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.
27. Phoenix Suns
In the first season of the post-Nash era, Suns GM Lon Babby is wisely stockpiling draft picks and trying to create cap flexibility so that they can return to being an annual contender, as they were from the mid- to late-2000s. This season should be a difficult one in Phoenix as Goran Dragic is a significant dropoff from Nash, no matter what you think of Dragic’s skills, and there’s little reason to believe the Suns won’t have a team defense in the bottom third of the league once again.
Free agent signee Michael Beasley figures to take over the role of alpha scorer on this team, claiming, “This is the first time I’ve really been encouraged to shoot even more than I already do, and we all know that I shoot a lot.” Yeah, we sure do, Beas. This will not turn out well.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
The 2012-13 edition of the Cavaliers have the look of a team who could get off to a brutal start to the season. Kyrie Irving has been shooting poorly in preseason as he recovers from a broken hand, rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters has struggled so far, and eight of the players on their roster have no more than one season of NBA experience. Regardless, Irving is an All-Star talent and he’ll likely remind us of that fact by the end of the season.
Anderson Varejao’s return after missing 41 games with a wrist injury last season should bolster the Cavs’ interior defence, assuming the league’s new anti-flopping rule doesn’t significantly reduce his effectiveness. Depending on how the first half of this season goes, Varejao and the $17.3 million remaining on the final two years of his contract could go on the trading block as the Cavs are following a similar strategy to what the Suns are trying to do — banking future picks and clearing cap space for future potential acquisitions.
25. Sacramento Kings
There is no better example than the Sacramento Kings of how misleading traditional counting stats can be. We see a team with three players who each averaged over 16 points per game last season (Marcus Thornton, DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans), that was sixth in the NBA in points per game, and that plays a fast-paced, run-and-gun style — and some of us might think that they could turn into the new “Seven Seconds or Less” success story. Aside from the fact that current-day versions of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in their primes are not walking through that door, there are other problems in Sactown.
Cousins seems to be a virtual lock to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, but those will be empty numbers if he can’t shoot closer to 50 percent from the field and if he doesn’t dedicate himself to becoming at least a decent defender. The Kings finished 29th in points allowed per 100 possessions last season, and Cousins will need to become more of a presence in the post if they’re going to significantly improve in that category. Meanwhile, Evans needs to shake his reputation as a shooting guard who can’t shoot — he made just 27.7 percent of his shot attempts from beyond five feet from the rim last season.
Previously in the countdown: 30-28
Next in the countdown: 24-22