This Monday through Friday, I’m going to give my season predictions in a countdown from worst to first. The format will be three teams per post, one post in the morning and one in the afternoon. Whichever team you’re a fan of, there’s a good chance you’ll feel like I’m disrespecting them. I understand this, and I promise you I won’t take your insults personally.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving is the favorite to win the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year award, but I expect him to have the standard growing pains that come with being a rookie point guard in the NBA, including a high rate of turnovers and a low shooting percentage. He has top-five point guard potential when he hits his prime years, but he’ll struggle along with his young supporting cast this season.
That supporting cast includes rugged rookie power forward Tristan Thompson, who will provide a much-needed boost to the Cavs’ interior defense and rebounding. Unfortunately, Thompson will be competing for minutes with Antawn Jamison and his $15 million expiring contract. Jamison’s presence makes no sense on this team, but Cavaliers GM Chris Grant would be wise to hang on to that expiring contract for the cap space it will create after the season.
The Cavs are in the same boat as the Raptors this season, as both teams need to develop their young talent and preserve their cap flexibility going forward. The Cavs have the edge, for the moment, because they have a potential franchise player in Irving. During what should be another challenging season, there will be reason for hope for the future.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
Is this the season where the Timberwolves will have to make a significant leap forward in order for team president David Kahn to keep his job? They’re coming off their sixth straight sub-.500 season and they haven’t played in the postseason since 2004. The T-Wolves’ two seasons under Kahn’s watch were the worst two consecutive seasons (with a combined 32-132 record) in franchise history. You can only keep accumulating prospects for so long in pro sports before the owner expects to see some progress in the win column.
Looking at the parts, there certainly seems to be a chance that this team could show significant improvement this season if those parts can work together effectively. Kevin Love is a legitimate superstar, Michael Beasley could be poised for a breakout season, Derrick Williams could be a stud if he can get enough playing time and Anthony Randolph continues to tantalize with his tools even while he continues to disappoint fantasy team owners like myself. And let’s not forget new coach Rick Adelman, who only has two losing seasons on his record in 19 full seasons as an NBA coach.
Of course, the main reason you’ll be seeking out T-Wolves games on League Pass once the season kicks off is rookie point guard Ricky Rubio. His arrival in Minnesota has been highly anticipated since Kahn took a chance on selecting him fifth overall in the 2009 draft, and how Rubio performs on this stage will most likely determine how Kahn’s legacy is judged. There’s no denying Rubio’s flair and court vision, but his outside shooting is beyond suspect. If he can’t shoot 40 percent from the field — and I’m highly skeptical that he can — it’s going to be hard for him to hold down a starting job in this league. Regardless, the T-Wolves figure to be the worst compelling NBA team this season.
25. Sacramento Kings
What a fun, wacky bunch of players we have here: DeMarcus! Tyreke! Jimmer! I’m forecasting a lot of 114-110 games in this team’s immediate future, but they’ll probably be on the wrong end of that score more often than not.
Jimmer’s getting the lion’s share of attention right now, but let’s be clear that DeMarcus Cousins is the straw that stirs Sacramento’s mango iced tea. While Marcus Thornton emerged as a 20 points per game threat after he was traded to the Kings in February, Cousins has legitimate top-five center potential if he can improve on a few minor deficiencies such as shot selection, discipline and maturity. There’s no question in my mind that Cousins could average 20 and 10 if he learns to avoid foul trouble. but a fat lot of good that will do the Kings if he’s shooting 43 percent from the field and turning the ball over four times per game.
Even with their offensive weaponry, the Kings finished 25th in offensive efficiency last season because they were 23rd in field goal percentage, 26th in three-point percentage and they had the third-most turnovers in the league. Cousins led the team with a 27.3 percent Usage Rate last season, and if that’s not likely to change this season then he needs to get a lot smarter with his possessions. He needs to cut down on the turnovers, obviously, but he should also take advantage of his size to get a higher percentage of scoring opportunities close to the rim as he made just 36 percent of his shots from 10 feet and beyond last season. The only thing those bricks figure to build is a place to watch other NBA teams play meaningful basketball beyond April.