Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
Though I think that the Chicago Bulls were the best team in the East last season and will be the best team in the East this season, the Miami Heat are the defending Eastern Conference champions and they still have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And there’s a pretty good chance that this team is even better than they were last season. The only reason I think that Chicago will end up with a better regular season record than Miami is because I think Erick Spoelstra will let a couple of games slide in order to preserve the health of his big three because of the compressed schedule this season presents.
Miami didn’t do a whole lot to fix their main issues from last season during this shortened off-season. They are still just eight deep and weak at the center spot and when their reserves are relied on for a longer period of time on those nights when James, Wade and Bosh rest, they’ll lose. That said, I did like two of Miami’s off-season moves. Drafting Norris Cole, or trading for his draft rights, and signing Shane Battier were both pretty nice moves that help at two of their least productive positions from last season (back-up point guard and back-up small forward).
Cole was an underrated prospect on draft night because he went to a smaller school in Cleveland State but he’s a talented player that I think could take Mario Chalmers’ spot in the starting line-up by season’s end. He’s better at pushing the pace than Chalmers and Chalmers may be best served hitting three’s off the bench. Battier will be expected to fill the role that Mike Miller was signed to fill, that of spot-up shooter. I expect Battier to come through with that as well as some pretty good defense, something Miller is immune to. Battier is also capable of playing in crunch time if the Heat wanted to go with Wade at point guard or LeBron at power forward.
The Heat will also be getting a full season out of Udonis Haslem, which is big. He’ll be their only legit back-up big man and he’ll be relied on heavily during the regular season. If Haslem can hold up then it will be a success for the Heat, who will need him the most in the post-season. Having a healthy Mike Miller will help. He played last season but was effected by a thumb injury. Even though Miller will be healthy I won’t count him to come through. He’s never been productive on a good team before and I don’t think he’ll start this season.
Prediction: 48-16, 1st in the Southeast Division, 2nd in the Eastern Conference
Hit the jump for my previews for the Bucks, Nets, Knicks, Magic, 76ers, Raptors and Wizards…
Milwaukee will once again be one of the hardest teams in the NBA to watch this season. If you’ve never seen a basketball game before and you happen to stumble upon a Bucks game I beg you to turn the television off and run away. The Bucks ranked dead last in the league last season in offensive efficiency. Yes, that means their offense was worse than the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards last season, which is hard to believe.
The Bucks could see a slight increase in efficiency if Brandon Jennings makes a jump this season. I love Jennings but he shot below 40% in his first two seasons in the league. Jennings seems like he’s a good shooter but when you look at the numbers they are anemic. I want to see him succeed and I truly believe he’ll be a bit better this year. But even improvement from Jennings will likely be cancelled out by the fact that Scott Skiles is the coach and that Stephen Jackson is now their starting shooting guard. It’s not that Jackson is a terrible player, but if he’s unmotivated because of his contract situation we may see a record jumper of missed 20 footers from Milwaukee this season.
Milwaukee will probably finish in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency this season and quite possibly the bottom five, and they’re still going to make the playoffs. Sounds pretty incredible and it is. But the Bucks are just so good on defense that they score 85 points on a given night and win the game. Milwaukee was fourth in defensive efficiency last season and that figures to stay pretty much the same this year.
The Bucks also have a collection of mediocre players that will bode well for them in the playoff race in the East. With Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy (free agent signee), Tobias Harris (first round draft pick), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the wing, Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova the Bucks have seven quality reserves and their starting line-up (Jennings, Jackson, Carlos Deflino, Drew Gooden and Andrew Bogut) is decent with the chance to be pretty good if Jennings make the jump I expect him to and Bogut is back to his pre-awful fall self.
Speaking of Bogut, he’ll be the key here. Not only is he on par with Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler as a defensive center when he isn’t hurt, he’s better than both on offense. If he can return to form, Milwaukee will be a tough team to get rid of come playoff time with a consistent low post scorer and that defense.
Prediction: 33-33, 3rd in the Central Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference
The New Jersey Nets are not a very good team as currently constructed. Their entire season – and future – lies on their ability to pull off a trade for Dwight Howard. Yesterday, their chances took a big hit when it was announced that Brook Lopez had a broken bone in his foot and would require surgery. Though the Nets are saying he’ll be out 6-8 weeks and be able to return in February (giving him a month before the trade deadline to prove he’s healthy), Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas’ French sensation, had this injury a year ago and didn’t play for an entire season.
