Did you know that I have a crystal ball?
I wish that it were more useful, because it only lets me see the future of the NBA. Wait. Scratch that.
I'm complaining about knowing exactly how everything is going to unfold? Well, in that case, you're probably going to want to take note of all 30 of these bold predictions, because each of them will inevitably come true.
Some of these predictions deal with the success of teams in general. Others deal with individual players. But there's one for each of the Association's 30 franchises.
I don't want anyone to feel left out as I peer into my crystal ball.
The top five teams in the Eastern Conference are pretty much set in stone. In no particular order, they'll be the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls.
But behind that group of elites, the field is wide open.
Predicting that the Atlanta Hawks break into the group of five would certainly be bold. It would also be foolish. The same can't be said for calling the No. 6 seed in the East.
While the Hawks did lose Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia, they got stronger over the offseason. Paul Millsap and Elton Brand should replace the lost frontcourt production, and they'll be helped in the backcourt by the return of Jeff Teague, as well as the addition of Dennis Schroeder.
But the key—even more so than the growth of the young players like John Jenkins and Mike Scott—is Lou Williams returning from his ACL and adding more of a scoring punch to the lineup.
This is a legitimate playoff team.
Jeff Green won't make the All-Star team, but he's at least going to be close.
The combo forward was a two-way stud during the second half of the 2012-13 campaign. After the All-Star break, when he was fully recovered from a heart procedure that is now in the distant past, the 27-year-old averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the field.
And that doesn't even factor in his exemplary defensive play.
Look for Green to play even more confidently during the 2013-14 season, attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers and never hesitating to body up in the post.
The elite players in the Eastern Conference are too strong for him to actually make the midseason classic, but don't be surprised when his name is tossed about in the discussions.
Speaking of the All-Star Game, Brook Lopez will be the only player on the eventual No. 3 seed in the East who makes the roster.
That's not meant to be insulting to Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. It's just that the starting five is almost too good, and there aren't enough touches for any one of the stars to stand out that much.
As a team, the Brooklyn Nets will be remarkably successful. But the individual members will have trouble standing out, except for Lopez, who plays a much different game than any of the other starters.
Lopez's defensive and rebounding shortcomings will be covered up by Garnett's presence, and that will make his offense and shot-blocking look all the more special.
Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and C.J. McCollum will give him a run for his money, but Cody Zeller will use a starting gig with the Charlotte Bobcats as his launching pad for leading all rookies in points per game. Expect him to finish with right around 14 each contest.
Zeller's stock declined during his final season with the Indiana Hoosiers, but his game is much more suited for professional plane.
The up-tempo system will serve him well, especially when running alongside a speedy point guard (Kemba Walker) and elite transition threat (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). So too will the expanded NBA three-point line, as defenses won't be able to crowd him as he goes to work in the post.
Zeller started to prove his worth during summer league, and that trend is going to continue once actual play begins.
Look at the following two sets of per-36 numbers, courtesy of Basketball-Reference, and tell me which player you'd rather have:
Looks to be strongly in favor of Player A, right?
Well, now let's look at how the Chicago Bulls fared with each of them on the court.
|Player||Points Per 100 Possessions||Points Allowed Per 100 Possessions|
Hmm. Now it's a little more interesting, as Player B's presence oddly correlates more with success on both ends of the court. And he's three years younger than Player A.
By now, you've figured out that Player B is Taj Gibson and Player A is Carlos Boozer.
Give me Gibson's team-based success over Boozer's empty numbers any day of the week. By the end of the 2013-14 season, the Bulls will feel the same way.
Predicting that Andrew Bynum stays healthy is bold, but it's not quite bold enough.
Saying that the Cleveland Cavaliers make the playoffs isn't even bold at all now, as it's pretty commonly assumed that they're easily one of the eight best teams in the Eastern Conference.
But putting the two together and saying that Bynum will be a primary reason that Cleveland clinches a playoff berth for the first time since LeBron James' decision to leave for South Beach? That'll work.
All Bynum has to do is focus on his defense, as the backcourt has the whole scoring thing under control. Without much pressure, and with an abundance of capable players preventing him from playing too many seasons, the big man is finally going to make headlines for the right reasons.
He won't be an All-Star, but the Cavs don't need for him to be. He just has to be a solid player and stay healthy.
Stranger things have happened.
Take a look at Dirk Nowitzki's points per game figures over the past five years:
That progression sure makes it seem like Nowitzki is beginning the inevitable decline that will plague the end of his career. But it's not the case.
Dirk's role has been diminishing, but he's also playing more efficient basketball as the years progress. And the 2012-13 season was an aberration, as he had to play himself back into shape following the first surgery of his career.
Well, his role isn't going to diminish this year.
While Monta Ellis would be more than happy to take every shot possible, he's going to be the clear-cut second fiddle to Dirk, who needs to score more than ever to keep the Dallas Mavericks competitive. With a pass-first point guard running the show, the onus is on the big German 7-footer to put up the points.
Looking for him to score 25 points per game again is asking too much. But a return to the 2010-11 level of offensive production—regular season, not postseason—isn't out of the realm of possibilities.
The Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes rest on...wait for it...JaVale McGee.
Without Kosta Koufos to steal minutes from him, McGee is finally going to get his starting job and be asked to play around 30 minutes per game. If he can handle it, Denver should return to the postseason. If he can't, disaster could ensue.
McGee has always been a rather mercurial player.
One possession, he dunks the ball with a vengeance and looks like the next great center. But the next, he can forget he's even playing basketball.
The bold prediction here is that he finally outgrows the antics, allowing Brian Shaw to remain sane on the sidelines. He's not going to become dominant, but he'll be a high-quality starter who isn't a liability on a possession-to-possession basis.
Greg Monroe is going to become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2012-13 season, but he's going to be leaving the Detroit Pistons before the summer.
Right now, the Pistons have a lot of talent on the roster, but it doesn't make sense together. They have two shot-jackers—Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith—who are going to limit the floor spacing, and two centers—Monroe and Andre Drummond—who haven't gotten to play much together in the past.
Drummond is easily the more talented of the two, and he's going to break out in a big way during the 2013-14 campaign. But that's not bold.
What's bolder is saying that he'll be so good that the Pistons can afford to trade Monroe for an established small forward, letting Smoove and Drummond fill in the frontcourt spots for good.
Stephen Curry made more three-pointers in 2012-13 than any other player in NBA history had during a single season. This year, he's not going to beat his record; he's going to shatter it.
Curry's shot is just ridiculously good, and he's going to be the subject of even less defensive attention now that Andre Iguodala is coming to town.
Can opponents really afford to let Iguodala, Klay Thompson and David Lee go uncontained? That's what they'd have to do in order to double-team Curry in the hopes of corralling him. And that would just be a bad idea.
Curry will continue getting to work in one-on-one situations, and few players are better at creating three-point looks.
Between the lineup protection and the easy attempts that Iggy can set up for the sharpshooter, he's primed to challenge the 300-make milestone for the first time.
Remember when you actually liked Dwight Howard?
I know it's hard to admit. But you did. Everyone did. That goofy smile and fun persona won all NBA fans over, and Dwight was one of the most likable players in basketball until the debacle in Orlando.
Since then, his reputation has been shattered. As if it weren't bad enough that he went to the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard continued to complain and was less effective than we'd become accustomed to. Then the next free-agency decision was drawn out, and everyone turned on him.
But now Howard should be healthy and playing for a team of his choosing. He's going to win games, and there's no better panacea in basketball.
Dwight won't be universally liked by the end of 2013-14, but he won't be universally hated either.
The Indiana Pacers came within one game of advancing to the NBA Finals, and now they're out for revenge. This was a scary team last year, and it got significantly more terrifying during the offseason.
Not only should the new and improved Roy Hibbert be present for the entire season, but depth is no longer an issue.
Danny Granger is back from the dead, and he'll be putting up points in bulk alongside Paul George. That also means that Lance Stephenson will be coming off the bench to shut down opponents and effectively functioning as the sixth man.
The Pacers also added Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill and C.J. Watson to a second unit that desperately needed some help. No longer will opponents be able to capitalize as much when the bench clears to give the starters a breather.
Indiana was 17 games back of the Miami Heat in 2012-13, but the Pacers are going to close that gap entirely in 2013-14.
Speaking of finishing with the top seed in a conference...
These Los Angeles Clippers are legit. They had one of the best offseasons possible, and they were already starting at a high level.
Last year, the Clips finished fourth in the Western Conference, four games shy of the Oklahoma City Thunder. But while the Thunder got worse (losing Kevin Martin), the San Antonio Spurs got older and the Denver Nuggets had arguably the worst offseason of any team, L.A. upgraded in a big way.
The Vinny Del Negro-to-Doc Rivers change will be huge, but so too will the acquisitions of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. This is a deep team with star power at the top, and an extra year of experience should help Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in their quests to improve.
L.A. is going to be scary, and 60 wins should be enough to emerge as the No. 1 seed in a parity-filled conference.
What Achilles injury?
Kobe Bryant seems impervious to mortal aches and pains. His recovery from a ruptured Achilles has been ridiculously quick, and there shouldn't be too much doubt that he can regain a high level of play in no time at all. When has the Mamba ever given us reason to doubt him?
It would normally make sense for a 35-year-old player coming off a major injury to take a step backward in the scoring column.
He's going to average at least 28 points per game, finishing second in the race for the scoring crown. He almost has to in order to keep the Purple and Gold afloat, as Pau Gasol and Nick Young/Swaggy P are the only other established scorers on the roster.
Someone has to put up the points for the Lakers.
The Defensive Player of the Year award seems to like coming in pairs.
Since Sidney Moncrief won the trophy for the first time in 1983, the award has been handed out in pairs (or more) eight different times. Contrast that against the number of one-and-done winners: 14.
We're on a two-year streak of one-time winners unless Marc Gasol can hold up the trophy for the second year in a row. He's going to do it, as the 28-year-old center is only entering into his prime.
Gasol is a textbook when it comes to defensive basketball. He makes all the right decisions, never finds himself out of place and eschews glamorous plays for the effective ones. That's why the Memphis Grizzlies allowed 6.9 points per 100 possessions fewer when the Spanish center played, according to Basketball-Reference.
To put that in perspective, the Grizz allowed 98.2 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, a number that would have left them as the No. 1 defense in the league with room to spare. But if only the part when he didn't play counted, the defense would have ranked 11th.
That's a huge difference, and 2013-14 will prove that it was no fluke.
It might not seem like the Miami Heat winning a championship is bold enough, but think about how few teams in NBA history have ever three-peated.
- Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54)
- Boston Celtics (1959-66)
- Chicago Bulls (1991-93, 1996-98)
- Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02)
Winning three championships in a row is not something to be taken lightly. Only five such streaks exist in over 60 years of NBA history. If the Heat do so, they'll immediately have asserted themselves as one of the most dominant dynasties ever.
And they're in great shape to do exactly that.
The role players are still there in full force, especially if Greg Oden can stay healthy enough to play limited minutes. All the stars are as well, and LeBron is still getting better.
Get ready to add Miami to that list up above.
The Milwaukee Bucks frontcourt is a bit of a logjam right now.
Larry Sanders is the clear starter at center, but the rest of the spots in the lineup are up for grabs. John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova will spend the early portion of the season fighting for the starting power forward spot, while Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh compete to be the No. 2 center.
Henson is going to win his competition with ease.
As a rookie out of North Carolina, he averaged 6.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.7 blocks during the 13.1 minutes he played each game. Those are sensational per-minute numbers, and his brief time as a starter proved that the success is sustainable.
During the last five games of the season, Henson averaged 15.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.8 blocks per game. That included a sensational outing against the Orlando Magic when he recorded 17 points, 25 rebounds and seven rejections.
Any guess how many players in NBA history have recorded those numbers or better in the same game?
Shaquille O'Neal (twice), Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Henson.
You may as well book him for the Hall of Fame right now.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were supposed to make the playoffs in 2013, but the pesky little injury imp derailed those plans in rather dramatic fashion. Karma dictates that there won't be a repeat of those events in 2014.
Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio should be healthy and ready to lead this team deep into the postseason. Plus, the roster is deep now that an offseason of upgrades have been put into place.
Sure, Andrei Kirilenko is gone. But he's replaced by Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and Shabazz Muhammad. And Nikola Pekovic is back.
From top to bottom, this is a deep and talented set of players, even if none of them seem to speak the same language. Only the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies will finish with better records in the Western Conference.
Eric Gordon was supposed to be the next superstar at shooting guard.
Obviously that hasn't happened, but it's not too late for him to break out. After all, Gordon is still only 24 years old and has yet to hit his prime.
Two things have worked against Gordon since he joined New Orleans.
First, he wasn't happy to be there. It was no secret that he wanted to be in the desert playing with the Phoenix Suns, and that may have factored into his hesitance to return from his knee injuries. Those knees are the second problem, as Gordon just hasn't been able to stay healthy over the past two seasons.
Well, that should change in 2013-14.
The Pelicans are going to be a more competitive squad, especially now that Gordon's knees have gotten a full offseason of rest. And since he's playing alongside two friends—Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans—happiness isn't really going to be an issue either.
Expect Gordon to break out in a big way, averaging well over 20 points per game and reminding NOLA fans why they were originally so excited to acquire him.
The New York Knicks added a good deal of offensive talent during the offseason (especially when you factor in the expected growth of Iman Shumpert). Now it's up to Carmelo Anthony to make it all work.
If 'Melo wanted to, he could lead the league in scoring once more, breaking 30 points per game and earning another award. Or he could play more team basketball and help keep the Knicks among the Eastern Conference's elite teams.
This is the year he gets it, and that will result in him setting a career high in assists as he feeds the rock out of double-teams to Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and others.
Anthony's career-best mark is assists per game is 3.8, coming all the way back in 2006-07 with the Denver Nuggets. He'll break past four this season.
Carmelo Anthony's situation is the exact opposite of the one that Kevin Durant finds himself in with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While the Knicks added more talent, Durant's squad lost it.
Kevin Martin's 14 points per game have to be replaced somehow, and I can guarantee that Steven Adams isn't averaging anything even close to that. He was the main external addition, so the rest of the slack has to be picked up internally.
Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Serge Ibaka will all need to step up their production a little bit, but some of the responsibility will have to fall on Durant's shoulders, even if it comes at the expense of another 50/40/90 season (it won't).
Durant, fresh off averaging 28.1 points per game, will put up over 30 points each contest, making it the second time in his already impressive career that he's done so.
Needless to say, he'll also be taking back the scoring crown.
Even if Victor Oladipo struggles immensely on offense, his defense will keep him in the Rookie of the Year hunt.
Yes, he's already that good at preventing points. Throughout summer league, he put those shutdown tendencies on display, and everyone who squared off against him looked overmatched. Oladipo has all the physical tools and mental instincts to excel, and there isn't as much of an adjustment period for wing defenders.
But here's the key: Oladipo won't struggle on offense.
He shouldn't be playing point guard, but his slashing, ability to score in transition and jumper will all serve him well at the sport's highest level. He'll struggle with efficiency at times, but that won't trump the number of positive things he does on the more glamorous end of the court.
The Philadelphia 76ers are not going to be very good during the 2013-14 season.
In fact, they'll finish the season with the worst record in the NBA, and it might not even be close. That's what happens when your projected starting lineup is Michael Carter-Williams, James Anderson, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes.
Quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Sixers struggled to win 10 games.
But having the worst record in the league doesn't guarantee the top pick in the draft. That's where the bold part comes in.
The last time a team with the worst record won the lottery came all the way back in 2004, when the Orlando Magic landed Dwight Howard. It's time for the numbers to play out as they're supposed to again.
No one realistically has any idea how the Goran Dragic-Eric Bledsoe combination is going to work.
Both players are natural point guards, and Bledsoe isn't a potent shooter from the perimeter. He may have knocked down 39.7 percent of his attempts from behind the three-point arc last year, but he also shot only one per game.
There will be struggles. There will be losses. Plenty of them, in fact.
But this pairing is going to work out once Bledsoe fully adjusts to playing without the ball. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the former Los Angeles Clipper is already well on his way.
He ranked 50th in points per possession last year, scoring 1.28, and he wasn't much worse on handoffs or after grabbing offensive rebounds. That's a great sign for this duo's development, and they'll provide plenty of exciting plays in 2013-14.
During the postseason, I re-ranked the top 50 players in the NBA.
That doesn't mean that Aldridge will decline. If anything, he'll remain a top-25 player, even if he's going to be surpassed by his talented teammate from Weber State.
Lillard enjoyed a fantastic first season at the professional level, one that saw him win Rookie of the Year in runaway fashion. That wasn't a fluke, as the point guard is an offensive stud capable of creating easy looks for his teammates while remaining an elite scoring presence.
Well, he's going to become even more efficient now, especially since Mo Williams and C.J. McCollum will play enough that he doesn't need to lead the league in minutes played. He's also going to be more adjusted to NBA-style defenses, and pick-and-roll sets won't leave him looking discombobulated.
Get ready for Portland to have two top-25 players.
Teams other than the Sacramento Kings will be able to make more use of Marcus Thornton's talents. Err...talent.
He really can't do much other than score, even if he's quite potent when it comes to putting the ball in the basket.
Sacramento doesn't figure to be that competitive in a tough Western Conference, and there's a logjam at just about every position. Shooting guard isn't an exception. Trading Thornton would allow the Kings to acquire either more talent or more draft picks for the future, and it would also open up more playing time for Ben McLemore.
Thornton would thrive on a contending team as a secondary scorer, and there are plenty of teams (cough Oklahoma City Thunder cough) who could use a player like him coming off the bench.
Let's just make a universal pact to stop doubting the San Antonio Spurs. Ever.
If I was the starting point guard, Gregg Popovich would probably still find a way to steer this squad into one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.
Fortunately for San Antonio, I'm not on the roster. But Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tim Duncan still are.
San Antonio won't finish with one of the two best records in the conference (it might be as low as No. 4), but this team is built for playoff success. When the going gets tough, the tough Spurs get going.
Plus, Leonard looks a future All-Star, and he's going to have a huge impact on both ends of the court. If he looks anything like the player he was against the Miami Heat, we can start gearing up for a rematch.
Jonas Valanciunas is safe. The rest of the roster isn't.
That's just what happens when Masai Ujiri is in town. He's a great evaluator of talent and loves swindling other NBA general managers. Once he recognizes that the Toronto Raptors have limited upside—probably about halfway through 2013-14 when the team has fallen out of postseason contention—everyone will be put on the trading block.
Don't count on Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay finishing the season north of the border. One or all of them will be gone so that Ujiri can start putting his fingerprints on the roster.
And based on the way he built up the Denver Nuggets, Toronto fans should just go ahead and trust him.
The Utah Jazz won't make the playoffs, but they will be a little bit better than most people expect. They have an abundance of young players, and they're perfectly spaced out among the five different positions.
Trey Burke has the makings of a superstar at point guard. Don't be fooled by his lackluster summer league performance, as that would just be, well, foolish. The Michigan product is an elite offensive player who will inevitably remind you of a poor man's Chris Paul.
Alec Burks is the least promising of the bunch, but he'll still become a low-caliber starting shooting guard. He's been a surprisingly good ball-handler thus far, and now it's time for him to start focusing on defense so that he has a more well-rounded game.
Gordon Hayward will end up being the leader of this team, both in the scoring column and in the locker room. He might have a baby face, but he's a threatening offensive player who has gotten better each and every year.
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the big names in the frontcourt, and they'll be a great duo for years to come. Each are universally viewed as high-potential players, and for good reason.
I'm not just predicting that one of these young guns will look good in 2013-14.
All of them will.
John Wall is going to make the Eastern Conference All-Star squad.
Not bold enough? Fine.
John Wall is going to become the latest player to average 20 points and 10 assists per game as he leads the Washington Wizards to a postseason berth.
That better be bold enough for you. Only Michael Adams, Tim Hardaway, Nate Archibald, Kevin Johnson, Magic Johnson, Chris Paul, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and Deron Williams have ever done that. In the past 20 years, only CP3 (twice) and D-Will have managed to top both marks.
Wall averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game once he returned from injury last year, so that's obviously a big jump. But the offensive talent took a step up after the acquisition of Otto Porter, and the Kentucky product averaged 23.9 points per game in April.
This is bold, but it's not impossible.