Beware: The 2013-14 NBA Season is Extremely Freakin’ Nigh!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year and if Sallie didn’t love NBA Basketball (and my Oklahoma City Thunder), this would easily be the best of times and worst of times for the Black Household. Fortunately for me, I married the right woman.
As per usual, here are my predictions on the upcoming NBA Season.
The Playoff Picture
- Los Angeles Clippers(60-22) They strengthened their coaching position, center depth, point guard depth, and added a couple nice spot-up shooters in JJ Redick and Dudley. Their biggest folly will be who plays down low in the fourth quarter, which will keep them from being effective in the playoffs. But…Chris Paul. Yah, Chris Paul is really good and that alone puts them in the top 3 this year.
- San Antonio Spurs (59-23) The Spurs are, as always, the perfect picture of teamwork being greater than individual skill. That’s not to say that they don’t have stars as I think Parker will be top-5 in MVP voting this season. If they continue to manage Duncan, and Kawhi makes another leap, they’re as good as ever.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (57-25) James Harden is gone, for good, so there’s no point in harping on that point. This season is going to be different- no Westbrook to start with, no clear 6th man off the bench, possibility of sleeved jerseys at some point. That said, I think this team is finals bound. The thing they’re missing is experience- Jackson, Lamb, Adams simply need time. As a result, I see Jackson and Lamb building a good rapport and creating a nice 1-2 punch for the 2nd unit come playoff time. Losing Westbrook will cost us maybe 1 or 2 games, but Kevin Durant will score 30+ the first month of the season and Serge Ibaka looks to have sharpened his post game as well. Patience, fans. Patience.
- Houston Rockets (56-26) Adding Dwight Howard over the summer was a great long-term move. The Rockets look to be a run-and-gun team though, which could limit his effectiveness with his back to the basket. I think some growing pains and two sub-par point guards creates an interesting connundrum- Do we dish Lin and Asik for a legitimate point guard? Knowing Daryl Morey, it’ll happen.
- Golden State Warriors (54-28) What’s not to love about this team? Stephen Curry is the best outside shooter since Reggie Miller, Andre Iguodala can guard positions 1-3, Bogut looks healthy, and Harrison Barnes is a 6th man. They lost Jarrett Jack, which hurts, but Kent Bazemore took a leap in summer league, so it could be more than bench-based towel-celebrations for him. Can’t wait to see these guys shoot.
- Memphis Grizzlies (51-31) The most exciting-boring team in the NBA. They’ll play great defense, defend the pick-and-roll, make baskets inside and limit their mistakes on the floor. I don’t see Jerryd Bayless adding anything too substantial and think Mike Miller plays less than half of their games this season. Regardless, they’re one of my League Pass teams- just too good not to watch.
- Dallas Mavericks (49-33) They’re not the Dallas Mavericks of old, but they are playoff bound, no doubt. It’s hard for me to imagine Monte Ellis and Calderon meshing well, but I think Rick Carlisle is the coach to figure it out. Despite an abysmal start to last season (and no one interesting on their roster), they got to .500 after Dirk returned from injury. I see them as a fringe team with no hope in the playoffs.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (47-35) Another League Pass alert! I LOVE Ricky Rubio. He dribbles and passes the ball with the elegance of a ballerina and the positivity of a self-help book. Kevin Love deserves his own blog post from me. The key to this team, as it’s currently constructed, has been injury. In order to make the playoffs they need 70 games from Rubio, Love, and Pekovic. They also need to teach Kevin Martin how to score on the road.
- Miami Heat (64-18) They have more than 90% of their minutes returning from last season. They added Greg Oden and Michael Beasley as high risk, high reward players. If they get anything out of those two, this team could again be unbeatable. Lebron James just keeps getting better and with Wade aging, I see Bosh stepping in to a more substantial role on this squad.
- Indiana Pacers (59-23) This team has a lot to like. Last year they were in the top 5 in transition defense AND offensive rebounds, a tough feat. Paul George has taken a big leap. Danny Granger should be back, at some point. Their bench, which was non-existent last year, got stronger by adding Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, and C.J. Watson. It’s a shame Frank Vogel didn’t win coach of the year last year because he should have. All-in-all, they’re a REAL threat to the Miami Heat in the east.
- Chicago Bulls (57-25) Derrick Rose is back and the NBA is infinitely more interesting as a result. His explosiveness, athleticism, and ability to score is unrivaled in the league. They’ll do what Thibodeau does best- defend. Joakim Noah will be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, and Luol Deng will end up on another team, as they make a big midseason trade. Good things ahead for the Bulls.
- Brooklyn Nets (54-28) This would be the best fantasy basketball team ever assembled. They’re two deep at nearly every position- Pierce/Kirilenko, Lopez/Garnett/Evans/Blatche at the 4 and 5, and Terry coming off the bench for Joe Johnson. That said, they’re old. Really old. And with that age will come injuries and limited minutes all season long. It’ll be interesting to see how Jason Kidd manages his geriatrics ridden rotation.
- New York Knicks(49-33) Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith are quite the pair. They play no defense, shoot as often as possible, and have an entire bag of chips on their shoulder. The reality is that this team’s over-focus on offense makes Tyson Chandler more important and less effective at the same time as he constantly works to clean up everyone else’s mistakes. Their additions of Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani underwhelm me as much as the possibility of Amare Stoudemire playing 70 games or more. They added some interesting pieces, but I look at them as a step backwards.
- Detroit Pistons (47-35) Playoff basketball, meet Detroit (again). The Josh Smith signing is really interesting to me. He’s been an underachieving player up to this point, but paired up with a dynamic duo in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond down low could allow him to take the shots he’s more comfortable shooting. Brandon Jennings is a clear upgrade from Knight, and Mo Cheeks could do some interesting stuff with him, like he did Westbrook in OKC. Kentavious Caldwell Pope, their rookie, has more than an interesting name too as I think he could defend the perimeter effectively, as well as spot shoot for them when the time comes.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (43-39) Maybe this is just wishful thinking because I love Kyrie Irving. Adding Jarrett Jack was my favorite offseason signing. They need Varejao healthy, Tristan Thompson to take another jump, and Dion Waiters to do the same. If those three things take place, plus getting ANY contribution from Bynum, this team is without a doubt playoff bound. If they deal with injury, it’s another year in the gutter, awaiting a nice draft in 2014.
- Washington Wizards (42-40) This team is another one of my wishful thinking festivities, but how can you not cheer for John Wall. He’s quick, versatile and ready to take that next step in stardom. I can’t think of a more perfect pairing with him than Bradley Beal. If the two stay healthy, play 65 games together, they’re a formidable backcourt for years to come. I’m intrigued by what their draft pick, Otto Porter, can be. If he materializes, those three are fantastic building pieces for this team. One of the most important aspects to this team is Nene Hilario. Now that Marcin Gortat is on the team, Nene will be able to play the 4, rather than the 5. Maybe Michael Jordan will sell the bobcats and start playing in Washington again.
NBA Finals: Miami Heat defeats Oklahoma City Thunder in 7 games
I think the Heat barely edge out the Indiana Pacers in the Conference Finals- full 7 games. That team really matches up well with Miami. It’s hard to imagine the Heat NOT making the finals with their roster. Even if they get a shell of Oden’s self, they’re even more difficult to beat. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the East challenging the Heat in the playoffs outside of the Pacers and Bulls, but two words- Lebron James. The guy is hard to watch because I equally love and despise him. He can shoot. He’s strong. He defense well. He is the single greatest player, possibly the single best athlete, on earth.
The Thunder are a team people keep saying have gotten worse. I can see where that logic comes into play, having lost Harden. But, I’m not sure we can be the judge of that at this point. By this point in the season, I think Presti has used both of his trade exceptions and a couple draft picks to bring in another wing player, possibly Evan Turner or Aaron Afflalo. Reggie Jackson would have an entire season under his belt and could be in the running for 6th man. Russell has been able to get strong since his return and find his court vision(my guess December 13 vs. Lakers). Kevin Durant is being not nice (but really nice in real life). Serge has done his thing, and Steven Adams is even getting some run at Center. Simply put, I think this team will have grown as a unit all season come playoff time. That is…barring another apocalyptic ending.
Despite my love of the OKC Thunder, I still don’t see them as a better team than the Heat. I’d love for them to be so, but I think this is the big-3’s last year together. I think Wade stays healthy and I feel as if the Heat’s bench could fall apart and still be fundamentally more sound than the Thunders, not on a skill level, but on an experience level. Lebron and KD will fight during this series. HARD! Like Magic and Bird hard. But, ultimately, Lebron is Lebron and I hate that. The Heat win in 7.
MVP: Kevin Durant
Wait, didn’t I just say that Lebron James is the best player on earth? Yes. But oftentimes this award has a few different factors playing- voter fatique (James has won two in a row), and opportunity. KD will have a full 6 weeks to pad his stats, quite possibly over 30 points/6.2ast/8.5reb and his first PER over 30 for his career. If the Thunder escape their Westbrook-less existence 16-6 or better, there’s no doubt it’s because of KD’s work. Lebron won this award last year because of their ridiculous win streak. I think KD wins it this year because of his ability to keep this team near the top of the conference, despite missing a key piece to their puzzle.
If KD doesn’t win, I can see it being a close tossup between D-Rose and Lebron. Simply put, the NBA is going to be awesome this year.
Sixth Man: Jarrett Jack
Jack was a real leader on the floor for the Warriors last year and I’m sure they’ll miss him. His ability to come in and run point, leaving Kyrie off-the-ball, if necessary, creates a lot of scoring AND passing opportunity for him. If they make the playoffs, it’ll surely be due to the depth Jack provides. He’s the leagues best backup point guard and will finally be recognized as such.
If Jack doesn’t win, I could see Harrison Barnes and/or Andrei Kirilenko being in the running for this prize.
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert was the reason the Heat went to the finals last year. No, not because of something he did, but because he wasn’t on the floor to protect the basket. He can rebound on both ends, protect the basket from penetration, cut off pick and rolls, and more. He blocks. He challenges. He’s my favorite defender in the league after Larry Sanders (who will win this award next year).
If Hibbert doesn’t win, Lebron might. He asked for it! Ask and ye shall receive, Mr. James.
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo
This guy is the next incarnation of Westbrook if fate is as kind as it was to Russ. He’s quick off the dribble, can jump through the roof, has amazing court vision, and plays for a terrible team, so his stats (16pts/5ast/3reb) will reap the reward. I’m excited to see him blossom into the next great guard in the NBA.
If Oladipo doesn’t win, I could certainly see Ben McLemore take the prize, basically because of the same reasoning- bad team = lots of run.
Most Improved: Reggie Jackson
Maybe i’m oversimplifying here, but how can it not be regarded as the most improvement, going from 5.3 pts/1.7 ast/2.4 reb/.4 stl/14 minutes to what he’ll do this year? I think this is the worst award in the league, but based on the title alone, he should fit the bill. I expect him to average something along the lines of 13pts/4 ast/ 3.5 reb/ 22 minutes per game by seasons end and quite possibly in the mix for sixth man.
If Reggie doesn’t win this, I hope Jonas Valanciunas does, because he’s the only hope Toronto has and I like his game a lot.
Coach of the Year: Frank Vogel
He’s turned this team around defensive AND offensively and did so without his best player- Danny Granger. They play as a unit and don’t sacrifice any area of the floor. He should have won last year, in my mind, but since he didn’t he’ll be a frontrunner this year as his success over an elongated period of time will win him votes.
Executive of the Year: Daryl Morey
Statheads love him. The media loves him. Twitter loves him. What’s not to love about Daryl Morey? After signing Howard, quite possibly making a trade mid-season, and assembling a real contender after years of irrelevance, it’s obvious he deserves this.
If Morey doesn’t win, I can see Joe Dumars winning this if Detroit does indeed make the playoffs.