The 2012/13 NBA season is finally upon us! Here is my 100% guaranteed gold standard regular season predictions. From last to first, 5 teams a post. Think I’m wrong? Tell me in the comments.
25. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have a solid core of players in Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan but will continue to struggle in 2012/13. Bargnani started the season on fire last season – including a 24.2 ppg and 6.6 rpg 10 game stretch through December – before injuries cut his season in half. If he can pick up where he left off before the injury struggles look for a productive season from the sharpshooting Italian. The break through season many thought DeRozan would have never eventuated and his numbers remained stagnant across the board. DeRozan has all the athleticism to be an efficient offensive player and he scores much better at the rim 58.9% than when he settles for outside jumpers 34.3% from 16 feet to 3 and only 26.1% from deep. Someone with his speed and quickness should be getting more than 0.8 steals a game too.
The biggest additions to the Toronto squad are the signing of Kyle Lowry from Houston and Jonas Valanciunas’s arrival after being selected 5th overall in the 2011 draft. The biggest change both of these guys bring to the team are a toughness and grit that has been lacking over the past few seasons. Expect to see Lowry racking up steals and taking the ball hard to the rack as well as getting on his teammates when things fall apart. It will be interesting to see how Valanciunas adapts to the NBA style of game. If anything at 6’11”, 230 lbs Valanciunas brings a big body that will clog up the paint, block and alter shots and bring in rebounds. Of his Olympics experienced, Valanciunas revealed the most significant thing he learnt playing against the worlds best was “how not to foul out”. Now that he’s learnt one of the basic skills of basketball Raptors fans should be pumped for the upcoming season. Maybe they’ll even be able to draft another Valanciunas with the lottery pick they are destined to be given at next years draft.
24. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons have done well over the past few seasons to rid themselves of some of their worst contracts. Richard Hamilton has taken his $12.5 million a year to Chicago and Ben Gordon’s ridiculous $55 million 5 year deal is now the Bobcats problem. While Corey Maggette’s expiring deal takes almost another $11 million off the books this year. Maybe they could invest some cap space into a time machine to stop themselves signing Charlie Villanueva’s $37.7 million 5 year deal in 2009.
Aside from the cap space the Pistons have stumbled into at the end of this year they have also drafted several soon to be studs. Greg Monroe flirted with averaging a double-double last season – 15.4 points and 9.7 points per – and Brandon Knight’s 12.8 points and 3.8 assists a contest was a solid rookie showing. If both of these guys continue their improvement and the Andre Drummond experiment pays off, Detroit could find themselves pushing for an 8th seed as soon as next year.
Last season Detroit were 27th in the league with 90.9 points per game and 9th worst for opponent points allowed per 100 possessions at 106.4. If they can’t improve on these numbers don’t expect many more Ws from the Pistons this season.
23. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs have one of the most exciting prospects in the league with Kyrie Irving. His runaway Rookie of the Year selection – receiving 117 of 120 first place votes and beating second placed, Ricky Rubio by 422 votes – was well deserved after pouring in 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals a game. After letting Ramon Sessions leave for Charlotte and Antawn Jamison make his way to the Lakers, the point guard spot and the entire team is unquestionably Irving’s this season. Expect a boost in his scoring numbers as he will need to take on a greater role on offense after the departure of Jamison. A lesser spike in assist numbers is likely as there are many more finishers around him.
Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee are both solid pros who should provide hustle stats for the starting unit but the most exciting prospect other than Irving in Cleveland is Dion Waiters out of Syracuse. After averaging 12.6 points a contest in 24.1 minutes a game for the Orange last season, look for Waiters to provide Irving with another scoring option in the backcourt.
22. Houston Rockets
As of writing this the Rockets have played one game this season and I am still factoring James Harden into their positioning on this list. While I think Harden is quite capable to lead this team and see his stats rise across the board – I’ve had a fantasy basketball boner since the trade with Harden in my team – but I don’t see his teammates providing much help along the way.
At the end of last season Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey made no secret he was going all out for a star player – most notably Dwight Howard – as he stockpiled picks and blew apart his team. Power Forward Luis Scola was amnestied and eventually landed in Phoenix, Goran Dragic joined him while Kyle Lowry, Samuel Dalembert and Chase Budinger were all traded for picks in search of landing Howard from Orlando. Everything seemingly fell apart after the dream of Dwight Howard was crushed by his trade to Los Angeles and the Rockets were left with Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and a splattering of rookies.
The Harden trade changes a lot of that, but not all of it. Harden’s production is sure to skyrocket and he’ll average well above the 16.8 points and 3.7 assists he posted in 31.4 minutes a game for the Thunder. Jeremy Lin will most likely never reach the heights he did at the peak of the Linsanity craze – 20.9 points and 8.4 assists through 14 games in February – but will post the less gaudy numbers he averaged after defenses began to adjust to him – 14.6 points and 6.3 per over his last 13 games.
Although they lack a true inside scorer (sorry Patrick Patterson you don’t cut it) Morey has surrounded Lin and Harden with a good group of outside shooters. Expect the Rockets to run a Lin/Harden pick and roll offense with Asik looking for the lane to the bucket or a dish out to any of Daequan Cook (36.4% career 3 point shooter), Carlos Delfino (36.4%) or Chandler Parsons (33.5%).
21. Portland Trail Blazers
At first I was skeptical of the hype surrounding Damian Lillard coming into the season. The memories of Jerryd Bayless winning the Summer League MVP for the Blazers in 2008 and the let down his rookie year was in comparison – 29.8 points a game at Summer League then 4.3 points per in the regular season. The comparison between Bayless and Lillard is uncanny. Both are listed at 6’3″ and only 5 pounds separates the two and they both won Summer League MVP with similarly dominant displays. Hell, Bayless even used to rock the number 0 at college.
Fortunately, this time around Blazers fans can expect a much more productive season from their dynamo rookie. In 2008 Bayless was stuck behind Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez in the rotation and never truly found his place in the team. Lillard will be handed the starting role from day one and will be given the green light to take shots and make plays, which is likely to pay great dividends. Expect Lillard to push Anthony Davis all the way in a tight Rookie of the Year vote. He could also rival for the rookie scoring title too.
Portland do post an intimidating starting line up of Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicholas Batum, JJ Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge. However, I feel they will struggle a little this season in a packed division with Utah, Denver, Minnesota and Oklahoma City. They have a good young core who will improve as the season goes on but playoff success is out of their reach for at least this season.