The 2011-12 NBA season begins on Sunday, and before you know it, the playoff seeds will be shaping up and MVP trains will be on the path to gold. While the abbreviated offseason, a wackadoo draft and a 2010-11 season that flipped conventional wisdom on its head should make this an unpredictable season, some truths are apparently self-evident.
We polled SB Nation's NBA bloggers -- the folks that write religiously about a specific team, and as such, get a good look at all of the league's other clubs -- and the picks for the NBA Finals were overwhelming uniform. Nineteen of our 23 voters picked the Oklahoma City Thunder as the Western Conference Champion, and 17 voters picked the Miami Heat to win the Eastern Conference. Out of those 23 voters, 14 picked a Heat vs. Thunder Finals.
That's my pick, too, and it's a pretty easy case to make. Miami dominated the East's two top contenders in the playoffs a season ago, pasting the Boston Celtics and basting the Chicago Bulls. They and the Thunder ran up against an unstoppable Dirk Nowitzki and a deep Dallas Mavericks that has now lost Tyson Chandler and is a year older. With a year of seasoning and some key tweaks, both squads look pretty unstoppable.
I have picked the Heat to win it all this season, and the SB Nation voters agree: Miami led the way with 15 votes as the pick for NBA champion. The Thunder earned three votes, the Bulls and Mavericks two each and the Grizzlies a single vote. That's right: none of our 23 voters picked the L.A. Lakers, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs or L.A. Clippers to so much as make the Finals. Can everyone be that wrong?
Here are the voting results and my picks in other categories.
My pick for the worst record in the NBA this season is the New Orleans Hornets. Our SB Nation voters went a different direction, offering up 10 votes for the Charlotte Bobcats, who are, like the Hornets, in a clear rebuilding phase. The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers finished second with four votes apiece. The Hornets earned two votes, and the Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns each took one vote apiece.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
The L.A. Clippers' Neil Olshey won the preseason vote for Executive of the Year with 15 of 22 votes. He is also my pick. Donnie Nelson of the Mavericks earned two votes, and Pat Riley (Heat), Masai Ujiri (Nuggets) and Larry Bird (Pacers) each took one. In a brilliant bit of collective snark, David Stern won two votes.
COACH OF THE YEAR
The SB Nation voters have picked previous winner as the favorite for Coach of the Year: the Thunder's Scott Brooks, who took six of 23 votes in a diverse field. My pick is the Mavericks' Rick Carlisle, who won three votes. Others receiving multiple votes include Lionel Hollins (three), Frank Vogel (three), Tom Thibodeau (two) and Nate McMillan (two). Avery Johnson, Doug Collins Erik Spoelstra and Mark Jackson each earned one vote.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR
My pick for the very-difficult-to-predict Sixth Man of the Year award is James Harden of the Thunder. The voters agree: Harden led the way with 10 votes. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom followed with three votes. Others receiving multiple votes with Jamal Crawford (two) and Thaddeus Young (two). Receiving a single vote were Gary Neal, Jared Dudley, Jason Terry, Mo Williams, Rodrigue Beaubois and Rudy Fernandez.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
It's a three-way battle for SB Nation's preseason Rookie of the Year pick, with No. 9 pick Kemba Walker of the Bobcats coming in on top with eight votes. No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers followed with six votes, and No. 2 pick Derrick Williams finished third in preseason voting with three picks. Williams' teammate Ricky Rubio picked up three votes, and Heat rookie Norris Cole received one. Walker is my pick as well; the relative lack of scoring punch in Charlotte should open up the floor for the quick and aggressive Kemba.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Outside of the Thunder's West dominance, no pick was as close to consensus as the Magic's Dwight Howard as Defensive Player of the Year: 19 of our 23 voters, including myself, picked D-12 to four-peat the award. It's hard to argue: the guy's defensive impact is incredible and consistent. New Knicks center Tyson Chandler picked up the other four votes.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
The MVP award is never not controversial, and if the SB Nation voters' prediction comes true, that will go treble this season: LeBron James is our preseason MVP pick, earning 10 of the 23 votes. He's not my pick -- I was one of three voters to take Chris Paul. Kevin Durant was the closest contender to LeBron with seven votes. Reiging MVP Derrick Rose picked up one vote, as did Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. If James wins a title and the MVP in the same season, will the universe implode? If our SB Nation bloggers are right, we'll get to find out in June.
The 2011-12 NBA season begins on Sunday. Stay tuned to SBNation.com/NBA all season for leaguewide coverage, and check out your team's SB Nation blog for daily analysis and commentary.