1 Prediction About Every NBA Team in 2013 That Was Dead Wrong
The 2012-13 season effectively proved that NBA predictions are a fool's errand.
Of course, some of the prognosticators' bold claims came true.
Maybe you were thinking that the Oklahoma City Thunder would stay contenders even without James Harden, or that Anthony Davis' New Orleans Hornets wouldn't yet emerge from the league's cellar. Yet, so many of the experts' best guesses were shot down by the NBA's inherent unpredictability.
Every team in the league has defied expectations in some form. Let's go through all the ways this season has not gone as planned.
A Lost Season for the Atlanta Hawks
It was a popular theory that the Atlanta Hawks were markedly worse after trading Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams.
Granted, DeShawn Stevenson is the only player the Hawks received who is actually producing for them. But Lou Williams, Kyle Korver and Devin Harris are all new contributors in Atlanta, while Josh Smith and Al Horford are making the most of their larger roles on the team.
They might have lost a "star"—to use that term loosely, at least—but the Hawks became a more diverse offensive team, while Smith and Horford became even tougher on defense.
Atlanta has been in the playoff picture practically the entire season. At first it was a shock, then a curiosity. Now it's just a reality.
The Celtics Are Rondo's Team Now
When Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL, the Boston Celtics were 20-23. Since losing their consensus best player, their top point guard is Avery Bradley—who really should be the off-ball guard—but the Celts are 19-13.
So what gives?
Well, the distribution duties shifted over to Paul Pierce, who has averaged over six assists per game since Rondo went down. Meanwhile, Bradley has made up for Rondo's stellar defense, while Kevin Garnett is still Boston's only reliable post presence.
Rondo is still the Celtics' best player, but the old guard has proven it still runs Boston.
Guards Will Make Brooklyn Great
Let's get back to Joe Johnson.
When he and Deron Williams came to the newly minted Brooklyn Nets, it seemed like the star-studded backcourt would be the engine behind the team's resurgence.
While Williams and Johnson have been a nice tandem for the Nets, Brook Lopez has been the real star.
With 19.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and much improved defense, Lopez made the transformation from a soft post-scorer to one of the best centers in the league. Meanwhile, neither Nets guard has played up to his star label.
Brooklyn is still going to make the playoffs, but it's the big man that's carrying the team.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Is NBA Ready
When the Charlotte Bobcats select you second overall, you're expected to be able to play right away.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has done well enough to start—but again, this is the Bobcats we're talking about.
There's a difference between MKG starting and being starter caliber. His defense is as solid as expected, but his 9.0 points per game come on easy looks or not at all. That would be fine if his teammates were better, but Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson aren't going to stop defenses from shutting him down.
That's not to say MKG is going to bust—he may very well develop his offense and turn into the All-Star Charlotte needs him to be. But the road to that point is longer than the Cats wanted.
Bulls to Crumble Without D-Rose
It was supposed to go like this: The Chicago Bulls would be extra cautious with Derrick Rose and his torn ACL, so they would likely limp into the playoffs but not make any noise.
Funny thing about Tom Thibodeau's teams, though—they just won't go down without a fight.
Luol Deng leads the league in minutes per game, while Joakim Noah is in the top dozen in that category and is playing five minutes over his career high. Everyone on the Bulls has stepped up to take a bigger role in the offense and maintain the defense, and that has kept Chicago in the playoff picture.
This team is by no means a title contender without Rose. They do have the potential to win a playoff series, though, and that's a surprise.
Cavs Make a Leap in Kyrie Irving's Sophomore Year
The Cleveland Cavaliers were poised to make a run at a low playoff seed, but Kyrie Irving's squad has fallen short.
Irving has upped his scoring slightly since his rookie campaign, but he is still dishing out fewer than six assists and coughing up over three turnovers per contest.
The injury bug has also bitten the Cavs this season. Not only has Irving played just 51 games, but a surging Anderson Varejao has also gone down for the year. Varejao was leading the league in rebounding when healthy, and Tristan Thompson's improvement has not offset that loss.
Even so, until Cleveland gets a second scoring option, the playoffs aren't going to be an option.
Dirk and Carlisle Can't Miss the Playoffs
The last time Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks missed the postseason, the year was 1999-00.
Paired with Rick Carlisle as his coach, the Mavs seemed to have too much experience to fall short. Maybe if Dirk had been healthy for the full season, Dallas would have been in better position to sneak into the playoffs, but that's a lot to ask from the 34-year-old.
The Mavs still would've had to struggle for that berth—O.J. Mayo wasn't good enough to lead Dallas himself when Dirk was injured, and Dirk didn't recover quickly enough to put them back in playoff contention.
Credit Dirk and Carlisle's consistency for getting Dallas close again, but it looks like their formula isn't enough at this stage.
Ty Lawson Is Going to Have a Breakout Year
Ty Lawson hasn't made the leap everyone expected him to.
In the month of February, Lawson truly hit his All-Star potential, averaging 23.3 points and 8.4 assists per game. However, that ramped-up production was short-lived; he has stuck closer to his season averages of 16.7 points and 6.9 assists the rest of the time.
It's a testament to his ability that Lawson emerged as the clear-cut best player on the collectivist Denver Nuggets; George Karl's system is not geared toward having a lead option.
While Lawson is drawing ever closer to his ceiling, February's production is still the exception.
Andre Drummond Not Ready for Pros
As a one-and-done freshman at UConn, Andre Drummond averaged 10.0 points and 7.6 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game. Playing just 19.8 minutes per game for the Detroit Pistons, he is putting up 7.4 points and 7.5 boards while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.
Drummond went ninth overall in the 2012 draft because he had the physical prowess to be a formidable NBA center. Given his collegiate production, however, to have him play so efficient so soon is unexpected.
Of course, part of that can be chalked up to the rookie's limited responsibilities; Detroit doesn't need him to have a nuanced skill set right now, just to make an impact.
Now that he's starting to be more aggressive and has some help around him, Drummond is showing critics just how far along he really is.
Andrew Bogut's Defense Makes Warriors a Playoff Team
The knock on the Golden State Warriors in recent years has been that they're all offense, no defense. Mark Jackson was brought in as coach to preach defense to the agnostics, but at least the front office brought in Andrew Bogut to shore up the interior David Lee has been ignoring.
Bogut, unsurprisingly, has spent most of the season hurt—but the Dubs have given the league a scare with their scoring.
Steph Curry is far and away the most dangerous shooter in the league right now, and Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson give Golden State a deep arsenal of three-point threats. Inside, the tandem of Lee and Carl Landry have given opponents fits in the post, making up for the fact that they can't contain anyone, either.
It remains to be seen if this formula can work in the playoffs—or if Bogut can still make his mark—but the Dubs have made this leap due to their offense.
Rockets Still a Year Away From Postseason
Even with James Harden in the fold, the Houston Rockets didn't seem to have the pieces for a playoff berth.
There were a couple of flaws with that theory.
Firstly, no one seemed to realize just how good Harden would be as the primary option. His scoring is up to 25.9 points per game, and his drive-and-kick game has churned out 5.9 assists per game as well.
Elsewhere on the Rockets, Jeremy Lin has lived up to his production from last season, Chandler Parsons' efficient scoring has made him one of the league's biggest bargains, and Omer Asik has locked down the paint in his first starting gig.
Between those weapons and Houston's breakneck pace, this team is going to be pushing someone in the first round rather than waiting for the lottery.
Danny Granger Is Still the Guy in Indiana
Roy Hibbert may have gotten the max contract, but Danny Granger has long been the guy behind the Indiana Pacers' offensive system and defensive leadership.
Paul George was the clear heir apparent to Granger's small forward role, but the idea of George replacing him seemed rash.
This is another injury situation—Granger has suited up for just five games this season due to a bad knee. Nevertheless, the plan was for the vet to come off the bench and George to keep the starter spot even if Granger got healthy.
