Competition Discussion: Rest of the League

(Previously: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Golden State, Houston, Indiana, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Memphis).

For the fourth year in a row, I got nowhere close to completing my goal of having one separate Competition Discussion post for each of the 30 teams in the league.  I even started really early this time, knowing my tendencies, but alas, I got stunted even earlier than usual this year.  I also heard from several readers that the Competition Discussions were dragging down some of the interesting Wizards content, and after all, this is a Wizards blog, isn't it? 

Anyway, below the jump, some abbreviated thoughts on the teams we haven't previewed yet. And yes, I know we're already into the season

Miami Heat

Miami basically took a mediocre team last year and stood pat, hoping instead to cash in during the 2010 free agent bonanza.  Like Chicago, they're trying to tread water so they appear to be "on the rise" so that a) Dwyane Wade returns, and b) another big free agent joins him.  There's potential for improvement from guys like Mario Chalmers, who had a good rookie season, and Michael Beasley, who did not, but there is also potential for decline with Jermaine O'Neal (who claims he's going to have a big year, to which I say "Prove it") and Udonis Haslem.  I'm still not clear how pulling Beasley away from the hoop and playing him at small forward is the best use of his skills, but maybe his defense is just that bad.  Regardless, I expect more of the same from Miami this year.  Wade will be brilliant, the defense will be disciplined, but points will just be so hard to come by.

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee was headed for a possible playoff berth until injuries took Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut out of action.  That's too bad, because with the job Scott Skiles did to turn Milwaukee's defense around, they deserved a playoff berth far more than Detroit.  Unfortunately, now Skiles has to do it again without three key cogs in Jefferson, Villanueva and Sessions.  Jefferson needed to go for his salary, but the Bucks didn't really fill his spot in the lineup (Carlos Delfino sucked in his previous NBA stint and he sucks now).  Villanueva's probably replaceable, but the Bucks will regret losing Sessions considering his price tag.  Redd and Bogut are back, but the rest of the roster is not very good, and even Skiles won't be able to get the most out of it.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The win total would have been higher if not for the recent injuries to Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, but this is still a step-back year for Minnesota.  Of course, last year was a step-back year as well, but the new era officially began as soon as Randy Foye, Sebastian Telfair and Mike Miller were ushered out of town.  In their place are Ramon Sessions, Jonny Flynn and Sasha Pavlovic.  Two of those guys are talented (Sessions, Flynn), but it's still an open question as to where the perimeter shooting will come from.  As talented as they might be, I still think the offensive spacing might be a mess with this roster, and we know a Jefferson/Love frontcourt is going to have its struggles defensively.  They're moving in the right direction, but I don't think we'll really see it until next summer, when David Kahn really has the cap room to address that problem on the wing.

New Jersey Nets

No doubt about it, getting out from Vince Carter's long contract was essential, but in the short term, the Nets are really going to miss him.  Carter quietly had one of the best seasons of his career last year, and it was his presence in part that allowed Devin Harris to shine.  Harris now has to duplicate his success without his wingman, and that'll be tough, especially considering he tailed off in the second half of the season.  Brook Lopez should improve, and Terrence WIlliams might have been a nice find, but what else is there here?  I like Courtney Lee as a solid role player, but like him way less as a featured scorer, which he'll have to be here.  Add it up, and this is a young core that will stink this year.

New Orleans Hornets

People don't talk enough about how things just went totally south for New Orleans last year.  Tyson Chandler was injured for half the year, and he wasn't totally healthy in the games he played either.  Peja Stojakovic is getting old, but he can't be that bad again.  The only guy who had a good year was Chris Paul.  Now, the Hornets have nobody but themselves to blame for their lack of depth that caused these problems to be magnified, but to win 49 games under those circumstances is pretty impressive.  Now, they're replacing an injured Chandler with a healthy Okafor, who may not be Chandler's equal in the pick and roll, but will provide a different dimension to the offense with his post-up game.  The loss of Butler stings a bit, but not terribly so since Julian Wright and maybe even Marcus Thornton can play if given the chance.  Darius Songaila and Ike Diogu also improve the frontcourt.  New Orleans certainly isn't a title contender because of their poor wing play (you know, Stephen Jackson might actually work here), but they're going to be better than a 49-win team, that's for sure.

