We are officially less than a week away from NBA season. The NBA has really become one of the most entertaining sports to watch, and the rule changes in the last 2 minutes have made the game even better. Every year I proudly pay the NBA for the rights to watch the Suns play the Kings or the ability to enjoy the Greek Freak work the entire league. This is a very exciting time as the two best sports (IMO) are going to be going on at the same time and there will always be a game to watch for the next 4 months! This NBA season is going to become very intriguing. How can LeBron perform in LA? Is Kevin Pelton ludicrous for saying the Lakers won’t make playoffs? Yes. When was the last time LeBron missed the playoffs? 2004… Whether LeBron and the Lakers can compete with the top of the west is debatable. LeBron making the playoffs is not, Pelton. How well will Toronto play with Leonard? Is Boston really going to be light years better than last years team or does the loss of defense in the starting lineup balance out the better offensive talent?
There are so many great story lines this season to watch. Jimmy Butler beating Minnesota’s starters with the 3rd string players is fantastic. Him calling out the softness of players like Townes and Wiggins is refreshing for a franchise that has rode the bottom of the league since KG carried that franchise. Honestly, as a fan, we’ve all seen the softness of those guys and it has been mentioned regularly they don’t look really competitive on the floor. Who is going to win the Atlantic division in the East? This is going to be the toughest division in the entire NBA as Philadelphia, Toronto, and Boston all look primed to compete for the top of the Eastern standings. How much better are the Spurs who made playoffs without Leonard last season, and now have DeRozan to add to that playoff team? We have a great season in store where one conference may be being overlooked in terms of its competitiveness. Let’s break this season down and who are the playoff teams.
Just missed the cut:
Detroit Pistons : Detroit is a team that has ruined there future with the Griffin trade. They are entirely to clogged in the paint with both Griffin and Drummond making scoring hard to come by if not from the outside. Detroit isn’t exactly loaded in 3 point shooters either. This will be a long year in Little Ceasars arena (which I’m sorry but to go from “The Palace” to the “Little Ceasars Arena” is a major let down in terms of names. Could of come up with some a little more creative for a storied franchise moving from a historical arena.)
Charlotte Hornets : Charlotte is a team that is stuck at just below mediocre and MJ may be more Phil Jackson-esque in the sense of a great player/coach but hasn’t proven to be very good on the business side of the game. They have missed on good draft picks and they’re really stuck with only Kemba Walker trying to carry the team who is very questionable in decision making at the end of games. He makes them competitive but probably gets traded this season close to the deadline as Charlotte tries to refresh the roster again.
8. Brooklyn Nets – 40-42 : Brooklyn is really an incredible story to even be competing for a playoff spot. Here is a team that was completely stripped of talent and had no future picks to build the team through. Give Kenny Atkinson a lot of credit for turning this team into a competitive squad as they have worked through the last of the dog years where they have had no clear way of being able to get top flight talent. They now have their 1st round picks (and 1 looking likely to come from Denver) to start to build a roster. In this scenario, Atkinson makes them a bit too competitive in a weak bottom half of the East for it to translate to a top end pick.
7. Miami Heat – 41-41 : This is assuming Minnesota and Miami don’t pull off a trade for Jimmy Butler. If those rumored trades become true move them up 2 spots. Miami is a team that is stuck in a middling spot. They are competitive under Riley who can figure out how to make a roster work, but without a Butler trade it’ll be hard for them to get the top level talent they really need to go to the next level. Jimmy Butler on this team would make them one of the more intriguing teams for the playoffs as their intensity on the defensive end could give any team in the East some fits.
6. Indiana Pacers – 43-39 : Pacers flew onto the scene last year and caught many people by surprise. They have a solid roster that can challenge teams defensively and enough talent on the offensive side to score when needed. The leap in his game from Oladipo was a huge factor in this. My only issue with trusting Oladpio to maintain his success is his outside shooting. He still isn’t consistent enough and that will cost them games when teams force him into it. Myles Turners, Aaron Holiday, and TJ Leaf’s growth with help to offset some of this, but I still think they are a year or two away from truly pushing what will be a better East this season (yes even with the loss of LeBron to the West, based on the improvement of the top 4 teams in the East)
5. Washington Wizards – 47-35 : Washington has real issues in the playoffs. When healthy during the regular season though, this is a team that competes for East crowns. I do not think they will this season, but I do think they will be more healthy and that will translate into more wins. Wall, Beal, and Porter Jr are good enough to keep them competitive with any team in the East. The addition of Dwight Howard will be the most intriguing part to watch. Howard has had an issue clogging paint for other teams which has made it to where he has bounced from team to team the last few years. As the league becomes more and more perimeter oriented, can Dwight Howard find a place with the Wizards and get back to being a top defender? Washington has shooters and now a rebounder which will make them some what of a wild card play
4. Toronto Raptors – 49-33 : The Raptors have an good roster on paper and everything says they should compete for the Eastern title. However, I think people really undersell cohesion and chemistry when you add new players & coaches. The Raptors should be good, but this is a team I see as an after new years type of team. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some early panic from fans if the team struggles out the gate. I think they’ll eventually get it together, but it will take some time.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – 54-28 : The 76ers have one of the best young rosters in the NBA and potential MVP candidates. They continue to develop and get better this season. The outside shooting looks to have remained the same compared with last year. With that I give them 4 more wins this season with the continued development of its players. The X factor here is Markelle Fultz, and he could push this team to a 60 win team and challenge for the East title if he lives up to the talent.
