Once upon a time, long, long ago, before Basketball Insiders even existed, I wrote 50 predictions for the 2013-14 NBA season with high hope that this would be the year that I’d get an overwhelming majority of them correct. Usually I score somewhere in the 25-30 range, mostly because I try to make the predictions challenging enough where they aren’t just layups to pad my stats, but this year was pretty remarkable.
Just not in a good way.
My only consolation is that I’m one of the only analysts in the business who makes this many preseason predictions and then actually revisits them at the end of the season to see how well I did. All of these were made a couple days before the preseason started, so try and put yourself back that far and remember how you thought the year would go. My guess is you probably would’ve done just as bad as me this season.
Okay, so maybe not as bad as me, but yours wouldn’t have been pretty either. In any event, here are my 50 predictions revisited. Shield your eyes, and don’t let your children view the horror:
1. Kevin Durant will reclaim the scoring title this year, but will average fewer than 30 PPG.
WRONG: Durant did lead the league in scoring, but he did so averaging a massive 32 PPG. Half point for the scoring title because things are about to get pretty ugly in this article.
2. Durant will also lead the league in turnovers.
WRONG: John Wall led the league with 295 turnovers. Durant finished third with 285.
3. DeMarcus Cousins will average a career-high in rebounds per game (over 11 RPG) and finish in the top five in the league in that category.
RIGHT: Cousins averaged a career-high 11.7 RPG this season, the fifth-best average in the league.
4. JaVale McGee will lead the league in blocks per game.
WRONG: McGee only played in five games this year, but his 1.4 BPG during that time would’ve placed him 16th among his contemporaries.
5. Ricky Rubio will lead the league in steals per game.
WRONG: Rubio finished second in the league with 2.32 SPG, a scant .16 behind league-leader Chris Paul.
6. LeBron James will win his fifth MVP trophy in six years, while leading the league in both PER and win shares.
WRONG: James finished second in PER, win shares and MVP voting (thanks a lot, Kevin Durant).
7. Stephen Curry will be fantastic when he’s on the floor, but he will play fewer than 60 games this season.
WRONG: Curry had a breakout season and played in 78 games. But wait, it gets worse…
8. Andrew Bynum, meanwhile, will play more than 60 games in his first year with Cleveland.
WRONG: Anybody else just throw up in their mouth a little bit?
9. Andre Drummond will increase his scoring and rebounding by at least 25% this season.
RIGHT: Drummond went from 7.9 PPG and 7.6 RPG his rookie season to 13.5 PPG and 13.2 RPG during his sophomore campaign.
10. Despite all the All-Star talent, nobody on the Brooklyn Nets will average 18 PPG or higher.
RIGHT: While Brook Lopez averaged 20.7 PPG, he only played in 17 games, so he doesn’t qualify. Otherwise, Joe Johnson led the team with 15.8 PPG this season.
11. O.J. Mayo will finish in the top 10 in the league in points per game.
WRONG: It seemed like a good idea at the time. With 11.7 PPG, Mayo finished the season right around 105th in the league in points per game.
12. Jimmy Butler will be named the Most Improved Player.
WRONG: Butler had a good year, but not Goran Dragic good.
13. Roy Hibbert will be named the Defensive Player of the Year.
WRONG: If the season would have ended at the All-Star break, I would’ve nailed this one, but Hibbert completely fell apart the last third of the year, just like the rest of the Pacers.
14. Two or fewer players on this year’s All-Star teams will make it in as first-timers.
WRONG: I was thinking Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis, and I was right. I was wrong, however, about Damian Lillard, John Wall, Paul Millsap and DeMar DeRozan.
15. Stephen Curry will be one of them.
RIGHT: Like I said, I was thinking Stephen Curry.
16. The Chicago Bulls will have the best regular season record in the league.
WRONG: This came at a time when I thought Derrick Rose would be playing a full season. The way Tom Thibodeau treats the regular season, this was a reasonable prediction at the time. Rose’s injury killed this one, though.
17. The Philadelphia 76ers will have the worst regular season record.
WRONG: Not that they didn’t try. Milwaukee’s bad season was a tough one to top.
18. The New York Knicks, who won 54 games last season, will win no more than 46 games in 2013-14.
RIGHT: I didn’t think they’d drop to 37 wins, but needless to say I was correct in expecting some sort of significant drop-off for New York.
19. The Charlotte Bobcats will win at least eight more games than they did a year ago.
RIGHT: The Bobcats were lottery-bound a year ago, winning only 21 games, and they more than doubled that in 2013-14, winning 43 and making the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history.
20. Denver’s winning percentage will drop .150 or more points this year.
RIGHT: Denver was another team to experience a precipitous drop this season, sliding from .695 in 2012-13 to .439 this past season. That’s a .256 fall. Yikes.
21. The Miami HEAT will once again boast the best home record in the NBA.
WRONG: They didn’t even have the best home record in the Eastern Conference.
22. The Houston Rockets will lead the league in team points per game.
RIGHT: Easily, with 112 PPG. The Clippers came in second at “only” 108.8 PPG.
23. The Indiana Pacers will once again lead the league in team rebounds.
WRONG: Actually, the Rockets led the league in this category this year, as well, with 49.2 boards per game. Indiana finished 13th with 39.5 RPG.
24. The L.A. Clippers will lead the league in three-pointers made per game.
WRONG: L.A. finished in the top four, but the Atlanta Hawks led the league with an impressive 11.3 three-pointers per game. Didn’t see that one coming, Kyle Korver and all.
25. The Denver Nuggets will lead the league in team turnovers.
WRONG: This one went to the Golden State Warriors, who couldn’t have possibly been as explosive as they were this past season without making quite a few mistakes; 17.3 mistakes per game, actually.
26. The Memphis Grizzlies will not have homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
RIGHT: The Grizzlies entered this year’s playoffs as a seven-seed, despite a strong finish to the season. The Western Conference was a tough place to live this year.
27. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, both of whom missed the Eastern Conference playoffs last year, will both make the postseason this year.
WRONG: Half a point for Toronto, and to be fair, Cleveland was very disappointing.
28. The Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards, despite preseason rumblings that they would both be playoff teams, will miss out.
WRONG: Another half a point for Detroit, but the Wizards were a lot better than I apparently thought they were going to be.
29. The L.A. Lakers will make the playoffs, but will not enter them with a seed higher than seven.
WRONG: Again, this was made before I knew Kobe Bryant would be down for the count. I had assumed he’d will the Lakers into the postseason, all on his own. He couldn’t even will himself onto the court for more than a handful of games, unfortunately.
30. New Orleans will also make the playoffs in their first season as the Pelicans.
WRONG: I repeat—the Western Conference was a tough place to live this year.
31. The L.A. Clippers will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
WRONG: They fell about five games short of that, but San Antonio had an epic season from start to finish. Not much you can do in a year like that, and let’s face it, even though they’re never the sexy preseason pick, they almost always end up proving everybody wrong.
32. The Miami HEAT will not make it back to the NBA Finals this year.
WRONG: Because it’s always smart to bet against LeBron James.
33. Nor will the San Antonio Spurs.
34. The Chicago Bulls will win the NBA championship. Not a homer pick. Totally objective. Scout’s honor.
WRONG: This is bordering on absurd at this point.
35. Victor Oladipo will win Rookie of the Year.
WRONG: Reasonable guess, but the best he could was finish second in voting behind Michael Carter-Williams, who I honestly did not think would be as good as he was.
36. Anthony Bennett will be in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ starting lineup by the end of the season.
WRONG: I’m not even sure what the point is of finishing the article at this point.
37. Michael Carter-Williams will lead the league in turnovers.
WRONG: He finished tied for fifth, behind Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, James Harden and John Wall.
38. Alex Len will make the All-Rookie First Team.
WRONG: Alex who?
39. Cody Zeller will lead all rookies in rebounds.
WRONG: Zeller finished third in this category, behind Carter-Williams and Kelly Olynyk.
40. Rajon Rondo, very likely the subject of more trade rumors than any other player, will not be moved from the Boston Celtics this year. He’ll finish the year in Beantown.
RIGHT: For now, he’s still a Boston Celtic, not that it helped them much last year to get him back.
41. The Chicago Bulls also will not trade Luol Deng at any point this season.
WRONG: I never thought they’d do it, but they most assuredly did, and they really weren’t too much worse off because of it. Remember, though, I predicted this back when I thought Rose would play the full season. Didn’t think they’d make a cap cut if they thought there was a shot at winning a championship.
42. The Denver Nuggets will at some point make a relatively splashy trade involving at least Andre Miller and perhaps more players.
RIGHT: I didn’t predict things going so far south for Miller in Denver, but by season’s end he was a Washington Wizard.
43. The Houston Rockets will at some point trade Omer Asik.
WRONG: They should have, but they did not. They still should, honestly, and still may.
44. While it’s likely true that the Indiana Pacers will explore trading Danny Granger, they will not be able to find a capable suitor and will keep him through the season and just take the cap space his expiring contract will create at season’s end.
WRONG: They’ll still ended up with the cap space, but only because the trade they made with Philly was for restricted free agents that they have no intention of re-signing.
45. Orlando will trade Jameer Nelson, the oldest player on a rebuilding team, before the end of the season.
WRONG: They certainly tried, but ultimately couldn’t find the value they were seeking for him.
46. The Phoenix Suns will trade center Marcin Gortat before the deadline, as well.
RIGHT: They traded him before the season even started, and I’ve got to admit that when this one went down, I thought I was going to go 50-for-50 this year. That optimism has been completely shattered in the many months since.
47. The Philadelphia 76ers will have a ton of ping pong balls in this spring’s lottery, but they will not earn the top overall selection.
RIGHT: They did have a ton of ping pong balls, but Cleveland ultimately won the lottery, surprising everybody.
48. The Utah Jazz will be awarded the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft. Welcome to Utah, Andrew Wiggins!
WRONG: One of these years I’m going to guess the lottery winner correctly, and we’re all going to throw a big party. No big party this summer, though. Certainly no big party for the Utah Jazz, who, let’s face it, would be taking Jabari Parker over Wiggins if they actually did have the No. 1 pick.
49. The Charlotte Hornets will use teal in their new color scheme.
RIGHT: Of course they’re using teal in their new color scheme!
50. And for my layup prediction, which I make every year: the Chicago Bulls will lead the league in attendance.
RIGHT: This was cheating because the Bulls always lead the league in attendance, but as it turns out, I really needed the extra point.
So what’s the damage? Including half points, I ended up getting 16.5 right out of 50 this year, easily my worst total in the seven years I’ve been writing this column.
Revisiting these predictions isn’t about seeing how right I was, though; it’s more about returning back to the beginning of the season and seeing how differently we all thought things would pan out. Time has shown that a lot of my preseason rumblings were wrong, but what else is new? The unpredictability of sports is what makes them fun.
The good news is that I haven’t been so shattered as to avoid doing this again next season. I’ll be back in October, doing the whole thing all over again.
NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise
The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.
He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.
He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.
Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.
The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.
“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.
“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.
So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.
As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.
In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.
But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.
So is Porzingis.
Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.
In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.
Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.
And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.
“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.
“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”
Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.
Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.
The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.
So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.
Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.
If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.
So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.
Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.
To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.
When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.
He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.
And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.
With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word.
It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.
For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.
In this town, that’s more than half the battle.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”