FanPost

Early Predictions: 2013-2014 NBA Season Edition

USA TODAY Sports

[From the FanPosts, IrrationalConfidenceGuy takes a shot at predicting the 2013-14 NBA season with a look at how all of the teams stack up so far. - TL]

I know, I know. It's late July. The season won't start for another, what, 3 months? The NBA is in it's silent mode as players work in the off-season to get better, and wait for NBA team training camps start. This is the time to watch baseball and look forward to football, right?

But last season just left me too excited, and I couldn't resist.

Remember, these predictions are not final, but are pretty close to final. Since a majority of free agency is over, and there could be very few trades between now and the regular season (if so, I will update) these will probably be the rosters entering the season next year.

I'll be looking at both conferences and making predictions of where each team will finish in the final seeding for the playoffs and overall conference standings. I know that us Pacers fans want to look at the East, but the West is going to be very interesting this year, so I thought I'd include them. The starting lineups are looked at, as well as the benches for each team. Depth is taken largely into consideration.

Also, these are just my opinions. If you have a different opinion, please say what it is in the comments below, that's what this site is all about. I would love to hear what the rest of PacerNation thinks.

Now, let's get this started:

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder - last season: #1 (60-22)

Key Starters: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (both All-NBA), Serge Ibaka (3 blocks per game)

Key Reserves: Ronnie Brewer (8 ppg career), Nick Collison (4 rebs. per game every season of career)

It's hard not to pick OKC here. When everyone is healthy, they are one of the scariest teams out there. The key is that they have to stay healthy. If Westbrook was healthy during the playoffs, then things in the West could have turned out a lot different than they did. Durant is an MVP candidate, Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha make this team very good defensively, and they have good backups at every position. Hard not to argue with how good this team is. They could be on their way to a championship this season.

2. San Antonio Spurs - last season: #2 (58-24)

Key Starters: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker (both All-NBA), Kawhi Leonard (49% FG shooter with crazy length and potential)

Key Reserves: Manu Ginobili (11.8 ppg last season, 2008 6th Man), Jeff Pedergraph (oh hey, I know that guy!)

San Antonio keeps their core together for one last title run. We say every year that it will be their last chance at the championship, but let's face it, these guys will be playing for titles well into their 50s if they keep this up. It's unbelievable how good this team is year in and year out. I will never count them out of a season before it starts as long as Gregg Popovich is the coach and Tim Duncan is on the roster. Somehow, these guys just keep winning. I expect them to win the Southwest division this season, and even contend for another championship.

3. Los Angeles Clippers - last season: #4 (56-26)

Key Starters: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin (both All-NBA), J.J. Redick (14.1 ppg last season, career 43% FG shooter)

Key Reserves: Jamal Crawford (16.5 ppg off bench last season), Darren Collison (WHY YOU TAKIN' STUFF?!)

At points last season, the Clippers were being called the best team in the NBA by some people. Although they may not be at that level, they're pretty close. They have the best point guard in the league in Paul, two amazing athletes in their front court with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and the addition of Redick will only make this team more powerful. I have them 3rd behind San Antonio and OKC, but don't be surprised if the Clippers make the Finals.

4. Houston Rockets - last season: #8 (45-37)

Key Starters: Dwight Howard, James Harden (both All-NBA 3rd team), Chandler Parsons (48.6% FG shooter last season)

Key Reserves: Omer Asik (10 ppg, 11.7 rebs. per game, 54% FG% last season as starter)

The Rockets obviously made a big splash this summer with signing Howard, and it does improve their team, but I'm not 100% sold on Houston just yet. They are in the Top 4 because of pure talent with Howard, Harden, Parsons, Asik and Jeremy Lin on the roster, but I still think these guys could be deeper off the bench. Asik is their only bench player who looks like they could have an above average season and he reportedly wants out of Houston. The starting lineup has two elite guys in Howard and Harden, but their bench definitely needs work. Don't be shocked if this new "super team" struggles next season.