2. Milwaukee Bucks – 55-27 : This is easily the most controversial pick I have. The Bucks are the most underrated team in the NBA. There is a lot of talk about lack of talent around Giannis. This has been completely overblown after watching the Bucks all last season. The problem with the Bucks was lack of quality coaching. Their defensive approach was absolutely atrocious and a complete waste of their highly talented defenders. Coach Bud went to an Atlanta team that won 44 games and had them improved to 2nd in the East until Al Horford tore his pectoral muscle in December. The Hawks proceeded to go 9-23 as they adjusted to replacing Horford. Made playoffs as an 8 seed and almost upset Indiana without Horford. Bud is a defensive minded coach who knows how to develop shooters. I expect a big philosophy change on defense that will be immediately felt like it was in Atlanta where Bud made his name.
1. Boston Celtics – 62-20 : The Boston Celtics are deep. They may be the deepest team in the NBA with Golden State losing some key bench players this season. They were the best defensive team last year but struggled to score the ball. Getting Irving and Hayward back will be huge to their offensive success this season, but will most likely bring some defensive step back. Keeping Marcus Smart was huge to making sure the depth can keep games close. This will be enough to keep them locked in the top spot and make sure the Eastern title goes through Boston.
Just missed the cut:
Minnesota Timberwolves : The Timberwolves are one of the nice looking rosters in the NBA and should be a playoff team. However, there is a lot of dysfunction with that team and Jimmy Butler calling out people’s effort and drive should not be taken lightly. Watching KAT and Wiggins, no one is shocked to hear a teammate call them soft. They don’t look like they really want to win and Butler has put a divide in the roster. That ultimately creates losses.
New Orleans Pelicans : The Pelicans have arguably the best player in the league when healthy in Anthony Davis. There are rumors that Davis is growing less content with the organizations ability to put a championship quality roster around him. There is also the well documented admiration he has for LeBron creating rumors to swirl about a pairing up in LA. Davis is under contract the next 3 years so I don’t see that happening, but he won’t be enough to carry the team through a tougher West especially if we assume both Davis and Holiday miss time with injuries at some point in the season.
8. Dallas Mavericks – 42-40 : Dallas didn’t make the move up to draft Doncic and go after DeAndre Jordan if they didn’t think they could win now. Rick Carlisle is one of the better coaches in the league. He knows how to use the talent of his roster and putting them in positions to be successful. This will help Dallas make the playoffs, but was it too much to give up to become a low seed playoff team?
7. Denver Nuggets – 44-38 : Denver is a team that barely missed out on the playoffs last year, but own a relatively young core of players who should continue to develop. Jokic is one of the most exciting young big prospects in the league with the combination of uncanny passing ability and passion in play. Millsap and Jokic should play better after another year together and there is a chance they get Michael Porter Jr in the lineup for the second half of the season to give them an added scoring boost off the bench with the addition of IT.
6. OKC Thunder – 44-38 : The Thunder were able to hold onto Paul George who should be even better in his second season with the Thunder. Russel Westrbook is still one of the most physically dominant PGs. S Adams is still improving and helps give them some edge inside. The addition of Schroeder and Noel should improve their depth over the putrid lineup they ran last year, but it doesn’t equate into more wins with the improvement of teams in the West.
5. San Antonio Spurs- 47-35 : The Spurs just never go away. It doesn’t matter who they run out onto the court, Pop finds a way to out coach the entire league and win ball games. This year Pop is coming with an even better roster than he had last year and refined trust built between him and Aldridge. People will point to the loss of Kyle Anderson as being big, but no one knew Kyle Anderson until Pop was forced to play him regularly last season. Spurs find a way to win close to 50 games and make another playoff appearance for the greatest coach in NBA history.
4. Utah Jazz – 49-33 : The Utah Jazz were a huge surprise in the league with the unexpected excellent play from Donovan Mitchell. Rudy Gobert has established himself as one the leagues premier interior paint defenders and makes scoring at the basketball very difficult. The Jazz also have the talent on the perimeter to challenge people defensively and funnel them down to their strength. They will improve again this season and get home court in the first series.
3. LA Lakers – 52-30 : Everyone knows the addition of LeBron James to any team makes it an instant playoff contender. Why would we expect anything different now? LeBron has won less than 30 games in a season only 3 times in his career and hasn’t been on a team to lose more than 32 games since 2007. The decade of dominance continues as the story line builds for potential playoff match-ups with the King in the West. All the talk of LeBron not being able to hold up if playing in the West will be tested this season.
2. Houston Rockets – 59-23 : Houston lost some talent but add some intrigue with the addition of Carmelo Anthony. The team is better on defense than given credit for and still have the talent to switch on defense to challenge teams. There aren’t many teams with the wing players who can keep up with both Harden and Paul which will make life a nightmare for other teams. Rockets won’t finish quite as high as last year, but will prove to once again be a challenge for the Western Conference title.
1. Golden State Warriors – 60-22 : What is to be said about the warriors, honestly? This team is absolutely stacked and that’s before they add back Cousins from injury early 2019. Once Cousins hits the floor we will start asking when will the Warriors lose. Getting him in early should build chemistry among the team and have his insertion in the lineup more seamless than people think. Warriors roll most the year except the beginning where they coast. I do think they will focus on winning strong and avoid giving Houston home court advantage again throughout the playoffs.