We ran Part 1 of Domino’s 2012-2013 NBA Season Preview on Monday. You can read it here. Now, to bring NBA Week to a close, we continue with Part 2.
On Monday, I plowed through a small preview of each and every Eastern Conference team in the NBA, giving you doses of my basketball insight as well as a bit of an idea of all the daydreaming I have been doing since the end of July. Today, we are going to look at each and every Western Conference team and once again, I’ll provide my predictions for how they are going to finish the regular season—I’ll do a Playoff preview when April comes around.
A quick side note, though. I have no idea why I did the Eastern Conference first. Being from the East Coast, I have always been an Eastern Conference guy and I tend to appreciate the rivalries and histories of each and every team in the East. Honestly, I’m running on fumes just a little bit and it makes me sick that I’m going to have to fully discuss the Lakers. Ah, who am I kidding, I don’t hate them that much. Alright, let’s see if the word count for Part 2 rises as high as the word count for Part 1.
The 2012-2013 Western Conference.
Prediction: 3rd Place Southwest Division; #7 Seed Western Conference
To paraphrase Laurence Sterne, “Alas, poor Dirk!” In order to accurately convey Dirk Nowitzki’s mindset as we prepare to start the 2012-2013 NBA Season, I’d like to insert a little dramatic scene if that’s alright with all of you. And, yes, I know this is a little too Simmonsesque, but I feel like doing it anyway.
(Scene opens on a tall building in downtown Dallas. A tall, lanky man has edged out from a high-storied window. That man is Dirk Nowitzki.)
Dirk Nowitzki: It’s too much. We let Tyson leave town last year and now my two friends named Jason have left me in the lurch. Dwight wouldn’t come here. Deron wouldn’t even come here and he grew up right outside of the city. I’m sharing the town with a mediocre football team that has an owner who may or may not be senile and I’m not even sure if Cuban has a plan for me. I’m out for six weeks with a knee injury and then when I return, I’m probably going to waste perhaps the last year of my prime on a team Cuban cobbled together at the last second. Scheisse!
(Matt Domino steps out onto the ledge as well. He wears a beautiful navy blue sweater. His hair is perfectly coiffed and his good looks call to mind Jon Hamm, Johnny Depp and James Franco all mixed with the timeless nonchalance of a middle-aged Paul Newman.)
Matt Domino: Dirk! Don’t do it.
Dirk: Why shouldn’t I?
Matt: Look, Dirk. I wasn’t always your biggest fan. For many years, I thought you were soft; that you would never win a title; that you just didn’t have it in you.
Dirk: My life…
Matt: But I was wrong Dirk. In 2011 I wanted Miami to win the title, but you became a force of nature. I and all of your biggest critics could no longer deny your greatness, could no longer deny the amazing way you shoot the basketball and find improbable driving lanes to the basket. You had the perfect team for that title and unfortunately Cuban took for granted the fact that Dwight Howard actually had a plan for his future and that Deron Williams was actually a savvy basketball mind. Sure, it’s that last year you guys put up the crappiest title defense in the 2007 Heat; but you still have that ring and this year’s team isn’t that bad. OK, so Darren Collison isn’t a Hall of Fame point guard, but isn’t he more servicable than Kidd at this point? O.J. Mayo never quite found a solid role in Memphis and he’s capable of so much more. Maybe if he falls under your wing and under Rick Carlisle’s guidance, you can turn him into an upper-tier, starting shooting guard. Kaman’s not what he once was, but he’s a WAY better center than Brendan Haywood. Plus Marion is still to sneakily fill up the stat sheet; Carter can still get hot (OK, maybe a stretch); Elton Brand can give you solid backup minutes so you can bounce back to health. Look, now that you’re injured, this season is even more of a crap shoot for you guys. Why don’t you scope out the pieces, see what you have (that Jae Crowder is looking pretty feisty!) and then get your sales pitches ready for Chris Paul and Dwight Howard next summer. This time you make sure Mark makes it to the meetings and between the two of you, you may be forming your own super team for one last run. What do you say?
Dirk: I don’t know. I don’t…
Matt: Come on. Let’s take the team jet to New York. I know where to get some good schnitzel and weisswurst.
(A large plane in the shape of a giant kidney rises like the Delorean in Back to the Future Part II rises up and they fly away into the azure mid-day Dallas horizon.)
