Revisiting Preseason Predictions

If you know me, or have been reading this column each week for the past two and a half years or so, you know that at this time of year, there are only two things on my mind: NBA basketball and awards shows.

The best part this time of the year it is that starting this weekend we're about to get a big dose of both in the coming months.

The NBA is about to take control of sports headlines with the All-Star Break and the trade deadline fast approaching. Once we get past that, it's the race for the playoffs, and then the best two months in sports: the NBA playoffs.

On the other end of the spectrum, awards season in Hollywood just kicked off this week. We've already had the Critic's Choice Awards and the Golden Globes (my personal favorite because it covers both film and TV and everyone there is hammered), and we're not far off from the Grammy's and the Oscars.

And of course, with the Oscars, comes my third-annual NBA Oscars column. I'm thinking about going all out for it this year, too. I'm going to call each one of my readers at 5 AM and announce the nominees a week in advance, so that should be exciting.

To me, what makes the start of award season in Hollywood great is the same thing that makes the start of the NBA season great: everyone thinks they know what's going to happen, but you never really know for sure until it's all said and done, and there's sure to be a few surprises.

Before the Golden Globes on Sunday, I was sitting around with my roommates reading off the list of nominees in each category, trying to predict who would win. It's not unlike what a lot of people do during the NBA preseason.

That leads us into today's column. As you may recall, back in October, I did my annual season preview of the "82 Things to Watch For This NBA Season." I promised to look back at those predictions to see which ones were right and (more importantly) which ones were dead wrong.

Because, let's face it, when you make 82 predictions in the preseason, there are bound to be plenty that fall into each category.

Here now is a look back at some of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the "82 Things to Watch For This NBA Season."

The Good

The Lakers and Cavs will finish first in their respective conferences.

If I had to compare this to an award season prediction, it'd probably be "Avatar will clean up this season because everyone in Hollywood is on James Cameron's balls." It isn't exactly going out on a limb, but it's still a prediction nonetheless.

The Lakers came out of the gate strong, thanks to a very home-heavy early schedule and a determined Kobe Bryant. The Cavs stumbled out of the gate initially, losing their first two games, before turning it on in December going 13-3, including an impressive win on Christmas Day in L.A. over the Lakers.

There may be a few surprises in the standings of each conference right now, but not at the top. The Lakers and Cavs are right where we expected them to be at this point.

The Allen Iverson experiment will end poorly in Memphis.

Compare this prediction to, "If Robert Downy or Meryl Streep win an award, expect them to come off as a complete pompous-ass in their acceptance speeches."

Which means, basically, if you know anything about any of the people involved, you know what's going to happen.

Well, sure enough, Downy and Streep won Golden Globes, and their smugness was through the roof while accepting their awards.

Iverson? He lasted all of two weeks with the Grizzlies before retiring and resurfacing with the 76ers.

Kevin Durant will lead the league in scoring.

I'm putting this one in the "good," even though technically, it's wrong. Durant is second in the league in scoring at 29.6 per game, behind Carmelo Anthony's 30.0.

If this were a Hollywood prediction, it'd be on par with "the guy who played the Jew Hunter in 'Inglourious Basterds' will win all sorts of awards."

Christoph Waltz, like Durant, is just that good.

Last season, Durant averaged 26 points per game after Scott Brooks took over in Oklahoma City, and you could see Durant developing all the tools to become and elite NBA scorer. This season, he simply put it all together night in and night out.

Now, he's one of the most unstoppable scorers in the game, with more 30-point games (22) than any other player in the league.

At just 0.4 behind Anthony for the league lead, Durant is a real threat at just 21-years-old to be the youngest scoring champ in NBA history.

The Bad

Indiana Pacers projected record at 41-41.

Here's what I wrote in October: "Maybe it's asking too much for all of these guys to stay healthy for an entire season, but if they do, don't be surprised if the Pacers are a .500 team and earn the right to get swept by the Cavs."

It was, in fact, too much to ask.

The Pacers have been riddled with injuries, and now there are talks that Larry Bird might be inclined to blow the whole team up and start over.

On paper, I still like the Pacers. But the fact is that they just cannot stay healthy. Their problem last season was that they couldn't get Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, and Mike Dunleavy healthy. Last season, they missed a combined 90 games.

At the halfway point of this season, they've missed a combined 40 games.

It looks like more of the same for the Pacers.

Flip Saunders will win Coach of the Year.

Now, after everything that's gone on in Washington, it seems more likely that Flip will be fired or resign than to win Coach of the Year.

The Gilbert Arenas thing isn't Flip's fault. The Antawn Jamison injury/inevitable trade isn't Flip's fault. The lack of decent big men on the roster isn't Flip's fault.

Still, just because Flip isn't necessarily to blame for the woes in Washington doesn't exactly make this prediction any more correct.

Shaq will not be able to accept his role as second-fiddle to LeBron.

Surprisingly, Shaq has said and done all the right things since getting to Cleveland ("Shaq vs." notwithstanding).

I predicted that he'd demand the ball more, throw Kobe under the bus before the Christmas Day game, and take a little injury vacation at some point in the season.

Well, as of the halfway point of the season, he's done none of that.

There's still time, but for now, it looks like come April I'll be eating crow on my "Big Predictable" moniker for Shaq.

The Ugly

Detroit Pistons projected record 41-41.

Even at the time, I couldn't make any sense of the Detroit roster, saying "I hated what the Pistons did this offseason."

Yet, for some reason, that didn't stop me from expecting them to be a .500. I don't know how many more ways I can say it, but Joe Dumars screwed up big time this offseason. I don't know how he ever talked himself into thinking that spending $100 million on role players was the answer to all the Pistons' problems, but he did.

Now, the Pistons sit as the 11th-best team in the East, behind such powerhouses as New York and Charlotte, at an almost embarrassing 14-25 record. They can't stay healthy, they can't score, and they can't defend.

I don't know what's worse for the Pistons, the fact that they are a threat to win the lottery, that if they do win the lottery, they'll probably pass on John Wall because they have Rodney Stuckey, or the fact the Dumars will somehow convince the people of Detroit that it was the right thing to do.

I don't ever plan on killing someone, but if I do, I want Joe Dumars to defend me during my trial. He can convince the people of Detroit anything.

Houston Rockers projected record 32-50.

You want a Hollywood comparison for this one? Projecting the Houston Rockets to be 22-18 right now is like saying six months ago, "I kind of like that lady from VH1's 'Charm School' to win an Oscar next year." People would have thought you were crazy.

Yet, here we are, and the team with no superstar is in the thick of the playoff race and Mo'nique is cleaning up at the award shows. These are strange times, indeed.

And for the record, I am willing to admit that I missed this one badly. The Rockets play hard, they play together, and they defend. You can win regular season games that way.

But in no way am I buying this team as a playoff threat. Essentially, they've overachieved to this point of the season to even get to the eighth seed. They need to keep overachieving just to get in the playoffs. They are a nice story because they're better than we thought, but that doesn't necessarily make them good.

And the winner for ugliest prediction of the year...

New Jersey Nets projected record 35-47.

Ouch. For two seasons in a row, I said all I like about the Nets is that Jay-Z owns 1.8% of the team.

Based on that, I should have predicted that they would win 1.8% of their games.

It's hard to imagine that I could pick a team to finish 12 games below .500 and still be off on their win total by 25 games or more, but that's exactly where we are right now with the Nets. I thought they'd be bad, I had no idea they'd be epically terrible.

They are on pace to win the fewest games in a season in NBA history.

As much as I'd like to take credit for seeing that coming, no one could have predicted that.

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January 27, 2010

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Christopher Waltz is the man.

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