With the NBA offseason activity beginning to wane heavily this week, albeit for a few signings still up in the air- Brandon Jennings/Nikola Pekovic notably. And on the eve of the NFL and college football's annual takeover of all things media, I think it's finally time to make some predictions for the upcoming NBA season given that the majority of rosters are somewhere between working rough draft and fixed. Now before reading this column, I need you guys to realize a few things: 1) I'm making NBA predictions in JULY and literally ANYTHING can happen before the season to derail these predictions. 2) These are 100% serious. I am not here to troll or make fun of anybody. That would be churlish and a waste of time. 3) I encourage you to respond with how you feel about my predictions. So without further ado, I present to you a running column that will include a Fanpost for each and every NBA team, "The Flagrantly Early, Incredibly Half-Baked NBA Predictions Series."
No. 1: I'm Lou, who the F*** are you?
January of last season Lou Williams tore up his knee and subsequently had surgery prematurely ending his year. Hopefully, Lou can be be back by training camp, but realistically he should be back by January. When he returns I would expect a big year from Lou. Guys who blowout a knee typically regress considerably until they finally get that leg 100% back under them, but if we look at the case of Iman Shumpert compared to the case of someone like Derrick Rose, there's this thought. There was a truckload of pressure on Rose to come back and take the Bulls to the next level, which was a huge deterrent for Rose mentally. However, there was no pressure for Mr. Shumpert to come back so he healed up in peace and jumped right back into his role for the Knicks. The same Shumpert scenario should happen for Lou Williams; he doesn't have to come back and be "the guy." The Hawks seem to have put a big load on the front court and Jeff Teague to carry this roster, so when Lou comes back all he has to do is slide right into that elite scorer role he's been so good at. As a holdover, I think the Hawks should ink Gary Neal to bolster their SG depth because John Jenkins and Jared Cunningham aren't exactly world killers. Nevertheless, when Lou comes back he should be able to glide back into the lineup and regain his form as an dangerous scoring punch. That is, unless he eats too much Zaxby's.
No. 2: Horford and Millsap will be the league's most efficient front court duo
No offense to Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, last year' #1 and #5 in player efficiency amongst NBA big men, but I think KG just threw a wrench into your repeat title belt bid as the NBA's most efficient front court duo. Last season, Horford ranked 19th amongst big men in PER, while Millsap was a healthy 17th. Playing together this year however as two very efficient big men should help bolster both of their ratings as traditionally players are better with other efficient guys around them. Josh Smith's wild card game probably didn't do too much to boost Horford's score, while Al Jefferson's ball-hoggery kept Millsap from getting his touches. Furthermore, Horford + Millsap's combined Estimated Wins Added rated at 21.6 which is halfway to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
No. 3: Atlanta's playing for the summer of 2014
Atlanta's not going to tank, they aren't trying to rebuild. Danny Ferry inherited a basketball culture in Atlanta that makes the playoffs, in fact they've made it 6 straight years and that's not a streak the Hawks are exactly keen on giving up. Yet when you look at their roster, there's a gaping hole at small forward. At point they're set with Teague re-upping and Dennis Schroeder bringing a lot of excitement. At shooting guard there's Lou Williams,John Jenkins- a guy they really believe in, and ideally somebody such as Gary Neal or Gerald Henderson to hold the fort while Williams recovers fully. At power forward see Millsap and Brand, but they'd be wise to resign Ivan Johnson. Then at center Horford and rookies Mike Muscala or Lucas Nogueria. So that's 4/5 positions they're pretty set, but small forward is where it gets ugly. Kyle Korver and DeShawn Stevenson are the only two presently on contract and while I love both guys as role players- Korver a 3 point specialist, Stevenson a defensive stopper- neither should be starting in the National Basketball League.
Thus, it brings me to my next point: Atlanta looks to be playing for the summer of 2014. A summer in which the following small forwards will possibly be free agents: LeBron, Carmelo, Paul George, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, Harrison Barnes, Kawhi Leonard, Shawn Marion, Danny Granger, Tobias Harris (breakout alert!). You add any of those guys and Atlanta's perennial playoff team just turned into a real contender, and you can put Korver and Stevenson back on the bench where they belong. Atlanta will compete this year; they have too many good players and it will "price" them out of the lottery, which leaves the door open for Danny Ferry's master plan.