Thursday, October 23, 2014

10 Bold Predictions for the 2015 NBA Season

The 2014-15 NBA season is finally (almost) upon us. And what NBA blogger or sportswriter starts the season without some bold predictions? This isn't going to be like Zach Lowe's predictions column for Grantland where Cleveland leading the league in points per possession counted and Indiana missing the playoffs counted as bold. Enough with the introduction, let's get straight into the meat of some predictions that will make you raise your eyebrows more than once BUT will be supported with more than a desire to jump on or off a team/player bandwagon...

San Antonio will not be a top-three seed

I pulled a Gregg Popovich and may have outsmarted not just him, but also you, with this pick. After all, when you’re dealing with Gregg Popovich, you have to think at least ten steps ahead. You thought that I’m picking against the Spurs with this prediction…but I’m not. Popovich is the master of the regular season and the post-season. He’s like the Mamba of coaches (who took home almost every coaching award in the annual NBA GM survey). He waits and waits and pounces just when the time is right. As his team ages, he doles out fewer and fewer regular season minutes to his starters. I foresee that trend continuing to the point where he doesn’t mind losing out to the Thunder, Clippers, and Warriors in seeding.

Dallas, the 8 seed, gave them the hardest battle in the 2014 playoffs, so seeding only matters so much. Pop knows a healthy squad is more valuable than home-court through the Western conference playoffs if the two are mutually exclusive.

Terrence Ross will average 18-6-4

For a guy to make the jump from 11-3-1 to get to 18-6-4, we’re talking about a most improved player-worth leap. But for T Dot who can leap out of the building on any given dunk, I think it’s possible considering he has a maniacal fan base and great team around him. His point guard, Kyle Lowry, just got $48 million guaranteed so he’s ready to throw out some dimes. 2014 Terrence Ross can put up 2013 Klay Thompson-type numbers. Ross is quietly a 40 percent three-point shooter who goes crazy on left corner threes (47 percent), a vital shot as determined by NBA efficiency gurus.

I’m going to throw in a bonus prediction: Toronto will be a No. 2 seed over Chicago and Washington. The dynamic between Paul Pierce and the Wiz young backcourt will be interesting. I’m not sold on Derrick Rose until I see him thrashing through the Leastern conference defenses. Bagels in FIBA competition is not reason for optimism with the former NBA MVP.

TNT will suspend Charles Barkley once

It’s too easy to make this just a bold playoff predictions article. Plus, the side stories are often nearly as entertaining as the games themselves. In fact, some off-season talk on the BS Report landed in this realm and suggested that the NBA free agency period receives more attention than the NBA games. The celebrity appeal crosses into the sports realm more frequently than just when a Kardashian hops from dating one NBA player to another (yes, Lamar Odom and Kris Humphries, I’m looking at you).

Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA was and is must-see TV. More than once, I wouldn’t re-watch a TNT game if I had missed it live… but I would scroll back to the halftime shows. Those short segments with Chuck, Kenny, Shaq, and Ernie were always exciting because you never knew when someone would drop what Jalen Rose calls a “don’t-get-fired” moment. If you didn’t see Barkley's antics describing San Antonio women, go to YouTube right now and watch them.

He was one step away from getting suspended. If ESPN can put Bill Simmons on vacation for calling the NFL commissioner a liar with some cuss words sprinkled in, then TNT could suspend Chuck for some inevitably outrageous comment this year.

LeBron James will continue his year-over-year increase in FG% that began in 06-07

He’s climbed from a "paltry" 47.6% to an unfathomable 56.7%. LeBron James doesn’t have much more room to improve but he’ll figure out a way to do it. Kevin Love will be spotting up and working P&Rs, Kyrie will finally learn how to play within a team concept, and Dion Waiters chip on his shoulder is still Goliath-sized.

LeBron has been raving about new head coach, David Blatt. I almost wanted to throw out a prediction that would only turn out to be outrageous…LeBron will average a triple-double. Two main reasons I decided against it: 1) LeBron slimmed down. I’m expecting him to play less at the power forward spot and more at the 3 (hence lower rebounding numbers). 2) Blatt and LeBron may come to the agreement that the best player in the game needs to rest more. This won't stop the best player in the game from an efficiency level that you can’t reach in NBA 2K15.

