Friday, October 26, 2012

MAMBINO's NBA Preview Series: Most Improved, Disappointing and Regressed Teams

The MAMBINO crew came together and threw down their predictions for not just the formal NBA awards, but also for the most improved, disappointing and regressed teams for the 2012-2013 season. Our choices for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Eastern and Western Conference winners and of course, NBA Champion will come next week.  For now, check out some work from El Mariachi and KOBEsh on the most improved, disappointing and regressed teams:

Who will be the most improved team this season?
El Mariachi: The Brooklyn Nets

The end of the 2010-2011 season was an exciting albeit disappointing one for Nets fans. The surprise trade for All-Star point guard Deron Williams was a huge move that many thought would be the major piece in bringing three-time Defensive Player of the Year and six-time All-Star center Dwight Howard to Brooklyn. But when they lost Williams' first three games and then proceeded to lose him to injury for most of the end of the season, most Nets fans would call it a wash or quite frankly a disappointing end. But next year it could only get better. Right? No. It got worse. No matter how you look at it, the 2011-2012 season for the Nets was rougher than the year before. With the preseason stress fracture to Brook Lopez's foot – which caused him to miss all but five games – the Nets found themselves with a 22-44 record and that they would blow everyone out in one category; total games missed due to injury totaling in 248. And with trade rumors hovering over the franchise and talks of Deron leaving after this year, it looked like the Nets were going to have to rent out their new home at the Barclays Center to the New York Wizards.

The Nets couldn’t have hit any lower than they were for the last two years which is why the 2012-2013 season is the year they have no choice but to improve and actually make it into the playoffs. 

Once Dwight was off the table, this season was quite honestly looking mighty bleak for the Nets. But the acquisition of six-time All-Star Joe Johnson and the re-signing of Williams breathed life back into the franchise and brought a sense of relief to Jay-Z that he wouldn’t have to do a show every weekend until he’s dead. The pairing of Johnson and Williams threatens to be one of the best backcourts in the league. Now that Brook Lopez is back in the fold, this is the first time in a long time that we will be seeing a healthy starting five for Brooklyn, instead of the 25 different starting lineups we saw last year.

If the Nets won (which happened...sometimes), it was because Williams put the team on his back. Now with the Brook and Johnson as his weapons, we can expect to see him spreading the ball around and being the facilitator we know he can be which should get him more looks than last year. And outside of the big three they have the added depth of re-emergent Andray Blatche (!) who specializes in scoring underneath the basketball as a competent, though one-dimensional player. And where he lacks in scoring outside of three feet, they now have power forward Mirza Teletovic who comes as a top shooter in Europe to buffer the Nets frontcourt and bench with young weapons that must step up in order for them to win games:; a challenge that they can definitely handle. This isn’t even considering Reggie Evans, 2nd year man MarShon Brooks who emerged as a top rookie last year and C.J. Watson, a point guard who could start on some teams. Though we will wait to see how the Nets starting five is chemistry-wise, but their bench is 100% better than last year (re: they have some guys who can play basketball) and they must provide quality minutes if the Nets are going to win.

On a less known note, the Nets started practice three weeks before any other team in the NBA this season. With Avery setting the standard for the type of dedication and hard work that he wants from his players, expect the BK to come out of the gate guns-a-blazing and ready to shoot. Their defense might not be top-notch, but their offense should be dynamic and high powered.

But the biggest piece to this playoff bound puzzle is that finally the Nets have a home. And that home happens to be in one of the biggest markets in the NBA, if not the world. Bringing the Nets to Brooklyn not only makes them attractive to players but it supplies them with a source of energy from a new and huge fan base. New York knows how to treat a basketball team, especially one that is good and wins games. The Nets are once again a relevant force in the NBA. And though they may not be able to beat Miami, Boston or win championships right now, but they are back and in a very big way. 

Who will be the most disappointing team this season?

The odd thing about this Knicks team is that they could fit into either designation of most improved or most disappointing. However, the MAMBINO crew has spoken, and they have a great point. 