New York Knicks

David LeeNate RobinsonChris Duhon.  Darko Milicic.  Larry HughesAl Harrington.  What do all those guys have in common?  They're all playing for new contracts next year.  Obviously, with the Knicks, this is how it has to happen if they want any chance at LeBron James.  But that certainly doesn't bode well for on-court chemistry.  Now, on paper, the Knicks certainly aren't any worse than the 32-win team that they had last year, so a nine-win drop may seem like a lot.  However, you have to keep in mind that the Knicks faded fast last year and are sure to be out of the playoff race by February or March.  Once that happens, you're now stuck with a bunch of guys looking for new contracts on a team that has no chance at additional team success.  You tell me what happens. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Okay, I'll ask the question nobody else is asking -- do the core players on this team really fit together well?  The one takeaway I had from the Kevin Durant adjusted plus/minus debate is that there's ample reason to believe the reason his teammates play so well without him is because they're able to do things that better suit their games.  I mean, Russell Westbrook is a very good player, but is he really capable of shining unless he has the ball in his hands all the time?  Similarly, James Harden isn't a great spot-up shooter -- his strength is driving to the hoop and finishing in the lane.  Jeff Green is a useful piece, but if Durant is your star, wouldn't you want a bigger power forward that can score in the paint and set the type of bone-crushing screens needed to free Durant?  I'm sure they can all figure out how to play with each other eventually, and I'm not doubting their approach, but in the short term, this is a team with pieces that don't fit.  There's still no shooting (what did they do to address being the worst shooting team in the league), no interior presence (they're talking about Etan Thomas being their starting center.  Etan Thomas!) and not enough on-court chemistry to win right now. 

Orlando Magic

  • Last season: 59-23 (Pythagorean record: 59-23). Beat Philadelphia 4-1 in first round, beat Boston 4-3 in second round, best Cleveland 4-2 in Eastern Conference Finals, lost to LA Lakers 4-1 in NBA Finals
  • Biggest team strength: Shooting (third in the league) and shooting defense (best in the league)
  • Biggest team weakness: Offensive rebounding (third-worst in the league)
  • In: Vince Carter, Brandon Bass, Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson, Jason Williams Out: Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Tyronn Lue, Tony Battie
  • Key on-court question: Will Vince Carter seamlessly fit in with this mix?  He's way better than Hedo Turkoglu, but will he be a better fit?
  • Mike's Prediction: 61-21, first in the Southeast, second in the East.

On paper, no team in the league is better.  Orlando can trot our four all-stars in their starting lineup, all of whom are unselfish and play adeptly off others.  One of those four all-stars is the league best big man, so it's not like we're talking about a bunch of good, but no great players.  In Mickael Pietrus, Matt Barnes, JJ Redick, Marcin Gortat, Brandon Bass and Jason Williams, the Magic may also boast the best group of role players in the league.  They lost Courtney Lee, but Ryan Anderson is sneaky good and a better fit for their club.  In Stan Van Gundy, the Magic also have the league's best coach (at least last season).  That's too much working for them for it all to fall apart in the name of "chemistry."  We're not used to finals teams turning over their roster as much as Orlando, which is why we tend to look at them too skeptically.  The bottom line is they've given themselves a much better chance to win a title than they would have if they brought the same gang back together.  Now, whether they win the title, I don't know, because they still match up  poorly with two of the other top three teams in the league (Boston, if healthy, and the Lakers).  But there's a very good chance that, once these guys learn best how to play with each other -- which might happen later than you think because of the Rashard Lewis suspension -- they'll be the best team in the league heading into the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers

  • Last season: 41-41 (Pythagorean record: 41-41). Lost to Orlando 4-2 in first round
  • Biggest team strength: Forcing turnovers (second in the league)
  • Biggest team weakness: Shooting (24th in the league
  • In: Eddie Jordan, Rodney Carney, Jrue Holiday, Jason Kapono Out: Andre Miller, Tony DiLeo, Reggie Evans, Theo Ratliff
  • Key on-court question: How well will the 76ers adapt to Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense?
  • Mike's Prediction: 40-42, third in the Atlantic, eighth in the East

The 76ers were one of the most difficult teams for me to project.  I'm still wondering how to view the loss of Andre Miller.  One day, I'm thinking he wouldn't have been a good fit in the Princeton offense anyway, the next day, I'm thinking that Louis Williams is just a gunner, and if Ason Kidd (no J) could have fit in 2002, so could Miller.  What I am more confident about is that the Princeton will help Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand.  Iguodala will get the ball in better spots than he did before, where he was asked to bail the 76ers out of so many possessions at the top of the key.  Brand, meanwhile, will see his scoring numbers go down quite a bit, but I think he will be reinvented as a facilitator, rebounder and complimentary player that makes others better.  I'm less sure how guys like Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights and Samuel Dalembert fit, and I still don't see enough shooting or enough great one-on-one players to make this work totally effectively.  Nevertheless, I still see them as a playoff team, because any improvements in Iguodala and Brand should offset drops in the team's defense and the rest of the guys.

Phoenix Suns

  • Last season: 46-36 (Pythagorean record: 46-36)
  • Biggest team strength: Shooting (best in the league)
  • Biggest team weakness: Shot defense (23rd in the league)
  • In: Earl Clark, Channing FryeOut: Shaquille O'Neal, Matt Barnes
  • Key on-court question: How will Amare Stoudemire perform coming off eye surgery, myriad trade rumors and his impending free agency?
  • Mike's Prediction: 40-42, third in the Pacific, ninth in the West

Maybe I'm down on this team because I hate what it's become.  We're now talking about an up-tempo team that has only three guys (Nash, Amare and Leandro Barbosa) who are suited for that game.  The move for Shaq and the trade for Jason Richardson seemed to indicate this was becoming a half-court team, but then Nash and Amare griped, Shaq got moved out and Terry Porter got replaced by Alvin Gentry.  Now, we're back to square one, and guys like Richardson (a great shooter, but not a particularly fast guy in transition anymore), Grant Hill and Channing Frye just seem like misfits.  Trading Shaq was necessary, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't help the team this year.  Not when nobody else on this team can rebound.  I expect the Suns to score a ton, and I expect Amare Stoudemire to bounce back in a contract year, but I also think they'll be awful defensively, awful on the glass and awful tired by the end of the year because of their lack of depth.  In other words, they'll be a microcosm of Stoudemire -- a team in transition that's between styles, scores but can't do the little things needed to win, has little chance to win seriously and isn't sure where it's going to end up, That all adds up to a .500 team. 

Portland Trailblazers

  • Last season: 54-28 (Pythagorean record: 56-26). Lost to Houston 4-2 in first round.
  • Biggest team strength: Offensive rebounding (best in the league by far)
  • Biggest team weakness: Drawing fouls (only 17th in the league in FT/FG)
  • In: Andre Miller, Juwan Howard  Out: Sergio Rodriguez, Channing Frye
  • Key on-court question: How does Andre Miller fit in?  There have been some chemistry problems with Miller that have dominated Portland's preseason, but will those issues linger?
  • Mike's Prediction: 55-27, first in the Northwest, tied for second in the West

Is it possible to have too much top-to-bottom talent to the point where it create problems?  We're about to find out with Portland, because the Trailblazers are so deep.  Andre Miller comes in and brings an upgrade to the point guard position ... but how will it affect Brandon Roy, who has developed a great rapport with holdover Steve Blake.  Nicholas Batum had a great rookie season ... but Martell Webster comes back poised to reclaim the small forward job.  Rudy Fernandez could start for 20 teams in this league, including the Wizards ... but where will he play here?  Greg Oden has had a great preseason ... but what has Joel Pryzbilla done to deserve being benched?  Travis Outlaw keeps getting incrementally better ... but the Blazers just keep adding more and more players to block him.  Jerryd Bayless has a ton of upside ... but there are two guys in front of him.  I don't foresee too many problems here, mostly because these are all good guys and Nate McMillan's a great coach.  The only lingering issue seems to be with Miller.  The argument for signing Miller is that he brings something different, both on the court (another creator, a guy that exhibits great on-court leadership) and off the court (quiet, almost aloof guy among a bunch of rah-rah youngins).  But that could be as much of a negative as a positive, as we've seen at times this preseason.  If the Blazers and Miller are willing and able to tinker with their styles to suit each other, this team could easily challenge the Lakers in a seven-game Western Conference Finals series.  If not, all that incremental growth we've seen could be stunted.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings will probably be the worst team in the league, but that doesn't mean there isn't something here.  Kevin Martin had a down year last year, mostly in the intangibles department, but he's an outstanding scorer and a developing leader.  Tyreke Evans has played very well in preseason and Summer League, though I'm still a bit dubious how he'll share the backcourt with Martin.  Jason Thompson had a strong rookie year, and if he's able to curtail his fouling, he'll be an excellent player.  I like Omri Casspi, and not only because he's Israeli.  The problem is, the general direction of this franchise is bad for a team with a bunch of young players.  Paul Westphal was an out-of-left-field hire until you consider he was the coach that came cheapest.  There's not much progress on a new arena, the fans are not showing up anymore and no team is a more prime candidate for relocation.  That's not the best environment for a team that needs nurturing, and I think that'll have an effect on the mindset of the players.  I also don't like the early rotation games Westphal is playing, i.e. starting Desmond Mason, who can't play anymore, over Casspi and Sean May over Spencer Hawes

San Antonio Spurs

  • Last season: 54-28 (Pythagorean record: 52-30). Lost to Dallas 4-1 in first round.
  • Biggest team strength: Defensive rebounding (best in the league)
  • Biggest team weakness: Drawing fouls (worst in the league at FT/FG)
  • In: Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair, Theo Ratliff, Keith Bogans  Out: Kurt Thomas, Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, Drew Gooden, Jacque Vaughn, Ime Udoka
  • Key on-court question: How healthy are Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili?  If they have to miss time, do the Spurs have enough to compensate this time around?
  • Mike's Prediction: 55-27, first in the Southwest, tied for second in the West

Don't let that regular-season record fool you; San Antonio is the top threat to the Lakers.  But considering all the veteran faces and injury-prone players on the roster, I doubt they'll put up a gaudy win total in the regular season.  Like Boston, I suspect that the regular season won't be their focus, and they'll lose some games that, on paper, they should win.  (UPDATE: Case in point - yesterday's loss in Chicago on the second game of a back-to-back).  This is still a team that dramatically improved themselves over the offseason.  I'm not Richard Jefferson's biggest fan, but he fits in very well for this team because he can help the Spurs' Big 3 carry the load in terms of creating shots, and he's adept at hitting stand-still jumpers.  Antonio McDyess was also a major signing because he's still an outstanding rebounder and defender, as well as someone who can hit open jumpers.  My only two slight concerns are on defense (who guards the Kobes and Roys of the world?  I don't know if I trust Jefferson to do that) and drawing fouls (that last in the league stat shocked me).  However, the Spurs also team-defend better than any club, and with Manu Ginobili healthy, they have a guy who can draw fouls.  I don't think San Antonio can ultimately beat the Lakers, but I do think they've positioned themselves well to handle any other team in the league.

