And thankfully for NBA fans everywhere, so is the NBA. After sitting through a forgettable season of baseball, a round of political debates that pandered to the lowest common denominator of the US, the final implosion of Lance Armstrong’s reputation and the start of a football season with no clearly great teams (though who doesn’t like to watch RGIII), the NBA ushers in the new era of the “super team” where the 1% continued to amass wealth over the offseason. With David Stern retiring (Laker fans rejoice!), just don’t expect see any Occupy Charlotte movements anytime soon.
Before we begin this year at Chasing 23 with our Western Conference Preview, let’s spend a minute and review the results of our 2011-2012 preview (since what good is a preview is we can’t criticize it later?). Here’s what we had last year:
|Seed||2011-12 Projected Standings||2011-12 Actual Standings|
|1||OKC Thunder||San Antonio Spurs|
|2||Dallas Mavericks||OKC Thunder|
|3||Los Angeles Lakers||Los Angeles Lakers|
|4||Los Angeles Clippers||Memphis Grizzlies|
|5||Memphis Grizzlies||Los Angeles Clippers|
|6||San Antonio Spurs||Denver Nuggets|
|7||Portland Trailblazers||Dallas Mavericks|
|8||Denver Nuggets||Utah Jazz|
The middle of the pack was fairly predictable, with the Lakers, Clippers, and Grizzlies all settling into their positions as predicted. The Spurs and Mavericks provided the biggest surprises of the year. The Spurs found the fountain of youth once again and cemented Greg Popovich’s status as one of the greatest of all-time. The Mavericks had one of the worse follow-on years of an NBA champion in recent memory.
We don’t expect significant movement this year at the top. The Thunder, Lakers, Clippers, and Spurs all will benefit from either more experience, more talent, or both. Outside of those teams, it remains to be seen if the Nuggest acquisition of Iguodala can help them to join the elite and whether the Grizzlies have peaked yet.
Take your pick here of a collection of bottom feeders that include Sacramento, Portland, Houston and others who will be competing for the final spot over the last few weeks of the 2012-13 season. Utah squeezes back into the final spot this year for their solid front court anchored by Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Marvin Williams paired with their newly acquired (and underrated) sparkplug point guard, Mo Williams. A team to watch here if the Jazz falter are the Kings, who have the mercurial, yet talented trio of Demarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and Marcus Thornton.
7. Dallas Mavericks
That the Mavericks get the 7 seed in this year’s preview is more a sign of the respect we have for Dirk Nowitzki versus any endorsement of Dallas’ talent (though Dirk will miss roughly the first 1/5th of the season). The Chris Kaman acquisition should help and give Nowitzki the first legitimate offensive post presence he’s had in his career and Elton Brand/OJ Mayo should provide some spark off the bench. As followers of UCLA basketball will most likely agree with however, new acquisition and starting point guard Darren Collison will likely be exposed as the limited passer and decision-maker that he is.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
It’s difficult to tell if the Memphis Grizzlies have peaked, but the feeling here is that just might be the case. Randolph, Gay, and Gasol are one of the best front courts in the NBA – however it is difficult to see any of them getting much better at this point in their careers. OJ Mayo and his ability to create off the dribble is gone, leaving little offensive punch in the backcourt. Additionally, a disappointing playoff performance last with home court against the Clippers means that the Grizzlies failed to capitalize on the opportunity to gain valuable playoff experience.
5. Denver Nuggets
Make no mistake, this is a good, solid Nuggets team and if it weren’t for some serious talent in the Western Conference, they would be higher on this list. This is also the perennial team that “no contender wants to meet in the playoffs” (as the Lakers nearly found out last year). The acquisition of Andre Iguodala along with the continued growth of Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari and one of the deepest benches in the NBA make this team a threat, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they earn homecourt advantage for the 1st round of the playoffs.
4. San Antonio Spurs
We really wanted to pick the Spurs back in the sixth seed this year, but have to respect their incredible accomplishment last year as well as Pop’s mastery of his profession, so despite the continual decline of Tim Duncan, San Antonio should be able to squeeze out another respectable season.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
Clippers at number 3? Really? If last year was the beginning of the Lob City bandwagon, this year we should see the train leave the station. Chris Paul is still (with apologies to Derrick Rose fans), the best point guard in the NBA and Blake Griffin the greatest emerging power forward talent – assuming the King decides not to make the transition over to 4 this year. Add to that some valuable playoff experience and a deep roster that includes the additions of experienced veterans Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, and Willie Green, and the Clips look ready to finally emerge out of their dark history.
So clearly, we don’t put much stock in the preseason, otherwise this team would be somewhere below Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors right now. While the Lakers have the talent to finish with the no. 1 seed, as we’ve seen in the preseason, the early part of the 2012-13 season will be an exercise in acclimating to each other. The bench is a clear weakness, with Antawn Jamison looking his age and Jodie Meeks still trying to fit in. Mike Brown is still a liability as well, Princeton offense not withstanding. Additionally, it will be imperative for Bryant to cede ball control to Nash for the first 46 minutes of each game for the Lakers to be truly successful – which seems like a stretch at this point. At the same time, with this roster, anything less than a title this year for the Lakers should be construed as a disappointment.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
James Harden just found out what old school really is about. Kudos to Sam Presti for standing his ground, not giving Harden an undeserved max contract, and still getting a very good young player (Jeremy Lamb), a solid veteran (Kevin Martin), and lottery tickets for the future (2 1st rounders) out of it. Absolutely brilliant. The core of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are all still intact, more experienced, and hungrier than ever after getting punished by the Heat – so expect this team to be highly motivated and set the pace in the Western Conference from the get go. The key to the title this year for the Thunder still lies with Westbrook, who must continue to mature and develop into the perfect complement for Durant’s already MVP-caliber game.