Slow, hurt and defensively-challenged is not a winning formula. Ask Brooklyn, whose players move at the speed of an elderly gentleman sinking into a warm bath. The Nets pace is the seventh slowest in the league at 94.61 possessions per 48 minutes, per NBA.com. While this pace ranks near the bottom of the league, it is not shocking considering the age of many of their players. What is alarming is the team’s lack of overall speed and athleticism. Between Garnett, Pierce, Lopez and an injured Deron Williams, the Nets often appear to be stuck in quicksand on defense. Joe Johnson has at times shown the athleticism to be an effective defender, but he has never been considered a defensive stopper in his career. Brooklyn’s slow foot-speed has left them vulnerable on defensive rotations, allowing their opponents to shoot 40.3% from three-point range this season, the worst mark in the league, per NBA.com.
The Nets have not fared much better on the offensive side of the ball this season. When originally assembled, Brooklyn’s starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez had the look of a group that would compliment one another offensively. Williams would run high pick-and-rolls, Pierce and Johnson would run off screens and spot-up for threes, Garnett would float around the mid-range area and Lopez would man the low-post. There was also a belief (at least by this NBA enthusiast) that these players would gel together quickly. This has not been the case. While injuries to Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko have certainly hurt Brooklyn’s offensive efficiency, the Nets have struggled even when their starting five has been able to get on the court together. The Nets starting lineup has a plus/minus of -8.6 per 48 minutes, per NBA.com. This statistic demonstrates that even when the Nets have had their projected unit together, they have still under-performed.
Consequently, first-year coach Jason Kidd has taken much of the blame for Brooklyn’s slow start. Kidd has responded by “re-assigning” his lead assistant, Lawrence Frank. Frank was brought in to be Kidd’s mentor and to teach Kidd the intricacies of coaching. After Tuesday’s move, Frank will no longer be on the bench or at practices for the Nets. Some have called for Kidd’s job, pointing out that by the time he has developed as a head coach, the Nets’ championship window will have closed. Kidd will have to learn quickly, as it is hard to imagine Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov tolerating the team’s current quality of play for much longer. Luckily for Kidd, he does have an effective strategy for buying himself some time in tough situations.
Miraculously, the Knicks have managed to be even worse than their NYC neighbor. New York has lost nine straight games and their three wins are tied with Milwaukee for the lowest total in the NBA. The Knicks have struggled mightily on defense after losing Tyson Chandler four games into the season. The Knicks defense has allowed 105.4 points per 100 possessions, tied for third worst in the league, per NBA.com. Outside of Carmelo Anthony, Chandler is undoubtedly the Knicks most important player, helping to cover-up for many of the teams defensive shortcomings. Chandler is scheduled to return around Christmas and his presence will help the Knicks defense. Still, New York features too many sub-par defensive players (Ray Felton, J.R. Smith, Amare Stoudamire, Andrea Bargnani) to become a top defensive team when Chandler returns.
One of the biggest differences between this season and last season for New York has been their three-point shooting. Last season, Melo (37.9%), Smith (35.6%) and Felton (36%) all had excellent three-point shooting percentages. The Knicks outside shooting in 2012-13 forced defenses to stay tight on their shooters, creating quality spacing on offense. This season, Melo (27.7%), Smith (29.6%) and Felton (25%) have been ineffective from three. As a result, defenses now crowd the paint against the Knicks, taking away many easy looks for their offense. The Knicks poor perimeter shooting has caused them to give more minutes to Tim Hardaway Jr. and Beno Udrih. While these players have played well in their increased roles, Knicks fans could not have envisioned counting on these players as key cogs in their offense heading into the season.
Thursday’s match-up between the Knicks and Nets will garner league-wide attention. Unfortunately for both teams, the game is not being discussed in the way that was expected at the start of the season. Instead of a battle for supremacy between two Eastern Conference contenders, the game will be about which team will be the first to hit rock-bottom. Compounding their struggles is the fact that neither team is in a position to hit the reset button and start fresh. Both teams are saddled with expensive rosters and a lack of draft picks (neither team owns their own first round pick in the upcoming draft). In addition, there are few coveted pieces to trade on either roster. Consequently, both the Nets and Knicks will have to correct their issues internally. A proposition that, at this point, seems dubious.
Prediction- 48 minutes of poorly-played basketball featuring many shots of Jason Kidd and Mike Woodson looking confused.