Toronto Raptors

This strikes me as the one team that will win a lot of unexpected games because of the incredible matchup problems they present, but will lose about as many because of their major limitations.  One thing is for sure -- that offense could be deadly.  The Raptors are putting five guys on the court who can shoot, dribble and pass well, particularly if Andrea Bargnani plays like he did in the second half last year.  If you have a traditional center, you're in trouble on defense against these guys.  However, the Raptors also have major problems on defense and on the boards.  Bargnani in particular is a sieve -- RaptorBlog revealed that Bargnani is the only 7 footer in NBA history to play over 30 minutes and not grab more than six rebounds per game -- and you can't teach rebounding.  The Raptors have rebounders coming off the bench, but if they play them, they lose their competitive advantage.  I honestly think they would have been better off re-signing Shawn Marion, because of his rebounding and defense, and letting Hedo Turkoglu sign with Portland.  Marion can play in a Euro-style, up-tempo game while augmenting Toronto's weaknesses, while Turkoglu's skills seem kind of superfluous with Jose Calderon also around.  As it stands, this is a playoff team, and it's much improved, but I really can't take them seriously because of their lack of defense and rebounding. 

Utah Jazz

It's like Groundhog Day in Utah.  A summer where so much change was expected has only resulted in literally the same cast being brought back together.  Carlos Boozer didn't opt out, and then he wasn't traded.  Paul Millsap and Mehmet Okur were re-signed.  Jerry Sloan is back.  Etc. Etc.  So why should we expect dramatically different results?  It is true that Deron Williams was hurt last year, and it's also true that the Jazz were inflicted by some weird malaise once Boozer came back from injury that may not manifest itself again.  But the same fundamental problems still exist.  The Jazz have no interior defense and no perimeter shooting.  They still can't figure out what to do with Andrei Kirilenko, and now there's the added problem of finding enough minutes for Boozer and Millsap.  I can't in good conscious predict this team to dramatically improve, even if some of the distractions from last year might persist.

Team Mike Prada JakeTheSnake Truth About It Rook6980 bwoodsxyz
Atlanta 47-35 44-38 45-37 45-37 45-37
Boston 57-25 55-27 54-28 44-38 56-26
Charlotte 32-50 32-50 29-53 34-48 37-45
Chicago 39-43 39-42 42-40 40-42 44-38
Cleveland 63-19 60-22 64-18 64-18 61-21
Dallas 49-33 44-38 51-31 50-32 47-35
Denver 53-29 53-29 50-32 52-30 51-31
Detroit 38-44 42-40 41-41 38-44 35-47
Golden State 31-51 16-66 34-48 28-54 28-54
Houston 37-45 41-41 30-52 34-48 48-34
Indiana 33-49 28-54 35-47 39-43 36-46
LA Clippers 43-39 36-46 30-52 31-51
LA Lakers 62-20 59-23 63-19 60-22
Memphis 25-57 23-59 35-47
Miami 41-41 46-36 46-36
Milwaukee 26-56 20-62 30-52
Minnesota 23-59 30-52 19-63
New Jersey 21-61 18-64 19-63
New Orleans 52-30 49-33 45-37
New York 23-59 24-58 22-60
Oklahoma City 29-53 40-42 38-44
Orlando 61-21 63-19 57-25
Philadelphia 40-42 36-46 48-34
Phoenix 40-42 45-37 42-40
Portland 55-27 56-26 48-34
Sacramento 18-64 26-56 24-58
San Antonio 55-27 61-21 58-24
Toronto 42-40 43-39 43-39
Utah 49-33 52-30 45-37
Washington 47-35 48-34 55-27 50-32 51-31

 

More predictions (leave in comments):

Category Mike Prada JakeTheSnake Truth About It Rook6980 bwoodsxyz
MVP Dwight Howard LeBron James LeBron James
Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin Blake Griffin Blake Griffin
Coach of the Year Flip Saunders Flip Saunders Flip Saunders
Defensive POY Dwight Howard Dwight Howard Dwight Howard
Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom Ben Gordon Manu Ginobili
Most Improved Player Greg Oden Marreese Speights Andray Blatche
Executive of the Year Otis Smith R.C. Buford Otis Smith
East Champ Boston Orlando Washington
West Champ LA Lakers San Antonio LA Lakers
Finals Champ LA Lakers San Antonio LA Lakers
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