Category Archives: basketball

2019-2020 NBA Regular Season Predictions

In a complete turnaround from the summer of 2016, the recent events of 2019 free agency has leveled the entire NBA out to foster some unpredictable competition. Super-teams laden with three or more All-NBA caliber players have been dissipated due to a combination of injuries and newfound resolves, from KD’s decision to team up with Kyrie in Brooklyn, to Kawhi’s steadfast aspiration to play at home. The NBA’s ratings are about to blow up, mostly because for the first time since before LeBron’s decision to take his talents to Miami in 2011, there is no clear championship favorite. NBA Draft Lottery changes responsible for Zion Williamson’s landing in New Orleans have limited the pool of tanking teams in 2019-2020, such that less than five teams in the league will look to prioritize development over making the playoffs. It’s a great time to follow the NBA, and here are my predictions on what the regular season standings will look like at the end of next April.

Eastern Conference

  1. Boston Celtics

Notable Additions: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford
Notable Losses: Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes

As far as talent is concerned, the Celtics have undoubtedly worsened. Regardless, plugging Walker into Irving’s role will likely produce positive results, given that Kemba’s playing style involves his teammates more so than Kyrie’s style does. This will translate into Boston’s young talent being fully utilized – a synergy that the team hasn’t experienced since the 2018 playoffs. With a more defined go-to group in Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, Walker and a healthier Gordon Hayward, the Celtics should have more of a clear game plan and more of a unified locker room. They’re going all in on letting their players participate on Team USA, giving the Celtics their own unique training camp on the international stage. Their top seeding won’t necessarily translate into playoff success, though; this talented roster just screams second round elimination to me.

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  1. Philadelphia 76ers

Notable Additions: Al Horford, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto, Josh Richardson, Trey Burke
Notable Losses: Jimmy Butler, JJ Redick, TJ McConnell, Boban Marjanovic

The Sixers did well to preserve some shooting by keeping Tobias Harris on a long-term deal, but the loss of Jimmy Butler could certainly put a stain on their championship aspirations. They did manage to snatch Al Horford away from Boston on a surprise deal, which should create major defensive problems for their opposition, while also solidifying their starting five as the tallest in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how Philadelphia stacks up against smaller lineups, and the loss of JJ Redick should be taken very seriously. Look for the Sixers to heavily recruit shooting talent throughout the season, and look for Ben Simmons to improve on his jump shot. Joel Embiid will be putting everything into this upcoming season, so 2020 will tell us a lot about the young stars of Philadelphia.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks

Notable Additions: Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Jon Leuer, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Dragan Bender, Frank Mason III
Notable Losses: Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Pau Gasol

Lots of NBA analysts see the Bucks continuing their regular season Eastern Conference dominance, but I see them sliding down the standings by a few spots. Losing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic should prove to be challenging for the Bucks to deal with. Brogdon gave Eric Bledsoe a perfect simultaneous running mate and backup depending on how Milwaukee wanted to line up, and there will be plenty of pressure for Bledsoe (who is about to hit 30) to repeat a stellar defensive season. He will almost surely regress from his First Team All Defense status, while Mirotic gave them a great combination of size, shooting and defense. This team can prove me wrong if Giannis develops his shot at a faster rate than I would have expected, but I expect Milwaukee’s shooting core to streakily lose hold of many close games next season; there’s no way that Brooke Lopez has the same success from three next year, either. Their small market status forced them into handing Khris Middleton a sizable contract, and it’s hard to see this team stay atop the East when the rest of their competition (except for the Raptors) only got better.

  1. Brooklyn Nets

Notable Additions: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, Taurean Prince, David Nwaba
Notable Losses: D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham, Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

The Nets have built a roster that rivals the Clippers for the deepest roster in the NBA. They truly have an extensive rotation with over 10 players legitimately deserving of regular minutes, and Kevin Durant’s injury gives them a perfect opportunity to define their core. Expect Caris LaVert to take the step in his career that he was about to make last season before an injury put him on the sidelines and turned D’Angelo Russell into an All-Star. Kyrie Irving has adopted a public NBA image of being a difficult teammate and this season will show the fans that this has been yet another idea driven by the media and by a difficult situation in Boston. With so many players hoping to take a step in their career last year after a successful playoff run without Kyrie, the New Jersey native was doomed to fail in a scenario of having too many mouths to feed. Now, with an opportunity to make the team his own while Durant sits out and on a roster where players have openly accepted their roles, Irving is going to take Brooklyn by storm.

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  1. Indiana Pacers

Notable Additions: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ McConnell, TJ Warren, Justin Holiday
Notable Losses: Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Wesley Matthews, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Kyle O’Quinn

In a season that was pretty much forfeited after Victor Oladipo had a season-ending injury, the Pacers turned heads by staying competitive. Sixth man of the year candidate Domantas Sabonis took a big step last season, and the team added some key future contributors in Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb. Lamb and TJ Warren slot in as perfect replacements for Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young, while Brogdon certainly provides Indiana with an upgrade at point guard. While they can still certainly bolster their depth on the wing, Indiana should be a team that competes on a nightly basis, with at least three players looking to elevate their game into All Star territory.

  1. Detroit Pistons

Notable Additions: Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tony Snell, Sekou Doumbouya
Notable Losses: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith, Glenn Robinson III, Jon Leuer

I am a huge fan of the Detroit Pistons in 2020. They may not have made any huge alterations to their roster, but each of their additions added a layer to their team that they certainly needed. Derrick Rose comes in to back Reggie Jackson up at the point guard position, which will push Jackson to take his game more seriously. Rose adds the kind of grit that Blake Griffin has been longing for out of his teammates, and it looks like Detroit got a steal when they selected Doumbouya late in the first round of the draft. This team will wear their opposition out for 48 minutes, and head coach Dwane Casey should be pushing his team toward success all season long.

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  1. Toronto Raptors

Notable Additions: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Matt Thomas, Cameron Payne
Notable Losses: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green

On one hand, these guys just won the NBA title, so who cares about the fact that they lost their Finals MVP? On the other hand, with big money owed to aging ex-All Stars like Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry, this team’s window may have closed for the near future. Toronto showed me enough when Kawhi was rested last year for me to believe that they will still find a way into the playoffs, with Fred Van Fleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby continuing to develop into NBA mainstays. However, the amount of noise they’ll be able to make will certainly be limited. This team shapes up as a worse version of the Conley-Gasol Grizzlies.

  1. Miami Heat

Notable Additions: Jimmy Butler, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Herro
Notable Losses: Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, Ryan Anderson

Miami has been working towards softening the financial hole that they dug themselves into. They have made significant progress on this front, moving Hassan Whiteside and waiving Ryan Anderson. Granted, they still fall almost $6 million above the luxury tax bill, but managing to acquire Jimmy Butler in the midst of this situation is certainly a win. They should be continuing to work on a Goran Dragic trade to put them under the luxury tax threshold, but have built a competitive roster in the meantime. While Justise Winslow hasn’t completely lived up to his potential, he is still a solid contributor and the Heat is poised to benefit from a full season of Dion Waiters and a bigger role for Bam Adebayo. Miami got a steal in the draft in Tyler Herro, whose shooting will surely be coveted by Miami, giving him plenty of minutes. Miami should sneak into the playoffs after narrowly missing out last season.

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  1. Atlanta Hawks

Notable Additions: Jabari Parker, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Evan Turner, Damian Jones, Chandler Parsons, Allen Crabbe
Notable Losses: Vince Carter, DeWayne Dedmon, Omari Spellman, Miles Plumlee, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince

Atlanta is poised to make a big jump this season, perhaps a bit more quickly than people may have expected. After a hugely successful draft in which their two top-ten picks translated into De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, the Hawks have young talent at pretty much every position. They’ll miss Taurean Prince, but Trae Young showed All-Star ability in the second half of last season and John Collins is one of the league’s best up-and-coming big guys. Jabari Parker comes in with plenty to prove and nothing to lose, but the Hawks should fall just short of a playoff appearance. The team still needs a bit more, as they are taking the opportunity this year to collect more assets and take on large contracts since their best players are on their rookie deals. Atlanta should be this season’s Brooklyn Nets, as they gear up to compete at an even higher level in 2021.

  1. Orlando Magic

Notable Additions: Al-Farouq Aminu, Chuma Okeke
Notable Losses: Jerian Grant, Timofey Mozgov

Orlando continues to tread in no-man’s land, compiling mid-level talent in every position that isn’t a guard. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are nice complementary pieces, but putting them at the head of a team is a recipe for disappointment. The team did well to re-sign Vucevic and Terrence Ross, but may have paid too much to keep players that will get them a low seed in the playoffs at best. Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba remain promising prospects, but the team really needs a quality ball handler to take them to the next level. Orlando took on Markelle Fultz, gambling that he could potentially reach the prospective level that made him the number one overall pick, which was the right move considering the lack of attention that Orlando gets from big-name free agents. However, I would have loved to see them go harder after a player like Terry Rozier, who signed a contract with Charlotte. If Fultz gets good, they could surprise some people.

  1. Washington Wizards

Notable Additions: Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Davis Bertans, CJ Miles, Jemerrio Jones, Jonathon Simmons, Rui Hachimura
Notable Losses: Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Trevor Ariza, Tomas Satoransky, Jeff Green, Dwight Howard

The Wizards just recently announced Tommy Sheppard as their new GM, which could explain the lack of direction shown from all of the moves that they have made prior to his appointment. Aside from Bradley Beal, Washington essentially lost every good thing that they had going for them to free agency. Portis, Ariza, Satoransky, Parker and Green were probably the five next best players on the team last season in that order, and they would have done well to at least keep two of them. On the bright side, Rui Hachimura is a promising upcoming rookie who should get plenty of minutes right away, and if Isaiah Thomas truly feels as good as he says he does, we could be looking at a dangerous backcourt tandem. It puzzles me that Washington went and signed players like Davis Bertans and CJ Miles, who are probably done developing and belong on a playoff-bound roster. Perhaps they are simply building up assets and plan to make some trade deadline deals to offload them for picks. Regardless, their financial flexibility is stunted by John Wall’s massive contract, who continues to make money for sitting on the bench due to his injury. The Wizards may need to consider trading Bradley Beal and pressing the reset button soon.

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  1. New York Knicks

Notable Additions: Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, Ignas Brazdeikis, Marcus Morris
Notable Losses: DeAndre Jordan, Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke, Luke Kornet

The Knicks won’t be THAT bad in 2020. The future could certainly look brighter, but their rotation is deep and coach Fizdale will make sure that they’re fun to watch. At PG, Dennis Smith Jr. will get another chance to convert his athleticism into All Star ability with backup from the long Frank Ntilikina. At the two, RJ Barrett comes in with pundits brashly declaring him a surefire future All Star, with the fearless Alonzo Trier coming off the bench with something to prove. Last year’s top pick for the Knicks, Kevin Knox, will look to take a big leap while second round rookie sensation Iggy Brazdeikis hopes to solidify his spot in the league. At the four, the Knicks have a wealth of options, as Julius Randle looks to take his game to the next level, while having Taj Gibson provide veteran bench presence and having Bobby Portis play the sixth man role. DeAndre Jordan going across town to the Nets opens up more time for Mitchell Robinson at the five. Past these players, New York paid Marcus Morris after he had second thoughts about signing with the Spurs, which didn’t really make sense for the fit of the team, but made sense in regards to recruiting the best available talent. The Knicks’ season will likely be a better version of what they did last season, staggering minutes so that everybody gets a chance to shine, playing the hot hand on a night-to-night basis. This provides an opportunity for all of Fizdale’s players to grow, but also limits the time that certain players have to stand out. This team still needs a few years but I don’t know what everybody’s crying about – at least their money isn’t tied up in trash.

  1. Chicago Bulls

Notable Additions: Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, Luke Kornet
Notable Losses: Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday

The Bulls didn’t waste time adding any useless players this offseason. They signed Tomas Satoransky to a affordable multi-year deal in a move to give rookie Coby White some competition at the point guard position, which gives them some depth at every position. Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen round out their immediate rotation, giving Chicago a fun roster that could challenge opposing teams every night. Though Chicago is not yet ready to make a playoff push, this young team is certainly on its way up and could become a contender for free agents in 2020 if they show some promise this season.

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  1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Notable Additions: Kevin Porter Jr., Darius Garland
Notable Losses: David Nwaba, Marquese Chriss, Channing Frye, JR Smith

Cleveland still has plenty of bad contracts on its books from the LeBron era, and their lack of cap flexibility has kept them from adding any meaningful free agents in 2019. Their biggest additions come in the form of rookie talent, with two first round studs in Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. Those two look to team up with a young core made up of Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman and Larry Nance Jr. in a race to lose as many games as possible. Even when the Cavs do indeed free up cap space, it will be difficult to recruit free agents to come to Cleveland, so their best chance is to trade Kevin Love at some point this year and continue to build their collection of assets. This team will likely own one of the top three picks in next year’s draft.

  1. Charlotte Hornets

Notable Additions: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington
Notable Losses: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky, Tony Parker

The Hornets decided that giving Kemba a max deal and wallowing in mediocrity for the foreseeable future was not for them. There is little that Charlotte could have done to advance their roster, given that they have so much money tied up in players like Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (almost $86 million). Surely none of them figure into their long-term plans, leaving the future of the franchise to a young trio of Rozier, Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. Charlotte would do well to tank their season away and contend for the a top spot in the draft lottery.

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Western Conference

  1. LA Clippers

Notable Additions: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Maurice Harkless
Notable Losses: Garrett Temple, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrone Wallace

There is about to be a war in Los Angeles. This team has few defensive shortcomings, with a core group of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverly and Montrezl Harrell. Reigning sixth man of the year Lou Williams adds some legitimate offensive firepower off the bench. Leonard and George have both confirmed that they will not be taking games off this season due to “load management”, so we can expect this team to bring a fully-loaded attack every night. The Clippers get the nod over the Lakers because of their depth and because their star players also shoot threes at a high clip. The Lakers may still top the Clippers come playoff time, but the regular season is almost undoubtedly theirs.

  1. LA Lakers

Notable Additions: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley, Kostas Antetokounmpo
Notable Losses: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones, Mike Muscala, Reggie Bullock

The Lakers managed to do very well with the cap space that was left over after they signed Anthony Davis. DeMarcus Cousins may not currently be the player that he used to be, but there is star potential every time that he is on the basketball court. Danny Green is one of the best three-and-D players in the league, and they did well to bring Rajon Rondo back. This team will likely forfeit some games in the regular season in an effort to keep their stars rested, but will be firing on all cylinders come playoff time. If Kyle Kuzma makes a jump this year, it could make the difference in this team running away with an NBA title.

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  1. Utah Jazz

Notable Additions: Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay
Notable Losses: Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, Grayson Allen, Derrick Favors

Donovan Mitchell suffered a bit of a sophomore slump in the first half of last season, but certainly picked up the pace at the end of the year. The young star is certainly on his way to superstardom, and there may be no better veteran point guard to guide him there than Mike Conley. Conley is notoriously underrated and certainly a step up from Ricky Rubio, and gives the Jazz a top five backcourt in the NBA. Bojan Bogdanovic had a sneakily good season in 2019 and provides shooting, size and defense on the wing in a lot of the same ways that Joe Ingles provides those things. Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay provide the Jazz with energy and athleticism off the bench, while Ed Davis comes in as a cheaper version of Derrick Favors. Not to mention that their starting center, Rudy Gobert, is coming off of his second DPOY trophy, capping off an elite defensive team roster.

  1. Houston Rockets

Notable Additions: Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore
Notable Losses: Chris Paul, Iman Shumpert, Nene Hilario, Kenneth Faried

I think that this is going to work. Russell Westbrook has been through enough storylines to fill an entire career, and he has to be exhausted with the noise. He will look to put any accusations of stat padding away this year as he teams back up with James Harden, who started his career as a sixth man in Oklahoma City. My main concern for this team does not have to do with ball dominance, as the rest of the league seems to expect; this was the same concern that we had for the Rockets when they signed Chris Paul, and they seemed to do much fine. Westbrook knows Harden well, and will be willing to split duties of bringing the ball up the court accordingly. Rather, my concern lies with Westbrook’s openness to letting Harden be the number one guy. Harden is far and away the better scorer among the two, but in their last stint together, he was the third option. Westbrook must come to terms with the fact that Harden’s offensive game has surpassed his own, and that his main role on the team is as a distributor. Still, the intensity that Russ brings to the court every night is one of a kind and will be the key to pushing Houston over the hump that Chris Paul was never able to do. Paul is a great defender, but he gives up much more size than Westbrook does, and is about a quarter of the athlete that he is. The Rockets have great shooting, which Westbrook has never had from a supporting cast, and many of their shooters are also exceptional athletes. This Rockets team will undergo an adjustment period to start, but will be locked and loaded for the playoffs. They’re also my extra-early prediction to lead the Western Conference standings in 2021.

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  1. Denver Nuggets

Notable Additions: Jerami Grant, Bol Bol
Notable Losses: Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles

Denver hasn’t added many contributors in the offseason, but bring back the same exact core that took them to a second seed in the West last season. This young squad can only be optimistic as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic get another offseason of development. They did well to sign Gary Harris and Jokic to extensions in 2017 and 2018 respectively, allowing them to ensure two of their three most important players long-term while not having to pay 2019’s inflated contractual norms. They also bolstered their young core through the draft by stashing a steal for the second consecutive year. Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol’s success in the NBA may be a mystery, but with one of the deepest rotations in the west, Denver has the luxury of being able to give them two of their 15 roster spots. They fall from second to fifth in the west, simply because of the competition.

  1. Golden State Warriors

Notable Additions: D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Omari Spellman, Shabazz Napier, Treveon Graham
Notable Losses: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Quinn Cook, Damian Jones, Jordan Bell, Shaun Livingston

Golden State will be lining up very differently from how they lined up this past season. I actually think that the Warriors did a decent job of recouping assets after Kevin Durant’s departure. This season marked the end of the Warriors dynasty for many core players like KD, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, with other promising players looking for new homes and expanded roles as well. Many NBA fans half-expect the Warriors to trade D’Angelo Russell elsewhere after Klay Thompson returns from injury, despite signing him to a max deal. In this scenario, Golden State has put together a roster that could compete in Thompson’s absence, still fielding three all-stars. Thompson signing his max deal means that the Warriors now have three guards under max contracts. They could theoretically deploy Thompson at the wing given his size, but that still leaves two ball-dominant guards and leaves no wiggle room to finance their frontcourt. Draymond Green will be expecting a payday at the end of the season, so it will be interesting to see how long D-Lo stays on this team. As for their regular season success – it seems to hinge on Steph Curry’s performance. Many expect the two-time MVP to put up video game numbers this year, which would surely merit a playoff spot. Regardless of ball dominance, D-Lo proved himself to be an elite shooter last season, which could amount to a new set of splash bros in the bay area.

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  1. Portland Trailblazers

Notable Additions: Hassan Whiteside, Mario Hezonja, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, Nassir Little, Pau Gasol
Notable Losses: Seth Curry, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Enes Kanter, Evan Turner, Jake Layman, Meyers Leonard

I love the moves that Portland made this offseason, but this team will take the brunt of the fact that the West is stacked. The only reason that this team isn’t higher in the standings is because of how good the other teams are. Portland is better than Denver, but it’s hard to play at Denver’s home court, so they’ll end with a better regular season record. I don’t expect there to be a huge gap between playoff team records in the West, so this is a deceptive seventh seed. Hassan Whiteside provides a high-level fill-in for Jusuf Nurkic as he recovers from injury, and it is good to finally see Portland move past their horrible wing depth. While Kent Bazemore’s contract is equally as bad as Evan Turner’s deal, at least it provides a fresh face and a more athletic skillset. Mario Hezonja showed flashes of promise in New York last season, and Pau Gasol is a perfect veteran to discipline Whiteside. They also got a steal in the draft in Nassir Little, and Anfernee Simons had an incredible Summer League. They’ll miss Seth Curry, but Rodney Hood can more than fill his role and it’s important that they got rid of so many players who are good enough to be in the rotation, but not good enough to contribute to winning. Portland is still one player away from contending for the Western Conference title, but they are definitely on the right track.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Notable Additions: Trey Lyles, DeMarre Carroll
Notable Losses: Davis Bertans

The Spurs had a very Spurs-y offseason, which could translate to success in the regular season. We all expected Gregg Popovich to regress into retirement after his big three left San Antonio, but his resolve is as strong as ever. The DeMarre Carroll addition adds much needed shooting depth to the most mid-range-heavy roster in the NBA. The Spurs front office is also extremely eager to finally get Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray back from injury, as well. Murray was supposed to make a massive jump last year, so expect him to slot in as the second or third offensive option and one of the best defenders on the team. With a mix of veteran players like Rudy Gay and promising young players like Derrick White, continuity should play a large factor in this team’s success.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans

Notable Additions: Zion Williamson, Jaxon Hayes, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Nicolo Melli
Notable Losses: Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Solomon Hill, Stanley Johnson, Cheick Diallo

This team recouped their losses in the best way after Anthony Davis requested a trade. Their haul from the Lakers, coupled with their stellar draft night gives them a hyper-talented roster with several options at each position. Zion Williamson is obviously a generational talent, but people aren’t talking enough about Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, their other first round draft picks this past summer. They performed very well in Summer League, and will get a chance to continue their development alongside Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram. I’m a Lonzo believer; his perimeter defense is elite and his speed, vision and passing is also among the NBA’s best. Ingram is still 22, giving him plenty of time to keep filling out his body. Players like Derrick Favors, JJ Redick, Jahlil Okafor and Nicolo Melli provide plenty of high-level support, while Jrue Holiday is still a top-ten two-way guard in the NBA. This team will challenge for a playoff spot right away, but will need to build a bit more experience before they get over the hump.

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  1. Sacramento Kings

Notable Additions: Trevor Ariza, DeWayne Dedmon, Corey Joseph, Richuan Holmes, Tyler Lydon
Notable Losses: Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks

Sacramento improved in the offseason, but the problem is that so did the rest of the NBA. I would liken this 2020 roster to that of the LA Clippers last season; it’s not like they have an electric sixth man as their scoring focal point but what they do have is heaps of talented players who have something to prove. Much like the Clippers, the team will look to continue developing their core while staying competitive and making a playoff push. Players like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harry Giles can easily reach higher ceilings, especially with veterans like Harrison Barnes, Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon to direct them. Vlade Divac knew who he wanted early on in free agency, and decided to focus on lower-level free agents and secure them right away. This was a smart move, given that Sacramento would struggle to compete for the same level free agents as some of the bigger name NBA teams. This could mitigate their future cap space, but this team already has plenty of young talent to build around. The Kings will continue to show the energy and speed that they showed last season, as Fox continues to make his case as my favorite player in the NBA.

  1. Dallas Mavericks

Notable Additions: Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Boban Marjanovic
Notable Losses: Kostas Antetokounmpo

Lots of NBA analysts have the Mavs as their dark horse to sneak into the playoffs in 2020 with a late seed. I believe the hype that the duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are quietly attracting, but I think that they’re one year away from showing their talent. Porzingis won’t be his dominant self this upcoming season because he is still recovering from a torn ACL, and Luka’s supporting cast doesn’t have enough to support a playoff run. Seth Curry was a nice pickup after he solidified himself as a starting-caliber player in his time with Portland, and Jalen Brunson showed flashes of talent last season. Delon Wright’s contract gives Dallas a solid long-term backup for a good price, but their flexibility is limited because of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee’s contracts. They also didn’t need to pay Dwight Powell eight figures. Expect this team to show promise and expect Luka to take another step, but it could be a year until they start seriously competing.

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  1. Memphis Grizzlies

Notable Additions: Ja Morant, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill, Miles Plumlee, Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Tyus Jones, Andre Iguodala
Notable Losses: Delon Wright, Mike Conley Jr., CJ Miles, Chandler Parsons, Avery Bradley

I am loving the project that is going on in Memphis. This team has been building a roster of gritty players that are tough to play against every single night. Despite being a few years away from contending, the Grizzlies will be very pesky on both ends of the floor and look poised to be that high-energy team that exceeds expectations. Jaren Jackson Jr.’s rookie season showed a ton of promise, and Jonas Valanciunas put up some of the most impressive late-season numbers in 2019 when he was shipped to Memphis in the Marc Gasol trade. They took low-risk high-reward gambles when they picked up Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and Grayson Allen, and picked up some elite wing defenders in Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. The Grizzlies want to trade Iggy, but will not buy him out, meaning there is a chance that he stays put. This rag-tag squad is rounded out by second overall pick Ja Morant, who has a chance to truly be special. I’m very excited to watch this team surprise people with their rapid ascension as 2020’s version of the 2019 Sacramento Kings.

  1. Phoenix Suns

Notable Additions: Ricky Rubio, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, Cheick Diallo
Notable Losses: Richuan Holmes, Troy Daniels, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, TJ Warren, Tyson Chandler, Dragan Bender

The Suns are getting there, but it’s taking much longer than Devin Booker would have hoped. Phoenix’s frontcourt is coming together, as DeAndre Ayton is expected to continue progressing, while Dario Saric opens up their spacing. They got Kelly Oubre Jr. back on a two-year deal, giving them a short-term solution on the wing. They still need more from that position, as good wing play has become a key to success in the NBA. Phoenix and Minnesota were expecting to fight over D’Angelo Russell before he surprised the league with a move to Golden State. This meant that they had to fall back on Ricky Rubio, who is nobody’s first option as a free agent pickup, but will – again – do the job. To make the playoffs in the West, the Suns need more than just guys who will sufficiently fill a space; they need dynamic contributors. With Booker inked to a max deal, the Suns are in no rush to win now, but would like to show some progress if they don’t want their young star to hand in a trade request.

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  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Notable Additions: Jake Layman, Jarrett Culver, Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Bell
Notable Losses: Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Tyus Jones, Anthony Tolliver, Dario Saric

I believe that the success of this team depends on – Andrew Wiggins. We’ve been looking for Wiggins to take that leap his entire career, and we are still waiting. Despite his young age and room for development, Karl Anthony-Towns has convinced me that he will never be better than the third best player on a championship team, or the second best player on a playoff team. He has a diverse skillset, but his demeanor and approach to the game tells me that he cannot be a centerpiece. However, if Wiggins finally turns his career around and performs the way that he needs to, the Wolves can certainly compete for a late seed. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee this coming to fruition, given the lack of progress we have seen thus far from the 2014 top pick. Minnesota lost key contributors in Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Dario Saric, and failed to acquire a top-tier free agent. Robert Covington’s return is good news, but don’t expect this team to win many games in 2020.

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Notable Additions: Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul
Notable Losses: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Markieff Morris, Jerami Grant

This team isn’t nearly bad enough on paper to merit a last place finish in the Western Conference, but we also know that this team will not be staying together. There is never pleasure in losing two all-stars, but Sam Presti managed to generate double-digit returns in future first-round picks, giving OKC reason to be optimistic. The Thunder will look to trade Chris Paul’s lucrative contract for more assets, and as the team shows a lack of competitive ability, they will continue to trade their veterans. Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams are solid players, but they are also overpaid for their production and are likely to be traded as well. The one current bright spot on the roster is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who showed on the Clippers last season that he can play. This team gives him a better development opportunity than he had in LA, but don’t expect them to win many games. From a pure talent perspective, this roster is no worse than the Magic’s roster, but their placement in the stacked Western Conference doesn’t do them any favors.

Best Free Agents Still Available

Point Guard: Jerryd Bayless, Jeremy Lin, Jerian Grant, Shaun Livingston, Shane Larkin, Devin Harris, Jose Calderon, Raymond Felton, Chasson Randle
Shooting Guard: Iman Shumpert, Lance Stephenson, Vince Carter, Jamal Crawford, Jodie Meeks, Monta Ellis, Joe Johnson
Small Forward: Lance Thomas, Corey Brewer, Thabo Sefolosha, Carmelo Anthony, Justin Anderson, Luol Deng, Sam Dekker
Power Forward: Ryan Anderson, Kenneth Faried, Marquese Chriss, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jonas Jerebko, Dante Cunningham, Amir Johnson
Center: Timofey Mozgov, Nene Hilario, Joakim Noah, Zaza Pachulia, Amar’e Stoudemire

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There is plenty of veteran locker room leadership still available on the market, and many of these players are still serviceable on the court. Players like Shaun Livingston, Jamal Crawford and Iman Shumpert could provide any contending team with a strong rotation piece who knows his role, while players like Shane Larkin and Marquese Chriss still have the potential to develop their game. I’m also interested to see which NBA veterans successfully make a comeback to the league, with guys like Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, Monta Ellis and Amar’e Stoudemire looking to revive their careers. NBA fans will also look forward to Vince Carter’s decision on where he wants to end his lengthy career.

The All NBA Overpaid Team

The NBA operates on a soft salary cap, which has translated into several ludicrous contracts in recent history. This not only attributes to inflation, the latest collecting bargaining agreement and ownership’s necessity to put out a successful product, but it also speaks to the shifting power dynamics within the league. Players in basketball have more bargaining power than ever, which has understandably resulted in some players earning far beyond their worth. This not only shifts the power imbalance within the league, but it also compromises the amount of flexibility that a team may have. A team deep into the luxury tax without legitimate winning aspirations (Wizards, Cavs, etc.) faces few options in reversing its fortune, rendering it stagnant and forcing a rebuild. Players will then be traded for less than their market value, further deepening the cycle of loss, as the team hopes to strike gold in the draft lottery. These kinds of concerns reflect the importance of paying players adequately, and cutting costs where possible.

Players who are on the last years of their deal or with a team option have been left off the list. Additionally, while some NBA stars are being tremendously overpaid, their value and usage as players will usually make for a better deal than that of a player who gets paid a bit less but never plays. Without further ado, here are the 15 most overpaid players in the league, with some honorable mentions at the end.

First Team

Otto Porter Jr. (WSH): $27m owed for next 2 years + 1 year PO for same amount – When it comes to Otto Porter, the Wizards trapped themselves in a deal that could very well be the reason for their lackluster season. As a restricted free agent in 2017, the Brooklyn Nets offered Porter 4 years, $106 million – and the Wizards matched the offer sheet. Given that this happened later into free agency, the Wizards had few options to replace his production, especially as a promising young player who is prototypically catered for today’s game. Don’t get me wrong; Otto Porter is a good player who can catch and shoot, play efficient basketball and get back on defense. Unfortunately, Porter seems to be showing some signs of regression after improving in each of his previous seasons, and he is simply not worth three more years of $27 milion.

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Nicolas Batum (CHA): $25.5m owed for next 2 years + 1 year PO for same amount – While the Hornets are currently surging behind big performances from Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum slows down their development as a relevant team in the East. In 2016, Batum signed a 5 year, $120 million extension with the Hornets after posting solid career numbers in his first year with MJ’s team. Charlotte backloaded this deal so that they had to pay less of it in the first few years, which will come back to hurt them in these important upcoming seasons. As Kemba continues to prove his ability, the Hornets will be sure to make some moves as to make room for his max contract, while also improving their roster, meaning that Batum could be on the move.

Chandler Parsons (MEM): $24.5m owed for next 2 years – This is likely the worst contract in the NBA. Since signing a max deal worth 4 years, $94.8 million in 2016 with Memphis after posting encouraging stats in Dallas, Parsons has shown that he has nothing left in the tank. He hasn’t been able to return to his previous form since coping with injury, which has resulted in only 73 games in the past three seasons, having been unable to eclipse 20 MPG or 8 PPG. Memphis is stuck paying a backloaded sum for the next two years, for a player with no trade value.

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Ryan Anderson (PHX): $18m owed for next 2 years – Houston was finally able to offload Ryan Anderson this past offseason after agreeing to pay him $80 million over 4 years in 2016. This deal is not as bad as it initially seems, because the Rockets front-loaded his salary, and Phoenix only owes him $15.6 million next season. The Suns can also afford to absorb the $20.4 million payout that he is owed this season, given their wealth of young talent. Anderson has only played 20 MPG this season and is averaging less than 5 PPG on horrible shooting.

Timofey Mozgov (ORL): $16.4m owed for next 2 years – Mozgov is a product of one of the most head-scratching deals in recent history. In the 2016 offseason, the Lakers signed Mozgov to a four year, $64 million deal. This money came completely unprecedented, given that Mozgov was averaging 6 PPG and 4 RPG in 18 MPG the year before. Unsurprisingly, this deal was quickly labeled a mistake, and the Lake show immediately traded him to Brooklyn a year later. Today, Mozgov gets paid more than Clint Capela, yet hasn’t played a single minute in Orlando. I’d be surprised to find this man playing more than 10 MPG in the NBA ever again.

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Second Team

Tristan Thompson (CLE): $18m owed for next 2 years – Whether it was a result of scrambling or a result of courting LeBron, the Cavs offered a bevy of players ludicrous contracts in the past decade. One of these players is big man Tristan Thompson, who signed a 5-year, $82 million deal in 2015. Since the deal, the big man showed little signs of improvement, showing a lack of versatility. This most recently culminated in his being dropped down in the Cavs’ rotation this past postseason, seeing his MPG decrease to 22. Thompson still produces, averaging a double-double for the league’s worst team in the league, but this is likely due to the fact that Kevin Love has been injured. Expect Thompson to be a role player for the rest of his career.

George Hill (CLE): $18.5m owed for next 2 years – The Sacramento Kings signed Hill to a 3-year, $57 million deal in 2017, with plans for him to mentor then-rookie D’Aaron Fox. With multiple promising young guards on this roster, Sacramento eventually offloaded this deal to the desperate Cavs amidst their mid-season rebuild to keep the Cavs in contention for a playoff run and keep LeBron. Cleveland eventually made the Finals, but Hill proved to be underwhelming. Neither the Kings nor the Cavs were able to replicate the production he had for the Jazz in the season prior to his deal, putting Cleveland in the unfortunate position of owing star-level money to an average point guard.

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Evan Turner (POR): $18m owed for next 2 years – Turner was always a solid defensive two-guard who thrived in a bench role with the Celtics in 2016. That, coupled with a 17.4 PPG season in 2014 with Philadelphia gave Portland enough confidence to offer him $70 million over four years. Turner has played an integral bench role for Portland over the years, but his overall performance and lackluster shooting certainly does not merit the price tag.

Allen Crabbe (BKN): $18.5m owed for next year + 1 year PO for same amount – As a restricted free agent in 2016, Crabbe leveraged Brooklyn’s 4-year, $75 million offer to get his Portland Trail Blazers to match a lofty offer sheet. Just as the Nets did to the Wizards, Portland was left to overpay another bench player. Crabbe eventually found his way onto the Nets anyway, but has started less than half of his games this season and is shooting a .306 FG% on 8 PPG. After completing this deal, Crabbe will likely be a bench guy for the rest of his career.

