Who doesn't like a good story?
There's one thing that every team in the NBA has in common. Yes, I'm even including favorites like the Miami Heat and bottom-feeders like the Philadelphia 76ers.
They all have key storylines heading into the season that will keep their fans entertained until they reach a conclusion. For some, the story revolves around one player. Others have more overarching themes and questions that will take longer to answer.
No matter what, there's a reason to get excited about each of the 30 teams in the Association.
It's possible to think of at least a handful of reasons for every squad, but I'm instead focusing on the biggest one. That means the one that either gets talked about the most or has the biggest amount of impact on the success of the franchise.
So, what intrigues you most about your favorite team?
The Atlanta Hawks are in a strange spot heading into the 2013-14 season.
While they have the talent necessary to earn one of those final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs, they'd be nothing more than sacrificial fodder for one of the elite teams. They should still be able to earn one of those eight postseason berths, but the priority also has to be on making the most of a roster conducive to trades and evaluating young talent.
The latter all starts with Dennis Schroeder.
Although the German point guard will begin his rookie season coming off the bench and spelling Jeff Teague, it's already clear that he's an upper-tier talent who needs to find his way onto the court. Don't be surprised if he and Teague spend some time together in a lineup featuring two point guards.
Schroeder had a rough preseason, struggling with turnovers and a low shooting percentage, but he still made it quite clear that he's a great defender and distributor. That alone should get him playing time, and his upside could determine how successful the Hawks are in 2013-14.
If he emerges as an offensive wizard, Atlanta's biggest concern—creating looks consistently—will be alleviated more quickly than expected, even if Lou Williams takes a while returning from his torn ACL.
Kelly Olynyk dominated college basketball during his final season at Gonzaga, but he never really seemed like a future NBA star. Although his finesse game was excellent, he was anything but a banger down in the paint, and the word "soft" was often tossed around.
Then Olynyk shredded his summer league competition, allowing for the possibility that he could emerge as a major draft-day steal.
After that, he continued his offseason tour of excellence in the preseason, averaging 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game on 52.5 percent shooting from the field.
Is this a fluke? Is this a legitimate development?
The regular season will answer a lot of questions for the Boston Celtics, and Olynyk could very well be the answer that the C's have been seeking while trying to solve their frontcourt maladies.
Who is going to take the last shot for the Brooklyn Nets?
Unlike many teams who struggle with that type of question, the Nets don't have problems due to a dearth of options. If anything, they have an abundant number of choices.
Deron Williams is the best player on the team, an offensively dynamic point guard who can drill shots from any part of the court when he's healthy.
Joe Johnson has declined, sure, but he's a great shooter who thrives in isolation and crunch-time settings.
Paul Pierce is an aging scorer, but he's still a scorer nonetheless. The Truth continues to be a great isolation threat and jump-shooter, particularly off the bounce.
Kevin Garnett has a mid-range shot that is among the smoothest of any shot in basketball.
Brook Lopez is a fantastic offensive player capable of scoring in a variety of ways from just about anywhere inside the three-point arc.
And yet, there's only one ball. That's the problem that Lawrence Frank Jason Kidd has to deal with, as he must both determine who takes the final shot in a close game and figure out how he's going to keep all five of his starters content with the number of touches they receive.
All the Charlotte Bobcats want is a little respect. Sing it with me, Aretha.
They don't need to compete for a playoff spot. Nor can they, given the more talented lineups that populate the Eastern Conference.
But they also don't want to finish right at the bottom of the league again, even if it would help out their chances of earning the No. 1 pick in the loaded 2014 NBA draft.
The Bobcats just want respect, and they can do so by winning upwards of 25 games. After the addition of Al Jefferson, Charlotte is good enough to do exactly that, especially if Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continue progressing while Cody Zeller has a solid rookie season.
In fact, I predicted that the Bobcats finish with a 26-56 record, one that would allow them to finish ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics.
Derrick Rose has been playing basketball again, but the games he's suited up for will never appear on his resume. They're preseason games, and they don't really count.
However, when Rose puts on that Chicago Bulls uniform and steps onto the floor at the AmericanAirlines Arena to open the season against the Miami Heat, he'll actually be back. For real. No questions asked.
Rose looked absolutely fantastic throughout the preseason.
He was aggressive with his relentless assaults on the rim, cutting off the formerly injured knee and exploding to the hoop regardless of how much contact he received. Even more impressively, the former MVP showed off a new and improved jumper, one that allowed him to hit 44.4 percent of his three-pointers throughout the preseason.
Impressive, sure. But it didn't count.
It will starting on Oct. 29.
The Cleveland Cavaliers backcourt is going to be ridiculously fun to watch.
Kyrie Irving is one of the most entertaining players in the NBA—and one of the best—and Dion Waiters seems primed for a breakout season now that he's two years removed from his Syracuse days.
However, the frontcourt is more important, simply because of the uncertainty.
At power forward and center, the Cavs have four legitimate options: Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum.
If everyone is healthy and playing at full strength, it seems as though the starting spots would belong to Thompson and Bynum. But there's no guarantee of anyone being at 100 percent. Especially when we're talking about Bynum.
Even if they all are, the Cavs have to juggle minutes and make sure that Bennett and Varejao are still finding their way onto the court enough. It could be one of those good problems, but only if everyone is willing to sacrifice for the good of what should be a playoff-contending team.
As relayed by ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon, Monta Ellis is already questioning his role on the Dallas Mavericks, saying, "I think I'm looking for the pass too much."
No, Monta. No, you aren't.
I know you want to have it all, but you shouldn't be looking to pass less when you're shooting 38.8 percent from the field and a puke-worthy 29.2 percent from beyond the arc. Those are horrific numbers, and they indicate that Ellis should be even more selective with his shooting.
This isn't breaking news, but Ellis is a terrible perimeter shooter. Sure, he thrives attacking the basket, but he needs to cut the perimeter jumpers out of his game.
The Dallas season will be defined by Ellis.
Either he cedes to Dirk Nowitzki and thrives as a No. 2 option and primary distributor, or he rebels and dooms the Mavs from the start. Early indications now point toward the latter.
According to Rotoworld, the Denver Nuggets only have two centers on the roster: JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov. Sure, J.J. Hickson could shift over to the 5, but he's not a natural center.
Since Mozgov has yet to look like a competent NBA rotation big, the onus is on McGee to carry the frontcourt and emerge as not only an impressive player, but also a consistent one who doesn't make the same mental mistakes he has in the past.
Working in his favor is the addition of Brian Shaw to the coaching staff. Shaw has been known for developing young talent, and his resume is littered with success stories like Andrew Bynum, Lance Stephenson and Paul George.
However, working against McGee is, well, McGee.
The 7-footer led Denver in scoring during the preseason, but he did so while shooting 40.6 percent from the field and failing to make much of an impact elsewhere. It's time for him to improve even more when the regular season rolls around.
The Detroit Pistons have a lot of new, prominent pieces to work with, and they don't appear likely to work together well.
With Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe all on the court together, floor spacing is going to be a foreign concept. It might be tough to make enough jumpers to stay competitive when battling against a good team.
So far, it's been Monroe who has struggled.
However, the Pistons can compensate for this by quickly building chemistry. It's key that everyone meshes together in a hurry, especially because the race for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference figures to be a competitive one.
Unfortunately, Detroit is already starting out in a hole. Brandon Jennings will miss the beginning of the season with wisdom tooth problems. Once he's back, it'll be imperative that he distributes the ball well and breaks down defenses with enough frequency that opposing teams are kept on their heels.
Mark Jackson is going to have some fun this season.
Let's take a quick look at some of the starting lineups he can use, ordered from my favorite to my least favorite (completely subjectively):
- Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, David Lee
- Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut
- Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut
- Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andrew Bogut
Can you tell I'm a fan of the spaced-out small-ball lineups that the Golden State Warriors can use?
Obviously there are even more options than just those four, but they're the most likely ones given the six starting-caliber players on the Dubs' roster.
Jackson will end up experimenting whenever the matchup calls for it, and he'll eventually find something that sticks. Golden State has the luxury of taking some chances now that it's an established Western Conference power.
Let's have an impromptu caption contest for the picture up above.
My submission: "No, guys! I'm not Santa Claus!"
Back on topic, though. The Houston Rockets have two options at point guard: Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley.
Each floor general brings different skills to the table, and each should start at various points throughout the season as dictated by the matchups. Beverley is a better shooter and defender, but Lin is a more skilled ball-handler and facilitator.
Power forward is another huge storyline for the Rockets, but I'd rather focus on the positive for this team on the rise. There isn't a wrong answer to the Lin-Beverley debate, after all.
Personally, I'd go with Beverley unless Lin's skills are needed more than ever against a strong defensive team. I like what he brings to the table, and I'd rather have the ball in James Harden's hands more often than anyone else's.
Danny Granger's strained left calf should be worrisome for Indiana Pacers fans.
After the dynamic small forward spent all of last year fighting injuries and sitting out games, it would be nice if he were the picture of perfect health. But alas, he's already doubtful to play in the opener and may take a handful of games to rehab before making his 2013-14 debut.
Granger is one of the keys to this team, as depth was a primary point of emphasis throughout the offseason.
With the former leading scorer out of the lineup, Lance Stephenson jumps back into the starting lineup, and the second unit is then comprised of C.J. Watson, Orlando Johnson, Chris Copeland, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi.
That's an upgrade over last year's bunch, but it's still not enough to push past the Miami Heat.
Doc Rivers has always been known as a defensive head coach (and apparently, that applies to quotes about his former players too now), but he'll have his work cut out for him during the 2013-14 season.
While the Clippers do have a solid defense, the frontcourt players have been incredibly porous in the past.
Blake Griffin is steady on that end of the court, although he's anything but a standout. DeAndre Jordan was a shot-blocking machine, but he struggled with rotations. Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins and Antawn Jamison...please.
There's one key word in that last paragraph, though.
That's the verb used to describe Jordan, and the whole sentence is written in the past tense. Rivers has already had a clear effect on him during the preseason, and it appears as though the 7-footer could finally blossom into the defender he was once hyped up as.
The Clippers need that to happen in order to reach their lofty ceiling.
Was there any doubt about what would appear here?
Until we know when Kobe Bryant is returning to the lineup, that will dominate all discussions for the Los Angeles Lakers. Every game will be treated in "Will he? Won't he?" fashion until a firm timetable is announced for the Mamba's recovery from his ruptured Achilles.
All we know right now is that Kobe won't be playing when L.A. opens its season against the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 29. Beyond that, we're back to being mired in uncertainty.
Could Kobe play in the second game of the 2013-14 campaign? Maybe.
Could he be out until Christmas? I suppose it's possible.
We just have no idea, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
The Memphis Grizzlies had a shooting problem during the 2012-13 season, and it's up to new head coach Dave Joerger to do what Lionel Hollins couldn't and solve it.
Throughout the season, the Grizz shot 34.5 percent from three (the No. 24 mark in the league) and made a league-low 382 triples, according to Basketball-Reference. In fact, take a look at the 10 teams that made three-balls with the lowest frequency:
- Memphis Grizzlies, 382
- Chicago Bulls, 446
- Minnesota Timberwolves, 450
- Charlotte Bobcats, 469
- Phoenix Suns, 480
- Boston Celtics, 498
- Orlando Magic, 506
- Utah Jazz 507
- Detroit Pistons, 513
- Philadelphia 76ers, 518
The gap between Memphis and Chicago (64) is almost as large as the separation between Chicago and Philadelphia (72).
During the preseason, Memphis made 30.7 percent of its looks from downtown. This needs to change.
The Miami Heat enter the 2013-14 campaign as the prohibitive favorites to win another title. Both B/R's Dan Favale and I are picking them to emerge from the increasingly difficult Eastern Conference, and it doesn't seem as though many teams in the West can match up with them.
That's what the focus is in South Beach. A three-peat.
Sure, there are exciting storylines along the way.
Will Greg Oden regain his health? Will Michael Beasley make any sort of contribution? Will Dwyane Wade stay healthy and in vintage form? Will LeBron James win MVP again?
But they all pale in comparison to the biggest one: the quest for a third championship in a row, one that would allow Miami to assert itself as one of the great dynasties in NBA history.
The Milwaukee Bucks need to figure out the direction they want to take in 2013-14.
Do they want to compete for a playoff spot?
If they do, they'll ultimately fall short but could get close thanks to a veteran lineup of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. But that's not the best plan.
A better decision would be to join the ranks of tanking teams by playing the young guns and potentially moving Butler and Ilyasova. The more playing time Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson get, the better.
While the Greek Freak isn't exactly ready for the NBA, Henson is. He looked great throughout the preseason, and he's ready to take on a much bigger role for Milwaukee without skipping a beat.
However, for that to happen, the Bucks have to commit to the future rather than remaining stagnant in the present.
Based on the numbers that he puts up, Kevin Love is a superstar. Not many other players can even dream of a 20-20 game, but Love puts them up in his sleep.
However, he hasn't gained universal recognition as a true star player because of this strange belief that he has to make the playoffs first. And the game's best true power forward (sorry, but Tim Duncan is no longer a "true" 4) has yet to advance past the 82nd game of the season.
Love is finally healthy and ready to regain his spot among the ranks of All-Stars, but he also has to carry the Minnesota Timberwolves into the postseason if he wants to curry favor with the general public.
For the first time in his career, Love has a supporting cast that's A) healthy and B) capable of actually advancing to the playoffs. Nikola Pekovic remains one of the most underrated centers in basketball, and the 23-year-old Ricky Rubio is only getting better.
But this leads us to the second key storyline. Let's just cross our fingers and hope that everyone in Minnesota—other than Chase Budinger, who has already been taken care of by the injury bug—keeps a clean bill of health.
Jrue Holiday. Eric Gordon. Tyreke Evans.
Those are three of the better guards in basketball (and yes, I'm still considering Evans a guard even though he's going to spend most of his time at small forward). In fact, I had them coming in at No. 34, No. 70 and No. 63, respectively in my preseason rankings of the NBA's Top 100 players.
But can they all work together? Can one basketball be shared between all three of them?
We have no indications from the preseason, as Evans went down 10 minutes into his New Orleans Pelicans debut and missed the rest of the action. But I'm speculatively saying yes, as their skills seem to complement each other, especially with Ryan Anderson spacing the court and Anthony Davis cleaning up on the inside.
If that's correct, NOLA will factor heavily into the ridiculously competitive race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. I'll go so far as to say that they'll eventually win it.
These guys—and Davis—are that good.
If the New York Knicks hope to move up into the ranks of the true elites, it's all on the shoulders of Iman Shumpert.
Obviously this team is completely reliant on Carmelo Anthony's scoring prowess (and the health of his shoulder), but the formerly flat-topped shooting guard still determines the overall upside for the Knicks. And that's doubly true until J.R. Smith has returned to full strength after his injury, suspension and adjustment to the new rotations.
Shumpert is a highly touted prospect, praised for his defensive abilities and well-rounded offensive play, but he hasn't put it all together yet. We've seen him thrive as a shutdown defender, a three-point marksman and a distributing slasher, but not all at the same time.
If the preseason is any indication, that's about to change. And it'll change in a positive way for New York.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's season is all about replacing offensive output.
At first, the team has to compensate for not having Russell Westbrook. The All-Star point guard will miss up to six weeks as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery to fix a loose stitch in his knee.
While Kevin Durant is obviously a great player and the best scorer in basketball, he still can't step up his game enough to account for the lost production. That burden rests on Reggie Jackson, and he could be aided by Serge Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb (that seems unlikely at this point).
Once Westbrook returns, though, the team still has to account for the production it lost when Kevin Martin left OKC for the Minnesota Timberwolves. And that will be nearly as difficult, as Jackson will suddenly have to change roles and do his damage off the bench.
It's going to be a season of adjustments for the Thunder. While the talent on the roster still resembles that of a championship-contending squad, wins won't come as easily this year.
Is Victor Oladipo going to come off the bench and replace Arron Afflalo at shooting guard whenever it's time for him to get his minutes? Is he going to pick splinters out of his behind so that he can play point guard when Jameer Nelson needs a break?
At some point, the Indiana product is going to earn a starting role, but which guard position will he take over?
We just don't know, and quite frankly, I'm not sure that the Orlando Magic have figured it out either.
Regardless, Oladipo will prove to be an incredible talent, affecting the game in a unique array of ways. He'll be a lockdown defender on the perimeter, dazzle crowds with his athletic assaults on the rim, distribute the ball to his young, talented teammates and rebound the ball like a forward.
Oh, and he'll probably win Rookie of the Year. Somehow, that feels like even more of a sure thing than his role at this point.
Let's take a look at the Philadelphia 76ers' roster, per Rotoworld, after removing the players who aren't expected to be ready at the start of the season:
- Point Guard: Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten
- Shooting Guard: Evan Turner, James Anderson
- Small Forward: Thaddeus Young
- Power Forward: Lavoy Allen, Arsalan Kazemi
- Center: Spencer Hawes, Daniel Orton
There's only one word to describe that: gross.
The Sixers may well end up being the worst team in NBA history. Winning double-digit games could be viewed as a miracle, especially because Philly wants to go winless for Wiggins.
The more losses, the better.
Each one helps the Sixers earn better odds in the draft lottery and an easier shot at landing Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 pick. Winning is by no means the goal, and that will be blindingly obvious throughout the campaign, especially if the front office decides to trade either Turner or Young.
The Phoenix Suns will also be trying to go winless for Wiggins, especially after trading Marcin Gortat for an injured center and a first-round draft pick, but they'll also be following the success of a few other teams rather closely.
Phoenix now owns four first-round picks in the 2014 NBA draft, which features a crop of college and international prospects believed to be among the best ever.
But that number could dwindle to just one if not everything goes according to plan.
The second pick is top-13 protected from the Minnesota Timberwolves, so Kevin Love has to carry that team at least to the brink of playoff contention.
Next, the Suns lay claim to a lottery-protected selection from the Indiana Pacers. That one is about as safe as it gets, seeing as the Pacers have no realistic chance of missing the playoffs.
Finally, there's the top-12-protected pick from the Washington Wizards, which means that Gortat has to propel them into playoff contention. That should be safe as well, but it's not exactly guaranteed.
Because Phoenix is putting all of its eggs in the basket that is the 2014 draft, it needs to follow the trials and tribulations of those three teams while competing with the Philadelphia 76ers for the top lottery odds.
Damian Lillard was good during his rookie season—obviously, as he was named the unanimous Rookie of the Year.
But he wasn't great, and that's what he must become during the 2013-14 campaign if he hopes to ascend into the ranks of All-Stars and help steer the Portland Trail Blazers into one of the top eight spots in the Western Conference.
Lillard has to become even more efficient on offense, and he must start focusing more on defense, particularly when he sees a screen thrown at him.
The moves that Rip City made over the offseason should bode well for his development. Added depth ensures that he stays fresh—Lillard led the NBA in minutes played as a rookie—and fresh legs tend to promote higher shooting percentages and fewer turnovers.
Plus, the addition of Robin Lopez gives him a bona fide rim protector who can ease some of that defensive pressure he felt during his first go-around in Portland.
Lillard is primed for a stellar second campaign, and the dreaded "sophomore slump" must be avoided for the Blazers to keep pace in a Western Conference that's increasingly loaded from top to bottom.
Which members of the Sacramento Kings are actually part of the future plans?
DeMarcus Cousins is the only sure thing, although I'm tempted to throw Ben McLemore into that category as well. The athletic rookie shooting guard out of Kansas thrived during the preseason, and his game is suited for NBA play.
So, that's two. Who else?
Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas are nice complementary point guards, but neither one possesses enough upside to be definitely considered a future piece. Patrick Patterson could find himself in the same category if Mike Malone gives him playing time during the regular season, but I wouldn't bet on that once Carl Landry returns in a few months.
The Kings must keep giving their young players chances. While the roster is better this year, it still isn't good enough to compete for a playoff spot, much less a title. And that means that the future is still the priority.
Sacramento has logjams at just about every spot, and players should constantly be shuffled in and out of the starting five. I'd expect the Kings to compete for the unofficial "most different starting lineups used" trophy.
If they don't, they aren't giving each member of the roster enough of a chance to prove himself.
You might want to get used to seeing that in the San Antonio Spurs' box scores. It gained a lot of notoriety when Gregg Popovich was brutally honest about why Tim Duncan sat out of a game in 2011-12, and it'll be used again in 2013-14.
This season is all about balancing wins and health for the Spurs.
They know they're one of the elite teams in the Western Conference, and it's more important that everyone is fresh for the playoffs than it is to earn the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage.
Duncan shouldn't play anywhere near 82 games. Nor should Tony Parker—he's not as old, but he's historically prone to minor, nagging injuries—or Manu Ginobili. If Kawhi Leonard is the best player on the court some nights, that's okay.
Pop is a master of juggling minutes and managing rotations, so let's just go ahead and agree right now that we shouldn't doubt any decisions he makes.
The Toronto Raptors play nine teams that should make the playoffs before the calendars flip over to December, and it's vital that they get off to a hot start.
Based on how Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas looked during the preseason, it's not at all impossible that they emerge from that difficult slate with a record above .500.
And that's what it will take to earn the trust of new general manager Masai Ujiri.
The former architect of the Denver Nuggets loves to put his fingerprints all over a roster, and he's not at all afraid to blow one up. He won't hesitate to trade Gay if that's what it takes, even though the small forward is currently the best player on the team.
If the Raptors get off to an impressive start, Ujiri might sit back and see what happens. But if they're well under .500 by the time December rolls around, anything could happen.
And when I say "anything," that's exactly what I mean. This is Ujiri we're talking about.
Gordon Hayward is probably going to lead the Utah Jazz in scoring during the 2013-14 season. But is that a good thing?
The Butler product averaged 15.9 points per game during the preseason, and he did so while shooting 37.8 percent from the field and turning the ball over 2.6 times per contest. While playing under 30 minutes on the average night.
Worse still, the Jazz averaged only 91.8 points per game as a team, a mark that would have left them as the lowest-scoring NBA team in 2012-13 by 1.4 points per contest, according to Basketball-Reference. Obviously, that's not going to cut it, even if the Jazz aren't trying to be competitive this year.
Trey Burke (once his finger heals), Alec Burks and Derrick Favors could all be candidates to function as the go-to scorer, but none of them is a strong option.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, I'm not sure there's a positive answer to this leading storyline.
Five days before the start of the 2013-14 season, the key storyline for the Washington Wizards was John Wall and Bradley Beal's ability to carry the offensive burden and push the team into one of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
But then general manager Ernie Grunfeld traded Emeka Okafor—who might be out for the season with a neck injury—and a top-12-protected pick in the stacked 2014 NBA draft to the Phoenix Suns for Marcin Gortat, as first reported by ESPN's Marc Stein.
And the key storyline changed.
Now it centers around how the big man can mesh with the talented guards.
Residents of the nation's capitol should be thrilled, because the answer is some variation of "Very well." He wasn't able to do this in Phoenix, but Gortat can now function as the No. 3 option on offense (No. 4 on some nights), focusing instead on his rebounding, defense and pick-and-roll game.
He's the perfect fit for Washington on both sides of the ball, and I'll go so far as to say that a healthy Gortat makes the Wizards a lock for the playoffs. Right after the trade, I predicted that they win 48 games, which would land them the No. 6 spot in the East, one game shy of—yep—the New York Knicks.
They have that kind of upside now, especially since Nene will get to play his more natural power forward spot.