Hoop Logic with God Forbid’s Doc Coyle: Season Preview In The Abyss
It seems like eons have passed since mid-June, when LeBron James’ Miami Heat were crowned champions of the strike-shortened 2011-12 NBA season. But tonight, a new season tips off after a trade-frenzied off-season. And returning to MetalSucks is God Forbid guitarist/vocalist Doc Coyle, our super-brah and resident NBA expert! Below, get the real deal on all the unlikely changes to Western and Eastern Conference superpowers. What teams are better, and which are merely bigger? Read on, ballerz!
THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Los Angeles sports media is predicting a Lakers championship this season delivered by an all-superstar starting line-up. But Doc, is this Lakers squad an example of too much of a good thing? Or will their play resemble Globetrotters-esque domination?
DOC COYLE, God Forbid: On paper, the 2012-13 Lakers feature one of the best starting line-ups ever. Never before have two former MVP’s been featured in the same backcourt. Kobe is considered to be the best of his era. Steve Nash is probably neck at neck with Jason Kidd as the best PG of his era. Pau Gasol may be the most skilled seven-footer in the NBA, and I haven’t even mentioned the team’s best player, Dwight Howard, the most dominant center since Shaq. Even the fifth guy, Metta World Peace, is a former All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year. It makes me a little giddy just thinking about the offensive options they have, and how Howard makes up for so many mistakes on defense as a rim protector. I watched this line-up’s preseason debut against Sacramento, and it was impressive for their first game together and not having formed a real chemistry yet.
I don’t think you can have too much of a good thing, but here’s the question: Do the pieces fit? The Boston Big 3 of Pierce, Garnett, and Allen fit like a glove and won a championship their first season together. The Miami Big 3 of Wade, James, and Bosh have it down to a science now, but it took time. New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire still haven’t figured it out and they may never. But I think the new Lakers fit together very well: Nash and Howard don’t really need to score a ton to dominate the game. Nash is as a good a pure facilitator as we’ve even seen and will get his teammates the best looks. Howard can control a game just as a rebounder and defender. Kobe probably has to adjust his game the most because he won’t have the ball as much; he will have to play off the ball more, which as we saw in the Olympics can mean mixed results. Gasol will have a great year because he is off the trading block; he will be focussed and will have a lot of room to work while so much attention is paid to Howard.
As formidable as these guys are, we can’t yet anoint them champions-to-be for a few reasons. First off, Miami, OKC, San Antonio, and Boston are too good to be written off. Secondly, though the Lakers improved their bench with nice additions of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks (and the return of Jordan Hill), we still wonder about the drop-off in production from the starting line-up’s. The second unit looked very rough in the pre-season. Thirdly, this team’s age is significant, and one injury could ruin the whole deal. The only player of their big four still in his prime is Dwight Howard, with Kobe and Gasol at the tail end of their best days. The Miami Heat’s big guys are all in their prime, which is why they are so intimidating. If 38-year-old Steve Nash goes down, who do runs the Lakers’ point? And I wonder if a young, quick team like the Thunder or Nuggets could run these old Lakers legs out of the gym over a playoff series. This is going to be fun to watch.
NEW JERSEY BROOKLYN NETS
At last, the Nets are set to start fresh with a new arena, a new town, and a new look. But what about the talent? Do the Brooklyn Nets have enough firepower to threaten the reigning champion Miami Heat?
DOC: Like the Lakers, the new look Brooklyn Nets boast one of the best starting fives on paper. I watched a little of their preseason and it looked like they’re searching and figuring out how to play together. From the outside looking in, it appears that their strengths compliment each other very well with defined role for each starter: I think we know what Deron Williams is going to bring. He’s a top-five point guard, a franchise player in his prime. A big question is will F Joe Johnson’s performance match his giant contract? His statistics have declined every year, although his skills are not in question. Brook Lopez has not reached his full potential, but let’s hope he can stay healthy and learn to grab a rebound or two.
Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are two of the best hardhat guys in the league: Though on the decline and overpaid, Wallace still is a nice starting 3 who brings it on both ends of the court. Humphries is underrated and one of the NBA’s best rebounders. I also love Marshon Brooks as a sixth man. He’s definitely one of the nice young talents in the game. Also I like their bench on paper, but I haven’t seen them play much.
Sports media is high on this team and ranks them as the Eastern Conference’s third- or fourth-best team, which is a bit bold. I would like to see more of their play, but for now I like this team much more in Brooklyn than New Jersey — and I’m from Jersey. Did I mention how sick their uniforms are? They might have the best look in the league. Coolness counts; look how many people rock Raiders gear all over the country. The Nets are the cool kids on the block for sure.
THE CHICAGO BULLS
In the off-season, the Bulls parted ways with key role players Omar Asik, Kyle Korver, CJ Watson, and Ronnie Brewer. In their places are old-ass Nazr Mohammed, underwhelming Marco Bellinelli, basic Kirk Heinrich, and occasionally impactful Nate Robinson. Doc, do you foresee success for the Bulls’ core of Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton, and superstar Derrick Rose (who will miss much if not all of the regular season)? Do those weak acquisitions indicate that the organization is cutting losses for this Rose-less season and shoring up for the 2013-14 season?