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Hassan Whiteside (MIA): $25.4m owed for next year + 1 year PO for same amount – There was a time when it seemed like Whiteside was worth every penny of this four-year max deal. He re-signed after a 14 PPG, 12 RPG, 4 BPG season on extremely productive shooting, but has shown little character after collecting his paycheck. A promising first season of the deal was followed by a 2017-2018 season full of disappointment, even being benched in fourth quarters. It seemed as though Whiteside had taken a step back in his career, and while this season looks like an improvement from last year, much remains to be sought after. Whiteside finds himself on this list because despite still putting up a respectable 13 PPG, 14 RPG and 3 BPG this season, his shooting is less productive than ever, he has been committing more fouls than ever, and his character in the locker room is simply not worth the talent.

Third Team

Tyler Johnson (MIA): $19.2m owed for next year + 1 year PO for same amount – The Heat overpay plenty of players, and none of them are more unknown than Tyler Johnson. This man is a mystery to any NBA fan who lives outside of Miami. In reality, Johnson is a solid two-guard who brings plenty of energy and speed. These qualities are hardly worth the lofty price tag, and despite being young and having plenty of time to turn his career around, there is little expectation that he lives up to the money. Johnson hasn’t started this season after only starting half of the Heat’s games last year, and has seen his minutes and production consistently decrease since signing a four-year, $50 million offer sheet with the Nets, which was matched by the Heat. This deal was heavily backloaded, and Johnson is owed almost 80% of the money over the next two years.

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Gorgui Dieng (MIN): $16m owed for next 3 years – Dieng signed a four-year, $64 million contract for the Timberwolves in 2016 to keep him through 2021. Minnesota essentially gambled on Dieng’s development as a player, and lost. A defensive specialist who sets good picks and has some range, the Senegalese international has declined in his last two years because of his offensive limitations. Dieng gets paid big money to play backup to KAT, and will likely continue to play a bench role for the rest of his career.

Ian Mahinmi (WSH): $15.9m owed for next 2 years – This veteran has averaged more than 20 MPG in only one season in his NBA career. Washington decided to give him the same contract as Dieng after averaging 9 PPG, 7 RPG and playing hard defense for the Indiana Pacers post-Roy Hibbert. The big man wouldn’t see the floor on any other team in the NBA, but has been forced into action this year because of Washington’s lack of big men. Still, he hasn’t had less minutes since 2011, and gives the Wizards zero wiggle room when it comes to cap space.

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JR Smith (CLE): $15m owed for next 2 years – Everyone’s least favorite player re-signed with Cleveland in 2016 following their NBA title and a lengthy contract dispute. The deal came to four-years, $57 million, keeping an aging locker room distraction who is on the decline for much more than he is worth. The detrimental effects of these contracts have only become evident upon LeBron’s departure, when his presence would guarantee a constant inclusion in the finals, and therefore a justification for the payouts.

Bismack Biyombo (CHA): $17m owed for next year + 1 year PO for same amount – Biyombo’s payday came as a product of his performance in the 2016 playoffs with the Toronto Raptors. His rim-protection was highly coveted by the Magic, enough for them to offer him a whopping four-year, $72 million deal. As a combination of seeing his minutes decline in Orlando, the drafting of Jonathan Isaac in 2017 and Mo Bamba in 2018 and the play of Nikola Vucevic, Biyombo was dealt to Charlotte in a deal that swapped him with Mozgov. This deal was likely done as a favor to Biyombo, who could potentially revitalize his career with the Hornets. Unfortunately, the Congolese international has been unable to pass Cody Zeller and Willy Hernangomez on the depth chart.

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Honorable Mention

Brandon Knight (HOU): $15m owed for next 2 years – Hasn’t played all year, part of Houston’s dump of Ryan Anderson, could potentially see minutes when healthy.
Solomon Hill (NO): $12.7m owed for next 2 years – Has barely played in last two seasons with low production, but contract isn’t big enough to make the list.
Marvin Williams (CHA): $14.5m owed for next year + 1 year PO for same amount – Long time NBA journeyman, hasn’t been bad (career 10.5 PPG)
Miles Plumlee (ATL): $12.5m owed for next 2 years – Averages 12 MPG for one of the worst teams in the leauge, solid defender and relatively efficient on offense, but one dimensional and a dime a dozen. Hawks don’t really need the cap space though.

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Meyers Leonard (POR): $11m owed owed for next 2 years – Great size but stopped developing after getting paid. Hasn’t played 20 MPG in three years.
Matthew Dellevadova (MIL): $9.6m owed for next 2 years – Contract is a product of his hard play in the playoffs on the Cavs, lacks high athletic ceiling, hasn’t played much.
Cristiano Felicio (CHI): $8.1m owed for next 3 years – Only 15 MPG on a bad NBA team, doesn’t look like he will get much time over next three years when he is on contract.
Harrison Barnes (DAL): $24.5m owed for next year + 1 year PO for same amount – Gets paid like a star but could never be better than the fourth player on a championship team. Still, didn’t make top 15 because he has averaged 18 PPG since joining the Mavs.

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LeBron’s Near Triple Double not Enough in Lakers Debut

An interesting stat ran across the screen as the TNT crew talked about how LeBron James’ teams have won at least 50 games in the last six seasons – the Los Angeles Lakers have not won 50 games since the 2010-2011 season, in which Kobe Bryant was still a major part of their team.

LeBron came out to a mix of cheers and boos from the crowd in Portland as he geared up for his first game as a Laker. LA made many moves in the offseason including signings of James, Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley.

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The Lakers came out looking like they had put the pieces together, but their play declined after every quarter. LeBron finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists in his debut for the Lakers, but this collective team showed that they have a long way to go. Josh Hart led the bench in scoring with 20 points, Brandon Ingram added 16 and Kyle Kuzma put up 15. These sound like fine outputs, but the stat lines do not show how much this team struggled. They made their first three pointer in the third quarter and were outrebounded by the Blazers big men.

Here is a quarter-by-quarter analysis of how the Lakers started their season:

It did not take long for LeBron to get things going, throwing down back-to-back tomahawk slams in the first three minutes of the game, instantly making Moda Center come alive. LeBron picked up right where he started as he continued to show his leadership and court vision in the first quarter. The King seemed as though he had a hand in every possession, just as he has done for most of his career. LeBron had no problems getting to the basket and continued to get the ball to his young teammates for easy scores. Taking his first break with three minutes to go in the first quarter, the Lakers went into the timeout with a six-point lead. The Blazers immediately took advantage of his absence and went on an 11-2 run to take control of the game. This development shows the kinds of game plans that Western conference teams will take against LeBron’s Lakers, while also showing just how big an impact LeBron had been having on the LA offense.

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The Blazers started off the second quarter just how they finished the first. Frustration from the Lakers became evident as they turned the ball over and continued to take bad shots. The pressure mounted for the Lakers as they went down by double digits. LeBron also picked up his third foul in the first half, which did not help the Lakers’ case as they continued trying to get back into the game. The Lakers rallied as LeBron sat on the bench for the last four minutes of the second quarter, surging off of solid play from youngster Josh Hart and veteran Rajon Rondo. The entire team failed to score a three pointer for the whole first half. Despite going 0-12 from beyond the arc, they only trailed by two heading into the second half.

The Lakers continued to struggle from the three-point line in the second half, a main contributor to their loss. They saw Brandon Ingram come to life in the third quarter (off of many LeBron passes) to bring the Lakers back into the game. The third quarter turned out to be the most exciting one so far as the Lakers and Blazers both upped the tempo and traded baskets back and forth.

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LA looked sloppy for the first six minutes to open the fourth quarter. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum caught fire for the Blazers as it seemed that the Lakers just did not have it. They got within two possessions throughout the fourth quarter, but just could not get over the hump. This was their 16th straight loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, but they will have three more chances to break this streak throughout the season. The Lakers and LeBron have their home debut on Saturday against the Houston Rockets.

10 Bold Predictions for the 2018 NBA Regular Season

My favorite time of year is nearing; a time in which baseball is dormant, and everybody’s sights are set on NBA basketball (with some football and hockey sprinkled in). After the first two days of the regular season, some inklings have been solidified as a solid possibility, while other outcomes seem more unlikely. Here are ten outcomes that you should keep your eye on throughout the year.

