We preview the 2012 NBA season with five topics and our predictions for the Western Conference.
Starting 5 – 2012/2013 – Western Conference
Home Stretch: Kobe/Nash make one last push before the sun sets
Let me say first off that signing Nash is a more impactful factor than signing Dwight, but of course getting both of them is icing, cake and cherry on top. I think having Nash with Kobe/Pau/Bynum would have been better than having Dwight roll with Kobe/Pau/ and Ramon Sessions. This year’s “superteam” works way better than it did in ’04 with Payton and Malone hopping on board, Nash is in a far better place physically then Payton at the time, and Malone needed the looks as opposed to Dwight just being a defensive beast down low. The beneficiary of all this is Pau Gasol. Everything opens up for him now, instead of guessing if Kobe will pass to him off the picks, now he only has to guess if the pass is coming high or low from Nash, and with the doubles of Dwight down low, those fifteen footers from the top of the key are a lock. It will be interesting to see how Kobe handles “stepping back” with the scoring title in his sights. The only way this team doesn’t make the Finals is if they get outcoached, and I am sure all Lakers fans can attest that it is a very big possibility. I still can’t believe they got both of them… brutal.
All or Nothing: Minnesota doesn’t have much time to ensure Kevin Love stays
Last year the Wolves were my “League Pass” team, tried watching them whenever I could, and between Rubio (before getting hurt) and Kevin Love, I was rarely disappointed. The development of Nikola Pekovic really helped space the floor well with Love not having to focus too much on his back-to-the-basket game, but this is the year they have to really put together a run for the playoffs. There was already speculation at the end of last year that Love’s patience may be running thin in the prime of his career. Being teased on team USA for being the only player who hasn’t reached the NBA post-season didn’t help either. They’ve added Andrei Kirilenko and nobody is happier than me to see Brandon Roy back, but something tells me they missed the boat on signing other free agents like OJ Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova.
LA Confidential: The Clippers take their usual seat in the shadows of Lakerland
The Los Angeles Small Forward’s have a load of optimism heading into 2012-2013. I’m sure that they would be the first to tell you that they got over matched against the Spurs in the second round. But a year together, Blake dipping his feet in playoff ball, and a wad of small forwards or SF type players (M.Barnes/G.Hill/J. Crawford/L.Odom/C.Butler) make them a viable threat to make a run. Would I put money on that? No. But with Chris Paul running the show, anything is possible. Chauncey coming back seems to give them a sense of stability (not sure why, he’s been subpar to be nice for two years), but their biggest hurdle will be to play 48 minutes of defense come playoff time and find someone other than CP3 to be self-sufficient playmaker.
Who got next?: Who makes “the leap” this year?
There’s a couple options between the Kings, Warriors, and Hornets, but let’s focus on the Denver Nuggets. They missed a golden opportunity to beat the Lakers in game three at home last year, and did as much as they could on the road in game seven. Javale McGee will benefit from a full training camp with George Karl and the combo of Danilo Galinari, Wilson Chandler, and Andre Igoudala will be a threat on the wing all year, but it all boils down to Ty Lawson. I’m a huge Carolina fan, and never thought he would translate so well into the NBA, his jumper has improved immensely and the pace of play he runs at is second to none. Keeping Andre Miller in the off-season really helped too, it’s an odd couple at point, but they complement each other well when rotating off and on. Like the Clippers, it will come down to who they draw in the playoffs. Not saying they will, but they have a better chance against the likes of the Thunder and Clippers, as oppose to the Spurs and Lakers.
ThunderUP: Durant & Co look to build on last year’s success
Can’t imagine the Thunder doing anything else but running through the regular season 100%, especially with LA stacking their chips. More than ever, the home court advantage in the almost inevitable playoff series with the Lakers would be crucial. Last year they showed the resolve to beat the Spurs four games in a row after losing the first two, but were exposed in the Finals. A testament to just how difficult it is to complete that last step. At times in the Finals, they were hesitant and almost unsure of how to deal with certain situations. It was new grounds for the whole team, and for Coach Scott Brooks. With James Harden’s tenure in OKC unsure past 2012, you better believe they feel that same pressure to capitalize on the opportunity this year. Love the makeup of this team, their leader, and more than anybody (aside from my Celtics), I would want them to win it all.
1 – Thunder
2 – Lakers
3 – Spurs
4 – Clippers
5 – Nuggets
6 – Grizzlies
7 – Mavs
8 – Wolves
On the bubble: Warriors, Suns
Fantasy Sleeper: After two years of first round disappointments, I like Steph Curry if he’s there late second round, early third round just because everyone is afraid to touch him. It’s a revamped Warriors team who I really wanted to slide into the playoffs. Actually we could probably put the whole Warriors core here. You have to think that Curry is due; he’s been a fragile player on the brink of being a great player since he entered the league. The Lee and Bogut combo down low is an improvement. Love Klay Thompson mid draft and Harrison Barnes late.
Fantasy Bust: Tyreke Evans, I can’t figure him out, and the worst part is, he can’t either. Couple years deep in the league, he doesn’t have a position, he doesn’t have a go-to move or spot on the floor. He’s a jack of all trades, master of none. With the addition of Aaron Brooks and Thomas Robinson, and the ongoing development of Cousins and Marcus Thornton, I just feel Tyreke will get lost in the mix which results in him being my leading candidate to be traded at the deadline.
Check in tomorrow for our preview of the Eastern Conference