NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Atlantic Division Preview

My preview for the 2013-14 NBA season finishes with the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference: Home of the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers. As I have done for each division preview, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing in the division standings.

New York Knicks: The New York Knicks once again have set very high expectations for themselves, speaking as though anything short of a championship is a failure. To their credit, they tried to improve their roster this offseason through getting Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace, but I don't think it's enough to make them do any better than last season. Carmelo Anthony will once again prove to be one of the elite scorers in the game, which by default makes the Knicks dangerous, but once you get beyond him, they have nobody that can be relied upon as a legitimate number two threat. J.R. Smith is too inconsistent; Amar'e Stoudemire is injury prone and past his prime; and Metta World Peace is only a half-decent one way player on defense at this point. The Knicks simply do not have enough around Carmelo Anthony to compete for a championship. That being said, they should still win this division since they are still a quality team who knows who they are. They know that they rely on Carmelo to win them games, and they know what role everybody else plays. The Nets are the more dangerous team to win the whole championship, but it will take them time to figure out who they are, which is why I pick the Knicks to win the division title.

Brooklyn Nets: The Brooklyn Nets  had one of the more active offseasons in the NBA through the hiring of Jason Kidd as head coach as well the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and Andrei Kirilenko. The Nets have claimed to be serious about contending, and they certainly backed up their talk through those moves. If you put those four guys with Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez, you potentially have a team that can win the whole NBA championship. Key word is "potentially". I don't see the Nets winning a championship, but if all the pieces come together and everybody plays to their maximum potential, then the Nets may have what it takes to dethrone the Heat in the Eastern Conference. What will be interesting is to see how quickly this team finds its identity and how they respond to Jason Kidd. The hiring of Jason Kidd was either a brilliant move or a stupid move. This team will need a coach who commands their respect, and I'm not sure Jason Kidd has the weight to be that kind of coach since they all still view him as their own peer. Why the Nets didn't go out and hire a guy like Brian Shaw is beyond me, but perhaps there is something I don't see in Jason Kidd that they do see. It's no doubt that the dynamic between Kidd and his players will be heavily scrutinized in New York and could end up playing a crucial role in how the season as a whole plays out.  Whatever the end result is with the Kidd hiring, it can be certain that the Nets will be one of the more fascinating teams to follow due to all the potential that they have along with all the uncertainty.

Toronto Raptors: The Toronto Raptors are still in rebuilding mode, but at least they now have a front office that they can believe in. Masai Ujiri won the "Executive of the Year" award last year as the general manger of the Nuggets, and now he is the general manager of the Raptors, which means that  the Raptors currently possess the top ranked general manager in the NBA. Ujrii has already shown that he isn't afraid to make bold moves through the Andrea Bargnani trade, and now he is also reportedly interested in possibly trading Rudy Gay. The Raptors aren't looking to contend this year, but rather figure out who they are going forward for the coming years.  Rudy Gay, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, and Kyle Lowry appear to be the building blocks for this team, but all that could change with Ujiri at the helm. He's going to find out which of these guys he wants, and which of them he doesn't want. Trading Rudy Gay makes the most sense since he has the most value of anybody on their team and also trading him would free up a ton of cap space. But if Gay ends up not being dealt, don't expect the Raptors to remain idle, either. Before this season is over, the Raptors will make at least one or two noticeable trades, and knowing that Ujiri is in charge likely means that they will  be moves that help propel the Raptors in the right direction for the future.

Boston Celtics: With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Doc Rivers gone, the Celtics are an entirely new team with the exception of Rajon Rondo. They are young, inexperienced, and prime for a race to the bottom of the NBA standings. Rajon Rondo likely not returning from his torn ACL until January helps their odds of a landing a high draft pick rise even higher. The bottom line for the Celtics is that they are in complete reboot mode. They have a new coach in Brad Stevens, who has never coached in the NBA before, working with a young and relatively inexperienced roster with a point guard coming off a torn ACL as the foundation. It's going to be ugly in Boston, but the bright side is that the 2014 NBA draft may be one of the best drafts of all-time, which makes having a bad season suddenly seem not so bad.

Philadelphia 76ers: Don't let Wednesday night's victory over the Heat as well as Michael Carter-Williams' near quadruple double make you think the 76ers have a chance to be half-decent. The reality is that they're going to be terrible and they are going to lose more than 60 games. It's a bad team with no star, no leader, and no identity. The head coach Brett Brown has never coached before, their lottery pick from a couple of years ago (Evan Turner) is on the trading block, and their current lottery pick Nerlens Noel is likely out for the season. If the 76ers are tanking the season for a high draft pick, then things are off to a great start. If they are hoping to make a push for a playoff spot, then they are in for an incredibly disappointing season.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Southeast Division Preview

My preview of the 2013-14 NBA season continues as I move on to the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference. This division is home to the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Washington Wizards, and Orlando Magic. As has been the case with all my previews, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing in the division.

