Thursday, October 17, 2013
NBA: Eastern Conference Predictions
By Ryan McDonald (@RonnieMac90)
With the start of the NBA season just around the corner, it's time to play psychic with the regular season standings of the Eastern Conference.
The Miami Heat were the 1 seed last year, can they claim the 1 seed this year? Do they even care about being the 1 seed? I don't think so. Thus, this leads to the new 1 seed..
1. Indiana Pacers - (Last Season: 49-32) - Lost in the return of Derrick Rose is Danny Granger, who is returning to the Pacers after missing all but 4 games of last year. Once thought to be their franchise player, Granger will now hopefully come off the bench in a 6th man role.
In addition to Granger, they also added C.J. Watson and Luis Scola to their bench. Watson is the backup point guard the Pacers desperately needed in their series against the Miami Heat last year. Struggling to bring the ball up the court on numerous possessions, Watson looks to fix that problem and also bring some three point shooting as well. For Scola, he might not fit what they want in terms of defense, but he'll be able to replace the post scoring ability when Hibbert and/or West when they sit down.
Expect Paul George to continue to emerge as a star in this league. One of the best two way players in this league already, if he can improve his offensive game from last year, he can be one of those guys that fight for 2nd place votes in the MVP race (LeBron's winning again). And finally, one of the main reasons the Pacers only had 49 wins last year was due to Roy Hibbert's god awful play in the first half of the 2012-2013 season. Hibbert was shooting 41% from the field during that time. For a 7'2" center, that is god awful. It was mostly rectified in the 2nd half of the season, and especially during the postseason where he seemingly dominated a former defensive player of the year in Tyson Chandler. If Hibbert can average 48% from the field which is close to his career average, the Pacers should be able to attain the 1 seed with their top 5 defense.
Expected Record - 60-22
2. Miami Heat - (Last Season: 66-16) - The Heat didn't make any moves this off-season that improves their team unlike last season where they added Ray Allen. They'll have a full season of Chris Andersen instead of half, but everyone on this team is now a year older. Shane Battier and Ray Allen were considered old last year. As well as another year of wear and tear for Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
They still have LeBron, whom I expect to somehow improve like he does every season. However, I think they'll take more of a San Antonio Spur approach to the season which means lots of rest. They may have taken this approach if not for that 27 game win streak with their other players, especially Dwayne Wade who looked gassed in the postseason.
The Heat are no stranger to the 2 seed, in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 season, they finished in the 2 seed. They went on to the NBA Finals each year. They're an older team, they can't afford to exhaust themselves in the regular season when it's championship or bust.
Expected Record - 58-24
3. Chicago Bulls - (Last Season: 45-37) - The Bulls get their former MVP back in Derrick Rose. So clearly they're going to improve as long as he stays healthy.
The Bulls won the 1 seed when Rose was healthy the last two years, so why are they in the 3 seed now? Well, the other teams around them have improved since last Rose played. The Heat won 2 championships, and the Pacers who are in the Bulls division have gotten significantly better.
They'll still contend for the 1 seed, I just don't think they have enough to make it.
Expected Record - 55-27
4. Brooklyn Nets - (Last Season: 49-33) - This team improved the most this offseason with their blockbuster trade with Boston. Acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, and signing Andrei Kirilenko. However, their seeding is the same, 4.
The reason for this is because the teams above them aside from the Heat improved as well. They lost to a Roseless Bulls team in the playoffs, which was an embarrassment. Rose is now back.
KG gives them a great interior presence and Brook Lopez did improve in his help defense, but their backcourt struggled last year keeping bodies in-front of them. Paul Pierce and Jason Terry will only add to that problem.
Furthermore, the Nets hired rookie head coach Jason Kidd to lead the team. I like Kidd, I think he'll be a great head coach someday. But with this roster, and this pressure filled situation where it's championship or bust, is not great to learn coaching on the fly.
KG and Pierce will probably only play 20-25 minutes a game. Infact, I expect Kirilenko to average more minutes a game than Pierce does.
Expected Record - 51-31
5. New York Knicks - (Last Season - 54-28) - Last year, they were the 2 seed. How did they fall 3 seeds in one season? Last year, for the first quarter of the season, Carmelo Anthony was on fire. An early MVP candidate, Melo led the Knicks on a hot start but fell back to normal later. He suffered injuries late in the year which plagued him in the postseason. Melo rehabbed and looks back to his normal self. But is it enough?
Amar'e Stoudemire will most likely be on a minute cap of 20 for the entire season. JR Smith will be out the first month of the season recovering from offseason surgery. They lost Jason Kidd to retirement (and to the Nets).
They gained Andrea Bargnani who will look to start at the power forward position, moving Melo back to the small forward position. They also signed Metta World Peace to backup Melo.
Bringing in Bargnani spreads the floor on offense as he can shoot the 3, but he can't rebound or defend. Amar'e, another power forward, also can't really rebound or defend. Kenyon Martin can do both, but can he get the minutes he deserves with these two on the roster? I guess you could play Martin or Amar'e at center to backup Tyson Chandler, but Martin would be undersized and Amar'e is just awful playing defense at center (great offensively).
Coach Mike Woodson will have to find a good mix with this roster.
Expected Record - 50-32
6. Washington Wizards - (Last Season - 29-53) - The Wizards. 6th. Someone had to be I guess. There's 5 teams I see fighting for the last 3 spots. I look at the Wizards roster and I think it's the best out of these teams.
John Wall hopefully will stay healthy this season and finally live up to all that potential he has. Bradley Beal will continue to improve off a strong rookie campaign. The drafting of Otto Porter Jr. gives them a good wing player and moves Trevor Ariza to the bench where he most likely belongs. They also brought in Eric Maynor to be their backup point guard which is a good signing.
No more 50 win teams though, that stops here.
Expected Record - 42-40
7. Cleveland Cavaliers - (Last Season - 24-58) - Where to start? They signed Andrew Bynum, they drafted Anthony Bennett. They get back Anderson Varejao from injury last year. They're one of the youngest teams in the league. But injuries.
Bynum is a huge question mark but what goes under the radar is that Kyrie Irving has yet to play a full season. Granted, he's only been in 2 seasons, but he also had an injury at Duke. He's injury prone. This is really a hit or miss team. If they can stay healthy, they'll make the playoffs easily, but it's a big if.
People forget however that Varejao was a beast before he got hurt. So I expect Bynum to only play 20 games (I'm probably being generous), I still think they make the playoffs with Varejao. They have a good young core and I expect Kyrie to play at least 70 games.
That being said, doesn't take much to snag one of these lower seeds in the eastern conference. Guess Cavs should be happy they're not in the West.
Expected Record - 39-43
8. Atlanta Hawks - (Last Season - 44-38) - They lost Josh Smith to free agency, still don't know why they didn't trade him. To fill the void, they signed Paul Millsap. Certainly a different skill set, and you lose something on the boards and defensively, but Millsap is the better offensive player currently.
They still have Al Horford, who is one of the better centers in the league. Elton Brand was also signed who is a serviceable big man at this point in time to come off the bench. Jeff Teague is a young point guard who can still improve.
Louis Williams should return mid-season from an ACL tear as well.
The negative is they're probably going to start Kyle Korver at small forward. They don't really have anyone better for the position, but Korver should be coming off the bench.
Expected Record - 36-46
As for the snubs,
Detroit Pistons - (Last Season - 29-53) - They signed Josh Smith. They're going to play him at small forward. They're going to play Stuckey at shooting guard. This means, out of their starters, only Brandon Jennings can shoot threes effectively and he sometimes shoots too much.
The floor spacing is going to be terrible. Their frontcourt seems dominate on paper, with Smith, Monroe, Drummond. It's monstrous, but how effective can it be when 4 defenders have a foot in the paint at all times?
Expected Record - 34-48
Toronto Raptors - (Last Season - 34-48) - They get Rudy Gay for a full season, he's a solid player. I don't think he's a franchise player though, nor can he carry a team. Jonas Valanciunas had a decent rookie year, but I can't see him emerging as a legitimate post threat which is what the Raptors need.
Perhaps their season rests on the development of DeMar Derozan who's better known for his athleticism. If he can improve his range on his jumper, they'll do better than I expect.
Expected Record - 34-48
As for the Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, and Philadelphia 76ers, they'll be competing for the number 1 pick.