Full disclosure: I am really freaking excited for this upcoming season. In fact, and I’m not sure why, this season has me more jazzed up then I can ever remember. Maybe it’s a carry-over effect from the shortened, tease of a season we had last year, or maybe it’s just because my team (the Nets) have been completely retooled and are fielding a team that I can be proud of for the first time in what feels like forever. Whatever it is, I’m feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve as we enter the final week of preseason.
So, with all of that being said, allow me to share my exuberance with all of you in the form of my top 3 reasons to be stoked on the 2012-2013 NBA season.
3. Rising Stars Challenge
Okay, so maybe I’m not as excited for the game itself, but can we talk about how good the rookie and sophomore classes in the league are (Hint: You don’t have a choice. I’m going to talk about it)?
Last year, many critics were quick to dismiss the 2011 NBA Draft class as just Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, and… *crickets*. And while they were right, in the sense that Irving and Williams were picked 1 & 2 and played significant minutes in their rookie campaigns, there was much that these experts glossed over. We saw the likes of Iman Shumpert, Klay Thompson and Marshon Brooks quickly establish themselves as integral pieces of their respective teams’ backcouts. We also watched as Kenneth Faried became “Manimal” and Kawhi Leonard was christened as the building block for the post-Duncan/Ginobili Spurs. Perhaps the most surprising revelation of this draft class was Isaiah Thomas, the Sacramento King who was the very last pick of the draft. Thomas made the most of the horrible situation that is the Sacramento Kings’ existence, and played his way into a starting point guard role and contention for Rookie of the Year. All of these players, along with the likes of Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas who did not get the chance to thoroughly establish themselves, will benefit even more with the experience of one year and a full off-season training regiment under their belt.
This brings us to the current crop of rookies who, much like their predecessors, have also been deemed a rather shallow class. I am considerably more optimistic about their futures, as I feel there are quite a few diamonds in the rough. Obviously, most of the attention goes to the likes of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bradley Beal, and for good reason. But what about Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, and Andrew Nicholson, all of whom have had great preseasons and look to be on pace for a significant amount of minutes during the season? Also, while Robert Sacre seems unlikely to repeat Isaiah Thomas’ tremendous rise to stardom, late picks Tyshawn Taylor, Jae Crowder, and Draymond Green all carry a lot of promise despite being picked late. Finally, there’s the New York Knicks’ undrafted, 28-year-old rook, Chris Copeland, who has looked very good in his short stint with the team, and appears likely to be on their opening day roster.
All of these young, talented players, who are on course to play significant roles for their teams, should make this one hell of a season. And who knows, maybe it will translate to a fun Rising Stars Challenge game, after all.
2. Mid-Season Injury Returns
Are you all ready for December? Because it’s going to be like a whole new season!
Okay, not really, but Derrick Rose will be back (Unfortunately for Chicago fans, this is really all that you have to look forward to after your front office’s piss-poor offseason. The good news is that it’s much more than, say, Charlotte Bobcats fans have to be happy about)! Despite the team around him, or the hole they manage to get themselves into, a healthy D. Rose will be the spark that the Bulls and the league as a whole need come the middle of the season. Just think of all the pre-written narratives that journalists will/have already come up with.
Beyond Rose, we will also see the return of everybody’s favorite Spaniard (sorry, Gasol brothers) Ricky Rubio. After tearing up the league in his rookie season, we were all deprived of No. 9 for most of the year. This coupled with Kevin Love’s return from his asinine broken hand, makes the Timberwolves a team worthy of one of your five NBA League Pass spots (Timberwolves fans should probably stop reading here, as I sort of crap all over your team a few paragraphs below).
Finally, there is the return of Iman Shumpert who, as I already touched on above, was a breakout star in his first year in the league. His reintroduction to the Knicks lineup may cost them their Social Security benefits, but will go a long way in stabilizing them as a playoff team.
1. The Race for Eighth
Look, it’s already been written in stone that the Heat are going to win the East. You can run as many statistical models or what-if scenarios that you want, but Lebron is going back to the Finals. In the West, it’s a little more competitive, but not really as it is going to ultimately boil down to the Thunder versus the Lakers (not the Nuggets, geeks).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let us focus on where all the fun really occurs: in the fight to get knocked out in the first round. In the West, the battle for the final playoff seed will most likely come down to the Jazz, Warriors and Timberwolves. If they could field a team of Bubble Boys, I would give this spot to the Timberwolves, no question. They have bolstered their squad with talented, pale players that should be good enough for at least 42 wins. Unfortunately for them, their team physician appears to have done a clinical in Portland lately, as they cannot escape the injury bug. The Jazz are probably the safest choice to get swept by either Los Angeles or Oklahoma City, with their combination of solid D and a young yet familiar core, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, I’m going with the Golden State Warriors to sneak into the postseason. Sure, they can’t play defense to save their lives, but I feel that their scoring combined with a (fingers crossed) healthy Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut will be enough for them to sneak in under the radar. Or go down in a very entertaining, ball of fire. Either way.
In the East, I have things even more open, with both the 7th and 8th spots up for grabs between four teams. Up first are the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose sole shot relies exclusively on the shoulders of Kyrie Irving. Now, I love Irving and think he will develop into a Top 3 point guard in the league, but let’s be real; the Cavs aren’t making the postseason. Moving on, we have the Atlanta Hawks, who are essentially the 2010-2011 Nets… So, nevermind. That leaves us with the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks. I’ll give the Knicks the benefit of the doubt, and say the Bucks wind up with the #8 seed. They have an extremely talented backcourt in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, but not much else. They’re going to get run over by Lebron James and Chris Bosh in the paint. As for Carmelo… I’m sorry, the Knicks, I have them landing in the 7th slot with relative ease. The only worrisome aspect is the well-documented age of their team, but as long as they can fend off Father Time, I don’t see them really struggling to get into the playoffs.
So there you have it, a few good reasons that you should be as excited as I am for the start of the coming NBA season. If I didn’t touch on your team, don’t worry, I’m sure this rebuilding year will turn out fine… HAHAHAHAHA. I’m just kidding. You’re forever doomed to toil in obscurity.