5. Golden State Warriors - last season: #6 (47-35)

Key Starters: Stephen Curry (22.9 ppg, and this game), Andre Iguodala (46% FG %, 1.7 steals per game last season), David Lee (All-NBA 3rd team, 56 double doubles)

Key Reserves: Harrison Barnes (All-Rookie 1st team, and this), Kent Bazemore (this guy)

I'm a big fan of this Warriors team. Curry is a rising superstar and has another amazing shooter with him in Klay Thompson to make what just might be the best backcourt tandem in the NBA. Adding Iguodala helps their defense big time, and adds a great athlete to the fold. The only problems with the Warriors are depth and injuries. They lost key backups in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry this off-season which hurts their bench, and Curry, Lee, and starting center Andrew Bogut all have had reoccurring injury problems. If this team stays healthy, they could challenge for a chance to be in the Western Conference Finals.

6. Memphis Grizzlies - last season: #5 (56-26)

Key Starters: Marc Gasol (All-NBA 2nd Team, Defensive Player of the Year), Zach Randolph (15.4 ppg, 11.2 rebs. per game), Tony Allen (All-Defensive 1st team 2 seasons in a row)

Key Reserves: Ed Davis (7.8 ppg, 5.7 rebs. per game last season)

Man, how deep is the Western Conference!? The team that got to the Conference Finals last year is ranked 6th?! This is insanity. Don't get me wrong, the Grizzlies are good, just not good enough to be in the top 5. I think they have the ability to go far in the playoffs again, but they were aided by Russell Westbrook's injury last season. They have the best center in the game in Gasol, one of the best defenders in Allen, a great player in Randolph, and you can't forget about Mike Conley or Tayshaun Prince either. These guys are good, but the uncertainty of a new head coach keeps them from being higher.

7. Portland Trail Blazers - last season: #11 (33-49)

Key Starters: LaMarcus Aldridge (21.1 ppg, 9.1 rebs. per game, All-Star last season), Damian Lillard (Rookie of the Year, 19 ppg)

Key Reserves: C.J. McCollum (10th overall pick in 2013 Draft)

I know what you're thinking, "Portland at 7?! Really?!" Let me explain this a little bit here, Lillard is one of the best young point guards in the league, and he will just keep getting better. Don't be surprised if he averages 20 and 7 a game next season and makes the All-Star team. Aldridge is one of the best power forwards in the game and is a scoring machine, another potential All-Star next season. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are both starting caliber players, along with new acquisition Robin Lopez, and they have McCollum along with a group of young guys like Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson to fill out their bench. This team at their best can be a top 5 group in the West, but it will heavily rely on Lillard and Aldridge. They have the ability to make the playoffs for this season, and many more to come.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves - last season: #12 (31-51)

Key Starters: Kevin Love (91 20 point-10 rebound games since 2010-2011 season [62% of games]), Ricky Rubio (one word: wow), Kevin Martin (career 17.8 ppg, 39% 3ptFG%)

Key Reserves: Alexey Shved (8.6 ppg off bench last season), J.J. Barea (11.3 ppg last 2 seasons)

Again, I know what you're thinking, "Minnesota at 8!? Really!?" Let me explain this a bit here, when healthy, this team is a very good basketball team. When you have the cornerstones of the franchise in Love an Rubio missing a combined 125 games over the last two seasons, you're going to struggle. But when these two have played together over the last two seasons, the Timberwolves are 21-18 (.538 win%). These guys are electric together, and this team has a bright future, if they can stay healthy. Plus Rubio can do this, this, this, this, this, and this. He is so fun to watch.

Now that the playoffs have been set, I'll make the explanations of teams a little bit simpler.

9. Denver Nuggets - last season: #3 (57-25)

Key Players: Kenneth Faried (11.5 ppg, 9.2 rebs. per game), JaVale McGee (Tragic Bronson)

They lost the 3 most important people to their franchise this summer: Iguodala, coach George Karl, and former general manager Masai Ujiri. I wish Brian Shaw the best of luck and I think he'll need it in the West, but in the East this is a playoff team.

10. Utah Jazz - last season: #9 (42-39)

Key Players: Trey Burke (9th pick in 2013 Draft, National College Basketball Player of the Year), Gordon Hayward (14.1 ppg, 40% 3pt shooter last season)

Utah needed to get younger, and they did. They added Burke and look to start 22 year-old Derrick Favors and 21 year-old Enes Kanter this year. They have a bright future if those guys develop, but that doesn't mean a playoff appearance in a tough Western Conference this season.

11. New Orleans Pelicans - last season: #14 (27-55)

Key Players: Anthony Davis (1.8 blocks per game, 1st team All-Rookie), Tyreke Evans (stats regressed each season since winning Rookie of the Year in 2010, may have to play SF at 6'6")

After adding All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to the mix, the Pelicans are hoping a new look will help bring this remodeled team to the playoffs. But with a cluttered backcourt and very little depth in their frontcourt, the Pelicans still need a couple more pieces to break through to the postseason.

