In the business of prediction, hindsight is as greatly feared as it is yearned for. With the NBA season coming to a close a few nights ago -- symbolically, in Sacramento -- here's a look at a few preseason predictions made by some full salaried basketball experts. These projections cover it all: awards, breakout stars, playoff seedings, and, of course, the Miami Heat.
Some bold statements were spot on, others ... not so much. The NBA's 2010-11 regular season was one of the more unpredictable slices of league history we've seen, and I tip my cap to anyone willing to step forth and make their thoughts available for scrupulous study. These guys are really good at what they do and every time a glaring misstep was discovered, it felt like getting incorrect change from an MIT statistics major. Still, a couple things were unanimously envisioned correctly: Denver would trade Melo, and the Timberwolves would stink. That's it. That's how madly entertaining, unpredictable, and irresistibly gawked at a season it's been. Here are those less accurate predictions.
Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen on the Comeback Player of the Year:
This award doesn't exist anymore, but maybe it should be reinstated. Yao Ming, Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu are trying to recover their status -- all for different reasons.
Thomsen is one of the best at what he does, and is a must read for all fans of the NBA. Letting the Yao Ming prediction slide even though we knew he'd only be good for less than half of each game he could play in before his season ending injury, teammates Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu are now the two least likely candidates for a make believe comeback player of the year award.
In 49 games with Orlando, Gilbert's PER was 8.6 and he shot 28 percent from the three-point line. To "comeback" from one of the league's most embarrassing season ending suspensions, one would think Arenas would have to have a higher scoring average than his rookie season. He didn't. And Turkoglu, well, there isn't too much to say. His unstoppable regression seems to be the single greatest reason some people are actually picking the Atlanta Hawks in a first round upset.
ESPN.com's John Hollinger on the Milwaukee Bucks:
Fear the Dear? Yes. The Bucks will eliminate last season's massive free throw disparity with human foul magnet Corey Maggette, and they'll have John Salmons for 82 games instead of 30.
After finishing last year on a high note, the Bucks had great expectations before lapsing thanks to a few injuries to some key players. They lost their most important bench player, Luke Ridnour, in the offseason, and didn't figure replacing him was worth the trouble. Nobody knew Derrick Rose would blossom into an MVP winner or that rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau would have his team buy into the difficult defensive philosophy it takes to dominate, but picking them to finish fourth (one seed higher than Chicago) and defending that pick with Corey Maggette is lunacy.
The Bucks finished with 11 fewer wins this season. To be fair, Hollinger wasn't the only one high on Milwaukee, and he partially redeems himself later by saying this about Philadelphia: "Even if Evan Turner bombs, the Sixers will surprise." Pretty ballsy statement, but it worked out for him.
ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan on the Houston Rockets:
Do I dare call them the deepest team in the West? I'll take Brad Miller as a 24-minute backup behind Yao Ming, and I'll still stick with Luis Scola as the league's most underrated big man. You've got Courtney Lee backing up Kevin Martin, and Kyle Lowry backing up Aaron Brooks.
Nothing too crazy about the above statements, but then you see where Sheridan predicted Houston to finish in the West (second overall) we have some problems. Houston finished 43-39 -- with 111.3 points per 100 possessions, holding the league's fourth best offensive rating -- but only managed a single game of improvement in the win-loss column from last year. Not sure how a Courtney Lee, Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Aaron Brooks (who was traded midseason) backcourt makes for a better team than Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or Dallas, but once again, to be fair, Sheridan did have this to say about the Grizzlies: "This is my sleeper team from the West, and I can't overemphasize what a difference maker Tony Allen will be for this team on defense." That is a spot on call.
SI.com's Paul Forrester on the league's biggest surprise:
I get the feeling Cleveland won't be as horrid as everyone thinks. That doesn't mean the Cavs will be a playoff team, but they will be in the conversation for the No. 8 seed. Byron Scott's Princeton offense will allow Cleveland to outscore a lot of teams, and this roster's motivation to prove it wasn't a bad supporting cast for LeBron will propel the Cavs toward a .500 mark.
The Cavs finished with 19 wins, second fewest in the league. Sure they had a few injuries, to some of their key rotation guys, but those "key rotation guys" would be "on the bench" for any legitimate contender.
Sports Illustrateds Chris Mannix on Rookie of the Year:
Like Tyreke Evans a year ago, [DeMarcus] Cousins will put up big numbers on a team with no shot at the playoffs. Griffin and Wall will make this race the tightest in years.
For the record, yes, Mannix picked Cousins. He led the league in personal fouls with 58 more than the runner up, and was fifth in turnovers. Not among rookies, among everybody. Among rookies Cousins finished in the top five in almost every major statistical category, so maybe this pick isn't that bad, but it isn't Blake Griffin -- which means it is that bad.
Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins on the league's breakout star:
The next elite point guard, [Aaron] Brooks already scores nearly 20 points per game, shoots nearly 40 percent from three-point range and cannot be slowed in the open court. He just needs to raise his assist totals, which will be easier with Yao back.
I like Aaron Brooks. A lot. But saying he's "the next elite point guard" is quite the hyperbole. Brooks was traded midseason and the Rockets became considerably better with Kyle Lowry as their floor leader. He looks to shoot more often than a true point guard should, and after wearing out his welcome in Houston, his days of being a starting point guard are likely over.
CBSSports.com's Ken Berger on the Coach of the Year and a yet-to-happen CBA agreement:
"Jerry Sloan, Jazz. Come on, people. It's time."
Yeah. This definitely isn't happening.
Here's a prediction: With player salaries down and revenue likely to hit record levels this season, the players' share will fall below their guaranteed 57 percent of the pie for the first time under the NBA's current economic model. That means when the season is over, the players will get fat checks to cover a refund of their escrow contribution, plus more money to make up the difference. That will give them the added dough they need to endure a work stoppage -- but it won't last long. Both sides will recognize how devastating it would be to shut down the league on the heels of this historically golden season. So cooler heads will prevail with an 11th-hour settlement in September, just in time not to lose any games -- and to watch the Lakers open their title defense against the Heat, with Pat Riley on the Miami bench.
This hopefully will happen. Except for that last part about the Lakers. That'd be too predictable.