Five NBA offenses on the rise in 2013-14
Minnesota Timberwolves: Much like the Bulls, the Timberwolves will be welcoming back their franchise player to full health following a lost year. Kevin Love missed most of last season due to hand injuries incurred while doing knuckle push-ups, and the shooting touch he displayed in his two All-Star seasons was (not surprisingly) nowhere to be found when he did take the court. Even though Minnesota has never produced even an above-average offense during the Love era, it’s not for lack of Love’s trying: He was in the top five in PER and Offensive Win Shares in both 2011 and 2012.
Without Love — and with a recovering Ricky Rubio — Minnesota’s offense ranked No. 25 last season, in large part because it was the worst three-point-shooting team by a country mile. Love’s return should help that, as should the re-signing of Chase Budinger, who was injured for most of 2012-13, and the addition of Kevin Martin, who ranked in the top 10 in three-point percentage and true shooting percentage last year.
During Rick Adelman’s four seasons in Houston, the Rockets’ offense generally hovered around league average, although it leaped to No. 6 in 2011, thanks in large part to a career year from Martin. Is the 30-year-old guard capable of reaching those heights again? That remains to be seen, but the Love/Martin/Rubio combination — plus the re-signed Nikola Pekovic, who will hold down the paint — should be enough to help Minnesota significantly improve its offensive efficiency. Timberwolves president Flip Saunders didn’t exactly spend his dollars in the most economical and cost-efficient fashion this summer, but he did at least put them toward areas of real need.
Portland Trail Blazers: The big question in the Rose City is whether Portland will be able to stop anybody. The Blazers ranked No. 26 on defense last year, sacrificing points left and right thanks to their weak interior. The addition of Robin Lopez — acquired in a trade with the Pelicans — should help somewhat, but he’s not exactly an elite stopper. The state of the union on the other side of the ball is much more promising: The Blazers had a league-average offense last year despite tanking down the stretch (13 straight losses to close the season) and possessing the league’s least potent bench.
Most of the credit goes to All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge and Rookie of the Year point guard Damian Lillard, who made for a reliable and formidable inside/outside combination. Three of Blazers GM Neil Olshey’s major summer additions — Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and lottery pick C.J. McCollum — look like natural fits in coach Terry Stotts’ three-happy, ball-movement offense, as they are all willing and capable shooters. Indeed, Portland ranked No. 4 in three-point attempts last year, a ranking that should only rise in 2013-14, as Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and the trio of new guys will all enjoy a permanent green light.
As Lillard has hinted, his individual efficiency and shooting numbers should improve thanks to a slightly lighter load than last year, and the same can be said for both Matthews and Batum, who dealt with injury issues under the strain of career-high playing time numbers in 2012-13. There are enough weapons on hand for the Blazers to climb into the league’s top-10 offenses, especially if Aldridge and Lillard continue to enjoy good health.
Washington Wizards: File this one under: “There’s nowhere to go but up.” Washington ranked last in offense in 2012-13, and it played some of the ugliest basketball that the NBA has seen in recent memory. Even though the Wizards played at a league-average pace, they failed to crack 90 points in 32 games, going 5-27. The loss of John Wall to a serious, preseason knee injury left a gruesome sight in its wake: terrible ball movement, turnovers and so, so many low-percentage, ill-advised shots.
The Wizards’ inclusion on this list has less to do with Washington’s new pieces (it was a quiet summer) and everything to do with Wall’s return to health (he played so well during the second half of the season that he was rewarded with a five-year, $80 million extension). Wall’s PER has shown steady improvement during his three-year career, and he placed among the league’s best point guards last year in that stat. He also ranked in the top 10 with eight assists per game, the second straight year he’s accomplished that feat. As for impact, it couldn’t be clearer: The Wizards’ offensive rating rose from 94.8 when he was off the court (last in the league by a wide margin) to 102.1 when he was on the court (slightly below average).
Wall’s supporting cast is definitely lacking in A-list talent — at least for now, though Bradley Beal looks like a star in the making — but it’s a fairly safe bet that a full season from its franchise point guard should have Washington moving out of the league’s offensive basement.