1) Chicago Bulls (62-20)
With a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls are looking like a contending team once again. Even without the former MVP the team has made the playoffs in the past two seasons while Rose looked on from the bench.
This winning mentality Rose brings to the table is key to the potential of the Bulls this season, especially the two disappointing seasons riddled with injuries for Rose. Over the offseason Chicago made some key acquisitions, including multiple time All Star, Pau Gasol, and drafting the fifth all time leading scorer in NCAA history, Doug McDermott. They also drafted one of the best European players from the past couple of years in Nikola Mirotic. These additions give the Bulls a second five man unit that could compete against other starting lineups in the NBA.
Even though they are playing in the same division as the new and improved Cleveland Cavaliers, I believe that the comradery of the Bulls will outweigh the growing pains of the star-stacked Cavaliers.
2) Cleveland Cavaliers (58-24)
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, what could go wrong? With these three it is pretty much a guarantee that the Cavaliers will be pretty high up in the standings this year, but I don’t think that they will be the best team.
With debatably an even better big three than what was in Miami, Cleveland is in a position to be one of the best teams in NBA history. But as we saw with the Heat, they were only first in the Eastern Conference just once in their four years together, as well as only winning the Finals twice after being the clear favorite for all four of these years. They have a much deeper team than Miami had though, with Tristian Thompson, Dion Waiters, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, Anderson Varejao, and James Jones, all supporting the superstars in attempts to bring a championship to Cleveland.
It will be interesting to see how they fair against Chicago in their division.
3) Washington Wizards (53-29)
As one of the more underrated teams in the NBA, the Washington Wizards are in for a big season this year. With one of the best back-courts in the league, consisting of John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington will be a hard team to beat.
Both Wall and Beal have shown great improvement in just the past two seasons, and if this growth continues (which I believe it will) then the two will make Washington the three seed in the East. They also have another young talent in Otto Porter, and despite not doing much last season Porter still has the potential to make an impact, especially now that he is healthy. They also added veteran talent and future hall of famer, Paul Pierce to their roster. While it may not be the most impactful signing for playmaking he is still a great leader and brings a boat load of experience to a young lineup. The duo of Marcin Gortat and Nene make for an effective front court, as well as making it hard for opposing teams to get a rebound.
Despite not having the big name players that the Bulls and Cavaliers have, the Wizards still have the pieces they need to be successful.
4) Toronto Raptors (47-35)
The Raptors shocked the NBA last season when they went from one of the worst teams in the NBA to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan emerged as an All Star, while Kyle Lowry put up one of the most impressive stat lines in the league.
Their team didn’t occur much change this offseason, although they did have the shocking pick of Bruno Caboclo in the first round. But overall, the Raptors are the same as they were last season, which is a good thing for once for Toronto. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Williams are rebounding machines on the blocks, and compliment the talented guards nicely. Terrence Ross is also improving at a very quick rate, and should play a key piece in the team’s success this season.
Honestly I don’t have a ton to say about the Raptors, except it is the same team so I am going to have the same expectations.
5) New York Knicks (45-37)
The Knicks are one of the most criticized teams in the NBA, but that could come to an end this season if they can live up to what they are capable of.
Even with Carmelo Anthony, one of the top scorers in the NBA, the Knicks still cant seem to get the job done, whether it is making the postseason or competing in it. Since they acquired Anthony, the Knicks have only won one playoff series over the four year span, despite making the playoffs three out of the four years. This has been surprising considering the amount of talent that has been in New York the past few seasons. Now with Phil Jackson as president however, the team now has a winning mentality. With Carmelo returning to the Knicks after resigning with them over the summer, the Knicks should be able to bounce back from a disappointing season last year.
Over the offseason the team made a trade with the Dallas Mavericks, sending Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton in return for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, as well as the 34th and 51st picks in the past NBA draft, which resulted in Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo (brother of the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo). These offseason moves demote the front court, replacing Chandler with Dalembert, but improves the front court and wings, bringing in Calderon, Larkin, and Early to help. The Knicks have one of the best lineups of scoring wings in the NBA, led by Anthony, but also with a quickly improving Tim Hardaway Jr. and JR Smith (despite a lackluster season last year).
