Scottie Pippen's 2010-11 NBA picks and predictions
"What is most remarkable to me about Durant’s game is what he does given his size," writes Pippen. "It’s so unique to have a player who is 6-foot-9 with the ability to shoot and handle the ball so well. It allows him to stretch the opposing team’s defense because he can do those things at such a high level." (Stephen Dunn/NBAE/Getty Images)
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By Scottie Pippen | 11.03.2010 | @scottiepippen
The 2010-11 NBA season is barely a week old, but already some very compelling storylines are starting to unfold. After a shaky opening night, the Miami Heat has won three in a row and you can see they are determined to show the league they are contenders. But the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic will be tough obstacles to overcome.
Whereas for many seasons the Western Conference was the stronger one, the Eastern Conference now appears to have the upper hand with three of the top four teams in the NBA. That leads us to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, which to me, are still the team to beat.
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are hungry as ever to come in and win it all again. The most important thing for them this season is to stay healthy. Having been in their shoes as a player, their mentality is to maintain home court advantage throughout the season without exerting themselves too much. They are a team that knows how to win and they may not need to expend a lot of energy on some nights. They will look to control the tempo and do what they have to do to win ballgames. It’s hard to say it being only the beginning of November, but they’re probably just looking forward to the postseason.
We all know about Kobe, his talents, and his leadership, but in some ways, the Lakers’ size is their biggest asset. Pau Gasol is one of the best big men in the game. When Andrew Bynum is healthy, that’s a tough frontline. Factor in Lamar Odom and when that group is on the floor, they’re the best in the business. Quite simply, the Lakers are the team that everyone else is trying to measure up to in terms of being in a position to win a championship.
When you look at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat, they don’t have the complete makeup that you see with the Lakers which will allow them to complete for a title, at least not yet. That’s why I believe the Boston Celtics are still the best team in the Eastern Conference. Miami has a handful of challenges it will have to overcome this season. Lacking a dominant big man is a tall order. It’s also about building chemistry and how well they can play together as a team. We still don’t know what their strong point will be night in and night out. What are they going to do that will cause other teams problems? Right now, we know that LeBron and Dwyane are going to have breakout games. But is that enough for them to win consistently? They’ve yet to prove that. They have to learn how to co-exist on the court and arrive at the right mix which will result in them winning basketball games.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are still the measuring stick of where other teams in the East want to be. They are obviously a veteran team that is older, but they seem to be there every year in late June. Boston has the experience, as well as the personnel. If it wasn’t for a knee injury to center Kendrick Perkins which kept him out of Game 7 in the Finals last year, they could very well be the defending champions. With Perkins on the floor, you never know how that game would have turned out.
You also can’t talk about the top tier teams in the East without mentioning the Orlando Magic. They have the best big man in the conference in Dwight Howard. Teams are constantly trying to find a way to stabilize him and that’s no easy task. Does Miami have an answer for him? Right now, it doesn’t look like it. But that is why the games are played and a lot can—and will—happen between now and April.
Here are a few of my predictions as the NBA season kicks into full swing:
2011 NBA Finals:
Los Angeles Lakers over Boston Celtics
I truly believe the Lakers will be back in the Finals once June rolls around. As for the Celtics, I think they are going to be there as well, if they are healthy. That’s going to be a concern for them down the stretch because they are an older team. It’s not just the Big Three—Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen—they also have Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins and now, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal are part of that mix. It adds to their overall personnel and depth. Given that, along with their size, don’t be surprised if they have a better regular season this year than they did last year.
If the Lakers and Celtics do meet again in the Finals, I’m picking Los Angeles to take the series. But it’s close to a coin toss. Boston gives them a lot of trouble. At the end of the day, though, it’s tough to beat a team when they’ve got two of the best in Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. It makes them almost unbeatable in a seven-game series.
"He was very impressive in the preseason and he’s averaging a double-double through the first week of regular season games," says Pippen of Blake Griffin He’s far from being a one-dimensional player—he’s the full package."
(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)
2010-11 NBA Most Valuable Player:
Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Durant made a strong case for MVP last season. He may play in a smaller market, but this guy has become one of the most exciting players in the league. He’s a great scorer and people will take even more notice of him this season as the Thunder become a contender in the Western Conference. He was the best player on the gold medal winning USA Men’s National Team this summer at the World Championships and he proved that he could excel on a big stage.
