|Cleveland's Kyrie Irving abuses Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd. (via NBA Offseason)|
This week's question: Which NBA team will make the biggest rise or fall in 2013-14?
Here's a wild prediction for you: the Cavs will make the 2nd round of the playoffs...by beating the Nets in the first round.
Cleveland has an MVP candidate in Kyrie Irving, but it's the improvement from Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters that will help them get to the next step. Jarrett Jack is an excellent fit as a crunch-time combo guard, and there are a lot of talented bigs (Andrew Bynum, Andy Varejao, Anthony Bennett, Thompson and Tyler Zeller) to give Mike Brown more flexibility through the long regular season.
The Nets may be the best team money of curious origins can buy, but I don't think they'll be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. There are the very highest of expectations for this group, which will need to gel a talented, yet uninspiring core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson with...the Celtics' old core of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Jason Terry was thrown in as a parting gift, because headbands are the new black. I'm not optimistic for this team's chances of finding an identity and learning how to play together under head coach Lawrence Frank - sorry, I meant Jason Kidd. Unless Deron Williams transforms from coach killer into a leader who can win over both cliques AND find enough shots to keep everyone happy, this could be a very emo season in Brooklyn. Too many cantankerous cooks in the kitchen.
The Detroit Pistons don't come with a reputation this season, not that anyone remembers away -- the team had maintenance work-done over the summer.
Though Jose Calderon's ability to play, composed, at the point and shooting guard positions will be missed, however; Chauncey Billups returns Detroit with the same aura that earned him Finals MVP after leading the Pistons to an NBA Championship in 2004. His lack of ability is compensated by leadership, his production beyond mentoring will come from behind the arc, he's a 39 percent lifetime shooter from three-point range. Billups was 4 of 5 from 'distance' in the season opener against the Wizards, he had 16 points in 31 minutes.
The Pistons added a turbo with Brandon Jennings, reputation aside -- he's talented. Essentially swapping a third-year player for the man responsible for giving Earth the phrase "Bucks in Six" isn't a raw deal. Knight averaged one turnover more per 48 minutes last season, while Jennings ranked 16th in assists per game at the end of the year. Buckle up because he's the guy behind the wheel. Josh Smith who may attempt to navigate without control all season, but his game works at high speeds much like the rest of the Pistons. Playing aside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the addition of "J-Smoove" completes a frontcourt that will look to score in transition -- a lot.
With a new coach (Maurice Cheeks), new faces and newly-found optimistic expectations --the Pistons in the postseason would be the biggest jump, I believe, a team may make this season.
Numerically, the Cleveland Cavaliers will make the biggest jump of any team in the NBA. Point guard and dribbling savant Kyrie Irving was sporadically injured and the front court production was largely ravaged by the loss of Anderson Varejao after the veteran big man began the season on a tear, leading to the Cavs finishing last season with a lowly 24-58 record — third worst in the league. That won't be the case in 2013-14, particularly if some of the health issues ebb. A revamped roster has Varejao backed up by Andrew Bynum, who was considered by some to be the NBA's best center just two years; one of Golden State's bench spark plugs from last season, Jarrett Jack, and Matthew Dellavedova, an undrafted rookie playmaker out of St. Mary's, offer depth behind Irving; and Earl Clark is starting at small forward after showing flashes of previously unquantified talent with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. First-rounder Anthony Bennett should be able to provide bench scoring and, with Irving set to officially ascend to superstar status as back court sidekick Dion Waiters and power forward Tristan Thompson continue to develop, the Cavs can legitimately be projected into the playoffs as high up as the sixth seed. Need proof? Cleveland's already beaten a team considered to be a top-five talent in the Eastern Conference in the Brooklyn Nets squad that made one of the splashiest roster rearrangements over the summer.
The "biggest fall" team is tougher to predict, but the Denver Nuggets seem ripe to drop down the standings. A No. 3 seed in the Western Conference in the previous playoffs, there are numerous departures that stand starkly in contrast to an "addition by subtraction" argument. George Karl may not have a championship on his head coaching resume, but his frenetic offensive system was the perfect fit for speedy point guard Ty Lawson, with his upside being perpetually realized. The abilities of young, athletic players such as JaVale McGee and Kennth Faried could also be maximized in such a system. New head coach Brian Shaw worked in an historically rich culture with the Lakers, but the transition will be abrupt. Factor in the loss of one of the league's premier defenders and a top 10 or 15 overall asset in Andre Iguodala, then the rehabbing of small forward Danilo Gallinari ruling the Italian out until at least December, and the Nuggets could be in store for a long season.
I'm also of the mindset that Cleveland will make a huge jump this season, but seeing as we've covered the Cavs well in this piece, I like the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. I know, this is a risky pick seeing as some accident will happen throughout the course of the season to injure at least three players. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will break a rib giving a chest bump. That's just the way it's been. I think, and hope for their sake, this year will be different. If Love's 31-point, 17-rebound performance in the season opener is any indication, a massive season is in store for him. Rubio will continue to make plays and keep the offense moving, Corey Brewer can knock down shots and J.J. Barea and Alex Shved are more than capable of preventing a letup with Rubio is on the bench. The addition of Kevin Martin is also looking like a offseason move that will pay off. Martin didn't have a great shooting night against the Magic (23 points on 6-19 shooting), but found a way to get to the line (9-9) and is another weapon on the wing to give Love more space inside.
It's been a building process in Minnesota. It was just four and three years ago that Minnesota won 15 and 17 games respectively. The Timberwolves were 20 games under .500 last season, but the 31 wins shows improvement. This could be the season all the pieces come together and Minnesota finds itself closer to that .500 record.
After toying with mediocrity for years (and at times being downright dreadful) I’ve got the Milwaukee Bucks taking a big step forward. Yes, the Bucks made the playoffs last season, but this was not a team ready to make a postseason run. However, I think Milwaukee is primed and ready to do just that. I love what they’ve done, shaking up the personnel. I’ve been a huge O.J. Mayo fan since he entered the league, and I think the Bucks are the perfect team for him. Mayo’s best years have come as a starter, averaging 18.5, 17.5, and 15.3 points per game in his seasons as a starter. Coming off the bench, Mayo has only averaged 11.3 and 12.6 points per game. Mayo is still only 25 years old, and has his best years in front of him. Going back to a team where he is not only a starter, but one of, if not the, primary scoring option will only help both Mayo and the Bucks reach greatness.
The addition of Caron Butler is another I think the Bucks did well to make. While Butler’s production has been on a gradual decline the past couple of seasons, what he will bring to Milwaukee is some much needed leadership. The Bucks are a young squad (only three players on the roster are over 30) and having a quality, veteran presence the younger players can look up to is an invaluable piece to have. If the Bucks young front court of Ekpe Udoh, John Henson, and Larry Sanders can continue to develop and take strides forward, and point guard Brandon Knight can begin to realize his potential, Milwaukee is going to be a handful for the rest of the league.
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