With just a little bit over a month left until the NBA Season begins (by the way: the first game of the season is Orlando Magic vs Indiana Pacers…), the fine people at Chunky and Durdee in the Morning will be starting our NBA Preview with previews of every single NBA team. Every day or so, one or two teams will be added. We’ll start with the Eastern Conference and move to the Western Conference and go in order of best to worst in the conference. At the end, we’ll also be adding our playoff and awards predictions.
- Miami Heat: This is a given. The back to back champions, who have represented the Eastern conference in the NBA Finals every season since bringing their big 3 together, are again the Eastern Conference (and NBA) favorites. The starting lineup won’t look very different. All that matters really is LeBron, Wade, and Bosh can stay healthy. What’s even scarier is that they could potentially have the best bench in the NBA. We already know that Ray Allen is one of the best shooters of all time, Shane Battier is an excellent defender and corner 3 specialist, and Chris “Birdman” Andersen can get up around the rim on offense and defense. Then, add in Greg Oden and Michael Beasley. Both complete wild cards. Greg Oden has had a disappointing career thus far after being drafted #1, ahead of Kevin Durant, in 2007 by the Portland Trail Blazers. When he has played, which is rarely (82 games), he has been very productive averaging 9.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 22 minutes of playing time. Oden just needs to stay healthy which just doesn’t seem likely. If he can though, wow the Heat will be amazing. Michael Beasley has had a disappointing career so far, mainly due to off the court issues. He was been caught smoking pot in his hotel room at the NBA Rookie Program, tweeted a picture of him with marijuana in the background (then entered a rehab facility), got pulled over speeding with marijuana in the car (which he claimed wasn’t his), and, finally, got arrested on marijuana possession (that led to him being cut by the Suns). Beasley will actually be making his 2nd stint with the Heat after being drafted 2nd overall by them in 2008. It’s obvious that Beasley has the talent to be productive on the court. He’s averaged about 14 points and 5 rebounds per a game in his career. Those are solid numbers. The issue is can he get his head straight and stay out of trouble off the court and keep his mouth shut in the locker room? If Pat Riley and LeBron James can influence him, then Beasley is just going to be another weapon for an already stacked Heat team. This Heat team could potentially be 14 players deep, with only really needing one: LeBron James. LeBron, in my opinion, will not just be remembered as the greatest basketball player of all time when it’s all said and done, but, also, as the greatest athlete of all time. Never has the world seen this combination of athleticism, size, strength, and speed. There is nobody quite like LeBron James. As long as the Heat have LeBron James, they’ll be a competitor. So it doesn’t hurt to have Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Birdman Andersen, Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis, Michael Beasley, Greg Oden, Joel Anthony, and James Jones, too.
- Indiana Pacers: The Pacers did all they could to keep the Heat from reaching the championship last season and they got oh so very close, but close isn’t good enough. So this offseason, the Pacers went out and improved their team. The first order of business was getting David West back, which they did quickly. They may have overpaid a bit for the aging PF (3 years, $36 million for a 33 year old), but they need him. Then, they needed to upgrade the bench. They did so by getting underrated scorer Chris Copeland and replacing DJ Augustin with CJ Watson. With Tyler Hansbrough (<—His celebration epitomizes the white man) ditching for Toronto, Indiana made possible the most underrated move of the offseason: They traded Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a lottery protected 1st round pick for Luis Scola. Essentially, they gave up a guy whose only talent is dunking (on a contract giving him $3.5 million a year), a guy who got in the league because of his brothers, and a late first round pick (in a good draft which is why the Suns did this). Scola gives the Pacers an excellent player off the bench. He’ll give you 100% every single night. The Pacers, on paper at least, have a very dangerous team. Going into the 2010-2011 season, the Pacers looked on track to possibly be building a legitimate team after 4 year playoff hiatus. They had drafted Lance Stephenson (if you’re not following him on instagram, stop reading this and go do it now) and Paul George, now two of the core players to the team. They have one of the best centers in the NBA in Roy Hibbert (why did Vogel take him out?!). George Hill doesn’t exactly get me excited, but I suppose he’s serviceable. If I’m Kevin Pritchard, though, I’m going to keep an eye out for a new PG this season. The x-factor of it all, though, is the man who started getting the Pacers name back out there: Danny Granger. The 2009 NBA All-Star has been dealing with injuries and only managed to play 5 games last season. According to Frank Vogel, Granger is healthy and ready to practice. If he’s healthy, there’s still one other factor to overcome. Can Granger and George coexist? Before his injury, Granger was the focus of the Pacers offense. Now, the Paul George era has begun in Indiana. Will Granger be willing to play second fiddle? Can Vogel find a way to utilize both of these talented wings to their fullest? It’s these sorts of things that will be the difference between Indiana being the team that can come closest to beating the Heat and Indiana being the team that can beat the Heat.
- Chicago Bulls: Despite having 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose for only 39 of 66 games in 2011-2012, the Bulls finished 1st in the NBA Standings. In 2012-2013, the Bulls played the whole season without Rose and were still good enough to finish 5th in the Eastern Conference and made it past the 1st round. Now it looks like the son of Chicago will be returning. The Bulls already have a solid team. Luol Deng has proven he’s an all-star, Joakim Noah is one of the best big men in the NBA, Carlos Boozer (who the Bulls actually may be better off amnestying) has still proven he’s a dependable option on the offensive end, Taj Gibson is a great energy big man off the bench, Captain Kirk Hinrich continues to be a serviceable guard, and Jimmy Butler is just the cherry on top. Now add back in the former MVP and you have a championship caliber roster. The issue is we haven’t seen Derrick Rose play a game since the 2012 playoffs when he torn his ACL. An ACL injury is always serious so when Derrick Rose missed all of the 2012-2013 season recovering, it was even more of a reason for fans to be concerned. If Rose is able to return to his MVP self, the Bulls will challenge the Heat for the best team in the NBA, but if Rose struggles to recover, then the Bulls will still have a good team but not a championship team. Last season, Nate Robinson stepped up as the Bulls PG with Rose out (especially during the playoffs). Unfortunately for the Bulls, Kryptonate left for the Nuggets this offseason. If Rose struggles to return, it’ll be interesting to see who the Bulls call on at PG. My first guess would be Hinrich, but if he struggles then the Bulls could be in trouble. Marquis Teague hasn’t really shown anything to make the Bulls think he’s capable of being a contributor. Mike James, who got himself back into the NBA last season by starting a few games for the PG depleted Mavericks, could be an option. He’s a notorious chucker, but is a veteran that could be a better option than Teague. The Bulls offseason was nothing to get excited about. They lost Marco Belinelli and cut Rip Hamilton. They’ll try replacing them with the addition of Mike Dunleavy Jr. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tony Snell become a significant role player sooner rather than later like Jimmy Butler did. Snell has length and could develop into a great defender under Tom Thibodeau, the greatest defensive coach in the NBA. The Bulls finished 2nd in the NBA in 2010-2011 for points allowed, 1st in 2011-2012, and 3rd in 2012-2013. The one thing you can always count on for a Tom Thibodeau team is that they’ll play hard nosed defense every game and they’ll pick you up at the airport. The Bulls almost totally screwed themselves over by not extending Thib’s contract but got that done at the end of last season, luckily for them. The Bulls season will rely heavily on how Derrick Rose does. Regardless, they’ll be a good team, but Rose could be the difference between good and great.
- Brooklyn Nets: Patrick Ewing: The lifelong New York Knick. Hakeem Olajuwon: The lifelong Houston Rocket. Karl Malone: The lifelong Utah Jazz. Michael Jordan: the lifelong Chicago Bull. But we forget these seasons: Patrick Ewing spent his last two season with the Seattle Supersonics and Orlando Magic. Hakeem Olajuwon spent his last season up north with the Toronto Raptors. Karl Malone spent a failed championship run with the LA Lakers. Michael Jordan came out of retirement, again, to spend his last two seasons with the Washington Bullets. Paul Pierce will always be remembered as a Celtic. If I had told you two years ago that in two the Celtics would trade Paul Pierce, the face of the franchise since 1998 (along with Antoine Walker for part of the time), to the BROOKLYN Nets for Gerald Wallace (on a 3 year/$30 million contract), Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband, a young scorer, frickin’ Keith Bogans, and late first round picks, you’d call me crazy. Yet here we are. To go along with that, the Nets were also able to pick up Kevin Garnett, who along with the Nets had one of the craziest offseasons in the NBA, and Jet Terry. This was a great deal for the Nets, but really does leave them with a small championship window. That was just one major part of the Nets offseason, which I believe was the craziest in the NBA this year. They also hired Jason Kidd as their head coach. Kidd, who played in the NBA last season, has no coaching experience (thank you Mark Jackson). Kidd is one of the smartest players to play in the NBA and has a great resume as a player, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his player IQ will transfer to coach IQ. Personally, I think that Kidd will be a great coach. He is smart and since he played in the NBA so recently, he knows how the game is played now and knows how each of his players likes to be used and how they are best used since he has gotten to actually play with them. The final crazy addition the Nets made was signing Andrei Kirilenko. You’re saying, “What’s so crazy about signing Kirilenko? He’s a good player.” Well, you’re right. He is good. So good that the Timberwolves were going to be paying him $10 million this season, but AK47 opted out to sign a 2 year/$3.1 million contract with the Nets instead. Why would he do this? Some would say he wanted a better chance at a championshipbefore his career comes to an end. Others, including myself, will say Mikhail Prokhorov has some tricks up his sleeve. The Russian ties make too much sense and Prokhorov is such a bad ass that it just makes it an awesome theory even if it is a bit absurd. As for this season, the Nets look like a talented team from top to bottom. It all starts with Deron Williams, though. Will the Nets get Deron Williams pre All-Star break, where D-Will put up a somewhat respectable 17.4 PER, or Deron Williams post All-Star break, where D-Will put up a MVP like 25.2 PER? I think we’ll see the latter with Pierce, KG, and Terry in the fold. The defense won’t be able to put as much pressure on and Williams will get open shots. If they over pressure him, he’ll have plenty of weapons to feed. Next, Joe Johnson needs to be willing to be more a role player than he was last year. The Nets don’t need him to iso. They need him to get open and hit threes. Brook Lopez has to be the most exciting piece of the Nets, though. He was able to prove that he is healthy and that he can play with the best of them. Unfortunately, his rebounding still is an issue. Luckily, the Nets have two great big men off the bench in Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans. The Nets did something that most teams in the NBA weren’t willing to do last season and took a low risk-high reward approach with Blatche and it paid off big time. Blatche is very talented and proved that he can play a key role on a contender last season. Reggie Evans on the defensive end is one of the most beautiful things in basketball. On the offensive end…not so much. The Nets will have to work hard to win the Eastern Conference. I wouldn’t call it impossible, but if KG is only playing back to backs and Kidd struggles to control this team, it could be a long season for the Nets. If Kidd makes a quick and painless transition and can get to Deron Williams in a way that Avery Johnson never could, we could see the Nets competing for the Eastern Conference Crown.
- New York Knicks: Remember in the 2010 offseason, the offseason of “The Decision“, when the Knicks seemed to be a prime candidate to land LeBron James? Then, they signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a ridiculous 5 year/$100 million contract…and everyone though they had lost their minds. But the plan was team Amar’e up with LeBron so maybe the contract wasn’t so ridiculous…until LeBron signed with the Heat. Then, the contract went back to being ridiculous. Until Amar’e put himself in the MVP consideration with his first half of the season performance. He was an all-star and it seemed like the Knicks knew what they were doing when they gave Stoudemire $20 million a year. Amar’e didn’t keep it up in the second half of the season but was still pretty dominant, being named to 2nd all-NBA team…And then came the injuries. First, Amar’e put on too much weight from the NBA lockout. Then, he had a back injury. He returned, but decided it’d be a good idea to punch a fire extinguisher. Last season, Amar’e played in just 29 games due to a knee injury. Now, for this upcoming season, it seems that he still not 100% healthy and will be playing limited minutes. You would think that would be a wake up call for the Knicks management to stop making stupid moves…but no. This offseason they decided to trade Steve Novak, the best pure shooter in the NBA, two players that’d eventually be cut in Marcus Camby and Q Richardson, a 2016 first round pick, and 2014 and 2017 second round picks for Andrea Bargnani, a shooting specialist who hasn’t hit a league-average mark from 3-point range since 2010 and is probably the worst rebounding big man of all time. That leaves the Knicks with no draft picks in 2014 (unless the Kings finish top 5 in the NBA), their first round pick in 2015, no draft picks in 2016, and their first round pick in 2017. For a team that will need to rebuild soon, especially if Carmelo Anthony leaves after this season, they are in horrible position with their lack of draft picks. On a brighter note for the Knicks, they still have a talented team. Carmelo Anthony is still one of the best scorers in the NBA (regardless of whether he’s playing the 3 or 4). Tyson Chandler is still one of the best defenders in the paint. JR Smith is the ultimate 6th man. He comes in and just scores in bunches. Yes, he is an idiot, but damn can he score. My personal favorite player for the Knicks is Iman Shumpert cause he is the smartest move the Knicks have made in recent history. Not many fans knew of Shumpert coming out of college, but NBA scouts did and knew his potential as a defender. The Knicks snagged him in the middle of the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft and it paid off big time. Shumpert was quickly a vital player on a competitive Knicks team. Then, he tore his ACL. Though you could see Shump was a little hesitant at times last season, he was able to return generally quickly from the ACL tear and was right back at it. To go along with his great defensive skills, Shumpert has also developed a dependable jumper. This is the type of player the Knicks need to hold onto if they want to continue to be good in the future. As for the rest of the squad, Raymond Felton is about as average of point guard as there is in the NBA. Ron Artest (yes I mean Ron Artest) was a nice pickup but I don’t expect much from him. Unless Bargnani can prove his value or Amar’e can stay healthy, Carmelo will have to play the 4 which would leave a hole at the 3 (unless you want to depend on a platoon of Artest and Kenyon Martin at the 4). Honestly, I think Pablo Prigioni and Beno Udrih are two of the best back up PGs to have. Prigioni proved right away that he is a smart basketball (as he should be seeing as he was a 35 year old rookie). Udrih is one of the best 3rd string PGs in the NBA. He has a great mid range shot and rarely turns the ball over. They did have some underrated offseason moves, though. I really liked their pick of Tim Hardaway Jr. For now, the best way for him to get in the rotation is by hitting his 3s, but he’ll have to develop an offensive game outside of that if he wants to continue to be a player. Also, picking up CJ Leslie after the draft was a great move. He’s a great prospect and has unbelievable athleticism for his size. I don’t see Leslie ever turning into an all-star or anything, but I could see him developing into a dependable defender off the bench. Overall, the Knicks have a team that’s capable of making it to the playoffs, but doesn’t seem likely to do anything beyond on that. Especially if something were to happen to Carmelo Anthony. If somehow Amar’e comes back healthy, Bargnani hits his shots, Artest finds the fountain of youth, and someone outside of Anthony and JR becomes a capable scorer, this team could make some noise…but that all seems highly unlikely.
