2012-13 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference


2012-12 NBA Season Preview
EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Miami Heat
Location: Miami, Florida
Level of Exposure: Very High: oversaturated

The most talented team in the league. With two great players (LeBron, Wade) and now two very good players (Bosh, Allen). Allen’s departure from Boston appears it would be critical in those close playoff games where the Heat are drawing double teams, and Ray waits in the corner. Celtics fans hope he’ll be waiting for his calf to heal, in the corner seat on the bench. The Heat are one Dwayne Wade leg injury away from vulnerability. The frontcourt is still a weakness other than Bosh. LeBron is LeBron is LeBron. Mario Chalmers is turning into Jason Terry. Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem are both one year older. Rashard’s mere presence weakens this team, symbolically.

2. Boston Celtics
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Level of Exposure: Rabid fan base means exposure, but still overlooked

The roster is assembled with depth and versatility in mind. It should protect the Celtics from injury and overuse. Better rebounding and shot blocking with Sullinger and Darko. More scoring with Jeff Green and Jason Terry. Courtney Lee serves as Avery Bradley protection. More breathers for Garnett and Pierce. Green, Terry, Bradley/Lee, Milicic and Wilcox give the bench the highest ceiling of any team in the NBA. The 10-11 deep roster will give them regular season wins, but the defensive-minded culture and the minutes must be determined by March for this team to defeat Miami or Indiana. Rondo will challenge for the MVP.

3. Indiana Pacers
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Level of Exposure: Low, small-market

Hibbert patrols the paint. Paul-George-Hill is the Pacers’ two-headed backcourt monster, fire-breathing poise, 3-point shooting and tenacious defense. Granger and West balance the offense. D.J. Augustin is the wild-card off the bench. Defense will win them most games. Playoffs depend on how quickly Paul George becomes this generation’s Scottie Pippen and those 3’s dropping in.

4. Chicago Bulls
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Level of Exposure: Adequate, because of injury time

Derrick Rose’s knee injury is a tragedy that won’t see Act Two this season, though he will play in the spring. Kirk Hinrich has a chance to redeem his career and have his own second act, though he’ll have to find his long-range touch first. Deng and Noah are fierce, but don’t have the offensive balance around them to beat the top teams in the East.

5. Brooklyn Nets
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Level of Exposure: High, because of NYC and trades

Much more talented and fun to watch in their new digs, Brooklyn will threaten the Bulls for home-court and may even push the Celtics in the Atlantic. Be prepared for a show with Williams tossing alley-oops galore to Gerald Wallace and MarShon Brooks. Two weaknesses remain: Brook Lopez’ rebounding and the lack of a go-to-guy in the 4th quarter. Deron Williams can only solve one of those problems by himself.

6. New York Knicks
Location: Times Square, New York City, NY
Level of Exposure: High, because of NYC

If Amar’e’s health magically returns, if Raymond Felton decides to stop shooting and dribbling, if Tyson Chandler can convince J.R. Smith, Amar’e and Felton to play defense, and if Knicks fans can recover from the loss of Jeremy Lin, then this team will only have to worry about their ancient bench surviving the 82-game season without retirement. Kurt Thomas, Kidd, Camby and Rasheed Wallace are in a fierce tug-of-war with father time. Iman Shumpert might be the next in line behind Paul George for most underrated all-around player in the league.

7. Philadelphia 76ers
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Level of Exposure: Average, Bynum-hype counters the ambivalence

Bynum finally gets his chance. How do his knees respond? Holiday and Turner must fast-forward their development by a year or two. Turner’s inconsistent shooting will quickly turn small forward into a minutes battle with Thaddeus Young and Dorell Wright. All have strengths and the length to be good defenders. All have the weakness of being unpredictable offensively. The Sixers will have to win low-scoring contests to be a factor.

8. Atlanta Hawks
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Level of Exposure: Low, despite being in a bigger market, Georgians don’t seem to care

R.I.P. Joe Johnson Era. Welcome the now-journeyman Devin Harris. But really, Josh Smith is the story. This will be Smith’s team, with Al Horford doing everything humanly possible to get them to play defense (like Chandler in NY). Smith is unrestricted after this year, and he is going to have great season numbers-wise. But will he be a leader in those tight 4th quarter games with the better teams in the league? Chances are good he jacks up too many threes and mentally checks out at the most inopportune moments. As an NBA fan, I’m hoping he finds a way to pull it all together without Johnson’s shadow. Devin Harris is a great example of how anyone can succeed offensively in the NBA in the right system.

9. Cleveland Caveliers
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Level of Exposure: Low. Cleveland-ers have a chip on their collective shoulders because nobody ever talks about Cleveland, except for during the LeBron-Era.

Kyrie Irving is fearless, talented, and a creative finisher. Sounds kind of like Derrick Rose, doesn’t it? If only he had some help. The Cavs hope Tristan Thompson can step into a Carl Landry/David West role at some point. That point is not this year. Gritty defenders like Varejao, Gee, and Miles will keep them in games.

10. Milwaukee Bucks
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Level of Exposure: Low. Small city in the shadow of Chicago and the Packers.

Scott Skiles preaches defense, in his aggressive, big-naked-head-screaming-kind-of-way of relating to his players. His team is built around scorers (Jennings, Ellis, Gooden) who have not always been the most even-keeled personalities themselves. Dalembert and Mbah a Moute can’t defend everyone on the other team. Exciting and volatile mediocrity will ensue.

11. Toronto Raptors
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Level of Exposure: Lower than low. Toronto is such a beautiful city. Too bad we never hear about it.

Kyle Lowry gets free reign. Can he replicate his Rocket-fueled success of last year? Depends on Bargnani, DeRozan and rookie Terrence Ross’ ability to knock down their open threes? Like Orlando, this team is full of scoring and short on defense. At least Lowry brings an open-mindedness to the offense that might inspire the shooters to defend as well. Amir Johnson and Ed Davis are in danger of disappearing into the could-have-been landscape of former NBA players now starring in Europe or Asia.

12. Orlando Magic
Location: Disneyworld, Magic Kingdown, Orlando, Florida
Level of Exposure: (Used to be) High, because of Superman. Now, it will be average.

No longer waiting for Superman’s answer, the Magic will attempt to move on with a shoot-first PG (Nelson), a shoot-first SF(Hedo), a shoot-first PF (Davis), and Arron Afflalo. My heart goes out to Afflalo, as he deserves a better fate than the one handed to him in Orlando. Gustavo Ayon will surprise a few people with his active hands and rebounding. Someone has to grab the rebounds now that Superman is gone. Sadly, there will be fewer rebounds to collect with this group of offense-focused teammates.

13. Detroit Pistons
Location: Detroit, Michigan
Level of Exposure: Low (see below)

Who are the Pistons? Are they Brandon Knight’s team? Rodney Stuckey’s? Greg Monroe’s? Rookie Andre Drummond? They have a backup SG named Kim English. That’s cool. All we know is that they are not going anywhere this year, and they are bound to turn the state of Michigan away from the NBA and ever-more toward collegiate basketball and professional hockey.

14. Washington Wizards
Location: The Nation’s Capital
Level of Exposure: Lower than Low. People are talking about DC, but the Wizards may as well play in North Dakota.

Nene, Ariza and Okafor bring actual defenders to this team. John Wall may not realize what is happening for the first month or two of the season. He may be asking for an outlet pass for the first time in years, because the Wizards have stopped their opponents from scoring! Bradley Beal is a talented scorer, who will be competing with Jordan Crawford for both shots and minutes. If John Wall is able to harness his blazing speed and run a balanced offense, this team could surprise. Jan Vesely is a secret-weapon with his length, blocking shots and getting out in transition. Identity seems to be the issue here. Will a coach (Randy WIttman, had to look that one up) connect to Wall and get this to work? Tough assignment, but there is hope, now that they sent Rashard’s albatross of a contract to Miami.

15. Charlotte Bobcats
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Level of Exposure: Low (see Detroit Pistons for reasons)

If Michael Jordan were forced to come out of retirement again and play with this collection of players he’s assembled, some form of cosmic justice would be served. Bismack Biyombo will lead the league in blocked shots within four years. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the chance to be special, if he can develop a jumper. Ben Gordon’s shooting ability, when he’s turned on, is potentially dangerous to opponents. Brendan Haywood? Ramon Sessions? Kemba Walker? This team epitomizes rebuilding gone wrong. A collection of talented, young athletes whose potential is great, but whose team will lose 70% of the time because the concepts of unity and defense have not been addressed.

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