Storyline #15

BallinEurope’s said it before and fully expects to say it again: Better late than never. Stuff like podcast recording, the day job and, you know, life, has delayed the release of this season’s “Eurocentric preview.” BiE figures he’s morally convinced, since 80% of the NBA hasn’t tipped off as of this writing.

We’re doing something slightly different for 2012-13; rather than a team-by-team breakdown of the NBA and its 50-plus Europeans in the rolls, BiE instead presents the 25 storylines this website will attempt to keep tabs on as the 2012-13 edition of the NBA enfolds. Enjoy the season (unless you’re in the Twitter Airlines NBA fantasy league, in which case BiE’ll attempt to seek misplaced vengeance for his general incompetence in the Euroleague game…)!

1-4. Headlining this list are the general storylines of those four potentially nicely heavily European-accented squads: The Denver Nuggets, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers (though we’ll see how much action Sasha Pavlovic ultimately gets).

Among these four, the general season hype solidly backs only the Nuggets as a playoff contender. As the league’s third-highest scoring offense last season at just a hair under 110 points a game, Denver was perhaps the most exciting team game-to-game in the 2011 NBA season (that average margin of victory of 2.88 points helped) … but a serious contender in the stacked Western Conference? Though NBA GMs themselves ranked Andre Iguodala’s move to the team as the “Most Underrated Player Acquisition” of the off-season, not much appears to have been done about certain defensive issues.

On the other hand, given the last-minute position battle happening in the frontcourt there involving a couple of Europeans (more on this below), George Karl may be content to have this squad run opposing sides into the ground while giving up 107 again.

As of this writing, the T-wolves appear to be nominated for BiE’s NBA “home” team during the 2012-13 NBA season and o boy, is that an exciting prospect – at least after the “Waiting for Ricky” period is over. Andrei Kirilenko’s triumphant return! Alexey Shved’s debut! The prospect of Nikola Pekovic continuing on his deadly season-closing run of ’12! Nice.

5-6. The Gasol Brothers facing changes in environment. With both firmly established as all-stars last season, Pau and Marc are both counted on for regular double-double production. In the case of Gasol the Younger, however, the onus is a lot stronger. One season after nearly being disposed of by the Los Angeles Lakers, Pau is suddenly universally reckoned as a fourth option on a star-studded starting five; playing out of an even stronger frontcourt could result in (should those kinks be worked out in Mike Brown’s scheme) the most unnoticed 15-ppg, 10-rbg season in NBA history.

After prompting murmurs questioning the superiority of the older Gasol in the 2011 playoffs, Marc turned in another all-star season that want for naught immediately as those upstart L.A. Clippers bounced the Grizzlies in the first round of 2012’s tournament.

This year? While the projected starting five (Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph) is universally accepted as fearsome indeed, few teams are as poverty-ridden off the bench – even the Lakers don’t get this thin this quickly. The perception of the underwhelming O.J. Mayo’s departure as a blow to the team gives some indication of the Grizzlies’ bench mob. Highest in profile among offseason signings was probably Jerryd Bayless (!); then there’s the recovered/ing Darrell Arthur. And Wayne Ellington’s been brought over from Minnesota. And Mo Speights. So, yeah, lots of pressure on Marc.

Meanwhile, in sunny Los Angeles, Pau’s 23 points, 13 points, six assists and three blocks goes quietly ignored…

7-9. The Three Musketeers in San Antonio. With three Team France veterans on the Spurs, why has no one trademarked this? Okay so BiE will … Preeeeeesenting the Three Musketeers of San Antonio™!

10. I-block-a! With James Harden gone, the Oklahoma City Thunder have informally announced their commitment to a big three with Serge Ibaka the force in the middle for the future. Team Spain’s Sultan of Swat may have finished second in the balloting for defensive player of the year in 2012, but Zach Lowe’s excellent piece for ESPN’s Grantland of yesterday contends that Ibaka’s defensive shortcomings make him the Most Important Player in the NBA.

11-12. Get well soon, Dirk and Ricky. The most compelling stat dropped by Reggie Miller et al during last night’s TNT broadcast of the Mavericks at Lakers (debacle) (disaster) (Hindenburgesque display) season opener? BiE says it’s this one: Of the 12 players on the Mavericks’ active roster, all have contracts expiring in 2013 or 2014. Can you say “imminent rebuilding” and/or “radical reshaping”? As he recovers from the first major injury of his storied career, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t exactly ready for his swansong, but the fat lady’s warming up in the wings.

As for Senor Rubio, words cannot express the longing … so we’ll go to the YouTube clip!

13. Vladimir Radmanovic is still in the league! Whoa…

14. Hedo Turkoglu. So sayeth the league’s official website: Turkoglu is “Eager to Prove He Can Still Be Productive.” We’ll see, especially with the specter of Howard still lurking and the 33-year-old a “shadow of his former self.”

15. BiE’s Surprise of the Year: Mirza Teletovic, Brooklyn Nets. That’s an Official Fearless Prediction™, by the way, despite little chance the league will bestow an award on Teletovic. Just as phobia-free was the Bosnian in the preseason.

Impressing early and perhaps buoyed by a nice showing with his national team (in EuroBasket 2013 qualifiers, the man averaged a massive 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists), Teletovic was encouraged to “take his shot” by Nets head coach Avery Johnson. And take it he did, registering 10 outside bombs one night and go 3-of-11 the next. By preseason’s end, however, Teletovic appeared more controlled and selective in his shots while showing off those “many other aspects to his game” (garnering three blocks in 19 minutes against the Celtics; grabbing three boards in 17 minutes against the Knicks).

With the weak frontcourt in Brooklyn (sorry, BiE just can’t get past the Brook Lopez-as-starter thing), Teletovic could see lots more quality time that the pundits are reckoning.

16. The Rise of Kosta Koufos. We’ll see if Koufos actually gets the start in Denver’s opener at Philadelphia, but coach Karl’s early proclamation that Kosta “has the edge over [JaVale] McGee and Timofey Mozgov to start in the middle” has got to have at least the player pumped. (And those who drafted McGee in fantasy basketball’s middle rounds are bummed. Sigh.)

No wonder Koufos signed a three-year extension with these Nuggets in January – this speedy unit is nicely suited for the Greek/American’s energetic play and while ESPN has the ex-Ute cast merely as “a surprise source for rebounds,” BiE bets he’ll inhabit the starting job within a couple years.

17-18. Question for those who follow European basketball: How many Continental players have you seen coming up that you’re excited about as much as Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas? That’s what BiE thought…

And by the way, “if you’re scared of wolves, don’t go into the woods.”

19-20. Chicago’s English Channel Connection. Even while missing 46 games combined last season, Luol Deng of Great Britain and Joakim Noah of France still accounted for nearly one-third of the team’s rebounds (31.8%) and blocks (32.9%) plus nearly a quarter (23.2%) of points. With Rose returning, BiE’s not exactly sure why folks are going to sleep on the Bulls. Who’s to say quite possibly the NBA’s top defense can’t stop the Heat in a seven-game set?

21. Marco Belinelli’s quest to prove he’s no Kyle Korver. Back in late April, the Hornet sounded off to Italy-based Gazzetta dello Sport about the perceived lack of respect afforded Italy’s generally-acknowledged no. 3 player. Stated Belinelli: “In the past, I’ve been penalized for being considered just a shooter, but I’ve showed I can do much more. I’m not a Kyle Korver type of guy, someone who shoots and that’s it: I can pass, do pick-and-rolls, drive the lane.”

Well, we’ll see.

22-23. The continued development of Nikola Pekovic and Nikola Vucevic. And to think both could be playing for Team Montenegro at EuroBasket 2013? Scary.

24. How good will Ersan Ilyasova get? The Human Boomerang warmed up with Efes Pilsen Istanbul (his third European tour in eight seasons) during the NBA player lockout, then went on to record his best season yet, with a sweet line of 13.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 0.7 spg and 0.7 bpg in the shortened season. BiE believes this could be a double-double averaging season for the Turk – and thereafter the sky’s the limit.

25. Darko! But you knew that.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,