Erie's NBA Preview
Neither of you two that will read this thread asked for it, but I don't give a flip. I'm posting it anyway.
I'll just go ahead and dive into my NBA Prognostications, though, as they are the heart of this post.
Predicted Eastern Conference Standings:
1) Chicago Bulls - Projected Record- 62-20, 1st Place Central Division, Eastern Conference Finalist, 1st Seed- The Bulls are a team with a great core, that have developed a rapport with their current head coach, are reasonably deep, and feel like they have a lot to prove coming into this season. They're built to thrive in a regular season, rather than a playoff environment. They have solid trade assets, to make a move as well-- they seem very much a team built to win right now, and I think they will. Jimmy Butler is emerging as a 2 for them, and can be a real difference maker; if he regresses as a player, though, the impact of the return of Derrick Rose may be muted. I do not believe they have enough to beat Miami head to head in a crunch time series, but they do have the horses to run out to the league's best record.
2) Miami Heat- Projected Record 59-23, 1st Place Southeast Division, NBA Champions, 2nd Seed- The Heat are the best team in the NBA; their unique offensive and defensive sets take the best advantage of their superstars' skill sets, of any NBA team. Chicago might work harder, Indiana may be grittier, but this is a team that has perfected their approach to both ends of the floor. Are there potential problems? Sure. A good 5 or a great 1 can force them into a slugfest. Ray Allen isn't going to be as good. There is potential for defensive regression. They'll miss Mike Miller. They've played a ton of basketball the last 3 years, and they need to cut back on minutes for their Big 3; D-Wade is going to continue to be erratic, and mail in a lot more games against the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA world. That said, there is a lot to admire about this Heat team. They're more athletic than last year; Wade is in a lot better condition than he was going into last year
They're still a great team, and while they'll start picking their spots more, they are still going to be one of the three best regular season teams in the Eastern Conference.
3) Indiana Pacers- Projected Record 58-24, 2nd Place Central Division, Eastern Conference Semifinalists, 3rd Seed - The Pacers are one of my favorite teams to watch; they've completely reworked a team liability (the bench) into a decent group. They grind out every single defensive possession, and teams know they've played the Pacers for several days after the game is over. Things that have the potential to derail the Pacers this year-- they need Roy Hibbert healthy, to protect the rim; he's put on weight, but needs to retain flexibility. Danny Granger can't become a distraction, as he reincorporates himself into the lineup as a 6th man who plays a ton of crunch time minutes.
4) Brooklyn Nets- 55-27, 1st Place Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference Semifinalist, 4th Seed
This Nets team would have been primed to make a run at the 2008 NBA title. Unfortunately, this is 2013. They've got a lot to like, and in an Eastern Conference where the bottom is absolute garbage, they're going to win a lot of games, but I don't love this team. On any given night, sure, they'll go toe to toe with anyone in the league, particularly on the defensive end. I don't love their offense. Brook Lopez is too soft. Paul Pierce has to start slipping just a tad, sometime soon. There are only so many ice packs for knees that one training staff can hand out by the 3rd quarter. Worse yet, their window is now. The main issues with the team are not going to get better soon.
5) Washington Wizards- 48-34, 2nd Place Southeast Division, 5th Seed
This is where the first major drop off in the Eastern Conference happens. There are four teams that I look at and see as definitive playoff teams, but at least two, if not three steps behind the front 4 in the East. I may be reaching a little here on the Bullets, but I'd rather overshoot them a little, than over-seed the Knicks or the Pistons. I think they get a few breaks because of Orlando's determination to sneaky-tank this season, Charlotte still being dreadful, and the development of the Beal/Wall combination. The Gortat trade is why I am higher than I should be on the Wizards. I struggled a lot when looking at how the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff teams matched up with the true dregs of the conference.
6) New York Knicks – 47-35, 2nd Place Atlantic Division - This is a ton of wins for a 6th seed in the NBA, but the bottom of the East is as bad as any melange of NBA teams as we've seen in a long while. They have way too many expensive players (the first team in NBA history to have 5 starters that make $10 mil per), Amare's knees are liable to kill someone in a shrapnel explosion, and their biggest addition is an underappreciated Raptor big who needs volume scoring looks.....yeah, the Knicks are a great pick for Eastern Conference Underachievers of the Year. If JR Smith gets sideways, this is a team that could collapse to that 45 win plateau. I'm calling for them to regress pretty hard, but not as fast as the bottom of the East, meaning their record will be slightly inflated, despite being a worse team and having any window they had slammed shut. If you hate the Knicks, this may be a fun year to watch them in the big moments. They'll get to the playoffs, then get embarrassed as paper tigers.
7) Detroit Pistons- 45-37, 3rd Place Central Division, 5th Seed – I like the Pistons. I'd really like to pick them higher, but I just can't. They're developing a strong front line, but just don't have the back-court horses to challenge the top of the East. They're going to overachieve a little, and it will cost them position in a deep draft. I wish I could say that they are a team that will be looking for a few pieces to make an Indiana-like leap, but I think they've doomed themselves to be a Better Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee Bucks- 42-40, 4th Place Central Division – Speaking of teams that are locked into a futile NBA destiny-- ladies and gentlemen, your Milwaukee Bucks! I like their starting 5 better. I love how they defend the rim. I don't like OJ Mayo, but he gives them more size to defend guards. Knight is probably a slight downgrade at point from Brandon Jennings, but I really like his addition from a team chemistry standpoint. There aren't any ridiculous black holes on the bench. They have a lot of useful parts-- but I fear they're going to be a bit of the island of misfit toys. They'll win the games they should. They'll lose the games they should. Maybe they can trade Butler and an expiring deal to a team that needs a year of a scoring SF to either bottom out, or shake up a contender-Rudy Gay and Toronto bombing out comes to mind.
9) Toronto Raptors: 36-46, 3rd Place Atlantic Division – This is where the second major drop off in the East happens. These teams are three steps behind the teams that are three steps behind the contenders. If you want to see the worst NBA has to offer, watch in-conference matchups of the bottom of the Eastern Conference, where you can watch Rudy Gay's quest to be the Human Trade Highlight go head to head with the Kelly Olynyk All-Stars. This is a bad team, that will have a better record than they should.
10) Cleveland Cavaliers- 35-47 - 5th Place Central Division - Logically, I like them better than the Raptors. I don't like their division, though, and I expect a tiny regression from Kyrie, as the teams in their division will feature brutal front court defenses that will bring his effectiveness at the hoop back a half step. He doesn't have that 5-10 foot floater in his arsenal yet, but it will be something you see him working to develop and apply in games this year. I get a feeling that there's going to be an injury on this team, or something weird is going to happen-- because, lets face it, they are the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're by far the team in the East that I am selling short.
11) Atlanta Hawks- 32-50, 3rd Place Southeast Division - This is another team that is only half-way committed to tanking. Danny Ferry is going to find a way to blow what there is left, up. I expect a ton of Al Horford DNPs, with mysterious ankle or foot ailments. Millsap is a pretty nice signing at $19 over 2, but just not enough. Most of the teams I have ahead of them have bigger guards, and will use that to offset the Millsap-Horford front line rebounding advantage. I don't see them dealing Horford, as he is a legit building block.
12) Orlando Magic- 26-56, 4th Place Southeast Division - This is their last year of struggling hardcore to recover from the Dwight Howard era. They're going to do some really odd things to try to experiment with what they're going to be a few years down the road-- I like Oladipo, but I don't see any way they can realistically play him big minutes at the point-- but they're going to try it this year, but 'We aren't tanking!' *wink wink, nudge nudge*. Vucevic and Tobias Harris are legitimate guys who can be 3rd or 4th best players on a contender. There is no good way for them to sell their worst contract (Davis), and they eventually will settle on a buyout number with Turkoglu. This is a young, athletic team that is trying to eek out one more year as a bottom feeder.
13) Boston Celtics 26-56, 4th Place Atlantic Division- This is just a bad basketball team, with a pretty good coach. Look for them to keep Rondo not playing as long as possible-- I wouldn't be shocked if we see a resumption of the grumbling Rondo, as they work hard to keep him off of the floor, or to see them trade Jeff Green as soon as he does.
14) Charlotte Bobcats -20-62, 5th Place Southeastern Division - It is a sad thing when there is a worse team in the conference than Charlotte. Michael Jordan is as bad a front office/owner/exec as there is in the league-- when Isaiah Thomas feels good about your comparative tenures, it is a very bad thing. Best case scenario, they turn the offense over to Al Jefferson and Zoeller turns into a viable NBA 4. Maybe Jannero Pargo can give us a few decent moments from an ex-Hog. Michael Kidd Gilcrist is just bad.
15) Philadelphia 86ers. 14-68, 5th Place Atlantic Division- I know they're technically the 76ers, but they have already 86'd their season. I've gone over their roster 3 or 4 times, and am hard pressed to find a player that is better than a 6th or 7th guy on a playoff team. The biggest improvements for this team are drafting a severely injured Nerlens Noel, and getting rid of Andrew Bynum-- that's it! I guess it is Evan Turner's team now...but geeze-- this is going to be terrible..
Predicted Western Conference Standings
1) Golden State Warriors 57-25, 1st Place Pacific Division, Western Conference Semifinalist, 1st Seed-- In my Western Conference Surprise pick, I take the Warriors to finish with the best record in the West, mostly on the strength of limiting factors for other teams (injury, age), and the Pacific Division being the worst in the Western Conference by a wide margin. Andre Iguodala will give them a glue guy that will offset the loss of Jarrett Jack by bringing a wider skill set and more defense to a team that has challenges.
2) San Antonio Spurs – 55-27, 1st Place Southwest Division, Western Conference Finalist, 2nd Seed-- The Spurs just keep on keeping on; I really don't know what to say, except that they will fade in the standings as the year goes on-- Houston still has to learn how to use Howard, and eventually Westbrook will return to OKC, but the Spurs will salt away enough wins early, and hold on to a great seeding and important homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
3) Houston Rockets - 54-28, 2nd Place Southwest Division, Western Conference Semifinalist, 3rd Seed – The Rockets are going to present matchup problems to everyone eventually, and are going to rebound and protect the rim pretty well. I still think they're player short of being a true contender, but they are going to be a very good night-to-night basketball team.
James Harden is definitely the best 2 in the league, despite what D-Wade thinks. He's going to get help in a big way this year, in Houston.
4) Oklahoma City Thunder – 52-30, 1st Place Northwest Division, NBA Finalist, 4th Seed –
The first few months are going to be Kevin Durant's MVP showcase. If anyone is going to really give a legitimate run at displacing LeBron as MVP this season, it will be KD, pre-Westbrook's return. I wouldn't be shocked for him to blow past 35PPG. I think they are treading water at best, and will miss Kevin Martin-- the other teams in the West are getting better, so I think they need to get and stay healthy to emerge from the West.
5) LA Clippers - 50-32, 2nd Place Pacific Division,-- The single most overrated player, team, and coach in the NBA, all in one place! Yes, Doc will help them fix some of the glaring defensive rotation problems, but he can't fix Blake Griffin's shot. He can't make DeAnre Jordan into Kevin Garnett, or invent a way to hide two of the NBA's 5 worst FT shooting starters in crunch time. Chris Paul is one of my favorite players, but he may go bonkers with this team. This team has real collapse potential, if Rondo was closer to the mark than anyone wanted to admit when he clashed with Rivers in Boston. JJ Redick is a nice acquisition, but that's about it. I do think that Doc is smart enough to play someone with a prayer on the good power forwards in the Western Conference Playoffs. They've got good parts, but I just think they're a bad chemistry team waiting to happen.
6) Memphis Grizzlies- 46-36, 3rd Place Southwest Division - The Grizzlies are just going to do this on muscle memory. They've lost their window, and still can't hit an uncontested jump shot. Marc Gasol and Z-Bo are very good, and Mike Conley is a good PG, but you don't want him in a head to head matchup with Paul, Westbrook, or Tony Parker. They will grind out games, defend well, and be a poor man's Pacers of the West.....but they just don't have enough firepower. If Z-Bo or Gasol were to miss extended time (25+ games), they could fall out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
7) Dallas Mavericks - 43-39, 4th Place Southwest Division - The last hurrah of Dirk. For the sake of notshavin, I'll over-estimate the Mavs, on the strength of The Last Huge Dirk Year. Really, they're several games worse than this, and a probable sweep victim if they make the playoffs, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Minnesota Timberwolves- 43-39, 2nd Place Northwest Division - I'm using a law of averages here; on paper, the Wolves are good enough to range as high as 6th in the Western Conference, but underachieve all the time, lately with a round of crippling injuries to key players. This year promises to be one of the deepest NBA drafts in ages, so what worse year to be a marginal playoff team and thereby guarantee yourself exclusion from the draft lottery? This is just what existence is like for the Minnesota Timberwolves. They've addressed some of the issues, and with a healthy Kevin Love ,should be able to score the ball as well as any team in the NBA. Defense is going to be the question, for this team, but they'll make a great NBA League Pass watch.