- Cleveland Cavaliers: It’s not that I think the Cavaliers are a very good team. They’re definitely a much improved team which is why I think they’ll be good enough to be the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference in a very weak Eastern Conference. First off, they have the next star PG in the NBA in Kyrie Irving. Honestly, going into the 2011 NBA Draft, I thought drafting Kyrie Irving first overall would end up being a huge mistake for the Cavaliers. He had only played 11 games for Duke before leaving for the draft. He was very impressive in those 11 games but it was such a small sample. So far, Kyrie has obviously proved me wrong. The next thing he needs to prove (besides being able to stay healthy) is that he can be a leader on a playoff team. Ever since LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavaliers have been a horrendous 64-166. So how are the Cavaliers fixing that? First off, they are moving back in time to the LeBron era by hiring Coach Mike Brown back this offseason. Brown, who was fired after 5 games last season by the Lakers, was the coach of the Cavaliers from 2005-2010 where he compiled a record of 272-138, went to the playoffs every time, and lost in the NBA Finals once. You may not believe that Mike Brown is a very good coach, but you can’t argue that it’s impressive that he took a team to the championship that had LeBron James in his 4th year and then Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas as the next best players. Secondly, the Cavaliers shocked the NBA world in June by selecting Anthony Bennett with the first pick in the draft. After all of the talk about the Cavaliers selecting Nerlens Noel, Victor Oladipo, or Alex Len first, the Cavaliers made, in my opinion, the smartest pick. This draft was very weak so the Cavaliers needed to go safe and Bennett was a safe pick. Bennett can score inside and out. He’s undersized for a power forward, but he makes up for it in hustle and explosiveness. That also doesn’t stop him from being an excellent rebounder. Bennett won’t necessarily be a superstar, but I think he will at least be a solid starting power forward for multiple years. The move that made the Cavaliers offseason, though, and the move that I think was one of the, if not the, most underrated moves of the summer was the Cavaliers picking up Jarrett Jack. Jack is a combo guard who was crucial to the improvement of the Warriors last season, who went from 13th in the Western Conference to 6th in the Western Conference. He can handle the ball or play off the ball and score on his own. He will be a favorite for the 6th man this season and I’m sure he will be excellent next to Kyrie Irving, just as he was next to Stephen Curry. Just like the team that Brown took to the NBA Finals in 2007, this Cavaliers team will be centered around a star in the making (Kyrie Irving) and feature a bunch of solid players that include some close to all-star level. A big factor for that could be Andrew Bynum. If Bynum is actually healthy, then the Cavaliers instantly become a much more dangerous squad. Bynum was injured all of last season and averages only 56 games played a season in his 7 seasons played. When he is healthy, though, he’s one of the best low post scorers, one of the best low post defenders, and one of the best rebounders, too. The bad news is if Bynum isn’t healthy, the Cavaliers will have to depend on Anderson Varejao at the center position. It’s not that Varejao isn’t dependable. In fact, Varejao was putting up outstanding numbers last season (14.1 ppg, 14.4 rpg, and 21.71 PER), but it was discovered he a had a blood clot that would keep him out for the rest of the season about a fourth of the way into the season. If both healthy, though, the Cavaliers will have one of the best center depths in the NBA (and the best hair duo). The weak link for this Cavaliers squad is the wings. Dion Waiters had a solid rookie season, but his defense is still way below average. Alonzo Gee is a solid defender on the wing, but his offensive game needs some major work. They were able to pick up Earl Clark, who I think will become the starter at small forward thanks to his improved offensive game and his good defense and rebounding. The Cavaliers are going to have playoff expectations for the first time in a while and I expect them to get the job done. There’s an obvious drop off from the 5th seed to the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, in my opinion, but I think Cleveland fans will take what they get. As long as Kyrie Irving is on the court and healthy, there’s no telling how far this Cavaliers team is capable of going in the future. For now, they’re a low playoff seed with much room for improvement.
- Detroit Pistons: The Detroit Pistons are a year away from finally being free of their horrendous 2009 offseason, where they gave Ben Gordon a 5 year/$55 million contract and Charlie Villanueva a 5 year/$35 million contract. Gordon was eventually traded to the Bobcats, but Villanueva still remains for one last season (after shockingly never being amnestied). In 2009, these moves seemed ballsy but some thought they could pay off. That’s how this past offseason was for the Pistons. Out of nowhere, the Pistons swooped in and signed Josh Smith. It was ballsy enough to give a guy with a horrible shot selection a 4 year/$54 million contract, but it’s even ballsier to give him that big of a contract when your best player already plays the same position. It will be interesting to see if Mo Cheeks has Josh Smith backup Greg Monroe or if he lets Josh Smith play small forward. Don’t get me wrong. I think Smith is a great energy guy defensively, but his offensive game is questionable…especially if you depend on him as a first or second option. Luckily, I don’t think he will depended on that much offensively…but will Smith become frustrated when he’s not a central part of the offense? Speaking of players with questionable shot selections, the Pistons were also able to pickup Brandon Jennings. Brandon Jennings recently said it’ll be nice to play with better bigs in Detroit, to which Milwaukee big Larry Sanders responded, “He has to pass it to them first.” Detroit definitely won the trade in which they gave up Brandon Knight. Jennings is definitely already the better player and has a higher ceiling, too. What will be most important is that Jennings is, like Sanders pointed out, more willing to distribute the ball. We’re all well aware that Jennings can get buckets, but he has two young talented post players in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond and needs to utilize them. Speaking of which, was Andre Drummond not the best surprise of the NBA last season? So many people tagged him as a project, but Drummond was an instant impact player. Drummond, who attended UCONN, looked like a man amongst boys in college but never dominated like he should have. So when the Pistons drafted him with the 9th pick in the 2012 draft, it seemed like another ballsy decision for Joe Dumars…but damn did it pay off big time. Though Drummond missed a chunk of games due to an injury, he was still able to put up 7.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 1.6 bpg…in just 20.7 mpg. There’s no doubt in my mind that Drummond is capable of averaging close to 20-10. There’s also the fact that he is still only 20 years old. This guy still can’t even legally drink yet he’s on track to become one of the premier big men in the NBA. The shooting guard position for the Pistons is still up for grabs. The Pistons have four options. First, there’s the 2013 8th draft pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Kentavious was never a well known name in college thanks to being on a weak Georgia team, but man can this kid shoot. His biggest issue is that he can really score from outside. He needs to develop a mid range game. He has good defensive potential thanks to his length. Next, there’s the veteran Chauncey Billups. Initially signed to potentially be the starting PG, that idea went out when Jennings came in. Now, Billups will have to battle it out for the SG spot or settle for backup PG. We all know that Billups can shoot, but he’s aged quite a bit and it’s shown. Maybe being back in Detroit will give him a boost and he’ll be able to stay healthy. Next, there’s Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey, like Billups, is a combo guard who has played more PG. Stuckey has seen his role with the Pistons continue to diminish the past few seasons. A lot of that is due to his defense getting continuously worse. Luckily, he is still willing to lay his body on the line and get through the line and attack the basket. Then, there’s the wild card…Kyle Singler. Most remember Singler from his days at Duke where he won a NCAA Championship, but most probably missed that Singler had a very solid season last year for the Pistons. He played in all 82 and started 74 of them. He struggled with consistency on his shot but that didn’t stop him from averaging 8.8 ppg. He also picked up 4 rpg. His defense has been much improved and it doesn’t hurt that he is a 6’8 SG. Also, look for the Pistons to have a solid bench with Jonas Jerekbo and Will Bynum contributing along with the 3 players who lose out for the 2 spot. The Pistons may have just had the worst offseason or the may have just had the best. Only time will tell. For now, I’m going to be optimistic and think that Mo Cheeks will find away to utilize Drummond, Monroe, and Smith in the front court while getting Jennings to distribute and score.
- Washington Wizards: The final playoff spot goes to John Wall and the improved Wizards. Last season, the Wizards played their first 33 games without Wall, who had a knee injury. In those 33 games, the Wizards put up a 5-28 record. That was good enough for worst in the NBA. When Wall returned, the Wizards went a respectable 24-25. That’s almost .500 and in the Eastern Conference, almost .500 is good enough to get you the 8th seed. The Wizards recognized how important Wall is to their team and his potential to be a superstar. Wall isn’t just a good player himself, but he makes players around him better. For example, Bradley Beal shot 36.7% from the field and 32.3% from behind the arc in the first 33 games. In the last 49? Beal shot 46.8% from the field and 46.6% from behind the arc. That is why the Wizards rewarded Wall with a max contract this summer. Expect the Wizards to try and hold onto this Wall-Beal back court for many years because they’re going to be able to do some special things. With Wall’s court vision combined with Beal’s sweet shooting stroke, they are going to give opposing defenses issues. Also, both Wall and Beal are active defenders who are great rebounders for their size. The Wizards made a great trade by giving up Emeka Okafor, who could be out for the season, and a 1st round pick for Marcin Gortat. With Gortat next to Nene in the front court, the Wizards had one of the best defensive post combinations. They still need a power forward off the bench, though. The options seem to be Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, Al Harrington, and Jan Vesley. Seraphin is a long post player who struggles to shoot, rebound, or get fouled. His offensive game isn’t horrible overall…but it is horrible from the right side. Seraphin shot 33.6% from the right side, but 48.8% from the left. He needs to be more consistent, obviously. Booker is an undersized power forward with a lot of energy. He doesn’t let his size get in the way of his rebounding, though. The problem with Booker is that he’s more suited to be stretch 4…except he can’t shoot. Harrington has been in the NBA for 15 years and doesn’t have that much to show for it really. Yes, Harrington has had a few season where he has averaged over 17 ppg, but has he ever been an all-star? No. Has he ever been on an all-NBA team? No. Has he ever been a defensive player of the year or 6th man candidate? No. Has a team he’s ever been on even made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs?! Yes…his 2004 Indiana Pacers team that lost in the Conference Finals to the eventual champions, the Detroit Pistons. Now that I’m done with all of that I’m going to say this: Al Harrington is a good basketball player. When he is healthy, which hasn’t been often, he is a dependable shooter and solid rebounder. A real stretch 4. His defense is below average and he’ll have to prove that he’s healthy, but if he is healthy, I’d expect Harrington to win the starting job. Lastly, there is Jan Vesley. I don’t think there is a player in the NBA who has gone more down hill than Vesley. Vesley was on top of the world on draft night of 2011. Drafted 6th overall, Vesley got more recognition because of his smoking hot girlfriend. From there, it was all downhill for Vesley. He can’t shoot, dribble, rebound, or play defense. He may be the worst draft pick of all time. He missed half of his lay ups last season, shot 30.8% from the free throw line, and had 6.4 fouls for every 36 minutes of playing time. As for the small forward position, the job will be between Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster. So do you want to start the guy who takes horrible shots and is an above average defender and mainly got payed for one play in the playoffs or the guy who is always injured, but can shoot well and you already vastly over payed? It doesn’t really matter because soon enough Otto Porter will get the job. Porter, the 3rd pick in the 2013 draft, will find his niche in the NBA as a defender/3 point shooter. He has great length for potential wing defending and, also, rebounding. We already know that he has a sweet stroke. Porter is a much more effective shooter off the pass, which is perfectly fine because he’ll have Wall to pass it to him. And if Porter is in the 2nd unit, he’ll have a serviceable backup PG in Eric Maynor to play with. I also really liked the Wizards other draft selection, Glen Rice Jr. Rice was kicked of the team at Georgia Tech and made the best of it by going to the D-League and dominating there. He was one of the best players on a Rio Grande Valley Vipers team that won the D-League championship. Like his pops, Rice can shoot. The rest of his game still needs some work, though. The Wizards as a whole aren’t anything special, but they do have some special players in the John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. The future looks bright for this team and I think it start this season with their first playoff appearance since 2008 when they had Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antwan Jamsion, Brendan Haywood, and Deshawn Stevenson.
- Atlanta Hawks: The Atlanta Hawks have been stuck in playoff mediocrity hell for six seasons now. In 2008, they were the 8th seed and were knocked out in the 1st round. In 2009, they caught peoples attention by finishing 4th in the Eastern Conference but were swept in the 2nd round by the Cavaliers. In 2010, they kept improving by nabbing the 3rd seed, but were again swept in the 2nd round (this time by the Magic). In 2011, the Hawks got the 5th seed, but got their closest to being in the Eastern Conference Finals since 1970 when they were still called the divisional finals. In 2012, they again got the 5th seed but lost in the 1st round. And then, last season, they finished just 6th in the Eastern Conference and ended their season with a 1st round exit yet again. It was obvious that the Hawks needed to either make a move to make them a contender or needed to move more in a direction of getting younger and rebuilding. Well, I would say they went more in the direction of rebuilding but it also seems like they may have done just enough to keep themselves in playoff mediocrity. First off, their smartest move of the season was not making a move. By that I mean they were smart and let Josh Smith go. He was entertaining and all but he wasn’t going to help them be a contender. Then, they had, in my opinion, a terrific draft. They took two international players with very high upside. Dennis Schroeder is just a 19 year old German but he looks like he could help immediately behind Jeff Teague. In fact, I could see him playing next to Teague because he’s so good at catching and shooting. Besides that, Schroeder is also very quick and athletic, which he uses to his advantage on both sides of the ball. The Hawks other draft pick was Lucas Nogueira from Brazil. He has a ridiculous 7’6 wingspan which makes him an excellent shot blocker. As of right now, he will still be playing overseas in Spain this season, but the Hawks would like to get the big man project to America sooner rather than later. Then came the move that made it seem like the Hawks were still trying to stay in the playoff hunt: they signed Paul Millsap. But it was perfectly fine because it was one of the steals of the offseason. They gave Millsap a 2 year/$19 million conrtact. Millsap, who may be more effective than Josh Smith, is getting paid $9.5 million a year compared to Smith who is getting paid $13.5 million a year. An absolute steal making it okay that the Hawks did it because come trade deadline, they are going to get a lot of good offers. The last big move they made was their coaching change. Larry Drew made his way out to Milwaukee and in came a Gregg Popovich understudy in Mike Budenholzer. Popovich is the best coach in the NBA so this is a definite A+ hiring if you ask me…well, until Budenholzer was arrested for a DUI…but still I think he will be a good coach. As for the leftover Hawks, Al Horford, even playing out of position, is still one of the best centers in the NBA. Offensively, he is one of the best shooting big men in the NBA. Defensively, he is not necessarily a bad defender but he isn’t really a good defender either. Then, there’s Jeff Teague. Teague continued to improve last year and proved that he’s one of the best transition players in the NBA. He still needs to bulk up or else he will continue to get pushed around on defense. Lastly, there is Kyle Korver. The Hawks overpaid the pure shooting Korver by giving him a 4 year/$24 million contract. Don’t get me wrong, I think Korver is one of the best shooters in the NBA, but with the direction the Hawks should be going, they didn’t need to give him that money. The Hawks have plenty of other capable players. Lou Williams is a very capable scorer but it’s still up in the air whether or not he has recovered from his ACL injury and, if he has, will he still have the same sort of quickness that allowed him to score so much? The Hawks also picked up Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon under the radar. Brand proved last year with the Mavericks that he is no longer a starter in the league and much more suited to backup. I think Brand will be in a perfect position next to Horford where Horford can slide to the 4, his more natural position. Brand can still has the mid range game and still bangs around the rim on defense and for rebounds. Ayon is totally underrated and underused. He never receives the playing time he deserves, but when he does receive playing time, he makes the best of it. He finishes around the rim, passes out of the post, and goes after every rebound. The one thing he does need to work on to keep himself on the court, though, is free throws. Ayon has shot just 52.2% from the charity stripe in his NBA career. With Jared Cunningham, John Jenkins, and Shelvin Mack being the other backup guards, the Hawks desperately need better guard depth, especially if Lou Williams can’t play. The Hawks aren’t a bad team. Hell, they could finish as high as the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. But do they want to be? What is another 1st round exit going to do for them? The Hawks need another young talent to play with Teague and Horford. Or maybe Budenholzer really learned a lot from Popovich and will have the Hawks playing better than I expect. Doubtful, but in this league you just never know.
- Toronto Raptors: Like the Hawks, the Raptors didn’t do quite enough to put them in lottery discussion or enough to become a contender. They’re right on the brink of low playoff seed or best of the worst. First off, let’s give credit to the Raptors for bringing back Masai Ujiri, who was the executive of the year this past season. Ujiri was the assistant GM for the Raptors from 2008-2010. He made his mark by trading Bargnani and his 2 year/$23.5 million contract to the Knicks and got a role player in Steve Novak and THREE draft picks (including one first round pick). Then, he made some moves that were questionable. He signed Tyler Hansbrough to a 2 year/$6.5 million contract. I think that’s perfectly fine value for Psycho T. In fact, it’s very good value…but that’s one of those moves that’s going to keep the Raptors in mediocrity. If there’s one thing that Psycho T needs to work on to help himself and the Raptors, it’s his passing. He had just 1 assist every 38 minutes last season. The Raptors will need him to be more pass happy to help their team that was ranked just 20th in assist last season. Ujiri also signed DJ Augustin to be backup PG. Augustin has had his ups and downs in the NBA (mainly downs), but he was one of the better options at PG on the market, plus he’ll be able to play next to Kyle Lowry whenever Dwayne Casey wants to play small ball. At least these moves were better than last offseason when the Raptors signed Landry Fields to a 3 year/$20 million contract. Fields posted career lows in ppg, rpg, apg, field goal percentage, and three point percentage. Luckily, if they need three pointers, they have Steve Novak now. Now, on to the starters. First, there’s starting PG Kyle Lowry. I promise that if Lowry can stay healthy, he can be an all-star. He’s definitely one of the best defensive PGs in the NBA. Also, all of Lowry’s shots either come from 3, where he has improved tremendously, or at the rim. His assist would probably be up if he had some shooters around him. Next, there’s Demar Derozan. Think they’re regretting giving him that 4 year/$38 million contract yet? Yes, Derozan can slam. He gets to the rim very well, which leads to a lot of free throws. But he also still has a terrible jump shot, can’t rebound nearly well enough for his size, not that good of a passer, and his defense is average. He’s only 24 years old, so there’s time for him to improve…but he better do it soon. Then, there’s Rudy Gay. Who could forget Rudy Gay? Well, the Grizzlies for starters. The Grizzlies didn’t miss a beat with Gay no longer slowing down their offense and ruining their cap space. I bet they love having a young guy big man like Ed Davis to bring off the bench and learn from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. If the Raptors aren’t regretting that trade yet, then there’s something wrong with them. Don’t get me wrong: Rudy Gay is a talented player. He makes the Raptors better than they were before, but he is no all-star. He’s not the player you want to build your team around. That’s what the Grizzlies realized and rid themselves of the mistake. The Raptors still have some young intriguing prospects, though. Terrence Ross wasn’t the best rookie in the NBA last season. In fact, he wasn’t even one of the top 10 rookies. That doesn’t mean his rookie season didn’t go well though. Ross definitely proved he’s an elite dunker and won the NBA dunk contest. He’d benefit from the Raptors running a more uptempo offense because he loves to run and score in transition. His game is limited in a half court offense. His jumper is alright but could definitely use some work. The defensive potential is there, especially under Casey, but needs to add some muscle. The other prospect, the more intriguing one, is Jonas Valanciunas. Unlike Ross, Valanciunas was a top 10 rookie last season. He’s 7 feet tall and only 21 years old with room to improve. He’s already on his way to being one of the better shooting 7 footers in the NBA. His post game vastly improved during the duration of the season. The Raptors need to find a better way of getting Valanciunas involved on the offensive end since he had the 2nd highest true shooting percentage for all NBA centers at 61.3%. Where he really needs improvement is rebounding and fouling. 6 rpg is not good enough for a starting center. That’s Brook Lopez-esque. As for fouling, Valanciunas fouled almost 5 times every 36 minutes of playing time. He’ll need to learn to not foul if he wants to play big minutes, while still staying effective defensively. The Raptors very well could make their first playoff appearance this season, their first since Chris Bosh left. They have a solid starting lineup in Lowry, Derozan, Gay, and Amir Johnson, and Valanciunas. They have an alright bench with Psycho T, DJ, Novak, and Ross. They now have a top GM in Ujiri and a great defensive minded coach in Casey. Still, though, they’re neither good enough to be a contender nor bad enough to be an automatic lottery team.
- Boston Celtics: The Celtics are in a position that was very expected. In the summer of 2007, when the Celtics traded for both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, everyone knew that the Celtics would be a championship contender for the next couple of seasons. Everyone also knew that it would be a small window due to KGs, Allen’s, and Paul Pierce’s age. Six years later, their ages began to show. The Celtic big 3 managed 2 NBA finals appearances (winning 1). Now, they’re all gone. Allen left for the Heat to continue winning championships and KG and Pierce were shipped off to Brooklyn for Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace (and his huge contract), Marshon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, and 3 1st round draft picks. Not exactly the perfect rebuilding trade. It was good to get those draft picks and Brooks is a nice young piece to have, but why would you want Humphries or Wallace? Humphries had two above average seasons in a row so Brooklyn over paid him with a 2 year/$24 million contract. At least he’s off the books after this season. Wallace, on the other hand, still has 3 years/$30 million left on his contract. Besides replacing the big 3, the Celtics also had the challenge of replacing Doc Rivers. In case you didn’t know, they absolutely nailed it. Brad Stevens has spent the last six years turning the Butler Bulldogs into a basketball powerhouse. During his tenure as head coach at Butler, they went to the NCAA tournament 5 times (including two national championship appearances). Now, Stevens brings his solid fundamentals coaching style to the NBA. Stevens is a good coach and all, but, realistically, this Celtics team can only go as far as Rajon Rondo can take them. His health will make or break this season for the Celtics. When Rondo is healthy, he’s a top 10 PG in the NBA. He’s one of the best defensive players in the NBA and makes the players around him better with his amazing passing ability. Plus, he hits the boards like no other PG in the NBA. If this man had a consistent 3 point shot, he’d be in the MVP discussion every year. Besides LeBron, he’s the most fun player to watch in the NBA. But now, Rondo is coming off an ACL injury. There’s no timetable on his return, but it is known he won’t be back in time for the season opener. Until then, Stevens will have to get the best out of Avery Bradley at the PG position. Bradley was a highly recruited guard coming out of HS and committed to UT where he had one disappointing season before leaving for the NBA. The Celtics recognized his potential and drafted him 19th overall in 2010. Bradley’s disappointing play in college followed him to his rookie season. It looked like some Monstars had come and stolen Bradley’s talent. Then, in 2011, Bradley turned things around. He found his niche as a role player off the bench and a reliable defender. Bradley has now established himself as one of the best defensive guards in the NBA. As for his PG skills, he has ways to go. He isn’t much of a passer or play maker. He’ll need help from Jordan Crawford, Marshon Brooks, Phil Pressey and Courtney Lee. Crawford and Brooks are both shoot first shooting guards who have great ability to score, but need to work on everything else (including shot selection for their scoring). Pressey was highly recruited out of HS, played solid in college, and somehow went undrafted in a weak draft. The Celtics smartly picked him up and he could end up being their starting PG while Rondo is out. He’s a pass first guard with speed and quickness but needs to develop a consistent jumper. Lee will be called upon a lot at the beginning of the season as he is one of the veterans (at 28 years old). Lee is a classic three point specialist/defender. He may need to do a bit more than that, though, if this Celtics team wants a chance at the playoffs. As for the front court, we’ll start with a guy who could end up being the best player on the team if Rondo doesn’t recover well: Jeff Green. Green, who was actually originally drafted by the Celtics before being traded to the Supersonics for Ray Allen, showed a lot of potential of the player he is capable of being. Green has ridiculous athleticism for a guy that is 6’9 and 235 lbs. He can shoot and score, post up and score, and drive and score. He’s a good perimeter defender thanks to his size, but if he wants to play stretch 4, he needs to work on his post D. Then, there’s Brandon Bass. Bass is a stretch 4 and has a nice mid range touch. His biggest issue is his below average rebounding ability for a post player. Don’t forget about Jared Sullinger, though! Sully had a solid rookie season before it was cut short by an injury (of course). He showed he can bang in the post with the big boys. He scores, rebounds, and defends and has legitimate double-double potential every night…but he’s never healthy. And if he’s healthy, he’s fouling…a lot. He averaged over 6 fouls every 36 minutes. For the center position, the Celtics will be using a duo of Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk. Humphries was a double-double machine from 2010-2012. Almost all, if not all, of his points were thanks to either Deron Williams setting him up or getting a put back on an offensive rebound. Humph will hit the boards, but he can’t make his own shot so unless Rondo is healthy, don’t expect much from him offensively. In fact, don’t expect much from him defensively either. Expect Olynyk, the Celtics 2013 1st round pick, to get more playing time so they can develop him into one their players of the future. Olynyk showed a lot of potential during summer league (not that it means anything), but he a great scoring mentality. He’s not a great rebounder, but not a horrible one either. His defense will need a lot of work if he’s planning on guarding all-star big men. Realistically, Olynyk will be more of stretch 4 once the Celtics find a legitimate center. I’m also told he already has one of the best hair flips in the NBA since Sasha Vujacic. All in all the Celtics and Brad Stevens have a lot of nice pieces to work with. Good defenders like Lee and Bradley. Good scorers in Brooks and Crawford. Good all around in Green. But unless Rondo is back and his old self, this team can forget about the playoffs.
- Milwaukee Bucks: Last year, the Bucks became one of the worst playoff teams of all time. They could continue to hold that 8th seed, but it’s not going to do this franchise any good. Let’s start off with the bad and end with the good. First, there’s JJ Redick. Yes, I know he’s no longer on the team. That’s my point. The Bucks gave up their 2012 1st round pick Tobias Harris and others for JJ Redick last year to make a playoff push. Harris is now looking like he is going to be a solid NBA player. As for Redick? Well, the Bucks traded him away to the Clippers to get two 2nd round picks. So essentially, the Bucks traded their 2012 1st round pick Tobias Harris for two 2nd round picks….great job Bucks. Then, they traded their starting PG Brandon Jennings to Detroit for Brandon Knight. Jennings is by no means an all-star or anything but he’s sure as hell better than Knight. So based off these 2 moves to get picks and a younger PG, you’d think, “oh Milwaukee is just trying to get younger and get more picks to rebuild.” I’d agree with you but then they also signed OJ Mayo. Why? You do a good job by letting Monta Ellis go but then you just bring in another guy who needs the ball in his hands and is trigger happy. Don’t get me wrong. I think Mayo is talented and will put up big numbers this season because he’ll be the #1 option on offense, but to give him 3 years/$24 million is a little silly. Now, for the good. Well, like I said earlier, good job letting Monta Ellis walk. Then, they had an interesting draft. You have to think about this: No big time free agent is going to say, “I really want to live and play in Milwaukee!” The only way the Bucks are going to get an all-star is through the draft. That’s why they drafted the rawest prospect, who has one of the highest ceilings in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is unbelievably lanky (7-3 wing span) and is a perimeter player. He’s played a lot of point forward in Greece which has led to his good passing ability. He also excels in transition and on the boards. What he needs to work on is filling out his body or else he will get dominated on defense by NBA players. Antetokounmpo also needs help on his shot. There’s no fluidity or consistency. Then, the best part about this Bucks team is their young bigs. Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, and Ekpe Udoh. Larry Sanders is the next all-star big man. He’s already a top candidate for defensive player of the year. He hits the boards on offense and defense. Now, he just needs to add a few offensive moves. Most of his buckets come from offensive rebound put backs and alley oops. If he can add a few post moves or a somewhat consistent mid range jumper, Sanders will be a force in the NBA. Just like Sanders, Henson is a great blocker and rebounder with not much offensive game. Ilyasova, on the other hand, is the opposite. He’s a deadly shooter at the stretch 4 position but struggles defensively. He is an underrated rebounder, though. Udoh, the 2010 6th pick by the Golden State Warriors, has been a bust so far…but I’m not quite ready to give up on him. Like Sanders and Henson, Udoh is athletic and a good shot blocker, but has a limited offensive arsenal. The Bucks will sport an interesting duo at small forward. First, they brought back the sweet shooting Carlos Delfino. He may miss the beginning of the season after having surgery for a foot injury he suffered during the 2013 playoffs. Then, they brought in Caron Butler for guys that weren’t going to play. Butler isn’t nearly the player he use to be, but he can still stroke it from three land and at least he’s a veteran leader to have on this team. One of the more underrated moves of the offseason was the Bucks picking up Gary Neal. Neal has been a major role player on the San Antonio Spurs for the past three seasons. He averaged 9.8 ppg, 9.9 ppg, and 9.5 ppg during those seasons. It’s safe to say that at least a third of those points came from three pointers. He’ll log minutes at both PG and SG. He’s not much of a play maker but takes care of the ball. Expect him to be the leading the scorer off the bench this season for the Bucks. Lastly, the Bucks have a new head coach in Larry Drew. It was surprising to see the Bucks not bring back Jim Boylan, who was the interim head coach and got the Bucks to the playoffs. Drew has spent the past three seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, where he got them to the playoffs all three seasons. I wouldn’t call it an upgrade but I wouldn’t call it a downgrade either. When you look at this Bucks roster, you probably get very excited about their potential if you look at the big men…but then you look at the rest of the roster and realize there’s not much else.