(A large plane in the shape of a giant kidney rises like the Delorean in Back to the Future Part II rises up and they fly away into the azure mid-day Dallas horizon.)
Prediction: 4th Place Southwest Division; 12th Place Western Conference
Houston, we have…a…a really weird team.
It was no secret that, during this off-season, Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, went all in for the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. First he freed up as much money as possible, then he traded for as many draft picks as he could. Then, he used those draft picks to collect as many young assets as he could. And, of course, Dwight went to Los Angeles just like he was going to the whole time and now the Rockets have a very young, very diverse and very athletic roster. But are they any good?
Their biggest move was obviously stealing Jeremy Lin away from the Knicks. It’s my opinion that Lin will not reach the heights he reached during Linsanity. I was just as impressed as anyone by his remarkable run, but the league always catches up to surprises and I think that will happen with Lin. However, I still think he’ll be a good point guard. Thus far in the preseason he has cut down mightly on his turnovers (I know its preseason, but still). He’s playing with a young team that wants to runand play closer to the style he was playing when D’Antoni was coaching the Knicks. At shooting guard, Kevin Martin can score with anyone, though he may get traded during the season, depending on how the team is performing. Chandler Parsons had a solid rookie season at small forward and should progress nicely in his second year while sharing minutes with the very promising rookie, Terrence Jones. Jones was a big of a disappointment at Kentucky but he still put up very solid numbers and was a key member of a national champion. If he applies himself at the pro level, he can definitely give Parsons a run for the starting spot. At power forward, Marcus Morris (who had a strong second half in his rookie season), Patrick Paterson, and the enigmatic and extremely talented rookie, Royce White, will compete for the starting job. I eventually think Royce will end up starting (if his bus doesn’t break down) with Marcus as his very capable backup. The Rockets were also able to pry Omer Asik away from the Bulls, though it remains to be seen if they overpaid.
Plus they also have Jeremy Lamb (who could end up being the starting two guard if the Rockets choose to trade Martin during the year) and the very hyped but still unproven Donatas Montiejunas.
So, as you can seen, its hard to know what to expect from this young team. The only thing I can say is that, I will definitely watch some of their games and will most likely be entertained.
Prediction: 2nd Place Southwest Division; #6 Seed Western Conference
Even though they disappointed me last year, I still have a soft spot for the Grizzlies after their fantastic run in 2011. I mean, you don’t just forget about Zach Randolph giving interviews like these.
However, the Grizzlies still present the same essential question they presented last year: can Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph play together? Due to various injuries to each one, we’ve only seen Gay and Randolph start together in small sample sizes; and one of those sample sizes happened to be their playoff series against the Clippers where they choked away Game 1 and didn’t show up in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
In order for these Grizzles to succeed, I believe that Rudy Gay needs to adapt his game. He is never going to be an upper-echelon swingman. Because, while Gay is smooth and can easily average 19-20 points over a season, he can’t consistently take over a game like the best players in the league can. This is no great crime: it also afflicts Andre Iguodala and Danny Granger and has afflicted many others in the past. However, what is a crime is not recognizing the shortcoming. Iguodala has slowly grown to understand his role and place in the league and has emphasized using his athleticism to become a terrific defender. Gay can go that same route. He can allow Randolph to handle the scoring load (lowering his PPG from 2012’s 19.0 to maybe something more along the lines of 16.2) most nights and focus on rebounding (push that 6.4 RPG up to 7.1 RPG) and shutting down the wing with Tony Allen. And, if Randolph is struggling, Gay can recognize it pick up the slack.
This team is deep on the frontline with Marreese Speights, Darrell Arthur, and Hamed Haddadi (really played well in the Clippers series) and has some punch in the backcourt with Jerryd Bayless, Josh Selby (big summer for Selby; he could have a really solid year) and the rookie Tony Wroten. They just need to make sure they understand who they are. And that is a team who rides the shoulders of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and takes the other team out of the game with their defense.
New Orleans Hornets
Prediction: 5th Place Southwest Division; 14th Place Western Conference
I’m a bit torn on the 2012-2013 New Orleans Hornets. They could end up being the worst team in the Western Conference, but because they have less headcases than the Sacramento Kings (we’ll get to them), I think they will end up finishing next to last in the West.
