Saturday, November 9, 2013

2013-14 NBA Preview: Road to the Championship vs. Diggin' for Wiggins

How will Derrick Rose's return affect the playoff race? Photo from cardinalsportszone.com

What team will complete their goal of Diggin' for Wiggins? Photo from yodonbleekraps.com

It's that time of year again, eight months of basketball are on the horizon, and it's going to be pretty fun. The biggest question of the year, is whether the tanktastic seasons ahead for the league's bottom feeders will become a bigger score than the playoffs themselves? It could be very possible, as I see many teams begin completely awful in an attempt to increase their chances of winning the lottery. 

After the wild summer, some teams have changed dramatically. Some have gotten a lot better, and others, a lot worse. In preparation for the season, I'm going to tell you show I think things will shake out. I'll give you the division standings, with comments about each team, as well as a playoff preview and awards. This is what you've all been waiting for.



Atlantic Division
  1. New York Knicks
  2. Brooklyn Nets
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Boston Celtics
  5. Philadelphia 76ers
Yes, I still think that the Knicks are better than the Nets. Both teams have major potential for implosion, but the Knicks are the younger team, and they have chemistry. They didn't really lose much, and added some nice pieces. Also, they will have Shumpert at full strength for the whole year, which is really important. This was a 54 win team last year, and they didn't get much worse.

I am afraid of the Nets. I think that they are a very deep and versatile team; that is, if they can put everything together and Pierce and Garnett do not decline. It will take a while for them to figure out how to fit all the new pieces together, because as we've seen with the 2010 Miami Heat and last year's Lakers, it takes time for teams to find out everyone's role. By the time that happens, maybe Pierce and Garnett's skills have severely diminished. It's very possible, and that takes them out of the conversation for a title contender. But, even if they play poorly, the rest of the team is good enough to get a top 5 seed in the East. I like them a lot better than last year.

Enter Masai Ujiri. Maybe the best GM in the league, he's ready to build a contender out of this team. They probably won't make the playoffs this year, but they'll be in the hunt. People are once again talking about trading Rudy Gay, but having him for most of the year makes them at least a low end playoff contender.

This is rebuilding done right. I don't know whether or not they are trading Rondo, but I do think that he is certainly someone who they can build around. As for this year...they are not nearly the worst team in the league, but they probably won't be sniffing the playoffs.

Everybody needs to calm down. This isn't the worst team in the NBA, we'll get to them later. But this is the second worst team in the NBA. Go crazy Philadelphia. I see some decent pieces here, but they traded their best player in an effort to tank. And boy will they tank. 


Central Division
  1. Chicago Bulls
  2. Indiana Pacers
  3. Detroit Pistons
  4. Cleveland Cavaliers
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
I'm quite torn between the Bulls and the Pacers as to who is winning the division. I'm going with the Bulls just because not only do they get a full season of Derrick Rose, they get a full season of Jimmy Butler. The shooting guard position was such a weakness for most of the year, and while Butler isn't a star, he's good enough. He plays very good defense, and he won't need to score now that Derrick Rose is back. With him starting for the whole year, that gives them an added bonus that they didn't discover until late last season. Obviously they are real threats in the East. Don't forget how great Derrick Rose is.

Don't sleep on the Pacers here. Paul George will all but cancel out Derrick Rose, and I think that the rest of the roster has great pieces. They still have David West and George Hill to go along with the George-Hibbert core, and Danny Granger could win Sixth Man of the Year if he stays healthy. Granted, he's missing the first few weeks of the year, but he'll have enough time to make it up. He's a great defender and shooter. The defense could be hindered by his physical ailments, but (this is going to be a theme), I can't assume injuries until I have seen them. They stole shooter Chris Copeland from the Knicks, who will have one job on this team: waiting for Hibbert passes from the low post, and immediately jacking it up. C.J. Watson and Luis Scola were really nice pickups as well, Watson being a decent shooter and good defender, while Scola can score down low.

What a frontcourt this team has! Josh Smith playing the 3 with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond defending the rim. Don't forget about Brandon Jennings. The three big men compliment each other pretty well, and Jennings should have some success shooting with the inside-out game. The problem is that there is not much depth here. That knocks down their ceiling a bit, but they do have $17 million in expiring contracts, so watch out for them next season. Drummond looked really good in his rookie season, so look for more development from him. Greg Monroe could be the best big in Detroit.

I don't trust Andrew Bynum to play 82 games, but I think he will play enough to put them in the conversation for a playoff spot. If Bynum is anywhere near his 2011-12 form, wow will this be a fun team to watch. Just think about the Kyrie Irving-Andrew Bynum pick and rolls! I like the pieces around that core, with Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and first overall pick Anthony Bennett, but I don't know if they are deep enough to truly contend. Assuming health from Bynum, the Cavs have great upside because they will have easily one of the best centers in the game playing with easily one of the best point guards in the game. This is something that can be built into a true title contender.

They replaced Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis with Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo. They will probably work better together, but there is just too much competition in the division and the conference to make the playoffs. They are a pretty decent team, and should be in contention right up until the end.

Southeast Division
  1. Miami Heat
  2. Atlanta Hawks
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Orlando Magic 
  5. Charlotte Bobcats
If Greg Oden stays on the court, and Michael Beasley stays sane, then that only adds pieces to the best team in the league.

They lost Josh Smith, and are getting back an injured Lou Williams to go with newly signed Paul Millsap. Not much has changed other than that, so they shouldn't be much worse at all.

I feel bad, but I think they'll barely miss the playoffs. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely lose this core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat. They will certainly contend, and it's very close; I think that the Pistons, Cavaliers, Wizards, and Bucks are really close, with only two of those teams getting into the playoffs. They can sneak in, but officially, I think not.

The Magic have some really good pieces in Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Vucevic. They won't be very good, but they'll be fun to watch. Those are all the returning players, but then they added Victor Oladipo to that mix. This will be a very interesting team, and could be a very dark horse playoff contender.

Thye added Al Jefferson, but that doesn't mean much to me. The team was so awful, and I love Big Al, but there's nothing around him. There isn't much by way of shooting to take advantage of him attracting double teams. He's going to average 23 and 10, but there isn't much else here.

Southwest Division
  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Memphis Grizzlies
  3. Houston Rockets
  4. New Orleans Pelicans
  5. Dallas Mavericks
The Spurs played in Game 7 of the Finals last year. Not much has changed other than their ages. And I can't assume decline here. Why would I bet against Tim Duncan? Give me a good reason! This team made the Finals last year and they only lost Gary Neal, while adding Marco Belinelli. Kawhi Leonard is expected to take over a really big role and become the star player. There's a real shot that they can win the title.

They have a much lower ceiling, but I believe that the Grizzlies will be a lot more consistent than the Rockets this year. They are known for playing gritty defense, are pretty much have the same team that made the Western Conference Finals last year.

They have two of the top ten players in the league, but they gave up the third most points per game (102.5) in the league last year. While I think that Dwight really helps that, it keeps me from immediately thrusting them towards the very top of the conference just yet. Though once they are in the playoffs, this team can beat anyone on any given night. Patrick Beverley really came on strong at the end of the year, and looks to be a steady point guard. The most intriguing part of Houston is seeing what they get in exchange for Omer Asik on the trade market. It's no secret that he's now very much on the trading block. A game changing defensive big man, while he can't do anything on offense, is extremely valuable in this league. Playing him at PF while Dwight Howard mans the Center spot only clogs up the paint. Let me just say, I love Chandler Parsons. He's a great shooter, especially with corner threes, and a good athlete and finisher.

I like the Jrue Holiday deal a bit less than I did back in June, but it's still good for this club. Add my boy Tyreke Evans to the mix, and you've got really talented perimeter guys to go along with Anthony Davis in what looks to be his coming out party. He has been getting rave reviews all throughout the preseason, and yeah, it's the preseason, but he seems poised to be even better than he was last year. Three point shooter extraordinaire, Ryan Anderson, will be key playing the stretch 4. Davis and Holiday will be able to create a lot of open looks for him. Notice that I didn't even mention Eric Gordon yet. He's always hurt, and hasn't been that great when healthy. If he can get it together, stay on the floor, and play like he did back in 2010-11, before he was considered such a crucial piece in the Chris Paul trade (and potentially one of the best shooting guards in the league), then this team is guaranteed a playoff spot. Even if he doesn't play that well, they should compete.

As much as I believe in Dirk this year, I don't believe in him enough to carry this team to the playoffs. Monta Ellis will have the carry a lot of the perimeter scoring load, which means that we're back to him and his classic inefficiency. Other than that, I don't see that many pieces that do much to make me feel good about the chances of Dallas snagging a low playoff spot. They can be in the push, but it won't be for long.

Northwest Division
  1. Oklahoma City Thunder
  2. Portland Trail Blazers
  3. Minnesota Timberwolves
  4. Denver Nuggets
  5. Utah Jazz
Russell Westbrook is apparently making great progress. I didn't think that they would suffer too much from his absence, but this makes them into a powerhouse quicker than anyone would have thought. Losing Kevin Martin doesn't really matter to me because the other Kevin, can carry the scoring load for a championship team if he were playing with Chris Duhon, not yet retired Larry Hughes, Greg Stiemsma, and Eddy Curry. In other words, he's going to score as much as he wants to. And he wants to score.

I believe in the Blazers this year because of the sneaky moves they've made this offseason. They started off the year in contention, but mercilessly dropped despite Damian Lillard's outstanding rookie campaign. The reason is because of how worthless their bench was. Once the starters needed a break, the Blazers were screwed. They got Robin Lopez for nothing in the Tyreke Evans deal to New Orleans. They signed Mo Williams and Earl Watson to improve the backcourt depth. Three point shooter Dorrell Wright will give the team solid minutes and scoring off the bench. The fifth pick in last year's draft, Thomas Robinson has now been traded twice, and has somehow ended up in Portland. Houston didn't need him once they got Dwight Howard, and the Kings were just stupid last year, so the fact that he keeps bouncing around isn't really a knock on Robinson. He has talent, and given enough minutes, he should produce at least off the bench. If he really breaks out, then it will be that much easier for LaMarcus Aldridge to finally be traded. In fact, I think he will be traded this season, and turned into very good players that can help this playoff push. Overall, a very good job by GM Neil Olshey.

I'm all in on this team. With Love and Pekovic, they should out rebound every opponent. If Love returns to his 2011-12 form when he averaged 26 and 13.3, this is a really interesting contender. You may have forgotten how good this man is, so, let me remind you. The biggest problem is whether or not Ricky Rubio can shoot. He shot 36% overall and 29.3% from three last year. The seriously needs to change. Love's presence, as well as the signing of Kevin Martin, takes some of the scoring load off Rubio and allows him to focus on facilitating, but teams can just back off him because they are not afraid to let him shoot. I say he improves just enough to thrust this team to contention. I like Alexey Shved and I'm still holding out hope that Derrick Williams finds himself.

With 57 wins, Denver is coming off of the best season in the history of their franchise. So naturally, everything fell apart. Coach of the Year George Karl was fired, and Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri bolted for Toronto. As if that weren't enough, their best player, Andre Iguodala, left for Golden State. While I still feel that this team can in fact contend with the Ty Lawson-JaVale McGee core, they will take a step back.

Engage: Diggin' for Wiggins. The Jazz took on the expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, which means that they don't care to win. I believe that Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Gordon Hayward will take steps forward this year, but that trade screamed tank to me. Trey Burke should be good, and Alec Burks is fine. There's certainly talent here, and there's hope for the future, but I don't think that they want to win.


Pacific Division
  1. Los Angeles Clippers
  2. Golden State Warriors
  3. Sacramento Kings
  4. Los Angeles Lakers
  5. Phoenix Suns
For a 56 win team, replacing Vinny Del Negro with Doc Rivers is worth an infinite amount of wins. I believe that Blake Griffin has improved as a player, now that he seemed to have added a jump shot last year. The bench is chock full of scoring, with Jamal Crawford ready to score some points in all types of ways. J.J. Redick is a much better fit than Eric Bledsoe, because Bledsoe isn't really a shooter, while Redick does one thing: shoot. Speaking of shooting, Antawn Jamison, Jared Dudley, Willie Green, and occasionally Byron Mullens are all good shooters. Forget Lob City, this team will rain down three after three. Oh, and that Chris Paul dude is the best point guard in the league.

The most exciting teams in the league, the Warriors should be among the best of them as well. Everyone knows about possibly the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the league, with Klay Thompson and Steph Curry both shot over 40% from long range. Thompson attempted 526, and Curry took 600 threes and set the record for the most made in a season, with 272. In other words, they can shoot. Even better, Andre Iguodala is a very good passer, so he should be very good at facilitating the offense along with Curry. The frontcourt is loaded, with Bogut, Lee, and Barnes, so expect one of them to be traded during the year. My money's on David Lee.

It's now Boogie's team! I think he finally makes the leap and becomes a star this year, dragging this team into the conversation of the playoffs. All in on Boogie.

Once you look past Pau Gasol, old Steve Nash, and currently injured Kobe Bryant. there isn't much talent on this roster at all. As long as Kobe is out, their third best player is....Nick Young?

I don't know if Eric Bledsoe can run a team, with his shooting deficiencies, but even if he can, who is he creating shots for? Gerald Green? The Morrii? This is a bad team all the way. Worst in the league.

To broaden the scope here, I'll translate those division standings into conference standings, 1 through 15, and how those seeds will affect the playoffs with a full on playoff preview, including a champion. You're welcome.

Eastern Conference

  1. Chicago Bulls
  2. Indiana Pacers
  3. Miami Heat
  4. New York Knicks
  5. Brooklyn Nets
  6. Atlanta Hawks
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Cleveland Cavaliers
  9. Washington Wizards
  10. Milwaukee Bucks
  11. Orlando Magic
  12. Toronto Raptors
  13. Charlotte Bobcats
  14. Boston Celtics
  15. Philadelphia 76ers
Conference Quarterfinals
Bulls over Cavaliers in 4.
Pacers over Pistons in 6.
Heat over Hawks in 5.
Knicks over Nets in 7. 

Conference Semifinals
Bulls over Knicks in 5. 
Pacers over Heat in 7. 

Conference Finals
Bulls over Pacers in 7. 

Western Conference
  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder
  3. Los Angeles Clippers
  4. Memphis Grizzlies
  5. Golden State Warriors
  6. Houston Rockets
  7. Portland Trail Blazers 
  8. Minnesota Timberwolves
  9. New Orleans Pelicans
  10. Denver Nuggets
  11. Sacramento Kings 
  12. Dallas Mavericks
  13. Los Angeles Lakers
  14. Utah Jazz
  15. Phoenix Suns

Conference Quarterfinals
Spurs over Timberwolves in 5. 
Thunder over Trail Blazers in 4. 
Clippers over Rockets in 7. 
Warriors over Grizzlies in 7. 

Conference Semifinals
Warriors over Spurs in 7. 
Thunder over Clippers in 7. 

Conference Finals
Thunder over Warriors in 6. 

Okay, so while you're probably still reeling from my picks in the Eastern Conference, I still need to crown a champion. I'll get to my reasoning later, but for now, I have to focus on the Finals: Bulls and Thunder. Two great teams ready to have a show down, but not only do I think that the Bulls are better, they will have home court advantage. The Thunder's two biggest strengths are on the perimeter, where the Bulls have two really good wing defenders in Nicolas Batum (yeah, I know he's on the Blazers, but we'll get to this later) and Jimmy Butler to harass Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Derrick Rose is a pretty good defender himself, so they should be able to slow down the obvious offensive attack of OKC. Well, that pretty much seals my pick: 

Bulls in 6. 
Finals MVP: Derrick Rose

Now, welcome to the Kawhi Leonard portion of this article:

Nice defense Bayless. Photo from solecollector.com

Awards
MVP: LeBron James until further notice. 
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert
Most Improved Player: Kawhi Leonard
Sixth Man of the Year: Harrison Barnes
Coach of the Year: Mark Jackson
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo
All-NBA First Team: Chris Paul, James Harden, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol
All-NBA Second Team: Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Paul George, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard
All-NBA Third Team: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Roy Hibbert

Now onto some weird calls that I'm making because I can:

Bold and Unnecessary Predictions That I'm Making Anyway
  • The Miami Heat will NOT get one of the top 2 seeds in the East. I know that you've been hearing this from everywhere over the past month or so, but there is serious legitimacy in the argument that the Heat may just be physically drained. They will attempt to save their energy for the playoffs and take their foot off the gas pedal for most of the season, knowing that they are good enough to accidentally secure a top 4 seed in the East. Don't worry, that doesn't say anything about their talent, they just don't really need to do anything during the regular season. 
  • The Miami Heat will be eliminated in the Second Round. I already mentioned the fatigue factor, but I also think that the Pacers are a great matchup for the Heat. They took them to 7 games last season, and really upgraded their bench, as well as the improvements from Paul George and Roy Hibbert that I forsee. It'll be close, but the Pacers should win. 
  • Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins will make their first All Star appearances. All great young talents that are poised to make the leap and receive recognition for their play this year. I say that Leonard graciously accepts the Spurs torch from Tim Duncan and becomes the best player on his team. Anthony Davis is already that for the Pelicans, but he will really show why he was such a can't miss prospect coming out of Kentucky last year. Cousins will finally utilize all of the talent that he has shown in flashes, and become the King of Sacramento. 
  • Lance Stephenson usurps Metta World Peace as most unstable player in the league. Not only in his play erratic, he is. The key to this is that Stephenson is actually supremely talented, and if he got everything together, would be among the best players in the league. 
  • DeMarcus Cousins doesn't get suspended. My Boogie is all growed up. He won't get into any stupid trouble this year and focus on his game. 
  • The Los Angeles Lakers win the lottery and draft Andrew Wiggins, because, why not? How would the basketball Gods deprive us of this? By complete dumb luck, the Lakers will have gone from one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of sports to one of the best prospects in recent memory. They will complete their season-long journey of Diggin' for Wiggins, and pair him up with Kobe Bryant for at least one more year. 
Trade Machine Alert!

Rudy Gay to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They decide to take on Gay's contract and convince him to pick up his option after the season. That will give them a core of Kyrie Irving, Rudy Gay, and Andrew Bynum heading into next year. If the Heat in fact do lose in the second round like I have predicted, they will re-up for another run before LeBron James tests free agency in 2015. At that point, Gay's expiring contract will come off the books and the Cavs can complete their dream of pursuing LeBron James. In that doesn't work out, they can try to negotiate long term with Gay. I don't really love Rudy Gay, but on a team where he isn't the main offensive weapon, his inefficiencies could be masked. It also depends on how Andrew Bynum plays, because if he looks fine, the team will feel comfortable getting rid of Varejao.  Using the good ole trade machine, I whipped up this bad boy:


Don't worry, the Raptors will be receiving at least one, if not two first round picks in this deal. 

LaMarcus Aldridge to the Chicago Bulls. In what will turn out to be a blockbuster deal, the Trail Blazers accept the fact that Aldridge will not be re-signing because he is far too good to be stuck in Portland. 


In getting Deng and Boozer in return, they will be able to free up a large amount of cap space over the next two years, while still remaining in contention until then. Deng gives them $14 million to work with this offseason, while Boozer frees up $15 million in one of the more important free agent classes in NBA history. Now I'm not saying that LeBron James is coming to Portland, because seriously, who would want to move to Portland? I am saying that they will have a lot of room to work with, and be able to rebuild their roster around Damian Lillard instead of letting LMA walk for nothing. The Batum piece is key because if he was not involved with this deal, the Blazers lose all of that flexibility I just mentioned. Aldridge gives the Bulls a better version of Carlos Boozer, a low post threat who can rebound and hit mid range shots. Batum is a better fit than Deng because all he needs to do if defend and shoot threes, and the better shooter out of the two. While I believe that the Bulls can beat the Heat with their current roster, this only adds to it. Butler and Batum will be able to shadow LeBron and Wade, while Aldridge can guard Bosh outside, allowing Noah to defend the rim. This lessens the importance of Bosh's jump shooting prowess, as he doesn't have to pull Noah out all the time. 

David Lee to the Toronto Raptors. This one represents a conflict of interest for me, because this means that Harrison Barnes would be starting, killing my Sixth Man of the Year pick. But it makes sense for the Warriors, because Barnes is much better at the 4 spot than on the wing. If Bogut stays healthy, this renders Lee expendable, and allows them to upgrade at other areas of need. I believe that they need a backup point guard, as well as a shooter off the bench, which is why this trade with the Raptors makes sense. Especially when you consider the fact that the Raptors need a star player to build around, since Rudy Gay isn't sticking around for very long. While Lee isn't a star, he's a really good player that any team can use. 



Well, that's pretty much all I have to say about this young season. Yeah, I know, it's already underway, and I'm a week and a half late with this "preview," but I've had a lot of work, so we'll ignore that part. Just know that it's here now and that you're reading it. 

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