- Orlando Magic: This time last year, we were all discussing how Orlando gave up Dwight Howard in a deal where they didn’t even get the 2nd best player in the deal in Andrew Bynum. They didn’t even get the 3rd best player in Andre Iguodala. Well, looks who’s laughing now. It’s quite clear, in my opinion, that the Magic have come away the winners of the 4 team blockbuster trade. The only players the Lakers gave up were Andrew Bynum (who ended up injured for the season) and Josh McRoberts, but also had to give up a 2017 1st round pick. They ended up with a one year rental of Dwight Howard, a one year rental of Chris Duhon, a one year rental of Earl Clark, and one of the most disappointing seasons in NBA history. The 76ers gave up their best player in Iguodala, a young center in Vucevic, and their 2012 1st round pick Moe Harkless for an injured season of Bynum and to overpay Jason Richardson for 3 seasons (about $6 million a year). Oh ya, they also have to give up a future 1st round pick. The Nuggets got a one year rental of Andre Iguodala for a young rising shooting guard in Aaron Afflalo and a 2014 1st round pick. The Magic gave up the best center in the NBA (only because they basically had to), Jason Richardson’s ridiculous contract, Earl Clark, and Chris Duhon for Vucevic, Afflalo, the expiring contract of Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts (who they turned into Hakim Warrick and waived), Moe Harkless, a potential lottery pick in what’s suppose to be the deepest draft in years, two more 1st round picks, and some 2nd round picks, as well. The Magic stole this trade. They now have a nice young core in Aaron Afflalo, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson and Victor Oladipo. The problem is that, as of right now, all of those players have only proven that they’re quality starters (at best) and the only one who seems to have real all-star potential is Oladipo, who hasn’t even played a game. For some reason when people think of Afflalo they think of a “3 and D” guy. This is hardly the case. His defense is good, but nothing special. The “3″ part is what is way off.. I’m not saying he can’t make threes, because he can. His problem is taking smart three point shots. He is an excellent corner three shooter. Everywhere else behind the arc? Awful. He is much more effective from mid range and driving to the basket. He needs a player to be able to set him up for his threes in the corner instead of trying to create his own shots. Vucevic was one of the best surprises in the NBA last season. He was 3rd in the NBA last season in double-doubles, behind just Dwight Howard and David Lee (two NBA all-stars). His defense needs a lot of work and he doesn’t have much of a post game, but he can rebound with the best of them and has a nice touch from mid range. He needs to bulk up and learn to play down low on offense and defense. Harkless is great athlete who should try and make a name for himself defensively if he wants to continue to get minutes in the NBA. He is a below average shooter who likes to shoot. Instead, he should be driving to the basket and working on his free throws so that way he can actually make them when he drives and gets fouled. Tobias Harris, like Vucevic, was one of the best surprises in the NBA. Picked up from the Bucks in the JJ Redick trade, Harris became an instant hit with the Magic averaging about 17 ppg and 8.5 rpg during his 27 games with the Magic. He can play either the 3 or stretch 4 positions and can stroke it from deep (he made 31% of his threes with the Magic). He can rebound well, but needs to work on his one on one defense. Andrew Nicholson is going to become a very dependable role player for a championship team. I’m betting on it. This guy can score. He’s not a great rebounder, but he can score. Did I mention he can score? Now I may be hyping him up a bit, but that’s only because I’m a big fan and real believer in Nicholson. Coming out of St. Bonaventure, he wasn’t too well known but worked his way into the lottery consideration but ended up being drafted 19th overall. Not too shabby. He averaged just 7.8 ppg last season…in 16.7 mpg. For 36 minutes, that’s about 17 ppg. Last season, Nicholson didn’t even attempt a 3 point shot. I know damn well that he’s capable of hitting 3s, but he was smart and took shots he knew he’d hit consistently, rather than risking it. If Nicholson does start shooting threes (and making them on a consistent basis) he’ll have one of the widest range of offensive skill: Three, midrange, post up, etc. Then, there’s Oladipo. Oladipo, the 2nd pick in the draft and considered the “safest” pick in the draft, is a work in progress. We know he is capable of being one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. He has quick feet and quick hands. He’s only 6’4 which could cause some match up problems with bigger shooting guards, but he already has good strength and quickness to stick with them. Rebound wise, Oladipo is not necessarily a good rebounder, but a good hustler. He’ll get loose balls but isn’t necessarily boxing out every play fighting for the board. The offensive end is where Oladipo’s potential takes a dip. He’s very capable of scoring in transition and as a cutter wing, but his jump shot needs a lot of work. I’m also afraid that the Magic could stunt his growth in skill with stupid experiments like putting Oladipo at PG. The man barely handled the ball in college. Throwing him out at a position he has rarely played against the best basketball players in the world isn’t going to help him. Maybe if he had a good mentor at PG, but Jameer Nelson hasn’t been healthy enough to show anyone he can play basketball since 2010. His shot, which is the best part of his game, has gotten progressively worse. Then, there’s the fan favorite: Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Built like a left tackle, Davis is a beast in the paint. On defense, he can’t be moved, he ends pick n rolls, and takes charges. Offensively, outside of right by the basket, he’s not very effective. He’ll get offensive boards and set picks, but he’s not much of a scorer unless right by the basket. Besides offense, Davis’ biggest issue is health. He’s never played a full season and is coming off of a foot injury. The Magic have some nice young pieces to work with, but need star power. Unless Oladipo turns into an all-star, they’ll need to strike gold in next years deep draft or possibly bundle up some of the youngsters for a star. This isn’t a contender season for the Magic, but a chance to see some players that could be the future.
- Charlotte Bobcats: As the Bobcats enter their 10th season in the NBA, they don’t have much to show. I want to start off with a trivia question: Who is the 6th leading scorer in Charlotte Bobcats history? Answer: Matt Carroll. The Bobcats have only had five guys score more points for them than Matt Carroll has. I’m going to go ahead and say that’s one of the many reasons they have struggled so far. In their nine seasons as a professional basketball franchise, the Bobcats have one winning season (the only season they have also made it to the playoffs). I don’t expect this season to change that. The Bobcats don’t have very many things going for them. For starters, they are in Charlotte. Secondly, they are called the Bobcats (let’s hope they change it to the Hornets soon). Thirdly, they are owned by Michael Jordan. No offense to “His Airness”, but he is one of the worst owners in sports. Honestly, the smartest thing he could do is come out of retirement and play at least one game for the Bobcats this season. They would make so much money off of it, it’d be ridiculous. But if we are keeping it realistic, the Bobcats will continue to struggle with their young team and Al Jefferson. Though Al Jefferson is a talented low post scorer that the Bobcats have lacked for years, giving him a 3 year/$41 million contract is a bit absurd. As Bill Simmons put it, “He (Jefferson) is an 18-9 guy. Not a 20-10 guy.” Jefferson is right on the brink of being an all-star but never reached it and probably never will reach that level now that he’s on the other end of his career. The good new about the Jefferson signing is that it will clear room for the new stretch 4 the Bobcats drafted: Cody Zeller. Many people were surprised to see Zeller get drafted so high, but he has a high ceiling and could turn into a real good player if he puts on some muscle so he can rebound and defend. The Bobcats will have three other interesting young players in the starting lineup along with Zeller. Running the point is the most talented player on the team, Kemba Walker. Walker is small but damn is he quick and now with a consistent 3 point shot, he is capable of averaging 20+ ppg. He turns the ball over a lot, but I blame a lot of that on the fact that he has to dribble around a bunch because he doesn’t have anyone to pass to. Then, at the other guard position, is Gerald Henderson. After originally looking like a bust his rookie year, the former 12th pick has turned into a capable scorer. Though he probably isn’t good enough to be a starter, he is the best option the Bobcats have. Henderson doesn’t have much range, but makes up for it on the defensive end with his good on ball defense. At the small forward, the Bobcats have one of the biggest mysteries in the NBA: Michael Kidd Gilchrist…MKG. There are many things to be said about MKG…not all necessarily good. He is unbelievably athletic, has a motor that never stops, great defender, goes for every rebound, blocks shots…can’t create shots for himself (which doesn’t really matter because he has a horrible jump shot). If MKG can somehow develop an average jumper, he’ll become a good player. As for now, it looks like that will never happen. He needs some offensive game to be able to stick around in this league (unless he becomes as good as Tony Allen on defense). The bench consist of past-prime players, draft bust, and over achieving late picks: Ben Gordon, Brendan Haywood, Ramon Sessions, Bismack Biyombo, and Jeff Taylor. Gordon once was one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA. Now, he still has an alright shot, but the rest of his game is horrible. Haywood basically just takes up place in the lane offensively. Defensively, he can still be effective at times but is a step (or two or three) slower than he was in his prime. Sessions is probably the most effective bench player the Bobcats have. He is a great driver and gets plenty of free throws. Not much of a true point guard, though, and can’t really play shooting guard since he can’t shoot. Biyombo is a former 7th overall pick that has really lived up to expectations cause if you were expecting Biyombo to be anything more than he has been, you are kidding yourself. Yes, he can block shots. Yes, he can rebound. But his man to man defense is nothing special and he has probably the worst offensive game in the NBA. Taylor was drafted 1st overall in the 2nd round last season by the Bobcats. Coming out of Vanderbilt, he was known as a smart player..but many scouts believed he had really reached his full potential already. The Bobcats smartly drafted him and it has paid off. He has a great shot, can really throw down dunks, and good defensive potential but has been disappointing so far. I think eventually Taylor will develop into a dependable 3 and D guy on a competitive team. The Bobcats have a ways to go before they are competitive again. Yes, they have some nice young pieces to work with, but they have to work together. For now, they are lucky the 76ers are in full tank mode or else they would easily be the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
- Philadelphia 76ers: They very well could set the record for worst winning percentage of all time (.106 by the 2012 Bobcats in short season and .110 by 1973 76ers in regular season). Who is going to score for them? Who is even going to start for them? If Michael Carter Williams is a bust, there is literally nobody on this team. Guess what? The 76ers don’t care! This is their master plan run by Sam Hinkie. He knows how valuable a top 3 pick in the 2014 draft will be. He wants to pair Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle or Jabari Parker with Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter Williams. That could be a dominant young trio going forward. OKC Thunder 2.0? The Philadelphia 76ers can only hope so. For this season, though, let’s see what they are working with. First off, they hired, hopefully, their coach for many years. Another Popovich prodigy, Brett Brown received his chance to become a NBA head coach this offseason. For those who don’t know, this is not Brown’s first head coach gig. He has also served as head coach of the North Melbourne Giants and Sydney Kings of the NBL (The Australian basketball league). He won one championship there before working under one of the greatest coaches in NBA history for 11 years (as an assistant coach from 2007-2013). Which players will he have on his team to work with? Well, the obvious player is Michael Carter Williams, the 11th pick in the 2013 draft. There is no doubt that MCW has great court vision and could be a fantastic passer…but can he shoot? There has been plenty of concern over whether or not MCW will ever be able to develop a consistent jumper. If not, it’s going to be hard for him to be successful in the NBA. Then, there is Evan Turner. The former #2 pick has improved every season so far, but has not improved enough to be considered worthy of where he was drafted. He’s managed to stay valuable due to being an excellent rebounder and playing hard nosed D. His offense, on the other hand, is a whole other story. He has no consistent jumper, has an improved 3 point shot that he doesn’t use enough, and rarely ever gets to the free throw line. This is the perfect opportunity for Turner this season. He will be a central part of this team and will have a chance to be a first or second option on offense while also being asked to guard the best wing on the opposing team every night. If he can have some success, he could be looking at a pay day after this season. In Thad Young, the 76ers have a very underrated player. Young has averaged about 14 ppg and 6 rpg in the past 5 seasons. This year, I expect his numbers to be even higher since he’ll probably have an opportunity to play 40 minutes each game. Doesn’t really seem like he’ll ever be an all-star until he score away from right by the basket. Defensively, he is much improved and can hold his own. After that, there’s not many players worth talking about on this team. Spencer Hawes is exactly who you think he is. A big white guy that can shoot but gets pushed around in the paint. For some reason, Tony Wroten has been talked about as if he is an all-star, yet he has not proved anything. Ya he could be a starter on this team, but that means absolutely nothing. I’m not going to discuss Nerlens Noel until we know he will actually play this season, which seems unlikely. 76ers fans, don’t get your hopes up about Royce White. He is NEVER going to contribute…positively. He’ll contribute to you going crazy and posting angry comments in forums about how he is a crazy ass-hole. What else is there really to say about this team? James Anderson may start. They’re paying Jason Richardson and Kwame Brown a combined $9 million this season. Oh, Lavoy Allen and Arnett Moultrie are nice young bigs but will never be better than what they are now: nice reserves. It’s difficult to imagine the 76ers winning games this season. Obviously they will win games, but I really expect them to be close to that worst NBA season record. If they somehow don’t end up with a top 3 pick next draft and this plan completely backfires, the 76ers could be in basketball hell for a while.
- San Antonio Spurs: For the past few seasons, the Spurs are, for some reasons, always counted out as a championship contender. I, amongst many, have been guilty of doing this. Every year, though, they prove everyone wrong. They have won the Southwest division (one of the best in basketball) the past three seasons with one conference finals appearance and one championship finals appearance. So why do we always count them out? Is it because they aren’t exciting? Is it because their core is older? Is it because we plain just do not like them? I don’t know what it is, but what I do know is I’m not counting out the Spurs ever again until Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are all gone. Popovich is one of the, if not the, greatest NBA coaches of all time. Did you know that last season was the first time Popovich has gotten to the championship and didn’t win? He was 4-0 before in the NBA Finals before losing in game 7 to the Heat last season. The man is a basketball genius. So what he doesn’t play at an exciting, up tempo pace. He doesn’t give a shit what the fans or the NBA thinks. All he cares about is winning games, even if that means sitting four starters against the best team in the NBA (by the way, the Spurs only lost that game by 5 points! Popovich almost beat the Heat with a starting lineup of Patty Mills, Nando de Colo, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Matt Bonner with James Anderson, Cory Joseph, Gary Neal, and Dejuan Blair off the bench). The big 3 of the Spurs may be aging, but they don’t really seem to be slowing down (besides Ginobili). Tony Parker was in the MVP talks for a good amount of last season. He averaged 20.3 ppg to go along with 7.6 apg. He isn’t much of a spot up shooter, which is fine because he attacks the basket which leads to setting up his teammates, as well as free throw opportunities. Mr. Fundamentals continued to do what Mr. Fundamentals does best: everything. He scores (with bank shots), rebounds, defends, passes out of the post, blocks shots, and is an incredible outlet passer. Every year we question whether or not this will be Duncan’s last season, but he always answers with another productive season making us think that he can play forever. As for Ginobili, he seems to be on the downfall of his career. He has suffered a lot of injuries and his three point shot is on the decline. Ginobili will be asked to be more of a play maker than a scorer for what is likely to be his last two seasons in the NBA. Luckily, the Spurs have two young wings who will be great players for many years. First, there is Danny Green. Green was a core player for the 2009 UNC basketball team that won a championship. For some reason, he fell to the 2nd round of the NBA draft while his teammates Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Wayne Ellington were all drafted in the 1st round. After spending his rookie season with the Cavaliers and playing sparingly, Green was waived. Eventually, he was picked up by the Spurs. His first season with the Spurs was spent mainly in the D-League but they saw his potential to be an incredible 3 and D player. Fast forward to 2013 and Danny Green is setting the record for most 3 pointers made in the NBA Finals. His defense isn’t exactly where it could be one on one, but he plays great team defense. Then, there is Kawhi Leonard. Remember when the Spurs traded George Hill, coming off a breakout season, to the Pacers for Kawhi Leonard and everyone was like are the Spurs crazy? Are they mad? Trading a guy who could be their PG for years after Parker retires for an unproven guy who never really was a star in college is crazy! Well, who is crazy now! George Hill is an okay starting PG, but Kawhi Leonard is the future of the Spurs. He is a future all-star. Leonard is quickly becoming one of the best defenders in the NBA with ability to guard wings and even some power forwards. His offense has been improving tremendously. Offensively, he can play behind the arc or as stretch 4. He is versatile and hardworking with nothing really to dislike about him. As for the rest of this team, there are plenty of other great role players. Tiago Splitter was resigned to a fair 4 year/$36 million contract. He is great in the pick n roll with Parker, but I’m scared for what he will look like defensively once he doesn’t have Duncan there to help him. The Spurs lost (let?) Gary Neal this offseason, but he was replaced with another pure shooter in Marco Belinelli. Belinelli needs to just stay behind the arc and wait for Parker or Ginobili to set him up for a shot rather than trying to make his own plays. The past few seasons, I’ve made the mistake of counting out the Spurs. Not this year. I’m not making that mistake again. No matter how much I dislike them, no matter how boring they are, and no matter how old they are, I have to recognize that the Spurs are the best team in the NBA and still have a bright future with Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Tiago Splitter…especially with Popovich coaching.
- Los Angeles Clippers: In my opinion, the Clippers are the deepest team in the NBA. They potentially have eleven guys who are capable of being in the rotation. They were one of the deepest teams in the NBA last year, too. So what was holding them back? Well, some may argue that they were held back by the poor coaching of Vinny Del Negro. The Clippers took care of that and brought in Doc Rivers, one of the best coaches in the NBA (one of the four coaches in the NBA to win a championship). The Clippers were also close to adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. If that had happened, I would call them the early favorites to win the NBA Championship. Nonetheless, the Clippers were still able to beef up their team. The Clippers gave up Eric Bledsoe, considered to be the top backup PG in the NBA last season, Caron Butler, and a 2nd round draft pick for JJ Redick and Jared Dudley. Yes, Bledsoe is a young talent…but he wasn’t going to get playing time with Chris Paul there. They thought they could get more useful players for him, which they did. By getting Doc Rivers, two great shooters, and keeping CP3, the Clippers were able to have one of the best offseasons in the NBA. The Clippers are considered to be a high powered offensive team, but they struggled from behind the arc last season. They were middle of the pack in the NBA last season, ranking 15th. By adding Redick and Dudley, they have two of the best pure shooters in the NBA that can just stand behind the arc and wait for CP3 to do what he does and set them up for what they do. Forget about “Lob City”. The Clippers are about to join the Knicks and Rockets in “Live and Die by the 3 City”. CP3, Redick, Dudley, Jamal Crawford, Antwan Jamison, Byron Mullens, Willie Green, and Reggie Bullock are all good three point shooters….and I’m sure CP3 will throw up some lobs to Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan, too. Speaking of which, let’s discuss the Clippers starting front court. Deandre Jordan has to be one of the most overrated players in the NBA. Yes, he has some cool jams..okay they’re filthy jams, but besides that he is a complete waste offensively and you can’t keep him in late in games because he can’t hit his free throws. Defensively, he’ll get blocks, but he is by no means a defensive stud. Luckily for him, Doc Rivers will teach him the ways and he’ll be able to reach his defensive potential. Some think Blake Griffin is overrated and believe all he does is dunk. That is just not true. Griffin has developed a well rounded offensive game. Outside of being a fantastic dunker, Griffin also has developed a good post game. He has a nice fade away off the block and also makes smart passes out of the post (hello more 3 pointers). Now if Griffin can develop a consistent jumper, he’ll be even more of a threat. Defensively, Griffin is improved but still not a very good defender. He rebounds well, but it’d be nice if he played help defense so Deandre didn’t have to try and block every shot. Plus, there’s the “Blake Face“. Off the bench, the Clippers have Jamal Crawford, a candidate for 6th man. He won’t play good defense, he won’t rebound, and he won’t really run the offense, but he will shoot the ball. If he’s hot, he is capable of winning the game. If he is off, take him out immediately because Crawford has a mentality of the best way to get out of a shooting funk is by continuing to shoot. Matt Barnes is a nice defender who would probably start for the Clippers if he had an offensive game. He is capable of guarding the best wing on an opposing team but don’t expect much offensively unless it’s fast break or a spot up 3. Then, there’s Darren Collison. I’m expecting good things from him this season. He is in a role he is use to (backing up CP3 for a second time in his career) and won’t really be expected of much in the role. Hopefully, Rivers will allow the 2nd unit to play up tempo like they did last year because that is where Collison is at his best since he is one of the fastest players in the NBA. Jamison is still a capable scorer but can’t guard even backup forwards. The same can be said of Byron Mullens. The Clippers are very capable of putting up 100+ ppg, but the key will be defense. That is why Doc Rivers will be the key for this team. If the players listen to Doc, then they will succeed. For some reason, I have no problem believing that this team can put up the best record in the Western Conference, but I also have a hard time believing they can win a championship. I know CP3 is a championship PG. I know Doc Rivers is a championship coach. But can the rest of the team help them out and help them get there?
- Houston Rockets: Last season, the Rockets were a big surprise in the NBA. First off, they were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA before making what is looking like it will be one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. Essentially, the Rockets gave up a year of Kevin Martin, an unproven Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Alex Abrines, and a 1st round pick for the best SG in the NBA in James Harden. A year later, they have the best SG and the best Center in the NBA in Dwight Howard after surprising the league and being a playoff team. Things can only get better from here for Houston…but there are still some issues. First off, there is the the PG controversy. The Rockets made some noise last offseason before trading for James Harden by signing Linsanity. Of course, Lin came back down to reality last season and only really looked like the player he was during the Linsanity era in the OT game versus the Spurs where he dropped 38 points. In fact, that was one of the only three games where Lin was the leading scorer for the Rockets. Then, at the beginning of January, the Rockets signed Patrick Beverley. Beverley had received opportunities to make NBA teams, but it never worked out. He was coming off a season overseas where he was named the MVP of the 2nd tier Euroleague. Rockets fans didn’t expect much so they were pleasantly surprised when Beverley became the backup PG by early February and Toney Douglas was eventually shipped off to Sacramento with Patrick Patterson. In his limited minutes so far, we were able to see his defensive potential and catch and shoot ability. Still, Lin was the fan favorite and seemed more talented. Then, the playoffs came. Lin struggled in game 1 and then was forced out due to injury. In his replacement, Beverley helped Rockets fans forget about Lin with his 11.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, and 1.2 spg. Oh and he also did this…Even though the Rockets lost the series, plenty of Rockets fans were calling for Beverley to be the starter for the 2013-2014 season. That’s when the Lin trade rumors began but nothing ever developed from them. Now, during the pre-season, we have seen both Lin and Beverley receive starts and even coach Kevin McHale stated that he has two starting PGs. But come regular season, who will actually get the starts? Lin is a much better pick n roll player and with the signing of Dwight Howard, he will be much more valuable there. But Beverley is a better spot up shooter and defender which makes him a better fit next to Harden. In my opinion, I think Lin will and should get the starting spot. Potential-wise, he is a more talented PG than Beverley. He also spent a majority of his offseason working on his shooting so he can play off the ball, and so far it looks like it has improved. Defensively, he is not horrible but takes a lot of risk. Well, with Dwight behind him guarding the rim, it’ll be okay for Lin to take these risks. Besides, Beverley seems more fit for a 2nd unit role since he is an energy player. The next question for this team is who starts at PF next to Dwight? There seems to be 5 options at the moment: Omer Asik, Omri Casspi, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, and Greg Smith. Last offseason, the Rockets made a ballsy decision in signing Omer Asik to 3 year/$25 million contract. It was ballsy cause Asik had only played 2 season and spent those seasons as a backup. He had never averaged more than 15 mpg and never averaged more than 3.1 ppg. He also seemed to be a 50% free throw shooter (at best). What he had proven in his limited playing time was that he is a defensive stud, which is why the Rockets wanted him so badly. Daryl Morey figured that if his playing time was extended, the defense would continue and he would find a way to score points..which he did. Asik was a double-double machine last year and one of the best big men defenders in the NBA, too. He is obviously the most talented of the PF options so why wouldn’t he start? Because him and Howard both have to be near the basket offensively, which would clog the lanes for drivers like Harden, Lin, and Chandler Parsons. Defensively, nobody would ever score in the paint or get an offensive rebound, but either Asik or Howard would have to guard stretch 4s occasionally which could become an issue. Omri Casspi has been a pleasant surprise during the pre-season. He has been a great shooter (especially from 3) and has proven he is an excellent rebounder for his size. The problems are 1) It’s only pre-season and 2) Has has never played the 4 before. Casspi would probably be successful as a stretch 4 offensively, but defensively he will have issues guarding larger power forwards (especially since his defense is already suspect at his natural position of small forward). Terrence Jones, to me, is the best choice. Offensively, he has range from inside the paint to the three point line. His shot selection can be bad, but he’d be the fifth option so it wouldn’t really matter. Defensively, he is a good shot blocker which would make for him and Howard to be one of the best big men defensive duos in the NBA. D-Mo, like Jones, has range all the way to behind the arc. Unlike Jones, he has more of a post game (a European style post game). Defensively, he has become more active but still needs to improve if he wants to play big minutes. He should get more blocks and rebounds for his size. He spent the summer with the Lithuanian National Team and put on a good amount of muscle. He seems to have a leg up in the competition seeing as how he started the most games at PF last season out of these options. Finally, there’s Greg Smith. Smith actually finished the season as the starting PF for the Rockets. Now, he seems to have the worst shot of these options at starting there. Like Asik, the problem offensively would be clogging the lanes. Defensively, it’d be difficult for teams to score in the paint but stretch 4s would cause an issue. Basically, no shot at starting since the same issues he’d cause, Asik would cause and Asik is the more talented player. I expect D-Mo to get the starting spot, but wouldn’t be surprised if Asik gets some starts against bigger teams and Jones ultimately ends up with the starting spot. Lastly, there’s the question of how Dwight Howard fits with this team. The Rockets played at the fastest pace in the NBA last season (About 99 possessions per game). This led to them being the 2nd highest scoring team in the NBA (106 ppg). With Dwight, will the offense have to slow down and, as a result, not be as effective? Well, pace-wise I think they wont be as fast, but that’s just what happens when you add one of the most effective post players in the NBA. Scoring-wise, I don’t expect a big drop off. The year Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic went to the NBA Finals, they averaged 101 ppg. This Rockets offense is much better than there’s, especially since they have James Harden (a top 5 scorer last season). Defensively, Howard will be the anchor. We all know what he is capable of defensively. The issue is health. If he is healthy, he’s the best center in the NBA. When not healthy, he is the most frustrating player in the NBA. So how did the Rockets go from being a consistent 8th or 9th place in the Western Conference to a Championship contender: Daryl Morey. In a way, Morey was able to turn a retired Yao Ming, Ron Artest, a finished Tracy McGrady, Carl Landry, and Rafer Alston into James Harden. That could also be interpreted as he turned Trevor Ariza, Jordan Hill, Carl Landry, and Rafer Alston into James Harden. He also turned Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, and Steve Novak into Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and Dwight Howard. Ya he’s that good. And if there’s one thing to know about Morey it’s that he never thinks a roster is finished. He is always looking to improve the roster. My big prediction for him this season that is if the Blazers start to lose a lot and look to make a trade to rebuild, Morey is going to find a way to turn Omer Asik into Lamarcus Aldridge. I know it sound crazy, but so was that James Harden trade. The Rockets are a potential championship contender. They just need to find a way to make sure their offense continues to be explosive while incorporating Dwight in the middle and defensively, need to not just rely on Dwight like they did with Asik last season.
- Golden State Warriors: The Warriors are definitely built to be the most entertaining team in the NBA. First, they have the “Splash Bros” in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Besides watching LeBron Jams go off, Stephen Curry is probably the most entertaining player in the NBA to see go off in a game. With Klay Thompson also turning into one of the best shooters in the NBA, the Warriors have the best shooting back court in the NBA. The Warriors also had one of the most underrated offseasons in the NBA. They emerged as a dark horse in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes but were not able to come away with the prize. They lost Jarrett Jack, who was underrated in his value to the team last season. Instead, the Warriors ended up with Andre Iguodala. Not too shabby. Iguodala gives the Warriors a perimeter defender they desperately needed and will be successful in their uptempo offense. He’s also a very good ball handler and passer, which will make it easier for Curry and Thompson to play off the ball and be spot up shooters. In the post, the Warriors have a double-double machine in David Lee. Lee scores in the post and has an excellent mid range game. Though Lee gets a lot of rebounds, he’s not necessarily that good of a rebounder. He doesn’t box out a lot, which allows opposing teams to get offensive rebounds. Defensively, he is a joke. Then, there is Andrew Bogut. Bogut is an interest player. A former #1 pick, Bogut developed into one of the best defensive big men in the NBA. Unfortunately, he has not been able to stay healthy during his career. If Bogut is healthy, the Warriors won’t have to worry as much about David Lee as a defensive liability. If he can’t stay on the court, though, their interior defense will struggle. Off the bench, the Warriors have a young 6th man candidate in Harrison Barnes. Expect Barnes to be used a lot as a stretch 4 this season after he played his best basketball there during the playoffs. He is an excellent athlete, but there doesn’t really seem to be one thing he does very well. Eventually, Barnes needs to make a name for himself as either a shooter, cutter, or lock down defender. That’s not all they have off the bench, though. They signed two big men in Marreese Speights and Jermaine O’Neal. Speights can shoot from anywhere inside the 3 point line, but isn’t much of a post up threat. He is more suited to be a stretch 4 than a center. His rebounding and defense seem to be getting progressively better but has a lot of room to improve. O’Neal is a tenth of the player he once was. When he is healthy, which hasn’t been too often lately, he can still play good post D. Offensively, he won’t do much unless set up near the basket or offensive put backs. This Warriors team is scary offensively. Defensively, they’re a mystery. That’s why Andre Iguodala is the wild card for this team (along with Stephen Curry’s ankle and Andrew Bogut’s health). If Iguodala can continue to be one of the best perimeter defender in the NBA and, perhaps, rub off on some of his teammates, this is a team that can go far in the playoffs. Also, expect a trend of former PGs who are known to have high basketball IQs and no coaching experience to start getting head coaching jobs thanks to Mark Jackson (you’re welcome Jason Kidd). He took over a team that was 23-43 the year before and hadn’t been to the playoffs since Baron Davis and the #8 seed Warriors upset the #1 seed Mavericks. The Warriors will be fun to watch and even more fun for Warriors fans if their defense hits a stride.
- Oklahoma City Thunder: Two seasons ago, the Thunder were in a great position. They had just won the Western Conference Championship with a core of Kevin Durant (23), Russell Westbrook (23), James Harden (22), and Serge Ibaka (22). They lost 4-1 in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat, but still things looked very bright for the OKC Thunder. Then, things went downhill. First, they made the horrible mistake of giving Serge Ibaka a big contract extension instead of giving one to James Harden. This led to the Thunder trading away Harden to the Rockets in a deal where it looks, so far, like the Thunder got absolutely trashed. Still, they were able to be good enough to lock up the 1st seed in the Western Conference last season. The Thunder looked like a good pick to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals again…until Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus. The Thunder escaped the 1st round versus the Rockets, but were eventually knocked out in the next round by the Grizzlies. Things didn’t get much better during the offseason, either. Kevin Martin, who the third leading scorer for the Thunder, left for Minnesota. They had a good draft by adding Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, but who knows if they’ll be able to contribute right away. Then, the news broke that Westbrook could miss first month or two of the NBA season. That means the Thunder will have to replace their second and third leading scorers from last season and since they didn’t sign anyone this season, they’ll have to do it from within. Well, let’s look at who will be given those tasks. First, there’s Reggie Jackson. Jackson has proven he is a capable player. In college, he was a great shooter but it seems like he has lost his touch. It’d be nice if he could find that touch, though, cause the Thunder could use some deadly shooters around Durant. Luckily, Jackson has been able to adjust his game to more of a pick n roll/penetration game. When he penetrates, the D clumps to the middle and Jackson will find Durant for open shots. As a defender, he is a good man to man defender and, also, hits the boards. Next, there’s Jeremy Lamb. There is no doubt that Lamb has great potential as a scorer. He has proven it in college. He has proven it in summer league. He has proven it in the D-League. Now, he needs to prove it in the NBA. He has the athleticism and length to be a good defender, but it just seems like he doesn’t put in the work to be a good defender. Lamb always has the T-Mac high/sleepy face on, too. If Lamb doesn’t step up this season, the Thunder are going to have some issues. With Westbrook out, who is going score for this Thunder team? Even when Westbrook returns, the Thunder can’t expect Durant to drop 50 and Westbrook to drop 40 every game! What if Westbrook is hesitant on his knee or doesn’t have the same explosiveness? They’re going to have some major issues scoring, even though Kevin Durant is the greatest scorer in the NBA. Speaking of Durant, let’s talk about him. Now, we all know that Durant can score..from anywhere. But what about the other aspects of his game? Last season, Durant had his career high in blocks, steals, assists, and rebounds. Needless to say, the rest of his game is improving. He is the clear cut second best basketball player in the world behind LeBron James. Durant is an excellent rebounder thanks to being the height of most power forwards and centers. He has become a better play maker, which is huge for when Westbrook is out. And his defense is vastly underrated. While Westbrook is out, Durant is going to have to put up 35+ points in games against playoff teams (in my opinion). The thing is…I think Durant is totally capable of doing that. I would not be surprised if Durant averaged over 35 ppg during the first two months of the season. Now, the big men. First, there’s Kendrick Perkins…WHY DIDN’T THE THUNDER JUST KEEP JEFF GREEN?! Can you imagine?! Anyways, Perkins is still a capable defender in the post, but really doesn’t do much else. He is one of the worst offensive players in the NBA and is no longer a reliable starter. This is another one of the Thunder’s big issues. Unless Steven Adams pans out, the Thunder will, yet again, be on the hunt for a center. Next to him is Serge Ibaka. Everyone knows what Iblocka can do defensively, but did anyone notice his much improved offense? He has range to the three point line now, which is huge. He is now, along with Kevin Garnett, one of the most deadly mid range big men shooters in the NBA. What Ibaka really needs to work on is his rebounding. The Thunder have one of the most underrated backup big men in the NBA off the bench in Nick Collison. Collison is one of the smartest players in the NBA, making it an easy choice to play him. In fact, I’d probably play him over Perkins for now on if I was Scott Brooks. He plays hard nosed D, is willing to take charges, can defend centers, power forwards, or stretch 4s, and knows that his offense isn’t his strength which leads to smart offensive plays instead of throwing up dumb shots. Other players worth mentioning for this team are Thabo Sefolosha and Steven Adams. Sefolosha is purely a 3 and D guy. What’s key for Sefolosha as a three point shooter, though, is that he’s set up for his shot. We saw Sefolosha completely disappear on offense during the playoffs with Westbrook out. Adams is a good rebounder and defender. He is pretty athletic. Unfortunately, he can’t really shoot so he won’t get many baskets unless he’s near the basket. He won’t be able to play in crunch time, either, since he is a horrible free throw shooter. The Thunder have Kevin Durant which means you can’t count them out as a Championship Contender…but I’m not optimistic about them. There’s too many question marks with Westbrook and his injury, whether Jackson and Lamb can fill in, if Perkins can become a dependable starter again, and will anyone step up to help Durant while Westbrook is out. For now, with teams like the Rockets and Warriors making offseason moves to improve and the Thunder standing pat, they have dropped from 1st to 5th in the Western Conference.
- Memphis Grizzlies: Like the Thunder, the Grizzlies have a solid squad…but they’re being jumped in the Western Conference rankings due to making lateral moves while other teams went out and brought in star players. The Grizzlies first made sure to keep their core, then brought in some players to boost their bench. Their first priority was bringing back Tony Allen, which they did. Allen is the best perimeter defender in the NBA (besides maybe LeBron). He is also an excellent rebounder for a guard. Unfortunately, he continues to be completely irrelevant on the offensive end. Luckily, he is so good defensively that it doesn’t really matter. Then, they brought in a familiar face: Mike Miller. Miller played for the Grizzlies from 2002-2008, when he had the best seasons of his career (including 2006 when he won 6th man of the year). If he is healthy, he will be very important to the Grizzlies chances of being a championship contender. He is still one of the best shooters in the NBA and is an underrated passer and rebounder. His defense is poor. If only there was a way the Grizzlies could combine Tony Allen and Mike Miller to create the ultimate 3 and D player. They also brought in Nick Calathes. Calathes was a college star at Florida and was drafted in 2009 but has been playing overseas. I think this was a very underrated move. Calathes knows how to fill the stat line. He is an all round PG. Due to his height (6’5), he can guard PGs, SGs, and SFs. Offensively, he has great court vision and prefers the pick n roll game. Another Grizzlies offseason move that people tend to forget about is the fact that they replaced Lionel Hollins. Instead, Dave Joerger will now be their new head coach. From what most people say, it seems as if this will be a lateral move and Hollins was let go due to having a different perspectives then the front office. Now, for their core. The Grizzlies have the best big men duo in the NBA. Marc Gasol is the best center in the NBA when Dwight Howard is injured or on the Lakers. Even though he is the center, he is better suited playing in the high post thanks to his consistent mid range jumper. That’s not to say he can’t finish at the rim either, but he plays well in the high post because he can shoot and is the best passing big man in the NBA, too. Oh, and on top of that he’s also an elite defensive player. He just won defensive player of the year. Next to him is the even bigger big man: Zach Randolph. Randolph is an excellent scorer that can post up or face up his defender. He is a double-double machine thanks to his fat ass boxing out and gobbling up every rebound. Defensively, he gets in position, but then gets beat since he is slow and doesn’t have the length to block shots. The other two starters that haven’t been mentioned are Tayshaun Prince and Mike Conley Jr. Prince came over in the Rudy Gay trade that ended up being addition by subtraction. Prince doesn’t get buckets like Gay did, but he also doesn’t slow down and kill the offense like Gay did. Prince isn’t quite the shooter he once was, but can still stroke from the corners. He has the athleticism to drive to the basket, but seems hesitant to do so. Defensively, his age has slowed him down, but he still a shot disrupter. Conley, on the other hand, had a career year. With that said, Conley is nothing special. He’ll never be an all-star, but always just a serviceable starting PG. Conley is a good play maker with an average jumper, who needs to stop settling for jumpers and attack the basket instead. Defense is where he makes his name. Him and Tony Allen make up one of the, if not the, best defending back courts in the NBA. Conley was third in the NBA in steals behind just Chris Paul and Ricky Rubio. Then, there is the Grizzlies bench. Nothing special, but it gets the job done. The players that will likely get playing time (besides Mike Miller and Nick Calathes) are Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter, Ed Davis, and Kosta Koufos. Bayless is a SG stuck in a PG body, but his shooting isn’t even too special. It’s more so that he isn’t much of a play maker. His best assets are his speed and athleticism. Sometimes he gets hot and can score in bunches, but it rarely seems to happen. Defensively, he has tools to be a plus defender with his speed and athleticism but the mentality is not there. Pondexter has finally found a role in the NBA. Last season, he stepped up for the Grizzlies as a shooting specialist. He succeeds mainly as a catch and shoot player, but can also drive the lanes. He is so athletic and lengthy that it makes it difficult to understand why he is not a much defender. When Pondexter was on the court, the Grizzlies gave up 6.2 points per 100 possessions. If he wants to be able to stay on the court, he’ll have to improve defensively or continue to improve offensively to the point where they can’t take him off the court. Ed Davis was the core part of the Raptors package to the Grizzlies. He’s worthy of starting, but it’s not exactly easy with Gasol and Randolph on the team. Davis runs the floor well for a big man and has good athleticism for his size. He’s still improving in the post, but it helps to learn from Randolph. Defensively, he is still a work in process, but is definitely improving. If he can put it all together, he will become a good NBA starter…but it is going to be hard to find playing time. Then, there is Koufos. The Grizzlies traded Darrell Arthur for Koufos to have a legitimate back up for Gasol…what a steal. Now the Grizzlies have two the best defensive centers in the NBA. Koufos protects the rim and grabs rebounds. What’s also great is that Gasol is so versatile that he may be capable of sliding over to power forward and playing next to Koufos so they can sport both defensive specialist simultaneously. Offensively, his specialty is grabbing offensive rebounds. The Grizzlies have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference for the past three seasons, but didn’t do enough this past offseason to keep up with the competition. Unless Conley takes another step towards being an all-star, or Tony Allen learns to shoot, or an unexpected bench player really steps up his game, I don’t think the Grizzlies have enough to be the best in the Western Conference.
- Minnesota Timberwolves: From top to bottom, the T-Wolves are my favorite NBA team that isn’t from my hometown. The problem is the health. The health of Ricky Rubio. The health of Kevin Love. The health of Kevin Martin. The health of Chase Budinger. It’s simple…if this team is healthy, they are a playoff team. If not, they will find themselves in the lottery yet again. First, though, we need to congratulate the T-Wolves on finally firing David Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaahn. Why would we congratulate them? Well, maybe because Kahn was responsible for the T-Wolves drafting Rubio and Jonny Flynn back to back in the NBA draft (why draft two point guards back to back? oh and Flynn is out of the NBA and Curry was the next pick). He also drafted Ty Lawson…but traded him so he could get Martell Webster (thank god!). Next year, Kahn drafted Wesley Johnson 4th overall (instead of Boogie Cousins, Greg Monroe, Paul George, and Larry Sanders). Eventually, Johnson had to be packaged with a 1st round draft pick in order to be traded. Then, in 2011, he drafted Derrick Williams who has just not lived up to the potential. Outside of the draft, Kahn signed Darko Milicic to a 4 year/$20 million contract. The man was just downright turrible at his job. Now, the T-Wolves have brought in Flip Saunders. Will Saunders be good? That’s to be seen. But will he be better than Kahn? Ha no doubt about it. Now, onto the team. Let’s start with the Big 3: Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Kevin Love. When Rubio was first drafted, there were many who doubted him. Some said all he could do is pass. Others said he was too flashy to be in the NBA. Well, Rubio is proving them wrong and I am loving every second of it. Rubio showed his potential his rookie season with great passes, excellent drives, and tough D…but then he tore his ACL. Last season, he returned and struggled but found his groove towards the end of the season. In fact, Rubio averaged 14.5 points, 9.2 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per 36 minutes in the last 3 months of the season. Rubio ranks high in the NBA in terms of court vision. Now, he needs to work on developing a consistent jumper and finishing at the rim. Defensively, he is feisty. He is quick and long so it’s easy for him to keep his man in front of him. Next, there’s Pekovic. Pekovic was an interesting story this offseason. He was a restricted free agent, but nobody ever came in to make an offer besides the T-Wolves. So him and the T-Wolves eventually agreed upon a fair 5 year/$60 million contract. Pekovic is probably the strongest player in the NBA besides Reggie Evans. His strength makes it nearly impossible for him to be pushed around once he establishes position in the post, which is where he thrives. As a defender, players posting up have issues, but face up players have an easier time. Pekovic hardly blocks shots and isn’t a great rebounder, but that doesn’t really matter with Kevin Love playing. Speaking of which, let’s talk about Love ;) With all the talk about people missing D. Rose last season, I was one of the minority crying for Kevin Love. Love is the best power forward in the NBA (unless you consider Duncan a 4). He’s the best rebounder in the NBA. He once grabbed THIRTY ONE rebounds in one game. As for his offensive arsenal, he is a man of many weapons. He can shoot all the way out from the 3 point line, he can face up, or he can post up. Defensively, he is average and nothing more, nothing less. The rest of the team is a good supporting cast. The T-Wolves may have finally figured out their shooting guard issue that has plagued them for years. Kevin Martin is a pure scorer who knows Rick Adelman’s offense having played for him in Houston. Martin moves well without the ball, so he will excel playing next to Rubio. Their defense will need to hide him as he is a liability. Budinger, like Martin, knows Adelman’s offense well and is a good shooter. He is also a terrific dunker due to his days as the California High School Volleyball Player of the Year. Defensively, he is athletic and long but isn’t much of a stopper. Also, he is already injured. So who will fill in until he’s healthy? Well, first there’s Corey Brewer. They gave him a 3 year/$14 million contract this offseason, which may be a little much. Brewer is a real athlete. He’s not much of a basketball player. He plays good man defense, but could be better. Offensively, he scores in transition and has improved from 3, but isn’t much more. Then, there is Derrick Williams. Williams has never lived up to the #2 hype, but that’s not to say he’s been a complete bust. Williams has been playing the 4 spot most of his NBA career, but wants to play the 3. Now, he’ll get his opportunity. He will need to improve tremendously from behind the arc or go back to being a face up penetrater like he was in college if he wants to succeed. Lastly, there is my dark horse: Shabazz Muhammad. Muhammad was the #1 high school player in the nation two years ago, then had a disappointing one year at UCLA, and dropped from consensus #1 pick to 14th in the draft. I have a feeling that Muhammad is going to be an effective NBA player. He is a scorer and has a scoring mentality. I think he will have an easy time getting his buckets while playing off of Rubio. I think Adelman will be able to help develop Muhammad’s game and he will turn into a dependable NBA player. As for the rest of the bench, the T-Wolves have JJ Barea, Alexey Shved, and Ronny Turiaf. Barea will continue to backup Rubio and can even play next to him as a shooter. He plays well as a pick n roll player. Defensively, he gambles a lot and was hurt by the new anti-flopping rules. Shved was a pleasant surprise last season. The Russian did a good job filling in at PG with Rubio out, then played well with him when he returned. He is a good play maker with ball skills to get himself and his teammates good shots. His issue is making his shots. Defensively, he has good size against guards. Lastly, there is Turiaf. In the words of Jalen Rose, “Keep getting those checks big fella!” Turiaf has made a career out of being a journeyman backup center. He will continue that role in Minnesota, where they can depend on him for good defense and good post passing. Don’t expect any big scoring from him. I love this Minnesota team. Rubio dishes out sexy passes. Love shoots lights out and rebounds like no other. Pekovic tries to kill superman..eh I mean he supplies good post ups to spread the offense. If they finally…FINALLY…stay healthy, then they can get to the playoffs..and maybe further if their bench lives up to the potential. Adelman is one of the best coaches in the NBA currently and NBA history. He can get them to the promised land.
- Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks finished four games behind the Rockets, the 8th seed in the Western Conference, last season. Dirk Nowitzki missed 29 games last season. If Nowitzki had been healthy, the Mavericks would have been a playoff team. That’s why I think they will be one this season. The Mavericks offseason was considered a failure because they had been setting themselves up for this offseason since their 2011 championship. They wanted CP3 or Dwight Howard and couldn’t convince either to come to Dallas. Instead, they let OJ Mayo leave, they said goodbye to Darren Collison, told Chris Kaman to get his scary ass out of town, allowed Elton Brand to continue his journey across America, and let Anthony Morrow leave, too. So how did they replace them? Well, to replace Mayo, they brought in Monta Ellis. Ellis, like Mayo, is a high volume scorer who doesn’t have a filter on his shot selection. If he finally stops taking threes (which would be about 9 years too late) then he will be a good pickup. He’ll take a lot of gambles on defense and it will either lead to some fast break points or to playing 4 on 5. To replace Collison, the Mavericks brought in Calderon. I thought, though they overpaid him, this was a nice signing. Calderon is a nifty passer who will set up Dirk well on the pick n roll and he can also drain the 3 playing off the ball. Defensively, he is at the end of his career and is a step slower making him an even worse defensive player. Him and Ellis could get torched. That’s why it’s important they brought in a rim protector to replace Kaman/Brand in Samuel Dalembert. He won’t get you many baskets besides dunks and put backs, but he will give you blocked shots, rebounds, and six well used fouls. The rest of the starting lineup consist of Dirk and Shawn Marion. Dirk is one of the best shooters in the NBA and of all time. His shot is almost impossible to block. He also has hair like Hansel. Defensively, he is underrated and will get blocked shots. His rebounding has decreased but he still able to grab 7 boards a game. Marion, unlike Dirk, has the ugliest shot in the NBA. Luckily, he won’t be asked to shoot much and is more of a passer and cutter. Really his biggest effect is on the other side of the ball where he is a ball stopper and forces turnovers. He’s also still a force on the boards. The bench will be interesting. First, there’s DH…Devin Harris. He is back in Dallas and already injured. So for now, Gal Mekel will be backup PG. Mekel is the 2nd Israeli player to ever play in the NBA (Omri Casspi being the first). He is a pure pass first PG. He has good floor vision and isn’t much of a shooter. He sets up his teammates well and I think he will do a fine job playing behind Calderon. The backup wing will be VINSANITY!!! You really have to applaud what Vince has done. He has completely remodeled his game to be able to stay effective in the NBA. Not nearly the high flyer he once was, Vince has become an excellent (and streaky) shooter (with an occasional dunk). He has also learned to play TEAM DEFENSE with the Mavericks, which is huge for Vinsanity. He could be a dark horse for the 6th man of the year award. The backup posts are underrated. First, there is Brandan Wright. Technically, he is a bust (8th pick in the 2007 draft) but Wright has started to become a dependable backup for the Mavericks the past two seasons averaging 7.7 ppg, 3.85 rpg, and 1.25 bpg. His offensive game is finally improving like scouts hoped it would…just a few years late. He has a consistent face up shot which can allow him to play some stretch 4. Defensively, he is a rim protector, but can overpowered when posted up against. Dejuan Blair became a pleasant surprise in San Antonio. He dropped in the draft thanks to ACL concerns, but once San Antonio drafted him, everyone knew he would pan out. He became a starter for the Spurs and became a fan favorite. Then, last season, Blair dropped out of the rotation. Splitter, Duncan, and Bonner got all of the big man minutes. There was no room for Blair. The Mavericks made a smart move and brought him in this offseason. Blair has a solid mid range jumper and can bang around the basket. He’ll grab every rebound, especially on offense, but isn’t much of a defensive player. I also liked the Mavericks draft. Ricky Ledo and Shane Larkin are two players that could have bright futures. They just may have to wait a season to really get some playing time. Ledo is a pure scorer. It’s his mentality that could hold him back. He has had off the court issues. Shane Larkin is a score first PG, who is smart enough to know when he should stop shooting and start setting up his teammates. I think he will be a core part of the Mavericks future. As long as this team has a healthy Dirk, they are capable of making the playoffs. That’s just how good Dirk is at basketball. They need Calderon to set Dirk and Ellis up for baskets, Dalembert and Marion to hold it down defensively, and Vinsanity to keep it going off the bench.
- New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans had an interesting offseason. First, they made the most surprising trade of the offseason when they sent Nerlens Noel (who I was praying they’d keep so we could see Anthony Davis and him play together) and a 2014 1st round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for 22 year old all-star Jrue Holiday. This trade will either turn out genius for the Pellies (you’re welcome Zach Lowe) or totally back fire when Nerlens Noel lives up to his potential then the 1st round pick turns into the first pick in the draft and the 76ers get Andrew Wiggins. Anyways, back to Holiday. Holiday is a good scorer but refuses to drive to the basket lots of the time. He can distribute the ball but sometimes gets too fancy which leads to too many turnovers. Defensively, he’s a stud and big enough to guard either guard position which is good news since he will (hopefully for the Pelicans sake) being teaming up with Eric Gordon (Just stay healthy Gordo!). Well, it wouldn’t be right to talk about Eric Gordon without mentioning the fact that he’s the best player to never play. In fact, he’s only played in 54% of the games he’s been eligible to play in since coming into the NBA from Indiana. What we have learned in that small sample size is, though, that he has all-star potential. He could be a top 3 offensive shooting guard in the NBA if he was ever healthy. Luckily, he is still only 24 years old so he has time still to prove he can be a player. Defensively, he’s not anything special but is quick so he’ll force some turnovers. The Pelicans offseason got a bit crazier when they gave Tyreke Evans a big 4 year/$44 million contract. Evans was Rookie of the Year in 2010…and it’s pretty much been down hill from there. In fact, Evans’ points per a game average, assists per a game average, and rebounds per a game average have declined every season that he has been in the NBA. The potential is obviously there, but Evans has to be willing to show up every night and cooperate. He can’t always get what he wants..especially now that he’s on a team with a real PG. He’s best with the ball in his hand, but now he’ll have to learn to play without the ball. Evans will need to slash to the basket because he is an excellent finisher. It’ll be interesting to see if Monty Williams can get Holiday, Gordon, and Evans to all gel on the court at once. Beyond those players, the Pelicans also have this guy with a unibrow named Anthony Davis. He’s kinda good I guess… Offensively, he has range anywhere inside in the 3 points line (and I think he could really expand it to behind the 3 point line if he wanted to) and he grabs offensive boards. Defensively, he has Defensive player of the year potential. An excellent shot blocker, Davis still needs to learn to play team defense. Davis is capable of becoming an all-star at just 20 years old. If the Pelicans want a chance at the playoffs, those first three guards are going to need to learn to play together (and be healthy). They’ll also need guys like Ryan Anderson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Stiemsa, Jason Smith, Brian Roberts, Anthony Morrow, and Austin Rivers to play their roles. Anderson needs to be the same guy he was last season as in a 3 point threat every play. He was 2nd in the NBA last season in 3 pointers made. Stiemsa and Smith will have the job of backing up/playing next to Anthony Davis. Combine the players and you have a complete player. Smith is a pick n pop shooter in a centers body. Stiemsa is a rim protector. Roberts and Rivers will both be reserve guards. Rivers was one of the most disappointing rookies after being drafted 10th overall, while Roberts was one of the most surprising rookies after being drafted…well he wasn’t drafted. In fact, Roberts was 4 years removed from college last season. He had spent the last 4 seasons playing overseas in Israel and Germany before breaking onto the NBA scene where he became a dependable backup PG. Morrow is purely a 3 point shooter. He really can’t do much else. The Pelicans will need time to gel, so if they can do that quickly, they could find their way into the playoffs in a tough western conference. The talent is definitely there for this team with 4 potential all-stars in Holiday, Gordon, Evans, and Davis, but they’re also young and somewhat immature. Monty Williams has a tough task on his hand, but he’s definitely a candidate to be coach of the year if he can get New Orleans to their first playoff appearance since CP3 left.
- Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets had a rough offseason. First, they lost Andre Iguodala to the Golden State Warriors. Then, they learned that, realistically, they wouldn’t be getting Danilo Gallinari back until the all-star break. So Brian Shaw, the 1st year coach who finally got a head coaching position like he has deserved for a few years now, is left with a tough task of taking a team to the playoffs that hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2002-2003 season. The Nuggets are known for their more up tempo offense, but Brian Shaw has discussed playing a more half court style offense. I don’t know how good of an idea that is since 1) Ty Lawson excels in the up tempo offense and he’s the Nuggets best player. 2) They need to take advantage of their home court and the lack of oxygen. While their opponents are gasping for air, the Nuggets are running by for fast break dunks. Anyways, on to their players. The offense will fall largely upon the shoulders of Ty Lawson. Lawson is one of the many PGs that’s right on the brink of becoming an all-star. To do so, Lawson needs to be able to score in between the three point line and basket because right now all of his points come from 3 or on fast break lay ups. Defensively, he’s small but very sturdy making it hard for other PGs to take advantage of the size difference and he’s one of the quickest players in the NBA, as well. Besides Lawson, the only real offensive threats the Nuggest have are Randy Foye, Nate Robinson, and Evan Fornier. Nothing impressive. As for their other talented players, the Nuggets have some exciting big men. Kenneth “The Manimal” Faried is the definition of energy player. He’s not really that skilled as a basketball player, but he has a never ending motor. His points come from his athleticism and fast breaks. He can’t shoot, but he will get offensive rebound put backs. Defensively, one would think he’d be much better but he’s still very much a work in progress. He gets beat in one on one situations too often but will force turnovers due to his energy. Then, there’s Javale McGee. Who doesn’t love Javale?! Did you know that he retweets all of his own tweets? What a man. As for Javale’s actual playing skills, he has all the tools to be an all-star center. It’s just a shame that he’s a dumbass. He has unbelievable athleticism for a 7 footer and could anchor a defense if he wanted to play team defense. Offensively, he has shown he has actual post moves, but he rather take stupid jump shots and try ridiculous dunks. Still, we love him. The rest of the rotation will include JJ Hickson, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Hamilton, and Timofey Mozgov. The more I write, the less excited I get about this Nuggets team. Hickson, like McGee, is an unbelievable athlete for his size. He isn’t much of an offensive player, but he’ll hit up the boards and play fundamental defense, though he isn’t much of a shot blocker. Miller has embraced the old man game. Gotta respect that (holla Tim Duncan). Miller is a crafty ball handler and passer, but isn’t much of a threat to score anymore. Still, he takes advantage of size by posting up smaller guards to create open shots for his teammates. Defensively, he can guard the PG or the wing due to his size. He really hasn’t lost much of a step defensively. Chandler is coming off a slew of injuries, but is still effective. In fact, he’s probably the Nuggets best perimeter defender. He has all of the sudden learned to hit the 3, but I have my doubts that it’ll hold up. He’s still a good athlete who can get to the basket. Hamilton is a pure scorer. He settles for jumpers when he should be taking advantage of smaller defenders by taking them to the basket. Mozgov is, well, very average I guess. He isn’t really good, but I can’t necessarily call him bad. He sets good screens and tries to block shots. He’s also very willing to use up all 6 of his fouls. The Nuggets really just don’t have too much to work with this year on paper, but who knows. Maybe Brian Shaw can keep their playoff streak alive and it always helps to have their home court advantage.
