Every year, there are a handful of questions I ask myself to gauge exactly how I’m going to approach the upcoming NBA season. These questions range from, say, “how good do I expect my own team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to be?” (passable, at the very least … I like to start slow) to “what team will I be irrationally attached to this year?” (possibly the San Antonio Spurs … after last year’s Finals, I might not be able to quit them) to “what team will I be sitting on my hands waiting to self-destruct?” (I’m looking at you, Detroit!). One question, though, is constant and possibly the most telling of them all: “Do I hate the Los Angeles Lakers?”
Archive for the ‘Previews’ Category
It’s an inaugural season of sorts down in the Big Easy. Gone is the name “Hornets,” which beat a teal stained path back to the good people (if not the good team) of Charlotte, NC after owner Tom Benson decided to brand his recently purchased team with a certain bird of local import. The 86-year old Benson then pressed GM Dell Demps to move the team’s rebuilding effort demonstrably forward and whether you call them the Pellies, the ‘Cans or take the time necessary to say all three syllables of Pelicans, the NBA’s New Orleans franchise is one of its more intriguing (which is not to say, necessarily, one of its better) going into the 2013-14 season.
Last Season: In its final season as the New Orleans Hornets, the team saw its two main building blocks, rookie Anthony Davis and shooting guard Eric Gordon, miss 18 and 40 games respectively. Davis’s missed games not withstanding, he turned in a promising rookie campaign averaging 13.5 points, better than 8 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks in only 28.8 minutes a game. In terms of PER and adjusted per minute stats, Davis compares favorably to the early seasons of Tim Duncan (who played over 40 minutes a game as a rookie… woah!) and Kevin Garnett (who began playing exclusively at power forward in his third season). So much of New Orleans’s projected future success, depends on Davis taking a step firmly toward that stratosphere, Gordon staying healthy enough to be the B to Davis’s A and Austin Rivers avoiding a second straight historically bad season. A nice, but unspectacular, rotation of Greivis Vasquez, Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez rounded out the team to make them 27-55 and, staring at a dearth of franchise changing talent in the draft, seemed to be (like another team we know…) settling in for a long, patient rebuild.
What they’ve done this off-season: On draft night, the Pelicans hit the accelerator. They hope.
Last season: Evil triumphed over good, and the Spurs lost a HEART-BREAKING (but ridiculously entertaining) 7 game series to the Axis of Ego. Had it not been for the gut wrenching disbelief that followed game 6 and into game 7, I’d have ranked this the best Finals since the Bulls once again denied Stockton and Malone that elusive NBA championship banner. Had it not been for LeBron James’ epic bricks that missed so badly that normal rebounds didn’t apply, the NBA landscape, and championship paradigm, could look dramatically different today. The Spurs should have defeated the most devastating collection of talent in decades with the following recipe: fundamental, unselfish offense, featuring mostly pick and rolls, help defense that rarely fouls, and (over)reliance on limited role-players. They are the anti-Heat – a team predicated on physicality, drawing fouls, and defending with positionless, ultra-athletic (and long) players capable of switching everything. Most importantly, they were assembled organically, like the underdog Hoosiers that won with coaching, unselfishness, a system, and just a smidge of Jimmy Chitwood star-power. Ok, that’s a lie. Even you, reader, probably agree that Tim Duncan is one of the top 5 PF/C (whichever way you lean) of all-time. The thing is, you are probably underrating him. Tony Parker too. Only a few contrarians mention Parker each year as the top Point Guard in the league. The Spurs like it this way. Winning is all that matters – and each player assumes a critical role in a well-oiled machine of basketball purity. Oh how I wish the Spurs had knocked off the Heat, while the talking heads obsessed over the right ratio of plays run for Dwyane Wade.
We need a name for the tank-off that will be the bottom third of the NBA this season. “Wince for Wiggins?” “Subdue for Andrew?” “We won’t be sorry if we get Jabari?” “Forfeit for ’14?” “Start Royce to get the number one choice?” Yeah. Nothing works quite as well as “suck for Luck…”
Both these teams took a wrecking ball to their teams in the off season, and we should fully expect that trend to continue as the coming season plays out. Despite, that, they have talented veterans on their roster. There should be trade demand as the season goes on for the likes of Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, and, of course, Rajon Rondo. The rosters these teams start the season with will almost assuredly be very different by season’s end. They will both do what they can to be very very bad. It’s going to be fun to see some teams other than the Cavs be cannon fodder for a change.
There’s a really fun piece of speculative(ish) fiction by Jim Cavan over at The Classical that imagines Jim Dolan in all of his breast obsessed, navel gazing glory on the night the Knicks dealt for Carmelo Anthony. Dolan is presented as a man who knows precious little about how to build a competitive basketball team but, luckily, has precious little interest in doing so. Knicks fans love to overvalue their team (as, to be fair, most fans do), but they, unlike fans of certain other New York sports franchises, are sympathetic because, largely, they overvalue to cope. So, for every Knicks fan who tells you how “Carmelo has figured it out” or that “J.R. Smith is really starting to mature as a player” or that “Mike Woodson’s gonna make a 3-4-5 combo of Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani a match-up nightmare” know that what’s behind the bluster is something else: the real, stark, terrifying reality that Jim Dolan still owns the team and that (in a truly Clevelandian sentiment) Dolan will always find a way to screw it up. Bless you, our brothers and sister in dread. Bless you. (more…)
Every NBA-team is in a semi-permanent state of transition, but creating a team identity and team stability matters for the purposes of creating continuity, or the illusion of continuity, between different groups of players. It is a necessary divining of order from chaos. The Raptors have been a man without a country since Chris Bosh left, but there’s finally rational reason to believe help is on it’s way at last. Semi-native son Masai Ujiri is back to GM this aimless ship full of dinosaurs somewhere. With the reigning EOY calling shots and an intriguing if not vague roster, Toronto won’t be boring.
Last Season: The Hawks finished the season a respectable 44-38, but lost in the first round to the stingy Indiana Pacers (4-2). They defended well, finishing 13th overall in defensive efficiency, while landing at 15th in offensive efficiency. They shared the ball (2nd in the NBA in Assist rate) and shot the ball efficiently (9th in TS%). However, they were plagued by a lack of rebounding (26th overall) and coughed it up a little too much. All in all, they were your prototypical average NBA team. (We’ve come to expect this from the Hawks.) They got out to a fast start in 2012 and then stayed afloat just long enough to earn the 6th seed in the East before getting bounced. Rumors of a Josh Smith exodus permeated the franchise, and after the season ended, Danny Ferry hired former Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer to replace Larry Drew after 3 seasons of 40-win basketball.