NBA Predictions 2013-14: NBA Title, MVP, Major Awards
2013-14 NBA Predictions: NBA Championship, MVP, Other Major Awards
Simply put, it's going to be one of the most exciting NBA seasons that we've seen in some time.
In the East, Mikhail Prokhorov has assembled what arguably could be the greatest team on paper in Brooklyn with Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Andrei Kirilenko on a single NBA roster. Somehow I get the feeling that Phil Jackson would make a comeback in order to get a crack at coaching these guys.
In the West, the Los Angeles Clippers added to their riches with the additions of J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison and Antawn Jamison in what was an eventful summer in Clipperland.
Did we mention the return of Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and other injured stars?
For the first time in a long time, the NBA championship race is one that looks more like a small tournament instead of a two horse race as it's been in recent years. In the East, the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Knicks and Nets all have more than enough weapons and potential to win the trophy. Meanwhile, the West is no pushover either, with the Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, Warriors and Rockets that could all challenge for the throne of the NBA.
Can anyone else remember a season where ten teams had legitimate title aspirations? I sure cannot.
Without further ado, here are your 2013-14 NBA predictions for the upcoming NBA season sure to be filled with excitement and wishfully the appearance of Kate Upton in the All-Star celebrity game.
Regular Season Standings: Eastern Conference
1. Chicago Bulls: 62-20
2. Miami Heat: 60-22
3. Indiana Pacers: 55-27
4. New York Knicks: 52-30
5. Brooklyn Nets: 51-31
6. Detroit Pistons: 45-37
7. Cleveland Cavaliers: 43-39
8. Washington Wizards: 41-41
With the healthy return of Derrick Rose, there is no doubt that the Chicago Bulls, a team that prides itself on defense as their identity, will return to the top of the Eastern Conference. Although many seem to have a lot of doubt in the New York Knicks, we should know better than to doubt Carmelo Anthony, especially with a fully recovered Iman Shumpert along with Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace joining one of the least talked about teams heading into the new season. With Jason Kidd getting his feet wet and minutes being strictly monitored in Brooklyn, expect the Nets to play it safe and keep the legs of Garnett, Pierce and company as fresh as possible, especially with the knowledge that three of the teams in the conference (Pacers, Bulls, Heat) are built more for the grind of the 82 game schedule with their young legs.
The new season will also see the promising Detroit Pistons enter the playoffs for the first time since the Pistons dynasty of the previous decade got long in the tooth. Although we won't hear "Sheeeeeeeeeeed" like we use to in the good old days, I'll more than settle with consolation prize "B-B-B-Billups" being chanted from the in-game announcer table for another season. As well, John Wall and Kyrie Irving, two of the brightest young players in the NBA, should finally crack the seal in taking their teams to the playoffs for the first time in their careers.
Once the playoffs roll around, expect a dog fight as each of the five elite teams in the conference play a tough, physical brand of basketball.
Regular Season Standings: Western Conference
1. Los Angeles Clippers: 59-23
2. San Antonio Spurs: 56-26
3. Golden State Warriors: 55-27
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: 54-28
5. Houston Rockets: 53-29
6. Memphis Grizzlies: 50-32
7. Denver Nuggets: 47-35
8. Minnesota Timberwolves: 44-38
Other than the improvement of the Clippers, Rockets and Warriors this season, there isn't much but the status quo for the old guard. The Spurs, while aging, will always be able to rack up regular season wins with the experience and depth of the personnel and the wisdom of Gregg Popovich, the greatest coach in the history of the NBA in my own opinion. In regards to the Thunder, I see a steep decline from the top of the conference for them this season as the team truly lacks a consistent scoring option behind Durant and Westbrook, whose absence early in the season should build enough of a gap between them and the rest of the conference to forget about grabbing a very high seed.
The biggest storyline of the West will be James Harden, Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets. Although there is definitely an abundance of skill on the roster, do they have enough depth to keep up with the other key players in the conference? Can Harden and Howard truly create a cohesive, well functioning duo or will the change in tempo in comparison to last year's free flowing Rockets team cause some early season struggles?
Lastly, we'll finally get a chance to see another truly unselfish, team oriented basketball team in the playoffs as Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves should keep us on the edge of our seats as they bring their ball movement and angry Nikola Pekovic grimace to an arena near you.
All-NBA Team Predictions
All-NBA First Team::
C - Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
F - Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
F - LeBron James, Miami Heat
G - James Harden, Houston Rockets
G - Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
All-NBA Second Team:
C - Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
F -Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
F - Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
G - Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
G - Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
All-NBA Third Team:
C - DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
F - Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
F - Paul George, Indiana Pacers
G - Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
G - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Coach of the Year: Frank Vogel
This was a tough call.
With the return of Derrick Rose and the emergence of Kawhi Leonard for the San Antonio Spurs, Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich are the usual suspects for this award -- and for good reason. In the west coast, the rise of the Golden State Warriors might push Mark Jackson into the conversation as his patented "hand down...man down" bread and butter announcer preach has never been truer than with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and a Warriors team that serves up a blitzkrieg on a regular occasion. As well, the Los Angeles Clippers being right in the thick of the Western Conference race for its top seed will undoubtedly see Doc Rivers get the recognition he deserves in creating the only formidable winner in Los Angeles at the moment.
All that aside, there is no one more deserving of this award than Frank Vogel. With Vogel, the Indiana Pacers have not only exceeded all expectations we held for a team built around no elite level talent, they've shattered them. The Pacers, as anyone who's watched more than a few games can attest to, don't play a flashy style of basketball. With Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill and Lance Stephenson, you get a brick wall on defense, a scrappy group on the glass and intangibles for days. If Paul George can continue to develop and the introduction of Danny Granger, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland to last year's rotation can be a smooth one, this should not only be among the better teams in the Eastern Conference, one that battles for its top seed, but one that might just be thoroughly enjoyable to watch on a nightly basis.
Rookie of the Year: Cody Zeller
Although Cody Zeller reminds me of a child movie star that just looks a little bit awkward as a fully grown adult, the man can play a mean game of hoop and ball.
Like so many years before it, the 2013-14 NBA season will be a bleak and dark period in Charlotte Bobcats history -- not that there's really been a bright period other than a momentary blip on the screen thanks to Larry Brown. Aside from Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker and the newly acquired Al Jefferson, the Bobcats simply lack firepower on offense, something that Zeller has shown he's more than capable of in college and with the recent success in preseason play, hopefully in the NBA as well. As the favorite for the starting power forward position, he'll likely get all the minutes his body can handle in a situation that will make it vital for him to be productive should the Bobcats wish to be competitive on a nightly basis. Although the more high profile names such as Anthony Bennett, Trey Burke and Ben McLemore will likely receive the majority of the hype for this award early on, the lack of elite talent in this year's rookie class means that situation will play a much bigger factor than talent alone. As we saw with Damian Lillard, relying on someone to be productive from the get-go is usually a good precursor to watch for in regards to the NBA Rookie of the Year award and with Zeller, we see just such a situation in Charlotte.
Most Improved Player Award: Derrick Favors
No disrespect meant to Enes Kanter, but in Derrick Favors the Utah Jazz have their building block in the post for the next decade.
With the departure of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Favors along with Kanter will enter the season at the top of the depth chart for the Jazz down low in the blocks. Although Kanter will have a great season in his own right, if the preseason and what we've seen in extended minutes over his career are any indication, we might be seeing Derrick Favors lead the league in rebounding while establishing himself as one of the more dynamic and exciting post players in the NBA. With Favors, Kanter and Hayward, the future is bright in Salt Lake City, none brighter than that of Favors.
Defensive Player of the Year: Roy Hibbert
The questions that many Indiana Pacers fans asked themselves going to sleep over the summer was one that would eat away at the best of us.
If the Pacers kept Roy Hibbert at the closing of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, does LeBron James just walk in for an easy game winning lay-up? Do they steal another game in Miami after that?
Would the Pacers have won that series?