12. Los Angeles Lakers - last season: #7 (45-37)

Key Players: Kobe Bryant (1st team All-NBA last 8 seasons), Pau Gasol (career low 13.7 ppg, .466 FG% last season)

I never thought I would have such a low opinion of the Lakers, but I just don't see much good on their roster outside of Bryant, Gasol and maybe new addition Chris Kaman. It's not going to be a fun year in LA.

13. Sacramento Kings - last season: #13 (28-54)

Key Players: Ben McLemore (7th pick in 2013 Draft), DeMarcus Cousins (career high .465 FG% last season)

The Kings are almost the franchise with the worst luck ever. They would be if they would have moved to Seattle, but instead they stay in Sacramento. Which is good, those fans deserve a team, just not a team this bad. They lose their face of the franchise in Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans, but add McLemore, a high potential athlete from Kansas. McLemore and Cousins are the only real pieces they have for the future, but they do have Greivis Vasquez and Carl Landry now.

14. Dallas Mavericks - last season: #10 (41-41)

Key Players: Dirk Nowitzki (22.6 career ppg), Jose Calderon (11.3 ppg, 5.9 assists per game last season)

Three seasons ago the Mavericks won a championship, and now they are among the worst in the NBA. It's hard not to feel bad for this team, especially Nowitzki. He's been so good his entire career and then right after he wins a championship the rest of the franchise collapses around him. The Mavericks need to move into rebuilding mode, asap.

15. Phoenix Suns - last season: #15 (25-57)

Key Players: Alex Len (5th pick in 2013 Draft), Eric Bledsoe (8.5 ppg, .445 FG% last season)

Phoenix added cornerstone pieces with huge potential in Len and Bledsoe this summer, but that's what they mostly leave them with is potential. Phoenix's future is bright, but this season won't be an easy one to watch.

Now, for the main event!

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat - last season: #1 (66-16)

Key Starters: LeBron James (back-to-back NBA MVP), Dwyane Wade (9 straight All-Star games), Chris Bosh (8 straight All-Star games)

Key Reserves: Ray Allen (clutch), Chris Andersen (.807 FG% in postseason, expert shover)

As much as I hate to put the rival Heat #1, I have to. I despise this team more than any other team I've ever watched, but man are they good. Back-to-back Championships, 3 straight Conference titles, 27 game winning streak, and the best player on the planet. Just can't argue with that. The only concern is that there isn't a ton of bench production. Although that's gotten better over the last few seasons, it's still a weak point on this team. They also lack size and skill in their frontcourt, which Roy Hibbert, David West, Jokim Noah, and Tim Duncan exposed quite well in the playoffs. But when you have someone who may become the greatest of all-time on your team, none of that matters. Miami is #1.

2. Indiana Pacers - last season: #3 (49-32)

Key Starters: Paul George (All-Star, All-NBA 3rd team, All-Defensive 2nd team, Most Improved Player), Roy Hibbert (2.6 regular season blocks per game, 17 ppg, .511 FG% in postseason), David West (17.1 ppg, .498 FG% last season)

Key Reserves: Danny Granger (missed 77 games with knee injury last season), C.J. Watson (8.6 postseason ppg last year)

This Pacers team is becoming very well-known. After exploding onto the scene over the last two years by pushing the Miami Heat to their limits in the Playoffs, the Pacers are becoming a trendy Eastern Conference pick. We all know Paul George is a budding superstar, we all know Roy Hibbert is a monster down low, we all know David West is actually Andrew Luck in disguise, we all know about Lance Stephenson and George Hill and Mile Plumlee and all these guys (Okay, that clip of Miles is just him standing in the background while Roy is being awesome, but isn't that what he always does anyway?). We all now know how good this team can be, and we all know what this team is about. Now, they need to put it together in an improved Eastern Conference.

3. Chicago Bulls - last season: #5 (45-37)

Key Starters: Derrick Rose (2011 MVP, missed all of last season with knee injury), Joakim Noah (averaged double-double last season, 1st Team All-Defense)

Key Reserves: Taj Gibson (dunks), Kirk Hinrich (career .415 FG%)

The Bulls are a tough group of guys that despite being the most injury-riddled roster in the NBA, advanced to the 2nd round of the Playoffs. Of course they will need to be fully healthy to compete for a championship, but the offseason has prepared them to come back healthy and improved. The Bulls and Pacers both being at full strength will make for an interesting battle in the Central Division. This season could very well decide who will rule the division, or maybe even the conference from here on out. A lot riding on this season for the Bulls, it's now or never.