Miami Heat: As if there was another team I was going to pick to win this division! Yes, it will be the Miami Heat, but whether or not they take the division isn't what people are interested in. It's whether or not they can win a 3rd straight NBA championship. My answer to that question is I think they can provided they stay healthy. I know I've said health is the key for a lot of teams, but it's really true, especially for the Miami Heat. LeBron James may be the best player in the NBA, but that doesn't mean he doesn't need help to win a championship. Ray Allen bailed him out in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last season, and Dwyane Wade has been LeBron's guide to winning a championship much like how Virgil was a guide for Dante as he went through the seven degrees of hell. LeBron James needs these key teammates to be healthy and playing their best ball in order to win a third straight championship. Especially with teams like the Bulls and Pacers knocking on the door. It should also be noted that the Heat have made some key additions to their team that might be of great use in their quest for a three-peat. Those additions namely are Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. Beasley is a talented player and former lottery pick of the Heat from a few years ago. He has since been a disappointment everywhere he has been, which explains why he's back with the Heat playing for a little over one million dollars. But like I said, he is talented, and if he can harness his talent and keep his head straight, then he really could be a huge addition to this team. Especially as a scoring threat off the bench. As for Greg Oden, we all know he's a former #1 overall pick, taken ahead of Kevin Durant. We also know that he hasn't been healthy in 4 years, which makes his contributions to this team much tougher to gage. But if the best possible scenario happens, which is that he doesn't get hurt and he provides some sound minutes off the bench, then he too could make a big impact since his strengths (interior defense and rebounding) are the Heat's biggest weaknesses. The bottom line for the Heat is that they should win the NBA championship should all go according to plan. That is, LeBron James has another MVP season, Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen stay healthy, Chris Bosh continues to fly under the radar as one of the better big men in the game, and the additions of Oden and Beasley turn out to be quite beneficial. The pieces for a three-peat are there in Miami, and now all we need to see is if they can deliver the goods.

Atlanta Hawks: The Atlanta Hawks ought to be the number two team in this division, but there is quite a gap between them and the Miami Heat. The Hawks have lost swingman Josh Smith to the Pistons, which marks the end of a rather disappointing era of basketball that was headlined by Joe Johnson's ridiculous contract. The Hawks are moving forward with Paul Millsap and Al Horford as their foundation along with a solid back court featuring Lou Williams, Jeff Teague, and rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder. I think the addition of Millsap as a replacement for Josh Smith is actually pretty solid. He's more of a traditional power forward who plays tough down in the paint and grabs rebounds. He and Horford ought to work well together and help the Hawks win a good chunk of games this season. Also, the Hawks have added Kyle Korver to the mix to help hit some threes as well as another former Jazz player DeMarre Carroll, who will hustle, play good defense, and rebound. The bottom line for the Hawks is that they should make the playoffs given their one-two punch of Horford and Millsap, but they won't contend or be any sort of threat to win a series. Probably the most interesting thing to watch will be the development of Dennis Schroeder, who might end up being the best point guard in the entire 2013 NBA draft class. If he can turn into a star point guard, then the Hawks might have something to really build upon for years to come. But for now, they remain a decent team that will make the playoffs and then proceed to lose in the first round.

Washington Wizards: The Washington Wizards have just locked up their star point guard John Wall to 5 year extension worth around $80M. They are putting all their faith in him to turn them into a contending team. Wall likewise wants to prove that he is worth that money, which means that this season is a big one for the Wizards in terms of proving that they made the right decision to pay John Wall so much money. In addition to Wall, the Wizards have a terrific young shooting guard in Bradley Beal, a promising rookie small forward in Otto Porter, Jr., and a solid veteran center in Nene Hilario. The key for this Wizards teams is of course health. Wall, Beal, and Nene have all had their share of injuries over the years, and Porter, Jr. is in the process of getting an MRI on his hip. The pieces to be a playoff team are there, but the injury factor is why I don't have the Wizards ahead of the Hawks right now in the standings. If healthy, the Wizards should be a playoff team given their balance. They have the back court, they have the front court, and they have the versatile swingman. They got it all. They just need the time to stay healthy so they can figure out how to make it all come together. My prediction for the Wizards is that they will make the playoffs IF they can stay healthy. If Wall, Beal, and Nene are each sidelined for 20 games a piece, then the Wizards won't be a playoff team. It's that simple.

