Time to get out of the first round? Yes. Time to win the NBA championship again? Maybe.
I can’t wait for the season to start. Last year “we” won 55 games, about what I expected, and would have gone deeper into the playoffs if not for injuries to Yao, Battier and “Skip” (Rafer Alston). This year, the team could win 55-60 games, and has a legitimate shot at the NBA championship – IF it can avoid injuries.
Why is this year’s team better than last year’s? The short answer:
1. The addition of Ron Artest, Brent Barry, and Joey Dorsey
2. The added experience of 2nd year players Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry
The impact of these changes is pervasive. How will the team be better? Let me count the ways:
1. A deeper team: Last year, there was a significant drop-off when any starting player was injured. This year’s team is better able to withstand injuries. The Rockets 6th through 10th players may be the best “2nd team” in the league.
2. A more flexible team: Partly because of the above, and partly because of the versatility of the players, coach Adelman has many more options for creating favorable match-ups with opposing teams (and avoiding unfavorable match-ups). Almost every player in the regular rotation can play at least two positions; at least one, Artest, can play three positions.
3. A third option: Often, championship teams, last year’s Celtics for example, have three big-time players. Now the Rockets do too. Last year, the team had great difficulty scoring when Yao and T-Mac were off the floor. I don’t expect that to be the case this year.
4. Even better defense: We’re adding a former defensive player of the year, Artest, to a team that was already among the best defensive teams in the league.
5. Better 3-point shooting: This was a deficiency last year. The addition of Barry and Artest, and the maturation of Brooks and Luther Head should help considerably.
6. A more physical, competitive team: While last year’s team had a lot of talent, some people accused the team of being “soft.” No team with Artest and Dorsey is going to be soft. Similarly, Artest brings a new level of competitiveness, and “attitude.”
7. A better mid-range game: In previous years, opposing teams have been able to cheat off the power forwards and double Yao. If Scola and Landry keep shooting as they have been in pre-season, it will open up the middle more for Yao.
8. More play-off experience: Artest and Barry have both gone to NBA championship games with other teams. This should help as the team moves deeper into the playoffs.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still some issues. One concern is the lack of height inside – aside from Yao. Luckily, the forwards “play bigger” than they are. Still, there are potential problems matching up with forwards such as Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
In addition, there are the “wildcards.” Can this year’s team develop the same “chemistry” that it had last year? Will the team ever master coach Adelman’s offense? The fact that Artest has played for Adelman before should help. Another wildcard is Artest himself. He has a history that some fans find worrisome. Let’s hope it remains just that – history. He’s older, and presumably wiser, now -- and it’s a contract year.
The biggest wildcard of all is injuries. T-Mac, Battier and Aaron Brooks may be weeks away from being full strength – and the season hasn’t even started! There’s a chance T-Mac never completely regains his old form, and Yao has missed significant time each of the last three seasons.
So what’s the bottom line? What’s my prediction? There are some really talented teams out there, starting with the Lakers, Celtics and Hornets. There is no way I can predict an NBA championship. I do have one prediction though – it’s going to be fun!