9) Denver Nuggets- 40-42, 3rd Place Northwest Division - My biggest regression candidate in th Western Conference. I like the parts, but not the sum of the parts. Iguodala is a bigger loss than most realize. Maybe they sneak in the playoffs on the strength of energy and playing 41 home games at high altitude, but I think the loss of Karl is going to mess with their rotations and the distribution of playoff time that helped Denver be as effective as they have been the past few years.
10) Portland Trailblazers – 39-43, 4th Place Northwest Division - I wouldn't be shocked to see them win 47 games and be a 7th Seed, but I'm not buying in as heavily into their bench rebuilding as some are. CJ McCollum is one of my favorite rookies, but is one of three scoring point guards. Portland is one of those teams that people say 'hey, they're deep', but when I look at their depth, I see a lot of okay guys, and not enough help for LaMarcus Aldrige. Lillard seems a potential regression candidate, and hopefully is able to share the workload effectively, with the glut of similar point guards. The best case for Portland is if Thomas Robinson is a real NBA power forward who can bang a little bit, and help defend on the front line.
11) New Orleans Pelicans 35-47, 5th Place, Southwest Division - This may be a big year for Anthony Davis' development. Jrue Holliday is a good player, but they severely overpaid for him, especially when factoring in his salary. They have way too many guards for one basketball. Tyreke Evans is bad for any team's chemistry. I hope that they figure out what they want to do with Anthony Davis-- because there is real potential that this group is going to hinder his development. I think Eric Gordon might end up being the odd man out, and become a trade asset.
12) Utah Jazz - 33-49, 5th Place Northwest Division – I like the Trey Burke pick for them, but Ty Corbin is going to get fired. Losing Millsap and Al Jefferson is going to mean they're finally going to turn to Kantor and Favors. Gordon Hayward is an undervalued asset. They're athletic, they have a ton of expirings, and are a wonderful trade partner for a lot of teams. Alec Burks is going to be good, if given a proper role. The sole reason I put them ahead of the Lakers right now, is because they are athletic enough to have a prayer of defending at an NBA average level, and night-to-night, that means more in the NBA than having a strong offensive identity.
13) Los Angeles Lakers – 33-49, 3rd Place Pacific Division – This is going to be a brutal, brutal Lakers squad. They may be okay offensively, but this team can't defend. I take back the decent offensively-- they're going to play Wesley Johnson 25 minutes a game! Until Kobe gets back, this is going to be Pau and the High Lottery Effort All-Stars. When he does return, he may have to be restrained from attacking terrible teammates. I do think that they're going to be much better later than early, but it still isn't enough to be a playoff contender. I'm going to enjoy this season way more than I should.
14) Sacramento Kings- 27-55, 4th Place Pacific Division- I'll try to be optimistic for those last few Kings fans-- they rid themselves of Tyreke Evans! They're Maloof Free! Carl Landry is a legitimate rotation guy! Ben McLemore may be an actual value draft pick, if they don't screw this up. That's about it, though. There are a lot of question marks-- plenty of guys who could be a 6th to 8th guy on an NBA roster, but not a lot more. I guess you are building around Boogie and Ben, but there needs to be more than that. The Lottery needs to be good to the Kings, if they're going to have real long term hope. They need to clear out some of the logjam in the front court, as well.
15) Phoenix Suns- 14-68, 5th Place Pacific Division- The trade of Gortat just sort of cemented this as the worst team in the Western Conference. I don't like their rookies, I don't like their salary situation, I don't like Bledsoe as a solution in the backcourt. Okafor isn't going to be healthy any time soon, and this team is going to drift. Dragic is a real asset, but I expect him to get dealt.