I hate to bring back sour memories for Pacer fans so we'll leave it at that, but there's one constant that each of those hypotheticals rest on: Hibbert. In Hibbert, the Pacers possess one of the best rim protectors in the NBA -- a massive 7-foot-3 center built like a brick wall who displays the NBA's verticality rule in play better than anyone in the league at the moment. As a league that disallowed hand checking and on some nights will give Kobe Bryant 20 free throws because the defender covering him slept with the window open and is sneezing on the Black Mamba as a result more than usual, the verticality rule is one that finally gives defenses a weapon to stop the barrage of penetration that has occurred in recent times. As we saw with Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol, to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, it's not necessarily the flash element of Dwight Howard and his weak-side defense that get all the attention but the foundation in the post directing traffic and being a consistent nuisance and presence that can receive recognition as well. With the Pacers now entrenched among the NBA's toughest defensive teams and Hibbert among its premier shot blockers and post defenders, it's a safe bet that Hibbert will at the very least get his share of attention for the award.
Scoring Title: Kevin Durant
This one doesn't need a lot of explanation.
Compared to last season, there isn't much offensive talent on the Oklahoma City Thunder as we've grown to expect from one of the more exciting young teams in recent times. With the departure of Kevin Martin and the injury that promises to keep Russell Westbrook out for at least the first portion of the regular season, who scores for the Thunder this season?
The constant is the mid-range game and off-the-ball presence that Serge Ibaka will provide, but that comes nowhere near the production one would feel comfortable in receiving as a second option on offense.
Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson? Both are young and talented, but until they get their proper extended introduction to the league there's just no way they'll be consistently productive in their first year of meaningful minutes.
Kendrick Perkins? Most would rather he retire after the Thunder foolishly chose to trade James Harden to the Houston Rockets instead of amnestying him. That said, if he somehow managed a Space Jam type of scenario where he stole the talents of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle and comes into the season looking more Malone than Greg Ostertag, the fan base might forgive a little. That said, it's pretty safe to say that reality, laws of physics and current technology probably won't let that happen so we should probably be grateful that we'll see enough playing time from Perkins to get the occasional chuckle from his trademark sour looks.
Once we get past the rest of the Thunder roster, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Kevin Durant is going to have to score for this team to be successful. He's going to have to score A LOT. At least for the early portions of the season while Westbrook is on the mend, I fully expect we'll see an offensive display that we haven't seen since Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady lit up opponents in their me-against-the-world-because-manangement-thoroughly-shafted-me seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic respectively. Would any of us really be shocked if he approached 37 points a game early on in the season? I certainly wouldn't as he's a talent on offense we just haven't seen before and one that will be relied on early on to get every ounce of that talent to put the ball into the basket.
Most Valuable Player: Derrick Rose
Is there any other storyline that will dominant the season quite like a successful and healthy return of Derrick Rose? As we've seen for years, the NBA Most Valuable Player award is essentially a giant popularity contest where storyline matters just as much as the production itself.
In the 2005-06 season, Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists, one of the best seasons we've seen ever from a player ever, leading the Lakers to a 45-37 record despite not having a competent NBA player on the roster save for Lamar Odom. Yet, it was Steve Nash, suffering from a lack of Amare Stoudemire but leading the Phoenix Suns to the top of the Western Conference, that ended up with the award.
We've seen it with Dirk Nowitzki. We've seen it from Karl Malone. Heck, we've seen it from Derrick Rose himself because of the dramatic rise he was a big part of with the Bulls during the 2010-11 season.
That said, if the storyline gets you squarely in the media spotlight and the feature games on ESPN, your performance is what pushes you over the top. In Rose, we might be about to witness one of the greatest seasons we've seen from a point guard in recent memory. Thus far in the preseason, it is evident that Rose dedicated himself to the craft of his jump shot during his time away from the basketball court. If Rose put so much raw fear in opposing defenders and defenses when their main concern was one of him blowing by them and penetrating to the basket at will, how do you think they'll feel now that he doesn't need to? Better yet, now that you'll actually be making that feat all the easier by having to play him that much closer because of the viable threat his jump shot has become?
If the Bulls stay healthy, they are all but guaranteed to have one of, if not the best record in the NBA. For that to happen, Rose will have to be in vintage form for the entirety of the season and remind the basketball world why so many of us saw the Bulls as the only legitimate threat to the Heat these past few seasons. I hate to be the one to disappoint NBA fans everywhere, but I just don't think we'll be seeing the vintage Rose playing in the United Center this season.
We'll be seeing a vastly better one.
Eastern Conference Champion: Chicago Bulls
The Eastern Conference is going to be an absolute dogfight.
Unlike seasons past, in the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers, we have five teams that can realistically win the Eastern Conference without best case scenarios occurring.
What more needs to be said about the Nets other than Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko and Deron Williams on a game program? That said, are they too old and too inexperienced with Jason Kidd manning the controls?
With the addition of Greg Oden, one dreams of where the Heat can go if he can regain his health and become even half of the player that he was destined to be so many seasons ago with a Heat team already oozing with talent with the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh. Is the decline of Wade enough of a concern though? Can the Heat possibly win another title if he never regains his health again, and are they even motivated like seasons past to put in what's necessary to get there?
You might not see a team more bruising than the Pacers. Not only do they possess the scrappy rebounding and defense that proved to be the kryptonite of the Heat and more than enough to demolish the Knicks, but now they've added Danny Granger, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland to actually give them the semblance of a consistent bench. Did we mention Paul George potentially taking the leap into superstardom this season? Is that reliance on the improvement of players that might already have shown all they can a concern for the Pacers? Did they sacrifice some of that trademark defense with the addition of three pieces that leave much to be desired on that end of the floor?
Although each of those teams makes a strong case for why they should be the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, it's hard for me seeing it happen from anyone other than the team that resides in the Windy City.
Let's not ignore the big issue with the Bulls, one of health and depth. There are going to be some collective breathes held each as every time the Bulls faithful see the likes of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng hit the floor or come up gimpy because after so many instances of tragedy instead of false alarms, you get a slight predisposition to expect the worst with this group of players. Closely tying to the injuries, the question of the depth of this team will be something that will fuel the previous concern as aside from Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich, the team possesses no other significant contributors off of the bench that can spare the legs of Rose, Noah and the rest of the starting five during the course of the regular season.
Now that we've been fair in covering the concerns regarding the Bulls, let's look at why I believe they will win the Eastern Conference. First and foremost, the return of Rose is the biggest story, one that can't be overstated. By season's end, I believe that we'll truly see Rose firmly implanted into the status as the co-second best player in the NBA alongside Kevin Durant. Although Durant and James do spectacular things on the basketball court, I don't think a better leader of men besides Chris Paul exists in the NBA. Along with those intangibles, a game that now lacks any visible weakness can only propel Rose to new heights in his career. Next, we have the strength of the Bulls, one of youth, defensive intensity, and cohesion. With Tom Thibodeau at the helm, you can be sure to expect at least a consistently suffocating effort on the defensive side of the court, the side which championships are build on. Lastly, I think that many of us can underestimate the factor that emotion can play in the sports world. We've seen Ray Lewis lift the Baltimore Ravens to a Superbowl, James and the hate that surrounded the Miami Heat push them to not one but two titles, the brotherly love and connection throughout the Boston Red Sox dugout push them into this year's World Series in the past twelve months alone. The return of an emotional leader to an already tight knit unit and the mental makeup that flow through that Bulls locker room is a factor that will prove to be the key to the success I believe we'll see from them this season.
Western Conference Champion: Los Angeles Clippers
In a way, the Western Conference lost some of its luster in recent times. The Memphis Grizzlies, a team most wouldn't have pegged as a true contender in the West after Rudy Gay was traded to the Toronto Raptors, entered the Western Conference Finals to many experts as the favorite in the series against the San Antonio Spurs. No offense to the Grizzlies and their fans but can you blame me for being a little hesitant to proclaim Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and a clearly declining Zach Randolph a competent core for a championship team?
This season, we'll have the usual suspects there at the end of the season. Once Russell Westbrook returns, he and Kevin Durant should push the Thunder right into familiar territory among the West elite. What happens if they can't find a consistent third scorer for that team though? Is it a team that now is hurt by its lack of depth where once the concern was a surplus of it?
There are certain things you can bank on each and every season. At some point, Pau Gasol will be dunked on by Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry will have a game where he approaches double figure three pointers made and Michael Jordan will be seen trying to not make direct eye contact with broadcast cameras for fear that fans will see in his eyes that he understands just how badly things in the front office are going for him. From a team perspective, that consistency seen year to year comes in the form of the Spurs and their seeming endless run as a contender in the Western Conference. Although Manu Ginobli is not the player he once was and Tim Duncan is another year closer to 40 years of age, there are more than enough bright spots to not count out the Spurs. First and foremost, Tony Parker, arguably the second best point guard in the NBA, is in the prime of his career and is a year removed from a season where legitimate whispers of MVP were thrown in his direction until injuries sidelined him for much of the closing portion of the regular season. Next, you have the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green as great young players, each with a ceiling that gets fans of the Spurs excited about the next era of this franchise. All that aside, I just believe that the Spurs missed their best chance at a fifth ring in the Duncan Era as they Spurs were lucky in a big way with injuries last season. Although Parker and Ginobli were hobbled, each were able to play at a relatively high level in the playoffs while the other seasoned older players remained relatively healthy, something I just can't see happening again this season.
The Golden State Warriors are a team that many could very well talk themselves into getting into the NBA finals, and I'm among that crowd. They have six fantastic players, one superstar in Curry and enough of each needed element (rim protector, outside shooting, rebounding, veteran presence, perimeter lockdown player) to get there. That said, like the Spurs, I just can't trust the Warriors to stay healthy as their two best players, Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, both are seemingly made of glass. I do believe we'll likely see the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, but once they're there, I just think the Clippers will outplay them in all the small ways thanks to the presence of Doc Rivers on the Clippers bench.
The Clippers are a very deep and very talent team. With the addition of Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick, Antawn Jamison and Darren Collison to an already talented team, the Clippers become a team that can put you away with their second unit in games even better than they could last year. The fatal flaw of the Clippers, one of consistent outside shooting, was met which should give Chris Paul the floor spacing that is ideal to have with the pick and roll game with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The key to the Clippers season will be Griffin as the work he put in this past off-season on his mid-range game must translate otherwise the Clippers will not be a lock to make it to the Western Conference let alone the NBA Finals. With Rivers preaching defense, I think defense and plenty of it is just what we'll see as the team possesses the best defensive point guard in the NBA, a great rim protector in Jordan and more than enough athleticism and team speed to establish a fast, in-your-face defensive system that just frustrates opponents each possession. Like the East, the West will be a toss-up and a lot of things will have to go right for every team in order for them to get to the NBA Finals, but I just simply believe the margin of error is much smaller for the other teams in the West, something that should give the Clippers enough of a buffer to experience some growing pains with Rivers while reaching their ultimate goal once the playoffs roll around.
NBA Champions: Chicago Bulls
An NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers is about the best match-up NBA fans could dream of occurring this upcoming season.
Derrick Rose vs. Chris Paul.
The battle on the blocks between Joakim Noah and Blake Griffin and the unavoidable bad blood that would develop between the two.
The chess match between Tom Thibodeau and Doc Rivers, two of the best coaches in the NBA, on a game to game basis.
The intensity, competitiveness and passion that such a series would bring out of each team is something that I don't think any other potential match-up can live up to. The two each share major strengths that they can hang over the head of the other with the defense of the Bulls being clearly far superior while the depth of the Clippers would threaten to run the Bulls bench off of the court each game. Each team has the star presence and the supporting cast to win a championship but between the two, I believe that emotion will be the crucial unforeseen factor that swings the series in the Bulls favor. You can't overstate how important it is to have heart, and with Rose the Bulls got theirs back for the upcoming season. He is the engine of the Bulls franchise and someone that inspires those around him in much the same way as Paul does with his Clippers. That said, absence makes the heart grow fonder, words that have never been more true in the NBA than with the Bulls and their prolonged separation from the 2010-11 NBA MVP. With the energy and excitement that the return brings not only the team but the entire city of Chicago, I believe it is a tidal wave of emotion that will wash over the competition this upcoming season, culminating in the defeat of the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA Finals, a series which promises to be a tight one.