1. The Bulls offense is playing too slow
One of the storylines of the offseason was Coach Tom Thibodeau’s new offense which emphasized speed, ball movement and utilizing the fast break for easy buckets. However, increased pace has been absent in the team’s offense. The Bulls rank in 23rd in pace and 22nd in points per game, per NBA.com. The beginning of Friday’s game against Utah offered a brief sample size of how potent Chicago’s offense can be when they push the game’s tempo. The Bulls scored 18 points in the first five minutes of the game, using Utah’s poor shooting and sloppy play to leak out in transition.
A turnover-laden second quarter slowed the Bulls pace and offensive efficiency. The Bulls committed 10 turnovers in the second quarter and allowed the Jazz to pull back into the game. Four of the turnovers were committed by Rose, who at times appears to be trying to do too much on the court. While Rose will certainly cut down on his turnovers as he gets back into the flow of the game, the Bulls must make a conscious effort to play at a faster pace. Their defense is one of the stingiest in the league, ranking third in points allowed per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. They also feature two talented passing big men in Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. These two strengths should be used to get out in transition following defensive stops and convert easy baskets on the other end.
2. The Bulls lack a consistent secondary ball handler
A game between the Clippers and Heat may have revealed one of Chicago’s biggest flaws. On Thursday, the Miami Heat defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 102-97. The Heat turned around a halftime deficit by taking the ball out of Chris Paul’s hands in the second half. The Heat trapped Paul on practically every pick-and-roll he ran, forcing him to get rid of the ball and limiting his playmaking potential.
The same strategy can be utilized on Derrick Rose and the Bulls. In crunch time, the Bulls use a lineup that features Rose and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. Butler has certainly made strides in the offseason as a shooter and finisher around the rim. However, he is still not an adept ball handler. Watch in this clip as the Heat trap Butler on the pick-and-roll, leading to a turnover.
Kirk Hinrich is a solid backup point guard who can handle the ball and run the pick-and-roll. Yet, it is unlikely the Bulls will insert him into the lineup in close games over Butler. Therefore, Butler will need to develop in this area in order for the Bulls to have an answer against Miami’s trapping defensive style.
3. The Bulls don’t match up well with the Pacers
Excellent defense, physicality, tremendous size, a young superstar. These qualities not only apply to the Bulls, but also the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have opened the season 7-0, including wins against the Bulls and Nets. The Pacers rank first in the league in both defensive efficiency and point differential, outscoring opponents by an average of 9.6 points per game, per ESPN. Indiana has the look of a team that is playing for the number one seed in the east.
In their regular season matchup against the Bulls, the Pacers frequently deployed Paul George on Derrick Rose. George is one of the league’s most dominant perimeter defenders and his length and speed were very effective against Rose. Chicago’s usual size advantage is also cancelled out against Indiana. Roy Hibbert, David West, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi present both depth and tremendous size in the frontcourt. Moreover, Indiana’s bench is far superior to Chicago’s. Whether the Pacers use Lance Stephenson or Danny Granger as their sixth man, each presents a more effective scorer than anyone the Bulls can turn to off the bench. One game against a team does not explain the outcome of a potential playoff series. Still, the matchups appear to heavily favor Indiana if the two were to meet in the playoffs.
1. Kevin Durant will win the Most Valuable Player Award
Durant has improved on every aspect of his game since entering the NBA in 2007. I expect him to have another dominant offensive year and lead the league in scoring. Durant will have to carry the Thunder early with Russell Westbrook sidelined for the first 4-6 weeks of the season. During this time, KD will not only be able to put up video game-like numbers, but he will also demonstrate his immense value. While I expect the Thunder to take a step back as a team, I see Durant further elevating his play. Durant will beat out Derrick Rose and LeBron James to win his first career MVP.
2. Kobe Bryant will return by Christmas and average over 24.5 shots per game this season
Three factors influence this prediction. One, Kobe is an insane person who will do and has done anything to get back onto the court. Two, Kobe is 6,770 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in NBA history. Three, the Lakers will be an average to below-average team this season that will not contend in the West. Add these aspects together and you have Kobe going into pop-a-shot mode upon his return. I see Kobe coming back just over eight months after tearing his Achilles with a focus on making up some serious ground on Kareem’s record. It is important to note, however, that Bryant must not only overcome injury and Father Time, but he will also have to physically wrestle the ball out of Nick Young’s hands in order to take a shot.
Rose has not played like someone coming back from a serious knee injury this preseason. Rather, he looks like the same explosive talent he was before, with some teammates saying that he looks better than ever. Rose averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists during his MVP season in 2010-11. With an improved jump shot and a new offense that will emphasize transition and speed, look for Rose to end up with better numbers than he had in his MVP season. I am predicting Rose will average 26.5 points and 8 assists per game this season and finish second in MVP voting.
4. Rajon Rondo will be traded
After tearing his ACL in January, Rondo and the Celtics have no set timetable for the star guard’s return. However, it is reasonable to assume that Rondo will return before the February 20th trade deadline. By this point in the season, the Celtics will be out of the playoff race and fully embracing a rebuilding project under first year coach Brad Stevens. Thus, I see the Celtics trading Rondo along with Gerald Wallace’s horrendous contract to stockpile young talent and draft picks. Watch for Detroit and Sacramento as possible landing spots for Rondo.
5. The 76ers will win twelve games this season
The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers finished with a record of 9-73, the worst mark in NBA history. Watch for that notorious record to be threatened by this year’s Sixers installment. Looking at Philadelphia’s roster brings about a mixture of sadness, anxiety, confusion, and laughter. Evan Turner will be counted on to carry the offensive load. That is all that needs to be said to understand just how bad the Sixers are going to be. The only point of intrigue for Philadelphia will be Nerlens Noel, but he likely won’t play until late in the season if at all. Still, I see the Sixers piecing together twelve wins and dodging the record books. This will be fantastically awful to watch.
This year’s crop of rookie talent has been lamented for months. No player truly stands out as a “can’t miss prospect” and I would argue that there are only a handful of players that will emerge as difference makers from this year’s class. One of the players that I do see contributing to his team is Magic guard Victor Oladipo. Oladipo demonstrated tenacious defense and effort in college, two skills that can quickly transfer to the pro level. His jump shot improved during his college career and should continue to get better in the pros. I see Oladipo developing into a defensive stopper while putting respectable offensive numbers and winning rookie of the year.
7. Mike Woodson will be fired by the Knicks during the season
Mike Woodson faces the deadly combination of high expectations and a disjointed roster with the Knicks. Woodson will have to figure out how to put together his lineups quickly if he wants to avoid losing his job. The questions begin in the frontcourt where he will have to figure out how to play Andrea Bargnani, Amare Stoudemire and Metta World Peace with Carmelo Anthony. Anthony was very good offensively when playing at power forward, but it is difficult to play Bargnani or Stoudemire at center or small forward without allowing opponents to score at will. Offensively, Metta World Peace does not provide the necessary spacing for Anthony to thrive at a small-ball four. MWP shot just 34.2 percent from three last season and hoisted nearly six threes per game. I predict the Knicks will struggle early in the season, leading to Woodson being fired as coach.
8. Cleveland will win more than 45 games this season
Cleveland is a fascinating team. There are so many question marks that surround the Cavs that I can make an argument for them winning 25 games and an argument for them winning 45 games. I will predict the 45 win total for several reasons. One, I think Kyrie Irving will stay healthy and continue to develop as one of the NBA’s top guards. Two, I believe new coach Mike Brown will bring a much needed defensive mindset to the Cavs. Finally, I see the Cavs getting important production from both Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao. If these three things happen, the Cavs will land a playoff spot in the East. This may end up being my most embarrassing prediction by season’s end.
9. Anthony Davis will win Defensive Player of the Year
Anthony Davis’ rookie season did not go as expected. He missed 18 games due to injury and was not the defensive force that people expected. Davis’ timing and spacing when guarding the pick-and-roll was a struggle at the beginning of the year, but he improved his overall defensive game throughout the season. In the preseason, Davis has looked much improved both offensively and defensively. I predict that Davis will continue his dominant play into the regular season and become a defensive force. Davis will average over eleven rebounds and three blocks per game on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year.
The Bulls have been an excellent regular season team under coach Tom Thibodeau, finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference two of his three years as coach. The return of Derrick Rose and the familiarity of Chicago’s core will propel the Bulls to the top seed in the East. In the West, the Clippers will benefit from the addition of Doc Rivers along with improved outside shooting in the form of Jared Dudley and JJ Redick. The Clippers will score a ton of points offensively and win the West. However, neither will win the title.
Which leads to my final prediction…
11. Indiana will defeat Golden State in the Finals
Golden State had an unexpected and exciting playoff run last season, coming up short against the Spurs in an excellent series. With the addition of Andre Iguodala and a healthy David Lee, I see the Warriors catching fire in the playoffs. The Warriors will defeat the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals to advance. The Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink of elimination last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. I predict a rematch between the same two teams, however, this year the Pacers will capitalize on their size advantage and improved bench to beat the Heat. In the Finals, I think Indiana’s size will be too much for Golden State. Indiana will win the NBA championship with Paul George winning MVP of the Finals.
*Please note that if any of these predictions prove to be incorrect, they will be removed from the record and never discussed again.
This week, I am unveiling the eleven questions whose answers will shape the upcoming NBA season. Here are questions 6-11.
6. Who will have the ball at the end of games for the Nets?
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov wants a championship and is willing to dip deep into his own pockets to get one. The Nets are reportedly around $30 million over the salary cap and will pay nearly $90 million in luxury tax penalties this season. The Nets tax is astronomically high due in part to several roster moves they made this summer, including a trade with the Celtics that brought back Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. In addition, the Nets signed Andrei Kirilenko to a mini mid-level exception deal. The Nets veteran roster is loaded with talent, but it also features a handful of players who like to have the ball in their hands at the end of close games. Last season, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams both liked to isolate in these scenarios. Paul Pierce is another player who likes to take the last shot, often pulling up for a jumper from the right elbow in the closing moments. It will be up to first year Coach Jason Kidd to diagram late game offensive sets that take advantage of his roster”s propensity to make clutch shots. Look for Kidd to put the ball in Williams” hands while utilizing Garnett”s ability to set effective (and often illegal) screens off the ball to free up Johnson and Pierce for open shots.
7. Can the Clippers win a title with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan as their starting frontcourt?
The addition of Doc Rivers as Head Coach has brought a sense of legitimacy to the Clippers title chances. While Rivers is certainly an upgrade over Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers face glaring problems in their frontcourt that could keep the team from advancing deep in the playoffs. The Clippers frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will certainly produce a number of highlight dunks this season due to their freakish athleticism. However, the two have not utilized their athleticism to become dominant all-around players. Both Griffin and Jordan average under 8.5 rebounds per game, with Griffin”s rebounding totals having dropped each of his three seasons in the NBA. Defensively, Jordan struggles on pick-and-rolls while Griffin has failed to average a single block per game in any season.
On the offensive end, Griffin and Jordan are limited outside of plays at the rim. Jordan”s offensive game is non-existent, as he attempts under 1.5 shots per game outside of three feet. Griffin”s lack of offensive growth is especially frustrating. Teams consistently sag off defensively and allow Griffin to shoot from mid-range. To this point, Griffin has been unable to develop a consistent shot, shooting just 34% on shots further than fifteen feet, . Finally, both Griffin and Jordan struggle mightily from the foul line, shooting 66% and 38.6% respectively. These frighteningly low numbers make playing the two in close games difficult as opposing teams are comfortable fouling either one. Griffin and Jordan will have to make major strides in every facet of the game in order for the Clippers to compete for the title.
8. Who will most blatantly tank this season?
One could argue that the 76ers have already sealed up this contest. Philadelphia traded away its best player in Jrue Holiday, and decided to wait until August to hire its head coach. However, teams like the Jazz and Suns have refused to make it easy for the Sixers, constructing teams that will battle for the league”s worst record. These teams are looking to be bad, really bad, in order to lockup a top pick in next year”s draft. The talent in the upcoming draft has been well documented, with potential stars such as Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, and Jabari Parker likely to enter the NBA. Wiggins is considered the number one player and has been discussed as the best prospect since LeBron James. Watching YouTube videos of the Canadian prodigy reveals why. The worst place to be as an NBA franchise is consistently hovering around .500. Tanking a season to land a top pick, especially in the upcoming draft, is the best way to turn around a franchise. Consequently, we could see plenty of random “injuries” for players on struggling teams this season. It will be enjoyable to check the standings each week to see which team is winning the battle for inferiority.
9. How will injured stars look in their return?
Injuries are a part of every season. However, there seemed to be more injuries to star players last season than in recent years. The list of injured players reads like an All-NBA Team: Bryant, Rondo, Love, Westbrook, Rose (technically injured two seasons ago, but missed all of last year), Granger, and Bynum just to name a few. All of these injuries had a significant effect on their respective teams, but Rose and Westbrook appeared to be the biggest losses. Both the Bulls and Thunder were positioned to compete for an NBA championship. While both teams battled, they were each unable to overcome the absence of their star point guards. Rose has had the longest recovery period out of the players mentioned above and is seemingly back and better than ever. On the other hand, Westbrook will likely miss the first six weeks of the season as he recovers from knee surgery. How these fallen stars return from injury will have a definite impact on the NBA landscape.
10. How big is the gap between LeBron James and Kevin Durant?
LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. Over the last two years, James has won two NBA championships, two Finals MVPs, two regular season MVPs and a Gold Medal. There is no room for argument on the issue. What can be argued is how big the gap is between James and the league”s second best player, Kevin Durant. While LeBron dominated the NBA last season, Durant became just the sixth player in league history to post a 50-40-90 season (shooting 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the foul line). In addition, Durant made significant strides as a distributer, increasing his assist totals from 3.5 in 2011-12 to 4.7 in 2013-14, . Durant also developed defensively, using his increased strength and supernatural length to improve as both a one-on-one and help defender. James is four years Durant”s senior and is considered at the peak of his powers. However, if Durant continues to add to his game offensively and defensively, the gap between the two may begin to narrow. While Durant may not surpass James as the NBA”s best player this upcoming season, he may very well take that moniker within the next few years. Not only will the battle between the two for league dominance be a treat for basketball fans, but it will also likely shape the future of the NBA.
11. Can anyone beat the Miami Heat in a seven game series?
Over the past three seasons, the Heat have lost one playoff series. That series loss resulted from LeBron James shrinking in big moments. That problem appears to be a thing of the past and the Miami Heat come into this season as overwhelming favorites to three-peat as NBA champions. The biggest question facing the Heat is health. Their rotation is made up of veteran players who have logged some serious mileage including Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Chris Andersen. Moreover, Dwyane Wade”s knee issues seem to be a problem that will plague him the rest of his career. In the offseason, the Heat made some minor adjustments to their roster. The additions of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden are low-risk, high-reward signings that could provide a spark to this Heat team. If healthy, Oden adds size that Miami will use to match up against teams like Indiana and Chicago.
The Heat will likely coast through the regular season, limiting the Big Three’s minutes and resting older players like Allen and Battier. Miami has nothing to prove in the regular season and the thought of a 27-game win streak seems farfetched. The East will be a top heavy conference this year, with Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn likely to emerge as legitimate threats to the Heat”s reign. These teams will each have to prove that they have overcome issues that have prevented them from beating Miami in the past. The Bulls will need a consistent secondary offensive option outside of Derrick Rose to emerge. The Pacers will need improved bench play and continued growth from Paul George. The Nets, while showcasing a new look roster, will need to remain healthy and learn to play with one another. If these teams can do this, they have a chance. Still, it remains difficult to imagine a team beating Miami four times in seven games. Not with their experience, not with their defense, and not with LeBron James leading the way.
October is upon us, bringing about cool temperatures, pumpkin-infused everything and the start of the NBA season. It seems as if it were just yesterday that Ray Allen was backpedaling into the right corner to bury a game-tying three in Game 6 of the Finals. But since that moment, Miami won its second consecutive title, Doc Rivers departed Boston for sunshine and contention, the Nets went all-in on a talented yet geriatric roster, and Dwight Howard pulled a Dwight Howard.
These happenings and others have left us with dozens of juicy storylines heading into the NBA season. I narrowed the cornucopia of intriguing plotlines down to eleven questions whose answers will shape the NBA season. Here are the first five questions.
1. Can Houston contend in the West?
Houston landed the biggest name in the free agent market by signing center Dwight Howard. Howard will join James Harden and instantly form one of the best frontcourt/backcourt tandems in the league. Harden and Howard form a deadly pick-and-roll duo for the Rockets. Harden”s ball-handling and passing skills are underrated and Howard should once again be a dominant finisher now that his back and shoulder are healthy. Yet, Houston”s ability to make it out of the West may come down to forward Chandler Parsons. Parsons will be called on to space the floor and open up the lane for Howard. He shot 38.5% from three last season, , a solid percentage that is likely to increase in his third season. Parsons may also be called on to play more of a stretch-4 position this season, as Houston lacks these types of players on their roster. Look for Houston to use a crunch-time lineup similar to the Orlando teams Howard played on, surrounding Howard with four shooters that clear the lane for the pick-and-roll.
2. How will Mark Jackson handle his wing rotation in Golden State?
Golden State made some serious noise in the playoffs last year. Despite their success and a promising nucleus, the Warriors decided to shake things up during the offseason by signing Andre Iguodala and choosing not to re-sign Jarret Jack. Iguodala provides Golden State with an athletic wing that defends and is someone who does not need to have the ball in his hands offensively. What will be interesting to watch is how Golden State Coach Mark Jackson balances playing time between Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. Thompson and Barnes had excellent moments during the Warriors playoff run and showed great upside. But Iguodala”s presence seemingly means less minutes for Barnes at small forward. Coach Jackson could choose to insert Barnes at the 4 for stretches of time, but that would force him to take out either David Lee or Andrew Bogut. Taking out Lee would hurt with rebounding and low-post offense, while taking out Bogut would eliminate any shred of defense presence the Warriors would have on the floor. Barnes appears to be the odd-man-out of a crowded wing rotation in Golden State.
3. Can Cleveland make the playoffs?
The Cavs chose to follow standard operating procedure during the offseason: drafting a Canadian first overall, working with a player on switching his shooting hand, and signing a seven-footer whose love for bowling derailed his previous season. Cleveland will be fascinating to watch this season. Kyrie Irving has already established himself as an elite offensive guard, but his defense along with the Cavs” team defense will need drastic improvement. Cleveland ranked 26th in defensive efficiency last season, allowing 106.9 points per 100 possession (Hoopdata.)The Cavs also face challenges in how to juggle their lineup to utilize both Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett. Both are “tweeners” who will have difficulty matching up defensively. Moreover, the Cavs will hope to get production from Andrew Bynum. Bynum is unquestionably one of the most talented big men in the league. However, his startling injury history, apparent lack of passion, and disturbing hair styles have greatly tarnished his image across the league. On paper, the Cavaliers have enough talent on their roster to make a run for one of the East”s final playoff spots.
4. Is the Spurs window finally closed?
Up five points with 24 seconds left in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the Spurs could see the Larry O”Brien Trophy being wheeled out of the tunnel. The Spurs were unable to close out that game in Miami, eventually losing the series to the Heat. Unfortunately, that epic collapse has distorted our view of what was an improbable and sensational Spurs season. In what has seemingly become an annual topic, the Spurs face questions about whether their window of opportunity has closed. The answer to that question will come down to two key factors. First, whether Tim Duncan can continue playing at an elite level. At 37, Duncan averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds last season. If Timmy is the alien I believe him to be, he will put together another quality season with similar numbers. If he shows signs of slowing down or struggles through injury, the Spurs will find it difficult to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The second question is whether Kawhi Leonard can build off of his Finals performance and make a Paul George-like jump into NBA stardom. Leonard showed his prowess as a rebounder and defender in the Finals, consistently beating out LeBron James on the boards and slowing him down on offense as much as one mortal can slow down James on offense. If Duncan can continue to turn out all-star level numbers and Leonard can elevate his play to the next level, look for the Spurs to be in contention, as they are every year.
5. What will Danny Granger”s impact be on the Pacers?
The Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink in last season”s Eastern Conference Finals. They did so despite having a bench that was historically inept. Indiana addressed that problem during the offseason, upgrading from DJ Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young to CJ Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland. In addition, the Pacers get forward Danny Granger back from a knee injury that kept him out during the majority of the regular season and all of the playoffs. Granger will likely be reinserted into the starting lineup to begin the season. Not only will this improve Indiana”s starting unit, but the second unit will also benefit as former starter Lance Stephenson will come off the bench. In Granger, the Pacers have a quality defender who has been counted on in the past to lead the team offensively. With Paul George now slated as the number one scoring option, Granger will have to find a way to contribute as a secondary scorer, working off the ball and producing more from catch-and-shoot situations. If Granger is unable to adjust to his new role, the Pacers can use him as a trade-piece in order to acquire more depth and draft picks. Granger is in the final season of his contract and will earn over $14 million this season. Expiring contracts carry high value in trades, so the Pacers will certainly have multiple options if they choose to move Granger.
Part 2 of NBA Storyline-A-Palooza coming later this week.