The Nets did make a pretty good move yesterday in an attempt to patch the center hole until Lopez returns by trading a second round pick to the Utah Jazz for Mehmet Okur. Okur is a stretch center that has battled injury of late but can contribute at a decent efficiency rate, which is a pretty large upgrade over New Jersey’s in-house back-up plans. But still, Jordan Farmar, Damion James, Stephen Graham, Johan Petro and Shelden Williams are going to have big roles on this team for most of the season. Even though that’s not all that much worse than what the Knicks have around their stars, when it’s just Deron and Lopez (and just Deron for most of the season), you aren’t going to win many games.
I expect Anthony Morrow to have a better year this season then he did last year and I think MarShon Brooks will have a decent rookie season (fadeaway 25-footers aside), but unless New Jersey gets Dwight Howard, they are losing Deron this summer and they’ll be making the move to Brooklyn with Brooks and Kris Humphries being their biggest stars. Sadly, the Howard talk will trump all other storylines this season for the Nets, meaning DeShawn Stevenson signing with a team owned by someone that once dissed him in a rap won’t get nearly as much burn as it should. I have New Jersey missing the playoffs but they are one spot out of the post-season depending on how the Dwight situation plays out.
Prediction: 28-38, 4th in the Atlantic Division, tied for 9th in the Eastern Conference
The New York Knicks made a very interesting decision this summer. With all signs pointing to Chris Paul wanting to play in New York next year, Paul got a little anxious and pushed for a trade rather than waiting out the year. With pretty much no chance of acquiring Paul via trade (even offering Amare for CP3 wouldn’t be enough based on the NBA’s veto of the Lakers-Houston three-team deal), the Knicks decided not to role the dice on getting either Paul or Deron Williams next season and instead signed a center in Tyson Chandler. And as much as I love Paul and Williams, I love the move.
The Knicks, even with one of those elite point guards, would have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Perhaps their pace would render that irrelevant against the NBA’s bottom feeders, but they would find a hard time taking down the NBA’s elite even with those offensive weapons. With Chandler, the Knicks should undergo a similar defensive makeover as Dallas did last year. The results won’t be the same – New York still has Melo and Amare on the frontline and Carlisle is an elite coach while D’Antoni is a good one that cares not for defense – but the mindset should. Worst case scenario: Chandler is the only person that plays defense for the Knicks this season and even that would be a great improvement.
As we saw in the Finals, Chandler can protect the rim even against the likes of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and I can only assume he’ll be able to do the same against Derrick Rose after he fended off Russell Westbrook fairly well in the Western Conference Finals. Chandler’s defensive impact will be severe and it’s enough to make me thing New York will be much better this season. And that’s without even considering what he does on offense. He may not be a lowpost scorer or anything but as we saw when Dallas ran pick and rolls with Dirk as the big man, he can be a viscous dunker on the drop off pass, which we should see when Amare is involved in pick and rolls. And Chandler can also operate as the roll man effectively while Amare waits for the drop off pass if Chandler chooses not to dunk on someone.
The only downside to Chandler’s signing is that it left New York with Toney Douglas as their starting point guard. As much as I like Douglas, he’s much better suited for a sixth man role then a starting one. Luckily, though, the Knicks had Baron Davis fall into their laps after the Cavs amnestied him. He will miss some time with a back injury before he can get on the floor with the Knicks but if he is motivated, this Knicks team won’t be on the outside looking in at Chicago and Miami. With Davis pushing the pace, Melo and Amare filling it up and Chandler anchoring the defense, New York could pose a serious threat in the playoffs.
Depth is an issue for the Knicks, but a second unit of Mike Bibby (for now, and with Douglas once Davis returns) Iman Shumpert, Bill Walker, Jared Jeffries and Josh Harrellson is pretty much on par with Miami’s. Again, New York’s ability to become a title contender depends on how well Baron Davis plays but a starting line-up of Davis, Landry Fields (an underrated role player that is a perfect starting shooting guard for a team with three other scoring options), Carmelo, Amare and Chandler, with an effective eight man rotation is a very scary post-season team. If Davis works out, New York will probably be a one and done in the playoffs that will be looking for a point guard upgrade wherever they can find one this summer.
Prediction: 42-24, 1st in the Atlantic Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference
The Magic are in the same boat as the Nets for me. I can’t pick them to make the playoffs because I don’t think that they’ll have Dwight Howard by season’s end. Other than Dwight, there’s not a lot to talk about here. If he stays, this is a playoff team because of his defensive prowess alone (with Milwaukee dropping out). If he gets dealt, it will be nice to see what Andrew Bynum looks like as the focal point of an offense for more than just a spurt.
Two Magic notes: I didn’t like the Glen Davis move, whether it pleased Dwight or not. I like Deandre Liggins.
