Five Pistons predictions
1. Rip Hamilton will not lead the team in scoring.
I predicted Hamilton’s then-streak of seven straight seasons leading the Pistons in scoring would come to an end last year. It didn’t. But that won’t stop me from predicting it will end at eight. It’s not that I’m rooting against Rip — I’ve always loved the way he plays and his style. But he’s obviously declining, and it would be much better for the team if Ben Gordon or a darkhorse candidate like Austin Daye stepped up and took that mantle from Rip this season.
2. John Kuester will get another season as coach.
I don’t mean this to be a ringing endorsement for Kuester. There are plenty of things he’s done that I find questionable. But he’s also in a pretty good position as far as coaching jobs go. The team drastically underachieved last year, and whether it’s accurate or not, most in the media have chalked that up to injuries (i.e., not the coach’s fault). The team returns relatively healthy this season and boasts a much-improved player ready to contribute in Daye, so there’s a good bet there could be enough improvement record-wise to suggest progress. And lastly, Joe Dumars has shown that he doesn’t think much about the coach if he has a team that isn’t a contender. The Pistons aren’t in a position to make a move over the next offseason that’s going to vault them back among the elite, so if the record improves, I think Kuester stays for continuity’s sake.
3. Ben Wallace will have another close-to-vintage season.
Yes, I know he’s old. I know he’s taken a physical beating throughout his career. But of all the Pistons, I’m least worried about Wallace carrying a heavy workload. I don’t know if it will mean much as far as wins and losses, but Wallace will again be one of the top rebounding big men in the league, he’ll be a presence in the paint, and he’ll very likely be the Pistons’ best player.
4. Joe Dumars won’t make an in-season trade.
There will be significant interest in Tayshaun Prince. It’s easy to picture him helping virtually any contending team win a title as a versatile wing off the bench (think guys like Matt Barnes, Trevor Ariza and Shane Battier). But the problem is contending teams can’t offer much in the form of return value. They’re not going to give up one of their rotation players for Prince, Prince has little value to bad teams (unless they’re going to unload a star-caliber player for salary relief he’d offer, and that’s unlikely), and it’s clear that his basketball IQ is valuable to the Pistons. He could get traded, but I’d say it’s more likely he stays and is re-signed to a modest deal in the offseason.
Hamilton, on the other hand, is very hard to deal unless the Pistons give up a young asset (like Daye or Greg Monroe) or draft pick to the team that takes him. And if they have do do that just to move Hamilton, what’s the point?
5. The Pistons will finish 36-46 and 10th in the Eastern Conference.
A 10-win improvement will be enough for Kuester to keep his job and, if the the team is entertaining and competitive, should be enough to appease most fans into believing the team is on the right track. I think they’ll finish third in the Central Division and be slightly better than the Pacers and Cavs.
MVP – Dwight Howard, Magic
Sports writers are going to bend over backwards to give the award to Kevin Durant. The best player in the league is (again) going to be LeBron James, but there’s no way writers will vote for him. Howard, on the other hand, is easily the most dominant defensive player in the league. He averages 20 points per game with ease and has an improving offensive skill set. I don’t think a 28-points, 15-rebounds, four-blocks, three-steals per-game season is out of the question.
Rookie of the Year – Blake Griffin, Clippers
Since he missed the entire season a year ago, health is at least a reasonable question. But Griffin is a superstar-in-the-making. Hopefully, the Clippers don’t ruin him. John Wall might score more points, but Griffin is a potential All-Star right now. The West is crowded, so he might not make it with all of the big names up front, but he’ll be every bit as good as those established players.
Defensive Player of the Year – Rajon Rondo, Celtics
It’s preposterous not to give this award to Howard. But I have to get Rondo in here somewhere (I almost gave him my MVP award). He’s my favorite player to watch and has one of the most unique skill sets in the NBA. He’s a lockdown perimeter defender, he’s always in passing lanes, and he’s tough. Howard is undoubtedly more impactful defensively, but I like to see a perimeter player get the award every once in a while.
Coach of the Year – Erik Spoelstra, Heat
As I type this, the Heat are about to lose a close game to one of the four best teams in the NBA. And if you follow NBA people on Twitter, folks are losing their minds, acting like Spoelstra’s job is in trouble. He’s a good coach with an immense task: battle a ridiculous amount of media coverage that is going to hyperventilate every one of the 16 or so times this team loses a game this season. The Heat are going to win big this season (at least in the regular season), Spoelstra’s still going to be the coach at the end of the season, and I don’t think any coach will come close to dealing with the kind of pressure Spoelstra will be facing this season.
Sixth Man of the Year – Ben Gordon, Pistons
Why not? There’s been plenty of debate about Gordon on PistonPowered the last few days. Is he one-dimensional? Was he a bad signing? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest both of those assertions are correct. But it’s also correct that he can be an explosive scorer, and that’s what the Sixth Man Award is all about. Can he do what Jason Terry does in Dallas or Jamal Crawford does in Atlanta? That’s not a stretch whatsoever to think he’s capable.
Most Improved Player – Serge Ibaka, Thunder
There are a lot of guys who could make big leaps this year (Olympian Eric Gordon is another one of my favorites), but Ibaka should be able to unseat Nenad Krstic as the OKC starting center at some point this season, and if he gets 25-30 minutes, with his energy, athleticism and activity, he could make a big statistical jump this season.
- Heat 66-16*
- Magic 59-23*
- Bucks 52-30*
- Celtics 51-31*
- Bulls 47-35*
- Knicks 44-38*
- Bobcats 41-41*
- Hawks 40-42*
- Nets 37-45
- Pistons 36-46
- Cavaliers 31-51
- Pacers 27-55
- Wizards 21-61
- 76ers 20-62
- Raptors 19-63
- Lakers 62-20*
- Thunder 57-25*
- Spurs 53-29*
- Trail Blazers 52-30*
- Mavericks 52-30*
- Rockets 48-34*
- Jazz 46-36*
- Grizzlies 40-42*
- Suns 39-43
- Nuggets 39-43
- Hornets 36-46
- Warriors 33-49
- Clippers 29-53
- Kings 29-53
- Timberwolves 24-58
Projected playoff results
Heat over Hawks; Magic over Bobcats; Bucks over Knicks; Celtics over Bulls
Lakers over Grizzlies; Thunder over Jazz; Spurs over Rockets; Mavericks over Trail Blazers
Celtics over Heat; Magic over Bucks
Lakers over Mavericks; Spurs over Thunder
Celtics over Magic
Spurs over Lakers
Spurs over Celtics (and somewhere, David Stern weeps).