Tuesday, August 7, 2012

2012-13 Eastern Conference Predictions

Tier 7
15. Cleveland
The Cavs have a foundation for a team that will be competitive for a long time with Irving, Waiters, Thompson, and Zeller. It's no secret that Kyrie Irving is a great playmaker. Adding Dion Waiters to his wing is a perfect compliment. If Waiters' spin move can translate effectively to the NBA, then he will surprise many. Last year Thompson showed that he wants to be a high energy leader, and there is no one better to learn from than Anderson Varejao. The Cavaliers have also built a strong locker room by acquiring players such as Luke Harangody, Donald Sloan, and Jon Leuer; thought young, all these players were considered leaders for their respective college teams and are known for their hustle. This year is going to be a struggle for the young Cavs, but when the team is in a groove, they will be very fun to watch.

Tier 6
14. Charlotte
There were three big moves this off-season for the Bobcats all in the right direction: 1) Trading for Ben Gordon; 2) Drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist; and 3) Not retaining D.J. Augustin. Now I do not think allowing Augustin to walk without receiving anything in return was the most prudent idea; however, Kemba Walker is a promising point guard who is ready to start. Walker is very explosive which gives him an edge in creating plays. With Gordon, Henderson, and Kidd-Gilchrist on the wing, this will be a team that will look good in transition and will continuously have pieces moving which will tire opponents.

13. Washington
Washington has one of the most promising backcourts in the league with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall has already established himself as an elite point guard while Beal certainly has the tools to be a successful shooting guard in the league. Jan Vesely is a promsing Czech forward who showed glimpses of extremely dynamic play last year; he showed the ability to keep up with the fast break and finish around the rim. His ability to obtain easy baskets will earn him a spot on any roster. The Wiz also have some promise in Kevin Seraphin who is a french power forward who has shown the ability to score inside baskets in Olympic play when given playing time. Seraphin will also be able to learn from veteran power forwards Emeka Okafor and Nene with the Wizards.

Tier 5
12. Orlando
The Magic's season obviously hinges on the future of Dwight Howard. With Howard, the Magic are a playoff contender, but, without Howard, the Magic will have a hard time staying anywhere near .500. It's unfortunate to say, but the future of the franchise is contingent on whether or not the team can convince Howard to sign an extension in order maximize his trade value. Howard has put the organization in a tough situation because the roster of the Magic roster is comprised of role players used to surround Howard leaving the team with little to build around once he departs.

11. Milwaukee
I am extremely excited to see how Scott Skiles utilizes the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis after having an offseason to prepare the two together. These are two players who are very good at scoring; finding a balance of ball apportionment will be imperative for the success of this team. The Bucks also have a trio of promising near seven-footers in John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, and Larry Sanders. Hopefully, Brandon Jennings will be able to feel comfortable conducting the pick-and-roll with these young bigs. I think Sanders has the best opportunity to fulfill this role as he has played with Jennings for two seasons and proved to be quite effective running the pick-and-roll in college with Eric Maynor at VCU.

10. Detroit
Choosing Detroit to finish 10th in the Eastern Conference is probably my most controversial prediction. Detroit is in a very similar position to Cleveland and Charlotte in that all three teams have a very talented but young core group of players. The reason I see the Pistons having a much more successful season is Greg Monroe. After only two seasons, Monroe has established himself as a perennial center in the league. Brandon Knight has the speed and shooting range to run a productive pick-and-roll with Monroe. Rodney Stuckey has developed into a solid combo guard, but he needs to continue to work on his perimeter shooting. The last aspect that I like about the Pistons is that they have two veterans in Corey Maggette and Tayshaun Prince to set an example for a plethora of promising shooting guards and small forwards.

Tier 4
9. Toronto
Andrea Bargnani has quitely become one of the most consistent scorers in the league; Bargnani managed to score 19.5 ppg last season while shooting below .300 from 3-point range. One has to expect Bargnani's 3PT% to climb back up to his career average of .365. Bargnani's versatile play helps to open up opportunities for forward/center Ed Davis who showed he could be a double-double type player when given substantial playing time. Davis is also good a protecting the paint on the defensive end. Jonas Valanciunas will also be coming over from overseas for the Raptors. Valanciunas has had a disappointing Olympics, but his energy and display of being able to convert high percentage shots leaves the Raptors with anticipation. 

The Raptors also have one of the best floor generals in Jose Calderon, but he seems to be on the way out with the acquisition of guard Kyle Lowry. Or maybe Dwane Casey will borrow a few pages from Jay Wright's playbook and  figure out how to maximize Lowry's abilities with another ballhandler as Wright did with Lowry and Randy Foye at Villanova. With Linas Kleiza having an incredible Olympics and DeMar DeRozan continuing to develop along with the acquisition of Landry Fields (via free agency) and Terrence Ross (via draft), have many experts picking the Raptors to sneak into the playoffs. The question for the Raptors is not whether or not if they have enough talent; the question is if they will find a way to effectively utilize all the talent the squad has.

8. Philadelphia
The Sixers had a big problem last season: way too much depth. Phily has managed to thin out its roster by letting Louis Williams sign with the Hawks and amnestying Elton Brand's contract. Also, the Sixers have yet to sign Jodie Meeks over a matter of contract dispute. These openings allow Jrue Holiday and Andre Igudola to be a high 30s players, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner to be 30+ minute players, and Lavoy Allen to be a 25 minute player. A consolidated roster will also solidify the rotations and allow players to develop higher degrees of fluidity and consistency.

7. Chicago
The Bulls' season will be severely stunted by Derrick Rose absence due to knee surgery. The Bulls were able to sign first round pick Marquis Teague as well as guards Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, and Marco Belineli which should keep Chicago in the playoffs. Last season, Carlos Boozer logged his second lowest point, rebound, assist, and minute average of his career. Joakim Noah will need to play at an elevated level this season, but most of the Bulls' success this season will hinge on whether Loul Deng can take on a greater role as a play-maker for the Bulls. Deng has not been the primary play-maker and scorer for Bulls since Rose was drafted, so it will be interesting to see if he can rise to the occasion.

6. Atlanta
The Hawks did a good job of recuperating after losing Joe Johnson this offseason. The Hawks signed Louis Williams using the their $5 million midlevel exception which is a great bargain. ATL replaced Kirk Hinrich by trading Marvin Williams for Devin Harris. The Hawks also acquired shooting guard Anthony Morrow and sharp shooting forward Kyle Korver. The Hawks have a solidifed front court in Josh Smith and Al Horford, but I'm not sure what the Hawks' backcourt rotation will look like with Jeff Teague, Harris, Williams, Morrow, and first round pick John Jenkins. Larry Drew has quite a challenge in finding an effective backcourt rotation.

Tier 3
5. Brooklyn
Hello Brooklyn! The Nets have arrived. After signing Joe Johnson via sign-and-trade, the Nets were able to lock up Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Gerald Wallce to long-term contracts. The Nets completed touched up their starting roster by resigning double-double surprise Kris Humphries. In addition to MarShon Brooks, the Nets have solidifed their backcourt depth by acquiring for Tyshawn Taylor, C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, and Jerry Stackhouse. One of the Nets' other draft choices, Tornike Shengelia, had a surprisingly good summer camp which led to a contract and high hopes for Shengelia as a high energy back up.

The one flaw on the Nets' roster is frontcourt depth. Lopez and Humphries are both expected to play around 35 minutes per game. With Joe Johnson's size, this permits Avery Johnson to utilize his other guards and push Wallace up to the four where he can defend. Shengelia has also shown the ability to defend power forwards during training camp, so manufacturing depth at the four isn't the main concern. The Nets should target a back up center, most likely a defensive specialist so that the paint does not become a gaping weakness when Brook Lopez is taken out for rest.

4. New York
This maybe too optimistic of a prediction for the Knicks. I think the Knicks' decisions to not match  the offer sheets for Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin were quite prudent. Fields had a turrable (terrible in Charles Barkley's voice) season. And it was obvious that Lin and Carmelo Anthony have conflicting offensive approaches as both players need to have the ball in order to be effective. I also like Glen Grunwald's decision to bring back Raymond Felton - who excelled in his short tenure with the Knicks - and acquire Jason Kidd and Ronnie Brewer. Kidd is obviously a pass first guard who should be fairly compatible with Anthony while Brewer is a great defensive specialist who earns baskets through hustle plays.

Grunwald continued the mindset of keeping the ball in Anthony's and Amare Stoudemire's hands by resigning three point specialist Steve Novak who is excellent off the ball and creates mismatches with his size. Lastly, bringing Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby back to New York to add frontcourt depth leaves the roster with few flaws. The biggest question for the Knicks is if this team can find the chemistry in order to be as good on the court as they are on paper.

Tier 2
3. Boston
Rajon Rondo unquestionably proved himself as an elite point guard last season, maybe even the best. There is no question that the Celtics can build around Rondo after Pierce and Garnett retire. His Pistol Pete-esque layup in the playoffs will be a moment that young basketball players will attempt to replicate for years. The Celtics accommodated for the loss of the best three-point shooter, Ray Allen, by acquiring the shooter with the best form, Jason Terry. Boston also made it a point to reinvent their frontcourt depth by signing Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins and by drafting  Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. The most significant difference for the Celtics will be Derrick Rose's absence.

Tier 1
2. Indiana
The Pacers finished third last season behind Chicago (who is now without Derrick Rose) and Miami, so picking the Pacers to finish second is not a reach by any margin. The surprising aspect of this selection is predicting Indiana to play on the same level as Miami next season. 

The Pacers' roster is the best in the Eastern Conference at creating mismatches through size. The Pacers have two very versatile small forwards in Danny Granger and Paul George. The Pacers also have the most frontcourt depth in the Eastern Conference with Roy Hibbert and David West in the starting rotation and Tyler Hansborough, Ian Mahinmi, and Miles Plumlee coming off the bench.

The Pacers were able to address their only void this offseason (the loss of point guard Darren Collison) by signing restricted free agent D.J. Augustin to play compliment combo guard George Hill.

1. Miami
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