Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Wait ‘Till Next Year
For one-half (plus one) of the NBA, the second season is underway, with 16 victories separating one team from the league championship. For the other half (minus one), the long vacation known as the offseason is now in session. I mean, sure, there's still work to be done.
What spot will they get in the Draft Lottery?
What college or international talent will each organization used 'said' spot on?
And, in some cases, who might be in charge of next year's campaign?
The answers to these questions may not be defined yet, but the goal at the end is all the same ... find a way to continue playing past the mid-point of April 2014. That's what Golden State figured out. At this time last year, they were well back in the race for postseason entry. But the Warriors switched their fortunes around this season, making the playoffs for only the second time since 1994.
Usually, there's one or two teams that come out of nowhere to surprise the standard order of things and make it into the postseason. Right now, 14 franchises believe that they're full of the potential to make a run next season. Which ones have the most potential to actually turn things in their favor?
3) Portland Trailblazers
There are two reasons for optimism with this young team. LaMarcus Aldridge is still one of the more productive power forwards in the game, and Damian Lillard established himself as an efficient scorer in his rookie season. Aldridge should stay at a high level well past 2013-2014. Lillard should only improve heading into next season.
The rest of the roster will be up to coach Terry Stotts. It'll be his job to improve the consistency of Nicholas Batum, J.J. Hickson, Meyers Leonard, and Will Barton, among others. They could also take a couple of those pieces and look for a certified low-post presence. If they can arrange to snag that third piece to go along with Aldridge and Lillard, that might help more than anything.
The Biggest Issue — In this case, I believe it's the division they call home. Currently, there are three playoff teams in it. That means it won't be easy to make strides, especially with a pretty young nucleus. A year of seasoning will do the Blazers good, but it might take a bigger advance in age to get through the grind of a postseason run.
2) Minnesota Timberwolves
In this case, I could be too far in the forest to see the trees. This is the team I'm physically closest to, but the organization hasn't been the same since they let go of future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. There have been flashes over the last few years. Al Jefferson got his first chance to shine here. Kevin Love turned himself into an all-star here. Ricky Rubio is showing that he CAN play here. Unfortunately, that hasn't resulted in sustained success.
I've had the fortune of seeing them in person a few times during the season. Despite the revolving door of injuries, this team continued to fight until the last game of the year. The changes made last offseason improved the team dramatically, but when you can't keep the pieces together on the floor, you can't expect to sniff .500, much less make a playoff push. Plus, that division issue that bogs down Portland's chance ... well, it's the same here.
The Biggest Issue — I actually don't believe that injuries will be as much of a factor going forward as they were this season. I also don't think that any Kevin Love trade speculation will create any issues. The team held their own without him for the majority of the year. The most pressing concern is with head coach Rick Adelman. This has probably been his most trying season on the bench, both professionally and personally. If he decides to take a leave of any extent from the sidelines, that might stunt the growth this team showed late in the season.
1) Washington Wizards
Each year, it seems that some star proves their worthiness for MVP votes based on their absence. This year, the leading candidate, by a wide margin, was John Wall. Before the point guard worked his way back on the court from a knee injury, the team went 5-28. From January 12th on, they went 24-25 (despite losing their final six games). That would have them on pace for 8th in the Eastern Conference.
With Wall back and rookie Bradley Beal getting substantial minutes this year, the District might have one of the more dynamic backcourts in the Association. Even though Wall and Beal are incredibly young (22 and 19, respectively), there are veterans all over the roster (Nene, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, etc.). Plus, Jason Collins is the only player currently on the roster that's over the age of 30.
The Biggest Issue — There's not a lot to really criticize about this team progression. I don't even think you can take any shots at the coaching situation. If there was a position I would stress in the upcoming Draft, I might focus on them getting more of a playmaker at small forward or another post-oriented big man. Other than that, their floor is quickly rising.
For those that don't end up holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy, a successful season is only a year away. For the ones that have to contemplate their lottery picks this time around, we'll find out who gets to count that success as an opportunity to play an 83rd game in 2014.