Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Top 10 Contenders

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
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Media Day: Lakers | Clippers | Kings | Knicks | Bucks | Suns | Pacers

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh proved they could be champions

It’s the end of September! The NBA preseason is upon us! Because of this, of course, it becomes incumbent upon us here at Baller Mind Frame to now begin submitting our expert analysis on the ins and outs of what’s to be expected for the 2013-14 NBA season.

Whereas in years past it’s been easy to designate two or three sexy picks for which teams will reach the NBA Finals, this year one can’t help but regard the field as being relatively wide open. Some would make the argument the Miami Heat are a lock to win it all; although some might also argue Gilbert Arenas deserves the full $23 million he’s owed this season. Could it be said Miami’s chances are better than most? Perhaps. They do have one of the greatest, most dynamic players the league has ever seen in LeBron James. You’d have to think that’s something they’ve got working in their favor. Still, for more than a few glaring reasons, a lock the Heat are not.

That said, here are the five teams from each conference that have the best shot to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June.


New York Knicks
If there are any locks at all for next season, it’s that the Knicks will end up the 5th seed in the East. Does being the 5th seed mean they aren’t legitimate contenders? Not necessarily.
If Carmelo Anthony isn’t the best pure scorer in the league, he’s a close second-best to Kevin Durant. Beyond that, he’s an extremely undervalued playmaker, and has an underrated motor on defense as well.

In terms of a supporting cast, the addition of Andrea Barganani isn’t being viewed as a boon for the organization and it should be. He’s 7-feet, healthy, can shoot and is quick and strong in the post. The combination of he and Amar’e Stoudemire should be good for at least 30 points per game. Then, with J.R. Smith doing J.R. Smith, augmented by good seasons from Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni, along with a decent bench overall, the offensive output should be there and then some.

That means if, between Iman Shumpert, Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace, the defense is supercharged and clicking on all cylinders the way it ought to be, and if Melo is playing to his fullest potential, the Knicks will be a bear for any team to beat in a seven-game series.

Chicago Bulls
Avast, Derrick Rose! I’m not sure there’s a single fan of the NBA that isn’t on the edge of their seat to see numero uno back in uniform for the Bulls. No question, Rose is a force on the court, and an absolute joy to watch play. More than that though, he’s going to give Chicago what they need most – production.

With not much else in the way of offensive firepower, the Bulls will need their MVP to average big numbers across the board if they’re going to make it out of the trenches of the East. Big, as in: 25+ points, 8+ assists, 5+ rebounds and 2+ steals. If Rose can manage that, and I believe he can, he’s already leader enough to make everyone else around him better than they actually are (which also will be necessary for this squad, but which also is completely possible).

If Luol Deng ends up having another NBA All-Star season – this time a legitimate one (unlike last year, when his total impact seemed definitively mediocre) – and if Carlos Boozer can return to being Utah Jazz-like Boozer, with Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler as outright X-factors and with Tom Thibedoeau the elite coach he his, Rose might in fact be able to guide his Bulls through the treacherous Eastern Conference to a glorious and victorious Playoff run.

Indiana Pacers
It’s unbelievably refreshing to once again have a bona fide Bad Boy team in the league. Sorry Memphis Grizzlies fans, but two players (Tony Allen and Zach Randolph) do not Bad Boys make. Last year the Pacers were still in their nascent stage of being rough-and-tumble; however, there’s no doubt this year, they’ll be fully formed. There’s no getting around it – not only are they going to be the brutes of the league, they’re absolutely stacked from top to bottom, too.

In Paul George, they have a genuinely elite two-way player – the star on the wing a championship team must have. Then behind George at small forward, with Chris Copeland and Danny Granger, Indiana by far trumps every other roster in the league when it comes to depth at the position.

The real grubstake of this team, though, will be what they have locked and loaded in the department of their big men. David West. Roy Hibbert. Luis Scola. Need I say more? No one – not even LeBron James – will drive the lane on any combination of those dudes without first considering what they might be getting themselves into.

Then, what the Pacers lack at the guard position in George Hill and Lance Stephenson – namely, playmaking – they make up for in additional toughness. Moreover, that both Hill and Stephenson have the ability to shoot the lights out on any given night is just an added perk for an already dangerous team. Watch out for the Pacers, Eastern Conference teams. Really. Watch out.

Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are going to be good. Very good. First of all, this is by no means a wimpy team either. With newly-acquired Kevin Garnett, along with Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans, Brooklyn is going to have a good deal of fight in them underneath the basket. And while center, Brook Lopez isn’t necessarily an all-league defender, he’s still a true 7 feet; not to mention a superb low-post scorer. Beyond that core group of bigs, their rookie, Mason Plumlee out of Duke – with a nose for the ball and quick hands and feet – looks to be a sturdy young prospect as well. He’ll likely do well throughout the grind of the regular season to spell an inevitably creaky KG.

At positions one through three, the Nets might have the best line-up in the league – the one with the most synergy, too. For starters, I must confess, I’ve historically been a Deron Williams apologist. Going back to his days at Illinois, his game has always utterly stupefied me. From one night to the next he can potentially go from dropping 40 points to doling out 15 assists. And now this year – with Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson flanking him – while his point production might not end up being as consistently high as it’s been in years past, I can foresee him leading the league in dimes.

In Pierce and Johnson – on this roster and with a coach in Jason Kidd they can each sincerely respect –the Nets have two players who are primed for revitalizing-type years. Save several remarkable clutch moments, Johnson has thus far under-performed as a Net; then, when it comes to Pierce – he’ll not only undoubtedly be refreshed by the change of scenery, he’ll have every intention of making his last hurrah in the Association a magnificent one as well. Pierce knows drama. Drama suits Pierce. I can see him bringing his scoring average back up well above 20 points and again performing at a level overall of being a top ten player in the league.

Moreover, about Pierce and his compadre Garnett having matriculated over from Boston together – I distinctly remember another pioneering season in which they joined forces on a team and wasted no time winning a title. Based on the evidence at hand, then, and due in large part to the sway their experience will have in the locker room, there’s no reason to think the pair of them can’t affect that same magic again.

Oh, and Andrei Kirilenko is going to be wearing Brooklyn black and white, too – because one former Defensive Player of the Year (Euroleague) simply isn’t enough for Mikhail Prokhorov.

Miami Heat
Yes, the Heat are the favorites – not only to come out of the East, but to win it all. As mentioned earlier, however, I’m just not convinced they’re the prohibitive favorites. So to dispel any notions in favor of that opinion, instead of examining why they might ultimately be the favorites, I’ll go over why they simply aren’t invincible.

Ostensibly, in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Heat tout the best two-three-four line-up in the league, but when looking down the names of their roster, it’s hard to ignore the fact that, at both the point guard and center positions, they have what might be the worst. Mario Chalmers? Really? Still? And don’t talk to me about Greg Oden. Just don’t.
No doubt, Wade, James and Bosh, along with a decent bench – good shooting and implicit hustle – will be enough to get Miami the number one seed in the East. They’ll probably win 60+ games – more than likely by way of a few gaudy winning streaks, too. Then, come April – it already seems a forgone conclusion we’ll be hearing the vast majority of sports pundits wax with certainty the savory odds of the first three-peat since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of the early 2000s. The rub, however, is that when it comes to matching up with, say, Indiana or Brooklyn in a seven-game series, those odds will suddenly begin taking on a less palatable taste. The Heat could easily be out-rebounded, out-muscled or even run out of gas against either of those much deeper teams. If they thought last year’s series against the Pacers was a doozy, they best look to strap in and play some pristine basketball against whoever they end up facing in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Do I think Miami will come out of the East and eventually go on to win it all again? As an analyst, if pressed to answer, my response would be – yes. Let’s just say I’m not betting the farm on it, though.


Houston Rockets
Let’s first get one thing straight – the Rockets will not necessarily go as Dwight Howard goes. Howard simply does not possess the necessary tools to be an outright franchise player. His defense, his size, his strength – all are valuable assets to a team; however, he won’t be what gets Houston over the hump.

Now Dwight Howard intermixed with the likes of James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin? Coached by the great Kevin McHale? Aided in large part by the greatest center ever – The Dream, Hakeem Olajuwon? That… THAT has all the fixings for a championship caliber team.

If the Rockets can get quality point guard production from Lin, first and foremost, but then Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverly as well, they’ll be incredibly potent offensively. Last year they came in a tenth of a point behind the Denver Nuggets as the highest scoring team in the league, and now, as Howard will be commanding double and sometimes triple teams underneath, players like Lin and Harden and Parsons will veritably be shooting fish in a barrel from the perimeter.

What’s more, if last season was Harden’s breakout as a superstar in the league, this upcoming one will be when he confirms he’s here to stay. I’d even go so far as to forecast that in 2013-14, Harden will become widely considered the best shooting guard in the league. If he can average 27+ points, 6+ assists and 5+ rebounds – and if Dwight floats around 20 and 12 for the year, as is expected of him – Houston could make some serious noise in the postseason.

San Antonio Spurs
The single most intriguing irony in the NBA is that the categorically most boring team in the league has managed to stick around as a contender for longer than any other. Year after year, we don’t want to watch the Spurs, yet we’re forced to. I suppose it isn’t so bad, though. San Antonio plays smart, composed basketball, and at least with Tony Parker – a top-three point guard – they somewhat bring a wild card factor into games.

Regarding Tim Duncan – doesn’t it seem as if, after his patently sub-par season a couple years ago, he’s now begun aging backwards? Might it occur that next year he’ll step onto the court and end up being even more impactful than he was last year when his team was a play or two away from his attaining a fifth ring? I’d almost be surprised otherwise.

And so for what seems like the hundredth year in a row, the Spurs will apparently again be a team of consequence in the playoffs. With Marco Belinelli coming on to apprentice with Manu Ginobili; Danny Green – along with the Red Mamba, Matt Bonner – draining threes from everywhere on the court; the excellence of Parker and Duncan hanging in the air at the AT+T Center like a beneficent mist; and Coach Popovich presiding over it all in that perfectly simultaneously stoic and impassioned manner for which he’s come to be known – it’s going to be hard to gamble against them.

Oklahoma City Thunder
While I’ve been fairly vocal this offseason about how I think the Thunder are going to underachieve this season, they do still have Kevin Durant. Okay, okay… and Russell Westbrook. Durant and Westbrook, arguably the most fearsome tandem in the league, are good enough by themselves to carry OKC to home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Furthermore, beyond just their talents, Scott Brooks is a proven, young master; rare are nights he’s ever out-coached. Therefore, the final results of their team’s season might well come down to three unknown variables – Reggie Jackson, Hasheem Thabeet and yes, Serge Ibaka.

Jackson wowed crowds during this year’s Summer League, looking like an MVP among fringe roster fodder down in Orlando. However, will he be as spectacular when the games actually matter? Then, with Thabeet, it’s interesting. I’ve had my eye on him since he was at UConn – always waiting for the time his name would break in the pool of young, dominant centers; except it hasn’t yet. However, last season, it looked at times as if Brooks and his staff were beginning to consider it a possibility. Can the 7’2” Thabeet be the Roy Hibbert of OKC? Can he flourish? And then lastly, there’s Serge Ibaka. Can Ibaka average a double-double and three blocks a game? Can he put to rest the haters who continually blather on about how management should have traded him and not Harden? Can he finally win Defensive Player of the Year?

If the majority of the answers to the preceding questions end up being YES, with Durant and Westbrook wreaking havoc in the many ways they can and most certainly will – the Thunder just might find themselves back in the NBA Finals.

Golden State Warriors
That’s right. The Golden State Warriors. What’s not to like about this team? They’ve got, in Stephen Curry, the best pure shooter in the league not named Ray Allen – who, mind you, is no slouch at handling and distributing the ball either. They’ve got Curry’s backcourt-mate, Klay Thompson – who this year could very well stake a claim for being a top-four or five shooting guard in the league; they acquired Andre Iguodola from the Denver Nuggets who’ll bring tenacious perimeter defense, incredible athleticism and a veteran presence to the locker room; and in Andrew Bogut and David Lee, they’ve got a whole lot of both talent and pluck – points, rebounding and smarts. Harrison Barnes is a stud – my pick for Sixth Man of the Year – and I also have Mark Jackson winning Coach of the Year (which he should have had for the 2012-13 season). If Curry asserts himself and becomes a legitimate MVP candidate campaign, as I believe he could, this Golden State team has a chance to go far. Very far.

Los Angeles Clippers
For the Clippers – now’s the time. They have the greatest assemblage of talent in the league and presently, perhaps the best coach in the league, too, in Doc Rivers. We know what we can expect from their captain, Chris Paul – the heart of a lion and a skill set for the ages; and from the likes of J.J. Redick and the silky smooth Jamal Crawford as well, who shake out as being two of the best Microwave-type scorers going. The question, however, is what will DeAndre Jordan and, more importantly, Blake Griffin bring to the table this year?

DeAndre has the potential to be an absolute warhead for L.A. He’s so big and so athletic, if he could just see the floor better, settle down in the paint and secure a dependable jump-hook, he could rightly put himself in the conversation of being an elite center. Oh, and he should probably make better than 40 percent of his free throws too.

With Griffin, part of me wonders whether or not it’s his lack of a good, identifiable nickname that’s preventing him from busting loose and becoming hands down, the best power forward in the league. I think it might be cool if it wasn’t something quirky – like having to do with quakes or earthquakes or something predictably rhyme-centric like that – but instead, his first name could be formed into its own sovereign title, as in: The Blake. I don’t know. But besides my own pseudonym musings, it’s going to be essential that Blake Griffin add some solid technique to his game this year. If he can become consistent shooting mid-range jumpers, and then begin to execute some niftier footwork and some better touch in the post, he’ll be unstoppable… and so might the Clippers.

Winning a championship takes far more than good playing and good coaching; it takes health, intangible chemistry and, sometimes, a little luck too. Most of the specific aspects that have been covered here are contingent on the all-powerful caveat-word, IF. IF the chips fall just right for any of the above ten teams, each one has a chance – relatively equally from one to the other – of achieving the ultimate goal of becoming the 2013-14 NBA Champions.

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