NBA Predictions for 2013

By: Rob Mahoney

Article Reprint

In anticipation of the new year,’s writers are predicting the  stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013. durant

1. Kevin Durant will win his first MVP award. This season is  setting up an unusual scenario in which Durant may well unseat the league’s best  player in the MVP race without the aid of narrative fireworks. Having already  made “the leap,” most would expect Durant to ride out the rest of his 20s,  making subtle improvements to his game with corresponding boosts in his  production. But KD’s evolution has been anything but subtle. His improved help  defense is punctuated with weak-side blocks, his court vision now invokes  comparison to his only basketball superior in Miami and he’s somehow an even  smoother creator off the dribble than he was previously.

But Durant and the Thunder — despite a great start after the departure of  Sixth Man Award winner James Harden — have been almost completely eclipsed by  the Knicks’ shiny success, the Lakers-inspired schadenfreude and the Heat’s  occasional malaise. Durant may have years of feel-good coverage working in his  favor, but in the most impressive season of his career he’s been oddly  under-covered. That quiet isn’t likely to last, but in today’s world of  minute-to-minute reporting it’s almost refreshing to see Durant very quietly  close the gap on three-time winner LeBron James to the point where he makes for  a credible MVP choice.

2. The Clippers will make the Western Conference finals. The  West is shaping up to be a crucible. The top-four teams are a fantastic mix of  talent and execution, but only two can make it to the conference finals. Memphis  and San Antonio are as worthy picks as any, but the Clippers seem to be the most  likely candidate — if only by a hair — to join the Thunder in the last stage  of the conference playoffs. L.A.’s defense has come and gone, waxing and waning  as if choreographed to Chris Paul’s effort level or Jamal Crawford’s streak  shooting. But the sum of the parts in Clipperland begets a potentially fearsome  two-way team, benefiting from a masterful offensive orchestrator, a deep roster  and legitimate defensive improvement on the back line.

3. Josh Smith will get a max deal as an unrestricted free agent. The omens for free-agent absurdity are all there: Paul appears  entrenched with the Clippers, Dwight Howard (through his team’s struggles and  all) seems likely to remain a Laker and Andrew Bynum’s wobbly knee may make him  unfit to be a franchise cornerstone. But teams have been clearing cap space and  maintaining flexibility for years in anticipation of making a run at one of  those three stars, and so many suitors will be left all dressed up with nowhere  to go.

That’s where Smith comes in, ready to tempt teams into handing out a massive  contract when no better options come available. The 27-year-old Hawks forward is  tremendously versatile, but his poor decision-making upends some of his varied  production. Good passing skills inspire Smith to throw overly ambitious passes,  a relatively nice handle encourages poorly conceived drives and the perimeter  bent of his game instills an overconfidence in his jump-shooting abilities. But  desperation often causes teams to overlook those very flaws, and the workings of  the NBA salary structure (extensions, rookie-scale deals, etc.) force teams into  using up cap space at specific times. For those franchises that have been  planning around 2013, Smith may be the most attractive potential addition. He’ll  undoubtedly have a few teams competing for his services, and one is bound to  offer him a maximum salary.

4. Derrick Rose will be awfully good when he returns, but won’t ever  be the same. Basketball fans everywhere are ready for Rose to get back  on the court, and yet I can’t help but shake the unsettling feeling that his  game may mimic the state of his torn-and-repaired left knee. Even after medical  professionals put Rose back together again, there will always be some remnant of  his ligament tear, and a visible scar on his game that hearkens to his collapse  to the United Center floor last April.

That won’t prevent Rose from jumping back into the conversation of the  league’s best players, albeit with something missing. He’ll still be quick.  He’ll still be clever. He’ll still be exactly what the Bulls need. But he may be  just a tinge slower with a game that’s just slightly less deadly. It may not  seem like much, but in a read-and-react sport dependent on quick-twitch  reflexes, even the slightest hesitation could cost Rose a great deal.

5. Yet another analytics-driven team will win the NBA title. Since 2004, five franchises (Heat, Spurs, Celtics, Lakers and  Mavericks) have won an NBA title. All five scout, coach and/or make personnel  decisions as informed by analytics, and this season’s eventual champion will  almost certainly follow suit. Miami and Oklahoma City are the favorites from  each conference, and both run quiet, diligent forays into the quantitative side  of the game. The Spurs and Grizzlies are also very much a part of that  conversation, with the former being among the most numbers-savvy team cultures  in sports and the latter having recently hired stat-head John Hollinger  as vice president of basketball operations. Odds are good that one of those  smart, analytics-inclined teams walks away with the Larry O’Brien trophy this  season, in only the latest example of new-wave thinking making a significant  difference in the way basketball operations are run.

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