1. New Orleans will finish as a top three seed in the West.

In addition to the Pelicans looking really good, the Rockets (their biggest threat besides the Warriors) don’t look to hot. I can definitely see them missing the defensive intensity that Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute brought every night, and New Orleans has tons of weapons that can go off on any given night. Four players totaled more than 20 points last night, and Elfrid Payton turned in a triple double. Combining a savvy passer like Payton with a dominant player like AD maximizes Payton’s skillset and makes it seem as though Rondo never left. Nikola Mirotic is streaky, but Julius Randle can provide relief that is just as productive as that of the sharpshooter from Montenegro. We haven’t even mentioned Jrue Holiday, who proved last year to be among the NBA’s elite defensive guards. Lastly, expect Davis to be among the top three in MVP voting, further boosting New Orleans’ chances.

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2. Andre Drummond will be a top ten player this year

Drummond has been slowly but surely working on every facet of his game, and it has translated into results that nobody had ever thought possible. Coach Dwane Casey has given Drummond the OK to shoot threes this year, and after improving his free throw percentage by nearly .250 last year, Drummond has become one of the most versatile bigs in the league. Combine this with likely the best rebounding in the league, and you get a top ten NBA player. Look out for the Pistons to sneak into the playoffs and develop into legitimate contenders once they can get rid of that Reggie Jackson contract.

3. Meet the new Raptors Big 3: Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and… Pascal Siakam

My Canadian housemate has been raving about this guy for weeks, and I didn’t want to believe him. However, Siakam won the starting job over Serge Ibaka on opening night, and made sure not to waste the opportunity. There are rumblings that Siakam has tailored his game to that of Draymond Green this season, playing a hard-working defensive supporting role that helps keep the ball moving while making plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. The man has range, a great eye for making passes, a complete defensive skillset, and a competitive mindset. Expect him to turn in an extremely productive season that gets him the respect that he deserves.

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4. The Brooklyn Nets make the playoffs

The Nets lost by three to the Pistons last night, but Brooklyn fans have to be optimistic. I don’t want to jump the gun on Caris LeVert being a star, but Jarrett Allen certainly looks like one. I’m optimistic that D’Angelo Russell will turn in a productive season, and Spencer Dinwiddie is one of the most underrated guards in the league. With Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Demarre Carroll all returning at different points in the season, it will be interesting to see how Brooklyn looks at full strength – they have seven or eight solid players throughout their rotation that should make them competitive on a nightly basis. Welcome back to the playoffs, Brooklyn.

5. Devin Booker will be an MVP candidate

At just 21 years old, Booker already looks like a seasoned veteran. The Kobe comparisons are very legitimate, and truthfully, the man already put up MVP numbers last year. The reason that Booker wasn’t in the conversation or even an all star was because of the Suns’ abysmal record. That should change this year with an extremely interesting roster led by some young studs with some solid veterans mixed in. Booker will have the ball in his hands frequently with very few options at point guard for the Suns, which should translate to incredible usage. Expect Booker to be a dark horse MVP candidate this season, and to be a potential 30PPG scorer.

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6. Washington Wizards will be a top four team in the East

After the Wizards finished with the eighth seed this past season, people have been quick to write Washington off. The narrative for this team last season was dominated by the drama between Marcin Gortat and John Wall along with John Wall’s injury and whether the team is better without him. The undeniable truth is that the Wizards need Wall, and with a more unified core this season, they are sure to improve. Washington improved their backcourt by adding proven starter Austin Rivers, and solidified their front-court by adding Dwight Howard, who is coming off of a resurgent season. Toronto, Boston and Philly are essential locks for a a top four finish in the East, and the Wizards’ main competition will likely come in the form of Milwaukee. I’m betting on the all star duo of Beal and Wall to beat out an MVP candidate in Giannis and a fringe-all star in Middleton to take that fourth spot in the East.

7. The second leading scorer for the Cavs this year will be… Cedi Osman

Osman is coming off of a lackluster rookie year, but showed many signs of promise with several postseason appearances. The Turk put up a solid stat line of 17-10-4 from the small forward position in the first game of the season, and also played the second most minutes on the team. His production will surely benefit from the lack of wing players on this team and the surplus of guards. Osman also worked out with LeBron and friends in the offseason, so he is sure to have a few new tricks up his sleeve. Look for Cedi to establish himself as one of the most reliable foreign players in today’s game.

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8. The San Antonio Spurs will comfortably make the playoffs with 50+ wins

Despite the lack of playing experience in San Antonio, DeMar DeRozan looks completely at home in San Antonio. Pop will surely maximize his abilities on the floor and tighten his defensive skillset to make him another MVP candidate this season. With Dejounte Murray out for the year, DeRozan will surely have the ball in his hands more frequently. LaMarcus Aldridge has shown that he can still play at a high level, and Rudy Gay continues to produce consistent offensive results. Keep in mind that the Spurs made the playoffs last year without Kawhi, so the addition of DeRozan puts them at another level.

9. Portland won’t make the playoffs, forcing a rebuild

The Trailblazers dug their own grave when they decided to pay Myers Leonard, Evan Turner and Mo Harkless the big bucks. These guys are decent players, but none of them should make more than $10 million annually, if that. It doesn’t help that they drafted two guards and spent their offseason adding, what do you know, another guard. Considering that Lillard and McCollum should each play at least 33 minutes per game respectively if they want a shot at greatness, that does not leave much time for the rest of their young prospects to develop or for Seth Curry to make a difference. Should they go with a smaller lineup, they will be consistently manhandled by western teams loaded with players that have freakish wingspans. Zach Collins, their lottery pick from last year, looks like a flop and sits behind Jusuf Nurkic at center to highlight an especially weak group at the forward positions. Portland will need to offload one of their stars in a deal that frees up cap space for them, and barring any interesting moves, it looks like they are headed for disaster.

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10. Terry Rozier will be traded before the deadline

Scary Terry put himself on the map last season, and with Kyrie verbalizing his long-term commitment to Boston, it doesn’t seem like the Celtics will be able to hold on to Rozier much longer. Marcus Smart has proven to be a serviceable backup and just signed an extension. Boston will look to get value out of Rozier before he leaves for nothing in the next offseason, and with teams like Phoenix, Denver, Orlando and Indiana still looking for a long-term solution at point guard, they could get some great assets in return.

 

Let’s Talk About the Western Conference: Too Much Talent

It is unbelievably difficult to predict the outcome of this upcoming Western Conference regular season. A few certainties come to mind, but only two teams seem unwaveringly destined to miss the playoffs. The Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks are not ready to make the jump yet, with promising times ahead, and the rest of the conference is a crapshoot. On the top end of the standings, we can confidently say that the Warriors and the Rockets will capture the top two spots, but as we saw in the standings this past year where three wins differentiated the third seed and the ninth seed, we are guaranteed to see an extremely close battle. Here is how things may pan out:

The Favorites

Golden State Warriors:

Boogie won’t be ready for an NBA return until at least after the All-Star break, but that won’t stop a team of four more all-stars from remaining atop the league. The team will experiment with interesting rotations all throughout the season as they prioritize keeping their Hamptons Five lineup healthy, which could result in some surprising losses. This will come as no reason for worry, given that the Warriors are sure to step up come playoff time. Today’s NBA dynasty should have no problem continuing their reign.

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Houston Rockets:

Last year, we saw the Rockets finish seven wins higher than the Warriors in the regular season, amassing the best record in the league by far. While the title for best record may be in jeopardy based on the nightly competition that they should face in comparison to the Celtics, Houston should still finish comfortably in first or second in the West. As long as they re-sign Clint Capela and add Carmelo Anthony to fill the void left by Trevor Ariza’s departure, the Rockets should continue to be the team with the best chances of taking down Golden State.

Formidable Challengers

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Less is more for OKC, who certainly got a lot better by getting rid of Melo. While their roster is currently noticeably devoid of shooters, the talent on the team is certainly undeniable. On paper, the Thunder should have no problem being among the league leaders in defense (Westbrook, George, Roberson, Patterson, Noel, Adams), and added an underrated NBA point guard in Dennis Schroder. Props to GM Sam Presti for making a stagnant Thunder team better while also monumentally decreasing their luxury tax bill. If this team finds its stroke, they could certainly make a run that we would’ve expected last season.

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Los Angeles Lakers:

Any team with LeBron James on its roster immediately becomes a contender. The best player in the world has possibly his most interesting supporting cast ever going into this season, and one can only imagine that this season is serving as a setup season for the Lakers. The King has committed long term, and LA has several wildcards on one-year deals (Beasley, Rondo, Stephenson, KCP, McGee). Couple that with possibly the most promising young core in the game (Ingram, Kuzma, Ball, Hart), and we will surely see some intriguing basketball coming out of LA this year. It remains to be seen how far LeBron can take this rag-tag bunch come playoff time.

Portland Trail Blazers:

We can’t overlook the fact that Portland took the third seed in the West last season, but I’m not a big fan of the moves that they have made in the offseason thus far. The Trail Blazers are limited in the players that they could attract to such a small market, but they have stockpiled (undersized) guards and completely ignored their needs at the wing. Sure, it’s reassuring to have so much backup for Lillard and McCollum (Curry, Baldwin IV, Stauskas, Trent Jr., Simons), but in a constantly improving Western Conference, I’m not sure a starting lineup that includes Al Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless will be enough. Look for Portland to underperform despite their lofty expectations, thus forcing a full rebuild come next offseason.

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On the Rise

Utah Jazz:

I love the identity of this Jazz team that prides itself on defensive stability. This team has solid depth but lacks star power and a scoring punch. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are certainly all-star caliber players, but Gobert is somewhat of an offensive liability and Mitchell lacks experience. That didn’t stop the latter from making a ton of noise in the playoffs last season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lead his team to yet another playoff berth.

New Orleans Pelicans:

The Pelicans’ commitment to position-less basketball is one of the most refreshing aspects of any NBA team. Elfrid Payton has plenty to prove this season, while AD looks poised to be one of the league’s most likely MVP candidates. The dominance that he showed in the playoffs last year speaks to the fact that he could be the next best player in the NBA. Mirotic and Randle each have the requisite ability to make up for the talent lost when Boogie decided to ruin the NBA, but New Orleans will have to fight on a nightly basis if they want to come out of the West in the toughest conference we have probably ever seen in the NBA.

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Minnesota Timberwolves:

When we talk about the Timberwolves, we need to think about the healthy Timberwolves. When Jimmy Butler wasn’t sitting on the sidelines, this team was slotted in as the third seed in the West. After his injury, they fell down the standings, but Butler is expected to stay healthy this upcoming season and KAT is looking to take another step in his career. Minnesota may be a bit less deep than they were last season, but they bring back all of their starters and could make some noise in the West with a legitimate big three.

Denver Nuggets:

The Nuggets missed out on playoff contention this past season in dramatic fashion, but they should find their way back into the race this upcoming season. This team has had probably one of the most successful free agencies, extending Jokic, drafting MPJ, and bringing on Isaiah Thomas. Their young core should continue to develop nicely and I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw Isaiah revitalize his career in Denver. Paul Millsap also missed most of the past season, and will be looking to find his rhythm in a comeback season. Expect big things coming out of Denver.

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Wildcards

Phoenix Suns:

This Phoenix roster certainly has the talent to compete, but we don’t know how quickly they could be making that jump. With a bevy of young talents (Booker, Ayton, Jackson, Bender, Chriss, Bridges, Okobo), Phoenix certainly has a bright future; the question is, how long will it take them to develop into contenders? With excellent veteran presence coming from Tyson Chandler and Trevor Ariza, we could see a huge jump in wins coming out of Phoenix. Sadly, however, it likely won’t be enough to beat some of these other powerhouse teams into the top eight spots.

Memphis Grizzlies:

Many teams are likely counting the Grizzlies out given their nightmare of a season in 2017-2018, but we forget about how much Mike Conley means to this franchise. Their window continues to shrink as Marc Gasol continues to age, but new recruits like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson could turn this team around quickly. Nobody really knows what to expect from the Grizzlies this upcoming season, and despite being in prime position to improve on last year’s win total, they should still fall short of playoff contention.

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Los Angeles Clippers:

The Clippers have a ton of above average players, with not a single player who can be labeled as a star. They’ll surely be extremely difficult to play against on a regular basis, featuring some of the best depth in the league at pretty much every position. However, if they have any chance of making the playoffs, they need a player like Tobias Harris or Danilo Gallinari to step up and provide more of a scoring punch. They won’t be earning a spot in the top eight with Lou Williams as their leading scorer. Despite so many “if’s”, it is also worth noting that the Clippers were one of the most injured teams last season, and could be much more successful this year if healthy.

San Antonio Spurs:

We can never count the Spurs out when Pop is coaching. This team obviously lost their best player recently, but has retained depth at every spot on the floor. In addition, keep in mind that this team won 47 games last year essentially without Kawhi, so technically, DeMar DeRozan is surely an upgrade. Expect the Spurs to contend until the very end of the season, where they could just barely miss out on contention on the fact that their team is simply less talented than the other ones.

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Western Conference Standings Projections

1. Houston Rockets

Houston will once again care more about the regular season than Golden State will, which will therefore result in the first seed. When Chris Paul is healthy, the rockets are arguably unstoppable, and present a legitimate threat at dethroning the Warriors.

2. Golden State Warriors

We must remember how late Boogie will come back, leaving GSW relatively thin at the center position for most of the regular season. They’ll still probably win more than 55 games, though, if not 60.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

The friendship that Russell Westbrook and Paul George have developed speaks for itself. I think that without Melo, this duo will exhibit incredible chemistry to lead them to a resurgent season where they capture the third seed. Keep in mind that the team underperformed last year, and still got the fourth seed.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota simply needs to live up to their talent. Questions about Butler’s long-term commitment to the T-Wolves still remain, but winning solves everything. If Andrew Wiggins can finally make that next step and Karl Anthony-Towns keeps developing, the potential of this team is limitless.

5. New Orleans Pelicans

AD for MVP, I’m calling it now. Anthony Davis is going to will this team all season long; they likely won’t have much success in the playoffs, but they’ll sure be a fun team to watch during the season. I’m excited to see how Julius Randle fares on his new team, as he showed some stellar play in his contract year with the Lakers.

6. Utah Jazz

Despite finishing fifth last season, the Jazz will likely take a step back next year once they see that the rest of the West has come to play. Regardless, they’re sure to be in the playoff picture. Look for Utah to offer max money next offseason after they’re butted out in the first round.

7. Los Angeles Lakers

How about a first-round matchup between GSW and LeBron? The King is notorious for taking it easy during the regular season and stepping it up come playoff time. LeBron’s Cavs finished in fourth place in the East last year, and in a more competitive conference, he could drop even further. This team is built to take on the Warriors, not to beat the rest of the league. Keep in mind that I’m expected seeds 3-10 to be incredibly close, as well.

8. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets could finish higher depending on how well Isaiah bounces back, but the fact remains that their best passer is their center. The Nuggets will easily be among the league’s best in points per game, but could also improve on the defensive end. However, it is undeniable that their team is tailor made for today’s NBA, and it’ll be interesting to see how high Nikola Jokic’s ceiling really is.

 

Why the Spurs Should Be Okay with Kawhi Leaving

Uncertainty with his Condition

Regardless of whether Kawhi will return to the court completely healthy, the Spurs organization likes to maintain a handle on its entire operation. They have done their utmost to keep rumors to a minimum, but they would highly benefit from keeping damage control out of their main agenda. Additionally, if Kawhi is indeed a different player than he was before the injury, the Spurs would do well to gain as many assets as possible on his behalf as long as the opportunity still stands. It seems as though his trade value currently puts San Antonio in the position to receive three major pieces in exchange for his services. This would likely include a first round draft pick and two promising young players (at least), which would perfectly set the Spurs up to groom a complete roster.

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Being Above Average does Nothing for Franchises in Today’s NBA

Gregg Popovich showed us last season that he can take a slightly above average roster to the playoffs, even in the West. Teams like the Nuggets and Clippers seemingly had talented rosters, but Pop’s tutelage makes anything possible. Regardless, there is only so much that wondrous coaching can do, and even Brad Stevens’ awe-inspiring playoff run last season came to an end when it was time to face star power. The same goes for stacking up against teams like the Warriors, Rockets and Lakers. The Spurs have made it abundantly clear that they will not be tanking any time soon, and I do believe that this is the right decision. They will likely wait until Pop’s retirement to even consider doing so, and a team with such a historically savvy front office can certainly pull off a trade that gets them the right assets to continue contending. I don’t think San Antonio has a prayer in 2018, but the same cannot be said for the forthcoming year, when tons of promising free agents hit the market. If they can muscle out one season of mediocrity while prioritizing the development of the rest of their roster, San Antonio can surely take big steps in bringing their organization back to the forefront.

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Thinking Long Term

In order to understand why the Spurs would benefit from trading Kawhi, we must understand the assets that they will receive in return. This will likely include talented young players on attractive contracts, setting the team up to experiment next season. They did well to retain Rudy Gay on a one-year deal, who can easily slot into Kawhi’s position and continue to improve on the progress that he showed last season after coming back from an Achilles tendon tear a season prior. Danny Green and Manu Ginobili each have one more year on their deals, and they will prove to be helpful mentors for Lonnie Walker IV who fell to them in the draft. The Miami product has a high basketball IQ and finds himself in a perfect situation heading into the future. These three, along with the return of Marco Belinelli gives them plenty of shooting depth to fully embrace the emerging high scoring style of the NBA. At point guard, Dejounte Murray is now set for heavy minutes at a bargain price as he continues to develop. Pau Gasol will be overpaid in 2018-2019, but this year will surely work more as a period of transition in which San Antonio can afford to give him the money. Only $7 million of his $16 million deal is guaranteed for 2019-2020, giving them flexibility in their frontcourt. Lastly, LaMarcus Aldridge revitalized his career last season, and should continue to produce at a high level as he poises himself for another year as the go-to player on offense. Essentially, most of the Spurs’ mediocre players (Gay, Ginobili, Green, Gasol) will either find a different home next offseason or take salaries that give San Antonio plenty of options in the future. Many stars will be looking for a payday next summer, and the Spurs will be one of the franchises who will be able to afford to do so.

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Surely, Kawhi Leonard is a top-five player in the NBA when healthy, and it is not the ideal scenario to have to let him go. However, his relationship with the Spurs seems more irreparable with every coming day, and with two years on his deal remaining (the last year being a player option), he still commands plenty of value on the trade market and can set San Antonio up with a promising roster for the future. The key is that they must be patient in waiting on a trade offer that adequately suits their needs, while also making sure to not miss out on their window of opportunity to get something out of Kawhi’s hope for an exit.

Let’s Talk About the Eastern Conference: What LeBron’s Lakers Move Means

As every media reporter has been reiterating, LeBron’s move to the LA Lakers has created a ripple effect all across the league. Kawhi Leonard has set his sights on Los Angeles, none of the Lake show’s young stars are safe, and the Eastern Conference is wide open. The Celtics and the Sixers emerge as the clear front runners, but there are a few other teams who could vie for contention. Surely, the Raptors feel less pressure to force a full rebuild, and other teams will be sure to capitalize on the opportunity to have a clear-cut opportunity at making the finals. Here are the contenders of the East:

The Favorites

Boston Celtics: Boston has achieved a great mix of grooming home-grown talent and picking up pieces along the way. Even without re-signing Marcus Smart, Boston currently features nine players on their roster who should get regular minutes (Irving, Hayward, Horford, Tatum, Morris, Brown, Rozier, Baynes, Williams). This kind of depth mixed with star power poises the Celtics to achieve immense success in both the regular season and the postseason. The Celtics’ postseason success this past season while lacking their two best players only further accentuates the excitement reverberating throughout New England about where this team is headed in the near future. These guys are the favorites to make the finals from the East.

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Philadelphia 76ers
: So young, yet so promising. Considering the fact that the Sixers refuse to include Fultz in trade talks, my guess is that Philly is confident that the formal first overall pick can make up for lost time. With plenty of cap space to make noise in the offseason, Philly needs to act quickly if they want to add another talent to join the likes of Embiid and Simmons. However, with their entire core locked up through the 2019-2020 season, they’re in no rush to splash cash this offseason, especially with such a talented free agent class expected in a year. Considering their success last year, coupled with their youth, NBA pundits would be doing a disservice if they were not to label the Sixers as the Celtics’ biggest rivals heading into 2018.

Formidable Challengers

Toronto Raptors: In some peoples’ eyes, the Raptors are in great position heading into 2018. All of the players who contributed to their immense regular season success last season are returning, and save for Delon Wright, are locked up for two more years. However, to those who choose to look at their situation with the glass half empty, Toronto has been pigeonholed financially in a way that would only be alleviated by getting rid of a star. They have limited flexibility in terms of free agency and would struggle to change their roster whatsoever. Their main priority needs to be getting rid of Serge Ibaka’s contract, but they could choose to use the opportunity of a LeBron-less East to test their luck with riding out their roster.

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Washington Wizards: The Wizards are getting Demarcus Cousins. The Wizards are getting Demarcus Cousins. I’m just going to keep repeating it until it actually happens. The entire NBA needs to remember their 2017 success as a means of understanding that they are one player away from getting out of the East. Otto Porter can make the argument that he is worth every penny that he is getting paid, but not on a team like the Wizards. Porter isn’t a role player per se, but he simply fills out a specific role on the floor; no matter how efficiently this role is carried out, they shouldn’t be paying him this kind of money. If a sign-and-trade for Cousins is carried out by the Wiz and Pelicans, a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached that sends D.C. into full-on contention for the Finals crown. Even without this kind of acquisition, Washington will present a threat to any team on any given night, especially with their backcourt depth.

Indiana Pacers: The reason the Pacers did so well this past season is because of their team chemistry. Each player was asked to fulfill a specific role, and they nailed this to a tee. Indiana will go for bigger-name free agents and will also look to sign players to bargain multi-year deals, but they should hold off on going win-now mode for one more year. The focus will be to continue grooming Oladipo into a bonafide NBA star, and to see that Myles Turner turns into a star in his own right. Indiana will have only five players on their books in 2019 as of now (Oladipo, Sabonis, Leaf, Anigbogu, McDermott), which gives them a ton of flexibility. Look for them to spend big next offseason, but to take the conservative route and still try to contend with their current personnel this upcoming year.

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On the Rise:

Milwaukee Bucks: This team likely has the most questions to answer this offseason than any other team on this list. Giannis is locked up, but Bledsoe’s situation is questionable, and Middleton will likely opt out and ask for a payday next offseason. Jabari Parker doesn’t know where he’ll be playing yet, and Milwaukee clearly needs more talent to be where they want to be. The Bucks will continue to shift around their roster, and should be looking for short-term help to drive them over the hump. They’ll have to make some trades, first, in order to clear out some cap space for game-changing players. Dellavedova, Henson, Bledsoe and Snell seem to be the most viable trade candidates.

Detroit Pistons: Detroit is looking to put an end to their mediocrity. Dwane Casey’s hiring clearly shows that the Pistons are looking to head in a new direction, and their dominating frontcourt poises them to get back into the playoffs. They still don’t have enough to be vying for title contention, but with Drummond and Griffin committed until 2021, they have plenty of time to figure it out. The question remains whether they’ll settle for mediocrity in the coming seasons or make some moves to clear out cap space for better players. With plenty of free agency to go, we will see what they choose to do.

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Eastern Conference Standings Projections

1. Boston Celtics

Boston’s roster is head and shoulders the most talented pool of players in the East. Given the lack of talent in this conference, they could wind up sending four players to the All-Star game: Tatum, Brown, Irving and Hayward. This would be a significant development, as their only all-star last season was Al Horford, illustrating their depth. Danny Ainge’s move this offseason should be to not move a muscle – unless it is to re-sign his players.

2. Toronto Raptors

I’m not a huge fan of this Raptors team, but given that they demonstrated huge regular season success with the same roster, they should be able to replicate these results to a slightly lower degree. If I’m a member of Toronto’s front office, I would just ride out this roster in hopes that a LeBron-less east means a clear path to the Finals.

3. Washington Wizards

The success that I see the Wizards having is completely predicated on their potential acquisition of Demarcus Cousins. Still, despite having three All-NBA caliber players on the same roster if Boogie were to make a move to DC, it would take some time for him to gel with his new teammates in the capitol. Look for them to have greater postseason success than regular season success.

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4. Philadelphia 76ers

I’m not completely sold on Philly’s “process” just yet. I have a feeling that they’ll fail to attract any of the major free agents this offseason and settle for gambling on Isaiah Thomas to return to form, but this is a gamble that I hope pays off. The Sixers’ regular season success last season came because of an end-of-season win streak mostly against teams in tank mode, racing for the best draft pick possible. Unless Ben Simmons can find a jump shot and Embiid can stay healthy, I see them finding the same amount of success as last season. We’ll have to wait for them to take the jump.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks will go as far as Giannis takes them. They underperformed last year, but I expect the Greek Freak to be one of the league’s front runners for MVP. They should be making moves to improve their roster this offseason, and could look towards the services of Dwight Howard to improve their frontcourt and possibly Dennis Schroder to provide competition for Bledsoe. Very excited to see how the Bucks do.

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6. Indiana Pacers

Indy ought to be excited about how their team is shaping up. Their roster can only grow, but their pure lack of star power puts them this low on the list. I’d liken them to the Spurs in the sense that despite the fact that they need more talent, their players fit very well on their roster, and they should perform well enough to earn a playoff spot. Look for Indy to make a few more offseason moves; hopefully, for Tyreke Evans.

7. Detroit Pistons

With the softening of the East, the Pistons will actually feel no pressure to win now, because their big stars are locked up for a few more years. They have the talent to test their frontcourt in the postseason, but should be focused on offloading Jackson, Leuer and Galloway to make room for other pieces. Detroit could very well be on the rise very soon, but they’ll have to wait to break into the very best of the East.

8. Brooklyn Nets

Here’s my wildcard pick. The eighth spot in the East is as wide open as can be, and the Cavs and Heat look likely to miss out on the playoffs after making it this past season. Miami is Brooklyn’s biggest competition, but their cap situation limits their activity this offseason, and Dragic continues to get older. The Nets have a solid young core that doesn’t get paid much, so it wouldn’t be surpised if they picked up a few more pieces to edge out a playoff spot in the East. This could be the year that D’Angelo Russell breaks out and maximizes his potential.

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