The Lakers will have the fewest wins in their 54-year Los Angeles history

26 wins or less. And if I’m setting the over-under at games Steve Nash plays at that same number, I’m taking the under there, as well. Unless Linsanity 2.0 erupts in Los Angeles, the combination of Lin, Kobe, and the self-anointed Swaggy P could be a scoring backcourt gone oh-so-very-wrong. Iso-ball + jacking up contested shots = losses.

As if a team of defensive sieves wasn’t enough, Byron Scott decided to take down any chance at improved offensive efficiency. The new Lakers coach wants his team to take 10-15 threes a game. A Twitter account has been born out of Scott’s desire to essentially eliminate the most efficient shot in the game (the corner three). @HaveTheLakers MadeACorner3? is a real thing. At least Kobe will be able to shoot 9-28 and put up big scoring numbers…right?

Chris Bosh will come surprisingly close to 50-40-90

And the award for 2014-15 Biggest Chip on His Shoulder goes to…. Chris Bosh! The ramifications of the LeBron move ripple throughout the NBA, but nowhere moreso than King James’ former team. One thing that LeBron did do for Bosh was help create the necessity for a three-point shot, something that became a weapon for the stretch-5. With LeBron gone, Bosh can go back to working in the paint in addition to spreading the floor with his three-point shot. What does this mean? A lot of mismatches and increased efficiency. His career peaks in FG% and FT% are 54 and 84, respectively. Last year, he was 34 percent from 3. Coming within a total of 5-7 percentage points of the 50-40-90 club would be a career year, but for a rejuvenated former All-Star who’s still only 30, it’s not too outrageous.

(For good measure, the second place finisher in the Biggest Chip on His Shoulder was another casualty of the LeBron trade: 2014 no. 1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins.)

Carmelo Anthony will hit the 30 points per game mark for the first time in his career

The East has significantly improved from last year to this year. However, the Knicks have almost been part of that upward trend. The pick-up of Jose Calderon at point guard will prove to be a significant upgrade to the ever-ballooning Raymond Felton…and I don’t mean ballooning in skill. Newly-minted head coach, Derek Fisher, and the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, should be able to maximize the ability of their roster, unlike Mike Woodson.

The relationship between Iman Shumpert, a player that I believe has a solid upside despite a career FG% south of 40, and former coach Mike Woodson was tumultuous (as Phil Jackson recently pointed out). Put all of this together, and Carmelo Anthony is right in position for a career year. I’m not expecting his assist numbers to skyrocket, but the 30ppg mark is well within reach for one of the NBA’s top-2 scorers.

The 76ers will not have the worst record in the NBA

This is probably the least likely prediction out of all of them. Most pundits consider the 76ers falling to the bottom inevitable. I'm going to go the other way because unlike the Sixers, the Jazz are in the West. Dante Exum still has to prove he can compete with the best basketball players in the world. I think eventually he’ll be a serviceable starter/borderline All-Star, but I’m taking a flier on this year’s Nerlens Noel before I take one on Exum. The Celtics are cellar contenders when they eventually trade a malcontent Rajon Rondo. It’s a tough call, but I’ll take the field in the competition for the NBA’s 2014-15 Least Likely to Agree to Lottery Reform.

Klay Thompson will be a 2015 All Star and get his max contract

…and he’ll be considered underpaid a few years down the line when the new TV contract leads to the eventual gradual or rapid salary cap spike. The younger Splash Bro has already said that he prefers the contract extension now instead of waiting for a long-term deal once the new cap hits. Dan Feldman of NBC Sports has pegged this extension to be worth $89 million and last through the 2020 NBA season.

For comparison, if he sought a Parsons like deal, he could make nearly $100 million in that same time-span. If Klay does accept an extension by October 31, it’ll put him in the pay grade of the top-five shooting guards in the league, something he is well-worth. I’m betting on Klay to have a big year under new coach, Steve Kerr. Former Warriors coach, Mark Jackson, was a great friend to (most) players in his locker room but left much to be desired in terms of on-court strategy. The lack of ball movement is one of Jackson’s main failures as an HC, and Kerr is already turning that around.

Better (and more) motion will lead to open shots, and open shots for one of the game’s best shooters will be lethal. Klay will be in the 20-5-4 range when the All-Star break rolls around and find himself playing alongside Steph Curry in the game. Hype matters when it comes to All-Star voting, so Klay’s FIBA success and the ever-increasing spotlight on the Warriors will push him into All-Star glory.

Now, I’m going on record saying that the Warriors can support two All-Stars with two defensive stoppers, potentially the best defense in the league, and a bright coach. So I’m ready to make my boldest prediction and become the first person to predict that…

The Golden State Warriors will win the 2015 NBA Finals

The squad that the Warriors will put on the floor is as good as any teams. Superstar? Check. Shooting? The best. Perimeter and interior defense? Third-best defense in the league last year. Bright, young coach surrounded by a great staff? Finally. What about the bench? With Brandon Rush, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Mo Speights, and Draymond Green coming off the bench, this squad has all the pieces. And the thing that will always go underrated…chemistry? SB Nation called them the Weird Warriors for a reason. They are a little weak in the Veteran Leadership Dept., though. Only David Lee and Leandro Barbosa are the sole players older than 30…and they’re both only 31 years old.

They showed in 2013 that they can beat the Spurs. That Game 1 collapse in Round 1 emotionally throttled the team but they still made the Spurs fight to win a series I still feel the Warriors should have won (and would have under a better coach). In 2014, they took a Sternly-motivated Clippers team to seven games with their second-best player sidelined. Twice in a row, it’s been so close you could taste it. Both times against two top teams, you felt they had it within reach. All they’ve needed is a #FullSquad and good coach.

I love everything that I’ve seen so far from Steve Kerr. The way he handles the team, the media, his staff, and  himself is how you want your coach to do it. I’ve picked a favorite to win each of the past three NBA Finals and it’s time to change that up. This team has the potential for a top-3 offense and top-3 defense. I’m all in on the Warriors.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

San Francisco Giants: From Divisional Underdogs to World Series Contenders

The San Francisco Giants are heading to their third World Series in the last five years. Previous to their title win in 2010, the team went winless for 56 years. The last time they won a World Series was in 1956, two years before they relocated from New York to California. But as the time passed by, the San Francisco underwent a transformation that turned the team from dormant Giants to one of the most dominant squads in the Major Leagues.

The team has entered the World Series twice in five years and won the title the same number of times. A third World Series title, this time over the Kansas City Royals, would solidify their status as one of the most unexpected five-year runs in MLB history.

Each run has been different, with different actors and circumstances, but they all have something in common: The Giants have never been betting favorites before the Series

In 2010, the Giants spent much of the season trailing the San Diego Padres and on occasion the Los Angeles Dodgers or Colorado Rockies.  They were down 6.5 games in the NL West only weeks before the end of the regular season, but they went 19-10 in September and October.  Giants manager Bruce Bochy sent Pablo Sandoval to the bench during the postseason due his poor production. Pitcher Barry Zito was left completely off the Giants' 25-man active roster for the postseason for the same reason.

In the Division Series, the Giants faced the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, winning the series three games to one (all the wins were by 1 run only). San Francisco won behind Lincecum's 14 strikeouts in Game 1 and come-from-behind wins in Games 3 and 4. In the NLCS, they were heavy underdogs against to the two-time defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies.Against all odds, the Giants won the series 4–2 and went on to beat the Texas Rangers to win the 2010 World Series in five games.

In 2012, they won the division but had the worst record of any of the other National League division winners. The Giants finished with a record of 94–68, 1st place in the NL West, and beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games in the NLDS,  becoming the first National League team to come back from a 2–0 deficit in a best-of-five series by sweeping three games on the road. The Giants went on to beat the Cardinals in seven games in the NL Championship Series and advanced to the 2012 World Series, sweeping the Detroit Tigers in four games to win their second World Series title in three years.

This season was not the exception. The L.A Dodgers were clear favorites to win the NL West, and Giants had to struggle to clinch their ticket to the Wild Card. No other playoff team had a worse record than the Giants at 88-74, although the Pittsburgh Pirates and Oakland A's  matched it.

The Giants won a sudden-death Wild Card Game against the Pirates to move to the Divisional Series, beating the number-one seeded Washington Nationals in four games. Another improbable run took place in the NL Championship Series, but the extraordinary performance put by players such as Madison Bumgarner, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Buster Posey, Travis Ishikawa, Hunter Pence, Joe Panik, Ryan Vogelsong and Michael Morse made the impossible look possible, sealing the victory in five games and sending the Giants to their third World Series.  

"You look at what we've done, it's special and impressive. Some guys spend their whole career not even making it to the playoffs, and here we are dancing again." commented Sergio Romo.

The bottom line here is simple: The road to the World Series have looked improbable for the Giants, but if they find a way to beat the Royals and win another championship, then they will undoubtedly set their name in the record books.

This article was written by a guest writer to Bases and Baskets. Contact our support team if you are interested in writing one!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

9 Bold Predictions for the 2015 NBA Season

[Editor’s Note: Daniel Fotinich is a regular reader, and a good friend, who wanted to throw his hat in the ring with some bold predictions prior to the commencement of this highly anticipated NBA season. I won’t give anything about his work away here…just give it a read! – Elijah Abramson]

One of my favorite things about the NBA is debating outrageous claims made by others. It seems that almost every year, a few things that basically nobody predicts happen (and the few that predicted them have an ego that skyrockets). Many people have different definitions of a “bold prediction”, but I will use this one: A bold prediction is one that is significantly different than what the general consensus is among NBA fans and writers. So, even though plenty of Golden State fans might think that “Stephen Curry averaging 30ppg this year” is actually highly likely, the average impartial fan or writer would think the chance of that is very slim. Keep in mind that this is also a matter of degree; most people around the NBA believe that the Heat will decline, but saying that they will miss the playoffs with both Wade and Bosh would qualify as a bold prediction.

Without further ado, here are 9 bold predictions for the 2014-2015 NBA season:

The Indiana Pacers will miss the playoffs.

In fact, I don’t even think it will be close. The only teams in the East that I am confident will be worse than Indiana are Philadelphia and Orlando. I’ve always liked Indiana and their hard-nosed defense—I picked them to make the NBA finals last year over Miami. However, their well-publicized decline in the second half of last season was extremely concerning. Zach Lowe noted that over the last 30 or so games that Indiana had the worst offense of any team in the league besides Philadelphia. Now, that already-putrid offense loses the only two guys who can actually create their own shots. Lance Stephenson is now in Charlotte (more on that later), while Paul George fractured his tibia and fibia and is unlikely to play this season. They replaced those two with… Rodney Stuckey and CJ Miles? David West has had a great run in Indiana, but he’s already 34 and will have much less space to shoot his patented 18-footers. Hibbert has almost no offense to speak of, and the rest of the team is full of complimentary offensive players. A team with a bottom-five offense and a middle-of-the-road defense (Stuckey and Miles are obvious defensive downgrades from Stephenson and George) isn’t a playoff team. I think the Pacers will be lucky to win 30 games even if George makes a miraculous return. So who will take their place? Well…

The New York Knicks will make the playoffs.

In fact, I have them as the sixth seed and possibly winning a playoff series. Carmelo Anthony just signed for five years, and now that he can finally afford to feed his family, he should be solely focused on winning a championship in New York City. Jose Calderon isn’t a great defender, but he is a significant upgrade over Ray “Cheeseburger” Felton, and his pass-first style will help create better shots for Carmelo, Shumpert, and others. Although both Carmelo and new GM Phil Jackson have talked about this being a transition year, I don’t see either of them being satisfied with missing the playoffs. Additionally, I wouldn’t rule out a mid-season trade that would help them this year and in the future. Of course, the Knicks are banking on next summer when Amare Stoudemire’s atrocious contact expires, but I think they’ll be better this year than people think.

Lance Stephenson will average 20+ppg and 5+apg and clearly make the all-star team.

Instead of signing a five-year deal with somebody else, Lance chose to bet on himself this offseason and signed a three-year deal which will make him a free agent again when he turns 26. Lance has had obvious maturity issues, but these mask the fact that he just turned 24 and has made significant improvements in his game every single year. Going from Indiana to Charlotte will help his stats, of course, but I think that in the long-run, Lance deserves to be paid significantly more than he does today. As long as he doesn’t blow in Michael Jordan’s ear, he’s making the All-Star team this season.

