Before we get to the meat, a side note:
- I only managed to catch the final two fights on UFC 121. I am normally not a huge MMA guy, but when the top needle mover in the sport is going, I am up for it. Brock Lesnar since coming over from fake sports (I knew him from WWE) has been a force of nature unlike anything MMA has seen before. However, Cain Velasquez was the first guy he faced who was legitimately faster than him. Lesnar came out hot but Velasquez was ready for it and after the initial rush Velasquez beat the living crap out of Lesnar. What a performance! Lesnar needs to figure out how to defend himself when he gets sent down – this almost killed him against Carwin. Also, sadly, Jake Shields sucked – gave me no reason to think that John Fitch does not deserve to UFC’s #1 contender for GSP – as horrible as that sounds.
- Wow is Lesnar’s chin awful or what?
Now, back to basketball.
As we rise up the rankings, we have passed bad teams, interesting but unripe teams, uninteresting but skilled teams … now we start getting into fringy playoff sides.
18. Indiana Pacers (21st overall in 2010, 26th offense, 14th defense)
Really the Charlotte Bobcats forecast in our previous entry and the next two entries might qualify for the least interesting teams in the league for this season. They aren’t bad in any sort of customary way, they might even make the playoffs to be a punching bag for a really good side – but I don’t see much sizzle here. Danny Granger is a terrific player, but clearly more of a #2 than a #1. Darren Collison is an excellent point guard prospect, and unlike TJ Ford seems to know that passing is a good idea. Still, is he going to be on the Rose-Rondo-Deron-CP3 sort of future short list? But then: Brandon Rush, Tyler Hansbrough, Dontae Jones, Roy Hibbert, Mike Dunleavy. There are a lot of decent players here, but decent is it. To his credit, Larry Bird recognized the stasis and went for some high ceiling low probability guys in Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the draft. If some of that works, maybe this is a playoff team and attractive to a free agent with the cap room they have. But I don’t know.
CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Paul George reaches his ceiling and Darren Collison is a lot better than I think (and I respect him a lot), while Granger remains a high efficiency scorer. Really, they might have to join the NBDL too. This is a potential playoff team, but I don’t see what that potential means.
17. New Orleans Hornets (19th overall in 2010, 16th offense, 22nd defense)
Much drama was had regarding Chris Paul’s flailing about and tacit demanding of a trade. Really it was part of a very eventful offseason. Jeff Bower, the GM and interim coach left, the Hornets got someone from the Spurs (always a decent idea) and hired Monte Williams as coach, a lauded assistant I know nothing about. They traded for Trevor Ariza to give some athleticism and drafted Quincy Pondexter for even more. The team has some talent, but really they are the West’s Washington Wizards, who placed a lot of high value bets on decent players who did not deserve such faith. One man’s Caron Butler, put simply, is another’s Peja Stojakovic. Fortunately for the Hornets, they have some cap room next year, but will they fulfill Chris Paul’s wishes to have a chance to win without him making a pinkie swear promise with somebody?
CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: NBA teams are only allowed to play one point guard on the floor with no other players.
16. Phoenix Suns (3rd overall in 2010, 1st offense, 19th defense)
So THIS is the fallout from one of the most joyous seasons in Suns history. Sure they lost a tough series to the Lakers, but the season was such found money that it is hard to argue the season was nothing but a screaming success. So they celebrated by losing Amare Stoudemire to the Knicks, bungling the situation so they could not get a giant cap exception. They then signed Hakim Warrick, traded for Josh Childress and traded for Hedo Turkoglu, one of the ghastliest contracts in the NBA. Louis Amundsen, their energy big man off their remarkable bench left for Golden State. The end result is Steve Nash is surrounded by a bevy of small forwards, and a couple of VERY soft big men. Also gone is the shooting prowess of Leandro Barbosa. Honestly, I am not sure besides Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Channing Frye, where the firepower is coming from outside. Can they play the breakneck pace they always do and shoot well? Sure. But their defense, not a strength a year ago (and it actually WAS a strength under D’Antoni) could be earth shatteringly bad.
CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: They somehow match last year’s true shooting percentage and offensive efficiency while Robin Lopez turns into Marcus Camby. They need to defend marginally well and rebound. They could majorly overachieve again, but I don’t expect any team that scares away a guy like Steve Kerr to be achieving much of anything.
15. New York Knicks
In a fun coincidence, we follow Mike D’Antoni’s old team with his current one. On the bad side, the Knicks plan to get LeBron James as a colossal failure. They had no way of knowing about the pinky swear promise, and as such they built up their fans’ hopes for nothing. Some have called the offseason an unmitigated disaster. I am inclined to empathize, but given this – their offseason was actually pretty good. They signed Amare Stoudemire. Sure he has no partner in crime, but by not splurging otherwise, there is some possibility to get that guy. They fleeced Golden State trading David Lee’s one dimensional ass for Anthony Randolph who has Shawn Marion sort of ability dripping off of him. They signed Raymond Felton to one of the smartest deals of the offseason – while that might not be a perfect fit on the court, he was a great value. There is not the three point gunning in this lineup to satisfy D’Antoni, but there are the athletes to run, run, run. The Knicks have the talent to get back into the playoffs at least.
CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: If the 2005 Suns magic strikes again and these guys all DO become great 3 point gunners. There are a lot of 129-122 results in this team’s future. There is no real title hope here, but the entertainment value will be there.
14. Atlanta Hawks (8th overall in 2010, 4th offense, 15th defense)
What is interesting about the Hawks offense is that they basically succeeded by not passing. Their noted isolation heavy attack relied on shooting a lot and rebounding misses. They led the league in lowest turnover rate because guys just shot it when they had it. Their 4th ranked offensive rebounding stat shows how they were efficient. They did a great job at making sure stuff was heading to the basket, such a great job that they had some slack when the ball did not go in. That said, this team had great health and a great season off the bench for Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith is one of the covert best players in the NBA. Really this is the most predictable outfit in the league. They are good and durable and playoff caliber. But they just aren’t good enough to beat top teams in the postseason. This has shown the last two years with their drubbings in the second round – their isolation offense gets exposed and they have no plan B. If individual talent fails, what to do? Allegedly new coach Larry Drew is trying to add some motion, but it’s hard to see them changing much.
CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: The United States east of Atlanta crumbles and falls into the sea.
13. Denver Nuggets (10th overall in 2010, 6th offense, 16th defense)
Denver is in a weird place in their development. 10th a year ago, some of that can be attributed to George Karl’s bout with cancer. Really, this side is not significantly different from the team that outplayed the Lakers for five games in 2009 – and is the best foul drawing team in recent history. However, health, status all of that is in flux. Does Carmelo Anthony want out? He has been heard making noises about a pinkie swear promise with Chris Paul, or Meg Ryan or Amy Adams, I don’t know. But there is some evidence of unrest. Their desperately thin frontcourt is in even more peril as Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen have significant knee issues. While Al Harrington (a good pickup) gives them some floor spacing, he hurts their already meh defense. The team can shoot though, especially if JR Smith can stay more consistent than he has been, and Ty Lawson has all the makings of a star just waiting to escape the cage his coaches have put him in. Denver could win the title – the talent is there, but this is very much like what a football preview writer might have said about the Minnesota Vikings. This could REALLY go in any direction.
CAN WIN THE TITLE IF: Carmelo Anthony stops making doe eyes at the East Coast and plays the basketball he is capable of, their thin big rotation stays healthy and Ty Lawson and JR Smith give them a true energizer dream backcourt to supplement what the old hand of Chauncey Billups can offer. Denver could win 55 games, they could win 35 … I am totally flummoxed.