Most observers believe there are three teams that can win the NBA championship this season: the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers. The San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics are slightly on the outside looking in, and the Los Angeles Clippers are the closest of the long shots.
But that doesn't mean curiosity doesn't abound this season. Several teams will be must-see TV because of their plethora of young talent or because of offseason moves they made to get to the next level. Fans and pundits alike are downright giddy about the potential of these young clubs. But do they deserve the praise and fanfare? Even my own ESPN The Magazine picked the Denver Nuggets to win the Western Conference.
So I decided to ask a longtime NBA scout to critique five young clubs and perhaps predict where some of them might finish in their conference, and whether he believed or didn't believe the hype.
1. Indiana Pacers
"I hear a lot of people talk about how they lack a go-to guy in crunch time, and while I do think that's a valid concern, I think David West can be that guy. He wasn't that guy last year, and I do think he underachieved a bit. But maybe that was because of the team approach they take where a lot of different people are contributing. They ran a lot of post-ups for him last year but not as many pick-and-pops as I would've liked to have seen to incorporate his midrange shooting. He and Chris Paul worked their pick-and-pop together incredibly in New Orleans. So if they use him correctly, I think [West is] a guy who can take over a game. I understand the concerns about them not having a go-to guy, but if that's your greatest weakness, I'll take that.
"I loved George Hill last year and thought his injury really hurt them, and now they've added D.J. Augustin, which gives them even more depth. I think Paul George has great potential. He's long and has the range and can rebound and defend. If he continues to improve, he can definitely become their 1A or 1B guy. Danny Granger did a nice job of acquiescing last season.
"And I really like Roy Hibbert. I know it's not pretty-looking, but I remember seeing him last year do up-and-unders. I remember seeing him make a move and then use the countermove the next time down the floor. There were times when they gave him the ball on the block and said 'go to work.' That's what opened my eyes the most about him. He's definitely developing and his IQ is at work. A lot of guys don't improve, like DeAndre Jordan or Brook Lopez in Brooklyn. Hibbert's going to rebound, and I've seen some progression from him in terms of on-the-block moves. I think he's underrated."
Believe the hype? Yes. "I'm a fan of Indiana. I definitely think they can beat the Chicago Bulls. I have Indiana as the third or fourth seed in the East."