On THE GREAT PODBINO Episode #2, BockerKnocker and El Miz talked at length about the many flaws on this team, ranging from Amare's defensive shortcomings, to the mismatch between him and Carmelo Anthony, to the age on the bench. However, on the flip side, the Knicks also have the potential to finish as one of the East's three best teams and emerge as a potential title contender, if everything were to go right. This list would include:
  • Carmelo Anthony would have to his role as the Black Larry Bird; a small forward with size who can rebound, pass and of course score at any point on the floor. Melo would have to give a crap about defense, and use his ample size and ability that he chooses not to use, in order to become one of the most unstoppable two-way players in the league. Anthony has all the potential in the world to be one of the best three guys in the league. 
  • Amar'e Stoudemire would have to agree to come off the bench, becoming the best (and most expensive) 6th man in the league, by a long shot.
  • Iman Shumpert would have to come back from a devastating ACL injury unscathed in the spring, with enough time to shore up the team's defense on the way to the playoffs. 
  • Raymond Felton would have to stay in condition and willing to serve as primarily a facilitator for this high-scoring team. 
  • Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas would have to play like they were 29 or 30, rather than 39 or 40. This team has enough veteran leadership: these guys need to defend and rebound. 
  • Steve Novak would have to keep hitting shots and show that his first crack at big minutes wasn't just a fluke. 
  • JR Smith would have to show a willingness to do anything on the court that wasn't being a streak shooter. I mean...anything. Defend. Draw more fouls. Rebound. Not be a cancer. Anything. 
  • Coach Mike Woodson would have to show enough creativity in his schemes to keep the Knicks offense humming when Stoudemire and Anthony inevitably share the floor together.
If all those things happened? Even if half of those things happened? The Knicks would be one of the most improved teams in the league. No doubt. However, the odds of all of them happening are slim, and even half is asking much. Odds are that Carmelo won't be anything besides a deadly iso scorer, Amar'e will start when he returns to action mid-November and Iman Shumpert won't be the same player he was last season during this campaign. At least one of the Kidd-Camby-Thomas trio won't be effective enough to warrant minutes, and it's pretty much a lock that JR Smith remains as the test case for how tattoo ink affects one's brain.

In the end, the Knicks fall into the most disappointing team is far more likely than most improved, mostly because of Carmelo's expected unwillingness to revert to the type of player that New York needs him to be. This team is so rich with talent that with the right leadership and superstar, they should win close to 60 games. Let's say you replaced Carmelo with LeBron James or Kevin Durant. I'd argue you're looking at a Finals contender. But without them? The 45 to 50 win team you see in front of you. The shame is that Anthony is the player the Knicks need, but unfortunately, everyone seems to know that but him. Even without high expectations, the Bockers are still--most likely--going to be the league's most disappointing teams, based on potential alone.

Who will be the most regressed team this season?

Well, this wasn't hard. The Orlando Magic finished with a .561 winning percentage last season, which would roughly translate to a very respectable 46-36 record over an 82-season slate. 

But that was with Dwight Howard, one of the consensus best three players in the NBA. That was with a top-10 league defense spearheaded by the aforementioned three-time Defensive Player of the Year. That was with a head coach in Stan Van Gundy that never helmed a team with a .500 or worse winning percentage, but rather finished with a .634 or better mark five times

Now? Dwight and Stan are both gone, and with them all the reasons to think this team could even sniff the playoffs. In their sneakers will stand Nikola Vucevic, rookie Andrew Nicholson, Gustavo Ayon and first-time head coach Jacque Vaughn. The Magic played 4-6 when Dwight finished the season inactive due to back problems, which would leave them with 32 wins if played over a 82-game schedule. That mark is slightly higher than what Orlando should achieve this season--in essence, the team should experience at least a 15 victory drop, if not closer to 20. That would be one of the worst marks in the NBA from last season to this one, but can you blame them? This team was specifically built around Dwight's strong post presence and defensive abilities. Now without him, this is a team full of shooters who are looking to Glen Davis inside to make devastate the opposing teams with something other than his amazing ability to play basketball despite being a really fat guy. 

As stated in our season preview, the Magic have enough professional basketball players to still win between 22 and 30 games. Hedo Turkoglu, Arron Afflalo, Ayon, Quentin Richardson, Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Al Harrington and Davis are all still serviceable enough to warrant time on the court and more importantly, will play with a sense of "how dare you" disrespect lingering on their pin-striped shoulders. These are crafty veterans who have all been deep into the playoff and won't be lost out there on the floor, unlike other rebuilding teams with rookies sopping up minutes and learning how the NBA works. Unlike a lot of other prognosticators out there, I don't think this team is going to sell off it's parts mid-season in an attempt to get "tank". It's not going to be for a lack of trying; it's just that a lot of these players have near untradeable contracts for their skill level, save for JJ Redick ($24 million for Turkoglu? $19 million for Glen Davis? $5 million for Q-Rich? Between $15 and 20 million for Al Harrington? No thank you). 

This team will be good enough not to completely suck, but that doesn't mean they'll be anything close to a playoff team. Count them as a lock for "most regressed". 


Southeast Division
Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Bobcats

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