Welcome to Little Utopia’s Epic NBA Season Preview Extravaganza! To prepare you for the 2013-2014 season, we’re filling you in on the biggest storylines, giving you analysis on the league’s rising (and falling) teams, and making some predictions we’ll undoubtedly regret by the end of the season. If you missed Part 1, click here.
Hmm … We Wonder How This Will Work Out
I’m not going to lie; I wanted Dwight Howard to go to the Houston Rockets. Out of all of his possible destinations, it just made the most basketball sense both for him and for the rest of us that didn’t have a vested interest in whichever team he chose. Thankfully, Howard used reason in making his decision and not something like which team brought him his favorite candy in negotiations. This season we’ll all be glad the Lakers blew it by bringing Kit Kats instead of Skittles.
With Howard now in the mix, it will be interesting to see how Houston fits him into its offensive strategy. Although Howard balked at Mike D’Antoni’s pick-and-roll offense, he should be more willing to run a high frequency of pick-and-rolls in Houston. Part of the reason for this is because James Harden is a savant of the pick-and-roll and it’s a strength of Jeremy Lin’s game as well. In theory, a Harden-Howard pick-and-roll should be an almost impossible thing to defend. Most likely, the best way to defend it will be to bring a help defender from the weak side to prevent a lob to Howard, but Harden is an adept passer who will find the open three-point shooter stationed in the corner that the weakside defender just left. And that’s probably your best case scenario to try and defend it. So, yeah, good luck with that.
The addition of Howard will also allow the Rockets to add another dimension to an already lethal offense that finished sixth in offensive efficiency last season. By using Howard in the post, Houston can mimic the offense Orlando ran with Howard and surround him with three-point shooters. Only, unlike in Orlando, the Rockets have a second superstar in Harden who can create his own shots whenever the Howard post offense becomes stagnant.
In the video below, Harden and Howard try a pick-and-roll against Roy Hibbert and Paul George, who elect to switch on the play. Harden initially misses a wide-open lob to Howard and the Rockets are forced to reset. The Pacers, however, are unable to switch back on their original assignments and George is left trying to battle for position with Howard in the post. Howard simply spins off of him and Harden tosses one of the many easy assists he will pick up this season. Just like that, the Rockets new duo make two of the NBA’s best defenders look helpless.
If the preseason is any indication, Harden and Howard look like they’ll work well together and the offense should be that much harder for teams to defend. Of course, it isn’t only the offense that Howard will impact. The addition of D12 should turn what was an average defensive team into a top-10 unit, provided that Howard can play at a level closer to his Orlando days than to his Los Angeles ones.
With all of this said, I’m not buying that this is a championship-caliber team just yet. First off, their depth is a big question mark. Do you trust Terrence Jones (who’s actually projected to be the starting power forward), Francisco Garcia, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Omri Casspi, and Patrick Beverley to play the kind of crucial supporting minutes needed come playoff time? Because other than Asik I don’t.
Speaking of Asik, he just doesn’t seem to fit with this team anymore. He’s probably the Rockets best player coming off the bench, but he can’t play together with Howard without completely clogging the floor on offense. While that might not be a problem during the regular season, the best teams find a way to get their five best players on the floor in the crunch time of playoff games, which in Houston’s case should include Asik. It’s a problem that needs to be solved if the Rockets are to become serious title contenders. Can they trade Asik for a floor-spacing power forward like Ryan Anderson? Although Houston has publicly said they won’t, the Rockets should seriously consider it, especially if they can’t find a way to play Asik and Howard together in crunch time (which, again, seems impossible).
Even if Houston is able to figure out these issues, the Rockets will still have to develop the chemistry needed to advance deep into the playoffs. As we all saw with the Miami Heat, developing that chemistry doesn’t happen over night and it often takes more than one season for everyone to feel comfortable in their roles. Unlike Miami, Houston has the advantage of having only to integrate Howard into their systems, as opposed to having essentially an entirely new team as the Heat did. However, Howard brings his own unique set of baggage (Insider’s hint: The bags are filled with candy!). For example, he’s already compared Chandler Parsons to Hedo Turkoglu and Harden to Courtney Lee, which I’m sure went over well with his new teammates.
All of this adds up to make Houston the league’s most interesting team this season. The Rockets have the possibility of being a nightmare to play against both offensively and defensively and making a serious run at a Western Conference championship and beyond. Conversely, Houston could just as easily end up as a team that fails to gel and slides into a sixth seed and a first round exit. Either way, it’s going to be fun.
Riggin’ for Wiggins
If Houston will be fun to follow this season because of the range of possibility the team represents, then many of the NBA’s teams will be fun to track simply for the complete certainty of their abject awfulness. With the 2014 NBA Draft class projecting to be the strongest since the fabled 2003 class, several teams have already traded away key assets in an attempt to bottom out and land a top pick. For many of these teams, it’s a smart move because the draft is the only way for a small market team to build a contender, as the Oklahoma City Thunder have shown. Small market teams can’t land superstars like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony in free agency, but they can draft potential superstars like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, and Jabari Parker and hope to sign them to long-term deals.
As of this article’s publication, Wiggins is the consensus number-one pick. The 6’8″ small forward will suit up for one year at Kansas before moving on to greener pastures in the NBA. Some scouts have suggested that Wiggins is the best prospect since LeBron James and, after watching his high school highlight reel, it’s easy to see why.
At least four NBA teams: the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, and Boston Celtics aren’t even trying to pretend that they’re attempting to field competitive teams. Others like the Utah Jazz, Charlotte Bobcats, and Sacramento Kings won’t be much better. As the season wears on, it will be interesting to see how many of these teams start making up injuries, giving their players tainted food, and telling hotel staff to not make wake up calls with the hopes of losing more games in order to get a better chance at Wiggins. I’m also going out on a limb here and predicting that one team will make the innovative decision to start shooting in their own basket (cough, Phoenix, cough). The NBA … where ridiculous tanking happens.
Laura’s Preternatural Prediction
Look guys, I know you’re not going to like it, but I’m the girl who successfully picks bracket winners because of uniform colors. I’m that girl. Maybe it’s not quite that bad, and in the past few years I’ve caught up on my sports trivia, but I’m certainly not even close to being a well-informed sports fan. And yet, I have an uncanny ability to correctly predict outcomes in sports matchups.
I predicted that the Miami Heat was going to repeat last year, and they did, even if it took a miracle in the last seconds of Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs. I predicted that the Florida Panthers would make the playoffs in 2012, and anyone who watches hockey knows what an outlandish claim that was, but, yes, the Panthers made the playoffs that year. And I’d like to put this prediction down in writing now: No one believes in the Miami Dolphins after their recent three game losing streak, but I do. They are going to make the playoffs this season, but they will be knocked out in the first round. Still, that’s better than last year.
As for the NBA, there will be a few surprises in the 2013-2014 season. The Heat are going to be good, and while I’d like to say they are going to threepeat, I don’t feel in my heart that it will happen. With Derrick Rose back on the court, I believe that the Chicago Bulls will win the championship, and we will see some tears leaking out out of LeBron James’ eye sockets.
The Charlotte Bobcats will surprise us by winning some big games, but the Atlanta Hawks will continue to suck and so will not be a surprise to anyone. The biggest surprise will come from the Houston Rockets, who, despite the recent addition of Dwight Howard, will not make the playoffs at all this year, even though the Los Angeles Lakers will. So here’s to going on ESPN to see the names of all the NBA franchises and matching crazy predictions with teams I didn’t even know existed. But you know what? I’ll eat my words and publish a public apology on this site if at least 4 of the 6 predictions I’ve made here don’t come to pass. We’ll see.
Under the Radar
With the signing of Howard, Houston stole the majority of the offseason headlines. At one point during the Howard waffle fest though, it looked like another team, the Golden State Warriors, might have a chance to land the coveted big man. However, as we all know, Howard went to Houston, and the Warriors were forced to move on to another free-agent target.
That target turned out to be Andre Iguodala, who the Warriors quickly signed to a four-year $48 million dollar contract after realizing they wouldn’t be able to land Howard. Although this move is both one of the best and least discussed of the offseason, there were a few moments where it appeared it would fall through, according to SB Nation. In order to clear the cap space for Iguodala’s new deal, Golden State had to do some serious wheeling and dealing to unload the brutal contracts of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins. The Warriors were able to swing a deal with Utah, but only with about an hour to spare, as Iguodola was set to a sign a lucrative deal with the Dallas Mavericks.
Golden State must’ve been ecstatic that they pulled off the Iguodola signing because his addition transforms this team into a serious threat to make it to the NBA Finals in June. Although Iguodola struggles as a jump shooter, especially with those coveted corner threes, that’s not what this team needs. With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, the Warriors will have no issues filling it up from deep or scoring in general for that matter. Golden State was a top-10 team in terms of offensive efficiency last season.
Still, Iguodola’s presence will likely boost that efficiency ranking even higher because of his ability to attack the basket and his underrated skills as a playmaker, which the Warriors will especially need this season after the loss of Jarrett Jack in free agency. As of right now, Golden State’s back up point guard to Curry is rookie Nemanja Nedovic, so the Warriors will look to Iguodola’s playmaking ability while the rookie gets his feet under him.
With all of that said, Iguodola’s real value for Golden State is on the defensive end. Last season, the Warriors were 13th overall in defensive efficiency and historically teams outside of the top-10 have had little to no chance of winning the NBA Finals. The addition of Iguodola should help propel them into top-10 status by adding even more rebounding to a team that was already second overall in terms of team rebounding last season (Iguodola averaged 5.3 boards per game last season). More importantly, Iguodola adds an elite wing defender to deal with players like Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, something the Warriors simply didn’t have last season.
As great as the addition of Iguodola is, this Golden State team will likely go as far as its collective health allows it to. Curry’s ankles have a tendency to act up as the season wears on and center Andrew Bogut has only played a combined 44 games in the past two seasons. Can this team stay healthy? I’m not so sure.
Still, with no true favorite to come out of the West this season, the Warriors window to get to the NBA Finals is wide open. As much as I like this team though, I just don’t see it happening; I don’t trust any of their guards after Curry and Thompson to play crucial minutes come playoff time. If healthy, I think Golden State will make it to the Western Conference Finals, but that’s where their season will come to an end.
What’s Going Down in June
When Laura and I were originally discussing this season preview, I had planned on picking the Los Angeles Clippers to come out of the West. With Doc Rivers replacing Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers should actually have some semblance of a system, both on offense and defense, for the first time since acquiring Chris Paul. They’ve also surrounded Paul and Blake Griffin with quality outside shooters in J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley as well as bolstering their bench with Darren Collison.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Clippers will be a better team than last season. But the more I thought about it as I wrote the various sections of this Epic NBA Season Preview Extravaganza, I could no longer convince myself that this team was good enough to make it to the NBA Finals. With their current nucleus, this team has only made it out of the first round once in two years. Lob City has become synonymous with highlight-reel action during the regular season and underachieving in the playoffs. Aside from Paul, can you really trust any of these guys to come up big in the waning seconds of a playoff game? I can’t. Not yet, at least.
After coming to this realization, I started to look around the West to try to determine its best team. OKC has no depth, a crucial flaw. As I noted earlier, the Warriors still are a piece away and need to prove they can stay healthy. San Antonio is a year older and will need Kawhi Leonard to take the next step now that it appears that Manu Ginobili is on his last legs. And, although I think Leonard will make the leap, the Spurs window really seemed to slam shut in Miami last season.
And then there’s the Rockets. The more I think about this team, the more I like them. Yes, their depth is an issue, but I think they’ll get just enough from those guys in the playoffs, like the Heat did in their first season with James, Wade, and Bosh. I also think Houston will find a way to trade Asik for a floor-spacing big that will not only create space for Howard, but also create space for the slashing games of Harden and Chandler Parsons. Without a clear favorite, I think the Rockets come out of the West.
Any conversation in the East has to start with the defending champion, the Miami Heat. On paper, this is probably the most talented and deepest team Miami has had during the Big Three era. The problem for Miami, however, is that the East is the strongest it’s been since James, Wade, and Bosh joined forces. Last season, the Heat essentially got a free pass in two of their four playoff rounds, with the Milwaukee Bucks series acting as a warm-up round and the Chicago Bulls being too banged up to offer any real challenge. This year, Miami will only get one warm-up round before it likely has to play either Chicago, Indiana, or Brooklyn in the next round and then face off against one of those teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. The road back to the NBA Finals won’t be as easy as it has been in the past.
For me, though, it all comes down to the health of Dwyane Wade. If Wade is healthy during the playoffs, there’s no stopping the Heat. The issue there, of course, is that Wade has shown an inability to stay healthy over the course of a playoff run. Can he do it this year? I’m not so sure.
If Wade can’t stay healthy and Miami stumbles, then I think Indiana is in the best position to dethrone the champs. Last season, the Pacers pushed the Heat to seven games and were largely undone in the series by a pathetic bench, featuring the likes of Tyler Hansbrough (trust me on this one, click that link), Sam Young, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Green. During the offseason, Indiana shored up its bench by adding Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, and C.J. Watson (actual NBA players!). In addition, the Pacers will have Danny Granger back in the starting lineup, which moves Lance Stephenson back to the bench, further bolstering their depth.
Due to that much-improved bench and the further maturation of Roy Hibbert and Paul George, Indiana will finally get past Miami and into the NBA Finals where they’ll meet the Rockets. The Pacers have all the pieces to give Houston problems, a big man in Hibbert to guard Howard and an elite wing defender in George to limit Harden, and they’ll simply be too much for a still-gelling Rockets team to overcome. At the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Indiana Pacers will be lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA Champions.
You heard it here first.
Charlie Crespo (@Little_Utopia) is the editor-in-chief of Little Utopia.
Previously from Charlie Crespo:
♦ Little Utopia’s Epic NBA Preview Extravaganza: Part 1
♦ The Value of Banksy’s New York Residency
♦ Viral Video of the Week: The Inner Workings of My Mind
♦ On Being a Die-Hard Fan of a Pathetic Sports Franchise
♦ Viral Video of the Week: BatDad Begins
Laura Creel (@Little_Utopia) is the managing editor of Little Utopia.
Previously from Laura Creel:
♦ Viral Video of the Week: Kanye West’s Bizarre Jimmy Kimmel Interview
♦ The Complete Coverage on My Weight Loss “Success”
♦ Never the Bride
♦ Learning From Failure
♦ I Am Not a Food Stamp Abuser