October 30, 2012 by shivusharma
Basketball is back! This seasons projects to be the greatest NBA season in a long time, mainly because of the questions facing each team. As a sort of preview for tonight’s tip-off, here are some of the key storylines for each team. The orders in which teams are listed also reflect my power rankings.
1) Miami Heat – This is LeBron James’ team now, partly because Dwyane Wade was willing to take a backseat to him. Chris Bosh also realized that he needed to be more active defensively. Do these roles continue into this season, or will we see a resurfacing of the chemistry issues of the 2011 Heat?
2) Los Angeles Lakers – On paper, the Lakers’ starting lineup fits perfectly, IF Kobe Bryant allows it to. Has Kobe finally learned that he doesn’t need to be the guy who goes 1-on-3 and take bad shots? How long will it take him to buy into having the offense run through Steve Nash? Kobe wears his pride and ego on his sleeve, and if he is not able to swallow it, this Lakers team will have incurable chemistry issues throughout the year
3) Boston Celtics – Has Rondo learned to shoot yet? He’s had four years to learn how to shoot, but we have yet to see results. Now that the Celtics are Rondo’s show, he will need to be more aggressive as a scorer. This will require him to make free-throws and open jump shots far more consistently. Last year Rondo shot 26% from 3-9 feet, 27.8% from 10-15 feet, 26.7% from 16-23 feet, and 35.7% from 3pt land. Those are disgustingly bad, but if Rondo just becomes an average shooter from those ranges, he could post a serious MVP-caliber season.
4) Oklahoma City Thunder – How will Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook respond emotionally to the loss of long-time teammate James Harden? So much of what made OKC great was the chemistry those three guys had built through the ups and downs of their careers. Now Harden is gone, and Durant and Westbrook must adapt to not having his scoring, shot creation, and energy on the floor.
5) San Antonio Spurs – The question with the Spurs is always whether this is the season the bottom falls out? Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker seem to be immune to father time. Coach Gregg Popavich strategizing has been instrumental in maximizing the talents of the aging Spurs so perhaps they can stave off their eventual downfall for one more season
6) Denver Nuggets – Do you believe in the hype? Because I do. I’m all in on the Nuggets. I believe that Javale McGee will be more like the player we saw dominate Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the playoffs, and less like the knucklehead Washington version. I believe Ty Lawson establishes himself as the team’s leader and crunch-time scorer. I also believe George Karl wins coach of the year and makes a deep playoff run with the deepest and most athletic team in the league. The question is whether the Nuggets will live up to the hype?
7) Indiana Pacers – At what point does the embattled Danny Granger get traded? Paul George is better suited to play small forward, and the Pacers could use perimeter scorer and/or some depth at PF and Center. Wouldn’t deals like this work?
Granger to the Raptors for Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan
Granger to Utah for Paul Millsap
Granger to Sacramento for Tyreke Evans
8) Memphis Grizzlies – Can their core threesome of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Rudy Gay stay on the court long enough to develop chemistry? If so, this team has the size to matchup with the Lakers as well as perimeter defenders like Mike Conley who can guard Russell Westbrook.
9) Los Angeles Clippers – They added depth to their roster in the off-season, but none of that will mean anything if Blake Griffin doesn’t improve his free throw shooting, mid-range jumper, and defense. Right now, this team’s identity is all about “Lob City”. For them to be more than just the NBA’s version of Cirque du Soleil, Griffin will have to start getting better. If it’s the same old story in Clipper land, does Chris Paul ask to be traded? That reality is more likely than you think.
10) Utah Jazz – They’ve built a nice young team in Salt Lake City and have some assets they could move for better pieces. As Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors emerge, it will be interesting to see what the Jazz can get for Al Jefferson and/or Paul Millsap. Will whoever they acquire even want to stay in Utah long-term?
11) Brooklyn Nets – It will take some time for them to jell, but the excitement of a new arena and new beginning will help that along. Can this team play any defense though? And what if Deron Williams isn’t the player we remembered from his Utah days? The narrative has been that his play dropped off because he had been playing on bad teams, but what if his skills just diminished? Only time will tell.
12) New York Knicks – I actually think the Amare Stoudemire injury helps them a lot. Carmelo Anthony will play at PF much more often, and help give this team some much needed offensive cohesion. Can Melo sustain being a power forward for a full-season though? And when Amare comes back, will he be fine coming off the bench, or will he ultimately get traded?
13) Chicago Bulls – The only question about this team is when will Derrick Rose return, and when he returns, how effective will he be? I love the passion and intensity Rose plays with, and for his sake, I hope he doesn’t come back too soon and risk re-injuring himself. Even without Derrick Rose, I think Coach Thibs defense will be strong enough to tread water in a weak Eastern Conference.
14) Minnesota Timberwolves – This team would be much higher if Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love were healthy. I think they will come back and be fine, so I’m not too worried about them. I’m more interested to see what comeback player candidates like Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy will give this team. They have a real opportunity to showcase their talents with Love and Rubio sidelines for an extended period.
