As the NBA season kicks off this week, every sports news service in the country comes out with its own list of predictions of which teams and players will dominate the league for the next eight months. With a particularly busy off-season and a dramatic month of training camp, this season’s speculations run wilder than a Coolio concert in a school cafeteria. Among all the predictions out there, two seem to be almost unanimous. However, the bandwagons of public opinion can be dangerous to ride on, and these two predictions are no different. Here are a few good reasons why this season’s most obvious picks may not be so straightforward.

Kevin Durant Won’t Win Rookie of the Year

With Greg Oden out for the season recovering from microfracture surgery, there is no doubt that Kevin Durant is the most talented rookie coming into the league this season. Durant’s statistics in college (25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game) are certainly impressive, and with the departure of all-star forward Rashard Lewis, Durant will likely be the focus of Seattle’s offense. On such an offensively challenged team, Durant, who has been praised for his scoring and playmaking ability, should get the minutes, touches and shots to put up impressive statistics this season.

As it turns out, though, the “good player on a terrible team” argument can go both ways. Often times, a highly touted rookie on an otherwise terrible team can be overwhelmed by the defensive attention and pressure he receives as the offensive centerpiece. Recent top-five draft picks Marvin Williams, Shaun Livingston and Adam Morrison all had disappointing rookie seasons on losing teams. With a backcourt highlighted by the likes of Luke Ridnour and Wally Szczerbiak, Durant had better be ready to face opposing teams’ best defensive stopper night in and night out. Durant has been described as a guaranteed star, and this may be so, but with such little offensive power around him, he will have to work very hard for his points.

Another issue for Durant will be staying healthy. Perhaps too much was made of Durant’s inability to bench press 185 pounds at the Orlando pre-draft camp (the only person in camp with this distinction), but his lack of strength could exacerbate the normal wear and tear any rookie goes through in an 82-game season. Tracy cGrady, the player to whom Durant is most frequently compared, consoled the former Longhorn by revealing his own inability to bench 185 at Durant’s age. While McGrady’s admission shows Durant’s potential for strength (McGrady told the Houston Chronicle last month that he can now bench 185 pounds about 22 times), the two-time scoring champion also missed 51 games in his first two seasons, a similarity Durant will need to avoid

Finally, while no one player jumps out as the primary challenger to Durant’s candidacy, Atlanta’s Al Horford, Houston’s Luis Scola and Memphis’ Mike Conley Jr. will all get the minutes and opportunities to compete for the award. Horford plays for a more balanced but still bad Atlanta Hawks team where his rebounding, defense and athleticism could fill a stat sheet. He also has a body better prepared to bang with the NBA’s big boys.

In Houston, the 27-year-old Scola is no “diaper dandy,” and the former European MVP could be a double-double threat by mid-season. Lastly, Conley is a pass-first point guard at the helm of a young and athletic Memphis team. His ball-handling skills combined with his variety of scoring options is reminiscent of Chris Paul’s rookie of the year campaign in the 2005-2006 season.

The Boston Celtics Won’t Go to the NBA Finals

While the Boston Celtics are the NBA’s most improved team, and Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce would win any three-on-three tournament, it takes a rotation of seven or eight talented players to be the best in a conference.

The Boston roster has several glaring question marks for such a highly touted team. Point guard Rajon Rando can hold his own on defense but has yet to prove he can run an offense with such talented players. In fact, the last eight NBA champions all featured veteran point guards.

Crashing the boards also may be an issue for Boston. Rebounding machine Kevin Garnett will certainly make life easier, but the rest of the Celtics’ frontcourt is undersized and below average when it comes to cleaning glass. Center Kendrick Perkins can rebound well when he is on the court, but foul trouble and stamina issues limited him to 21 minutes per game last season. Garnett finally got out of Minnesota, but with the rebounding pressure on him this season, it looks like some things never change.

The most crucial issue for the Celtics will be the health of their players. Ray Allen is entering his 12th season after missing 27 games last year mostly due to ankle issues, and Paul Pierce missed 35 games last season with a foot injury.

The Celtics should be a high seed in the East, but they will have a hard time making it to June. The Heat have two stars of their own (Dwyane Wade and Shaq) along with Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem, Jason Williams and Ricky Davis, who are all better than anyone outside of Boston’s Big Three. The Detroit Pistons are perennially deep and talented, and the Orlando Magic are going through a resurgence of their own with the signing of Rashard Lewis and the emergence of Dwight Howard as the next great center.

The Celtics are certainly the most improved team, but before they win any other distinctions, they will need to add frontcourt depth and backcourt experience to their sensational Big Three.

Whether or not Durant wins the award this year, watching the development of this promising new athlete is reason enough to follow the baby Sonics. In Boston, the union of three great players may not be the recipe for a championship, but it will certainly be something worth watching. So grab a fantasy team and make some predictions of your own: It only gets better from here.

Jamie Leader is a junior in the College. He can be reached at FOLLOW THE LEADER appears every other Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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