This team is all about Anthony Davis. Davis is already a supremely talented defender, but he also showed a wide variety of complete game skills at Kentucky such as above average ball-handling and an outside shooting touch. Because Davis had such a late growth spurt, he was able to take the guard skills he developed and successfully retain them as he developed into a fantastic big man prospect. Davis’ work ethic and defensive presence will change the attitude and complexion of this team. The key for the Hornet is to try and establish Davis as an offensive presence so that they can get open shots for their shooters like Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Xavier Henry and, yes, rookie Austin Rivers.
I’m still not sure where this team will score. Gordon is definitely primed for a big year now that he is making maximum level money and entering the prime of his career. While Dwight Howard was injured last season, Ryan Anderson showed that he can help carry the bulk of the scoring burden on a playoff team. But after that, the team’s next best scorer might just be Austin Rivers and he hasn’t even played an NBA game yet.
The player to watch on this team is small forward Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu has come along slowly since he was drafted in 2010, but after he was traded in the Chris Paul deal, he was able to log more minutes and began to show an ability to steadily score towards the end of last season. His average last year was only 6.0 points per game but he increased his rebounds per game to 7.5 and almost blocked one shot per game. If he can raise his scoring to around 10 points per game, he will help back up his reputation as a “good young piece”—alright, there was no good way to phrase that.
San Antonio Spurs
Prediction: 1st Place Southwest Division; #3 Seed Western Conference
Last season, while everyone was looking the other way, the Spurs suddenly developed into a near-historic powerhouse. If Oklahoma City hadn’t made the necessary adjustments in the Western Conference Finals, there is no doubt the Spurs would have beaten the Heat in the NBA Finals.
Basically, nothing has changed about the Spurs this season, except for the fact that their “Big Three” are all another year older. However, the league is changing. Popovich, as always, was a bit ahead of the curve and last year his Spurs played small with Diaw at the center and moved the ball in order to get corner three pointers. The Thunder figured out how to counter that attack and then Miami finally realized their destiny as a “positionless team,” which allows them to adapt to another team’s attack at will.
So, when it comes to the Spurs, internally, they should be as solid as ever. Duncan will lose a little from his legs, but their bench is deep. Ginobli will get injured at some point, but Danny Green and Gary Neal can easily fill in. Kawhi Leonard had a terrific rookie season and should only get better with another year of Popovich’s tutelage. And Tony Parker may not have another MVP caliber season, but he’ll still be one of the best point guards in the league.
I may not ever like the Spurs, but, at this point, I respect them and I know to never write them off.
Prediction: 2nd Place Northwest Division; #5 Seed Western Conference
In all the reading and watching I have done to prepare for writing this preview, the most frequently seen or heard comment I encountered was something along the lines of “the Nuggets are going to be a fun team” or “the Nuggets are going to be everyone’s League Pass team.” And it’s hard to argue against that popular opinion.
The Nuggets are stacked—absolutely STACKED—with extremely athletic wing and backcourt players. Don’t believe me? Let’s run down the list: Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph and Kenneth Faried. And Faried actually doubles as their only legitimate power/post player. Plus, they bring Andre Miller off the bench who, even though he is not young or especially athletic, still remains one of the headiest and craftiest guards in the NBA. Miller has that remarkable quality of putting up stats without you realizing it. It’s typical when watching a Nuggets came to see Miller’s line in the fourth quarter and mutter aloud, “When did he get 20 points and 8 assists?”
With the development of the Dwight-Era Lakers, the lack of size (besides JaVale McGee, everyone’s favorite pick for Most Improved Player) as well as the lack of a “superstar” presence will ultimately cause this team to hit a ceiling of reaching the second round of the Playoffs. However, in a league where a team like the Heat is leading the pack (with the Thunder right with them) by playing “positionless” basketball, a potential Nuggets crunchtime lineup of Lawson, Miller, Iguodala, Faried and Gallinari, shows that the Nuggets are just as forward thinking as the best teams in the league—they just don’t have the same caliber of talent.
Prediction: 3rd Place Northwest Division; #9 Seed Western Conference
One thing I’ve felt very bad about recently is that I didn’t properly mourn Kevin Love’s broken hand last week. I think the reason I didn’t was because I had such high hopes for the Timberwolves this season that I didn’t want to believe that it actually happened; it was an unintended bit of denial. I had the Timberwolves marked in as the solid eight seed in the West with a chance to move up to the seventh seed depending on how the Mavericks performed.
