It’s going to be a wild year in the NBA this season. After a sudden end to a nasty lockout, followed by a wildly brief free agency period, the NBA will embark on a 66-game condensed schedule that will be very unlike your average season. This season features a conference-heavy schedule (Teams will play their own conference for a vast majority of games), and includes some periods where teams will play as many as 3 games in 3 days. This is going to affect how the season shakes out, benefiting deeper, younger teams while being a hindrance to the older teams. With that said, let’s make a few notes about this preview. Picks are made assuming:
-The schedule will impact the finishes of some teams
-Dwight Howard stays in Orlando
-Gilbert Arenas remains unsigned
-The guys trapped playing in China (Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, and Aaron Brooks) get out before seasons end, and sign with the teams most likely to pick them up: We’ll assume the Lakers and Knicks pick up either Smith or Brooks, Chandler resigns with Denver, and K-Mart heads to the Heat.
-And finally, we’ll assume Andrew Bynum gets injured for a 5-10 game stretch at some point. No, seriously. Bynum’s missed over 120 games in the last 4 seasons due to injury. It’s coming.
With that said, let’s jump in. Eastern Conference will come today, West will be added shortly after.
1. Chicago Bulls
Things to be optimistic about: Finally solved the Two-guard problem with Rip Hamilton. May have the most complete team in the league.
Things to be pessimistic about: Still unsure if Carlos Boozer will be a dominant player. Rip may not have much left in the tank.
Overall: You have to like this team’s depth and chemistry in a season like this. With the bench players they have and Derrick Rose running the show, this team should cruise through the regular season.
2. Miami Heat
Things to be optimistic about: This team made the NBA Finals with an Alpha-Dog battle the entire season, no crunch-time scorer, Chris Bosh disappearing for portions of the season, and no bench to speak of. They’ve added Shane Battier to correct that final problem and the big three should be more cohesive.
Things to be pessimistic about: This roster is still one I don’t think can win it all. Still no crunch-time scorer (Mike Miller or Shane Battier are their best bets. Yeesh). Their third guard is still Eddie House. Their fourth post (Behind Bosh, Joel Anthony, and Udonis Haslem), is Eddy Curry. Their bench really hasn’t improved outside of Battier.
Overall: The bottom line is that the big three still make them the team to beat in the East. However, especially with this bench, they may not keep pace with the Bulls in a shortened season, and will probably head to the Playoffs as the #2 seed.
3. New York Knicks
Things to be optimistic about: Their frontcourt (Melo, Amare, Tyson Chandler) may be the best in the league. Their backcourt also gets a huge boost from Baron Davis and Mike Bibby, and Toney Douglas might break out as a legitimate starter.
Things to be pessimistic about: This is a half-court squad playing Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system. They’re also banking their season on Amare’s knees holding up, Chandler not regressing after his new contract (like what happened after his last deal with the Hornets), and Baron Davis shedding 20 pounds and becoming productive.
Overall: I think this team will be interesting to watch, and even if they get an Amare injury or lack of anything substantial from Baron Davis, Melo himself is enough to get them the crown in this mediocre Atlantic Division.
4. Orlando Magic
Things to be optimistic about: They still have Dwight Howard for this season, and made a great move keeping the Richardsons (Jason and Quentin) around. Glen Davis has also looked reborn in a Magic uniform.
Things to be pessimistic about: They might not have Dwight Howard for the entire season. Also, teams will continue to use the Hawks blueprint from the playoffs last year (Let Dwight go beast mode and shut down everyone else) against Orlando because there’s still not much else around.
Overall: They’re still good enough to be the top of the second tier in the East, and may challenge the Knicks for the 3 seed. However, they’re a wild card if Dwight leaves.
5. Indiana Pacers
Things to be optimistic about: This team is A. Scrappy, B. Deep (They have 9 legitimate players, 10 if Lance Stephenson develops more), and C. Young. Those three things will do them well this season.
Things to be pessimistic about: Go-to scorers are Danny Granger and David West. This team is deep, but not top-heavy.
Overall: This team is this year’s Memphis. They’ll suck to play in the playoffs, especially if they get matched up with Orlando or Miami. I can completely believe that this team will be the 5th best squad in the East.
6. Boston Celtics
Things to be optimistic about: Rajon Rondo proved against Miami in the playoffs that he is the spirit of this Celtics team, and he appears ready to go off. The post situation should be better as well, as Brandon Bass is an ultra-competitive PF that will give Boston more rebounding.
Things to be pessimistic about: Their starting center is Jermaine O’Neal, who may not have anything left in the tank. Their bench depth rides on how good JaJuan Johnson and E’Twuan Moore can be with zero adjustment period. They return exactly zero of their top three bench players from last year (Traded Glen Davis, didn’t resign Delonte West, Jeff Green probably out for the season).
Overall: This team will be good, but they just aren’t deep enough or young enough to survive the short schedule. Boston may ride through the season with one goal: Make the playoffs. Once there, they will be a team that can compete with anyone.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
Things to be optimistic about: Arguably gave Miami a better series than Chicago did last year in the playoffs, and return most of that nucleus. Year two of Evan Turner is hoped to be a big one.
Things to be pessimistic about: Too many swingmen (Thaddeus Young, Andre Iguodala, Turner) to keep everyone happy. I really don’t see a team with Spencer Hawes at center finishing higher than 7th.
Overall: Will once again be a scrappy team that teams won’t want to play. However, there’s really not enough talent (particularly in the frontcourt) to make anything big happen.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Things to be optimistic about: Still basically the same team that won a playoff series last season. And that was with a poor season from Joe Johnson, which shouldn’t happen again.
Things to be pessimistic about: They lost one of their top scorers, Jamal Crawford, and replaced him with a washed-up 30-something Joe Johnson replica in Tracy McGrady. Also, outside of Al Horford there are bodies in the frontcourt, just not many of them with anything to contribute other than free fouls.
Overall: I have no idea how good Atlanta will be this season. They look like a playoff team, and really could be anywhere from the 4 to the 8 seed. However, this is a team that seemed to quit on their coach around midseason last year, and it’s a combustible locker room, so 8 sounds about right.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
Things to be optimistic about: Andrew Bogut should be 100% healthy. Stephen Jackson is a huge upgrade over Corey Maggette, and Mike Dunleavy was a great signing.
Things to be pessimistic about: Brandon Jennings may not be that good. Like the Bobcats pre-trade, a team with Stephen Jackson as its top scoring option isn’t set up for success.
Overall: They’ll compete once again, especially if Bogut stays healthy and if Jennings proves his worth in year 3. However there just isn’t enough support or talent to compete with the big boys.
10. New Jersey Nets
Things to be optimistic about: Stole Mehmet Okur from the Jazz for a second rounder yesterday. The bench is improved, and they have star power with Deron Williams.
Things to be pessimistic about: They just lost Brook Lopez for 6 weeks after he broke his foot. Kris Humphries probably won’t be as good on the boards as he was last season; he may be ruined by the Kardashian debacle. Also, the teams starting small forward is Shawne Williams. Yikes.
Overall: I had the Nets at 9 before the Lopez injury, then pumped them down to 12, and settled at 10 after the Okur signing. The Nets are improving, and will certainly be a playoff team if they land Dwight Howard, whether it be this season or next season.
11. Detroit Pistons
Things to be optimistic about: There are some promising guys for the future in Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight. Resigning Rodney Stuckey gives them scoring punch now, and freeing Rip Hamilton means he can no longer be a distraction.
Things to be pessimistic about: Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace, and Ben Gordon are still three of their starters. No one knows if Jonas Jerebko will be the same coming back from injury. They have three combo guards (Gordon, Knight, Stuckey), and none of them are really that good at running the point.
Overall: The Pistons have talent; it’s just a matter of figuring out how to get all the talent to play up to their abilities and to play cohesively. That, and there are just too many shooting guards and power forwards, and not enough point guards and centers to make this team workable.
12. Washington Wizards
Things to be optimistic about: John Wall is going to be great this season. There’s a lot of half-decent post players, and Jan Vesely and Shelvin Mack are wild-card rookies that could have immediate impact.
Things to be pessimistic about: Should have amnestied Rashard Lewis, let Nick Young go, and used the money to grab Arron Afflalo and a swingman like Mike Dunleavy. They didn’t do that.
Overall: This is still basically the same roster that netted 23 wins last season. Even with an improved Wall, there’s nothing else here that leads one to believe they’ll climb out of the cellar this season.
13. Toronto Raptors
Things to be optimistic about: Demar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani aren’t bad as the top talent. The bench is full of a good mix of youngsters and veterans who can contribute.
Things to be pessimistic about: Bargnani and DeRozan are probably not going to get better; they’re better served as number 3 options on contenders. Also, the team probably should ante up and resign Reggie Evans, a man who was the teams top rebounder last season and without whom the Raptors have the softest frontcourt in the NBA.
Overall: The Raptors need to blow this thing up and start over around Jonas Valenciunas and whatever nice building block the get from the 2012 draft. For this season, the Raptors don’t look like they’ll be much of a threat.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
Things to be optimistic about: Kyrie Irving!
Things to be pessimistic about: Yeah, Irving’s about it. The Cavs still have Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao wasting away on their roster, but other than those three, there are no other decent starters and they maybe have one or two good bench players (Ramon Sessions and whatever they get from Tristan Thomspon).
Overall: Oh boy is this a bad situation. Cleveland may not win many games this season, as they have a roster with little talent and little upside. Things look bleak here, but not as bleak as:
15. Charlotte Bobcats
Things to be optimistic about: D.J. Augustin is a decent point guard. Corey Maggette can score and Bismack Biyombo will provide a nice defensive presence.
Things to be pessimistic about: Their starting lineup for most of the season: D.J. Augustin, Matt Carroll, Corey Maggette, D.J. White, Boris Diaw. Yes, that’s Diaw, a stretch-power forward, as their top post threat.
Overall: This team may not break 10 wins. It’s by far the worst team in the NBA.
Thanks for reading, check back soon for the Western Conference preview.
- NBA Predictions 2011-’12: The 16 Teams That’ll Make the Playoffs and Their Seed (bleacherreport.com)
- The 2011-12 With Leather NBA Power Rankings (withleather.uproxx.com)
- With Chandler and Davis on board, NBA title is the goal (nypost.com)
- NBA Rumors: Why Dwight Howard Makes New Jersey Nets Better Than New York Knicks (bleacherreport.com)