Charlotte Bobcats: Throughout their mediocre history, the Bobcats have been just that. Mediocre. But thankfully, they are changing their name to Hornets next season, which means that this is the last season in which "Bobcats" will be the name of a franchise in the NBA. Most people expect the Bobcats to be awful this season, but I actually think they could end up being pretty good. All that point guard Kemba Walker has needed is somebody to feed the ball to in the paint, and that need seems to be addressed thanks to the addition of Al Jefferson, whom they acquired in free agency. Jefferson last played for the Utah Jazz, and proved to be one of the better centers in the NBA. He has also proven himself to be one who can play well with point guards of the likes of Kemba Walker, which is why I think his presence will make Kemba Walker a much better player. In addition to seeing how Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson play off each other, watching the development of second year small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be a key thing to watch this season in Charlotte. If he can prove that he was worth a top three pick in the draft, then the Bobcats may have good reason to feel good about their team as they enter their era as the Hornets. The bottom line for the Bobcats is that if Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson hit it off, they might make an interesting run at a playoff spot. I don't see them making the playoffs, but not every team has a center like Al Jefferson, either, which is why one must at least entertain the possibility of the Bobcats being a playoff team this upcoming season.

Orlando Magic: The Orlando Magic are coming off one their worst seasons ever (20-62), and I don't expect them to be a whole lot better. Rookie shooting guard Victor Oladipo will be fun to watch, but he won't make them that much better in terms of how many wins they get. I like his game and I think he has the talent to be really good in 2-3 years, but right now, he doesn't have the ability to make any sort of seismic impact on this team. As for the rest of the team, they don't have anybody who can be a star or consistently lead out on a nightly basis. Center Nikola Vucevic (acquired in the Dwight Howard trade), is a solid center, but not one who can be relied upon to make you anything competitive. The same goes for power forward Glen Davis and power forward Maurice Harkless. They have some nice role players, but no stars in Orlando, which is why they will lose a lot of games. Luckily for them, the 2014 NBA Draft is stacked with talent that can turn their franchise around much quicker than this past draft. To say the least, it'll be a long season in the Magic Kingdom.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Central Division Preview

My preview for the 2013-14 NBA season continues as I now switch from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference. The first division I will preview in the Eastern Conference is the Central Division, home to the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and Cleveland Cavaliers. As I have been doing for each preview, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing in the division. 

Chicago Bulls: 
The Chicago Bulls are coming off a season in which they were without their star point guard Derrick Rose, who not only is the MVP of their team, but also a former MVP of the league. Despite Rose's absence, I felt that the Bulls were still a very dangerous team given their great defense and rebounding. Their style of basketball was too much for the Brooklyn Nets to handle in the first round of the playoffs last season, and it even gave the Miami Heat problems in the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Bulls, their health ended up costing them in the end, but nobody questioned their fighting spirit. This season, things look much better for these Bulls since they have Derrick Rose back. If Rose can return to his MVP caliber form, or something very close to it, then the Bulls are going to be a threat to win the entire NBA championship because they have every other piece of the puzzle to beat the Miami Heat. They have Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer down low to get rebounds and provide a legitimate threat offensively in the paint; they have Luol Deng as a legitimate side kick to Derrick Rose on the wing; and they collectively play really good team defense. The way to beat the Miami Heat is to play great defense, rebound the basketball, and not turn the ball over. The Bulls are great at all of those things, which is why they are a threat to win the NBA championship. The bottom line for the Bulls is that if they can stay healthy, then they'll be a serious threat to win the NBA championship. If they aren't healthy, then they won't be much of a threat to win a championship. But regardless of even their health, you can rest assured that they will play hard every night and not be an easy win for any team including the Miami Heat. I know I'm going out on a limb picking them to beat out the Indiana Pacers for the division title, but I really think that if Derrick Rose is back to his old self, there is no team better than the Bulls in this division. 

Indiana Pacers: 
The Indiana Pacers took the Chicago Bulls' place as division champions last season and also took the place of the team out in the Eastern Conference that could legitimately scare the Miami Heat. Like the Bulls, the Pacers pride themselves on their defense and their rebounding. In addition, the Pacers have also found their own superstar in their young small forward Paul George, to whom they just gave a lucrative contract extension earlier this fall. George is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The Pacers expect him to do even better this season and continue to show why he's going to be a superstar in the NBA. In addition to Paul George, the Pacers also have a great front line of David West and Roy Hibbert to control the paint and provide a sound offensive threat down low like the Bulls have with Boozer and Noah. Plus, they've also added Luis Scola to the mix, giving them even more versatility on the block, especially on the offensive end. The only real concern for the Pacers is going to be the health of small forward Danny Granger, who will be out for the first three weeks of the regular season due to a calf injury. Before Paul George emerged, Granger was their star, but now that it's Paul George, the Pacers need to figure out how to get Granger and George to co-exist. More importantly, how to integrate Granger in such a way that the chemistry developed last season doesn't get hurt by his presence. Their head coach Frank Vogel definitely has a difficult task on the Danny Granger front, but he won't have the difficult task of trying to coach a mediocre team to success. He has a great group of guys to work with who certainly have what it takes to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, and maybe even reach the NBA Finals. If the Chicago Bulls are not at full strength, expect the Indiana Pacers to win the central division title. Regardless of where they finish in the division standings, I don't expect them to drop outside the top four of the Eastern Conference. They will be a team with home court advantage in the first round, and will also be a team that will once again be on the cusp of winning a championship. What of course remains to be seen is how much better they are as a result of the off-season moves they made along with the return of Danny Granger.

Detroit Pistons: 
The Detroit Pistons have a whole new look this season thanks to the additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. The Pistons have overnight gone from being a team in the race to get the most ping-pong balls for the draft, to being a team in the race for a playoff spot. The transformation of this team is actually quite stunning given where they were last season. Brandon Jennings is one of the more undervalued point guards in the NBA, and Josh Smith is one of the more underrated stars in the NBA. Sure Jennings isn't Chris Paul or Stephen Curry, but unless you can have one of those top flight guys, Brandon Jennings is as good an option as you are going to find. The same goes for Josh Smith, who may not be of the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Paul George, but still nonetheless is a legitimate player who can turn any team into a playoff caliber team. As for the rest of the team, the Pistons look pretty good. They have a solid front court featuring Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and a decent back court to go with Jennings with players like Chauncey Billups and rookie shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The bottom line for the Pistons is that they should have what it takes to get the 6th or 7th seed in the Eastern Conference and make the playoffs, but nothing beyond that. They won't win a series or make any noise in the playoffs, but just being back in the playoffs will be a big enough of a deal this season. One thing that could maybe change their fortunes is what they end up doing with young center/power forward Greg Monroe. There are rumors that he could be on the trading block, and given his abilities, they could get a lot back for him should they want to trade him. Monitoring the status of Greg Monroe will be one of the more interesting things to watch for this season in addition to seeing how many crazy shots Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith attempt to make.

 Cleveland Cavaliers: 
The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be a very interesting team this season, and also might end up being the team that takes the biggest leap in terms of improvement from last season. They have a lot of very promising players on their team in addition to their  young 3rd year all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, who averaged 22.5 points and 5.9 assists last season. Those additional players are shooting guard Dion Waiters, who is entering his second season in the NBA, power forward Tristan Thompson, who like Irving is coming off his sophomore season in the league, and the current #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, a talented power forward out of UNLV. These young players along with Kyrie Irving make the Cavaliers a team with a very bright future, but not a team that will even sniff a playoff spot. However, there is one player that they have that could make them a playoff team this season, and perhaps even a championship caliber team. That player is Andrew Bynum, who is coming off an utterly embarrassing season in with the Philadelphia 76ers. Bynum didn't play one minute of basketball for the 76ers last season, and in the process completely destroyed the franchise. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they aren't putting their whole future on the shoulders on Andrew Bynum, since their whole future is on the shoulders of Kyrie Irving. But with that being said, they could end up being a really dangerous team should Bynum return to being the type of dominant center he was with the Lakers.  Especially since they also have another really good big man in Anderson Varejao. Dominant big men are hard to come by in the NBA, and when healthy Andrew Bynum is arguably the best center in the entire NBA. That's why they are a contending team. If you have the best center in the game and a top five point guard, you by default have to be considered a contending team. Now you might be wondering why I still have the Cavaliers finishing fourth in this division and not second or third. The reason is because there are too many unknowns surrounding Andrew Bynum. Will he play? Will he not play? If he does, how much will he play and what type of impact will he make? It's hard to predict, which is why I have to temporarily place the Cavaliers at the spot where they are at. I'm fully aware that I could be wrong about where they finish up, but for now I need to take the conservative position and say that they'll finish fourth in the division and be one of the teams fighting for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Milwaukee Bucks: 
The Milwaukee Bucks are clearly going to be the worst team in this division. Brandon Jennings is now on the Pistons and Monta Ellis is now on the Mavericks, which means that the building blocks for their franchise are almost gone except for their young center Larry Sanders, who they just gave a very lucrative contract extension to earlier this fall. The Bucks do have a promising young point guard in Brandon Knight, whom they got from the Pistons, and also a promising young forward in John Henson to go with some solid veterans along the wing such as OJ Mayo, Ersan Illyasova, and  Caron Butler. But when looking at the rest of the teams in the division, it is clear that the Bucks are going to stack up a lot of losses. I know it sounds like a really bad thing to be in this type of situation, but actually the Bucks are in a much better situation than they were last season for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that they weren't going anywhere with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings as their one-two punch, so they might as well move on and start a new chapter in their history. Plus, they have some interesting young players to develop such as Brandon Knight, John Henson, and rookie small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (who I actually drafted in fantasy basketball this season). Last but not least, the 2014 NBA draft is supposed to be filled with a ton of all-star talent which every team is going to want to get their hands on. By being bad, the Bucks are setting themselves up for success in terms of getting a high draft pick. Bucks fans certainly won't have much to cheer for this season, but they definitely should take comfort in knowing that where they are this season is actually a lot better place than last season in terms of building for the future. It may not feel like it at times, but believe me, the Bucks are closer to being a contending team by rebuilding than they are by sticking it out with Jennings and Ellis. 

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Southwest Division Preview

My preview for the 2013-14 NBA season continues as I take a look at the Southwest Division of the Western Conference, which is home to the Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, and Dallas Mavericks. As I've done for my past two previews, I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing, but do keep in mind with this division that every team in the division is at least a decent team. There are no bad teams in the Southwest Division, with every team having the possibility of making the playoffs. This is by far the toughest division in the NBA.

San Antonio Spurs: Back in June, the San Antonio Spurs lost in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat in a series that they would have won had Ray Allen not hit a clutch corner three. Many people didn't think the Spurs could advance to the NBA Finals with an aging Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, but the Spurs proved their doubters wrong, showing that they were just as dangerous as any team that Gregg Popovich had ever coached. Once again in the 2013-14 NBA season, many people are asking the same questions as last year: "Are the Spurs too old?" "Have they already had their second wind?"  I expect the Spurs to show that they aren't too old and that they still have plenty of good basketball left in them. However, with that being said, the Western Conference has just gotten a lot more tough thanks to moves that the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets have made. The road back to the NBA Finals is going to be even tougher as a result of other teams around them getting better; not because they themselves have depreciated. Look for Tony Parker to be another MVP candidate, look for Tim Duncan to be an elite power forward, and look for their young supporting cast (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green) to continue to improve and be even better this season. There's no doubt the Spurs will be dangerous enough to get back to the NBA Finals, but whether or not they'll deliver is the question.

Houston Rockets: The Houston Rockets were blessed (perhaps cursed) with the fortune of winning the Dwight Howard sweepstakes this past summer. On a team that already featured James Harden and Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard just might be the missing ingredient in a recipe for championship success. The key for the Rockets is whether or not Dwight Howard can take that next step from being the best center in the NBA to being one of the best centers of all-time. Howard has never averaged more than 23 points per game in any of his 9 NBA seasons, despite being a defensive force in the paint. Dwight Howard needs to average at least 25 points per game in order for the Rockets to be a contending team. The blocks and rebounds will of course come, but the scoring is still a big question mark. More specifically, they need him to hit his free throws. The bottom line for the Rockets is pretty simple: If Dwight Howard has a "breakthrough" season, averages above 25 points per game and hits around 70% of his foul shots (as he did in his rookie season), then the Rockets will contend for a title. If he continues to be the same Dwight Howard he's been (which is still the best center in the NBA), then they won't be a contending team, but rather a team that might win a first round series.

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies made the bold move of trading Rudy Gay this past season in an effort to save some cap space so as to retain their front court centered around Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. However, it came at the price of perhaps winning the Western Conference crown. The Grizzlies are a team that anybody can root for because they play a very team oriented type of  basketball centered around defense, rebounding, and balance. The Grizzlies will once again be a very tough team to beat since defense and rebounding are at the heart of every championship caliber team. A team MUST play good defense and crash the glass in order to win a championship. However, a team MUST also have a superstar to build around who can take over games and come through consistently in the clutch. The Grizzlies do not have that piece of their championship puzzle since they traded away Rudy Gay. They still will make the playoffs and win a lot of games, but I don't see them being a team that gets close to reaching the Western Conference Finals.

New Orleans Pelicans: Yes it is true, the New Orleans Pelicans are a real NBA team, and they have the potential to be a pretty darn good one, too. They made a lot of upgrades this past off-season through trading Nerlens Noel in the draft to the 76ers for point guard Jrue Holiday as well as making a trade with the Kings and Trail Blazers to land shooting guard/small forward Tyreke Evans. The Pelicans (if healthy) will consist of a back court of Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon and a front court of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Greg Steimsma. Where does Evans fit in? He will come off the bench as their offensive spark plug. On paper they look pretty solid since their backcourt should have no problem putting the ball in the bucket and their front court should do a good job of controlling the paint. The key to this team is health. If healthy, they could make a playoff run since they have so many guys who can do so many things (Gordon with his scoring; Holiday with his play making abilities; Davis with his rebounding and defense; and Evans as their spark). However even if they remain healthy, the playoffs are not a sure thing since the Western Conference is really deep and their division is the toughest division in the entire NBA. Having a combined 16 games against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Mavericks, and Rockets is not going to be easy on this team since they are unlikely to win more than half of those games. If they're going to make a playoff push, they'll have to make ground elsewhere by beating all the bad teams in the NBA like the 76ers, Bucks, Kings, Jazz, and Suns. If they can do well against those kinds of teams, and hold their own at home, they might have what it takes to make the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks quietly added Monta Ellis during the off-season in what I think was a very underrated move. Ellis is a terrific player who just needs to surrounded by good players like Dirk Nowitzki. Reports say that they are learning to play effective pick and roll basketball together, which means that Ellis is more than willing to share the ball and shed himself of his reputation of being a ball hog. As for the rest of the team,  I don't see much to be really excited about in terms of making a playoff push. Vince Carter and Shawn Marion are both getting old, and the new additions of Devin Harris and DeJuan Blair are off-season acquisitions that deserve to fly under the radar. If they were in the Eastern Conference, the Mavericks would likely be a playoff team, but in the Western Conference, they'll be in a battle with the Pelicans to not be the at the bottom of the division. I mentioned at the beginning of my preview for this division that there isn't a bad team in this division, and I stand by that claim. The Mavericks are a good NBA team, but when I look at the rest of their division as well as the rest of the Western Conference, I don't see any reason to think the Mavericks will be a factor in the playoff mix during the last 10-15 games of the season.

---By Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Northwest Division Preview

      I continue to march through my overall preview of the NBA by previewing the Northwest Division, which is home to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, and Portland Trail Blazers. I will address each team in order of where I see them finishing within the division.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 
      The Thunder are my pick to win the Northwest Division because they have the two best players in the division in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Even with Westbrook being out for the first 4-6 weeks as he heals from his recent knee operation, the Thunder are still clearly the best team in this division. Where the Thunder need to more focus there attention is on the rest of the conference that is outside of the Northwest Division. The Clippers, Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets are the four teams that the Thunder should be primarily concerned with along with the gritty Grizzlies. Where the Westbrook injury comes into play for the Thunder is their seeding. Sure, they will still run away with their division, but will they still be able to get home court advantage throughout the playoffs with Westbrook out the first 4-6 weeks? That remains to be seen and also is highly in question.
      More problematic though is the fact that James Harden is gone and his replacement Kevin Martin is now on the Timberwolves. The Thunder have regressed since their trip to the NBA Finals, rather than improving, and that has to be really alarming for the Thunder and their fans. Even if they were entering the season fully healthy, they'd still be entering the season weaker than they did these past two seasons as a result of the absence of Harden and Martin. The bottom line for the Thunder is that they need to show that the James Harden trade was the right trade to make and that they are going to be better long-term as a result. The way that they can show this (outside of winning the NBA Finals) is if Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant continue to play well together as a dynamic one-two punch along with Serge Ibaka becoming a consistent double-double player. If those things happen, then the Thunder will look like they are on the right track. However, if things between Westbrook and Durant aren't so good, and if Ibaka stagnates rather than take that next step, then the Thunder will have a hell of a lot to worry about as they enter the 2014-15 season.

Denver Nuggets: 
      Even with the loss of Andre Iguodala, I still expect the Nuggets to finish second in the Northwest Division and make the playoffs. There are still a lot of talented players in Denver that will certainly make the Nuggets a tough opponent, especially at home. Look for the additions of Nate Robinson and Randy Foye to give their already solid backcourt of Andre Miller and Ty Lawson a real boost and also look for young power forward Kenneth Faried to continue to develop into one of the better power forwards in the NBA.
      The only real concern for the Nuggets is their lack of having a star, but that same issue was there last season, and that didn't stop them from posting a franchise best 57 wins. Their new head coach Brian Shaw will certainly make sure that they play well as a team and continue to play unselfish basketball, which is something that they did extremely well under George Karl. The team will have some new faces, but the end result should roughly be the same as last season.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 
      The Minnesota Timberwolves' biggest issue last season was staying healthy and stable. With head coach Rick Adelman dealing with his ailing wife and just about every important player on the team getting hurt in one way or the other, last season ended as a dissapointment rather than as a success. However, this season Adelman is not expected to be spending that much time (if any) away from the team, and more importantly, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are healthy. The loss of swingman Chase Budinger for an indefinite amount of time could certainly be an ominous sign from the basketball gods, but it doesn't necessarily have to be so.
      The bottom line for the Timberwolves is health. If they can stay healthy, they will be in the mix for a playoff spot since on paper their team looks pretty solid with Ricky Rubio at point guard, Kevin Martin at shooting guard, and power forward Kevin Love anchoring the post along with center Nikola Pekovic. The pieces are there in Minnesota to make a nice run at making the playoffs, but will they hold is the question.