4. New York Knicks - last season: #2 (54-28)

Key Starters: Carmelo Anthony (All-NBA 2nd team last season), Iman Shumpert (All-Rookie 1st team 2012)

Key Reserves: J.R. Smith (6th man of the year last season), Metta World Peace (sadly, we know this guy too)

It's hard to describe this Knicks team. They have names that a lot of basketball fans recognize as good players; Melo, Shumpert, Smith, Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Staudemire, Andrea Bargiani, World Peace, Kenyon Martin, Raymond Felton, they can all play, but somehow they can't get it done. There's just something about the Knicks when you look at their roster on paper and you think they can compete for a title, then when they actually go out and play, they underachieve. I can't figure out the Knicks but I know for sure is that for the Knicks to compete for a title, they have to figure out themselves.

5. Brooklyn Nets - last season: #4 (49-33)

Key Starters: Brook Lopez (22.3 ppg in postseason), Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (aquired from Boston in offseason)

Key Reserves: Jason Terry (the JET), Andrei Kirilenko (career .473 FG%, signed suspiciously)

The Nets made a big splash this summer by acquiring two future Hall-of-Famers in KG and Pierce, but there is still work to be done on this team. They have a stellar starting lineup with Lopez, Garnett, Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, but their bench is lacking. The only other guy that could come off their bench and be a formidable player is Reggie Evans, and all he does is rebound. When their best 5 will be on the floor, very few teams will be able to compete, but when the bench comes into the game, the Nets could be a shield-your-eyes team.

6. Washington Wizards - last season: #12 (29-53)

Key Starters: John Wall (18.5 ppg, 7.6 assists last season in 49 games), Bradley Beal (All-Rookie 1st team last season, 13.9 ppg), Otto Porter Jr. (3rd overall pick in 2013 Draft)

Key Reserves: Eric Maynor (.400 career FG%), Trevor Ariza (9.5 ppg off bench last season)

Again, I know what you're thinking, "Washington at 6!? Really!?" Let me explain this a bit here, this Wizards team has struggled the last couple of seasons; 29-53 last year, 20-46 the year before, 23-59 the year before that. Bad records obviously, but last year they showed that they were on to something special. John Wall missed the first 33 games of the season and the team went 5-28. When Wall returned the team, they went 24-25. I know, 24-25 is still under .500, but the Wizards lost the last 6 games of the regular season when Beal didn't play. In the 25 games when Wall and Beal played together last season, the Wizards were 16-9, .640 Win%. Small sample size I know, but it could be a sign of things to come. Add in a guy with skills, athleticism and length like Porter, and you just might have yourself a playoff contender.

7. Toronto Raptors - last season: #10 (34-48)

Key Starters: Rudy Gay (acquired mid-season from Memphis), Kyle Lowry (11.6 ppg, 6.4 assists per game last season), Jonas Valanciunas (11.1 ppg, 6.9 rebs., .588 FG% post All-Star break last season)

Key Reserves: Terrence Ross (6.4 ppg as rookie, Slam Dunk Contest Champion), Steve Novak (.433 career 3pt FG%)

The Raptors have a solid roster with some good young pieces. Ross looks like he could become a solid starter in the future, Valanciunas showed a lot of potential at the end of last season, and DeMar DeRozan is still one of the best pure athletes in the NBA right now. All three of those guys are under 24 years old. The Raptors are in good shape this season to make the Playoffs, and the future looks to be getting brighter north of the border.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers - last season: #13 (24-58)

Key Starters: Kyrie Irving (22.5 ppg last season, looks good in old man makeup), Dion Waiters (14.7 ppg, All-Rookie 1st team last season), Andrew Bynum (missed all of last season with knee injury, hair style extraordinaire)

Key Reserves: Jarrett Jack (12.9 ppg off bench last season)

