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|The conclusion of The Mag's team predictions should make LeBron smile.|
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Last season, LeBron James led the Heat to the NBA title by means of a full-on half-court makeover: fewer long-range jumpers + more low-post play = greater efficiency = better team. But what if every team had an impact player who completed a similar transformation? We asked Kirk Goldsberry, creator of CourtVision Analytics, to identify the star on each franchise most in need of a LeBron-style makeover and to offer a cure for what ails that player's game. Then, since two eggheads are always better than one, we had the geniuses at Basketball Prospectus project each NBA team's season through simulations of every game. The consensus? A Heat-Nuggets Finals. The winner? Let's just say, not one, not two ...
Conventional wisdom That banner in the rafters will announce that the King has shed his can't-win-the-big-one rep. His Big Three mates? Still plenty young enough. Yep, it's all going to plan -- and there's nothing any other team can do about it.
Actual wisdom Don't save a spot on the Biscayne Boulevard parade route just yet. The Heat might look stronger with the signings of D-stretching sharpshooters Ray Allen (career 40 percent from three) and Rashard Lewis (39 percent), but health and durability issues lurk. Dwyane Wade, Bosh, Mike Miller and Allen all had surgery or some significant rehab this offseason. And managing minutes, egos and title-or-bust expectations won't get easier for coach Erik Spoelstra. -- Michael WallaceBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom Sure, by trading six-time All-Star Joe Johnson, new GM Danny Ferry tidied up the cap and readied the Hawks for a down-the-road free agent spree. Short term, though, the team has taken a big step back.
Actual wisdom Salary dump? What salary dump? Atlanta inked a cheaper high-scoring playmaker in Lou Williams. He and Jeff Teague will stay busy finding new hires Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow on the perimeter and Smith and a fully healed Al Horford (career 18.1 PER) in transition. All of those producers mean more points for the Hawks than their opponents -- and what some folks might consider a surprisingly high seed in the postseason. -- John HollingerBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom The Knicks have added a fantasy team of useful vets, making them as deep as anyone in the East -- and a lock to win their first playoff series since 2000.
Actual wisdom Like a recurring nightmare, New York has imported a few more shopworn names and crossed its fingers. Maybe the geezers help grab a couple of extra wins; more likely, they take turns propping each other up right before their hearts give out. Still, this dream actually will end differently if Carmelo and Amar'e figure out how to share the ball (the Knicks were outscored by almost four points per 100 possessions when the duo were on the court together last season). -- Bradford DoolittleBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom Only a crazy person would pick a team that was old four years ago, then replaced Ray Allen with a sprinkle of has-beens and never-will-bes.
Actual wisdom Only a slightly less crazy person would bet against them. One of those replacements is seasoned gunner Jason Terry (career 38 percent 3-point shooter), and he'll likely jump-start that 25th-ranked offense. Also, last we checked, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were still elite defenders -- tying career lows in defensive rating last season (94 and 99, respectively). Don't be fooled: A Big Three lives on in Beantown; now it just features a locked-in Rondo (career AST percent of 40). And it still matches up with any team. -- Henry AbbottBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom Andrew Bynum adds an interior presence (career ORtg: 116) to a team that barely can recall what it's like to have one. Last season's playoff run was surprising; this season's won't be.
Actual wisdom The Sixers seem to have all the answers: 1) a solid trio of bigs -- Bynum, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen -- who can score and protect the paint; 2) a ripening young backcourt in Jrue Holiday and Turner; and 3) a team D that ranked third in 2011-12. Well, most of the answers anyway: They still haven't figured out how to hang with Miami. -- Chris BroussardBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom The Bulls will struggle to stay afloat as they await the return of Derrick Rose, whose knee will keep him in street clothes for months.
Actual wisdom Hey, "they" got one right -- but for the wrong reasons. Rose is an A-lister for sure, but look it up: The Bulls were actually 18-9 last season without their MVP. The team was buoyed by the Bench Mob -- John Lucas III, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik, with Asik ranking in the 96th percentile in defensive points per possession. Problem is, all three were thrown overboard this summer. SOS. -- Tom HaberstrohBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom The Nets appeared to remake their team, bringing in All-Star swingman Johnson and his 18.8 ppg to form a prolific backcourt with the newly re-signed Deron Williams.
