Yes, I know – everyone is doing predictions this year. Who am I to throw my hat in the ring? Who cares – mine will be at least interesting and unexpected. Behold – 15 predictions for the 2014-2015 NBA Season.
1. The Bulls will face injury issues. The biggest question mark in Chicago right now is whether or not Derrick Rose can stay healthy for a whole season. That’s not my worry, though. Noah had knee work done early in the summer, but remains minutes-limited in pre-season and honestly, he seems a step slow. Pre-season is a tough way to judge players’ injuries, but I wouldn’t say that the situation looked promising. Add in Jimmy Butler’s hand issues and Pau’s history of injury and I think the Bulls are looking at a tougher year than some are anticipating (and that’s all without mentioning Rose).
2. The Cavs are going to be tough, but they have weaknesses. David Blatt this week announced that Anderson Varejao will start at center. Without a true center, the Cavs face trouble guarding teams with a taller-bigger center AND a large stretch 4. More worrying, however, is Dion Waters – who seems to have no safety on his shooting trigger. The “big three” of Cleveland are all scary – but the other two pieces present areas where they can be exploited (as did Miami four years ago). If teams can focus their offense around those weaknesses, the Cavs are ultimately venerable.
3. The Raptors will not be as good as everyone thinks. This one is hard to “prove”. They had a great year last year, and everyone seems ready to nominate them as the next big thing in the east, since their starting lineup is back and they’ve added some key role players. Kyle Lowry re-signed, meaning this is not a contract year for him (his PPG jumped from under 12 to almost 18 last year), and while DeRozen and Valanciunas are both strong players, they tend to get overpowered by larger players at their positions. I expect them to finish 5-6 in the east at best.
4. Bradley Beal’s injury will be a huge deal for the Wizards. The Wizards are the other big “team on the rise” in the east. They’ve picked up Paul Pierce and Kris Humphries, while losing Trevor Ariza. Bradley Beal, part of the self-described “best back-court in the game” is out for 6-8 weeks. This means several things – Wall must step up, Pierce needs to contribute from behind the arc, and Gortat and Nene need to dominate in the early going. Those are three big things to ask from a team that’s still giddy from it’s first round playoff win (and ALMOST downing of the Pacers).
5. Charlotte will improve, but Lance Stephenson can’t be the primary option for them. He’s crazy – it’s that simple. If he swallows up Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson instead of being a complementary 3rd option, the Hornets regress – something they can’t afford to do this year.
6. The Heat will finish in the top 4 in the East. I don’t like Bosh and think Wade will miss 30 games this year. I still think that the team has enough grit plus two huge new pickups that can easily jell. Once they establish a full-time point guard (my vote is for Shabazz at the moment) they will have a solid starting five, and a good to decent 8 man rotation. Can they win it all – no. But I think they will make a decent run.
7. The Pistons will make the playoffs this year. Not a shocker based on all the pieces (Drummond, Monroe, Smith, Jennings) plus Van Gundy, but I think they will be the biggest riser in the East. My one concern with this team is playing all three big men together (Drummond, Smith, Monroe), but I think SVG will quickly see that Smith is outclassed by the other two, and can be relegated to a bench role.
8. The Rockets will finish 6th or worse if they don’t make a big trade. They’re just relying too much on Harden and Howard to keep up in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. The arrival of Trevor Ariza gives them some solid defense and 3-point shooting, but the loss of Lin, Asik, and most importantly Parsons makes them venerable to injury and fatigue. They will need a huge year from Patrick Beverly, something I don’t think they can realistically expect.
9. Rondo will be traded – to the Houston Rockets. Conveniently, this is the person to fill the hole for the Rockets. He is a huge upgrade over Beverly, thinks pass first (sometimes comically), and will be able to set up Harden and Howard (and Ariza) – and he’s surely looking for a new home. Can the Rockets get him? That is the question – one that will require some soul-searching, as he likely won’t come cheap, and will mean mortgaging the team for a 1-2 year run.
10. The Suns will make the playoffs. A popular prediction to be sure, but their brand of “small ball” should they choose to play 3 guards (of the 4 who could easily be starters) will cause extreme matchup problems for lots of teams. Additionally, in the preseason they’ve shown an affinity to fast-break (not necessarily seven-seconds-or-less) that is promising for them in a western conference that has some of the longest big men in the league. Defensively, they will have to step up, and rely on Hornacek’s system working – that’s the true test of both the system and the team.
11. Durant’s injury puts Oklahoma at risk of missing the playoffs. Bold, I know, but we all remember Westbrook’s injuries the last several years, and we all know how he will look to win games on his own with Durant out. The risk is that he and Durant spend the season going back and forth with injury and fatigue. In the west, such a scenario would make it tough to beat out the other strong teams with three solid team options.
12. The Blazers have the highest ceiling of any team in the west – but might need another year to get there. They seem a lock to make the playoffs – and it’s a contract year for Aldridge. Where will they finish? Things have been good in PDX in the offseason, coming off of a huge three-pointer to beat Houston and a disappointing loss in the next round. If Lillard and Aldridge can become the 1-2 punch that they seem ready to be, this team could be top-4 in the west. If not, they face a first round series starting in Golden State or San Antonio – a rough situation indeed.
13. The Wolves will have a better record this year than last year. The Wolves were 40-42 last year, so being better is tough in the West – but their team chemistry, raw talent (as a team), and system are better – so why not expect them to do a little better this year. They will need Rubio to come into his own finally (contract year, so likely), and along with Pekovic, they will need to nurture an offense with the youngsters they’ve accumulated. Kevin Love is a great player, but very soon the bulk of talent that was traded for him will pay off for the Wolves.
14. The Mavericks will struggle, even though they gained talent in the off-season. When we talk about team chemistry, the big questions come from the Cavs. The Mavs, though, will feature “new” starters in Raymond Felton, Tyson Chandler, and Chandler Parsons. While Felton and Chandler have played with Dirk in Dallas before, time marches on – and without Vince Carter (a missing link in my opinion) they look to me to be slow coming out of the gate in the West.
15. While the Spurs will have the best record in the west, they won’t make the NBA Finals. The reverse is usually the case, but this year Pop’s team is one year older, and a long playoff run seems tough, even in Duncan’s (likely) last year. The Clippers are on the opposite side of youth, and the ownership story alone can propel them and their fans a long way. I think they go all the way to the NBA finals, and this may be the year we see a Blake Griffin poster with Duncan cowering underneath.