San Antonio Spurs
The Good News: Ever since Tim Duncan came to San Antonio, the Spurs have been the most consistent franchise in the NBA. They have made 15 consecutive playoff appearances, and with almost the entire roster back from a 50-16 team, they should be just as good in 2013. Kawhi Leonard, if he can continue hitting open 3’s, gives them some much needed athleticism in the frontcourt.
The Bad News: San Antonio hasn’t won a title since Duncan entered his 30’s, with their most recent coming in 2007. With Duncan slowing down and no other shot-blocker in the frontcourt, the Spurs have reinvented themselves as an efficient offensive team. San Antonio’s defense has slipped from 3rd in 2008 to 5th, 8th, 11th and 10th in 2012. With the usual suspects surrounding Duncan upfront, there’s no reason to think they’ll win a title or play better defense in 2013.
Real Talk: For all of the accolades the Spurs front office has gotten, they’ve left at least one title on the board in the last five years. They have turned their roster several times over in that span without once finding an athletic interior defender; the lack of urgency they’ve shown trying to address this glaring need is fairly inexcusable.
The Good News: In 2011 when they beat the Heat to win the Finals, Dallas was better than the sum of their parts: they leveraged Tyson Chandler’s defense to play offensive specialists on the perimeter. In 2013, they’ll leverage great team speed on the perimeter to play offensive specialists on the interior. There’s no reason Dirk Nowitzki, a tall jump-shooter, can’t continue playing at an elite level indefinitely.
The Bad News: This team will go as far as Darren Collison and OJ Mayo can take them. They’re both talented players, but Collison has already been dealt twice in his young career while Mayo was perennially on the trade block in his time with the Grizzlies. It’s hard to see them outplaying Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, or James Harden and Russell Westbrook in a seven-game series.
Real Talk: Brandan Wright, the former Golden State Warriors lottery pick who Dallas found last offseason, is a better player than either Chris Kaman or Elton Brand. Wright’s PER of 21.6 last year was no fluke: he’s an athletic 6’10 forward with a 7’3 wingspan, soft hands and great touch in the paint. Rick Carlisle has become notorious for his reluctance to play younger players, but he’s got to find minutes for Wright this season.
The Good News: With both Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur a year removed from knee surgery (although Arthur is out the next eight weeks with a broken bone in his leg), the Grizzlies' frontcourt should be even better in 2013. When healthy, Memphis has the best three big man rotation in the NBA; they present matchup problems for nearly every other team.
The Bad News: The inability of the Grizzlies' perimeter players to efficiently create a shot off the dribble has been exposed in their heartbreaking playoff losses the last two years. Mike Conley went 2-for-13 in Game 7 last year, while Rudy Gay has never meshed with the Randolph/Marc Gasol duo upfront.
Real Talk: Josh Selby, the Grizzlies second round pick in 2011, is more talented than Conley. Selby was the No. 1 player in the country coming out of high school, but his only year at Kansas was short-circuited by injuries and suspensions. He was the MVP of the Summer League; his combination of ball-handling, athleticism and shooting ability could be an X-factor for Memphis. With so many skilled players upfront, Memphis doesn’t necessarily need to play a traditional PG.
New Orleans Hornets
The Good News: Thanks to some brilliant moves by acting GM David Stern, the Hornets have an excellent inside/outside combo of Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis to build around going forward. Gordon, if he can stay healthy, could emerge as the best shooting guard in the NBA this season while Davis has a game-changing combination of length and athleticism at 6’11 220.
The Bad News: With the No. 10 overall pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, the Hornets had the chance to form a potential dynasty. There were multiple elite 6’9+ prospects on the board, but New Orleans chose Austin Rivers, a shoot-first 6’4 combo guard, under the idea that a player with an assist to turnover ratio of less than one in college could become a legit NBA PG.
Real Talk: If you wanted a player with a skill-set less compatible with Gordon and Davis, you couldn’t do a better job than Rivers. Not only does he play the same position as Gordon, but Davis needs perimeter players who can create easy shots for him, not a guy whose go to move is the one-dribble pull-up 3-pointer. Rivers could become an excellent bench scorer on the right team, but the move doesn’t inspire much confidence in the Hornets' front office.
The Good News: If ever there was a draft where three mid-first round picks were valuable, it was 2012. Houston wasn’t able to turn all their chips into a big name, but Royce White, Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Jones all have the chance to be excellent players. And with so many young players on the roster, Houston will finally get off the mediocrity treadmill in 2012.
The Bad News: Apparently small-ball power forwards are the new market inefficiency. There aren’t enough minutes for White, Jones, Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Donatas Motiejunas and Chandler Parsons, and with so many young players battling for a spot in the rotation, Houston could have some serious chemistry problems in 2013.
Real Talk: White, a 6’8 270 point forward, is the best passer on the Rockets' roster. He averaged 5.0 assists a game at Iowa State last year, an almost unheard of number for a player his size. They gave Jeremy Lin a huge contract in the off-season, but as his 6.2 assist to 3.6 turnover average in 2012 indicates, he’s a shoot-first guard who won’t be nearly as effective if he tries to focus on setting up his teammates.