Five NBA offenses on the rise in 2013-14
Training camp is just around the corner, which means players will soon be touting their weight loss and new muscles, as their coaches promise to focus on defense and pick up the pace. Many of those preseason goals and declarations get tossed aside or exposed within a few weeks after opening night, but we shouldn’t be so cynical that we miss out on the possibility of legitimate year-to-year improvement.
Here’s a rundown of five teams — some contenders, some simply fighting for playoff spots — that should make meaningful strides on offense this season.
Chicago Bulls: What was the cost of losing Derrick Rose last season? The Bulls’ offensive efficiency plunged from No. 5 in 2011-12 to No. 24 in 2012-13, a drastic decline that can really only be compared to that of the Suns (who fell from No. 8 to No. 29 after trading Steve Nash) and the Magic (who slipped from No. 14 to No. 27 after trading Dwight Howard). Chicago plowed forward in Rose’s absence thanks to its ever-stout defense and occasional moments of heroism from the likes of Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli, all of which helped the Bulls squeeze the most out of their lost season. There’s just no replacing a superstar, especially one like Rose, whose very presence defines Chicago’s attack (he led the Bulls in scoring and assists in 2010, 2011 and 2012) and whose Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Offensive Win Shares ranked in the top 10 in the NBA the last time he suited up.
Whether you’re ready to buy into the upbeat reports about Rose’s health and physique or you’d rather wait to see him in regular-season action before drawing any conclusions, there’s little doubt that Rose’s return should transform Chicago’s offense back into a much more effective outfit. The addition of Mike Dunleavy, a jack-of-all-trades offensive weapon, should help, too. One of the summer’s best under-the-radar signings, Dunleavy can stroke it from deep (42.8 percent for the Bucks last season) and is accustomed to contributing without dominating the rock. Throw in some anticipated Year 3 growth from 23-year-old forward Jimmy Butler as a cherry on top, and last year’s bleakness — Chicago failed to score 84 points in 16 games — should be a thing of the past.
Indiana Pacers: The 2013 conference finals were the wasteland where imbalanced teams went to die. Miami and San Antonio, teams that ranked in the top seven on both sides of the ball, dispatched Indiana and Memphis, teams that placed No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on defense but couldn’t even muster league-average offenses. In the Pacers’ case, there were some obvious explanations: 2011-12 leading scorer Danny Granger was unexpectedly lost for most of the season with a knee injury and Indiana’s bench unit was among the worst in the league. The only reserve unit to score less than Indiana’s (24.1 points per game) was Portland’s, and the Pacers’ subs finished last in field-goal percentage (39.3 percent).
It goes without saying that the Pacers will still butter their bread on the defensive end, but there are reasons for optimism on offense. Granger is expected to return, and while his exact role is still to be determined, he should be able to add a scoring punch from the bench, at the very least. Even though swapping in C.J. Watson for D.J. Augustin at the backup point guard position lacks glamour, it’s still a clear upgrade, as Watson sports better numbers (standard and advanced) across the board and is generally a more stable option. It’s certainly debatable whether Luis Scola was worth a first-round pick in trade at this point in his career, but the Argentine big man is a proven low-post option whose craftiness in the basket area and dependable mid-range jumper should help keep the Pacers’ bench afloat if things start trending toward ugly.
Are these factors enough to get Indiana’s offense into the league’s upper echelon? Probably not, but they’re a good start. To climb higher, Indiana will need Roy Hibbert to play like the guy he was after the All-Star break (15.7 points on 51 percent shooting), as opposed to the slow-starting center who couldn’t buy a bucket as he battled a hand injury before the break (10 points on 41 percent shooting), and it’ll need the newly maxed Paul George to make an efficiency leap. George enjoyed a career year in 2012-13, but his numbers compare very unfavorably with the age-22 seasons posted by the league’s cream of-the-crop scoring wings (LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony).