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.
9. Los Angeles Clippers
Scoring will not be a problem for this team as long as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are both in the lineup. What limits the Clippers from really competing with the big boys in the West is their subpar frontcourt defense and the fact that Griffin actually regressed as a shooter last season. If he can develop a competent mid-range game, get his free throw shooting up to 70 percent (compared to 52.1 percent last season) and start using his athleticism on the defensive end, Griffin can join Paul as a true franchise player.
The Clippers’ bench would have looked pretty kick-ass five years ago, but it remains to be seen what Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom still have in the tank. Odom’s the real wild card here because he probably still has the natural ability to be a fantastic sixth man if he works his body into game shape and he has truly regained his focus for the game. Pardon my armchair psychology, but I believe Odom suffers from clinical depression and he needs to get his mind right before his body will follow. Writing as someone who has dealt with depression both myself and with loved ones, there is really no other logical explanation for what happened with him last season.
8. Brooklyn Nets
Right off the bat, I predict that Deron Williams is going to have a MONSTER 2012-13 season. I think he’s going to be on some “Forgot About Dre” shit where he’ll remind everyone that he should be in consideration as the best point guard in the NBA. I also think the Nets have a ridiculously nice starting lineup and they’re probably going to have one of the strongest home court advantages in the league.
Now for the bad parts. I don’t want to say their bench is weak, but it’s definitely weird. In particular, I have no idea what to expect from Andray Blatche and Josh Childress. They’re both young enough to bounce back to the level of performance from their glory days, but it’s ominous to count on those two on a team with aspirations beyond the second round of the playoffs. And then there’s Brook Lopez, who deserves his own paragraph because my opinion about him and the type of player he is really defines my worldview about what I respect in a basketball team.
You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to know that the ability to score 20 points per game in the NBA is a rare skill and players who can do that will always get paid. But is a center who can score at that rate really more valuable than a comparable scorer at any other position? Having endured six infuriating seasons of the Andrea Bargnani Experience as a Raptors fan, I’ve developed a religious belief that rebounding and defense are far more critical skills for a center in comparison to scoring ability. Brook Lopez is a below-average rebounder and defender, and if that doesn’t change, I think the Nets have almost no chance of playing in the Eastern Conference Finals this season. Regardless, it’s pretty cool for the Nets to be this relevant again.
7. Atlanta Hawks
I actually like this team a lot more than I did when Joe Johnson was on it. Al Horford and Josh Smith are a fantastic frontcourt, they’ve got decent depth and a bunch of great shooters like Anthony Morrow, Kyle Korver and Lou Williams. Plus, Smith is in a contract year so if he doesn’t make the All-Star team this season, he probably never will.
The Hawks were 22nd in Pace Factor (possessions per 48 minutes) last season, but if they want to maximize the success of their current, athletic, itchy-trigger-finger roster, they should aim to get that stat into the top 10. Coach Larry Drew has promised a much faster pace for this team, but doesn’t it seem like most coaches say that before every season? When’s the last time an NBA coach said, “Play at a faster pace? Nah, man. We’re gonna slow it way down. I’m calling it ‘the molasses offense’. We’re gonna have our point guard roll it up the court every possession like Chris Paul on Xanax.”