Averages of 17.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game will change minds about when to change courses. Even if we didn't think he would be ready so soon, George earned his spot.
Clippers Shallow Behind Paul and Blake
The Los Angeles Clippers finally made it back to the playoffs last season behind the star power of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
If they make a run this year, it's going to be because of the bench guys pushing them over the top.
Jamal Crawford leads one of the league's top second units, giving L.A. a legit third scoring option with 16.7 points per game. Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes have also added some scoring, but their stifling defense really gives the bench its teeth.
Vinny Del Negro's Clippers don't scare you with game-planning—it's the unanticipated depth that makes you sweat.
Lakers Are Going to Beat Everyone
So the alignment of the stars on the Los Angeles Lakers hasn't gone exactly as planned.
Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were supposed to form a juggernaut capable of challenging the Miami Heat. In reality, a mix of aches and behind-the-scenes drama has kept this team far short of its outsized aspirations.
They also fell short to the number one killer of superteams: depth issues. Earl Clark, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison are not striking fear into the hearts of opponents, but too much money was tied up in the big names to alleviate this issue.
Even if Dwight returns—and that's a big if, both figuratively and literally—this aging team will be another year older for another run. Even if the Lakers do sneak into the playoffs this season, all signs are pointing toward this marriage failing.
Grizzlies Weakened by Rudy Gay Trade
On paper, trading your lone isolation scorer and a borderline star for Tayshaun Prince and Ed Davis doesn't seem like a move a Western Conference contender should make.
The Memphis Grizzlies are thumbing their noses at paper. With a record of 29-15 prior to trading Rudy Gay, the Grizz have gone 22-9 since.
Though Prince has not made has many defense-stretching attempts from beyond the arc as Gay did, Memphis has redistributed most of Gay's touches to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol—the latter of whom has made good use of his passing in his bigger role.
With their imposing interior play and defense-first mentality, the Grizz defy the conventional wisdom that you need a star scorer to win. Now they're just going out and proving it.
Ray Allen to Explode in Miami
Boston fans weren't the only ones outraged when Ray Allen joined the Miami Heat.
With the way that team created open looks from three during its title run, adding one of the league's greatest sharpshooters ever seemed unfair to fans of any other team.
Allen has hit an impressive 42 percent of his threes this season, but he is past the point of being a true fourth scorer for Miami. In fact, given his difficulties on the defensive end at this stage of his career, he still trails Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers in terms of importance to the Heat.
Like Battier, Mike Miller and all the rest, Allen has maximized his remaining effectiveness in Miami; it just hasn't been as severe as everyone had feared.
Bucks Are Defensive Lightweights
When Andrew Bogut was shipped out and Monta Ellis brought in, it appeared the Milwaukee Bucks were switching their focus to a scoring barrage led by the tandem of Ellis and Brandon Jennings.
There was one thing we were all missing: Larry Sanders.
Filling the void Bogut left in the middle of the defense, Sanders emerged as the league leader in blocks in 2012-13. The Bucks' offensive spacing gets muddled when Sanders and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute play together in the paint, but they're a terrifying duo for teams looking to attack the rim.
Milwaukee still has issues with that backcourt on the defensive end, but don't expect to push those big men around.
T'wolves Will Return to the Postseason
Had everyone stayed healthy, the Minnesota Timberwolves might have finally made it back to the postseason.
Unfortunately, everyone got hurt. Everyone.
Only Luke Ridnour has appeared in every game for the T'wolves this season. Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko have both missed at least 15 games, while Ricky Rubio has missed 25 and was at less than full strength for even more.
The biggest blow to Minnesota was the loss of Kevin Love. A broken hand limited him to just 18 games with diminished effectiveness before he fractured it again, knocking him out since early January.
Every NBA team has to deal with injuries, but no one could have predicted this.
Hornets Have No Point Guard
There were questions of whether the New Orleans Hornets could give Anthony Davis the support to grow as a player without an adequate point guard.
Greivis Vasquez proved that he could be effective without being prototypical.
The 6'6" guard knows how to use his strength to bully smaller defenders and get unique looks at the hoop and open teammates. That's how a too-slow spot-up shooter averages 14.1 points and 9.2 assists per game from the point guard position.
As for the Brow? Davis is challenging for the Rookie of the Year award after a slower start to the season. It doesn't look like Vasquez held him back one bit.
Knicks Lack Offensive Efficiency
The New Yorkk Knicks entered this season dealing with the same old issue of balancing Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. It seemed the result would be the same old inefficiency on the offensive end, where New York ranked 19th in 2011-12.
What a difference a year makes—not to mention ball movement.
With Melo shifting up to power forward and Jason Kidd beginning the season as the starting shooting guard, the Knicks began whipping the ball around the perimeter. The extra passes led to tons of open looks, boosting New York all the way to third in offensive efficiency.
Oh, and Amar'e willingly reinvented himself as an economical bench scorer, ceding Melo his preferred role in the offense. No one saw that part coming, either.
Russell Westbrook Won't Distribute the Ball
It's crazy that Kevin Durant, the top scorer in the NBA, attempts fewer shots per game than Russell Westbrook, his teammate and point guard.
Critics look at the Oklahoma City Thunder and say they won't win the championship until Westbrook starts deferring to Durant more.
Westbrook hasn't proven this prediction wrong so much as he proved it uneducated.
The barbs about Westbrook's passing peaked after his assists dropped to 5.5 per game last season and the Thunder lost in the finals. Those attacks ignored his two consecutive seasons dishing out over eight assists a game and the fact that no one would have complained about Westbrook had there not been need for a scapegoat.
He's back up to 7.5 assists per game this season—tied for sixth with two other point guards—and he runs the second-most efficient offense in the league. There's not much more to ask from Westbrook.
Magic Losers of Dwight Howard Deal
After months of anticipation, Orlando Magic fans learned the compensation for Dwight Howard was a couple of mid-level prospects, some future draft picks, Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington.
It did not look ideal at the time, to say the least.
GM Rob Hennigan is looking smarter by the day, though, as Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless have shown the ability to be nice contributors for the Magic.
Vucevic came into the public consciousness first when he broke Howard's franchise record with a 29-rebound game. He is averaging a double-double on the season, while Harkless put up 17.5 points and 7.3 boards over his last 10 games—and he doesn't turn 20 until May.
With both prospects panning out and Afflalo playing well, it now looks like Orlando's haul is working out quite well.
Sixers to Contend in the East with Bynum
Whenever we have seen Andrew Bynum on a basketball court this season, the only thing of note has been what atrocity is going on atop his head.
It has been all bad news for the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Bynum as the star center and Jrue Holiday as the up-and-coming point guard, Philadelphia would have been in the fight for an Atlantic Division title with the Knicks.
Instead, Holiday has become an All-Star with Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner as his supporting cast. Both are solid players—particularly Young, holding his own in the paint as an undersized power forward—but they're not top-three players for a playoff team.
Philly gambled on a star and lost in the worst way possible. A lottery pick is the unfortunate result.
Suns Building Something Around Dragic and Gortat
The Phoenix Suns entered this season a blatantly incomplete team, having missed out on Eric Gordon as their primary scorer.
But to everyone who thought this team had a sense of direction, that is clearly not true.
Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat are the two building blocks in place on this team, and neither of them look right with that type of responsibility. Both are solid defenders—which makes them outliers in Phoenix along with Jared Dudley—but neither is good enough to carry inferior teammates at either end.
Suns fans just have to pray to the lottery gods now. Their only hope is to land a star and restart the rebuilding.
Damian Lillard Can’t Run Point Yet
Let's talk about college transitions again.
At Weber State, Damian Lillard averaged 24.5 points and just 4.0 assists per game in his senior year. That led to questions of whether he had the ability to be a distributor at the next level and whether he could score like that with competent teammates.
The answer has been yes on both counts.
Starting for the Portland Trail Blazers from day one, Lillard is averaging 19.0 points and 6.5 assists per game in his rookie season. He has also done it without hitting the rookie wall, playing 38.5 minutes per game but actually upping his efficiency since the All-Star break.
Lillard has looked like the Rookie of the Year since the season started. Not bad for a gunner from a mid-major school.
Kings Front Office Couldn’t Possibly Have Worse Judgment
Pictured is Thomas Robinson, who the Sacramento Kings selected fifth overall in the 2012 NBA draft. Why then, after just 51 games and no starts for Sacramento, is he in a Houston Rockets uniform?
Because the Kings front office is even crazier than you thought, that's why.
This is a team that was already building around the supremely talented but imbalanced DeMarcus Cousins, had no point guards willing to pass the ball and wasted its 2011 pick on Jimmer Fredette. Then it deals a top-five pick for Patrick Patterson and Co. after half a season.
So if you thought Sacramento was letting Robinson develop with an eye on long-term improvement, you were wrong. Never give the Sacramento Kings the benefit of the doubt.
San Antonio Stars over the Hill
Every year we think the San Antonio Spurs are finally going to break down, and every year we're wrong.
This season, we were contradicted in spectacular fashion, as both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker somehow stepped up their games.
Duncan is averaging 17.5 points and 10.0 rebounds in 30.0 minutes per game—all bests for him since 2009-10—while Parker made an unlikely grab at the title of best point guard with 20.6 points and 7.5 assists per game at the helm of the Spurs' potent offense.
We expect Gregg Popovich's system to churn out the same finely tuned product every season, just like clockwork. What's unexpected—and borderline unfair—is for that old machinery to start running like new again.
Raptors to Improve Defensively
Whatever Dwayne Casey was preaching the Toronto Raptors in 2011-12, it hasn't stuck this season.
Toronto's silver lining in Casey's first year was its defense. In fact, the Raptors were the only one of the top 14 teams in defensive efficiency to miss the postseason. With another season at the helm, and with Kyle Lowry bringing an upgrade on the perimeter, Casey's job should have been easier.
Instead, the Raptors have fallen back into the bottom 10 in points per 100 possessions, up to 105.0 from 101.5 last season. This team knows the scheme, but weak links like Andrea Bargnani make it harder to get by when the effort and execution fall short.
That the Raptors are bad this season is no shock; it just looked like they were going to get defense down.
Jazz Would Trade a Starting Big Man
The small-ball proliferation has made teams with deep frontcourts a rarity.
Yet the Utah Jazz were content to let the trade deadline pass without dealing from their position of depth.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are the present for Utah, but both are on expiring contracts and are taking minutes away from the developing Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
The Jazz aren't going anywhere in the postseason, but they chose to make a playoff push and angle for that type of experience over dealing one of their vets. Considering Kanter is out indefinitely with a dislocated shoulder, there are now enough minutes to go around anyway.
It's still likely that Utah will sign-and-trade at least one big man this summer. Whether or not the replacements will be ready to start next year remains to be seen.
John Wall Does Not Deserve a Max Contract
In his absence, we all forgot how great John Wall could be.
When you saw the 6'4" point guard in street clothes on the bench, you couldn't picture him blazing down the court and fighting through contact for a lay-in.
Wall's athleticism didn't translate to his demeanor during rehab—just as it hadn't translated fully into a polished game. His decision making was questionable and his jumper a nonentity, yet Wall carried himself like he deserved a max contract.
Then he started playing again, and it was clear he does.
Once he got himself readjusted, Wall exploded. His scoring, assists, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage were all higher in March than his career rates—in no small part because of the 47-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance he laid on the Grizzlies.
It takes a special player to put up a line like that. When we hadn't seen Wall in a while, we forgot how special he is. Now he's back, and he's reminding us just how wrong we were.