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.
15. New Orleans Hornets
No, I didn’t forget about the Hornets. Yes, I’m predicting that they’ll go from last place in the Western Conference last season to the eighth seed this season. No, I don’t think Anthony Davis is going to carry them to the playoffs single-handedly. Yes, I’m aware that Al-Farouq Aminu might be the worst starting small forward in the league. Any more questions?
The reason I’m so bullish on the 2012-13 Hornets is that the three best players on this roster (Davis, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson) played a combined nine games for last year’s squad — and I believe that two of them merit consideration among the top 25 players in the league. Obviously, I’m predicting that Davis will be a dominant defensive force right out of the gate for the Hornets, and his frontcourt pairing with Robin Lopez — who is a much better defender than his brother — should help elevate the Hornets’ team defense into the top 10 this season. But where the Hornets really needed help last season was on offense, as indicated by their 28th-ranked Offensive Rating.
That’s where Gordon and Anderson come in. Anderson’s three-point shooting prowess is well-known by fantasy hoopsters like myself who scooped him up with a mid-round pick last year — he led the NBA in three-pointers made while sinking over 39 percent of those shots. As for Gordon, it remains to be seen whether his recovery from knee surgery and his conditioning will enable him to be ready to play when the regular season commences, but his value to the team was shown last season by the fact that the Hornets had a 6-3 record in his nine games.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
If there’s a city that could embrace a gifted athlete who happens to be an unmitigated asshole, it’s The City of Brotherly Love. When he’s not nursing an injury, cheap-shotting an opponent half his size or parking his Bimmer in a handicapped spot, Andrew Bynum is a top-two center who could potentially average 24 and 12 as the main option on an NBA team.
As with Eric Gordon, the health of Bynum’s knees and his conditioning are question marks going into this season. What shouldn’t be in question is his status as a legitimate franchise player. The loss of Andre Iguodala will hurt the Sixers on the defensive end, where they’re unlikely to match their third-ranked Defensive Rating from last season. Offensively, they should receive a huge boost from Bynum’s offensive rebounding and his ability to score a lot of points at a high level of efficiency. If he can be on the court for most of Philly’s games this season, handle the spotlight of being the team’s main star, and stop being such a flake all the time, Bynum could be a dominant force in the Eastern Conference.
Elsewhere on the roster, Jrue Holiday appears poised for a breakout year, Evan Turner’s solid all-around game is gradually improving, Thaddeus Young is a dark horse for sixth man of the year candidate, Jason Richardson is still a valuable long range weapon and Nick Young is, well… he’s Nick Young. (I’m not a fan.) Ultimately, this team will go as far as Bynum carries it.
13. Memphis Grizzlies
As I write this Grizzlies preview, I’m trying not to feel like a gigantic failure due to the fact that the team’s new majority owner, Robert Pera, is younger than I am. Pera reached an agreement with local investors in August that should keep the team in Memphis for at least another 15 years, which is nice. On the court, the Grizzlies boast both talent and depth in their frontcourt, especially if Darrell Arthur makes a successful return from a stress fracture in his leg by November. Zach Randolph isn’t a guaranteed 20 and 10 anymore, but he and Marc Gasol still make up one of the most potent frontcourt duos in the league.
The Grizzlies succeed primarily on their aggressive, swarming style of defense that frustrates ballhandlers and leads to a bunch of turnovers. Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Rudy Gay each averaged at least 1.5 steals per game last season as the Grizzlies joined the Heat as the only teams with three such players. Their weakness could be their outside shooting, since they finished 26th in three-point percentage last season and they lost their second-best three-point shooter when O.J. Mayo signed with the Mavericks. Still, they remain a competitive team that seems to be able to kick it up a notch in the playoffs.