Breaking Down Which Darkhorse Could Steal Each NBA Division
The 2013 NBA season will follow the pattern that has long dominated this great league. Favorites will emerge, bandwagon support systems will follow and predictions of a title will go to the most star-studded franchises.
Past all of the big names in flashing lights, however, will be the emergence of dark horse teams looking to slay the mighty atop them.
There are the teams who have been on the cusp of glory but have fallen into the darkness of the forgotten. Then, of course, there are the young guns looking to unseat the veterans who have long held them down. Regardless of which division you look in, there's no way around one simple fact.
The unexpected will rise and the favorites will be forced into battle. So, which dark horse teams could take home their division crown?
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will be in hot competition for the Atlantic Division crown. Even the Brooklyn Nets will compete for the title, as they look to slip their way back into the elite conversation.
We need not forget, however, that is was the Philadelphia 76ers that led the Atlanta Division for 51 games. Not until March 30th did the Boston Celtics overtake them for first.
In 2013, don't be shocked to see the 76ers pull out all the stops and compete for the division crown once again. Lou Williams has been replaced with better size on the perimeter, and the 76ers added the super-athletic Arnett Moultrie and Maurice Harkless through the NBA Draft.
Most importantly, Williams' absence opens the door for a breakout season from Evan Turner. A breakout season that will most certainly occur.
Dark Horse Contender: Philadelphia 76ers
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
The Chicago Bulls have always been a well-coached team whose depth ranges far beyond a superstar. After depleting themselves of that depth during free agency and news breaking of Derrick Rose being out until March, things are not looking so bright for Chicago.
As a result of these combining factors, the Central Division is wide open.
The Indiana Pacers are the heavy favorite at this point, as they are coming off of a 42-24 season that included a near upset of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Alongside them, however, will be the fast-paced Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks improved in one area and collapsed in another last season, adding an elite perimeter scorer in Monta Ellis and removing defensive guru Andrew Bogut from the equation. Considering Bogut missed 130 games over the past four seasons, though, it's debatable how much they've really lost in trading him.
As the Bucks enter the 2012-13 season, they've responded tremendously. They've added shot-blocking maestro John Henson through the draft and re-signed double-double machine Ersan Ilyasova. They also traded for Samuel Dalembert to go with young weapons Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders.
With a solid frontcourt and a perimeter that includes stars Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, this team could steal the Central Division. Throw in the potential re-signing of Carlos Delfino, who torched the United States during exhibition play, and the breakout Summer League play from Tobias Harris and you have a dangerous team.
The question is, will this finally be the year that Milwaukee makes the leap into the postseason?
Dark Horse Contender: Milwaukee Bucks
In an era of Big Threes, we forget how powerful a Big Two can be.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Miami Heat are a near lock to win this division, but we simply can never say never.
After trading Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, many wrote the Atlanta Hawks off as a team destined for the draft lottery. After working the free agency and trade markets, however, that simply doesn't seem to be a rational belief.
The Atlanta Hawks have always been a team who had three star players and absolutely nothing else to support them. While Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich have been respectable, neither have done what the team has needed at the point.
In a matter of weeks, the Hawks have gone from the thinnest postseason roster in the NBA to one of the deepest around.
Atlanta acquired Lou Williams and Devin Harris to strengthen the Hawks' weak crop of ball-handlers. They also added two of the top 10 pure shooters in the NBA in Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow, and rookie John Jenkins further strengthens the team's shooting.
Throw in young and athletic bigs Jordan Williams and Mike Scott, and you have the best all-around team that Atlanta has seen since the days of Dominique Wilkins.
Dark Horse Contender: Atlanta Hawks
Harry How/Getty Images
The Oklahoma City Thunder are clearly the favorites to win the Northwest Division. With a surplus of young players all entering their prime, however, we cannot exclude a certain Colorado franchise from this conversation.
Point guard Ty Lawson was the first of the pack to reach that potential, averaging 19.0 points and 6.0 assists in the Nuggets' seven-game first-round loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Alongside him will be Danilo Gallinari, rebounding machine Kenneth Faried, the freakishly athletic JaVale McGee and one of the most well-rounded players in the game, Arron Afflalo.
Throw in a second unit that includes Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler and Al Harrington, and you've got yourself a very solid team. Upside-loaded prospects such as Quincy Miller and Anthony Randolph should only boost the Nuggets' chances.
OKC won't be easy to topple. Never believe that any task is insurmountable, though.
Dark Horse Contender: Denver Nuggets
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Lakers used the offseason to perfection, building to dominate. The Los Angeles Clippers have put together quite an impressive array of talent themselves. Ever so quietly, another California team could sneak up on them.
Assuming their two injury-prone stars stay healthy, the Golden State Warriors could be in contention for the Pacific Division crown.
When healthy, Andrew Bogut remains one of the top five interior defenders in the NBA. Point guard Stephen Curry, meanwhile, is one of the most dynamic players in the game due to his lethal three-point shooting and emerging facilitating abilities. Throw in David Lee's nightly 20 and 10, and you have a legitimate trio.
Unlike years past, however, the Warriors are not limited to a few talented players. Instead, they're a team of depth and well-rounded weapons.
Shooting guard Klay Thompson has the shooting and slashing abilities to be a potential threat for the scoring title. Rookie Harrison Barnes is an outstanding perimeter defender and has one of the smoothest mid-range jump shots of any player at any age.
Throw in the fact that three returning players shot over 40 percent from distance, and you have a lethal spread-the-floor attack. You also have the best defensive unit that Warriors fans have ever seen with Bogut manning the middle.
Dark Horse Contender: Golden State Warriors
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The San Antonio Spurs have finished atop the Western Conference for two years running. With the same core returning in 2013 and an infusion of talented youth and limitless depth, the same result can only be expected.
Or can it?
Many have written off the Memphis Grizzlies after a disappointing first-round exit from the 2012 playoffs. The fact of the matter is the Grizzlies are as equipped as ever for a postseason run. They've had a masterful offseason that has seen the team land the proper prospects through the draft and sign the necessary positional players through free agency.
From playmaker Tony Wroten Jr. to point guard Jerryd Bayless and all the way to the re-signing of Marreese Speights, the Grizz did what they needed to contend. They also remained confident in a core that's as solid as any in the NBA.
The Grizzlies starting lineup has absolutely no holes. Mike Conley Jr. occasionally outplayed Chris Paul during Memphis' matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2012 postseason, and Tony Allen remains the league's best perimeter defender. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, meanwhile, are one of the top five frontcourts in the NBA.
The question is, how far is Rudy Gay prepared to lead this team? Time will tell.
Dark Horse Contender: Memphis Grizzlies