Current Tiers of the NBA

26 07 2013

Championship contenders: Heat, Pacers, Nets, Bulls, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies, Warriors (Fringe: Knicks, Rockets)

Playoff contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons, Wizards, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers, Timberwolves (Fringe: Celtics, Bobcats, Raptors, Pelicans)

Lottery contenders: Sixers, Magic, Jazz, Suns, Kings

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2013 NBA Season Excitement Preview

31 10 2012

The NBA season is finally upon us. No lockout – just basketball. With a multitude of story lines inundating this league, there are many reasons to be amped about this season. I will give you the main reasons to be excited about watching each team in the NBA.

 

 

Atlanta HawksAl Horford will quickly develop into the focal point of this offense as this franchise moves into the post-Joe Johnson era. At the point guard position, speedy Devin Harris will get the chance to get back to the player – a better player –  he was before Utah. Will a sixth consecutive playoff appearance go along with this? Josh Smith‘s decision to stay or go next summer will be effected based upon the answer to this question.

Boston Celtics – With the acquisitions of Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa along with a healthy Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo might finally have the athletic pieces to allow him to completely take the reins of the offense. Correction: he will take the reins of the offense. Once breakout rookie Avery Bradley comes back in December, this team has a good chance to be the Heat’s best competition in the East as so many have already claimed.

Brooklyn NetsDeron Williams. Black and White jerseys. Brooklyn. Jay-Z. What is not exciting about the newest team in the NBA? If they continue to win at the same rate as they did in New Jersey, though, they will quickly become old, bland news. Joe Johnson won’t let that happen.

Charlotte Bobcats – After finishing the lockout season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history (.106), there’s only one place this franchise can go: up. As we move into the era of washed up veterans (Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood) and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist, they might finally move out of the last spot in the East all thanks to Dwight Howard.

Chicago Bulls – The eventual early return of superstar Derrick Rose will rank as one of the most emotional moments in NBA – if not sports – history. When he comes back, we will see less Nate Robinson, but we will see an inspired team that can compete in the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving. This kid is about to elevate himself into the upper echelon of the league and become a superstar for his team. As one of the youngest and potential-filled (Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller) teams in the NBA, the city of Cleveland can finally have hope for their franchise’s future.

Detroit Pistons – If you like tough big man play, this is the team for you. Budding soon-to-be All-Star Greg Monroe along with already impressive rookie Andre Drummond (two men that are both one inch away from being seven-footers) will provide Detroit with a chance to squeeze into the playoffs – if Rodney Stuckey finally takes his point guard game to the next level.

Indiana Pacers – Following the Thunder’s footsteps by making it into the bottom-half of the playoffs two years ago followed by the top-half of the bracket last year, can they continue to follow suit and take the next step into the NBA Finals? With a healthy Danny Granger, always improving Paul George and dominate All-Star seven-footer Roy Hibbert, a generous playoff route could direct them to the promise land. At the very least, Gerald Green will provide casual fans with plenty of jump-off-your-couch-in-excitement slam dunks.

Miami Heat – What is next for LeBron James? What’s next is an unimaginable season. With a relaxed attitude toward the game of basketball, the King (he has a ring…) will collect his fourth MVP award as the Heat will have a commanding season (along with Ray Allen hitting many three-pointers), making it to the Eastern Conference Finals at the very least.

Milwaukee Bucks – Finishing ninth in two straight seasons, this team has been scraping the edge of the playoffs. Monta Ellis getting a full NBA season with the team beside fellow guard Brandon Jennings makes this yet another exciting East backcourt duo. This will be a very scary group that could beat any team on any given night when both of these players are having solid shooting nights.

New York Knicks – Yes, they are the oldest team in NBA history. But they have quality old veterans that still know how to use their intelligence to play the game (Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas). Since Amare Stoudemire will be out 6-8 weeks, Knicks fans get to see Carmelo Anthony at the position he plays best (power forward), making this group the best team in New York.

Orlando Magic – They might not win many games this season, but this fan base can finally let out a sigh of relief as their baby center finally got his wish. Keep an eye out for Andre Nicholson, who could become the surprise rookie of the 2012 class.

Philadelphia 76ers – When Andrew Bynum finds a way to get healthy, that’s when the excitement can start. This Sixers season is all about their new pure center. Fitting Bynum into Doug Collins and Jrue Holiday‘s system could lead to a challenge for the much smaller Miami Heat once the playoffs roll around.

Toronto Raptors – Even though it would have been nice to bring Steve Nash back to his hometown, this franchise got a stat-stuffing guard in Kyle Lowry, who will record multiple triple-doubles this year. Rookie center Jonas Valanciunas will find his way onto many SportsCenter Top 10’s throughout this season.

Washington Wizards – Once John Wall recovers from surgery, Bradley Beal will be an exceptional shooting guard to compliment his game and Nenê will continue to be the offensive force he has been since he entered the league. Just like the Pistons, this young team could find themselves in the playoffs if Wall does not continue to plateau as a basketball player.

 

 

 

Dallas Mavericks – For a team that doesn’t have Jason Kidd, Jason Terry or Dirk Nowitzki playing in their season opener, it’s difficult to get a grasp on this team’s identity. If they can establish their identity, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo can wipe away last year’s regressed season and Dirk can play like a healthy and hungry Dirk, they will make the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season.

Denver Nuggets – Easily the funnest team in the league (Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried both having styles of play that any fan would enjoy watching), this group of pretty-good-to-great players has the most potential in the league. For this potential to turn into something legitimate, Andre Iguodala must become that go-to guy they have desperately been searching for since Melo left for New York.

Golden State Warriors – For the first time since 1997, the Warriors will have an All-Star in Stephen Curry – if he stays healthy (yes, that is indeed a big “if”). Putting him in a lineup with Klay Thompson, who will drastically improve this year, and Andrew Bogut, who will be a force down low, this new and improved California team will fulfill Mark Jackson’s prediction from last year that his team will make the playoffs.

Houston RocketsJames Harden. We have only known Harden as that sixth man on a team with two bigger and better stars. Now it’s his time. Putting the bearded man next to Jeremy Lin will improve both of their games, and with Omer Asik setting picks for these two guards, they now have a foundation for the future.

LA Clippers – Los Angeles does not know the future of superstar point guard Chris Paul with his contract soon coming to a close. But while they have him, this is still lob city. With one of the deepest benches in the league and Blake Griffin improving his low-post game, Paul can take this team as far as his clutch play desires.

LA Lakers – The two most important positions on the court are point guard and center. The Lakers traded for two of the best at those positions in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. They also have that guy named Kobe Bryant. They are officially “Hollywood” with undoubtedly the best starting lineup in the league once they find their chemistry. Since the Thunder also need to gel themselves with Harden gone, the Lakers have a legitimate chance to go all the way yet again.

Memphis Grizzlies – Is it possible to be the dark horse for three consecutive years? The Grizzlies are in the running for this title again. A healthy Zach Randolph takes this team to an extra playoff series – just look at 2011. If they get a better passer in Mike Conley Jr. to lead the exact same core – other than O.J. Mayo – from last year, you can’t forget about this team when making your playoff predictions.

Minnesota Timberwolves – The injury bug just won’t go away in Minnesota. First Ricky Rubio. Then Kevin Love… because of some knuckle push-ups. Even without their best two players, this team still has a lot of depth, and if Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko produce like the players that we used to know, they could still grab that eighth seed.

New Orleans Hornets – Inevitable Rookie of the Year Anthony Davis brings to the court everything you want in a center. Throw in a flashy Austin Rivers along with a healthy Eric Gordon and you have three players that could lead this team for years to come. (And don’t forget about the reigning Most Improved Player of the Year Ryan Anderson spotting up behind the three-point line.) The fans might soon forget about Chris Paul when Davis has his first 20-20 game.

Oklahoma City Thunder – This small-market team gave up a core for the ages in order to avoid the penalties of the new CBA. Durant/Westbrook/Harden could have been a trio for the ages. But now there is a new trio in OKC with a second Kevin in Kevin Martin that will be running off ball screens and drawing fouls. Even if he can’t be a distributor like Harden, he will get his fair share of points. Whether or not they are the favorites to come out of the West does not change the fact that they will be an electrifying ball club with plenty of highlights from Russ and Durantula.

Phoenix Suns – Discovering what the Suns new identity will be is a scary yet exciting thought. They don’t have Steve Nash anymore, but they have a solid frontline in Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat that all have not yet reached their ceiling as NBA players. How can they reach that ceiling? Goran Dragic. If their point guard works with these big men, all four could have respectable seasons.

Portland Trial Blazers – The Greg Oden-Brandon Roy era is officially over. Finally. Even though LaMarcus Aldridge still remains as the cornerstone of this franchise, how quickly Damian Lillard, who could make the Rookie of the Year race closer than people think, develops will determine just how soon this team moves out of the pits of the West. Oh, and Nicolas Batum? Just wait until he breaks out this season.

Sacramento Kings – The last pick of the 2011 draft will soon become the most exciting little man to watch in the entire league. Isaiah Thomas statistically improved in both scoring and assisting in every successive month last season and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon. If DeMarcus Cousins continues to improve his game along with his attitude and Marcus Thornton quietly maintains his average of 18-20 points, they could become the sporadically hot team you never want to face.

San Antonio Spurs – The good news for the skeptics is that Duncan/Ginobili/Parker are now all over 30-years-old. The bad news is that Duncan/Ginobili/Parker have never let age get in the way of winning. Every single season we are reminded that the Spurs are “one year older” and they continue to make it to the playoffs. Thanks for that, Pop. We should expect nothing less this season.

Utah Jazz – Devin Harris is finally gone. And they still have the best quadruplet of big men in the NBA with Favors/Jefferson/Kanter/Millsap leading the way. Every single one of these players can pound the ball down low and actually be a conventional power forward or center. (Shocking, right?) They made the playoffs last year and can now build on this experience.

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Glimmer of Hope in Youth

11 04 2012

Two seasons ago, the Charlotte Bobcats team led the league in opponents points per game (93.8) and made a first round playoff appearance. Now? They are finishing up one of the worst NBA campaigns by a franchise as Michael Jordan has become the laughing-stock of owners.

The Sacramento Kings were serious contenders at the start of this decade but haven’t had a winning record or been relevant since Rawle Marshall had his subpar rookie season with the Dallas Mavericks. Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins both have shown the ability to fill up a stat sheet but that hasn’t translated into wins.

Even though these bottom-of-the-barrel teams will finish with yet another disappointing season in 2 1/2 weeks, they each have a similar, undersized bright spot that has emerged as a silver lining.

Kemba Walker came into the NBA with big expectations in large part due to his sensational play during a championship run with Connecticut that labeled him as a “competitor” and a “winner.” (Making Gary McGhee look like the lead actor in “Bambi on Ice” also helped set Walker in the national limelight.)

However, as what happens with many relevant players that are forced to play in Charlotte, he quickly became an irrelevant storyline in the media’s eyes. When a team holds a 7-49 record along with multiple double-digit losing streaks, their players only deserve so much screen time.

Throughout most of the year, Walker has struggled to figure out his shot. His first four months of play consisted of field goal shooting below 40 percent.

Walker has had flashes of spectacular play that remind fans of another speedy, scoring point guard with No. 1 on his jersey. His best game came on January 28 when he posted a triple double (20 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds)… right in the middle of his team’s season high 16-game losing streak.

Even though the Bobcats are in the midst of yet another losing streak (13 games), April has shown that Walker won’t quit on his team just because it hasn’t gone exactly as he hoped it would… wait, why does this sound so familiar? Anyway, he has found the touch, and his numbers are reflecting this find.

April MIN FG% 3P% FT% REB AST PTS
30.2 .402 .440 .818 4.2 5.8 15.8

Other than minutes played and free throw percentage, which have been fairly consistent all year long, every single other statistic here is his highest of any other month.

His more efficient shooting during these six games hasn’t even been the most impressive facet of his play. There aren’t that many point or shooting guards that can bring quality scoring, passing and rebounding all to the floor. Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook both have this ability, and that has played a factor in many considered them as two of the top point guards in the league. Walker looks to have the potential and capability to do this.

Walker’s 6-1, 184 pound frame has led many to believe the kid will have trouble playing alongside the big bodies of the NBA, but Walker has intangibles that can’t be understood by numbers.

“He’s a fighter,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said earlier in the week. “That’s the one thing when I see Kemba play that I recognize. He’s a young guy who’s out there fighting any time he’s out there on the floor.”

This one month of play can’t erase the fact that he has had a shaky first year filled with many ups and downs for an abysmal team. His “winning” title must be temporarily revoked.

However, he has shown a high-level of play. He has shown this isn’t the end of his improvement. He has shown that later on, something special will be coming soon to an arena near you.

 

The last guy taken in the NBA Draft usually doesn’t have anything riding on his play as Dwayne Collins, Robert Dozier and Semih Erden have shown with their play, or lack there of, the past few seasons.

Isaiah Thomas entered the 2011 NBA Draft unexpectedly after his junior year at Washington. Even though he played extremely well during his tenure as a Husky, most teams couldn’t get over his J.J. Barea-esque height and looked to draft someone taller than 5-9… much taller. He landed right at No. 60.

Thomas made it clear he would use this disrespect as motivation for his rookie season.

“Yes. You know it will,” he said after being drafted. “I will be in the gym tomorrow. While I’m disappointed that some of the players got chosen ahead of me, at the same time, everything happens for a reason. I’m just ready to get after it and show the other 29 teams that they made a mistake.”

Unfortunately, the first few weeks of basketball played out as most teams expected. Thomas seemed unable to handle the change in size of opponents through the first 17 games, averaging only 6.3 points while shooting 30.8 percent from the field.

But as Thomas said, he “got after it.”

MONTH MIN FGM-FGA 3PM-#PA REB AST PTS
Dec. 8.5 0.8-3.0 0.5-1.0 1.3 1.0 4.5
Jan. 18.7 2.5-6.6 1.0-3.2 1.7 2.6 7.6
Feb. 25.5 4.5-9.6 1.4-3.5 3.0 4.4 12.2
March 29.9 4.7-9.7 1.3-3.5 3.3 4.9 13.6
April 35.2 5.7-12.3 2.0-5.0 3.0 4.3 16.7

His last three months of play have shown why he almost gave Gus Johnson a heart attack because of his clutch play. He has dealt with a coaching change, lineup shuffles, immature teammates and a franchise that still doesn’t know if it will be staying in Sacramento. This didn’t matter for Thomas as he has continuously grown on the court and adjusted to his opponents.

The 23-year-old has shown the kind of heart and energy that made J.J. Barea a vital piece to the Dallas Mavericks championship run. He plays through adversity, and this innate toughness is a big reason why he currently sits atop NBA.com’s Rookie Ladder.

Thomas, like Walker, can’t seem to influence his Kings (19-40) enough to pick up wins. During his best play of late, his team has lost 10 of 12. Thomas may have pretty statistics, but he won’t impress his peers and analysts if there isn’t a “W” beside the numbers.

Even with his team’s losing ways, if Thomas continues to improve during this upcoming offseason, he could be a building block for this team. Before Tyreke Evans knows it, he could become an expendable piece while a player drafted 56 spots below him becomes a more fitting player to rely on.

As these young men wrap up the end of their rookie season, they have undoubtedly proven one thing: they belong in this league.

Just as certain players (Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant) have a knack for coming up big when it matters most, some players have the ability to give more than one hundred percent. Thomas and Walker have this. They have a certain determination and resilience that is necessary for “little guys” to make it in NBA.

Even though the Bobcats are much worse than the Kings, both organizations have given these point guards little to work with. They can’t control who their teammates are during their first year in the league.

If they get the right pieces around each of their teams, they can actually compete in their respective conferences. They could be dangerous, prevalent players.

How long before these franchises get those pieces, though? It could be a while, but this shouldn’t take away from the potential just waiting to be exploited once put in the right context.

Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas are known for their college days. Eventually, Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas will also be known for their NBA days.

 

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