Good News: Indiana is built around a starting unit that goes 7’2, 6’9, 6’9, 6’9, all of whom can pass and shoot. While they advanced to the second round by defeating one of the weakest playoff teams in memory (Dwight Howard-less Magic), their success in 2012 wasn’t a fluke. The Pacers will be able to match up with any team in the East, outside of Miami, in a seven-game series.
Bad News: The Pacers don’t have much of what Hubie Brown would call “tremendous upside potential." There isn’t an elite defensive big man or an All-NBA caliber perimeter shot creator on their roster, so it’s unlikely they’ll improve on last year’s playoff run. Paul George is their one player with room to improve, but it’s hard to ever see him becoming an above-average playmaker.
Real Talk: Gerald Green was the No. 1 rated player in my high school class. I watched him play on the AAU circuit, so maybe I’m biased, but I know he can play basketball at a very high level. It’s just been a matter of getting his head on straight. His per-36 minute averages from his time with the Nets are very encouraging: 18.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists on 48% shooting. There’s a reason Green and Danny Granger were taken back-to-back in the 2005 draft. I’m not saying he’s a better player, but he is more talented.
Good News: Even without Derrick Rose, Chicago should still be a playoff-caliber team in 2012. Omer Asik will be missed, but Taj Gibson is playing for a contract, and he’s more than capable of handling 30+ minutes per night. The Bulls don’t have a lot of offensive firepower, but if they can control the tempo of the game, they should be competitive on a nightly basis.
Bad News: Jerry Reinsdorf has never been all that eager to pour money into the Bulls, but if they’re going to stay competitive with the team in South Beach for the next few years, he’s going to have to. If they won’t pay the luxury tax, giving $85 million to a defensive liability upfront (Carlos Boozer) who can’t consistently create offense against Chris Bosh is a disastrous misuse of resources.
Real Talk: Rose’s injury in last year’s playoffs robbed basketball fans of an interesting Conference Finals matchup and unnecessarily extended the Celtics' championship window, but it didn’t change the course of NBA history. Chicago lost to Miami 4-1 in 2011 and the same cores were returning in 2012. Rose isn’t that much better than Russell Westbrook, who couldn’t beat the Heat on a team with James Harden, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, three players better than any of Rose’s teammates.
Good News: The Bucks' offense is no longer among the worst in the NBA. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are both playing for new contracts, and they’re explosive enough to take over a game against anyone. Tobias Harris, coming off a dominant run in the Vegas Summer League, could give them some badly needed frontcourt offense at 6’8 225.
Bad News: Scott Skiles is going to have to do an unreal amount of juggling this season, as the Bucks have almost no two-way players on their roster. Milwaukee has offensive threats on the perimeter who struggle with defense and defensive specialists on the interior who struggle to score. John Henson, Larry Sanders, Sam Dalembert and Ekpe Udoh can’t all play with such similar skill-sets.
Real Talk: The difference between Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Harrison Barnes is bigger than the one between Anthony Davis and Henson. Kentucky deserves all of the hype they received, but UNC was about as dominant for most of the season. Henson and Zeller were just too big for collegiate front-lines; if they had a competent back-up for Kendall Marshall, they would have played the Wildcats for the national title.
Good News: 2011 was a great draft to have the No. 1 overall pick. While Kyrie Irving looks like a future superstar, there are question marks about nearly every other player taken in that lottery. As a 19-year-old rookie without much talent around him, Irving averaged 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists on 47% shooting. He reportedly wowed everyone at the Olympic training camp in Las Vegas and is an early favorite to be on the 2016 team. The sky is the limit.
Bad News: The Cavaliers probably remain one more lottery pick away from being a legit playoff contender. Cleveland has next to nothing at the small forward position, as neither Alonzo Gee nor Omri Casspi look like they’ll become starting-caliber players. There aren’t many solutions on their roster either: C.J. Miles is the only one of their shooting guards or power forwards who has the versatility to slide over for any amount of time.
Real Talk: I’m a fan of Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, but Cleveland had two chances in the Top-5 to pair Kyrie Irving with a 6’9+ All-Star caliber player and they couldn’t do it. There was a potential dynasty on the board when the Cavaliers were picking in 2011 and 2012 and they let it slip away. They should have a decent core, but if they had went for HR’s instead of singles and doubles in the draft, they might have had a fascinating rivalry with Miami down the road.
Good News: Greg Monroe is one of the rising young big men in the NBA. At the age of 21, Monroe averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 52% shooting. One of the most encouraging part of picking up Andre Drummond in the draft is that it allows the Pistons to move Monroe to the power forward position, where his combination of size and skill at 6’11 250 could be devastating long-term.
Bad News: Coming out of Kentucky, I didn’t think Knight quite had the athleticism or the skill level to compare with John Calipari’s other one-and-done PG’s. He should still develop into a solid starter, but 12.8 points and 3.8 assists on 41.5% shooting doesn’t scream future star. There aren’t many other sources of perimeter offense in Detroit, so if Knight doesn’t make the leap, it’s hard to see them contending for a playoff spot in 2013.
Real Talk: Pro baseball and college football teams, which have much more experience dealing with high-school prospects than NBA franchises, would never have passed on Andre Drummond. Drummond is the ultimate 5-star blue-chip prospect at the age of 19; they don’t always work out in baseball or football either, but when they do, they’re Bryce Harper or Cam Newton. As long as there’s no red flags on a prospect’s character, a franchise should trust itself to be able to develop young talent.