DOC: If I ran the Bulls, I would tank this season and try to get a top pick in next year’s draft. (Like what the San Antonio Spurs did to set themselves up to draft Tim Duncan after David Robinson was out a whole season.) The departed role players were very important to their success last season. For some reason, the Bulls played great the last couple seasons regardless of who was on the floor. They were insanely consistent when they shifted to the reserves. (Some argue that Taj Gibson should start over Carlos Boozer.) Perhaps like the Spurs, it is the system and defensive culture of head coach Tom Thibodeau that cultivates success, and not the individual players.
Time will tell. For now, they have brought in some solid guys though none really stand out. Although, I really wish Nate Robinson would get a fair shot from some ball club. After all, he was a real spark in Boston’s 2010 Finals run, but with the Thunder he was superfluous behind back-up point guard Eric Maynor. The kid can flat out score and plays as hard as anyone in the NBA.
I am really pulling for Derrick Rose. His excellence and demeanor make him a type of athlete that we should all root for. He has heart. But I am skeptical about his return. Outside of Thunder PG Russell Westbook, no other guard out there relies on explosiveness and athleticism as much D-Rose. I hope the B-Ball Gods are kind to him.
THE NEW YORK KNICKS
Aside from last season’s brief period of Linsanity, the Knicks’ point guard situation was disastrous. So are u pumped about the arrival of ancient-but-stabilizing Jason Kidd and the return of Raymond Felton? Will the Felton-Stoudemire tandem flourish under coach Mike Woodson as it did in former coach Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system?
From what I saw in the preseason, I believe the Knicks have turned their biggest flaw into what may be their biggest strength. First off, Raymond Felton looks unbelievable. He dropped 20 pounds, so doubts about his conditioning need to stop: It’s not last year, and this isn’t Portland. He wasn’t happy there and he never wanted to leave the team he played his best basketball for: The Knicks. Now he’s moving quick, getting good shots at the rim, and passing at a high level. He is better than Jeremy Lin and a better fit for this team. He is less prone to turning over the ball and a much better defender.
But the Knicks’ depth at the point guard position is their strength. It feels like there’s a big backlash against Jason Kidd and other Knicks acquisitions, but Kidd looks sharp, active, and agile, and the team’s most undervalued addition may turn out to be veteran point guard Pablo Prigioni from Argentina. Prigioni impressed mightily in the preseason via a pure point guard’s court vision, his knack for crafty steals, and his mastery of the pick-and-roll. He and Kidd are very similar in their approach, and they create a good redundancy. If one point guard gets hurt, the Knicks have got it covered. This three-headed monster could be the secret to the Knicks’ success.
And if Stoudemire can get healthy, I predict that Felton will reinvigorate his career. Besides, Stoudemire’s regression was overblown. Most of his poor play and lethargy came in the first half last season when his conditioning was poor and he was too bulked up above the waist, and that limited his lift and explosiveness. But Stat’s shooting percentage was eight points higher after the All-Star break, and his drop in points-per-game was only because he just wasn’t getting as many shots. He needs to be utilized more or he drifts when not getting enough touches. (I would love to see him coming off the bench where he can be the Knicks’ go-to-guy for offense.) But the major issue with Stoudemire is defense. He is one of the worst defenders in the league, and the Knicks will never be taken seriously unless that improves.
Ultimately, this team needs to be healthy to have any shot at playoffs success. Their age becomes a factor when injuries creep up. Last season, they were ravaged by post-season time and are almost no better right now: Stoudemire is out for a couple weeks, Iman Shumpert is out ’til January, and both JR Smith and Marcus Camby are questionable for opening night. It’s hard to say what they are until we see the full compliment of talent on the floor.
THE MIAMI HEAT
The world champion Miami Heat added two dangerous weapons on offense, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Doc, was this what they needed? More shooters?
When you have LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh — superstars who constantly require help on defense — adding shooters can only help. Those three guys are so consistent that when one or two other guys step up, the Heat are almost unbeatable. If Ray Allen can provide 12-15 PPG off the bench, that will be something the Heat could not count on in the last two seasons. This is the perfect situation for Ray because he doesn’t have the same pressure to score as in Boston. If Rashard Lewis from 2008 shows up from time to time, these guys will be straight up scary. The Heat have improved for sure.
One issue for me is the durability of guys like Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, and Mike Miller. I love their tenacity and vigor, but each is getting up there in years and could continue breaking down. And the Heat are still small up front, so what happens if they meet the Lakers in Finals? People forget that in 2009 a Dwight Howard-led Orlando team sent LeBron’s Cavs packing; that could happen again. Also, Andrew Bynum and the Philadelphia 76ers could be a troubling playoff matchup. A truly dominant center is a challenge this Heat team has not faced — no, Pacers C Roy Hibbert was not a real obstacle.
Many seem ready to crown the Heat again, but many of these dipshits also counted the Heat out when they fell behind in each of last season’s playoff series. They are not unstoppable: Boston, L.A., OKC, and San Antonio all have a chance — and a dark horse could rear back and trample. So I could not be more excited about this NBA season. Even the “bad” teams are talented and fun to watch. (Well not Charlotte, but you get my point.) This is gonna be a hell of a year — if we survive December 21st 2012 of course.