe Bryant 25,790
Bryant has averaged roughly 2,350 points per season the last five years. If he posts that number this season, Bryant will find himself sixth all time, within 200 points of where former teammate Shaquille O’Neal is now.
Though it’d be quite difficult to pass O’Neal this season, Bryant will pass him eventually and may even break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mark by the time he retires.
Prediction: Kobe Bryant will score more than 2,200 points this season and reach sixth all-time comfortably.
14. Will Carlos Boozer Be the Difference in Chicago?
Carlos Boozer joins Chicago from Utah to team up with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Boozer will miss the first few weeks of the season after breaking his hand in early October. In the meantime, Rose and Noah will look to manage a reasonable start while Boozer recovers from surgery.
The Bulls qualified for the playoffs last season as the No. 8 seed but did not retain coach Vinny Del Negro.
Now under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls will look to maintain some carryover from last season in order become a postseason mainstay.
So can the Bulls come together under Thibodeau, and accommodate Boozer effectively to make another playoff appearance?
Prediction: Carlos Boozer starts every game when he returns from surgery, and the Bulls win 46 games and grab the No. 5 seed in the East.
13. Is Dwight Howard Ready to Make the Next Step?
Basically, what I want to know is Dwight Howard’s ceiling.
Already in his six seasons as a pro, Howard led the league in rebounds and blocked shots per game and won the defensive player of the year award the past two seasons, been named to three straight first-team All-NBA selections, earned three straight top-five MVP finishes, and led the league in total rebounds the past five seasons.
Definitively the best center in the league, is it possible for him to do more?
The Magic have averaged just fewer than 57 wins the past three seasons, led by Howard, who has posted a 19-14 with 2.5 blocks per game.
Meanwhile, LeBron James effectively secured the league MVP the past two seasons because in the rare event he plays poorly on a given night, the Cavaliers lost.
Dwight Howard isn’t to that point.
So can he elevate his game to the point where the Magic struggle to win if he doesn’t play well? Even though already Howard is putting forth historically great seasons for a center, can he become even more valuable?
Prediction: Dwight Howard finishes 2nd in the MVP voting, leads the Magic to the No. 2 seed in the East, and posts per game averages of 19 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks.
12. New-Look Jazz, Same Old Story
The Jazz had a bit of turnover in the offseason.
Gone are Carlos Boozer, Wesley Matthews, and Kyle Korver, but the team added Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, and Gordon Hayward.
But one of the most stable franchises in sports should have no trouble maintaining success, as the Jazz look to continue their dominant play at home.
Don't forget about Deron Williams, one of the league's top points guards, and Jerry Sloan, one of the game's best coaches.
Prediction: The Jazz will win 51 games this season and earn the No. 4 seed in the West.
11. Blake Griffin Unleashed
The former Oklahoma star lost his entire season in 2009-10 due to a stress fracture in his left knee and is set to make his NBA debut for the Clippers next week.
His return is being slightly overlooked. Much of the rookie hype surrounds Wizards point guard John Wall, yet Griffin was the more productive college player.
Griffin is one of the best big-man athletes currently in the league. He’s not a great basketball player; he’s a great athlete who plays basketball.
There’s nothing wrong with that, because Dwight Howard is the same way. And he’s the best player at his position. I’m not ruling out that ceiling for Griffin either.
Prediction: Blake Griffin finishes second in the Rookie of the Year voting, and posts season per game averages of 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 1.5 steals.
10. Are Tim Duncan and the Spurs Done?
In the Tim Duncan era, the Spurs have never won less than 50 games (with the exception of the lockout 1998-99 lockout season).
Last season, the Spurs won exactly 50 and were swept by the Suns in the second round.
Duncan, who will be 35 by season's end, is slowly but surely declining, both health-wise and statistically.
The Spurs insist they have one more championship run in them, but we'll find out soon enough.
Prediction: The Spurs slip under 50 wins, grabbing the No. 7 seed in the West after a 49-win season.
9. How Far Will the Thunder Go?
After a 27-win improvement from 2008-09 to last season, the Thunder realistically could finish as high as No. 2, or maybe even the first overall seed in the West, depending on whether the Lakers drop off any.
Remember, last season in the West, the top eight teams were only separated by seven games. So let’s say the Thunder win five more games than last season, and the Lakers lose three more games, the Thunder finish ahead of the Lakers with 55 wins. Not completely impossible, right?
After watching Kevin Durant lead Team USA to the gold medal in the FIBA World Championships this summer, many believe he emerged as the best player in the league. Maybe so, but despite whatever improvement Durant shows over last season, he needs to be able to elevate the play of his teammates.
Credit is due to coach Scott Brooks and GM Sam Presti, for managing this young team full of quality role players.
I’ll temper the lofty expectations for this team and for Durant slightly, but the Thunder will be one of the top four teams in the West this season.
Prediction: Kevin Durant leads the Thunder to 53 wins and the No. 2 seed in the West, en route to winning the MVP and the scoring title.