What is most remarkable to me about Durant’s game is what he does given his size. It’s so unique to have a player who is 6-foot-9 with the ability to shoot and handle the ball so well. It allows him to stretch the opposing team’s defense because he can do those things at such a high level. He’s a load to deal with and an extremely tough matchup. A lot of teams will try to stick a bigger player on him defensively, but that’s where is speed becomes all the more valuable. Durant is a truly special talent. Again, having the opportunity he did this summer to complete internationally for USA Basketball not only accelerates his development, but adds to his experience and leadership. To do what he did as a young player in a championship setting can’t be taught—it has to be experienced and that will go a long way for him and a lot of those young players. Once you get a taste of success, it’s a hard thing to turn down.
MVP runner ups: LeBron James (Miami Heat), Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers)
In terms of a guy who I expect to take a huge step this season, I like Clippers forward Blake Griffin. He was very impressive in the preseason and he’s averaging a double-double through the first week of regular season games. He’s far from being a one-dimensional player—he’s the full package. He’s got a good set of all-around skills and his talent level is as good as it gets. When you look back at his performance against the Trail Blazers on opening night which aired on national television—remember the Clippers historically don’t typically receive that kind of exposure—he was dominant, finishing with 20 points and 14 rebounds. We’ll see a lot of performances like that from him this season. He’s the real deal and I expect him to make some great strides after missing what should have been his rookie season due to a knee injury.
Other breakout candidates: Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
2010-11 NBA Rookie of the Year:
Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers)
For the same reasons I mentioned above, I’m going with Griffin. He seems that he’s going to be well ahead of his main competition, Wizards guard John Wall. But I really like Wall’s game and you can see that he has a tremendous amount of upside to it. I can’t help but wonder how quickly he’ll develop, though, because of the situation in Washington. He’s sharing the backcourt with Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich, so there is a level of comfort that he’ll have to reach and it may take him some time to adjust. It’s not like two seasons ago in Chicago with Derrick Rose, where the Bulls more or less rolled out the ball and handed him the keys to the team. Rose was the designated point guard and the player the franchise was building around and I’m not sure that is what has been conveyed to Wall. There’s a little bit of a balance in that—on one hand, if his opponent puts a tough defender on him, the Wizards can move Wall away from the ball. On the other, when the ball comes off the rim and a fast break starts, they aren’t automatically looking to get it to Wall. His playing experience throughout his rookie season will be different than Rose’s, in that he won’t be the main player running the team, nor will the team be run through him from start to finish. That being said, he is a true talent and he is still very young.
Rookie of the Year runner up: John Wall (Washington Wizards)
2010-11 NBA Defensive Player of the Year:
Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
With this award, you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it goes to a great shot blocker, while others it goes to a player who can get out on the perimeter and take on that stopper role. I’m going to stick with Dwight Howard, though, because he is a self-proclaimed defensive player who excels at shot blocking and defending the paint. He’s won it the last two seasons and I can’t imagine him not making it three in a row. While Kobe Bryant is a great defender, he doesn’t always get much credit for that area of his game. Some of the new rules with hand checking and eliminating the physical play away from the basket will probably prevent guards or non-shot blockers from winning this award moving forward.
Defensive Player of the Year runner up: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
2010-11 NBA Coach of the Year:
Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls)
The NBA is loaded with coaches who know the game as well as anyone and more importantly, can teach it to their players. Names like Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich and Larry Brown all come to mind. But I have to wonder if someone like Tom Thibodeau could be considered as a wild card in this race. He’s coming into a new situation, having been an assistant coach in the league for 20 years and now getting an opportunity to be head coach. It would be very fruitful for him if the Bulls have Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng out there all having career years. Depending on how things pan out at the shooting guard position and as I wrote in my last column, you may see the Bulls win 50 games this season and that could put him into contention for Coach of the Year. When you look at the Lakers and Celtics, they are more or less expected to win 60 or so games. So I don’t expect them to be judged on their coaching, because they have so much talent. Jerry Sloan, though, has lost a little talent on his Jazz roster, but you have a feeling they will still do well. He has consistently been a coach whose teams overachieve. But I suppose you don’t keep your job for more than 20 seasons unless you do.
Coach of the Year runner up: Jerry Sloan (Utah Jazz)