Prediction: 28-38, 3rd in the Southeast Division, tied for 9th in the Eastern Conference
Much like the Indiana Pacers, the 76ers have done a pretty good job of building a competitive team in a smaller market. In fact, the way their team is constructed is rather similar. Young, exciting point guards from UCLA (Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison), second and third year shooting guards with potential (Evan Turner, Paul George), pretty good small forwards that are a bit overpaid for what they bring to the table (Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger), and important back-up combo guards (Lou Williams, George Hill).
The two major differences between the two teams come in the paint. Elton Brand and David West both have two more years left on their deals but West is the better player of the two and he’s making $15 million less than Brand over the next two seasons. The other difference is that Indiana has a potential all-star at center in Roy Hibbert while the Sixers have Spencer Hawes. That said, the Pacers don’t have a reserve player like Thaddeus Young, so that makes up for part of the difference.
But the Elton Brand contract is a mistake that Indiana hasn’t made, which is why their in a better position going forward financially. The Sixers are still good and Doug Collins is a good coach, but reports are that Brand isn’t looking all that great right now and while that can be said about a few players after such a short training camp period, for Philly to get worse production from Brand than they did last season will be a big deal, particularly because he’s their only lowpost threat.
I’m not the first one to say this but look for Holiday and Turner to get better this season and even though Turner won’t start, I’d imagine he’ll be playing in crunchtime with Holiday, Iguodala, Young and Brand by season’s end. Philly will be a playoff team and should give a test to whoever they face but they won’t be able to make the jump into serious contention in the East until they trade Iguodala for some frontcourt depth or amnesty Brand next summer and rebuild down low. Until then, enjoy the growth of this young core.
Prediction: 34-32, 3rd in the Atlantic Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference
The Raptors should be a fun team to watch this season despite the fact that they’ll be contending for a top three pick at the end of the year. DeMar DeRozan is entering into his third year in the league and though this isn’t a make or break year for him, he should improve a good amount this season, particularly as a shooter. He already showed he can put the ball in the basket from short range but if he can extend his game to 16-25 feet then he will go a long way in becoming Toronto’s next star on the wing. And with his athleticism, I’m sure the nickname “Air Canada 2.0″ will catch on quickly.
Ed Davis is coming off of a decent rookie season though it was clear that he was still a prospect. I don’t expect Davis to be an all-star this season but the potential, as with DeRozan, is there and he needs to continue making progress in the growth of his game. If Davis doesn’t take a step back it will only make the Raptors core of DeRozan, himself, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson (who’s young and on a four year deal) and Jonas Valanciunas more exciting all while securing a top pick that will allow Toronto to get a small forward to complete their core like Harrison Barnes or Perry Jones III.
Speaking of Bargnani, it will be fun to see how Dwyane Casey, who was excellent on Dallas’ staff as a defensive specialist, deals with him. Casey is a no nonsense kind of guy so I wouldn’t be surprised if he benched Bargnani five minutes into a game in January after Amare makes three straight lay-ups to teach him a lesson. Also keep an eye on Jerryd Bayless. He may be the back-up behind Jose Calderon but I have a feeling that all veterans will be up for grabs during the season and Bayless, who is just 24, will have a chance to become a part of Toronto’s future if he shoots the ball well.
Prediction: 22-44, 5th in the Atlantic Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Flip Saunders will have a pretty tough job this season. Aside from having to coach JaVale McGee, Jordan Crawford, Nick Young and Andray Blatche during 66 NBA basketball games, most fans see young players like John Wall and McGee throwing down alley-oops in Lob D.C. and think “Hey, the Thunder, 76ers, Bulls and Pacers have gotten continuously better with young players like that, so should the Wizards!”.
Problem is: Though Wall should get better this season with a fully healthy body, the combined basketball IQ of the majority of their role players is 23 and the team decided against amnestying Rashard Lewis, which could take minutes away from rookies Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton. I liked all three of Washington’s draft picks (Vesely, Singleton and Shelvin Mack) and didn’t even mind Young’s extension because he can fill it up, but not amnestying Lewis was a mistake and they didn’t make any big time improvements.
I’ll enjoy watching Wall this season but don’t expect too big of a jump from the Wizards. Their core is nice but it’s not as good as some of the other young teams on the rise this year. Because Washington will have a top 5-6 pick, I think the best plan of action going forward is to trade Andray Blatche for expiring contracts, amnesty Rashard Lewis in the summer, extend McGee (even though it will cost $10 million a year) and draft Jared Sullinger, John Henson or Anthony Davis. Next season Washington’s starting line-up could be Wall/Young/Vesely/Sullinger/McGee with a second unit of Mack/Crawford/Singleton/Trevor Booker with a free agent big man or two to come (could re-sign Ronny Turiaf if he likes it in the nation’s capital this year). That’s a young group but in two seasons, with Wall entering into his prime, that’s a pretty good team.
Prediction: 24-42, 4th in the Southeast Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference