With the 2013-2014 NBA season ready to get underway, there are plenty of storylines to watch out for. After a second championship last year, LeBron James and the Miami Heat are looking to win their third title in a row. The Nets, however, have completely revamped their roster, and could challenge the Heat in the Eastern Conference. The hometown Wizards look to be significantly improved, and seem poised for a run at a playoff berth. In the Western Conference there have been many moves as well. Long-time Celtics' coach Doc Rivers will now be at the helm for the Clippers and Dwight Howard will run the frontcourt in Houston. All in all, NBA fans need wait no longer: introducing the official SCO 2013-2014 NBA preview.
1. Miami Heat 66-16, first in east, won NBA Championship.
Not much has changed down in South Beach. The Heat are still the Heat, and will continue to be the best team in the league. With two championships now under his belt, LeBron James should continue his Most Valuable Player (MVP) caliber play and lead the Heat to their third straight NBA championship. What's really scary for the rest of the league is that the Heat acquired former lottery picks Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. These low-risk high-upside moves are perfect for the Heat, and something only they would be able to afford. If these two play half as well as they were expected to play coming into the league, then the Heat will be more dominant than ever.
2. Brooklyn Nets 49-33, fourth in east, lost in opening round.
The Nets had a respectable first year in Brooklyn, finishing as the number four seed in the East. However, the Nets are a changed team. In the offseason they picked up Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to supplement an already star-studded roster. Sixth man Andray Blatche really came into his own last year, posting the highest field goal percentage of his career, and emerging as a viable option off the bench (espn.com). Brooklyn's solid bench will be critical this year, as they attempt to decrease the workload on their stars in order to prepare for a deep playoff run. If the Nets are able to stay relatively healthy this year, I expect them to emerge as the unquestioned number two team in the East.
3. Indiana Pacers 49-32, third in east, lost in eastern conference finals.
Despite missing all star forward Danny Granger for much of the season, the Pacers still finished third in the Eastern Conference, and advanced to the conference championship. However, the loss of Granger proved to be somewhat of a blessing for the talented Pacers. Paul George emerged as one of the best players in the league and Lance Stephenson finally lived up to his draft day hype. Now, with Granger back, Indiana is one of the few teams in the Eastern Conference that can seriously challenge the Heat in a playoff series. Star center Roy Hibbert proved to be so much of a force in the playoffs that the Heat went out and got Greg Oden, a rim protector of their own. As their young nucleus of Roy Hibbert and Paul George continue to develop, the Pacers will be stronger than ever.
4. New York Knicks 54-28, second in east, lost in second round.
The Nets were not the only New York team to improve over the offseason. After a solid regular season in which they finished second in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks went out and got talented big man Andrea Bargnani and top notch defender Metta World Peace (MWP). Bargnani, a potent three point shooter, will help space the floor for the league's leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony. On the other hand, MWP will improve an already solid defense that allowed the seventh fewest points per game last year. (nba.com) The Knicks also boast one of the best benches in the league, featuring stud sixth man J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and World Peace. However, the real x-factor for the Knicks could be former superstar Amar'e Stoudemire. From the time Stoudemire came into the league in the 2002-2003 season, he was a consistent 20 point per game scorer and all-star caliber player, according to ESPN. However, because of injury, among other things, Stoudemire has averaged under 20 points per game for the past two seasons. (nba.com) Although it may be unreasonable to expect Stoudemire to return to his superstar form, a productive Stoudemire would really catapult the Knicks to contender status.
5. Chicago Bulls 45-37, fifth in east, lost in second round.
With Derrick Rose making his long awaited return this year, Chicago fans have championship aspirations. Although it would be foolish to think that the Bulls will not be a much improved team with Derrick Rose healthy this year, it would also be foolish to think that Derrick Rose will immediately be able to recapture his MVP form. In addition, the Bulls did not make the same offseason splashes as their New York counterparts did this offseason. However there is some reason to be excited about the Bulls this year. Young guard Jimmy Butler has emerged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and is a worthy complement to Rose in the backcourt. The Bulls' defense allowed the third fewest points per game in the league last year, and that was without Rose, one of their best defenders (nba.com). Once Rose shakes off the rust, I believe the Bulls will be better than ever. They may not match the number one seed in the east that they achieved in Rose's last healthy season, but Chicago will definitely be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.
