It’s still early in the season, and I’m not going to be ready with season predictions until I do a bit more analysis. For those who aren’t paying attention to hoops yet, here are a few storylines to keep your eyes on, that you won’t necessarily read much about on other hoops sites — not yet, at least.
1. Terrible teams. Some of the teams at the bottom of the league are just awful. The Raptors didn’t make the playoffs last year, and they lost Chris Bosh. They will be horrible. The Pistons are bad. The Timberwolves might be worse. Casual fans have no reason to turn on a game that those teams are playing in. To put in perspective how bad they are, I’m a few sentences into a discussion of the terrible teams in the league, and I haven’t even mentioned the New Jersey Nets, who were 12-70 last year. Simply because they have Brook Lopez, the Nets are better than a few of the other teams near the bottom of the league. Seriously. Brook Lopez.
With a labor negotiation looming, and a commissioner who has already mentioned the possibility of contraction, I predict that the ineptitude at the bottom of the league will get lots of attention pretty quickly.
2. The evolution of the PG and C positions. Both of these positions are in a state of flux, basically pulled between the past and, um, an alternative model. (Sorry, but I just can’t refer to Channing Frye playing center as “the future.”) There are a bunch of PG’s in the league who play it the way I like to see it played: controlling tempo, creating shots for their teammates, and pressuring the ball on D. I’m talking about, among others, Chris Paul, Steve Nash (without the “pressuring the ball on D” part), Tony Parker, Derron Williams, Rajon Rondo, and Jason Kidd. Then there are a few young guys who shoot more than I like to see PG’s shoot, but are quite effective at it, and might just change the game in the process. I’m talking about Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings. Somewhere in the middle of the two groups are Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. The way these PG battles play out will have a big impact on the future of the game. (My money is on CP3, Rajon Rondo, and their crew.)
A similar thing is happening at C. As I blogged last year, the guys playing center seem to be getting smaller, and generally less center-esque than they used to be. But, a funny thing happened during the evolution of the center position into a bunch of tall guys who shoot 3’s…. Some guys started playing C the old-fashioned way, and giving their team a big boost in the process. There are now a bunch of C’s who stand 6’10” or taller, block shots, grab rebounds, and leave the 3-point shooting to the little guys. I’m talking about Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Chris Kaman, Emeka Okafor, the Lopez brothers (as touched on above, the Nets are better than 4 or 5 teams at the bottom simply because they have a real C). And, Shaq and Tim Duncan are still roaming the paint. If Greg Oden and Yao get healthy enough to play serious minutes, then the C position might be returned to what it used to be.
3. The Miami Heat. Obviously, they’re a big story for a whole bunch of reasons. I’ll be addressing them plenty over the next few weeks, and don’t want to get too deep into them right now. I bring them up simply to point out that, while the PG and C positions are in a state of flux, the Heat have essentially decided that the two positions hardly matter at all; they loaded up all the talent they could at SG, SF, and PF, and basically decided that they could win without a capable PG or C. My money is against it. (Basically, I agree with what Jason Whitlock wrote here.)
All of that, and I haven’t even mentioned Kobe and Phil going for another three-peat, the Knicks acquiring their best player since Ewing, or Blake Griffin looking like an instant star. I LOVE THIS GAME!!