Actual wisdom Almost landing Dwight Howard is not actually landing Dwight Howard. You could do worse than Brook Lopez as your Plan B, but unless the seven-footer finds the religion of the boards (6 rpg in '10-11), the Nets won't look as strong on the court as they do on paper. And on paper, anything less than a 7-seed should be viewed as failure. -- C.B.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom After locking up the key players from last season's spunky run, the Pacers are poised to fill the gap at the top of the Eastern Conference caused by Derrick Rose's injury.
Actual wisdom Last season's starting five was dominant. Know what else it was? Improbably healthy. Paul George, David West, Granger, Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert played 1,000 minutes together -- or 253 more than any other five NBA teammates spent as a unit. Hope they all took it easy this summer. Indiana did little to overhaul its weak bench, so the starters will have to work overtime again. Counting on a repeat of a statistical anomaly is no way to game-plan. -- Beckley MasonBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom The Raptors are deeper and stronger defensively than they've been in years, putting them in the mix for a bottom-half playoff spot.
Actual wisdom Deeper isn't enough. Lock up Bargnani and new point guard Kyle Lowry and who puts the ball in the hole? Toronto was 29th in offensive rating last year. There is, of course, vague hope in youth: Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross will keep the Raptors in most games. But if they keep the team in the playoff hunt, it says more about the other conference also-rans than it does about this one. -- Tim LeglerBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom The Bucks don't care; they've made the playoffs just seven times in 20 years. The fans don't care; they've stopped showing up. Why should anyone care? Well, Ellis is fun to watch.
Actual wisdom Ellis is fun to watch, but there's more to see in Milwaukee. Brandon Jennings (19.1 ppg, 5.5 apg) gives this team another Iverson-type live wire, and if F Ersan Ilyasova (career-high 20.5 PER in 2011-12) proves that last season wasn't a fluke (a previous PER high of 15.7), attention -- actual attention -- will have to be paid in Milwaukee. -- H.A.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom They're too young. With 10 players with no more than two years of experience, the Cavs need another year before talk of the playoffs sounds like anything other than childish blather.
Actual wisdom These guys are growing up fast. He might be just 20, but last season's top rookie, Irving, played like he's been doing it for years: In crunch time, Irving shot 54 percent from the field, 67 percent from three and 89 percent from the line. Add budding star Tristan Thompson and dynamic first-year man Dion Waiters and the Cavs are much closer than you think. -- Brian WindhorstBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom The Pistons, who haven't won more than 30 games in a season since 2008-09, have mired themselves in a youth movement.
Actual wisdom Please don't shoot the hometown messenger, but it's true -- this rebuild could take some time. Take heart, Motor City: It'll be worth the wait. Big man Greg Monroe, with his 15/10 and 22 PER, is a franchise cornerstone. Sophomore PG Knight, who shot 38 percent from three, will push the tempo. And No. 9 pick Andre Drummond will team with Monroe to form a frontcourt tandem that someday might remind Pistons fans of those pesky Bad Boys. Someday. -- Jalen RoseBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom Purging bad attitudes and worse contracts has an upside, but it has left the Wizards with a raw roster (eight players with fewer than three years of experience). And Wall isn't ready to lead it.
Actual wisdom With vets Trevor Ariza and Nene flanking Emeka Okafor, personal responsibility has come to DC. The Wizards won eight of their final 10 last spring, with Wall shooting less, passing more and finishing as one of three players (CP3 and D-Will) to average 16/8. In an infinite universe, there are some worlds in which the Wizards actually make the playoffs. -- J.A. AdandeBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom With one finger snap (and many calls from the 213 area code; hello, is Dwight there?), the Magic conjured an impressive disappearing act. Poof! A contender goes up in a puff of smoke.
Actual wisdom Hard to disagree here. Until last season, Stan Van Gundy's team always boasted a top-five D and was among the NBA leaders in 3's, feats assumed to be mutually exclusive. Now O-Town is light the NBA's top defender, two snipers (Chris Duhon, Jason Richardson) and the coach who made it work. If the Magic escape the lottery, it won't be a neat trick. It'll be a miracle. -- B.M.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom After logging the NBA's worst winning percentage ever, the Bobcats have nowhere to go but up. And c'mon, Gerald Henderson was their best player last year, so how hard could that be?
Actual wisdom Pretty hard. The Bobcats were so much worse than every other team -- last in offensive and defensive rating -- that they're facing another year in the NBA's basement. At least plugging in rookie finisher Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and PG Ramon Sessions (and his career ORtg of 108) will nudge the bunch of slackers who averaged just 87 ppg last season. -- Marc SteinBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: The Nuggets will always be fun to watch, but c'mon, there's no way these guys are legit contenders. Think about it: When was the last time a team won it all without a single bona fide star? No further questions.
Actual wisdom: Denver has no big scorers, it's true, but stars aren't built on points alone. There's a reason Iguodala is an Olympic gold medalist. He's a defensive straitjacket who happens to be able to beat you offensively in lots of ways: LeBron James was the only other NBAer last season to average at least 12, 5 and 5. And no one held opponents to a lower PER than Iggy did (8.7). Plop him in Denver and what do you get? The likely top seed in the West. -- T.H.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: The Thunder arrived in 2011-12, going 47-19 in the regular season and reaching the NBA Finals. Still, they can't compete with the reloaded and experienced Lakers.
Actual wisdom: Compete with the Lakers? OKC might very well lap them. The average age of the Thunder's starting lineup is still seven -- seven! -- years younger than the Lakers'. And this team is nothing if not battle-hardened. In the past two seasons, the Thunder have played 37 postseason games, more than any other Western Conference team. Plus, they have the kryptonite for Superman. Dwight Howard has scored fewer than 20 points in seven of 13 playoff games against Kendrick Perkins. -- J.A.A.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: Minnesota is on the upswing, but let's not get ahead of ourselves -- at least until Ricky Rubio is out of street clothes.
Actual wisdom: Remember the Thunder! Is it heresy to think this team can be the next OKC, suddenly emerging from the NBA's netherworld to wreak havoc? Granted, Minny hasn't made the playoffs since 2004 and hasn't broken 30 wins since '06-07. But even without Rubio, the Wolves are deeper than ever. As long as Love, the league's second-best Kevin, continues to pack his own kind of MVP stat line, they will be fine. And if out-of-mothballs Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko have something to bolster the 25th-ranked D, Minnesota will be way better than that. -- B.D.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Actual wisdom: The roster is definitely stacked at the top, but then what? The bench remains a cobbled-together afterthought. Certain teams can get away with no reinforcements, but not this one: Bryant, Gasol, Nash, Metta World Peace & they're all on the wrong side of their career bell curves. Worse, Kobe is not gliding gently into his golden years. Last season, he posted the lowest true shooting percentage and second-highest usage rate of his career. What good is an A-list core if one of its members refuses to blend into the crowd? -- B.M.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: Credit the Spurs for trying something different last season, revving up to the seventh-fastest pace in the league. But you can't outrace the clock. San Antonio is old and obsolete.
Actual wisdom: The Spurs are fresher than you think (see page 79). Six of their top seven scorers were 30 or younger, and those six -- Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, Danny Green and Gary Neal -- had an average PER of 17.7. As Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili age out, the Spurs are building on the fly. Besides, you want to bet against Coach Pop? -- J.A.A.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: As much as it pains the world to say it, some savvy offseason moves confirm that Donald Sterling's team might actually have a clue. Doesn't hurt that it has Chris Paul and Griffin too.
Actual wisdom: It's true. Call it Keeping Up With the Kupchaks. The O is a portrait of efficiency, with the NBA's fourth-best ORtg. And when the D showed cracks, LA grabbed Grant Hill (who defended three positions in Phoenix, holding each to PERs under 13) and Lamar Odom (who hasn't had a DRtg above 104 since '07). Smart, right? Yeah, we can't explain it either. -- Chris PalmerBasketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: Power lifters Al Jefferson and Millsap are enough to lug the Jazz to another winning record -- and another early postseason exit.
Actual wisdom: What's the point? Utah's highest-paid and best players are entering their contract years, and nobody thinks the Jazz can make a real run in the West, so now is as good a time as any to rethink things. Still, there's no need for a wholesale renovation. Young forwards Derrick Favors and Jeremy Evans and center Enes Kanter make it easy to foresee a world without Jefferson or Millsap. -- B.D.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: Go ahead and admire Memphis' grit, but the team didn't really progress last season and got no stronger over the summer. In fact, it might have gotten weaker, losing O.J. Mayo. How can the Grizzlies possibly hang in the West?
Actual wisdom: They can't. Although it left quite an impression, it's going on two years since Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph shocked the Spurs in the playoffs. Those two aren't getting any younger -- the 31-year-old Randolph in particular figures to age badly -- and not even Gay can change that. Time to face facts: The Grizzlies aren't the giant killers they had us believing they could be. Fact is, they went 2-9 against the Spurs, Thunder and Lakers last season. -- H.A.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Actual wisdom: Those names look good in a program and might help Nowitzki spark the NBA's 22nd-ranked O. But getting Big D into the playoffs in the West is another thing. Then again, making the playoffs isn't really the point. All of those expiring-deal holders are just filling cap space until Dallas can go after a superstar free agent (hey, CP3!) next summer. -- M.S.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: Eric Gordon for four years and $58 million? Are you guys out of your mind?
Actual wisdom: Of the 32 guards in NBA history to average 18 ppg through their age-23 season (minimum 100 games), only Magic Johnson had a higher true shooting percentage than Gordon's 57.5%. In a league short on shooting guards, efficiency like that is priceless. And there's this: It took almost two months for the Gordon-less Hornets to win five games last season but less than two weeks to win that many more once he returned from a knee injury in April. -- T.H.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Actual wisdom: Progress will come in baby steps. Look past Aldridge and Batum and you'll see as many as five rookies playing regularly. A few could even start. The most precocious of the bunch is No. 6 pick Damian Lillard, who will run the offense from day one. Still, the clock is ticking. Before you know it, Aldridge will be a free agent. They grow up so fast. -- J.H.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional Wisdom: The roster bursts with talent, including No. 5 pick Thomas Robinson. Too bad it bursts with inexperience and immaturity too.
Actual wisdom: Scan the Kings roster and -- yes, indeed -- there is one glaring deficiency: leadership. Make no mistake, the best players here can bring it. DeMarcus Cousins was the only player in the West to lead his team in rebounds, blocks and steals, while Evans was one of just five players to average 16.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds. But all of those numbers vaporize in the face of all of that pouting and poor shot selection. Fear not, good people of Sacramento. These guys will soon be another city's problem. -- C.P.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom: When you've been to the playoffs once since 1994, each season begins with ifs. So if Andrew Bogut's and Curry's ankles are healed and if rookie Harrison Barnes is ready, the Warriors just might end up playing a little longer than they're used to.
Actual wisdom: To be fair, the Warriors are trying. They landed PG Jarrett Jack (career highs in PER and AST percent in 2011-12) and underrated F Carl Landry. Then there's Klay Thompson, the fourth rookie ever to hit 41 percent of his 3's and 85 percent of his free throws. Too bad the biggest if is: If only they played in the East. -- B.W.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom: It's hard to picture the Suns sans Steve Nash. It will be even harder to watch.
Actual wisdom: It won't be pretty -- but maybe it won't be as hideous as you think. Goran Dragic hardly will make fans forget Nash, but hopes are pinned to the frontcourt. The Suns landed Beasley and Luis Scola to flank the NBA's most underrated center, Marcin Gortat (15.4 points, 10 boards). Last season, that trio posted an average PER of 17.2. That's 1.9 less than what Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins averaged for the Thunder. -- M.W.Basketball Prospectus predictions
Conventional wisdom: What a mess! No Howard. No go-to guys. No chance.
Actual wisdom: It only seemed as if Houston acquired, traded or released every player in the NBA in an effort to land Howard. In fact, some young talent survived. There is rookie trio Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones. There is out-of-nowhere young guns Chandler Parsons and Lin. There is hope. What there's not is a frontcourt that can score, or a shot at competing in the West this season. The upside: GM Daryl Morey gets one more chance at the lottery. -- T.L.Basketball Prospectus predictions
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