Ranking the 8 Most Overrated NBA Teams Entering 2013-14
In NBA circles, the "hater" label gets tossed around pretty liberally these days.
Think the Knicks have legitimate questions to answer about their power forward rotation? You're a hater.
Doubt the Dallas Mavericks can organize a less-than-embarrassing defensive effort with Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon in the backcourt? You, sir, are a hater.
Dare to claim that fans of the Los Angeles Lakers are fooling themselves when they talk about championship aspirations? Yep, you're a hater, too.
This unbending, myopic symptom of fandom is precisely the reason we're heading into the 2013-14 NBA season with what seems like an inordinate number of overrated teams. There's just no room for criticism or realistic nitpicking anymore.
But the truth is that there are a number of teams that are bound to come up short of expectations this season. Some will be exposed as phony championship contenders, while others will fail to meet more modest goals.
The "hater" barbs are sure to follow, but somebody's got to inject a little reality into the NBA picture before the season kicks off.
Honorable Mention: Philadelphia 76ers
You're probably wondering something along the lines of "Who on Earth thinks the Philadelphia 76ers are going to be anything but awful this year?"
Well, just about everyone agrees that the Sixers are among the most unabashed pursuers of Andrew Wiggins, but what's astounding is that they've actually got the second-worst odds of winning an NBA title, per Bovada.lv.
At 300-1, Philadelphia is a major long shot. But how can the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic rate as teams with worse chances of winning a ring? Those clubs have actual NBA players like Al Jefferson and Nikola Vucevic, respectively.
Do oddsmakers know some secret about Evan Turner that the rest of us don't?
These Sixers are absolutely awful, and they're going to do everything in their power to lose as many games as possible. It's patently absurd that they're viewed as being 40 percent more likely to win a title than the Suns or Magic.
As insane as it sounds, the Sixers are overrated.
No. 8: Dallas Mavericks
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I gave this one away in the intro, but it bears repeating: The Mavericks aren't going to stop anybody this year.
In search of scoring to support Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas brought in Ellis and Calderon to shore up the guard positions.
Whether or not that's going to work on offense is beside the point; the real issue is that Dallas ranked 20th in the NBA in defensive efficiency a year ago, per ESPN, but has now added two of the worst perimeter stoppers in the league to its roster.
Hopes are fairly modest for the Mavs in terms of championship contention, but there are plenty of people expecting them to make the playoffs.
With a defense that is going to rank—at best—somewhere in the bottom 10 again, the Mavericks are going to have to score at an elite rate to even sniff .500.
Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion are a year older; Brandan Wright is out indefinitely and Samuel Dalembert came into camp looking a little pudgy. Toss in two guards who are allergic to defense and the postseason is a pipe dream.
No. 7: Detroit Pistons
But based on ESPN's Insider Forecasts (subscription required), they're going to be more than "interesting." In fact, they're going to win 49 games and finish fifth in the Eastern Conference, challenging teams like the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls for home-court advantage in the first round.
I hate to go into battle with the analytics that say the Pistons are going to make a major leap this year, but I have to.
49 wins? That's just absurd.
Detroit has tons of talent, but little of it fits together. Jennings is a ball-dominant guard who can't score efficiently, and for all of his highlights, he hasn't proved himself to be a winning player.
Plus, there's just not enough shooting on this team to space the floor for Detroit's frontcourt trio of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. None of those guys can do anything outside of the restricted area, and if the Pistons can't space the floor, there's no reason for defenses to do anything but pack the paint.
Maybe a long-rumored Monroe trade will bring back a piece that fits a bit better. But for now, Detroit is grossly overrated.
No. 6: Boston Celtics
Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics have made a real effort to convince everyone that "tank" is not in the franchise's vocabulary.
Despite all of the logic behind throwing the season away, it seems that somehow, people have become convinced that Boston is actually going to be halfway decent this year.
Bovada has the Celtics's title odds at 150-1, which isn't a ringing endorsement by any stretch. But the fact that teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers—both of which are actually going to try to win games this year—are also rated at 150-1 is incredible.
The Celtics have no incentive to succeed this season.
Ainge is doing his best to keep fans interested by promising a competitive product, but there's just no way that Boston is going to be able to make noise with its current roster.
And deep down, the Celtics don't even want to do well. They know building through the loaded 2014 draft is the fastest way to rebuild.
For a team that is going to do its best to lose 60 games this season, the Celtics are getting a little bit too much respect.
No. 5: Minnesota Timberwolves
I think there's a good chance that the Minnesota Timberwolves will be in the mix for a playoff spot this year, but there are entirely too many question marks to expect anything more.
Yet, for the second time, we've got ESPN's Insider Forecast blowing our minds with an outlandish win projection for one of last year's lottery teams. First came the 49-win Pistons, and now we've got the 51-win Timberwolves.
That's right; Kevin Pelton's SCHOENE projection has the T-Wolves ranked as the No. 5 seed in the West with a whopping 51 victories.
Let's pump the brakes on that one, shall we?
Minnesota is going to score in bunches, but as Grantland's Zach Lowe points out, "The Love-Pekovic connection hasn't spent much time on the floor together in three combined seasons, but the Wolves have struggled defensively in those minutes in all three, per NBA.com."
Neither big man is even an average help defender, and now that Andrei Kirilenko is gone, so too is the team's frontcourt stopping power.
With Kevin Martin likely to see major minutes as the team's new starter at shooting guard, opponents are going to have a field day against lineups that routinely feature three substandard defenders.
Again, the Wolves are going to be improved and just as importantly, they're going to be a blast to watch.
However, there's no way they're going to be able to put together a good enough defense to get all the way up to 51 wins.
No. 4: New York Knicks
There are entirely too many people who are willing to lump the New York Knicks in with the rest of the Eastern Conference's title hopefuls.
The Miami Heat are a cut above everyone else, with the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls filling out their own tier just below the defending champs. Somewhere beneath those three teams, the Hawks, Knicks and Brooklyn Nets reside, no fewer than two full steps short of legitimate championship contention.
New York didn't lose much over the summer, as Marcus Camby and Steve Novak weren't playing significant roles by the end of the 2012-13 campaign. But contrary to popular belief, they really didn't add anything either.
Andrea Bargnani produces empty stats, doesn't defend and is going to complicate a hazy frontcourt rotation.
Relying on Metta World Peace is also a dicey proposition, and Amar'e Stoudemire is already nursing his knees.
Not only that, but J.R. Smith has a new contract and admittedly waited to get surgery on his knee until after signing the deal. Maybe that was a coincidence. Then again, maybe it was an indication that the paycheck is what matters to him, and now that he's got his finances in order, he's going to really check out.
Nobody's saying the Knicks are going to miss the playoffs altogether. But there's just no convincing evidence that they're going to be much better than they were a year ago.
So, pegging New York for something like 50 wins and a second-round playoff exit seems about right.
Expecting more than that is probably a mistake.
No. 3: Brooklyn Nets
I'm conflicted about this one, mostly because the Brooklyn Nets spent the offseason adding All-Stars to a team that won 49 games last year.
If everything breaks right for them, it's possible that the Nets could jump up into second-tier contender territory alongside the Bulls and Pacers.
But the potential for things to go wrong with this team is immense, and it should scare everyone away from optimistic predictions.
Deron Williams isn't a sure bet to start the season with two healthy ankles, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are both on the wrong side of 35 and it's entirely possible that Jason Kidd follows in Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas' footsteps as the next great point guard who has no idea how to coach a team.
The Nets are deeper than ever, so perhaps some of the concerns surrounding the roster's age and health are overblown.
But Bovada has Brooklyn at 10-1 to win a championship this year, and only four teams—the Heat, Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers—have a better chance, according to oddsmakers.
That's a bridge too far.
No. 2: Oklahoma City Thunder
OK, hear me out.
The Thunder are going to win a bunch of games this season and they've got Kevin Durant in the beginning of what should be his prime. That means OKC is a threat to make plenty of playoff noise for the foreseeable future.
However, I'm not convinced that they're a bona fide contender anymore.
Russell Westbrook's second knee surgery was apparently a minor one, but he's still going to miss at least the first month of the regular season. Nobody can say whether he'll be his old self when he returns.
What everyone knows, though, is that the Thunder are screwed without him.
The Memphis Grizzlies manhandled OKC in last year's second round, and no amount of individual improvement from Durant this year will change the fact that the Thunder need a superstar second option to make Scott Brooks' kindergarten offense work.
Even if Westbrook comes back at full strength, this is still a team that starts both Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, two players who opponents can largely ignore.
Plus, Martin's off-the-bench scoring role now falls squarely on the shoulders of the woefully unproven Jeremy Lamb.
OKC was a title contender when James Harden was on the roster, but now that the deal that sent the Beard to Houston has yielded nothing of value, the team simply isn't as dangerous as it once was.
As strange as it seems, the Thunder's title window might already be closed.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers
If the Lakers win 40 games, it's going to be a minor miracle.
Despite the myriad signs pointing to a major decline this season, there's still an inexplicable amount of optimism surrounding the Lakers.
Some expect Mike D'Antoni to finally be able to implement his beloved system with Howard out of the picture. Others have faith in the likes of Wesley Johnson, Chris Kaman and Nick Young.
The Lakers are not a playoff team, and despite what Bryant says about the organization's championship goals, they're far from being a title contender.
It's probably true that only a small fraction of Lakers fans actually believe in L.A.'s chances to be anything close to a title threat, but the fact that so many think even a .500 season is realistic automatically makes this squad the most overrated in the league.
And taking the long view, there's little reason to believe that Jim Buss is going to steer the Lakers toward another period of prolonged success. The sad truth is that the Lakers' days of L.A. dominance are over.
Fortunately, it's not too late to start supporting the Clippers.