So, the Timberwolves start the season without either Ricky Rubio or Kevin Love until right before Christmas, with Rubio likely to return in January. With a healthy Kevin Love and his MVP level numbers, as well as an improved supporting cast, the Wolves would’ve remained very competitive until that time, when, as we all were predicting, Rubio would take the reigns of the offense (and perimeter defense) and take the team back to the level they were at during the early part of last season. Now, without Love, the Wolves will be treading water.
But, they still tread water with that improved supporting cast. We don’t know what to expect from the resurrected Brandon Roy, but by all accounts he has looked solid the preseason and gives the Wolves a playmaker that other teams at least have to respect a little bit. Ridnour and J.J. Barea and fill in servicably but won’t benefit from the driving lanes created by defenses paying attention to Love. On the wing, Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko can switch playing either the three or the four depending on matchups and Chase Budinger always produces. The key, though, is Nikola Pekovic, one of last season’s most pleasant surprises. Pekovic averaged 13.9 and 7.4 last year. With Love out, he could average 17 and 10. If Pekovic progresses as we expect and even increases his numbers in Love’s absence, this team could still be well in the mix when Love’s return and actually make the Playoffs.
Unfortunately, I still think they will miss out by just a hair.
Prediction: 1st Place Northwest Division; #1 Seed Western Conference
When the Big Three of the Heat came together in 2010-2011, we saw, very prominently, how important a part chemistry plays in a team’s success. That is why, despite the Lakers’ additions, the Thunder will be the number one seed in the West. The Thunder bring back the same young, athletic, explosive and hungry roster that lost to the Heat in an NBA Finals that was far closer than the 4-1 result will tell people years from now. The Thunder bring back a roster and a team environment that makes players like James Harden, who is in the middle of a well-publicized contract extension negotiation, say things like, “I want to keep playing with the Thunder. I feel like home and the team is special. My teammates are like my family.” Harden can and will get offered maximum money elsewhere if the Thunder do not extend him, but those kind of quotes seem so genuine that you know in reality he doesn’t necessarily want the money, he just wants to be in his early twenties playing great basketball with friends (aka players) he has come to love like brothers.
What does all this mean? The Thunder have maintainted the status quo and that means patented Thunder trademarks like Durant hitting huge shots from improbable distances and Westbrook driving to the basket and dunking with a velocity that rivals some of the speeds encountered during the Space Jump. They also benefit from backup point guard Eric Maynor returning from injury as well as the addition of Perry Jones III, their FUCKING STEAL of a draft pick.
Sure, Harden’s contract situation could end up creating a cloud over the team, but I don’t think that will happen. No one in this organization is dumb enough to mess with the unique situation they have.
Prediction: 5th Place Northwest Division; 11th Place Western Conference
On Wednesday, my good friend Jeff Schles explained that one of the storylines he was looking forward to this season was the fate of the Trailblazers. On paper, the Trailblazers lineup doesn’t look terrible (again, remember I am very optimistic): Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and J.J. Hickson are the starters and Jared Jeffries, Ronnie Price, Nolan Smith and rookie Meyers Leonard come off the bench.
But, when you look closer you realize that Meyers Leonard was a blown draft pick, J.J. Hickson should not be starting for any team in the league, Wesley Matthews is a streak shooter and borderline starter and Batum is good, but hasn’t reached the potential that everyone believes he has as Scottie Pippen 2.0. So, that leaves LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie point guard Damian Lillard. Aldrige will be in the mix for the All-Star team for at least the next five years, while Lillard (as Jeff mentioned on Wednesday) has been impressive thus far. The word on Lillard from around the league and around the people who hang around the league (aka writers, bloggers, dreamers like me) is that he is the real deal and possibly a franchise point guard. I have no reason to doubt that.
The Rip City faithful are going to go through another tough year (writing this preview just made me realize I may have ranked Portland too high), however if they finish the season knowing that Lillard and Aldridge are a franchise tandem going forward, they can consider the season a success.
Prediction: 4th Place Northwest Division; 10th Place Western Conference
Alright, I’m going to be honest: I am baffled about the seven and eight seeds in the West. I like the Jazz a whole lot more than an 10th place finish suggests and I think they could actually end up as the eight seed or even the seven seed if everything goes right.
You want to know why I like the Jazz so much? Because they are right up there with Denver in terms of having young, athletic and exciting players. The only thing about the Utah Jazz is that you don’t know their names the way you do Denver’s. Players like Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans and Alec Burks don’t roll of your tongue. However, if Jeremy Evans continues to develop and do things like this during his third season, you’ll start to remember some of these young players.
This may seem fairly obvious, but the key to the Jazz’s success this season is their starting lineup. Utah starts a lineup with a nice mix of experience, youth and size with Mo Williams (PG), Gordon Hayward (SG), Marvin Williams (SF), Paul Millsap (PF) and Al Jefferson (C). The problem is that Marvin Williams isn’t that good and Derrick Favors has more upside than Paul Millsap and if the Millsap and Jefferson combination starts to lag prove some of its redundancies (as it did at times last year) the Jazz may consider moving one of the two in favor a few different pieces or cap space. That may affect the Jazz’s final trajectory.
Tyrone Corbin is a good coach and the team seemed to develop a certain energetic chemistry in their route to the Playoffs last year. Yet, despite the fact that I like them, I still feel as though they caught fire down the stretch last year to just get into the Playoffs and that they need to tweak the roster just a little and miss the Playoffs this year to fully maximize on the futures of all of their young talent.
Golden State Warriors
Prediction: 3rd Place Pacific Division; #8 Seed Western Conference
Alright! Now we’re talking! It’s no secret that I’m sweet on the 2012-2013 Golden State Warriors. Is part of it that I’m hoping that they are exciting upstarts like 2006-2007 team so that I can wistfully relieve some of the finest memories of my college experience? Sure! I’d say that’s about 40% of why I like them. However, the other 60% is based on the fact that they have a young, deep roster.
Bill Simmons has rightfully pointed out that you can’t ignore the Warriors’ history of futility and the fact that this team is built on two tenets— the health Andrew Bogut’s elbow and the health of Stephen Curry’s very worrisome ankle—that are not necessarily stable. However, the pieces around those two all look very solid and potentially explosive. Klay Thompson had a very good rookie season (12.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists) at shooting guard and as looked ready to play in the preseason. I firmly believe that Harrison Barnes will excel as a professional basketball player. This is a guy who has been preparing to be a pro athlete and a professional brand for the last five years, now that he has the opportunity I think he is going to make the most of it. David Lee is David Lee—he can’t play defense but he can pass, score and rebound.
The key though is the depth. Carl Landry and Draymond Green are going to come off the bench and give nothing but energy and defense. Jarrett Jack can step in and be a steady presence should Curry go out; Brandon Rush is a solid rotation player as is Richard Jefferson; and Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins are wild cards that will definitely be fan favorites if this team starts playing well.
If Bogut and Curry are both healthy, this team is a surefire Playoff team with a chance to put a scare into the Thunder in what would be a very entertaining series. If not, this is still an exciting young team that I’d watch anyway. Hell, I’ve already got my tickets for when they come to the Barclays Center.
I’M ALL IN!
Los Angeles Clippers
Prediction: 2nd Place Pacific Division; #4 Seed Western Conference
There have been a few different opinions on this year’s Clippers team and, again, I remain optimistic. I watched the beginning of the Lakers/Clippers preseason game earlier this week and just looking at the Clippers’ starting lineup of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan listed next to the Lakers’ starting five of Nash, Kobe, Artest, Gasol and Howard got my head spinning with possible classic games during this season.
However, that is all on paper and there are a few worries for the Clippers. Since we generally know what we’ll get from the Clippers when they are good (Chris Paul playing a divine brand of point guard; Blake embarassing people with dunks; DeAndre Jordan good naturedly finishing superb alley-oops; Caron Butler doing Caron Butlery things on the wing) lets take a look at the troubling points:
1. Lamar Odom is on their team and his most recent work was submarining the Mavericks last season. Being back in L.A. may revive him, but he has looked out of shape in the preseason so expectations are NOT high.
2. Who plays paint defense? DeAndre Jordan is still improving as a player. He has looked better in the preseason, but he is still not a “very good” player nor an above average defender. Behind Jordan there are Ronny Turiaf (um..) and Ryan Hollins (uh..).
3. They have too many players. This is their depth at small forward: Butler, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes. Both Barnes and Hill started last year for other teams. At shooting guard: Billups, Crawford, Green. Again, Green and Crawford started at different times for their teams last year. And, at point guard, the exciting Eric Bledsoe sits behind Chris Paul.
Still, I believe in the Clippers because of Chris Paul and because Billups is slowly building his resume for a coaching career once he’s finished playing.
Plus, I mean, look how good Eric Bledsoe is now!
Los Angeles Lakers
Prediction: 1st Place Pacific Division; #2 Seed Western Conference
Alright, we know what we are getting with the Lakers. This 2012-2013 team is like a souped up version of the 2003-2004 team that self-destructed and lost to the Pistons in the Finals. That team started four first ballot Hall of Famers that tried to play through the bad chemistry in their locker room, while this team starts at least three first ballot Hall of Famers (Kobe, Dwight, Nash) and two potential/borderline Hall of Famers (Artest and Gasol) and chemistry should not be a problem.
However, chemistry could be a problem if Howard starts to wonder whether or not he should be the man instead of shutting up, learning from Kobe how to definitively be the man in a huge market, potentially winning a championship and then deciding to sign a deal to L.A. Its crazy, but I would not put it past Howard—after all the bungling he’s done—to turn his back on an ideal situation (playing with Steve Nash as his point guard until Nash retires!) when the season ends in June and he has the option to sign elsewhere.
Other than that, I just worry about their depth. Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill can give them points off the bench, but Steve Blake? He was pretty terrible last season. Duhon? I’ll let you make the joke. Mike Brown is going to have to leave a few of his starters out with the second unit longer than he would like and that could be problematic with aging guys like Nash, Kobe and Artest.
But superstars are all you need in the Playoffs and that’s what the Lakers have. It still remains to be seen if their size will be the answer against Miami’s versatility, speed and scoring.
Prediction: 4th Place Pacific Division; 13th Place Western Conference
Welcome to the post-Steve Nash Era in PHOENIX! It’s not pretty, but its not exceedingly awful either! This Suns team is not going to be very good, but there are some redeemable pieces.
The Suns’ frontline is actually pretty decent. Marcin Gortat starts at center and he gave them a very solid 15.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. They landed Luis Scola via auction after Houston very foolishly amnestied him in the summer and Scola is a terror underneath the boards who averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds last year, though he averages almost 8 rebounds per game for his career. He’s a great energy guy and no one wants to face him. Then, you have Michael Beasley on the wing. Beasley has been a consummate underachiever for the first four years of his career, but he ony turns 24 in January. He’s been traded twice, but is now playing on a team with no true star and I think that will actually work in his favor. The Suns are just a team of hardworkers (Jared Dudley especially) and I think Beasley will just have to fit in and bring his unique offensive skills to the table. My bold prediction is that I think Beasley’s “maturation” will become a tangible storyline this season.
The backcourt is….well, not great. Goran Dragic is an above average point guard and he’s backed up by ex-phenom journeyman Sebastian Telfiar and the promising rookie out of North Carolina, Kendall Marshall. At shooting guard its Wes Johnson and Shannon Brown—neither of which is very inspiring.
So, it’s a mixed bag: some surprisingly good and some surprisingly bad. The issue is that they aren’t going to be good and they aren’t going to be very exciting either, which is never a good combination.
Prediction: 5th Place Pacific Division; 15th Place Western Conference
The Kings are my pick for the worst team in the league and they scare the crap out of me. They scare me because I feel like there is a chance someone on their team will wind up dead; and the culprit will be one of the other players on the roster.
On paper, they look solid and they actually looked competent against the Lakers in a preseason game earlier in the week. However, their chemistry is just problematic. DeMarcus Cousins is young, talented and confident (wouldn’t you be if you were doing this?), but he is moody and will take plays, quarters and even games off. No one knows what position Tyreke Evans is supposed to play or what he’s supposed to do in the league (Does he start? Is he a Sixth Man?). Aaron Brooks is going to want Isaiah Thomas’ (no, not that Isiah) starting point guard job at some point during the season. And then there’s just Marcus Thornton doing Marcus Thornton things.
The bright spots are, coincidentally, both at the power forward position where rookie Thomas Robinson and underrated Jason Thompson will share minutes. Thompson has been in the league for four years and has very quietly averaged 10.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. Now, that all occurred on bad Sacramento teams, but that’s a near double double with no fuss, which is nothing to frown at in the NBA. Meanwhile all Robinson is known for is his power, work ethic and surprisingly good jump shot.
Look, the Kings could surprise the hell out of me and overachieve; Robinson and Cousins could form a potent young duo on the frontline and coach Keith Smart may figure out a way to most effectively use Evans and balance minutes in the backcourt.
None of that will probably happen, but when you are staring at rosters at the end of October, there’s nothing to do but hope for the best. God, I love the NBA.