Ricky Rubio will learn how to shoot and earn a long-term contract starting at ~$10m/year.

This is a complete shot in the dark, and Rubio could easily shoot 36% this season and struggle to sign for the mid-level exception in the offseason. However, it just doesn’t make sense to me how a guy as talented as Rubio cannot shoot more than 38% in a season. The best example of a guy who figured it out is Jason Kidd - in his first three seasons, Kidd shot 38.5%, 38.1%, and 36.9% from the field. In his fourth season, he picked it up to 42.3%, and the rest is history; he finished his career 3rd on the list of the most 3-pointers made. Of course, Rubio is already an excellent passer, and if he can shoot over, say, 42% in a season, he will earn himself a long-term contract. I have no idea how good Minnesota will be this season with Wiggins/Bennett instead of Love, but I believe that Rubio will get his shooting percentages up into the low-40s.

Kevin Love will average under 20 pgg.

The return of King James and the trade for Kevin Love has made Cleveland a clear favorite to the win the Eastern Conference, and possibly, the NBA title. However, sacrifices must be made. Most people believe that Love will sacrifice some numbers playing with James, but I think that it will occur on a much larger scale. Last season, he averaged 26.5ppg, but this was with a very high usage rate, playing on a horrible Minnesota team. With James and Irving around, Love should be third in the pecking order, and it’s not as if Dion Waiters and Tristian Thompson won’t get some shots. No way does Love score remotely close to how much he did in Minnesota. I’m of the mindset that this season will reveal Love to be a far worse player than everybody thinks, even though Cleveland’s offense should be among the best in the league.

The Golden State Warriors will have the best defense in the league.

Surprisingly, a team starting Stephen Curry and David Lee actually had the third best defense last year, after Indiana and Chicago. Chicago should be a very good team, but I think that Golden State has more room for improvement this season. While the loss of coach Mark Jackson is disappointing, Klay Thompson should continue to improve as a defender, and David Lee’s inevitable decline (he is on the wrong side of 30, after all) should open up more minutes for Draymond Green, who is a significantly better defender. The Dubs’ offense was disappointing under Jackson, so if Steve Kerr is able to bring in new and more creative offensive sets, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them in the top-10 on offense. These two should combine for a top-four seed in the West.

The Houston Rockets will be a 7th seed or worse.

For the first time in the Daryl Morey era, the Rockets had what seems to be a pretty horrible off-season. They started by declining Parson’s 5th year option (which would have paid him $960k) and made him a restricted free agent, only to watch the Mavs swoop in and offer him a contract starting at $15m/year. Next, they traded Jeremy Lin, another solid starter, to the Lakers for chump change. Then, they were spurned by both Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony. Not to be outdone, James Harden won the award for “misguided comment of the year” by referring to all of his teammates besides Dwight Howard as “role players” (even if it’s true, you don’t say that about your teammates), and then made several comments about finally starting to play defense (really…?). Parsons and Lin are both solid starters, and even though the Rockets are clearly desperate for their 3rd star, losing those two will hurt them this season. Going forward, I just don’t see which star player will fit in well with Howard and Harden, and they definitely aren’t going to find one this season. I wouldn’t be shocked if they miss the playoffs in the ultra-competitive West, but I’ll predict that they just sneak in as a 7 or 8 seed.

The Dallas Mavericks will win the battle of Texas.

I won’t go as far as to pick them to have a better overall record than the Spurs (I learned that the hard way last year when I predicted the Spurs would barely make the playoffs), but I think they will have the best record in their games against other Texas teams (Houston, San Antonio). I already discussed that I think Houston will be a worse team this year, but I think Dallas will be better than expected. Their offense last year was the best in the league after the all-star break, and after adding Tyson Chandler to shore up the middle, Dallas will match up extremely well against San Antonio. Additionally, they took the Spurs to 7 games in the first round last year.

The Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs.

And Kobe Bryant will average 25+ppg. No explanation for this one, I’m just a Lakers fan. :)

This column is the original work of Daniel Fotinich. Follow him on Twitter here: