Tuesday, October 23, 2012

STOB's NBA and Timberwolves Season Preview



 

The NBA season is right around the corner with the preseason slowly working it's meaningless way towards an end and the real games  starting up in November.  There has been anticipation for hardcore Wolves fans around this time of year, every year.  This season though, even the more relaxed Wolves fans have an eagerness to see if this latest version of the Pups squad is actually a playoff contender.  Then there are the two big dogs in the NBA, everyone is wondering if Lebron and the Heat can defend the title on the east coast, while out west Steve Nash and Dwight Howard are joining on Kobe's team (just ask...he'll tell you it's his team) to see if the Lakers can once again reign supreme.  At the same time  there is the rest of the league, though you wouldn't know it by watching ESPN, who think maybe they can make a run.

We've brought together a mixture of experts, bloggers, friends and fans, including Ken and I to bring you the most complete NBA and TPups preview to date on STOB.  Bringing you their opinions and predictions are:

 

Me (Ben) - STOB Blogger (Follow on Twitter: @BenMac_STOB)

Ken - STOB Blogger (Follow on Twitter: @KenSTOB)

Derrick - STOB  Blogger back from hiatus for this post

Luke - STOB Contributor and huge TWolves fan/expert

Darren "Doogie" Wolfson - 5 Eyewitness News Sports and 1500 ESPN contributor (Follow on Twitter: @DarrenWolfson)

Big Al - Blogger/Expert from Timberpups.com  (Follow on Twitter: @timberpupsblog)

 

First up, 5 T-Wolves questions, then 5 all around NBA questions, then predictions.

 

Timberwolves Questions -



Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love are slated to be back in early to mid-December.  Which injury is a bigger issue for the Wolves this season?

 

Ben-

Knees, knees and more knees.  Every TPup fan will, and should be, focused on the knees of Ricky Rubio and Brandon Roy all season.  Now I understand that K-Love's hand is now a new body part to focus on, but long-term there shouldn't be any issue there.  With Rubio, the Wolves were in playoff contention LAST year.  This year, I think they can be in contention without him with the additions they've made.  With him 100%, they could be better than that, and right in the thick of things.  If the health gods are on the Wolves side this year, I see them right in the middle of the playoff hunt and Rubio will be key to making that happen.

Rubio will make the new and improved Wolves wings better than they have been in previous stops, outside of likely Roy who physically will probably never reach his Portland potential again.  Instead of having two weapons to dish two last year, Rubio will run the court and many times have any one of four very capable guys to dish to.  That equals an almost impossible offense to stop if at 100%.  His knee is definitely the biggest question mark for this season, but the key is not rushing Rubio back and ruining the very bright future of the rest of his, hopefully long, Wolves career.

Rubio may not be in the MVP race like K-Love, but the severity and possible down the road complications of his injury over K-Love's makes his the biggest issue.

Ken-

I would have to say the Rubio injury. Not only because we don’t have the best backups at that position, but because a knee injury is harder to come back from, and sustain the grind of the NBA season more so than a hand injury.

Derrick -

By Far Kevin Love and it's not even close.  Love is the leader of the team and without him in the lineup we lack a "go to" player.  I'm confident enough in Ridinour, Roy, and Barea to man the team from the point while baby Ricky is out, but I am not confident enough in our front court without Love to be potent against bigger West teams like, LA and OKC.  Sorry Pec, AK47, Cunningham, etc. etc. You are no MVP candidates.

Luke -

Rubio.  The Wolves were .500 when Rubio went down last year.  The Wolves finished on a 14 game losing streak. I would hear an argument to the other side, such as Brandon Roy / Alexey Shved provide playmaking guards MN didn’t have last year making Rubio’s absence easier to handle, but I think that new forward acquisitions of Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham along with prospect Derrick Williams can hold down the fort while Love is down.  Love’s broken hand does open an opportunity for Williams to start (and he should) at the PF spot.  So MN should find out if they have anything in DW, or if they can remove him as a part of their future.

Doogie -

It's close, but I will say Rubio only because he'll be out longer. He's their only competent on-the-ball guard defender. He's infectious. He's so smart. Just look at their 21-20 record with him last year, then their miserable finish.

Big Al -

As some of you may know by now, I make it pretty public that I am a much bigger Ricky Rubio fan than Kevin Love in the sense that I believe that Tricky Ricky has a greater impact on the wins column than Love does. The biggest difference between the two players is the impact that Ricky has on both sides of the court, whereas I feel that Love is a much more one-dimensional player. Rubio, despite questions about his defense coming into the NBA, quickly established himself as one of the top perimeter defenders in the Western Conference and his leadership by example on defense helped Minnesota become one of the most improved team defenses in the entire NBA.

On offense, Rubio held the keys to unleashing all of the Timberpups capabilities and brought out the best from each player on the floor. His ability to consistently set teammates up for open looks and exploit holes in opposing defenses was an intangible asset that this organization has not seen in nearly a decade. Just as a great quarterback can fundamentally change a team on offense (as we saw with Brett Favre in 2009), a great team-first point guard has the ability to bring out the best from that around him. With that said, the loss of Love is an extremely tough injury to swallow as he is now the clear top PF in the NBA. However, the Wolves have much more insurance at PF with the presence of Kirilenko, Williams, and Cunningham, and I tend to have less confidence with Ridnour and Barea manning the PG position.

 
Is Nikola Pekovic more important to the Wolves success than any of the new acquisitions?

 

Ben-

I'd say he is.  Individually I don't think any of the new acquisitions match the importance of Pek.  Combined, they are a huge upgrade though.  You look at the wing situation for this team a year ago compared to this year and it is night and day.  Yet, none of them will have a strangle hold on their positions like Pek will have at the center position.  Pek is our center, period.  He broke out last year, and looks poised to break out even more after slimming down some to keep up with the uptempo offense and make it through his first 82 game season in which he'll be a major contributor.

When Andrew Bynum says that he doesn't want to see Pekovic in the game, you know you have a beast.  Pekovic is 3rd in terms of importance on this team behind the golden boys Rubio/Love and it isn't close.  The NBA has become a league in which you need a three headed monster, Pek is that third monster for the Wolves.

Ken -

I want to say yes, but with the injury to Love, I say no. AK will be the biggest addition by far. He can defend, shoot and rebound…all things that we will need desparetly with Love out for awhile.

Derrick -

Yes, Other than Pek, who do we have that is a legitiment big man?  Stiemsma, and Amundson are tall yes, but didn't the Darko experiment validate that height doesn't mean squat?  Don't get me wrong, I love our off-season acquisitions and think they all will have an immediate impact, but the Timberwolves success last year was largely due to Pec's upgrade in play, which in turn proves his importance.

Luke -

What a great question.  Yes.  Close, so very close, but yes.  I could argue for the importance of each of (and will on the next question for Roy) Roy, AK47 and Shved as all being close to as important as Pek, but Shved’s so unknown, AK’s aging quickly and Roy’s knees all put them behind Pek in importance.

Doogie -

Another open-ended debate because AK-47 is very valuable -- a wing who knows when to cut, make the right pass, can defend multiple positions is uber-important. But because Stiemsma's feet are a question mark, Pek is extremely valuable. I did a story with him before training camp. He's down to 8 percent body fat and is playing at about 278 lbs. He's in fantastic shape.

Big Al -

Last year, we witnessed the end of the Darko era and were spoiled with the emergence of Nikola Pekovic as one of the top up-and-coming centers in the NBA. When healthy, Pekovic and Love were one of the top PF-C combinations and absolutely brutalized opposing front-courts  Now in a contract year, Pek has some big money to play for and he came into camp extra-lean in order to be able to run the court better. The loss of Love should give Pek a large increase in touches, and while he can’t hit the three ball like K-Love can, the Wolves can focus on running the offense through Pek which should create more open looks on the perimeter for new shooting acquisitions Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger.

Can Pekovic stay healthy for a full season? Clearly this question remains a mystery, given the short time he has spent in the NBA. There is no question that Pekovic displayed the ability last season to be a game-changing presence in the post and he has the ability to be an All-Star in a conference that is relatively weak in the center position.

 
If/when Brandon Roy's knees give out, will that ruin the Wolves hopes of being a playoff contender?

 

Ben-

If Rubio's knee holds up, no.  Roy staying healthy will be the cherry on top of this playoff contending sundae.  It is a gamble, one that could be very rewarding if it hits, but a bet that Kahn and the Wolves hedged on by signing Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger.  So even if Roy goes down, we are still multiple times better at the wings than last year.

With crappy wings last year and a healthy Rubio, this team was a playoff contender, so one would have to assume that even if Roy's knees crap out, as long as Rubio's are good to go, so are the Wolves.

Ken-

I don’t think so. He is a great addition, no doubt, but I feel with Rubio back and hopefully Love, we will be good to go. We were right there last year until Rubio went down and we didn’t have near the bench we will have this year.

Derrick -

Yes and No : )   Until Klove comes back, the Wolves lack that clutch shooter that can hit a game winning shot.  Roy proved time and time again, both as a UW Husky, and a Portland Jail Blazer, he could hit big time shots. So in this case, yes, Roy's importance is vital. After Klove comes back, Roy can ice his knees from the sidelines as much as he want's because his role as "Mr. Clutch" will be back in Loves hands.

Luke -

No.  Roy will add value on the court, but I think too understated is the value he adds as a presence around younger stars in the making (Love, Rubio … Pekovic, Williams, Shved?).  Roy’s biological clock is ticking fast and he knows it.  He is a high character player with great work ethic.  He will be all business this year and set a great example for his teammates.  I don’t think he even has to be on the court all the time for him to bring a benefit.  A completely healthy Roy makes this team a top 4 playoff team.  Roy on the IR and this team could still make the 6, 7 or 8 spot.  Also, I’m a believer Shved could have a nice future as a play maker at SG.  And Budinger is very capable of playing 20+ minutes on the wing.

Doogie -

Depends. Is Kevin Martin or someone else they acquire at the trade deadline filling that spot? Overall competent wing play will make a world difference, but a healthy Roy is a big part of that.

Big Al -

Yes and no. If Roy can stay healthy until Rubio and/or Love return, the Wolves could be in pretty good shape to take one of the final spots in the Western Conference. As we have so far in the preseason, it appears that Roy’s knees are in much better shape than they were two seasons ago and hopefully the platelet-rich therapy keeps Roy in a position to contribute throughout the season. Coach Adelman is smart about not pushing players through injury and will know when it is time to give Roy a breather or a game(s) off.

Last season, I fully believe that the Wolves would have made the playoffs if Rubio would have remained healthy for the entire season. Defense will be key to this team, and I believe that even without Roy, a lineup consisting of Rubio, Kirilenko, Love, and Pekovic is enough to make up for a lack of depth at SG. Roy will need to be a big part of the offense while Rubio and Love are out, but if the team can hover around .500 basketball until around mid-December, the team should be in great shape to beat out Golden State, Utah, Dallas, and even Denver.

 
Which new acquisition will play the biggest role on the Wolves?

 

Ben-

After seeing one game of Alexey Shved I officially declared on Twitter (Follow me @BenMac_STOB) that he is my favorite TPup.  Yet, I have to admit I don't think he'll be the best addition to the team.  This is a tough one, in many ways I think Chase Budinger will be.  He can shoot the three, run the court, attack the rim, catch alley-oops from Rubio, and is an underrated defender.  If you had me pick a breakout player on this team, I'd pick Budinger.  But that's not the question, it's who will play the biggest role and I think it will be AK-47, Andrei Kirilenko.

Why?  Because AK can play four positions on the court so he'll have a lot of opportunities to be plugged in different line-ups, but also because he is an elite defensive player.  The Wolves haven't had an elite defensive player on the squad since KG left and have been in desperate need of someone to protect the rim ever since.  AK can do that and a whole lot more.  He, like Rubio and Roy, will have injury questions all year, but if healthy (I've said this way too much already) he will play the largest role of all the new acquisitions.

Ken -

Again I go with AK due to the reasons stated above.

Derrick -

Chase Budinger - Chase is a poor mans Klove.  He is surprisingly athletic, and for being a taller gentleman  he can still shoot the lights out.  We all know that the Wolves can never have too many shooters!

Luke -

Alexey Shved.  Kirilenko is 31 years old on a 2 year deal.  Roy is in questionable physical condition on a 2 year deal.  Alexey is 6-6, 23 years old, can shoot, drive, pass and (when he wants to) defend.  He’s on a three year deal and plays a position that could compliment Rubio, Love and Pekovic fantastically if he pans out as a legitimate NBA player.  This could be an addition like Serge Ibaka for the Thunder.  Or at least in that vein.  A very solid player with upside that makes a good team better unexpectedly.

Doogie -

AK-47. He's so versatile and a dynamic passer. He'll get his without plays being specifically run for him. We'll love his defense too.

Big Al -

Andrei Kirilenko. Considering the injury to Love, AK-47 will now have arguably the most ambiguous role for the Wolves as he will be asked to play both SF-PF, depending on match-ups. Kirilenko’s defense will be one of the most important assets to the Wolves until Rubio and Love return from injury, and he will even need to assume a greater role on offense than initially expected. We will truly see if AK is worth his large price tag in the first few months of the season.

 
Do the Wolves make the playoffs?  If so, what seed?

 

Ben-

Yes!  The Wolves will make the playoffs this year!  Here are 5 reasons why:

1) Depth at every position - We have a capable backup at all 5 spots even with Rubio injured until December.

2) Improved wings will make Rubio look even better! - How many wide open looks did Rubio get Wes Johnson last year, only to watch his knuckleball shot clank off the rim?  Not going to happen this year...well it will...but it will be happening in Phoenix.

3) 3 Stars, all still with room to improve on last year - Rubio, Love and Pek all were stars last year and had us in contention, but they all can improve on last year's performances and likely will, only this year they will also be surrounded by better complementary players.

4) Full Adelman off-season - Don't underestimate how much it hurt this team not to have a full off-season last year due to the lockout to be molded into the shape of the future HOF coach.

5) I 've written about 1000 words just on the Wolves and haven't mentioned the #2 pick in last year's draft - Oh, yeah Derrick Williams is on the Wolves!  We all saw his talent come out in spurts last year, if he is a more consistent contributor that may just put this team over the top.

My seeding prediction: 5th seed.

Wolves get a 5th seed or BETTER in the west, behind some order of the Lakers, Thunder, Spurs and then either Memphis or the Clippers.  I will not be shocked if this team gets up to a 3rd or 4th seed, you shouldn't be either.

Ken-

I think they do. I will go with a 7 seed.

Derrick -

Yes, 5th Seed.

My Power Rankings:
Thunder
Lakers
Spurs
Memphis
Wolves
Dallas
Clippers
Jazz
Rockets
Warriors
Nuggets
Trailblazers
Suns
Hornets
Kings

Luke -

Yes.  7th seed.   Early injuries keep them just under .500 until January.  Then they get Love and Rick back and finish the season on fire squeaking into the back of the tourney.

Doogie -

Pre-Kevin Love injury, I was all-in on this. I hesitate now. Who got worse in the West from last year's 8 playoff teams?

Big Al -

This question relies on both Rubio and Love’s recoveries and their ability to play at a high level upon their return. If this team was fully healthy, I could see the team realistically fighting for a 5-6 seed, but now that they are dealing with injuries, I see their most optimistic hopes being a 7-8 seed. The subtractions of team cancers Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, and Darko Milicic, and the addition of high-energy, big-hearted guys including Dante Cunningham, Greg Stiemsma, Chase Budinger, and Brandon Roy should prove to be a big difference maker on a daily basis.

If Rubio comes back and can make a mark on defense while getting the best out of his teammates, the Timberwolves should begin to look like a future power in the West. Add in the top PF in the NBA, and the Pups should be able to make a big enough run to grab either the 7th or 8th seed in the West.

Around the League Questions -


Heat looking to repeat, who has stepped up to the plate and will be the most likely to challenge the Heatles from defending their title?

 

Ben -

Lakers are the obvious choice.  To me though, not sure they've improved as much as many think.  I think Bynum is the better player over Dwight Howard when both are 100%.  Nash is the biggest improvement for them then, and though I think he works well with almost any player in the league due to his skills, I think if there was one guy he may not work with, it'd be Kobe...and Allen Iverson...oh wait he is bankrupt and not in the league anymore.

OKC will be right there and if Derrick Rose is back to being Derrick Rose after his knee injury, the Bulls have the defense to play with anyone.  Don't sleep on the Wolves.  Yes...I've drank that much Wolves Kool-Aid.  (insert Kool-Aid Man voice, "OOOHHH YEEAAAH!")

Ken -

I’m going to go with OKC. They were there last year, they want to finish the job. KD and the gang will run away with it.

Derrick -

OKC will be back in the finals and fall short to the Heat yet again.

Luke -

Los Angeles Cl…. Just kidding.  Lakers.  Bron and Co. haven’t had to tangle with a big like Dwight in the later rounds before.

Doogie -

Lakers. That 4-headed monster with the additions of Howard and Nash will be solid. The Jamison addition was sneaky good too.

Big Al -

I have to go with the Boston Celtics here. The Celtics capped a very good season by bolstering their depth with the additions of Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa, Jeff Green, Jason Terry, and getting a steal in the draft in Jared Sullinger. This team now has amazing insurance for Avery Bradley at SG, and not to mention some excellent playoff experience with Terry and Barbosa. Doc Rivers’ defensive scheming is second to none, and while I do not believe this team has a very long window to win a championship, I think that right now they have a pretty darn impressive team and elite coaching.

 
Knicks let Lin go to Houston, got Jason Kidd who isn't a kid anymore.  The Nets moved to Brooklyn and added Joe Johnson.  Who will be the better New York team?

 

Ben -

I love that Joe Johnson goes from the most overpaid slightly above average player in the league in Atlanta to savior in Brooklyn.  Couldn't have anything to do with the fact that the east coast New York loving media is just craving one of their crappy teams to finally start mattering again, could it?  Oh wait, that's the only reason.  Brooklyn is all flash and camera cuts to 1% owner and king of out-kicking his coverage Jay-Z sitting on the sidelines.  Gerald Wallace will be their MVP (shout out to Luke) and without him they wouldn't contend at all, with him they'll be an average eastern conference team, which isn't saying much.  Last year's Kentucky team would make the playoffs in the eastern conference.

Then there is the Knicks, also known as "where past their prime Dallas Mavericks go to die".  This year Jason Kidd joins Tyson Chandler in a New York death march.  If Jason Kidd can take time off from beating his wife long enough to get on the court, he'll get to stand next to  Chandler and watch Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony have their season long dick swinging contest to prove whose team it is.  They'll again make the playoffs in a crappy eastern conference only to be beaten down like the crappy franchise they are by Miami or Chicago.  The Knicks are a team being led by two stars, neither of which lead a team to wins but only to padding their own stats.  Enjoy your mediocrity New York!  Speaking of mediocre, even Spike Lee knows I am right on all of what I just said.

Who is Spike Lee?  He is the guy that last mattered when Reggie Miller made him matter by making him his biatch in the 1994 playoffs.  Yes, I was almost 10 years old then, it was a while ago.  Oh, I guess supposedly he is a director/producer too, but only Wikipedia and 3 other people actually can name a movie he has put out in the last 10 years.

Not sure where that all came from...I apologize.

Ken -

Nets. Hands down. That is a scary team and is my sleeper this year.

Derrick -

Brooklyn - Joe Johnson and Dwill is a pretty sick back court.  Still not on the Lin band wagon and Kidd, well there's that.

Luke -

The Nets have Gerald Wallace, the Knicks have Carmello Anthony.  The Nets are worlds better than NYK.   Better balance, great interior D and rebounding from the Nets.  Chya boy!

Doogie -

Brooklyn. The Knicks will physically break down.

Big Al -

I’m going with the Brooklyn Nets, as they have the proven floor general in Deron Williams and a perennial All-Star to pair in the backcourt in Joe Johnson. Sure, they overspent to hang on the Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries is a prima donna, but the veteran leadership of Williams, Johnson, and Gerald Wallace boasts a big advantage over what the Knicks have going on.

By allowing Houston to overpay for Jeremy Lin, the Knicks now have two aging and very questionable players in Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton manning the PG position. Sure, Felton was very effective in Mike D’Antoni’s system a couple years back, but he is much more out of shape (and some would say overweight!) since his days in New York before being shipped out as a part of the Carmelo Anthony deal. JR Smith is slated to be the starting SG, and with Carmelo at SF, the team now has two completely selfish, high-volume, moderate-percentage shooters fighting for the ball nearly every possession. The team is now the oldest team in the NBA, and signed Marcus Camby and Kidd (both 38 years old) to three-year contracts. Who would obligate themselves to pay two 41-year-olds? The answer, my friends, is the New York Knicks.

 
The Lakers additions are big names, but will it result in a big increase in wins?

 

Ben -

I think 60 wins is possible for this squad.  Nash is the catalyst, as I said before the Bynum-Howard swap is a mute point if not a downgrade.  Kobe is a stud, and Antawn Jamison can't be forgotten as what will likely be a run at 6th man of the year.

Ken -

I don’t think so. I think they will have their struggles much like the heat had their first year together as a unit.

Derrick -

Yes, I think they struggle at first like  the Heat did initially, but mid way through the season they will figure it out and make a run for the number one playoff spot.

Luke -

Yes.  Absolutely yes.  I do still think they should trade Pau for a good young forward (either SF or PF) to put another chip in for the future.  Pau struggled mightily when Bynum was on the floor.  Don’t know why that would change with Dwight.  Nash on LAL is so weird, but I think they could definitely become the best team in the NBA come playoff time if healthy.

As “seasoned” as the Celtics, better balance than Miami, best interior defender in the game.  Top playmaker and the Grey Mamba still has some venom I think.  To me, the biggest question mark on that squad is Woodson.  What will that guy do with those 5 personalities?

Doogie -

Surely.

Big Al -

The Lakers had a pretty remarkable off-season by adding both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, while losing only Andrew Bynum in the process. However, I do not see the Lakers as the team to beat in the West, as there will now be increased chemistry issues with so many names and only one ball on the floor. Will Kobe turn to increased unselfishness in order to satisfy the needs of his new star teammates? How will Dwight respond after games where he gets less than ten field goal attempts? As Dwight is notorious for foul trouble, how will the Lakers lack of depth fair in their frontcourt.  Pau Gasol’s decline has been in the eye of the NBA community for the past few seasons and it is clear that he is nowhere near the $20 million price tag he carries. The way I see it, this team will live and die by Kobe Bryant. Sure the team’s top end is great, but their bench remains a nightmare. Kobe is going to need to have an MVP-type of season in order for the Lakers to get past the always-improving and still-developing OKC Thunder in the West.

 
Which team will come out of nowhere and surprise everyone this year, if anyone?

 

Ben -

Easy answer is the Wolves.  But I am expecting that too much, so that won't surprise me in the least.  With that in mind, I will pass on that and go with the Detroit Pistons.  25-41 last year, somehow good for 10th place in that crappy eastern conference, which proves my point that is a terrible conference.  They will be better than that this year, Greg Monroe is a good player and Brandon Knight is one year better.   Austin Daye I believe will have a breakout year and although raw, I think Andre Drummond will help them.  Corey Maggette is an underrated pick up and "my guy" Kyle Singler joins them this year after playing overseas due to the lockout last year.  Pistons make the playoffs...and get murdered in the first round.

Ken -

The Nets….if you can call that a surprise with the names that they have.

Derrick -

Memphis - Even though they will not be coming out of nowhere, I think they will make it to the Western Conference finals.  Yeah, I said it.  They will upset the Lakers and end up losing to OKC in the WCF.

Luke -

I like Philly’s chances.  If Bynum stays healthy, they could do some damage.  Denver as well.  Funny that I like every team in the Dwight trade except Orlando…

Doogie -

Phoenix. The Wolves wanted Scola and didn't have room. He'll help them a lot. They won't be nearly as bad as some are predicting after losing Nash.

Big Al -

The Milwaukee Bucks quietly enjoyed a tremendous off-season starting with grabbing their prize in the draft in John Henson. Scott Skiles really knows how to squeeze out the defensive capabilities in his players, and Henson’s 9’5” standing reach should be greatly utilized. The Bucks also compensated for the loss of Andrew Bogut by grabbing a big-time shot blocker in Samuel Dalembert, another guy who could thrive under Skiles. Tobias Harris is coming off an up-and-down freshman year in the NBA and could be a sophomore to watch this season.

Factor in the emergence of Ersan Illyasova and one of the top PGs in the league in Brandon Jennings, and you have a team that should improve by at least 10 wins from last season.  And while I do not view the addition of Monta Ellis as a tremendous move (due to the similarity of his skill set to Jennings), I see him as a guy who on any night can tear apart opposing defenses and make things easier for those around him. This team is not going to need to score as many points as most teams in order to win games given their defensive-focused game plan.

 
Who had the best and worst off-season?

 

Ben -

I truly think the Wolves had a very good off-season.  They had needs on the wing and at back up center.  All those needs were filled.  Was it the best?  Tough to say, the Lakers fans will argue you can't trump Nash/Howard/Jamison and they maybe right, but I'll be a homer for once and go with the Wolves with the best off-season.

The Magic have to have had the worst off-season, they lost Howard and in return got Aaron Afflalo, Mo Harkless and Al Harrington.  Hey Shabazz Muhammad and Cody Zeller, it may not hurt to start looking into Orlando real estate now!

Ken -

Best – Tpups

Worst – Rockets (Lin is a bust and they didn’t get Howard)

Derrick -

Best - Lakers by landing Dwight "I love to wine" Howard.
Worst - Knicks because they lost the only thing interesting to the New York media - Linsanity!

Luke -

Worst:  Phoenix.  Traded for Wes Johnson and signed Michael Beasley.  Did they watch Wolves basketball last year?
Best:  Gotta be LAL.  Landing the coveted prize of the last few off seasons along with 2 time MVP Nash, somehow the Lakers are a top 3 team when it looked like they were almost cooked.

Doogie -

Best: Lakers

Worst: Orlando (I would've taken the Rockets offer for Howard)

Big Al -

Starting with the worst, the Dallas Mavericks experienced a tragic offseason starting with losing out to Deron Williams to the Brooklyn Nets. Maybe Mark Cuban should not miss meetings with his prized free agents in favor of focusing on Shark Tank, eh? They made the right move in amnestying Brendan Haywood, but how much will the additions of Elton Brand and Chris Kaman really make? Factor in the addition of OJ Mayo and the loss of Jason Terry and you have a trainwreck in the making. Oh yeah, and Dirk will miss at least 6 weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery.I did like the Mavericks drafting as I believe they nabbed two potential steals in Jae Crowder and Jared Cunningham, but the team will largely rely on past-their-prime players in Shawn Marion and Vince Carter to keep this team afloat until Dirk returns. This team’s long-term plans appear heinous and they will need to rely on the FA market in future years if they are to remain a playoff team in years to come.

The team with the best offseason in my mind was the Atlanta Hawks, and allow me to elaborate on this choice. New GM Danny Ferry did a miraculous job ridding the team of Joe Johnson’s nightmarish contract and restoring financial flexibility to the club. In the process, the team acquired one of the top shooters in the NBA in Anthony Morrow, drafted the top shooter in the draft in John Jenkins, and added another great three-point shooter in Kyle Korver. They also were able to sign PG-SG Lou Williams to a reasonable contract, and when healthy he is one of the top 6-men in the NBA. Also considering the acquisition of Devin Harris, the club now has one of the top shooting teams in the NBA while maintaining cap flexibility that should bode very well to the Hawks’ future plans. Josh Smith and Anthony Morrow are two of Dwight Howard’s closest friends, and if things do not go well for D12 in LA, do not be surprised if he decides to sign with his hometown of Atlanta next season. As it stands currently, the Hawks have the financial ability to sign both Chris Paul and Dwight Howard this upcoming offseason. Dwight + CP3 + J-Smoove + Horford + Lou Williams = dream scenario.

Predictions -


Rookie of the Year -

 

Ben -

It'll be tough to beat Anthony Davis.  When you're the #1 overall pick, the team that drafted you feels it has to feed you the ball early and often to prove they got the best guy.  If you've read what I think about Davis, you know I don't think he is #1 overall worthy.  I am sticking to my guns on that, even though his Team USA and preseason performances say I should start running from my record on him.  But, unlike a certain presidential candidate (you choose which one you want to think I am referring to) I will not run from my record, I stand by it.

Therefore, I will say that Damian Lillard will win ROY from Portland.  Portland will suck, and Lillard is a stud.  He will start at PG, and with three solid preseason performances under his belt (14, 15 and 20 ppg respectively) plus a better surrounding cast than Davis, he will end the season looking like the best rookie.

Ken -

Austin Rivers – I hate to say it because I hate Duke, but this kid is ready for the NBA. I understand he is on the same team as the #1 pick Davis, but Austin will play a bigger role and could get the Hornets back on the up and up.

Derrick -

Terrance Ross.

Luke -

Anthony Davis.  He’s going to have all the opportunity in the world especially considering Eric Gordon is ALWAYS hurt.  And he is a much better offensive player than Ben McDonald thinks.

Doogie -

Davis, Lillard, or Drummond -- to be different, give me Lillard.

Big Al -

Anthony Davis. No other rookie has more of an opportunity to big minutes and tons of shot attempts than Davis. Damian Lillard has Lamarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal has John Wall, and Thomas Robinson has Demarcus Cousins. With Eric Gordon seemingly always injured, Davis will be the focal point of the offense and should get to display his entire skill set in a season with very low expectations for the Hornets. Look for Davis to assume the role of point-forward from time to time and be near the league leader in blocks. There is no better two-way player in this draft class than Davis.

 
MVP -

 

Ben -

Lebron.  Plain and simple, he is now the best in the league (if you know me, or know my feelings on him in the past, you know that is hard for me to say).

Ken -

Kevin Love – I think he will show his value and worth to the team when he comes back from injury. He will get the Pups to the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

Derrick -

Lebron James.

Luke -

LeBron James.  He’s just too flippin good.

Doogie -

Lebron James

Big Al -

LeBron James. No questions here. LeBron had the best offseason of any player in the world following a NBA Finals championship win and a Gold Metal to match, and I truly believe that he has all the makings to somewhat rival Michael Jordan’s pedigree.

 
Western Conference Champ -

 

Ben -

OKC.  They're happy for the Lakers and their new additions, but they ain't scurred and Nash cannot and could not ever guard Westbrook.  While nobody in the league can guard Kevin Durant.  Oh, and by the way, Perkins and Ibaka...they can gaurd Dwight Howard, you know why?  Cause he has no offensive moves.

Ken -

OKC – Just a solid team. Nothing more to say.

Derrick -

OKC.

Luke -

LAL (Barely edges OKC)  Too good top to bottom.  Kobe is lusting after #5, now he has Nash who has been given one last (and maybe his best) shot at #1.  Pau is steady and Metta is crazy, but Kobe likes him.  Dwight is the big X factor that will either make this a team that rolls over everyone, or disappoints.  This is a championship or bust team.

Doogie -

Lakers

Big Al -

OKC Thunder. The Thunder got a steal of a draft pick when they took Perry Jones III near the end of the first round, and who better for him to sit under than an elite player with a similar skill set in Kevin Durant. If the Thunder do not have serious injury problems, the course is clear for them to win the West.

 
Eastern Conference Champ -

 

Ben -

Miami.  Boring but true.

Ken -

Heat – See reason for OKC.

Derrick -

Miami.

Luke -

Miami (barely edges Boston)  Miami finally got the monkey off their backs.  Now we see if it was truly “not one…” or not.

Doogie -

Miami

Big Al -

Miami Heat. How do you follow up a championship victory by adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis? I still have trouble comprehending all of the glorious moves that Pat Riley seems to make. With two legitimate three-point options added to the perimeter, LeBron and D-Wade now have even more options to look to when they penetrate the lane or get double-teamed. This team now has the confidence to match their spectacular abilities.

 
NBA Champion -

 

Ben -

OKC.  Payback is a dish best served warm and Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka are heated after letting last year's title go.  They won't make the same mistakes being one year wiser and one year hungrier.  The hungrier team usually wins out if talent is equal, OKC is close on the talent and after winning it all last year, Miami won't be able to match their hunger.

Ken -

OKC – They got a taste last year and now they want the whole meal.

Derrick -

Miami Heat.

Luke -

LAL.  Ron can guard LeBron as poorly as anyone else who tries, Kobe / Wade is a toss up, Nash will slaughter whoever the Heat roll out there.  Bosh / Pau is a push, Dwight is the difference maker.  Miami hasn’t run into anyone like him in the late rounds before.

Doogie -

Lakers

Big Al -

Miami Heat. Although it is cliché, I am a big believer that the Heat have the best situation in the NBA and carried by LeBron, could win 2-3 championships in the next five years.

There is a lot of info there for you to digest from some very good NBA minds.  We now want to hear from you, comment and give us some of your opinions and predictions.

 
This NBA Preview has been brought to you by Founding Fathers Brewing.

 

 

 

 

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