- Portland Trail Blazers: First off, I just wanna say how sad I am that CJ McCollum broke his foot. I was looking forward to watching Lillard and McCollum team up to be the most exciting back court in the NBA. For now, I’ll just have to settle for Lillard..not too shabby. Lillard was instantly one of the most exciting players in the NBA last season as a rookie. He’s a knock down 3 point shooter who can hit shots off the dribble, is blazing fast to the basket making him a threat to kick out to open shooters and drop off passes to big men. Speaking of which, he has possibly the best offensive big man in the NBA (besides Kevin Love). Aldridge is better off working in the post, but has begun to take his game closer to the 3 point line. In fact, no player took more long 2s than Aldridge did. Defensively, he is very long and fast for his size. He plays great team defense and rarely makes mistakes. It will be interesting to see what Portland does with him with all the rumors of him wanting out. He could bring in quite a coup if they decide to trade him. On the wings, the Blazers have two solid 3 and D players. Wesley Matthews has carved out a solid career for an undrafted player from Marquette. Matthews is a very dependable player. He missed the first games of his career last season. You can count on him for two 3s, some rebounds and assists, and to give you 35 minutes of solid, hard nosed defense. Batum, like Matthews, is a dependable player. You know what you’re getting: two 3s, couple of rebounds and assists, and the ability to guard skilled wing players. He’s not very muscular but uses his length to his advantage by getting in passing lanes and blocking shots. As for the big man spot next to Aldridge, the Blazers will use a rotation of three big men (a pleasure they didn’t really have last season with one of the worst benches in NBA history). They’ll be using Brooke Lopez’s brother, the guy who is on his third team in his second season, and the best looking white guy in the NBA that isn’t Chandler Parsons (#NoHomo). Robin Lopez has actually improved a lot since his first season. He’s a solid post defender and picks up a good amount of blocks. Away from the basket is where he gets beat. He has improved a lot on the offensive end and has become a dependable finisher around the rim. Where he needs to improve now is as a rebounder (just like his brother). I don’t think it’s fair to judge Thomas Robinson on the fact that he’s on his 3rd in his 2nd season. The only the reason the Rockets traded him was to make salary space for Dwight Howard. I still have faith that T-Rob can live up to his lottery potential. He needs to realize the type of player he is, though, if he wants to succeed. He isn’t a ball handler or post up player. He’s an energy player that will get his baskets by attacking the basket and setting screens and rolling. He’s a phenomenal rebounder. You can always depend on him to grab rebounds. Defensively, he is a gambler but has the tools to be an above average defender. I’m a big Meyers Leonard fan. I think he has a lot of potential. He’s 7 feet tall and has a lot of athleticism, the ability to play in the high or low post, can shoot from anywhere inside the 3 point line, and could play stretch 4 if asked to. What Leonard needs to improve his willingness to be physical. It hurts him defensively and on rebounds. The rest of the Blazers rotation is made up Mo Williams and Dorell Wright. Mo Williams is a shooting guard in a point guards body. At this point in his career, he’s purely a spot up shooter. He won’t create for his teammates. Defensively, he’s tough but still has trouble holding his own. Wright is typically considered a pure 3 point shooter, but he is also very athletic and is capable of being a threat in transition. He has great tools for being a defensive stopper, but lacks the mentality. If the Blazers start off well, Aldridge will be staying. If not, the Aldridge rumors will be non stop. The Blazers have the talent in the starting lineup to make the playoffs, but (like last season) it’ll be a question of the bench. When CJ McCollum comes back, he will be a nice spark off the bench. The Blazers will either be in the news as a surprise playoff team or because of Aldridge rumors. Keep an eye on them..if for no reason other than just to watch Lillard.
- Los Angeles Lakers: This Lakers team is actually kind of likeable with Kobe gone. It’s a bunch of misfits. Plus, there is…SWAGGY P! I keep finding myself convincing myself that the Lakers can be a playoff team, even if Kobe doesn’t come back until the all-star break. They have Steve Nash…or the guy who use to be Steve Nash. With Kobe gone, though, Nash will get to run the offense he ran in Phoenix. He’s always be an excellent play maker and shooter. Defensively, he’s not going to be much of a threat. Then, they have Pau Gasol. He’s one of the best offensive big men in the NBA. He is crafty in the post and also a great passer out of the post (perfect for the offense). So they have two former all-stars who are not quite the players they use to be and then, there’s the misfits: Nick Young, Xavier Henry, and Wesley Johnson. There’s no shot that Nick Young can’t and won’t take. He’s a very streaky shooter and Young is a big believer in the thought that the best way to get out of a shooting funk is to keep shooting. If Nash goes back to his play making ways, Young could have a big season as catch and shoot player. Xavier Henry has never developed into the player that scouts thought he would coming out of Kansas. He’s proven he’s a defensive liability and hasn’t reached his offensive potential. If he can get a shooting touch and take advantage of his physicality, he could be a nice role player. Then, there’s another bust. Wesley Johnson has done nothing since coming out of Syracuse. He has the tools to be a good player, but just hasn’t put it together. He has a good shot, but can knock it down and has the tools to be a defensive stopper, but lacks basketball IQ. Like Young, though, he could become a dependable role player as a catch and shoot player if Nash regains his play making form. Next to Gasol, the Lakers will use a combo of Chris “Caveman” Kaman and Jordan Hill. Kaman is a dependable post scorer, but can’t do much away from the basket. Defensively, he gets beat on the daily. Hill is another bust, but has at least panned out as an okay role player. He’s capable of averaging a double-double if given the minutes. He is athletic and seems to getting more and more range on his shot. Defensively, he’s not anything special but can get the job done. He has a knack of going after offensive rebounds. The rest of the rotation is made up of Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar, and Jodie Meeks. Blake is a nice player to have cause he can back up Nash or play next to him since he’s a sharp shooter. He’s not quick enough to defend most point guards, and not physical enough to guard most shooting guards. Jordan Farmar is back in LA and the Jews are happy! Farmar is somehow the best defensive PG the Lakers have even though he’s nothing more than an average defender. Offensively, he can hit spot up 3s, but prefers creating his own opportunities. Meeks has the ability to become a dependable 3 and D guy. Yet, his 3 ball has been inconsistent, as has his D. So basically this Lakers team 2 washed up future hall of famers and a bunch of draft bust and SWAGGY P! Honestly, I like them. It’ll be funny when they surprise the league and find themselves in 5th place in the Western Conference. Then, Kobe returns and then comes the spiral. Swaggy P and Kobe don’t want to share shots. Kobe wants to run the offense and Nash becomes useless. Kobe blames Pau. You know how it is.
- Utah Jazz: The Jazz are in for a rough season. This will be the first season they won’t be competing for a playoff spot since 2004. The good news for them, though, is that 1. they have a full starting lineup of 5 potentially very good players. 2. The upcoming draft is absurdly good. Let’s start with their best player (in my opinion): Gordon Hayward. Hayward is not only the best player but the oldest player in the Jazz starting lineup at just 23 years old. I also don’t think Hayward has hit his full potential quite yet. Hayward is quickly becoming one of the best shooters in the NBA and is proving he is capable of creating for himself, as well as his teammates. The big issue comes in defensively. He isn’t a bad defender and could actually be an excellent defender if he put some more muscle on. The issue comes in defensively when he has to guard 3s. Hayward is offensively suited to play the 3 but defensively suited to guard 2s. If he puts on some muscle, though, it shouldn’t be an issue because he plays fundamental and smart defense. Then, there’s the Burk(e)(s) brothers: Trey and Alec. The latter continues to improve (especially as a shooter) but if he wants to stick, it’ll be as a defender and penetrater. As for Trey Burke, this is not the case. He needs to prove he can play defense and that his offense can be a consistent weapon. He’s an excellent pick n roll PG which is good news for his two big men: Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Kanter and Favors could very well be on their way to creating one of the best big men duos in the NBA. Kanter is a behemoth of a man who can overpower most big men in the NBA. Not only is he great underneath the basket, but he can also step back and hit the mid ranger. Kanter is good defensively at making his man work in the post, but he’s slow physically and mentally. He also can’t jump so he won’t get many blocked shots. Favors is the ying to his yang. Favors is a defensive big who will load up on blocked shots and rebounds. Not only is he capable of protecting the rim, but he is also a capable perimeter defender which is useful in an era where stretch 4s are very popular. Favors is still developing an offensive game and doesn’t have any go to post moves. For now, his offense is from his teammates making plays for him or offensive rebound put backs. The Jazz bench is very weak. It’ll probably be Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Harris coming off the bench. Jefferson hasn’t been valuable for a while and his offensive game has become one dimensional as a spot up shooter. He is still a decent defender. The only thing to mention about Marvin Williams is the fact that he got drafted right before Deron Williams and CP3. John Lucas III is a nice backup PG who could get some minutes next to Burke as a shooter. Gobert was a guy who fell off in terms of draft stock. He’s still a very raw prospect who could max out as defensive player of the year candidate but could also max out as Hassan Whiteside. Mike Harris is a nice glue guy that will give you 100% effort with limited talent. The Jazz have a nice core to work with and add I dunno say ANDREW WIGGINS to that group and you’ve got a young and dangerous team. For now Jazz fans, stick to skiing and watching old Youtube clips of Karl Malone and John Stockton.
- Sacramento Kings: This will be my shortest preview because the Kings don’t really deserve much. 1. Demarcus Cousins is a dumbass…a dumbass that is so ridiculously talented at basketball and I think he is capable of being one of the best players in the NBA if he commits himself. Mike Malone needs to sell him on that. 2. The Kings have 5 capable starting PFs (Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Luc Mbah A Moute)…there’s gotta be a trade coming soon. 3. The Greivis Vasquez-Ben McLemore back court will be fun…and very frustrating for Vasquez. Vasquez is the most underrated passer in the NBA and will do a great job of setting up McLemore for easy shots but then McLemore will also take some dumbass shots. Basically, you just need one adjective to describe this franchise at the current moment: dumbass
- Phoenix Suns: The Suns back court will be very interesting. Eric Bledsoe is finally getting an opportunity to start and it’ll pay off. For a guy who doesn’t have much of a 3 point shot, he’s a great scorer. He’ll need to distribute more to make Goran Dragic useful, who is the knock down shooter. They’ll also surprise people defensively. I think the duo will do a good job of locking down some back courts. Then, there is the Morris Twins. Great for marketing and great for chemistry…but they’re also both developing into good role players. Unfortunately, they play very similar roles. Stretch 4s with spotty outside shots and subpar rebounding. Lastly, there is Alex Len, the 5th overall pick from Maryland. He’s getting thrown into the fire with Gortat traded away. He never really blew me away in college, but I still like his offensive touch and his potential defensively. He definitely needs to bulk up to bang by the basket with more physical big men. Overall, the Suns just don’t have enough talent to be any good. Some okay and good players but nothing special.
1. Miami Heat over 8. Washington Wizards
2. Indiana Pacers over 7. Detroit Pistons
3. Chicago Bulls over 6. Cleveland Cavaliers
4. Brooklyn Nets over 5. New York Knicks
1. San Antonio Spurs over 8. Dallas Mavericks
7. Minnesota Timberwolves over 2. LA Clippers
3. Houston Rockets over 6. Memphis Grizzlies
4. Golden State Warriors over 5. OKC Thunder
1. Miami Heat over 4. Brooklyn Nets
3. Chicago Bulls over 2. Indiana Pacers
4. Golden State Warriors over 1. San Antonio Spurs
3. Houston Rockets over 7. Minnesota Timberwolves
1. Miami Heat over 3. Chicago Bulls
3. Houston Rockets over 4. Golden State Warriors
1. Miami Heat over 3. Houston Rockets
The Miami Heat are just too good to be taken down, especially with the possible additions of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley
NBA Awards Predictions
MVP: LeBron James (Best basketball player in the world. No doubt about it.)
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard (If he is healthy, he is a force in the paint)
Rookie of the Year: Shabazz Muhammad (This is an award that is just totally up in the air. I think Shabazz will get an opportunity in Minnesota to prove that he can be a scorer in the NBA)
Most Improved: Jimmy Butler (Though he already has put his name on the map, Butler will continue to improve and will become a shooting threat with D. Rose making plays for him.)
6th Man: Jarrett Jack (Jack will come off the bench behind Irving and help the Cavs get back to the playoffs)
Coach of the Year: Mark Jackson (I thought deserved it last season, but he’ll help the Warriors to another great season and will be rewarded)
Executive of the Year: Daryl Morey (Dork Elvis has brought in top 10 players in back to back offseasons. He’s a wizard)
ALL NBA TEAMS
First Team: Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul
Second Team: Roy Hibbert, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, James Harden, Kyrie Irving
Third Team: Demarcus Cousins, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose
ALL NBA ROOKIE TEAMS
First Team: Shabazz Muhammad, Michael Carter Williams, Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore
Second Team: Anthony Bennett, Tim Hardaway Jr, Tony Snell, Trey Burke, Rudy Gobert
ALL NBA DEFENSIVE TEAMS
First Team: Dwight Howard, Larry Sanders, LeBron James, Tony Allen, Chris Paul
Second Team: Roy Hibbert, Shane Battier, Andre Iguodala, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio
By: Nicky Mintz