Milwaukee Bucks (2012-13 rank: 3) – Perhaps no team looks more different than the Bucks. They let their top three scorers go and didn’t do much to replace them. Also, they were 15th in fast-break points, which is a little low considering the thievery of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis helped them rank second in turnovers forced per game. To be blunt, there’s simply no way they’re going to be elite in pace in 2013-14 with coach Larry Drew running the show.
Drew’s Hawks ranked in the bottom four in pace for two of the last three seasons and he’s been a proponent of slowing things down. His Hawks haven’t produced much and they’ve never really been among the elite in anything offensive. Since the pace is going to slow down, there could be some level of concern for Larry Sanders. He ranked second in the NBA in blocks due partly to the extra possessions, but the team should need him more on offense to help offset the dropoff. Not to mention the perimeter defense is going to be suspect, so Colonel Sanders should get his fair share of weak-side biscuits. Yeah, nobody calls blocks “biscuits.” I know.
Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo shouldn’t be influenced too much by the different coaching styles, so draft them as planned. Ghostface Ilya is going to play power forward exclusively and with the talk of John Henson getting some minutes at the five, it should help their pace a little, too. In other words, if I had my way, Zaza Pachulia will not get minutes.
Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo both figure to get their fair share of 3-point attempts. Knight did get some shooting-guard minutes last year, but the location of his shots from downtown reflect that of a ball handler. He took 80 percent of his threes from above the break, and he was also coming on last year, making 40 percent of all of his attempts from beyond the arc in the second half. Mayo also could do more ball handling and he did much more of that than usual last year, too. He had a career-high 4.4 assists in 2012-13, and much like Knight, 79 percent of his 3-point attempts came from above the break. Drew’s Hawks were fourth in 3PA last year, and even ranked in the top 10 without Kyle Korver in 2011-12, so he’s certainly a fan of utilizing the triple.
Bottom line: Mayo and Knight could be very helpful in the 3-point category, but their field goal percentages can cause some trepidation. As mentioned, there are a lot of points that need to be replaced, so it’s not crazy to reach a little for Ersan Ilyasova. Hopefully, he doesn’t have another disgusting November like last season. Sanders should have a more well-rounded line this year, especially after his fouls went way down in the second half. Henson is a high-ceiling guy and is one of the more alluring bench bigs to take in drafts. Caron Butler could have the ball in his hands quite a bit as long as he stays healthy. I’m all for taking a chance on the 33-year-old forward. Don’t forget Caron is a terrific free throw shooter, can hit treys and is capable of earning steals. Luke Ridnour could be a sneaky pickup, too.
Sacramento Kings (2012-13 rank: 4) – There are a ton of changes in Sac-Town. The coach is gone, their second-highest scorer is a Pelican and the owners sold the team. Good riddance, Maloofs. But I digress. Anyway, they were also fourth in the NBA in fast-break points and ran quite a bit with ex-coach Keith Smart. The Kings brought on Mike Malone from the Warriors coaching staff and it could be a tremendous hire. The problem is that his Sacramento team is nothing like his Golden State squad. The Kings didn’t have any shooters rank in the top 25 for 3-point makes on the year and as a team they ranked 11th in percentage made.
The Kings figure to split some of their point-guard duties with Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas. Vasquez’s Hornets were dead last in pace and with him at the helm, there’s some concern that he’ll slow down the Kings. Although, GV was careless with the ball and had the seventh-most turnovers in the NBA, and that’s probably something Malone won’t appreciate.
The team really doesn’t have the firepower on offense that Malone might want. He’s a smart guy and he might just want to attack the basket and take high-percentage shots to counterbalance the lack of skills on the outside. Keith Smart being out has to help DeMarcus Cousins since the two weren't exactly best buddies, but besides him, it could get messy until the Kings figure out their rotation.
Furthermore, there are a lot of questions to be answered about how the team will address its 3-point production. There has been a lot of talk involving Marcus Thornton playing better D, which would open up a lot of possibilities on the other end. Ben McLemore is also in the mix to get some shots and all signs have indicated that he’s having a good camp. Although, this seems like the team’s only move since their first-round pick had a rough summer league. The Kansas product really couldn’t create his own shot, didn’t react well to on-ball pressure and lacked an overall understanding of floor spacing. His form is beautiful though, he gets very high off the ground like Danny Green and he just needs a little space to get a good look at the hoop.
Bottom line: The only player that truly seems safe to draft is DeMarcus Cousins, which feels really strange to type. Vasquez is coming off the board higher than IT2 in mock drafts, so Thomas might have a little more value. Plus, don't forget Thomas was dynamite in the second half. While McLemore and Thornton have been going in the same range, Thornton is a little safer and has a higher ceiling based on the struggles of B-Mac over the summer.
Golden State Warriors (2012-13 rank: 5) – The Warriors really started clicking on offense late in the season. They led the NBA in 3-point percentage at a sterling 40.3 percent for obvious reasons. In fact, the only other team to shoot over 40 percent since 2004 was the 2009-10 Suns. There’s really no scheme or analysis needed since they had the NBA’s best 3-point shooter in Stephen Curry with Klay Thompson and a full complement of shooters. They also ranked ninth in fast-break points, an impressive stat considering they ranked just 26th in opponent turnovers.
The team may have to slow it down a little bit this year, though. They’re expecting Andrew Bogut to come back healthy, but with the way his ankle has been reluctant to maintain its health, he’s no lock for 60 games. The Warriors more or less swapped out Jarrett Jack for Andre Iguodala and have similar depth, but they’re a little strapped on big men. That means they’re either going to have to play to Bogut’s limitations, or go ahead just let it loose with the up-tempo team they have outside of the Aussie. Iggy’s add bumps Harrison Barnes to the bench which projects to be a promising role for the second-year guy. He’s shown he’s capable of playing at the two, three or four with his superb versatility. If he gets minutes as a stretch four next to David Lee at the five, the Warriors are going to run a ton. It’s also worth mentioning there are murmurs of Barnes starting and Klay moving to the second unit.
Bottom line: Fantasy owners shouldn’t expect much change. It’s all about the health of Golden State and that’s about as far as it goes. Curry will cost a top-five pick, Klay should flirt with top-50 value, David Lee is one of the best offensive bigs in the league, Bogut can be huge pickup if he’s healthy – a huge if – and I’m all in on Harrison Barnes this year.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back next week with the bottom five and some other teams with noteworthy changes in personnel or coaching.