8. Gilbert Arenas/John Wall Saga
The prospect of these two players in the same backcourt wouldn’t be as intriguing had Arenas not missed most of last season due to suspension.
But since he was suspended, we’re not sure where Arenas is basketball-wise and how he is going to adapt to Wall as his backcourt mate.
Meanwhile, Wall is now the guy for the Wizards, and Arenas can’t do anything about it. Wall is now going to be an endearing figure to Washington, D.C., much like the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin is.
So can the Wizards sneak into the playoffs if Arenas and Wall mesh right away and became a legitimately dangerous backcourt?
Prediction: Wall wins Rookie of the Year, and Arenas has a pretty good season, leading the Wizards to 33 wins and 10th-place finish in the East.
7. Can Amar'e Stoudemire Lead the Knicks to the Playoffs?
Amar'e is excited to be in New York, and New York is excited to have Amar'e.
The question is, will those sentiments amount to a playoff berth this season?
The Knicks haven't made the postseason since 2004 and haven't won a playoffs series since the 2000 second round.
They've added Raymond Felton and Anthony Randolph, and could possibly be adding Carmelo Anthony midseason. Either way, the Knicks are more than capable of making the playoffs:
Prediction: The Knicks win 38 games and earn the No. 8 seed in the East.
6. Will Carmelo Anthony Finish the Season in Denver?
After The Big 3 settled in Miami in July, much of the NBA talk the rest of the summer centered around Carmelo Anthony trade rumors.
Likely destinations are New York, Houston, New Jersey, and Orlando, in no particular order.
Anthony has an Early Termination Option on his current contract after this season. And after declining a $65 million contract extension, he is likely to exercise that option.
The Nuggets have been in trade discussions throughout the summer to try to get some value for Anthony if they believe he'll leave after this season.
Nothing to this point, however, is certain, and Anthony remains in Denver for now.
Prediction: Carmelo Anthony will be traded to the Knicks in early December.
5. Can the Celtics Make Another Deep Playoff Run?
Despite a lackluster regular season by the Celtics in 2009-10, they made a valiant playoff run, coming with minutes of winning an NBA title against the Lakers in June.
The original Big 3 remain, Rondo is ready, and Doc Rivers is still at the helm.
Boston added a pair of O'Neals, Shaquille and Jermaine to bolster its interior, as starting center Kendrick Perkins will miss some time recovering from an ACL tear.
The Celtics have never lost a playoff series with Rondo, Perkins, Allen, Garnett, and Pierce as their starting lineup.
Will that trend continue or will their playoff success halt this season?
Prediction: The Celtics enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the East and lose to the Heat in the conference finals.
4. Lakers Go for a Three-Peat
The team that is going for a three-peat is flying under the radar heading into this season.
The Lakers, seeking their third consecutive NBA title, are clearly not the biggest storyline in the 2010-11 season.
This season is of historical significance for the Lakers.
With a title this season, the following is in play:
- Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher claim the most titles won (6) as a Laker
- Phil Jackson passes John Kundla for most titles won as Lakers head coach (6)
- The Lakers tie the Celtics for most NBA titles as a franchise (17)
A three-peat is historic on many other levels. It is a rarity in modern sports, not so much in basketball, as we've seen three in the past two decades, but what an accomplishment nonetheless.
Prediction: The Lakers win the Finals against the Heat to clinch a three-peat.
3. Miami's Pursuit of 73 Wins
Believe me, the Miami Heat need not more hype than they’re already garnering, but their chance to win 73 games is legitimate.
The Heat will be in pursuit of the record for most wins in the regular season, 72, set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
The reason this storyline isn’t No. 1 is that it may not apply all season. As soon as they lose 10 games, this is no longer a relevant storyline.
The Heat are capable of breaking the record, however, though I don’t think they will. It depends largely on how healthy the team is throughout the course of the season and on whether the organization actually makes a concerted effort to break the record.
So while I think the record is in danger, ultimately I don’t think the Heat break it.
Prediction: The Miami Heat post a 65-17 record this season.
2. Who Wins the MVP?
Entering this season, we have one of the most fascinating MVP races in league history.
The reigning MVP, LeBron James, has a new team and a new set of circumstances around him. Will he be able to adapt quickly and maintain his MVP form, or will someone else overtake The King as the league’s top player?
The preseason favorite is Kevin Durant, and the usual contenders are there in Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Dwight Howard.
Prediction: Kevin Durant wins the MVP after leading the Thunder to another 50-win season.
1. How Will The Big Three Fare in Their First Season?
After months of speculation, we get to find out how exactly the Heat will fare in the first season of Wade, James, and Bosh.
In LeBron and Wade, you have two of the top four players in the league, and with Bosh you have one of the top power forwards in the game.
Together, can they mold their talent into a championship season?
Prediction: The Heat win 65 games, earn the No. 1 seed in the East, and lose to the Lakers in the Finals.