6. Washington Wizards 29-53, twelfth in east, did not reach playoffs.
There is a lot of hype surrounding Washington this year, but I expect the youthful Wizards to live up to it. The management has fully embraced the "win now" mentality, bringing in talented big man Marcin Gortat to replace the injured Emeka Okafor, and also acquiring Al Harrington, someone who can really space the floor and give John Wall room to operate. The Wizards certainly played like a playoff team when Wall was healthy last year, and as second year guard Bradley Beal continues to develop, Wall and Beal will become one of the most dangerous backcourts in the NBA. Up front, Nene and Gortat have the size to match up with most teams in the league. The x-factor will be highly-touted rookie Otto Porter. Porter is a do it all forward, and at some point in the season, he will become a full time starter. If he is able to live up to his lottery pick status, Washington could be an imposing force in the Eastern Conference, not just this year, but for years to come.
7. Detroit Pistons 29-53, eleventh in east, did not reach playoffs.
Detroit hardly resembles the atrocious 29 win team that it was last year. The Pistons added a ton of talent to their roster this summer, bringing in Josh Smith, Chauncey Billups and Brandon Jennings. Combine that with the uber talented Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, and you have one of the most talented teams in the East. Exciting rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Peyton Siva should also contribute in their first years in the league. With all this talent, the only question will be if new Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks is able to turn Detroit into one cohesive unit, instead of a group of individual stars. The leadership of Chauncey Billups will be essential if the Pistons want to make some noise this year. If the Pistons are able to gel at the right time, they could be a team nobody wants to draw come playoff time.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers 24-58, thirteenth in east, did not reach playoffs.
Kyrie Irving has established himself as one of the premier players in the NBA, and averaged 22.5 points per game in just his second year in the league. (espn.com) What has really been bringing Cleveland down the last few years has been the lack of a supporting cast. However, this year, that could all change. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Cavs selected promising young forward Anthony Bennett. In addition, Cleveland acquired Andrew Bynum, who when healthy, is simply a beast. Dion Waiters averaged almost 15 points per game as a rookie last year and there is no doubt that he has superstar potential (espn.com). I expect Waiters to really come into his own this year and become a worthy sidekick to Irving. Throw a healthy Bynum into the mix and Cleveland will secure its first playoff birth of the Kyrie Irving era.
On the outside looking in
9. Milwaukee Bucks
38-44, eighth in east, lost in opening round.
10. Toronto Raptors 34-48, tenth in east, did not reach playoffs.
Headed for the lottery
11. Atlanta Hawks
44-38, sixth in east, lost in opening round.
12. Charlotte Bobcats 21-61, fourteenth in east, did not reach playoffs.
13. Boston Celtics 41-40, seventh in east, lost in opening round.
14. Orlando Magic 20-62, fifteenth in east, did not reach playoffs.
15. Philadelphia 76ers 34-48, ninth in east, did not reach playoffs.
1. Los Angeles Clippers 56-26, fourth in west, lost in opening round.
The Clippers had a great season last year, but will look to build on it this year. They brought in championship-winning coach Doc Rivers from the Celtics as well as key free agent pickups J.J. Reddick and Jared Dudley. In fact, because of Reddick's outstanding shooting ability, Rivers will be able to run the same types of catch and shoot screens that he ran for Ray Allen in Boston. The Clippers, according to nba.com, also only shot a mediocre 35.8% from three last year, which was fifteenth in the league. Dudley also has three point range, but will most importantly defend well and be a good teammate. As long as bigs DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin can produce while leaving room for Chris Paul to work, the Clippers will be a the team to beat in the West.
2. San Antonio Spurs 58-24, second in west, lost in NBA finals.
My biggest concern with the Spurs going into this year is age. Still, this is virtually the same team that reached the NBA Finals last year and they still have talent. Point guard Tony Parker, according to Sports Illustrated, averaged 20.3 points per game and 7.6 assists last season and is still as explosive as most point guards. Probably the brightest spot for this team, however, is small forward Kawhi Leonard. At 22, the 6' 7” forward averaged 13.5 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 54.5% from the field, according to Sports Illustrated. Leonard also has outstanding versatility on defense, which allows him to guard multiple positions. If Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker can hold up for another year, the Spurs could have a chance to return to the finals.