15) Dallas Mavericks – Dirk Nowitzki has started off the year with nee problems, so it doesn’t look good in Big D. They did a good job putting together a roster on the fly, after losing out on the Deron Williams sweepstakes. Mark Cuban should be kicking himself for not attending the Deron Williams meeting in Dallas. If the Mavs don’t make the playoffs, they are in clear rebuilding mode.
16) Philadelphia 76ers- The Sixers sent Andre Iguodala out and brought in Andrew Bynum. Will Bynum realize any more of his potential? Is he going to be able to be a leader on his new team, or will he go back to his immature ways? I really think it’s the latter instead of the former. This Philadelphia situation seems like a huge mess.
17) Toronto Raptors – My surprise 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. You wait and see, this team will surprise a lot of people. The biggest thing to watch for with the Raptors is how the presence of Jonas Valanciunas at Center will free up Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani finally has a legit low-post big to complement his perimeter oriented game.
18) Houston Rockets – It’s all about James Harden and how well he and Jeremy Lin can create some synergy. They go into the future as the new faces of the Rockets’ franchise, so it is up to them to reinvigorate that fan base.
19) Atlanta Hawks – This team intrigues me because they could be a middle seed playoff team or a rebuilding team. They have lots of expiring contracts and just hired a new GM that is looking to restructure their roster. A lot of experts have the Hawks as a playoff team, but I really don’t buy it. They shipped Joe Johnson out during the off-season, and I think they will try and do the same with Josh Smith. Smith will garner a lot of attention in the trade market, so be on the lookout for the Hawks to be active around the trade deadline. Atlanta wants to rebuild and become a contender in the long haul, not a middle seed team like they’ve always been.
20) Detroit Pistons – There are a lot of underrated pieces on this team. Greg Monroe is turning into a stud down low, and Brandon Knight may take a big step forward in his second season. Rookie Andre Drummond has been really impressive in the pre-season as well. Look for the young Pistons to come into their own, and generate some buzz going into next year.
21) Golden State Warriors – I honestly think this team could be a playoff team in the west if they were able to stay healthy. But when your team is relying on Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry to stay healthy, you are being set up for disappointment. If these two can stay on the court, the Warriors have the pieces to hang with western conference teams.
22) Cleveland Cavaliers – After superseding expectations last year, Kyrie Irving has been touted to be the next great point guard. He undoubtedly has the skills, but will he be able to carry a young Cavs team to new heights in year two?
23) Portland Trailblazers – The direction this team takes in the future will be determined by the success or failure of rookie point guard Damian Lillard. So far, in the pre-season, Lillard seems to be the real deal.
24) New Orleans Hornets – How far up the rankings will Anthony Davis skyrocket after his rookie year? “The Brow” will be an instantaneous defensive force, but what I’m excited for is his chance to showcase his offensive ability. The kid has guard-like skills in a 6’10” frame. Also, is the Austin Rivers point-guard experiment going to work? I have my doubts, and in the case that it doesn’t work, is Eric Gordon traded to make room for Rivers?
Eric Gordon to Indiana for Danny Granger? (I know, so many Danny Granger trades, sorry)
Eric Gordon to Utah for Al Jefferson (expiring contract) and a 1st round pick?
25) Milwaukee Bucks – I know this team plays tough defense and has sound fundamentals, but there is no way they are a playoff team. The Monta Ellis + Stephen Curry combo wasn’t very successful for the Warriors, so I don’ see it working with Brandon Jennings. This team will be rebuilding very soon.
26) Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins has all the tools to be one of the best at his position, but his attitude needs to get right. I’m interested to see how he has matured on and off the court and whether he can emerge as the clear leader on a young Kings team.
27) Phoenix Suns – I like the additions of Luis Scola and Goran Dragic (aka “The Dragon”). My problem with them is that they seem like additions a contending team would make, and not a rebuilding team. On the bright side, the contracts they acquired should be relatively easy to move, so perhaps Phoenix will begin acquire assets as the season goes on.
28) Washington Wizards – This team did a great job digging themselves into a financial hole. They are paying Trevor Ariza $14m/2yrs, Nene $52m/4yrs and Emeka Okafor $28m/2yrs… Poor John Wall is stuck in this dismal situation for another two years.
29) Charlotte Bobcats – I’m not exactly sure why they thought it was necessary to sign Ramon Sessions when they drafted Kemba Walker a year ago. For the sake of this franchise, I hope they suck again this year. The Bobcats need more promising young players like rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. I’ll be looking to see if the Bobcats start making more sound financial and personnel decisions, or they continue doing stupid things like trading for Ben Gordon.
30) Orlando Magic – “Starting at Center for your Orlando Magic! At 6’8” and 320lbs…Glen Big Baby Davis!” So what if Southern California has Dwight Howard now, Orlando? You guys still have Mickey Mouse. Oh wait…no…SoCal has Mickey Mouse too. Hmm…Harry Potter world then? Ya that works! Needless to say, the relevance of the Orlando Magic franchise has been effectively Avada Kadavra’d for the next five to ten years.