Portland Trail Blazers: 
      The Portland Trail Blazers are one of the more promising young teams in the NBA with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge playing alongside second year point guard Damian Lillard (last season's rookie of the year). In addtion to those two, they have shooting guard Wes Matthews, point guard Mo Williams (acquired in free agency from the Jazz), and small forward Nicolas Batum, who they nearly lost in free agency to the Timberwolves. The team is still young and relatively inexperienced, but the pieces they have fit really nicely together.
      The key thing to watch for this team is the emergence of Damian Lillard and whether or not he'll take that next step towards being a superstar point guard. Having a former all-star/veteran point guard in Mo Williams ought to tremendously help Lillard take that next step, which means that the Trail Blazers will be an improved team as the rest of their young players continue to grow. As far as the season itself in terms of wins and losses, I see the Trail Blazers finishing slightly above .500, but not in the playoffs. Their division is pretty tough, and the conference itself is even tougher. If these guys were out in the Eastern Conference, we'd be talking about them like we do the Washington Wizards, which is as a possible playoff team. But since they aren't in the Eastern Conference, and instead are in the much better Western Conference, I don't see them coming close to making the playoffs, which may seem disappointing to the Trail Blazers, but it in no ways means that the team itself isn't getting better. The fact of the matter is that the Trail Blazers are getting better and they know who they want to build their franchise around. Plenty of teams would love to trade places with the Trail Blazers and have the present situation they have of trying to develop one of the best young point guards and power forwards in the game.
Utah Jazz: 
      Sometimes you gotta get worse before you can get better, and that's what the Utah Jazz have done. Rather than having a team that might make the playoffs with Mo Williams, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson as its leaders, the Jazz have instead decided to get rid of all those guys and instead give the keys of the car to their young core of Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, and rookie Trey Burke. What the Jazz hope is that Favors and Kanter are future all-star big men,  Hayward and Burks are future all-star swingmen, and Trey Burke is the next great young point guard in the NBA.
      They are of course making those players the starters at the expense of a playoff berth this season, and likely for the next couple of seasons. The Jazz want to win a championship, not be a mid-pack team, which is admirable. However, it isn't guaranteed that they will eventually turn into a contender just because they hope so. They're going to have to see improvement in all five of those young players this season in order to feel good about the move that they have made.
     If you are a Jazz fan, what you want to look for is improvement and player development. Ty Corbin knows that as head coach he's getting paid to develop quality talent as much as he is getting paid to win basketball games. The Jazz are going to be awful in the win-loss column this season, which means that the only victories that the Jazz can take are moral ones such as Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter getting double-doubles, etc. If their young core improves a lot over the course of the season, then the Jazz will have had a good season regardless of what their record is. However, if their young core doesn't improve much, then there will be more cause for concern since the whole plan is that this young core will get better as a result of more time freed up by the absence of Mo Williams, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pacific Division Preview

The NBA season starts at the end of October, and it is time for me to start doing my previews for each NBA division. I am starting with the Pacific Division, the division that is home to the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns.

Los Angeles Clippers: 
      The Los Angeles Clippers are my pick to win the Pacific Division this season. They have the best team on paper in the division thanks to their star point guard Chris Paul and star power forward Blake Griffin. I expect both of these guys to have an even better season than last year. Especially Blake Griffin, who is still learning how to do more things than just throw down exciting dunks and beat people with his raw athleticism. In addition, the Clippers have also added small forward Antawn Jamison and shooting guard J.J. Redick to the mix, making them much more potent offensively.  
      However, the biggest addition to the team might be Doc Rivers, their new head coach. Rivers comes over from the Celtics with championship experience, which is something the Clippers definitely need on their team. More importantly though, they finally have a coach that will rightfully demand their respect. I thought Vinny Del Negro did a fine job, but he clearly didn't have the command of their locker room. However, Doc Rivers won't have that issue, which means that the team will be more accountable and not deflect the blame on their coach. As a result, I expect the Clippers to build on the success they had last year, have an even better season, and make a more serious run at an NBA championship.