6) Charlotte Hornets (44-38)
In the first year back as the Hornets, Charlotte will be a basketball city once again. Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, and newly acquired Lance Stephenson, are prepared to bring Charlotte back to the playoffs this upcoming season.
With Jefferson healthy, Charlotte is one of the best teams in the league in scoring from the post. Jefferson can put up over 20 points a night, and he will have help from Indiana hopefuls Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh, both power forwards with large upsides. They also have one of the deepest back courts in the NBA, as Gary Neal, PJ Hairston, and Gerald Henderson serve as backups for the talented duo of Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson. Lance Stephenson could be looking at a breakout season in Charlotte this season as he will be one of the main weapons Charlotte will have, unlike Indiana where he was simply a piece rather than a star. Kemba Walker could be looking at an All Star season, while Al Jefferson is looking to repeat his from last year.
The Hornets made some key acquisitions over the offseason, including previously mentioned Lance Stephenson, PJ Hairston, and Noah Vonleh. Vonleh fell to them at number nine on draft night, after some said he could go as high as four. Hairston was acquired in a draft day trade with the Miami Heat as we gave Shabazz Napier for Hairston and second round picks that would be traded to help sign Stephenson. Stephenson was one of the three targets in the offseason for the Hornets, and was stolen from the Pacers who desperately wanted him to come back.
With a good offseason, a deep lineup, and a revival of basketball excitement in Charlotte, the Hornets are poised for success this season.
7) Miami Heat (44-38)
Despite the loss of one of the top players in the NBA, the Heat are still a playoff team, especially since they still have two of the big three from last season.
Certainly the loss of LeBron hurts, but a team with both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade before the big three came together would have been a championship team. With these two still in the lineup the Heat could still be a lot higher than this in the playoff seeding, although a lot of it depends on the health of Wade. Wade certainly looked like an aging player last season, as he was riddled with injury and poor performances throughout the season. This season we will see if being overshadowed by LeBron was a cause of the substandard play out of the former MVP or if he is just truly an aged star. Chris Bosh was signed to an insane 5 year, $118 million dollar max deal. Luol Deng was brought in to help ease the pain LeBron left behind, and Shabazz Napier was drafted to help bring excitement and youth to the backcourt. Josh McRoberts was also signed, and although he isn’t great, he should be starting for the Heat right away.
Like Charlotte, Miami will also rely on its’ depth to make the playoffs. Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Chris Anderson, and Danny Granger, all come off the bench to help fuel the Miami attack. These factors, as well as a chip on their shoulder, should propel the Heat to the playoffs this season.
8) Detroit Pistons (40-42)
Last year the Pistons shocked the nation with how atrocious they were, and this season they are looking to change that. After a disappointing season and missing the playoffs last year, the Pistons are playing with a chip on their shoulder.
After having a star studded team with Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Brandon Jennings, and Josh Smith, the Pistons were in a good situation at the beginning of last season, until they proved to everyone why a lineup consisting of two centers and a power forward is a bad idea. The large bodies of Smith, Drummond, and Monroe, are too much to handle to be on the court at a single time as we saw last season, creating one of the most talented trios to lead their team to less than 30 wins. Hopefully now with one season under their belts, the Pistons can rebound in a big way this season, which would include creating a plan that works with the odd but talented trio, or trade Josh Smith to a team that can utilize him more like Atlanta did.
The Pistons didn’t do much this offseason in free agency or the draft, as they made no key acquisitions in free agency and didn’t possess a first round pick in the draft. But they will start to rely on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope more: Caldwell-Pope was the eighth pick in the draft two seasons ago. KCP could work his way into the starting lineup early on into the season, bringing youth and good perimeter shooting.
From an individual talent perspective the Pistons are one of the best in the league, and I have them here because I have faith that they have figured out some way to win just enough to make the playoffs with the players they have.
1) Oklahoma City Thunder (61-21)
The Thunder and the Spurs are the obvious top two seeds in the West, and right now I believe that the Thunder have a step up on the reigning champs. With the returning MVP, and one of the best supporting casts in the league, the Thunder are in position to take the cake in the hardest conference in the NBA.
Obviously any team with an MVP caliber player is going to compete, but when Kevin Durant is surrounded by players like Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and a deep bench, this team is extremely hard to beat. Last season Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were the highest scoring duo in the NBA, averaging a combined 53.8 points per game between the two. Westbrook was injured for almost half the season last year, and starting this season healthy he should be even better than last year. Ibaka is one of the best defensive players in the league, and is a nice accommodation to the best offensive player in the league in Kevin Durant. Another big key for them is the emergence of Steven Adams. Adams, a second year player out of Pittsburgh, should step in at some point this season in place of one of the worst players in the NBA in Kendrick Perkins: Adams was seeing more and more time towards the end of last season and was far more productive than Perkins in those minutes.
In the draft the Thunder grabbed Mitch McGary in the first round, in hopes that he will turn into a David Lee type player in a few years. But other than this OKC stayed pretty silent during the offseason.
The Thunder are in for a big season this year, and have their sights set on the Finals in June.
2) San Antonio Spurs (60-22)
The Spurs are an easy pick for the two seed in the Western Conference if the Thunder are number one. The reigning champions will try to defend their title this season, despite some of their stars’ ages nearing the number of home games the team plays.
Let’s face the facts, the Spurs are old, so why are they so good? It is not too often you see a team’s big three’s combined ages equal to 107 years old (Duncan, Ginobili, Parker), so why isn’t a more youthful team like the Rockets in this spot? Well first of all some players age and decline, whereas the Spurs age but instead of their play declining they gain more experience and bond closer as a team. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Gregg Popovich have all been together with the Spurs since 2001, and to show how important this chemistry is here are a few facts for ya: Since 2001 the Spurs have won 746 regular season games, four NBA Finals, and have also never missed the playoffs. I don’t see any of these feats ending this season, and in fact with Kawhi Leonard’s improvement, they could be even better than last season. Leonard is rapidly making his way to stardom in this league.
They have a very solid bench, as they have a role player for every needed job on the court. Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Danny Green all serve very important roles in the success of this team, and it is not just simply the stars putting the team on their backs like the Heat. In the draft the Spurs drafted Kyle Anderson in the first round. Anderson is a very talented point-forward, and will serve a similar role to Boris Diaw in the lineup.
Despite the age of this team, they still have the talent and knowledge to make a run once again.
3) Los Angeles Clippers (58-24)
Lob city is a lot more than just a ton of cool dunks and exciting plays, the Clippers also know how to win basketball games.
Chris Paul is coming off a terrific season, in which he averaged a double-double in points and assists, and was the only player in the league to do so. DeAndre Jordan also averaged a double-double but in points and rebounds. Paul was the league leader in assists as well as steals, while Jordan was the league leader in rebounds and field goal percentage, but also third in blocks. Both players had tremendous years last season, but so did Blake Griffin who was the team’s leading scorer. Griffin was sixth in the league in points per game, and twelfth in rebounds per game. And not to mention they also had the sixth man of the year, in Jamal Crawford, who averaged just over 18 points per game last season. So with all these tremendous statistics and facts in their favor how did they not win it all? And I honestly can not tell you the answer because they were my pick to go all the way last season.
This season is another chance this organization will have to try and bring a title to LA that isn’t a product of the yellow and purple. Over the offseason they added a double-double threat in Spencer Hawes, a decent power forward, formerly with the 76ers. In the draft they were able to nab CJ Wilcox, a sharp shooter with deep range, in the first round.
I believe that from a pure talent perspective, the Clippers are the best team in the NBA. Hopefully they can utilize that talent this season and put together a playoff run, rather than just making the playoffs.
4) Portland Trailblazers (55-27)
Portland is one of the more underrated teams in the league, but this doesn’t keep them from being one of the best ones.
With star point guard, Damian Lillard, now in his third year, the Trailblazers should be one of the best all-around teams in the league. Lillard brings favorable court vision, as well as scoring and shooting, whereas LaMarcus Aldridge brings a killer inside presence for opposing teams. In my opinion Aldridge is the best big man in the nation but gets overlooked for bigger names like Dwight Howard and Kevin Love. Aldridge was second in the nation last season in points per game among players with 10+ rebounds per game, second only to Love, but I prefer players that can win games over stat sheet stuffers that don’t. Nicholas Batum and Wesley Matthews serve as a talented duo of wing players for Portland, and Robin Lopez is decent at the center position, averaging close to a double-double last season.
This offseason the team didn’t do a whole lot, as they did not make any key acquisitions and they were one of two teams without a single draft pick. Despite not making any changes the Trailblazers are still on track for success this season, and anyway if it’s not broken then why fix it?
5) Golden State Warriors (55-27)
The Warriors are the most exciting team in the nation if you love watching shooters.
The Splash Brothers, as many call the talented back court of the Warriors, are ready to lead the Warriors back to the playoffs this season, and possibly even look to be an underdog for the Finals. The duet of Curry and Thompson is one of the best shooting tandems in NBA history, but their team isn’t solely based on their perimeter game. David Lee is a beast in the paint, and Andrew Bogut brings decent play in both scoring and rebounding. Andre Igudola has lost some touch on offense, but he is still one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. They a decent bench, highlighted by young talents Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green.
The Warriors probably had the least eventful offseason out of any team in the league. They made no key trades or acquisitions, and they also didn’t have a single draft pick. There were talks between them and Minnesota for a Kevin Love deal, but it would not have benefitted them as much as it would have Minnesota so it is best that Minnesota found someone else to deal Love to.
Golden State has been right on the edge of being a great team in this league, and they could finally achieve that status this season.
6) Houston Rockets (53-29)
It seems like everybody is just waiting for the Rockets to explode onto the scene, but it hasn’t happened yet, and honestly have disappointed the past two seasons.
It really seems like they should have been better with both Dwight Howard and James Harden on the same side, but even with Chandler Parsons in the mix last season the team failed to make a dent in the payoffs, as they lost to Portland in six games in the first round. I have them in sixth this season, largely because of the loss of Chandler Parsons, a player who was a large part of the offense last season. Another issue the Rockets face is the lack of perimeter defense, despite very good interior defense. James Harden is quite possibly the worst defender out of all NBA starters, even though he is an incredible player in this league. Patrick Beverly is no stud on defense either, so when faced with opponents like Portland with Lillard, or Golden State with Curry they tend to struggle. On the plus side, with three time defensive player of the year, Dwight Howard, and Terrance Jones, a young defensive minded player, the Rockets are better than most with their front court defense.
Over the offseason Houston lost both Chandler Parsons (to Dallas) and Jeremy Lin (to Los Angeles Lakers); both players were starters for them last season. However they added Trevor Ariza via free agency, as well as a tremendous foreign prospect in Clint Capela, although Capela won’t help much this season. It was a real bummer for them when they attempted to bring in LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh, and all players took different deals despite Houston’s efforts.
I believe that the Rockets will be well worthy of a playoff spot come that time, but I don’t believe they have a chance to compete for the Finals.
7) Phoenix Suns (51-31)
After heartbreakingly missing the playoffs last season with a record that would have made them the number three seed in the East, the Phoenix Suns are looking to, and should make the post season this year.
The Suns have by far the deepest back court in the NBA, and there truly is no argument for any other team. Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin, TJ Warren, and Gerald Green are all capable of playing at a high level, and all can play either the one or the two, or both for some of them. This depth is a huge advantage, as it gives the Suns many options for different scenarios, keeps the foul trouble at a minimum for individuals, and it gives players essential rest when they need it. The front court on the other hand is a different story. Consisting of the Morris twins, Miles Plumlee, and an unproven player in Alex Len, the Suns’ front court lacks both depth and consistency. None of these players are great on offense, although all of them will have their nights just none on a consistent basis. And although the front court is somewhat lacking compared to the back court, I would deem them more inconsistent than untalented.
Over the offseason the Suns made a few big moves. They signed Isaiah Thomas, who averaged just a shade over 20 ppg, and actually would have been tied with Goran Dragic for the Suns’ leader in points per game had he been on the team last season. They also got a boost in the draft, as they had three first round picks. TJ Warren, Tyler Ennis, and Bogdan Bogdanovic were all drafted in the first round by Phoenix.
With an influx of young talent and a loaded back court, the Suns should be ready to make their first postseason appearance since Steve Nash left Phoenix.
8) Dallas Mavericks (47-34)
The Mavericks have been disappointing in the postseason since their Finals victory against the Heat in the first year of Miami’s big three. This season they could change that, even though I have them seeded at eight.
They made many changes to their team over the offseason, so it is hard to determine how good they are going to be this season. They added Tyson Chandler, the center that started for them when they won the title a few years ago, as well as Raymond Felton in a trade with the Knicks, in which they gave up Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, and Shane Larkin. The Mavericks really benefitted from this because they gained a player they know and love in Tyson Chandler, and got rid of a few unnecessary pieces to their team. Dirk Nowitzki has been slowly declining the past two seasons, and this could be one of if not the last shot in his career to make a playoff run. Monta Ellis is still performing at a high level, and just as a little fun fact: Ellis is the player with the highest career average in points to never make an All Star appearance, at about 19 ppg throughout his career. Quite possibly the biggest addition they made though was the signing of Chandler Parsons. Parsons was with the Rockets last season, and is a big time scoring threat, especially from beyond the arc. This is nice for the Mavs to have this young talent when most of their other players are veterans.
In the draft the Mavericks were yet another team with no picks, but they made up for it in the offseason. I already mentioned some of their moves earlier, but they also added Jameer Nelson to take over point guard duties. Vince Carter was lost from last season, signing with the Grizzlies this past July.
I would say that the Mavericks are a wildcard team heading into this season, no one really knows what quite to expect.
MVP: Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls (26.2 ppg, 8.4 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.2 spg)
In his first season back from injury, Derrick Rose will have a year to remember. He has been out of commission for two whole seasons now and I think part of the reason he gets this award is for a historic comeback for the superstar. Personally I believe that the MVP should be the best player on the best team, and this season that would be Rose and the Bulls. His presence alone makes the entire Bulls’ team seem so much better, as he can create plays that you may think impossible. With Rose back for the Bulls they are automatic Finals’ contenders, he is one of the most exciting players in the league and will be phenomenal in his first season back from injury.
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans (11.3 rpg, 3.2 bpg, 1.4 spg)
Becoming what he was at Kentucky, Anthony Davis is quickly becoming the best post defender in the NBA. Davis led the league in blocks last season, and it was only his third season in the league. I think that if he can stay healthy this season (he only played 67 games this past season) then he has the best shot out of anyone to bring home this award. This season I believe he will be among the top five in rebounds per game, as well as the league leader in blocks per game. Personally I was opposed to the picks for this award for the past two years, so hopefully this year Davis will win and break the streak of bad decisions for the award.
Rookie of the Year: Jabari Parker, SF, Milwaukee Bucks (18.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.9 apg)
Jabari Parker is both the most NBA ready rookie, and has one of the best teams to succeed with for the upcoming season. On the Bucks he should be one of their go to guys from day one, used mainly as a scoring threat but he also is able to rebound at a high rate as he showed us in college. Parker is a huge step up for the Bucks’ offense, and he should make a bigger impact on the Bucks than any of the other rookies on their given teams. I think that Parker is the standout for this award right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Elfrid Payton or Julius Randle win it either.
Sixth Man of the Year: Isaiah Thomas, PG, Phoenix Suns (16.7 ppg, 4.2 apg, 2.0 rpg)
One of the more unknown players that averaged over 20 points per game last season, Thomas has now found himself backing up Goran Dragic in Phoenix. Out of all destinations for Thomas to be a backup however Phoenix could suit him best. Phoenix runs a two point guard set with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, and now with Thomas coming in he will be added to the rotation so he can fill in when either Bledsoe or Dragic need a breather. He will get all the time he needs to be effective coming off the bench, and will put up admirable numbers despite not having a starting role.
Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF, Milwaukee Bucks (17.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.5 apg)
The Greek Freak as some call him, has shown massive improvement since entering the league last season. It is rare to see anyone start in the NBA at age 18, but he did it for the Bucks last season. At 6’9’’, Antetokoumnpo can pretty much play any position you need him too and he is one of the most versatile players in the league. He should receive a lot more opportunities and playing time this season, especially with Jabari Parker receiving so much attention early on. An increase in opportunities for a player with such rapid progression is a deadly combination, and I believe it will result in an influx of production from the 19 year old standout.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Tom Thibodeau has had a hard few years to deal with without his star player being able to play due to injury. But to be able to overcome that and make the playoffs those years without Rose, is a very impressive feat. Now that he has Rose back in his lineup, Thibodeau has a favorable opportunity to bring Chicago the best record in the NBA. What Thibodeau has been able to do with this team is quite amazing, and I believe it is time that he could lead them to the NBA Finals for the first time since the Jordan era.
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