Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
This week, we borrow three questions from The Starters season preview podcasts.
Which team is the most difficult to forecast?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Memphis. A team like Milwaukee might wind up cusp of the playoffs or it could plunge well into the lottery because of its mix of role players, inexperience and possible mediocrity. But to me, the Grizzlies are a bigger mystery because they’ve been a contender, but one generating wildly mixed predictions this fall. They underwent a coaching change from Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger, and it’s unclear if Mike Miller brings enough shooting help to materially change the Grizz offense. I still like this team but, boy, the preseason pickers have them all over the West standings from about fifth to ninth.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’ve seen the Lakers picked to finish anywhere from fifth to 12th in the Western Conference. The opening night win over the Clippers notwithstanding, there are so many questions. Of course, the most importance is when and how Kobe Bryant will return from his torn Achilles tendon. Can Pau Gasol stay healthy all year to hold things down in the middle? Can an aging Steve Nash hold up at all? Do they have enough offensive firepower to survive in a loaded Western Conference? It all seems one big roll of the dice.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: There are a few out there. What will Denver do? How will the Lakers jell without and then with Kobe? Will Andrew Bynum play for the Cavs ? All are solid candidates, but the Dallas Mavericks are one giant question mark. They’ve got nine new players around the veteran core of Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon are your starting backcourt. Samuel Dalembert, who averaged 16 minutes a game last season with Milwaukee, is your starting center. They’re loaded with guards and light on muscle. Some think the offense will light it up and the defense will stink. Some think they’ll make the playoffs, others think they won’t get close. It should be interesting.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Thunder. When will Russell Westbrook return and at what level? Can Jeremy Lamb go from a successful D-League season to contributing in the big leagues to help replenish the depth? Will Reggie Jackson turn promising signs into reality and become a dependable Westbrook replacement and eventually a big factor off the bench? The organization that prides itself as a model of stability is suddenly facing a lot of variables.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A lot of them are difficult and Atlanta is at the top of the list. The Hawks have a very good big-man rotation with Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Elton Brand. They have good shooting at every position and a quick and developing point guard — Jeff Teague — who can create openings for his teammates. But they have a new coach, are a prime candidate for a midseason trade, and have a very suspect bench, especially until Lou Williams returns.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: After that opening night performance from their unheralded bench, I’d think the Los Angeles Lakers would be the slam dunk pick in this category. They were already going to be extremely difficult to evaluate because of their reliance on Kobe Bryant and the fact that no one knows exactly when they’ll get him back and what sort of shape his game will be in when he does return. But when we wake up to Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar and Jordan Hill highlights on NBA.com and NBA TV, we’ve officially entered the basketball version of the Twilight Zone. Sure, it’s just one game. And the Los Angeles Clippers clearly are not now what we expect them to be. The Lakers, however, offer up all sorts of strange possibilities. They are playing loose this season, even after Kobe returns, and Mike D’Antoni is not operating under the same sort of pressure he did last season. They could get on an inspired roll to start this season and make some noise in the Western Conference … or opening night might have just been one of those nights and they’ll be a speed bump for the true contenders in the West this season. You just never know in a situation like this one.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To me it has to be the Lakers. Will Kobe be back to anything approaching his very best form? When will Kobe even be back? With Dwight Howard gone, will Mike D’Antoni be able to play an even more uptempo style of play? Will Pau Gasol go back to dominating the interior? Will Steve Nash stay healthy? Will Chris Kaman find a freezer large enough for the cow he purchased? Will Nick Young crash any more toboggans? There are just so many questions that have yet to be answered in Hollywood.
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA.com Deutschland: Probably the Cleveland Cavaliers. They want to make the playoffs, and looking at the roster they sure could. But there are a lot of question marks also. How much is Bynum going to play? How many games will Anderson Varejao last. Can Kyrie Irving stay healthy and, more importantly, take the next step and be more committed on defense? I’m also curious to see how Mike Brown will set up this offense. They have the potential to land at 5 or 6 in the East, but falling to 9 or 10 isn’t impossible.
Hanson Guan, NBA.com China: The Thunder. Because Russell Westbrook will miss more time than expected, and even if he returns ahead of schedule, his healthy status remains up in the air. The Thunder are my favorite to take the West, but without Westbrook the whole season, I really don’t know how far they can go.