Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: League Preview

Atlantic: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors | Division Preview 1 and 2
Central: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks | Division Preview
Southeast: Hawks | Bobcats | Heat | Magic | Wizards | Division Preview
Pacific: Warriors | Clippers | Lakers | Suns | Kings | Division Preview
Northwest: Nuggets | Timberwolves | Thunder | Trail Blazers | Jazz | Division Preview
Southwest: Mavericks | Rockets | Grizzlies | Pelicans | Spurs | Division Preview
Top 10 by Position: PG | SG | SF | PF | C
Top 10 Lists: Sixth Men | Sophomores | X-Factors | Intensity | Under 25 | Comeback | GMs | Europeans | Overrated | Contenders | Wild Predictions
Fantasy Basketball | NBA Fandom Games | League Preview | Ultimate Season Predictions
Media Day: Lakers | Clippers | Kings | Knicks | Bucks | Suns | Pacers

LeBron James and Chris Paul match-up

At Baller Mind Frame, we did team previews, division previews, so why not a league preview? Below, we ask three of our top writers to put on their prediction caps about six aspects of the Association and they respond in kind.


Nick Greenberg: LeBron James. Not a creative pick by any stretch of the imagination, but if it weren’t for Gary Washburn at the Boston Globe, the King would have won the 2013 MVP award unanimously. If anything, LeBron is getting better with age and since the Miami Heat have at least one championship season left in the tank, this one is a no-brainer. The only question is whether or not this award will be sponsored by Kia.

Stephen Oby, Jr: Chris Paul. LeBron James remains the NBA’s best, but no one has ever won five NBA Most Valuable Player awards in six seasons and, while voters love James, this feels like a bit much. So, who else? The MVP almost always goes to a top candidate from previous seasons, and with many such names either seeing their teams move too far backwards (Kevin Durant) or simply aging out of contention (Tim Duncan), the likely candidates appear to be Paul and Dwight Howard. Howard may have the inside track because any improvement in Houston’s win column will be attributed to his arrival, but he’s also been a shell of his former self these last two years and it remains to be seen if he can ever get back. So this one goes to Paul: with the arrival of a competent head coach (Doc Rivers) and another year together for Lob City, the Clippers will avoid a repeat performance of their late-season struggles and chase 60 wins in 2014, securing the award for CP3.

Josh Lowery: Pegging LeBron James for another MVP this year is about as brave as betting equal amounts on both boxers in a bout with split odds, but it is what it is. James is at the height of his powers right now, and the progressive injury issues with Dwyane Wade make LBJ all the more threatening as a candidate. But in the interest of fairness, I’ll name two people who have outside shots at stealing the honors. The best chance exists in the person of Kevin Durant. We’ve seen his ability to carry a team and compete for scoring titles, and unlike fellow high-scorer Carmelo Anthony, he invests himself in all aspects of the game. The only thing that could obstruct Durant’s challenge to LeBron would be if teammate Russell Westbrook takes the ball out of his hands too often. Lastly, expect some MVP buzz surrounding Stephen Curry at some point this season. Physical health is a mild concern, but Curry started looking like an unholy amalgam of Pete Maravich, Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson down the stretch last season. If he can build on that this year, look out.


Greenberg: Andre Drummond. Sophomore season is when players tend to take a big leap forward, and if his offseason training with Rasheed Wallace is any indication, Drummond is poised for a breakout year. Teams are going to be more than busy guarding Greg Monroe, Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, which should give Andre the additional touches he needs down low to be a difference maker.

Oby, Jr.: Anthony Davis. How soon we forget. Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond have become the darlings of the 2012 NBA Draft class despite the original qualms about them remaining entirely in-tact (Lillard is old for a second-year guy, Drummond is all raw skill), and in the meantime we’ve mistakenly abandoned our once-soaring praise for the Brow. Davis battled some minor ankle and knee issues his rookie year but when on the floor he was a sensation, posting an all-time top 20 PER amongst rookies playing at least 25 minutes per game, a performance that trailed only Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin amongst active players. He blocked, stole, and rebounded the ball at astounding rates, scored at a very respectable clip, and kept his turnovers low. With a stronger supporting cast and a professional season under his belt, expect Davis to explode in his sophomore season.

Lowery: Picking out a breakthrough player in advance is always a crapshoot with so many potential candidates, but I think I’m going to go with the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. He made marked statistical improvements from his rookie season to last year, and I really liked what I saw from him in clutch situations against the Miami Heat during the NBA Finals. With his bruising ability and with DeJuan Blair now playing for in-state rival Dallas Mavericks, look for Leonard’s role – and his production – to shoot upward yet again.


Greenberg:My gut and fully-developed human brain are saying Miami, but I’ll go with my shriveled, cholesterol-laden heart and say Chicago. The Bulls were an absolute mess last season, with Derrick Rose, Kirk Heinrich and Luol Deng MIA for their second round loss to the Heat, but even still they managed to push it to what felt like a very close five games. With Rose and company back in the fold, Chicago has the size to compete with the Indiana Pacers and the defensive fortitude to knock off Miami.

Oby, Jr.: The Miami Heat. The champs have admittedly remained largely static while Eastern Conference rivals Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers have all improved, but it’d be strictly contrarian to believe it was enough, considering the seeming impossibility of conquering LeBron James in his unmatched prime. Miami’s kryptonite may be the health of Dwyane Wade, whose absence (or even sub-par performance) could drop Miami close to the same level as about half a dozen other teams, an outcome that would likely yield a late-playoff free-for-all. From which Miami still very well might emerge.

Lowery: If Greg Oden can stay healthy for the first time ever, and if Dwyane Wade can hit the pause button on his injury trajectory over the last couple of seasons, we’re looking at a Heat three-peat. However, if either of those factors aren’t present come the postseason, not only do I not like Miami as champs, I don’t like them to win the East. The Indiana Pacers took two from Miami in their 2012 post-season meeting, then took three from them in 2013. With continued growth from Paul George, added inside support from Luis Scola and injury-prone Danny Granger entering a contract year, I see the Pacers in positive position to go one further by taking four from Miami in 2014. As for the West, I’m hot as a pancake for the Golden State Warriors. I expect the Spurs to fall off this season and give Stephen Curry and company the best chance to replace them in the NBA Finals. Even so, their Finals opponents will undoubtedly be Indiana or Miami (sorry, Chicago Bulls fans), both of whom I believe have something Golden State doesn’t: a championship defense. And since I’m personally doubtful of Miami’s ability to avoid the injury bug, I project the Indiana Pacers to bring Indianapolis its first ever Larry O’Brien trophy by taking down the Warriors in seven.


Greenberg: You could argue that the Orlando Magic’s best player is Tobias Harris, which means that there is no argument that they will once again be the worst team in the NBA. But thanks to frozen envelopes and the general cruelty of the draft hods, the team with the best chance of getting first dibs rarely does, so I’m betting that Wiggins goes to Phoenix.

Oby, Jr.: Around this time last year, the question for the 2013 NBA Draft boiled down to: Nerlens Noel or Shabazz Muhammad? The eventual sixth and fourteenth selections, respectively, are no testament to the reliability of draft projections based on high school performance. Then again, the forward from St. Vincent-St. Mary has met every imaginable benchmark, so there is precedent. The question is really looking for the NBA’s worst team, a depressingly tight race, since there are as many teams vying for this title as there are for THE title. The favorites have to be the Philadelphia 76ers, who as of late August hadn’t yet compiled a full roster, and have only a late-lottery rookie at the point guard spot. Close second is the Phoenix Suns, who watched three of the five best players from an already-barren roster leave town this summer. Wiggins ought to be praying for a lottery miracle.

Lowery: The Orlando Magic look awful enough that the moral dilemma of whether to tank should never occur. I think it would take a better-than-expected effort from them coupled with an obvious tank job from the Charlotte Bobcats for Orlando not to get 25 percent odds come NBA Draft Lottery time. Unfortunately, and as we all well know, the field will have 75 percent odds, making it fairly likely the Magic still don’t get Wiggins. But if what we’re really asking is, “Which team is worst?” then I believe we have our answer.


Greenberg:Andrea Bargnani. People have been hating on this deal so much that frankly, any positives he brings to the table would be a surprise. Given the unique skill set he brings the PF/C position, combined with the fact that he has something to prove, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him emerge as a potent scoring threat off the bench. Of course, the real stunner would be if he somehow learned to play defense.

Oby, Jr.: So many options to choose from. Kelly Olynyk appears to be on precisely no one’s radar, but will vie for Rookie of the Year nonetheless. The Los Angeles Lakers will be nowhere near the catastrophe the world seems to be anticipating, particularly if Kobe Bryant’s health is really where it appears to be. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all will be the degree to which the Oklahoma City Thunder have lost their luster. The Thunder will remain a possible contender and an easy favorite to win their division, but this is primed to be the team’s worse season since 2009-2010, with the supporting cast behind the team’s leading trio looking very young and short on promise.

Lowery: My favorite basketball player in the history of the world is Pete Maravich (yes, that makes two mentions now of the former injury-plagued court magician). So in full disclosure, the fact that Ricky Rubio reminds me of him more than any player I’ve seen in two decades could be the reason for my answer here. I really love the mix of Rubio and Kevin Love, and after having to go a season without the privilege of watching them together, I’m ready for a big rebound year from the Minnesota Timberwolves. We saw flashes of what might be during Rubio’s rookie campaign, but there was some definite acclimation that needed to happen, him having arrived from the respectable but inferior Liga Endesa. He looked more confident during his sophomore season but had to play almost the entire year without his go-to big man thanks to Love suffering a hand injury. At this point, Love will have had more than enough time to return to full health, and if Rubio – who’s had a few injury issues of his own – can stay healthy, I see the Timberwolves going from 31 wins in 2012-13 to as high as a 6-seed in the Western Conference playoffs in 2014.


Greenberg: It’s David Stern’s last year as NBA commish, so keep an eye out for any Adam Silver news. The heir to the Association has gone on record as being in favor of HGH testing, increased on-court advertisements and a hard salary cap, each of which could be contentious issues going forward.

Oby, Jr.: The flurry of teams deliberately decimating their own rosters for a shot at high draft picks are foolish enough, seeing as it’s too flimsy a strategy to be worth the agony, but with an NBA rule change to prevent this behavior likely forthcoming, “foolish” is about to become generous, and roughly a third of all NBA franchises will be waist-deep in a losing strategy. The onus will be on franchises to both create organizational cultures that players find rewarding and to make thoughtful transactions, not only turning high draft picks into superstars, but finding affordable short-term productivity in the draft, avoiding high salaries for marginal veterans and using the Developmental League to nurture role players. Having beaucoup bucks is never going to hurt, but the rules are at long last rewarding genuine savvy. The future is bright in the NBA.

Lowery: The Western Conference of the NBA is presently the most talent-stacked half of a professional sports league I’ve ever seen. With likely improvements this season coming from both the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves, I believe fans could be looking at all eight Western Conference playoff teams sitting at 50 wins or better. Not only that, but with a month left in the season, I think there could be four teams fighting neck-and-neck for that eighth spot. I’ve referred to the West as a “death trap” in other articles I’ve written, and I stand by that here. This is the final reason why I don’t see the eventual Western Conference champs winning it all this year. The battering they will invariably take en route to the NBA Finals will make the defensive-minded Eastern champs (whether Indiana or Miami) all the bigger favorites. And frankly, it’s a shame that their opponents should be rewarded for facing weaker regular season competition. Nevertheless, I’m looking for the West to give us more exciting and competitive ball this year than most of us have seen in a while. So when’s tip-off?


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