Again, I know what you're thinking, "Cleveland at 8!? Really!?" Let me explain this a bit here, this Cavaliers team will be fun to watch this season. Kyrie is unbelievably entertaining, it'll be interesting to see how Andrew Bynum performs, and I'm intrigued to see just how much time some of the young prospects will get. The Cavs have had the young pieces for a couple years in 21 year-olds Irving and Waiters, not to mention 22 year-old Tristan Thompson and 23 year-old Tyler Zeller who have both turned out to be solid players for the future. Add in the surprise #1 pick of the draft this year Anthony Bennett (who is a young 20 years old), Bynum, Varejao who will possibly return from injury next year, and Jack to backup the franchise point guard and this Cavs team has something that they haven't had in a while: depth. While they may be mostly unproven young guys, they have a bench for the first time since maybe even before you-know-who was there. The Cavaliers team poses a threat to make the playoffs this season, and many more to come.

Simpler explanations for non-playoff teams again

9. Detroit Pistons - last season: #11 (29-53)

Key Players: Josh Smith (acquired through free agency this summer), Andre Drummond (shot 60% from the field last year, All-Rookie 2nd team), Greg Monroe (16 ppg, 9.6 rebs. last season)

Detroit's frontcourt is set, but the backcourt has too many questions for them to be in the playoffs this season. Lots of potential with Drummond and Monroe, and they get an All-Star caliber player in Smith. But in the backcourt there are too many guys who don't deserve to start for only 2 spots. I like this team moving forward if they find a point guard, but they don't quite make the playoff cut yet.

10 Atlanta Hawks - last season: #6 (44-38)

Key Players: Al Horford (17.4 ppg, 10.2 rebs. last season), Paul Millsap (14.6 ppg last season with Utah)

The Hawks have a good frontcourt, and a good PG with Jeff Teague, but when Kyle Korver is the most likely person to be starting at the 3 for your team, I don't think you'll be making the playoffs.

11. Boston Celtics - last season: #7 (41-40)

Key Players: Rajon Rondo (injured knee last season), Gerald Wallace (acquired from Brooklyn this summer)

The Celtics are not going to make the playoffs, their frontcourt is too weak. They will try to lose as many games as possible to try and get a top pick in the loaded 2014 Draft, but as long as Rondo is on the roster they'll win a little bit. Brad Stevens will end up being a good hire, but we won't see much evidence of that this season.

12. Milwaukee Bucks - last season: #8 (38-44)

Key Players: Giannis Anteokounmpo (15th pick in 2013 Draft, freaky athlete), Larry Sanders (2.8 blocks per game last season)

The Bucks are a team that is looking for those young pieces to build around, and they have a few right now. Brandon Jennings looks like he'll stay as a part of the Bucks due to lack of offers, and he is 23 years old with room to improve. Sanders is 24 and still has potential, and if you want to talk about potential Antetokounmpo has loads of raw potential. Giannis is a boom or bust prospect for Milwaukee and he is going to be fun to watch.

13. Orlando Magic - last season: #15 (20-62)

Key Players: Victor Oladipo (2nd pick in 2013 Draft), Nikola Vucevic (13.1 ppg, 11.9 rebs. last season)

Orlando will be better this year than last year, but they still have improvements to make. Oladipo and Vucevic are 21 and 22 years old respectively and are great pieces to build around. This season will be about Oladipo getting used to the NBA.

14. Charlotte Bobcats - last season: #14 (21-61)

Key Players: Cody Zeller (4th pick in 2013 Draft), Al Jefferson (acquired through free agency this summer)

The Bobcats don't seem to have any direction for their franchise. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Zeller could be the buidling blocks, but Zeller joins a team that already has a former lottery pick in Bismack Biyombo at the same position, then they sign Al Jefferson at the same position as those two players. It'll be interesting to see who plays and whether or not they do well. But hey, at least they're trying to get the name Hornets back.

15. Philadelphia 76ers - last season: #9 (34-48)

Key Players: Nerlens Noel (6th pick in 2013 Draft, suffered ACL tear in February), Michael Carter-Williams (11th pick in 2013 Draft)

The 76ers took a huge gamble by trading away All-Star PG Jrue Holiday to New Orleans in order to get Noel. Philadelphia is also presumably looking to tank to get one of the top prospects from the 2014 Drat. Carter-Williams and Noel are both very high ceiling, very low floor prospects. This scheme of Philly's may work and they could get Wiggins next year and Noel and Carter-Williams could become stars, but if that doesn't happen it could be a while before the franchise is competitive again.

So there are my predictions! If you have any comments make sure to leave them down below, and let the debate begin!

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