5 NBA Teams Guaranteed to Surprise This Season
For all of our offseason prognostication, NBA teams are still going to come out and surprise us when the 2013-14 season gets underway.
There's only so much we can learn from summer acquisitions and late-season trends. No team jells exactly how we expect them to to start a new season; whether the roster has changed significantly or very little, a year does make a difference, for better or worse.
A single individual can be the catalyst for a major change in a franchise, or a sweeping organizational change can fundamentally alter the on-court product. We can guess at where the transformations will occur, but we won't know what they are exactly until play begins again.
The Dallas Mavericks seem old and uninteresting. After missing out on a superstar yet again and settling for a potpourri of middling players, they are clearly losers of this offseason. But Dirk Nowitzki is still there, so they'll defy your expectations and compete for a playoff spot yet again.
It was a tale of two halves for Dallas in 2012-13. For a while, Nowitzki was at less than full strength, and the Mavs began the season 23-29. Following the All-Star break, Dirk returned to form and reinstated himself as the dominant core of Dallas' offense; the team went 18-12 to end the season.
Dallas will still live and die with Dirk, but he should be healthy from the start this time around.
That Mavs squad was leaning heavily on a struggling O.J. Mayo and company to complement the big German, and he still nearly dragged them back to the postseason. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon are surely consolation prizes, but they're still nice improvements for a group lacking in offensive options.
As an added bonus for spectators, the Mavs' additions are exciting offensively and atrocious defensively. Win or lose, Dallas is going to be a lot more fun than you think.
Andre Iguodala is gone, George Karl is gone, and the run-and-gun era of Denver Nuggets basketball is over, right?
Not exactly, at least not yet.
While Karl was the architect of Denver's frenetic system, Brian Shaw is no slave to half-court philosophy. Yes, he is best known as a former assistant under Phil Jackson, but he has worked with a number of different offensive styles and is not committed to running a triangle offense. He'll likely stick with what's working in Denver while the pieces are in place.
With Ty Lawson pushing the ball, scorers like Wilson Chandler and eventually Danilo Gallinari around him and athletic bigs like Kenneth Faried, Denver still has what it takes to play fast. Though losing Iguodala's defense and versatility hurts, his absence allows the Nuggets to get another shooter on the floor.
Save for the lockout-shortened season, the Nuggets have posted a winning percentage over .600 in each of their past five campaigns. Their offseason losses seem heavy, but they have a very good chance to continue that streak nonetheless.
The Detroit Pistons were the most surprising squad of the summer, which should dovetail right into an absolutely bonkers regular season.
Seriously, there's no way to predict what this team is going to do.
With Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond all in the same lineup, the Pistons have the size to power through any opponent. They can be unstoppable inside, with Brandon Jennings darting around the perimeter to turn Detroit into a crazy athletic version of Lob City.
On the other hand, adding Smith and Jennings gives Detroit two more volume scorers and even tighter floor spacing, which is a recipe for disaster. Unless either of them can fix their jumpers immediately, the Pistons can just as easily crumble against paint-packing defenses en route to blowouts.
Either way, no one can say right now they know what's going to happen in Detroit. The Pistons could end up with multiple All-Stars or ugly griping over shots. They could be a surprise contender or an overly talented cellar dweller. No matter what, it will be so entertaining.
At 7'1", 265 pounds, Marc Gasol isn't exactly built to run. The rest of the Memphis Grizzlies generally fit that description as well. However, he told Mark Woods of ESPN.com that the Grizz are going to push the ball more under their new coach.
"Coach Joerger has been there for six years," Gasol told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "He knows us pretty well. He knows how we play. He knows us personally, how we like to play basketball. He, of course, wants to push the tempo, which has been a problem for us, getting up and down the floor to score easy buckets. Because when you always go inside, everybody collapses on you in the paint and it's hard to operate down there.
"He's going to push the tempo and have a lot of plays from his pocket that he's told me [about]. And I'm excited about next season."
Dave Joerger is the mastermind behind Memphis' punishing defense, so he's not about to overhaul the team to remove that grit-and-grind mentality. That said, he's also a stathead. He believes in the efficiency of transition offense, so he's going to do what he can to speed up an earthbound roster.
The idea of Gasol and Zach Randolph sprinting out on the fast break is oxymoronic, but that's not going to stop them. Memphis is going to trot out a newly diversified offense in 2013-14, mixing in some more finesse sets with their post-oriented attack. Even if you know it's coming, the first time the Grizz get running will shock you.
The Washington Wizards are a popular pick to be the breakout team of 2013-14, but the way they'll make that leap will still catch people off guard.
Here's the obvious part: Washington's success will revolve around John Wall.
On any given night, Wall can be the best point guard in the NBA. As long as his shots are falling, he's finding open teammates, and he's locking down on defense, his size and athleticism make him impossible to stop. When he goes through bouts of offensive inefficiency and defensive inattentiveness, though, his play becomes ordinary.
That boom-and-bust potential means the Wizards can beat anyone and get beaten by anyone on any given night.
The Miami Heat don't have a guard who can stop Wall at his best. Neither do the San Antonio Spurs or the Golden State Warriors. Against diminished Wall, these teams would dismantle Washington; even teams outside the playoff picture can compete with you when Bradley Beal is the only other guy to worry about.
Washington will probably make the playoffs next season, and they might even surprise us by rising up the Eastern Conference standings higher than expected. And that's just the long view. On a game-by-game basis, no one in the NBA will be more unpredictable.