3. Houston Rockets
45-37, eighth in west, lost in opening round.
Although the Thunder lost shooting guard Kevin Martin, they are still that same young, elite team. No player is on LeBron James' level right now, but Kevin Durant is a heck of a good number two. Durant and Russell Westbrook are arguably the best one-two punch in the league and their athleticism is simply off the charts. If Durant and Westbrook can lead the explosive and extremely athletic OKC offense, the Thunder will have yet another successful season. Oklahoma city also has probably the most improved young post player in Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has always played elite defense and been able to block shots but has significantly improved his offensive game, averaging just over 13 points per game last year, according to nba.com. If Westbrook can avoid his injury troubles, and if the rest of the team can stay healthy, we could see the Thunder make a deep run in the postseason.
5. Golden State Warriors 47-35, sixth in west, lost in second round.
There is no doubt that Stephen Curry is the best NBA player who has not yet played in an all star game (although that should change this season). Curry is an absolute sniper from beyond the arc, shooting a stunning 45.3% from three last season, according to nba.com. Curry is paired with sharp-shooter Klay Thompson and newly acquired defensive stalwart and third scoring option Andre Iguodala. In the frontcourt, the Warriors will feature Andrew Bogut, who just got a contract extension, and all star David Lee. Harrison Barnes is also a great option coming off the bench and even potentially starting a few games with his athletic and scoring potential. If head coach Mark Jackson can bring all of this talent together, Golden State could also make some noise in the playoffs.
6. Memphis Grizzlies 56-26, fifth in west, lost in conference finals.
It is pretty safe to say that the Grizzlies overachieved last season, reaching the western conference finals. Memphis arguably has the best pair of post players in rebounding machine Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol. No doubt that the Grizzlies will dominate teams in the post, but the biggest question for them is perimeter shooting. According to nba.com, the Grizzlies ranked 30 in the league in three-pointers made and attempted. Looking at the likely starting lineup in Memphis, there are no true, consistent shooters. Small forward Tayshaun Prince needs to shoot the ball better if the Grizzlies want to challenge the top teams in the tough West.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves 31-52, twelfth in west, did not reach playoffs.
Minnesota is the team that I think will surprise some people this upcoming season. The biggest issue for the Wolves last year was three-point shooting, like Memphis. Last year, according to nba.com, the Timberwolves shot 30.5% from three as a team, lowest in the NBA. Over the offseason, however, Minnesota added shooting guard Kevin Martin. Martin, according to nba.com, shot 42.6% from the perimeter last season with the Thunder. He should help the Wolves be more efficient from distance and spread the floor for all-star forward Kevin Love. With pass-first point guard Ricky Rubio distributing the ball and sparking the offense, I expect the T-Wolves to sneak into the playoffs.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
33-49, eleventh in west, did not reach playoffs.
On the outside looking in
9. Dallas Mavericks
41-41, tenth in west, did not reach playoffs.
10. Denver Nuggets 57-25, third in west, lost in opening round.
Headed for the Lottery
11. New Orleans Pelicans
27-55, fourteenth in west, did not reach playoffs.
12. Los Angeles Lakers 45-37, seventh in west, lost in opening round.
13. Utah Jazz 43-39, ninth in west, did not reach playoffs.
14. Sacramento Kings 28-54, thirteenth in west, did not reach playoffs.
15. Phoenix Suns 25-57, fifteenth in west, did not reach playoffs.
Eastern Conference Playoffs:
Heat over Cavaliers
Nets over Pistons
Pacers over Wizards
Bulls over Knicks
Heat over Bulls
Pacers over Nets
Eastern Conference Finals:
Heat over Pacers
Western Conference Playoffs:
Clippers over Trailblazers
Spurs over Timberwolves
Rockets over Grizzlies
Warriors over Thunder
Clippers over Warriors
Rockets over Spurs
Western Conference Finals:
Clippers over Rockets
Heat over Clippers
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