It’s finally here basketball fans. The most anticipated season of hoops I can remember tips off Tuesday when Kyrie Irving and LeBron James share the court, only they won’t be teammates. This time they square off as leaders of the two best teams in the East. Then after that, the Rockets head to Golden State to take on the defending champion Warriors, only this time Houston will be aided by the addition of surefire Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul. And that’s literally only the beginning! Let’s get into the rest of what is sure to be a wild and intriguing season of NBA basketball by previewing the state of each team.
- Remember that 60-win Hawks team from two years ago? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Well none of them are there anymore. Horford, Teague, Korver, Millsap, Carroll are all gone. In some respect, I love what the Hawks are doing. If the goal is winning a title and they clearly weren’t going to accomplish that with that core group then they must move on. What is still to be determined though is if giving the keys to Atlanta’s ship to Dennis Schroder is the right move. Schroder will have to develop into a better leader fast if he wants to keep this young, inexperienced Hawks team from being the butt of “The East is so bad” jokes.
- For the first time since the Indiana Pacers had an all-world defense and a functioning Roy Hibbert, there is a legitimate question about LeBron James making the Finals, and for good reason. The Boston Celtics are pushing all their chips in to take down The King. Acquiring Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward has Boston fans feeling like this could really be their year. Pair that with Al Horford and the young talent of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and the Celtics are good money. It will probably take them a good part of the season to gel, but their talent alone will be able to cruise over most teams in the league before the playoffs start. The main concern with Boston is going to be their depth. They got rid of a lot of good to get some great, which is always a tricky proposition when shooting for a title.
- To be honest, I came to this article with all intentions on bashing on the Nets, buuuuuuut objectively, their roster isn’t all that bad. I’m a huge fan of D’Angelo Russell, he has his issues, but he’s still very young and the talent is obvious. Looking at the rest of the roster and it’s riddled with respectable players. Allen Crabbe, Jeremy Lin, Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll are all not bad. Enough to make the playoffs? Probably not, but for those with League Pass, my sales pitch on the Nets is they have no incentive to tank because they don’t have a first-round pick, they lead the NBA in pace last season, and they’re going to play to prove they’re better than the 20-wins they put up last season.
- Is this the year Michael Jordan can structure the Hornets to relevance? Probably not. I love Kemba Walker, and am higher on Dwight Howard (still) than most people, but there are just too many injury concerns with this team to really see them making an improvement to contend for a top-four seed in the East. On the plus side, they got maybe the best shooter in the draft in Malik Monk, who figures to get plenty of run this season.
- The Bulls might literally be the least intriguing team in the NBA this season. $100 imaginary dollars says the only person a casual fan could name in their starting lineup is Robin Lopez, and even getting him correct would be a stretch. The only value for me is to see how the Windy City effects Zach Lavine’s dunks, and if Denzel Valentine can bounce back from a terrible rookie year.
- The Cavaliers are way better than they were last year. LeBron’s reunion with Dwyane Wade is going to get most of the publicity and rightfully so. Wade is still easily a top ten shooting guard in the league. Isaiah Thomas’ injury may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as Derrick Rose will get accelerated experience running the offense. The key for this Cleveland team as they look to finally take down the Warriors and reclaim the title will be rest. Rose’s injury history is well-known and if Thomas can’t get back from his injury at 100% and Rose becomes unavailable, the Cavs will have a void at the PG spot. One thing to watch for the Cavs this year will be Kevin Love reminding everybody how good he is his fourth year in Cleveland’s system.
- Dennis Smith Jr. is just one of the rookie point guards who will be asked to run the show this season and will do so with a team full of individual talent that I love, but I’m just not sure how any of them fit together. Wesley Matthews has been a disappointment since signing with Dallas two years ago Harrison Barnes, Dirk, and Nerlens Noel are all nice players. Pair that with Seth Curry coming off the bench and while your team may still lose, they will look fun doing it.
- Your opinion on the Nuggets ceiling depends largely on how you view Nikola Jokic, and I am all in. Averaging 17, 10, and 5 last season, Jokic has the ability to hurt you in so many different ways that he’s nearly impossible to defend, and with the addition of Paul Millsap, along with an improved Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Emmanuel Mudiay, the Nuggets should be knocking on the doors of the playoff this season.
- 98-0 or bust for the boys of Little Caesars Arena! This year is a big year for the Pistons as it will likely determine the course of their future. They already let go of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and if Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond don’t up their game to the next level, they may be next out of the motor city. The most interesting storyline for Detroit will be if and how long would it take Avery Bradley to gain complete control of the offense. As a gritty defender, good shooter, and capable scorer, it’s not a stretch to imagine Stan Van Gundy becoming enamored with Bradley and having him take over the main point guard duties. This year should be playoffs or bust for the Pistons who look to prove they’re more like the team that won 44 games two seasons ago than the implosion we saw last year.
Golden State Warriors
- When Kevin Durant isn’t hiding behind egg avis on Twitter, the Warriors are literally the best team I’ve ever seen. It’s come to a point where the only realistic thing that can derail them is injuries. All their superstars are so unselfish so any chance of in-fighting Shaq/Kobe style is out the window. The other main question for the Warriors this season will be if they can top their 73-win regular season. I think they can, even in an improved Western Conference. They’re that good and have two of the best three or four players in the NBA. The thing I would personally like to see from the Warriors is to embrace more of the hate and take a more villainy role like the Heat superteam did.
- It was such a wild offseason in the NBA, that somehow someway Chris f!@#ing Paul getting traded to a Western Conference contender flew under the radar. Paul is arguably one of the five greatest point guards ever and it seems both Melo and Paul George got more attention for their move. Oh, and the Rockets still have James Harden. If there is a team that can best the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s Houston. Their three-point shooting would have to be from Mars for it to happen, but the Rockets have the shooters capable to go interstellar.
- We need more Lance Stephenson and we need him now. Parting with Paul George was the obvious start of the Pacers rebuild. They’ll look to put all their eggs in the Myles Turner basket(ball). What I’m looking forward to is the trade deadline. The Pacers have a good number of tradeable assets that could help contending teams make their final push when the Pacers themselves are inevitably out of it.
Los Angeles Clippers
- Short and simple, this is Blake Griffin’s team now. The Clippers don’t have enough shooting to compete with any of the top teams in the West, so their strength is going to be on the inside. While Griffin is capable of stepping back and knocking down jumpers, if he spends most of his time away from the rim, this will quickly turn into the pre-lob city Clippers that were perpetual bottom feeders.
Los Angeles Lakers
- A quick glance over the Lakers roster tells you they’re going to be terrible. The value this Laker team brings is for the future. Lonzo Ball and Julius Randle have the opportunity to be Nash/Stoudemire-esque the way both can get up and down and run in transition. Other than that, Brook Lopez was a nice addition, and the Lakers gave Kentavious Caldwell-Pope $23 million worth of charity so they could reach the cap floor.
- Mike Conley will have to continue to the play the #disrespect card. Nobody is all that high on Memphis this year despite their very steady presence in the league. Marc Gasol is as good of a center as there is in the NBA and continues to be a matchup nightmare. The real concern for the Grizzlies is their depth. With Mario Chalmers and Ivan Rabb as their number seven and number eight guys, they could be out early if injury strikes.
- Gordon Hayward passed on Waiters Island property this summer, but this Heat team seems oddly confident. They went 30-11 during the second half of last season and are looking to prove they belong squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Hassan Whiteside has emerged as one of the best centers in the league, and Goran Dragic runs the point extremely well. There is a lot to like about this Heat team, but their kiss of death is going to be lack of a superstar.
- Kevin Durant said the ceiling for Giannis Antetokounmpo is being the best player ever and he’s not wrong. He’s everyone’s favorite darkhorse MVP candidate and he’s unbelievably fun to watch. He makes the Milwaukee Bucks must-see TV. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of help. I’m happy to see Thon Maker is going taking on a larger role this year, but other than that the Bucks will lean heavily on an oft-injured Khris Middleton and a hopefully non-sophomore slumping Malcolm Brogdon.
- The Wolves could be really really good this season if everything goes right. Three players (Wiggins, Towns, and Butler) all averaged over 23 points a game last season. They’re long, freakishly athletic, and can run anybody off the floor. The multi-year problem the Wolves still haven’t addressed is three-point shooting. They added Jamal Crawford to their bench which is huge, but other than that they’re either going to need to pound the middle with KAT or blow the doors off in transition in order to win.
New Orleans Pelicans
- I’m still here for the Anthony Davis/Boogie Cousins experiment. That combination of the NBA’s two best big men is deadly and can literally be unstoppable, and assist-hoarder Rajon Rondo will look to get those two the ball at every turn. However, much like the Wolves above, there is a concerning lack of perimeter threats on the roster.
New York Knicks
- The Knicks finally dealt Carmelo Anthony and are all aboard the Kristaps Porzingis train. Now it’s up to Porzingis to prove their faith is well-reasoned. He’ll have to improve in every area if he wishes to drag a team that may feature both Ron Baker and Doug McDermott as starters into the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- League Pass Alert! I don’t know that much really needs to be said besides Westbrook, Melo, and PG13. These are three uber-talents that if they can learn to play together can easily take the No. 2 seed in the West. The most important dynamic for the team’s success will be how much Melo and PG13 let Russ be the ferocious player that he is, and how much Russ will be willing to give when it puts his team in a better position.
- The Magic aren’t good or fun to watch. They have a lot of average players who were supposed to be really good. Elfrid Payton has shown flashes, Mario Hezonja hasn’t. Nikola Vucevic has leveled off as a scorer/rebounder and I don’t think Aaron Gordon is capable of making the next step the Magic want and need him to make if they’re going to get out of the bottom of the league.
- From this point forward we will be able to grade if “The Process” is to be trusted. Ben Simmons is an unknown, Joel Embiid is a Hall of Famer when healthy, Fultz hasn’t played a game, and Saric looked pretty good playing for an awful team. The wave to success for the Sixers rests on the shoulders of Simmons and Embiid. If they can establish a good rapport and stay on the court together, the rest of the Process soldiers will fall into place. The Sixers will be looking at a playoff spot barring what seems like almost-guaranteed injury.
- One draft pick I will never get over is my Pistons taking Stanley Johnson over Devin Booker. It hurts to even type out. With that being said, the Suns will have to do their best in order not to waste their young superstar’s talent. Bringing in Josh Jackson should help lighten the load a bit, but the Suns are still very thin. There’s a greater chance Booker drops 70 again than there is that the Suns make the playoffs.
- It feels sad that it’s probably time to break up the Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are as dynamic as any backcourt in the NBA, but it just hasn’t been enough. Portland will likely give it one more run with the addition of Jusuf Nurkic before trading away one of their franchise pieces.
- Are the Kings the worst team in the league? Maybe. I’m still puzzled as to why Zach Randolph would choose to sign there, but watching a backcourt of Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox will be a good barometer for the future of Sacramento basketball.
San Antonio Spurs
- The first year in forever where it seems like the Spurs genuinely have no chance at a title. As great as Kawhi is, it’s very difficult to think you can win a title with LaMarcus Aldridge as a second-option. Although I’m sure Pop will somehow find a way to grind 60-wins out of this team and make me look like the idiot he thinks Trump is.
- DeMar DeRozan took a huge step forward last season, but it seems like the Raptors chances in the East are fading. They will need to lock up on D and get better shooting the ball, especially in the playoffs, if they want to remind everyone why not too long ago, they were the team that could potentially challenge LeBron’s reign in the East.
- If Rodney Hood breaks out, the Jazz can make the playoffs. If not, they’ll still have suffocating defense and be a thorn in the side of team’s looking for an easy win.
- John Wall and Bradley Beal are soooo good together, but the problem seems to be they just don’t like playing with one another. Add that to the team’s spotty jump=shooting and what you get is an extremely talented team that can never seem to get over the hump. Many think if the Wizards could get their act together they would be in the Eastern Conference Finals opposite LeBron and the Cavs.
NBA Awards Predictions
- MVP – Kevin Durant
- DPOY – Draymond Green
- ROY – Lonzo Ball
- COY – Steve Kerr
- MIP – D’Angelo Russell