Join me as I count down my predictions of the regular season finishes for the 2012-13 NBA season, at a rate of three teams per day. Tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.
21. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons were 21-21 over the final 42 games of last season, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight figure to improve with another season of NBA experience, and rookie center Andre Drummond appears to be more NBA-ready than previously expected. Knight could be the key catalyst for the Pistons possibly knocking on the door to the playoffs, since they still appear to lack offensive firepower unless he can improve as a playmaker.
Monroe showed signs of reaching All-Star level last season, but he’ll probably play a significant number of minutes at power forward next to Drummond and Slava Kravtsov so there could be an adjustment period. He frequently got torched on the defensive end at center so it could actually be a net positive for the Pistons to play him next to a superior help defender at the five. As for how minutes will be distributed at the Pistons’ wing positions among their collection of misfit guards and forwards, your guess is as good as mine.
20. Golden State Warriors
As far as “nothing to lose” gambles go, the Warriors’ trade of Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson was a very good one. Jackson was immediately flipped to the Spurs for Richard Jefferson, T.J. Ford and a draft pick, but Bogut will anchor a team defense that figures to be not completely atrocious for the first time since the mid-2000s. To get a sense of Bogut’s potential impact on that end of the floor, consider that the Milwaukee Bucks were top-five in Defensive Rating in 2009-10 and 2010-11 when he played at least 60 games each season. He played just 12 games for them last season and the Bucks’ team defense fell to 16th in the league.
Of course, Bogut will need to be on the court to make that impact, and that’s become an increasingly dodgy prospect in recent years. He fractured his ankle in January and it’s still giving him enough trouble that he’s questionable to be ready for the Warriors’ season opener. Speaking of which, that’s a recurring problem for point guard Stephen Curry, who missed 40 games last season with his own ankle injury. If most of the Warriors top players can spend more time on the hardwood instead of the trainer’s table, there’s no question they have the talent to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
19. Toronto Raptors
With the arrivals of Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors are the beneficiaries of significant upgrades at point guard and center. Valanciunas is a particular source of excitement for Raptors fans since he shows potential of developing into their first star center since… ever, I guess. He’s probably not a threat for Rookie of the Year honors, but fans and broadcasters alike will be forced to learn how to pronounce his name (“Val-en-chew-nus”) with the impact he’ll have on both ends of the court.
Now entering his seventh NBA season, power forward Andrea Bargnani remains a frustrating enigma. He missed 35 games last season to a weirdly recurring calf injury, but he showed flashes of finally putting it all together early in the season. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo appears to have structured this lineup to surround him with strong defenders and rebounders so that Bargnani can focus on his “Dirk-Lite” scoring ability. And if anyone can get the most out of this roster, second-year Raptors coach Dwane Casey is that man. He took an atrocious defensive team and brought them up to league average in his first year at the helm, and now we’ll see if he has the firepower to match that level of success offensively.