Golden State Warriors: 
      The Clippers may be my pick to win the Pacific Division this season, but the Golden State Warriors will be nipping at their heels, ready to pass them should they slip at all. It will be a tight race in the Pacific Division, and it won't be between the Clippers and Lakers, but rather the Clippers and the Warriors. Many feel the Warriors are the favorites to win the division thanks to the addition of Andre Iguodala, who will bring defensive intensity on the perimeter and make the Warriors a more balanced team. The Warriors already have plenty of offensive weapons with their star point guard Stephen Curry, their young shooting guard Klay Thompson, and star power forward David Lee. The defense is the only area where the Warriors have been lacking, and they very well may have fixed their defensive issues by getting Andre Iguodala. In addition, the Warriors also hope to have a healthy Andrew Bogut plugging up the middle, making their low post defense also formidable.

      The only concern I have for the Warriors is health. If Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut can each play more than 70 games, the Warriors will be just fine this season, and will certainly give the Clippers a real scare. However, if Curry and Bogut are unable to stay healthy and only play around 55-65 games each, then the Warriors are looking at likely finishing in second place behind the Clippers.

Los Angeles Lakers: 
      The Los Angeles Lakers have had a very tumultuous offseason thanks to the departure of Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant's rehab from his torn Achilles. The Lakers season last year was a major disappointment after everybody had them penciled in as the team destined to face the Heat in the NBA Finals. However, the Lakers didn't even come close to accomplishing their goal at winning a title, and instead ended up finishing as the 7th seed and out in 4 games to the San Antonio Spurs. Delusional Lakers fans think the departure of Dwight Howard and the return of a healthy Kobe Bryant fixes their problems, but the reality is that it does not. Head coach Mike D'Antoni still hasn't figured out how to effectively coach defense, and more problematic, he hasn't figured out how to get Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant to co-exist. Both guys need the ball in their hands all the time since they are both used to having the offense run through them. If D'Antoni can't find out a good balance between Nash and Kobe getting touches, the Lakers are in trouble. In addition, Pau Gasol's knees are also a concern even though he says he's healthy.
      The fact of the matter is that for the Lakers, there remain too many unknowns. Will Kobe Bryant come back healthy? How will Nash and Kobe get along? Will Pau Gasol stay healthy? Will the rest of the team respond to Mike D'Antoni in addition to Kobe Bryant? These questions can't be answered at the present time, but they do create a lot of doubt about the Lakers' upcoming season, which is why I have the Lakers slotted at finishing third in the division, and on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.

Sacramento Kings: 
      The Sacramento Kings may have locked up their promising young center DeMarcus Cousins to a 4 year, $62M extension, but they still have a lot of work to do in order to get where they want to be. They have a new head coach in Mike Malone who has the very challenging task of getting this young and talented team to work together. The development of rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore will be a key thing to watch this season as he could end up being the reason they turn into a playoff caliber team in a few seasons. With Tyreke Evans out of the picture, the Kings are banking on McLemore and Cousins being the guys to take them to the promised land.
      In addition to Cousins and McLemore, the Kings also have some other promising players in power forward Jason Thompson, point guard Isaiah Thomas,  point guard Greivis Vasquez, and point guard Jimmer Fredette. Note how the last three guys I just mentioned are all point guards. That's a problem that they have to fix. All three guys are promising players who deserve to play a fair amount of minutes and show what they got. Unfortunately, Jimmer Fredette is likely the odd man out, which means that the Kings really should do the right thing and trade him. The point guard controversy in Sacramento is still a concern in terms of figuring out how to divide up the minutes as well as the fact that the team is still really young. The Kings won't sniff a playoff spot this season, but do expect them to be fun to watch.

Phoenix Suns: 
Like the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns are a really young team that is in the rebuilding process. The difference between these two teams is that the Kings think they have found their franchise player for the future and the Suns are still looking for that player. The addition of point guard Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers is a pretty big deal because they desperately needed an upgrade at the point guard position even though Goran Dragic was doing a quality job running the point. The key for the Suns is going to be patience. They are in the process of seeing whether or not Eric Bledsoe can be their franchise point guard for the next decade as well as seeing whether or not rookie center Alex Len can be a cornerstone piece for them to build around. Those are two crucial things to look for when it comes to following the Suns: How does Eric Bledsoe do as the starting point guard not having Chris Paul to look towards and how does Alex Len do in terms of showing his potential to be a franchise center? If Bledsoe and Len have good seasons, then the Suns will in turn have a good season regardless of the win-loss column (which will likely be filled with a bunch of losses). However, if those guys don't do well, then the Suns are in for a real rough go. New head coach Jeff Hornacek has a tough season ahead of him, but after many years coaching alongside and playing under the great Jerry Sloan in Utah, I'm confident that Hornacek will get this young Suns team to play some good basketball and in the process play hard every night.

---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord