The 2013-14 NBA season is set to start on Tuesday. Not in a week, not in a month, but Tuesday.
There are a million reasons why the NBA community can’t wait for the season to start, but I’ll try and narrow it down to the top 10.
The NBA landscape has divided itself into legitimate championship contenders, playoff hopefuls and teams looking to finish as cellar dwellers to gain lottery status for a loaded 2014 draft class. Even the worst teams in the league will be compelling this year as they join the “Riggin’ for Wiggins” sweepstakes.
The return of Derrick Rose (and, to a lesser extent, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo and Greg Oden), Dwight Howard joining the Houston Rockets and Kevin Durant’s performance in the absence of wingman Russell Westbrook will provide huge storylines.
But what else will round out the top 10 reasons why NBA fans can’t wait for this season?
While the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers are in the conversation to win the title in 2014, plenty of teams on the opposite end of that spectrum are trying to bottom out.
The Philadelphia 76ers—a team that scored a league-worst 93.2 points per game last season—traded Jrue Holiday this summer. The All-Star point guard was their best offensive player by far. Don’t be surprised if the Sixers flirt with single-digit wins during the 2013-14 campaign, because they’ll struggle mightily to score points.
Out in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns are poised to finish in the NBA cellar once again. After finishing dead last in the West last season, new general manager Ryan McDonough has constructed an aggressive (and smart) rebuild by trading Luis Scola, Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat (among others).
Phoenix has the opportunity to net four first-round draft picks in 2014, but its own will be the most valuable.
Other teams like the Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics are long shots to make the playoffs, so they may also embrace tanking.
In addition to the league-wide “Tankapalooza” is the possibility of trades. McDonough wasted little time in Phoenix, trading Gortat to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract and a protected first-round pick. Could we see more movement throughout the season?
Last year’s trade deadline was mostly uneventful. That could change in 2013-14.
Rudy Gay, Greg Monroe, Omer Asik, Jeff Green, Luol Deng and Rajon Rondo are just a handful of big names who could be on the trade block this season.
We shouldn’t get our hopes up for a busy trade deadline, but there’s plenty of potential for that once that deadline approaches.
The 2013 NBA draft class has been labeled one of the weakest in recent memory. In fact, it could end up being the weakest since 2000 (when Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer and Mike Miller comprised the top five picks).
Many players entered the draft injured, and there wasn’t a consensus No. 1 overall pick. But is there a chance that this rookie class could prove the doubters wrong?
Ben McLemore, Michael Carter-Williams and Otto Porter Jr. all looked overwhelmed during summer league, with shooting percentages hovering in and around the toilet.
Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum and Shane Larkin are all dealing with injuries.
Minnesota's Shabazz Muhammad was sent home from the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program for bringing a female guest to his hotel room.
As it stands, Orlando's Victor Oladipo is the runaway favorite to win the league’s Rookie of the Year award with Cody Zeller of the Charlotte Bobcats as a dark horse candidate.
Can this year’s rookie class surprise people by performing better than expected? We’ll have to wait and see how that storyline plays out.
Whereas the 2013 NBA rookie class faces a plethora of questions, some of the league’s sophomores appear poised for breakout performances.
It will be hard for Damian Lillard to top his ROY campaign from last season, but he does have a viable second unit now to keep him fresh.
Lillard, however, is but a small part of the bigger picture.
Former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis is averaging 19.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals and two blocks per game during preseason. He's looking like a bona fide stud after an injury-riddled rookie year.
Bradley Beal is averaging 20.7 points on 51.9 percent field-goal shooting and a ridiculous 47.2 percent clip from three-point land. He may finally embrace the comparisons to Ray Allen.
Additionally, Andre Drummond, Dion Waiters, Harrison Barnes, Jonas Valanciunas and John Henson have an opportunity to thrive with one year of professional basketball under their belts.
Don’t be surprised if these NBA sophomores shine next season. There may even be a couple All-Stars in the mix.
As the NBA continues to drift away from dominant big men like Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, fans are treated to a point guard driven league.
Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams and even lesser-hyped floor generals like Ricky Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley and Brandon Jennings shape the NBA landscape.
Unless you have a bona fide alpha dog like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, having an All-Star-caliber point guard on your roster is as important as having an engine in a car.
They set the pace, orchestrate the offense and get their teammates involved.
Some are dominant scorers who attack the rim. Others are methodical playmakers who see plays develop before they happen. Others still are three-point sharpshooters who can put games out of reach in the blink of an eye.
Regardless of your personal preference to what you think a point guard should be, the league has a little bit of everything in terms of talent.
The NBA is absolutely loaded with point guards. It will continue to be the league’s most competitive position in 2013-14.
With so many new playoff hopefuls in the revamped Eastern Conference, here are some quick hits for each team that should find itself in the playoff hunt.
Trading for Marcin Gortat was a great move by the Wiz. Instead of an offensively limited center who is shelved due to injury (Emeka Okafor), Washington now has an athletic big who can thrive in the pick-and-roll with John Wall.
Washington’s floor general, though, is the biggest storyline. The Wizards, quite frankly, are helpless without him.
Wall posted a 47-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound effort in a win against the Memphis Grizzlies last season. Now that he’s healthy, with a healthy wingman in Bradley Beal, this Wizards team may be a lock for the playoffs in 2014.
Team chemistry is everything with this team, but you can’t deny the upgrade in talent.
Josh Smith is one of the best two-way forwards in the game. He can make a difference offensively by slashing to the basket and defensively by swatting shots and swiping steals.
Brandon Jennings is a talented point guard who has shown erratic shot selection in his career, but he may look to set up teammates more now with a new supporting cast.
Andre Drummond is a candidate for Most Improved Player as he moves into a starting role, and Chauncey Billups can act as a coach on the floor for this team.
The Pistons' playoff hopes all come down to whether or not J-Smoove can click in the frontcourt.
Betting on Andrew Bynum’s health is something that even gambling addicts would scoff at.
If he gets healthy, though, the Cavs will be serious playoff contenders.
Kyrie Irving will run the show at point guard surrounded by plenty of depth. Look for Jarrett Jack to make a huge impact as one of the key offseason acquisitions.
DeMar DeRozan is arguably the most underrated shooting guard in the league. He’s still just 24 years old and averaged 18.1 points per game a season ago.
Jonas Valanciunas had a great summer league (despite committing fouls like he was in a pickup game against his worst enemies). If he can stay out of foul trouble, he has the potential to have a monstrous sophomore year.
Barring any blockbuster trades to blow up the roster, Toronto will be in the running for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.
Again, as I did for the Eastern Conference, here are some quick hits for the new playoff contenders in the Western Conference.
A lot of people are sleeping on the Dallas Mavericks this year. I’m not one of them.
I predicted in August that the Mavs would make the playoffs in 2014, so I’m not going to hop off that bandwagon now.
Dallas finished with a 41-41 record last season despite the fact that Dirk Nowitzki—the team’s best player by far—missed 29 games due to injury.
In the 53 games played upon his return, the Mavericks finished with a 28-25 record. The former MVP led Dallas to a winning record despite having Mike James and Elton Brand’s corpse play key roles.
Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair and rookie Shane Larkin (when he’s healthy) should be enough to propel this team back to the playoffs, even though they'll be mediocre defensively.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers bench finished dead last in minutes (13.3) and points (18.5) per game last season, according to Hoops Stats. The lack of a second unit put a ton of pressure on guard Damian Lillard and forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Those two stars did an admirable job but ran out of gas. Portland finished the season with a 13-game losing streak as a result.
With offseason acquisitions of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson and rookies C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe this Portland squad can earn a playoff spot in 2014.
Can the Minnesota Timberwolves stay healthy?
It’s been the question that has haunted this club since Kevin Love took the team’s reins.
K-Love hasn’t stayed healthy nor has teammate Ricky Rubio. Chase Budinger is already injured again, and there’s no guarantee that Nikola Pekovic won’t miss time.
As is the case with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference, the T-Wolves have to stay healthy if they hope to nab a playoff spot in the loaded West.
New Orleans Pelicans
As I noted earlier, Anthony Davis has looked like an absolute stud in preseason. Yes, it’s preseason, but he looks worthy of being a No. 1 overall pick.
Jrue Holiday, an All-Star last year, has been added to the fray along with Tyreke Evans, Greg Stiemsma and Anthony Morrow.
This team has a lot of talent with AD, Holiday, Evans and Ryan Anderson, but much like the Detroit Pistons in the East, the rotation needs to jell.
Los Angeles Lakers
Fans of the purple-and-gold championship machine continue to be hopeful entering the 2013-14 season, but there are a lot of questions facing this roster.
First off, Kobe Bryant isn’t healthy. He’s 35 years old and recovering from an Achilles tear he sustained in April. His replacements? Nick Young and Wesley Johnson...yeesh.
Young is a streaky shooter, but he functions as a sieve on defense. Johnson, meanwhile, is a shooting guard who can’t shoot. His shooting percentage of 40.7 percent last season for the Phoenix Suns was a career high.
Steve Nash will turn 40 in February, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman are past their prime, and there’s no conceivable way that this team finishes at league average defensively.
I like the playoff odds of Dallas, Portland, Minnesota and New Orleans more than this Lakers team, even if Bryant returns to full strength.
Can Kobe Bryant, at 35 years old, return to his usual superstar form for the Los Angeles Lakers following an Achilles tear he suffered in April?
Will he be back in November?
Will he miss the entire season to recover?
We’ve seen less severe injuries derail the careers of younger athletes, but this is Bryant we’re talking about. He’s one of the top-10 best players of all time and his work ethic is virtually unmatched within the NBA.
However, Bryant has said, “I have self-doubt,” with regards to his recovery, according to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. Clearly this injury is testing him not only physically, but mentally as well.
The Black Mamba is the only hope for a Lakers team built around Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman. There’s no way they’ll make the playoffs if Kobe doesn’t return healthy and in All-NBA form.
I’m skeptical that Bryant will be able to come back and play at his usual sky-high level given his age.
One thing is sure, though, he certainly has no lack of motivation.
Although Los Angeles Laker fans don’t want to hear it, Dwight Howard made the best basketball decision he could have made this summer by joining forces with the Houston Rockets.
His odds of winning a championship in Houston are exponentially higher than they would have been in L.A. With head coach Kevin McHale, the tutelage of Hakeem Olajuwon and a supporting cast that includes James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin, D12 is not only in a position he chose, but he’s also in a great place to win games.
If Olajuwon can mold Howard into one-tenth the offensive player “The Dream” was, the rest of the league better take notice. D12 has been dominant for a long time purely based on his strength and athleticism. If he can add a handful of post moves to his repertoire, he’ll be downright scary as an offensive threat.
Can Howard develop into a more potent player on offense?
Will he revert back to the athletic big man he was in Orlando? Or will he continue to look stiff and slow as he did with the Lakers?
In any case, the Rockets should be legitimate title contenders now that they have two of the league’s top-12 players.
Kevin Durant has played second fiddle to LeBron James throughout his entire career. But even though he’s already played six professional seasons, people forget that Durant is still just 25 years old.
KD is entering the prime of his career right now. He’s been nothing short of sensational up to this point, but there’s a very good chance he could become even better.
He just finished off a historic 50-40-90 season (at least 50 percent field-goal shooting, 40 percent three-point shooting and 90 percent free-throw shooting), but he also notched a career-high 4.6 assists per game. His previous high was 3.5 assists the season prior.
With Russell Westbrook sidelined to start the season, Durant needs to step up. Needless to say, he’ll be up to the challenge.
He’ll either take on a bigger scoring burden by averaging more than 30 points per game, or he’ll make a concerted effort to become a super point forward by setting up teammates for scores and becoming a nightly triple-double threat. Heck, he’ll likely combine both of those attributes to his overall game next season.
With Westbrook lost to injury and the James Harden trade far in the rearview, the Oklahoma City Thunder are backed up against a wall. Don’t be surprised if KD posts superhuman numbers to keep the team above water.
“I went into last season absolutely sure Miami would win the title, and I felt even more strongly when the playoffs opened. This season? I’ve no clue. It feels like the first time since the start of 2011-12 that I might take the field over the Heat.”
That’s how Grantland.com’s Zach Lowe summed up how he felt about the NBA landscape last season versus this season, and I think his words are spot on.
Entering the 2012-13 season, I never got the feeling that another team could topple the Heat. The Indiana Pacers came close and the San Antonio Spurs were a rebound away from winning the title, but Miami pulled it out once again.
The 2013-14 season may lend itself to a different narrative.
The Pacers got better, the Chicago Bulls have Derrick Rose back, the Brooklyn Nets added Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and the Western Conference is still loaded. Picking Miami to win it all is still a wise choice, but the field features a lot of talented teams.
LeBron James is obviously going to be phenomenal once again, but there are some questions facing the Heat.
Can Dwyane Wade stay healthy throughout the regular season and playoffs?
Will Chris Bosh continue to dip statistically?
Can Ray Allen and Shane Battier continue to play at a high level despite their ages?
Those are all questions I can’t wait to see answered.
I don’t care if you’re a Chicago Bulls fan or not, if you aren’t excited for the return of Derrick Rose, then you simply don’t love basketball.
D-Rose is one of the three best players in the Association when healthy. He didn’t play a single minute last season as he recovered from an ACL tear, but according to an interview with Slam Magazine’s Adam Figman, Rose said that he’s coming back “a lot stronger,” “a lot quicker” and “a lot more explosive.”
Rose has already won an MVP award in his career. If we can believe his latest comments, he may be in the running to win the award again in his comeback year.
Missing the entire 2012-13 season is the biggest storyline tied to D-Rose, but fans seem to forget that he played in just 39 of a possible 66 games the season prior. He’s missed a ton of basketball over the past two years, and his injury swung the outcome of two playoff runs.
The explosive point guard is finally back, and I think it’s safe to say the NBA community is happy to have him.
Let’s get this season started already shall we?